It's couture, Sweetie - I don't have to explain it...

It’s couture, Sweetie – I don’t have to explain it…

What exactly is a fabric sketch? Well, it’s exactly that – a ‘drawing’ that is done with fabric instead of pencil and paper – a sculpture, if you will. I used to do these all the time when playing and pinning – creating ideas from color and texture. Many of them are simply fabrics pinned to a doll – still others are fully lined and semi-finished to achieve more constructed looks. In my earlier days sewing for dolls, I used to take to fabric frequently, playing and draping – to achieve a dream in textile – a sculptural persona embodied by silk, cotton, you name it…



I’m certainly not the only designer who has done this, nor is it new. But what it really represents is an expression of couture in miniature – and some have actually moved forward to more finished realizations. I went through this whole period of hating closures (either snaps or zippers) – largely because they are a great deal of fussy work. When done properly, they are a marvel. Snaps always seemed so bulky to me, but much more practical than a zipper. I’ve since grown to love zippers when installed by hand using invisible monofilament – sure, in some fabrics like tissue taffeta, you’ll still see the prick stitch marks, but it’s still an unimposing way to cleanly finish the back of a garment.

Details matter...

Details matter…

So here is one of my favorite fabric sketches – you may have seen it before and thought it was a fully constructed garment – believe me, there is no intention to fool anyone – but rather to create an almost tromp l’œil effect in three dimensions using fabric. I love to sketch, and do it often – but these little treasures speak to a method that can still be found amongst dreamers today – inside is a world of manipulated wovens and knits, ushering in something so much more.

The right partners...

The right partners…

I love great stories about finding fabrics – you can read one such tale here. And so it would come to pass around 2006, after a long, but wonderful trip to Barcelona, and then London – I came across this gem of a fabric. Ivory silk shantung, hand-painted, then embroidered and beaded to enhance the painting. It was a truly inspired fabric that seemed to echo the voice of its unknown artist – how I would have loved to have seen it used in human scale apparel!




The tumor…she grows


As many of you know – I love big, scary gowns – and this baby is no different. I knew it needed to be sculptural – ethereal – unreal. And the muslin ‘sketching’ proved no less…



What you see are images of the progress, using some machine sewing, but mostly hand technique – all stitched permanently to the doll as I worked. This was my old office at Tonner, before we moved to the bank in downtown Kingston – with the exception of my immediate supervisor (she shall remain nameless), they were the happiest days of my life.



I spent much of my weekends in that office – working, playing, dreaming – and in this particular project, I had no one to fuss or sass as I created, with the sounds of Queen roaring for no one else to hear except me. For such a social person as I was by nature, this was where I learned solitude, shut out by the gay community at large, because I didn’t conform to their Hudson Valley norms. Odd how many of them I can find now on Manhunt, Grindr and Scruff – not even changing their profile pics from years ago – odd, Indeed (if not telling). Fuck that shit – I was content to play and be me, regardless of others’ views as to how I should live my life.



And it’s funny, really – all those that would have me be something I was not, if only to satisfy their need to control those around them. Well, that was then…and this is now.


That final shot was taken in my house in Stone Ridge…my sweet, beautiful little house and garden that was all mine. I had just purged myself of all remaining memories from my old life, ready to embrace this future. The doll shown above was Tonner’s Antoinette – a pretty doll, but one I never could warm up to – she was just no Tyler Wentworth to me. And as time and tastes have evolved, I revisited this doll (and a new future, again – there’s a pattern here, I just know it). A change of head and hands (it was not a good fit, so don’t try this at home), and voila!

Hybrid FR16/Antoinette wearing Barcelona

Barcelona – One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

Today, I’m walking a new path…putting alot behind me, and moving forward. Some would tell me I should have done this a long time ago, but it’s just not that easy for me. Nevertheless, goals are a bit clearer these days, hope springs eternal – and the anger is passing. Have you ever had a rash from poison ivy and scratched at it, despite this countering the healing process? Yeah…me, too…but it felt soooooooo good. It didn’t really matter that it slowed the healing process…it was an instant relief that is ordinarily unimaginable unless you’ve suffered from a like malady. Anger is like that, too…trust me, I speak from experience.

Barcelona - One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

Barcelona – One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

Barcelona - One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

Barcelona – One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

Barcelona - One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

Barcelona – One-of-a-Kind Dressed Doll Hybrid FR16/Antoinette Frankendolly Fabric Sketch by Tom Courtney

10 Comments on “Fabric Sketching

  1. Love that fabric and so interesting and helpful to us undesigner types that sew for our kids to see how you all design and make use of all the wonderful fabrics out there. Keep up the wonderful ideas. Can’t wait to see them. Have you bookmarked now to check back often for ideas and how to apply them to my doll clothes.

    • Thanks, Catherine…the creative process is the most fun. I start with more grand things to see what will work when passing the ideas to others in the collection – look for some previews soon!

  2. “Fabric sketching.” That’s a really interesting way of croquis-ing. I’ve never heard of that very eloquent expression, though I imagine it is exactly what Mr. Christian Dior was doing in his atelier documented in some of those famous photos. In another life (I’ve had 5), I taught fashion drawing & design concepts. Every now and again, there were students who just couldn’t draw, so I would allow them to explore however way they needed to convey their ideas which included collage….draping muslin on Barbies or those little drawing mannequins, photographing them, then developing one full scale. My Asian students couldn’t think in 2-D, so they had to work in 3-D in able to bring to life their very exotic aesthetics. My former students did something similar to you in their draping class. That teacher, trained at the Chambre Syndicale de Couture.. would do 3-hour draping exercises where the student simply threw the fabric onto the mannequin then “created” something.

    If you will permit me, here’s an idea for your private playtime based on something we did do at school. Instead of playing with fabric for your concepts, use paper….magazine or newspaper pages….to create silhouettes directly on the doll mannequin. Start by copying something from an image that uses volumes in a way you have never tried. Then bring it to life using paper. The idea is to force yourself to think of the overall silhouette without sweating over details of construction. The unexpected mix of the colors and textures from the magazine scraps often provides a source of inspiration. Take photos of what you create. Then translate those pix into a fabric dress. You work extremely well with princess line seaming. But remember that with Haute Couture, the construction doesn’t have to be so textbook. It can be whatever works but still is beautiful. That’s why the seaming is so complex. Like you said, “this is sculpture.” Even if the end result of your paper dress doesn’t appeal to you, you will have discovered a new way to clear your head. But should you be inspired….it’s another way of helping to evolve your art.

    • I love it! Thank you…I’ve wanted to do this using colorful crepe paper. You’ve given me incentive to give it a go…thanks, again! How fun!!!

My blog is satire, but your thoughts are welcome!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: