Friday, August 8, 2014

HOW TO: Sewing for Competition

I thought it a good time to follow up my sewing for competition series with a final post about how to prepare for, and plan a project that will be judged. I began my career in design by sewing for competition, and having also helped judge, I can speak from experience on both sides of the table.

It can be really fun and rewarding to sew for completion, and there bounteous prizes out there ready for the taking, but you should plan your project thoughtfully in order to bring home the booty. Here some of the things to consider:

Meet and Exceed the Requirements

When learning about a competition, the first thing we do is assess the rules, requirements and deadlines. Very quickly we must decide if we can meet the deadline, have the tools or materials, the means, and ability to meet the minimum requirements. The competition rules will ask us to DO something such as use a certain fabric, theme, or pattern, but this is only the minimum requirement.  Meeting the rule minimums will very often get you in the door, but if winning is the goal, then you must employ every way you can think of to go beyond this mark. Don't just meet the requirements- exceed them. 
I was not particularly competitive when I began sewing for competition, as I was just excited to be accepted and to see my designs on professional models and on the runway. I learned a lot by watching others, reviewing what they were doing, seeing the winning designs and trying to better myself. It wasn't too long before I decided I was in it to win it!

Originality Counts 

You are in this to impress someone! I believe we call it the WOW factor. Get ideas from where ever you can, but in this realm, originality counts. If we've seen it too many times, or it looks like something everyone else is doing then you might want to experiment a bit more. Everyone loves a new idea, new technique, or an unfamiliar silhouette. Take the time to come up with an unusual twist like using an old idea in a new way.  Sewing for competition is a license to be clever!
This bias dress was designed specifically for an ITAA competition, draping to fit the body in geometric shapes I used insets and godets throughout, and large swaths of cloth, piecing where ever necessary. The beaded accents have a purpose, as the sleeves are filled with layers of net, all held in place with beads to help keep its shape.

Keep the Judges, Competition, and Audience in Mind

In choosing your project, think about who the people or group or audience is that will be judging your garment. What might be the goal of the competition, or the sponsors? What can you make that will best represent this sponsor in meeting their purpose? Are they selling a product? Are they interested in unique or technical design? Are they looking to encourage the young, mature, or art and design oriented? Will your garment be judged by many or a few people? Take all of these things into consideration and try to get inside the mind of your audience.

One competition required that I submit photos of three different designs to show my capability. Once accepted, I could model only ONE of the submitted designs. I sent a survey to all my friends and family, then made arrangements with a model to wear the gown with the most votes. I had this feeling that my judges/audience would be a sophisticated group, and that this dress my friends had picked would be the wrong one to show. At the last minute I changed my plan and showed a cocktail style instead. Taking home the title that day helped me know that being mindful of the audience is key.

Provide a Top Notch Presentation

Most rules will ask for a minimum of one or two photos as an initial round of judging. Provide your judges with the best possible photos to avoid being eliminated in this earliest phase!  If not specifically prohibited, ALWAYS provide a minimum of three photos- front, back, and a detail. Provide others only if it's relevant and necessary to show the fabric, design, or quality of workmanship. Don't overwhelm judges either. Some competitions will require professional photography, and serious competitors will definitely be paying for photos. If this is your first time, be aware that not all photographers know how to shoot clothing appropriately. Ask around for referrals, and ask the photographer for a quick practice run. If photographing DIY, always shoot in natural, but not direct light, high resolution without a flash. Give your garment a back drop using a bed sheet in gray if you have it- cream (white is usually too harsh- avoid it if you can) or some other complimentary (to the garment) pale color can work also. Thumb tack it to the side of your house to block out distracting lines and scenery. One back drop color from top to bottom, and under the garment is great. A hanger is not the best presentation. Put your garment on a dress form or on a body to show the shape. Cropping outlying areas and heads are just fine.  If your photos are in focus and high quality, three will be enough to convince the judges that your garment is worthy of a second look!
Showing your workmanship with a plain background in a beautiful and artful way will definitely catch the eye of your judges.

Give it your Best Workmanship

Now that you've planned your project in a purposeful way; it's designed to meet the needs of your competition sponsors, and you've reeled them in with the best photos possible, this is where the rubber hits the pavement. IF this is a photos only competition, then workmanship isn't going to be the biggest factor because no one can see your workmanship. If this is a garment-in-hand competition, your workmanship should be as flawless as you can get it. No raw edges. No sloppy hand stitching. No shortcuts. Add in linings, structure, seam finishes, and high quality garment details to give your garment that something special. Keep in mind your skill level when choosing an embellishment. Hand painting with dye is going to win over stencil and paint, and embroidery is generally the better option compared to fabric markers, but I can make no rules here. I have seen some marvelous things happen with nothing but a sharpie!  Suffice it to say that if your workmanship is beyond average, it will set your garment at least equal to, if not above, anyone else in the competition. It's the workmanship that will ultimately get you across the finish line.

Does this mean that you must sew couture or give up? No. BUT if your competitors are sewing couture, and you did not....well, I think you get the picture.

What are you making for competition? Send us links!

1 comment:

  1. I love to sew competitively. I have always been a competitive personality. I think it comes from having six brothers! Wish there were a blog or site to go to that listed all the current competitions.


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