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Vivian's Fashion Design Course Journal 3

By Vivian Mikhail with a short comment by

Pauline Weston Thomas for



Vivian's Fashion Design Course Journal 3


Thursday 25th November

Finally, after a long break, I commenced my design class.  This was my second design lesson. I showed my tutor what I did at home.  I was embarrassed, because they were very few sketches despite the long break, but she was very sweet and understanding, as I explained why I did so few.

In fact, I dressed two of the models in suits that I designed, and showed her that too. They were in pencil sketches, and the erect body gave them a very a school-mistress look.  Maybe I wanted to show her some of my art capabilities.  She stared at them a little, and gave me a compliment, and told me not to hurry.  She looked at the sketches, and she told me that they were an improvement from the first lesson.

I began to draw other models, back and forth, with a little movement, but still in the grid.  First I had to draw a kind of inner skeleton to show the axis of movement involving the trunk (chest, tummy, and pelvis) the head, the neck and the limbs to get the sense of movement of the figure.

Then I drew another sketch of the figure without the axis, but with the same sense of all body movements.  The latter was the harder part, especially if I am trying to get the right proportions and the right symmetry all at once.  To ease matters for myself, I kept drawing the axis, and afterwards I sketched the figure on top.  I then rubbed the internal axis off.  She told me not to do that, because too much rubbing will affect the shading.  So I have to get used to drawing the figure without the axis. 

She corrected my drawings.  They looked fuller, and the waist area was not good too.  She told me this was the most important part of the figure.  If I got draw this area right, then automatically, the rest of the body will fit onto it.  She recommended me to start always at this part.  This was good, because I always hesitated from where to start.

When the figure of the model moved, all the body landmarks that were used to mark the proportions at the grid (like the bust line, the waist, the groin, the elbows etc), changed, and that was also confusing to me.  My tutor kept mimicking the posture of the model, and explaining what was going on especially at the elbows, knees, and ankles.  That means what goes up and what goes down. This was because when I drew the figures, I had everything out of bounds.  I learned a great deal today, and no matter what I thought I knew seemed trivial compared to my professional tutor……

Thursday 2nd December

I practiced at home what I did in the last design lesson in the past week.  My design tutor told me it was an improvement than before, despite some of my full figures.  I began to have a grip on how the body changed when it moved, but sometimes I lost that sense when it came to drawing it.  There were few instances when I drew the waist, the groin and the bust lines at their places at the grid, as they were in the erect position, and the rest of the body showed the movement of the model. That made my model too full, elongated and statue like (unreal).  My tutor corrected that, and told me these landmarks also moved when the body moved, just like the elbows, the shoulders and the knees.  For instance, a square in the grid might contain both the waist and the bust line, if the model was bending her back.  I repeated some of the corrected ones, and that was some what disappointing to start with. When I finished, they looked more realistic.  Well, that was a repetition from last lesson.  I do not know how it escaped my mind when I was drawing these figures at home!!

Afterwards, I started towards my next step, which was taking the grid off and drawing without it.  I was taught to replace it with a central longitudinal line showing the intervals of the grid.  This line was to help me mark the balance of the figure, the proportions, and the symmetry.  This was a more difficult transition, but it showed the figure better than the obscuring crossed grid lines.


Thursday 9th December

Today was very frustrating to me….. Every time I drew a model, my tutor corrected it.  Correcting it meant a total change in the way it looked.  I still drew moving female bodies with that central line. In fact I spent the whole two lessons drawing three models.  All the rest of the students seemed doing O.K. and I seemed to be the one lagging behind.  Even the ones I thought couldn't draw, began to master the technique faster than I did. I thought I will do better than that.  I don't know what was wrong in me.  Surely, I developed a lot in my drawing style than when I first began, but I was slower than what I had anticipated at the beginning of my study. 

I thought talent will be an additive at learning design.  I seemed to be stuck onto doing the same mistakes repeatedly, and sometimes my old drawing habits lurked out again.  I thought to myself maybe if I hadn't a talent or some background experience at drawing I might have been better.

After the lesson had ended, I went to the faculty of fine arts, to ask about the courses they give for amateurs.  I saw their advert earlier on.  I found out that the courses they will give were very similar to my design course.  I thought I needed more supervised practice, and what I did at home alone was not good enough.  However, the course will be three lessons a week, 3 hrs/lesson, and will consume most of my free evenings.  I will have no time in doing my pattern homework if I did take them… Let me give the design more time, and decide later if I will really need to take these lessons…...

I decided not to practice the design, and to tackle my problem from a very different point of view. This was how I was taught to solve problems from my medicine years.  I had spoken about my difficulty with my design tutor, and she was very enthusiastic to help me.  She recommended that I should practice at home as she used to practice with moving models in her art school.

However, my moving models will be singers, dancers, and models at catwalks over the TV.  I will pause the picture and scribble on paper the axis of their movements, and do quick sketches of their bodies.  Then later on, take another step, and draw the whole body, noticing the movement, the proportions, the symmetry, and all the little details of the body.  I did some of that in the evening, and it was fun and more interesting, and perhaps I will do it next week, before my next design lesson...

Thursday 16th December

I practiced the whole week the way my design tutor had suggested, and she was right.  I drew a couple of models to her with the central line, and she told me they were a great improvement.  At last my waist area was corrected, and that meant there was an automatic correction of the legs. But I kept widening the bust area, and that meant a long neck, a big head, and big arms.  However, I drew faster, and more at ease.  I even showed her another 2 designs that I drew at home, to be published in here.  They had no central line.  That practice that I had, had made the proportions and the curves of the moving female figure be stamped in my head.  They had few corrections, but I was on the right track.  I will repeat these designs, and colour them, and hopefully they will be shown very soon! (if there were no corrections from my design tutor)

Today it was better than my last design lesson, but I was still lagging behind.  Never mind the others, concentrate on myself, I thought.  I was just eager to see myself drawing as a professional fashion designer, and that what made me very depressed at my slow pace at learning how to draw.

Sunday 19th December

In the past month in my pattern course I learned all about darts and its manipulations.  It was like an art and craft lesson.  I manipulated the darts in the basic bodice pattern to show darts starting from the waist, the shoulder, the centre front and the side seam.  I even knew how to merge darts into one dart, and how to split one dart into several places and types.  I knew as well how to produce parallel darts and radiating darts.  I also learned how to do diagonal darts which started from one corner of the garment to another, and darts rising from other darts! I did too gatherings and pleats from darts.

I found out how darts can create wonders to a garment, and how it can change the style too.  I learned how to camouflage the darts at the back into the centre back seam, so that the garments take the shape of the body without the back darts showing.  With an imagination, darts can be a very intriguing thing.

However, I fell in a very common mistake, when I did my first sample of the bodice with the darts... All the darts at the front of the garment has to be based at the bust apex, and if the latter is measured wrong then the bodice with the darts will never fit correctly.  I measured it narrower than my real size, and the dart constricted at the bust giving the illusion that the garment is tight.  No matter how much ease allowance is added this problem will never be corrected.  I corrected that one in the pattern after measuring right the bust apex's distance and length, and luckily I noticed this mistake in my fist sample, before I did both projects.

I sewed the project for the month of November, and did other some samples too.  Sewing straighter lines was smoother than sewing those wavy darts, and thanks to the latter, sewing everything else was comparatively easier. 

I became very confident with the sewing machine, and tackled all of its problems.  There was no clenching except when I first learned how to attach the zipper.  Unfortunately, my first attempt at the zipper was in my November project, and it looked a little nasty, but the whole thing was way better than my first project.  My next attempt at the zipper was better.  I also was taught how to install the part which carried the buttons in blouses, and keyhole buttons at the back.

Another good thing is that my pattern tutor gave me freedom to design the samples, as long as it carried the basic idea in her mind.  I was eager to do different styles, but under her complete supervision, so that the samples do not turn to be challenging as my first project.

My sewing had improved a lot, and I do not fear the sewing machine anymore... I started a note book to jot down her comments, and explained in it how I tackled the sewing of every garment I did, because I kept forgetting some details.  Mistakes in sewing can be costly and time consuming to correct….

As for the pattern itself, I began to feel it easier than before.  My tutor follows a way by which she gives me a sample, and asks me to solve it and try to draw its pattern, in a small scale.  With imagination, but following the basic rules of the darts, most of it is solved.  She explains it with me afterwards, and then I make a real size sample.  I like this method of teaching, because it is similar to puzzle solving, rather than opening a book and copying the pattern straight out of it. This will help me in my design future.  The irony is that it is a bit like practicing internal medicine.  A patient comes with symptoms and signs, and the doctor has to solve the problem, unlike surgery; open-see-remove-close!!!

Darts are over, and hopefully next week I will commence with the collars.  I am surprised that I am doing better in my pattern course than in my design course.  How strange and unexpected!!

To Top of Page

Thursday 23rd December

Merry X-MAS to you all and I wish you a very happy new year….. 

It is Christmas season, and I am in my happy mood.  I was busy the past week in doing Christmas shopping, and Christmas preparations at home.  The weather too is rainy and thundery, and this climate gives me an upbeat through the Christmas season.  In Egypt, we consider a rainy Christmas, and a rainy New Year's Eve a good omen for the forthcoming New Year.  Just as in the belief of 'White Christmas'.

I did not practice at all for design, except that I coloured my designs that I did last week.  I showed them to my design tutor, but she told me that pantone colours will show a better effect than the pencil colours I used.  She helped me with the shadings too.  I shaded faintly, but she told me that they needed blacker and darker shades to allow for the contrasts and layering of the fabric to stand out.  She told me not to be scared about it, and this was a very common mistake for starters.  The deeper the shading, the more the drawing will stand out, and become more realistic. 

My pattern tutor saw my design, and liked it, and thought they were straight out of catalogues, but I told her that they were of my own imagination.  However my humble drawings were nothing like the ones of my design tutor.  She showed us a few of her designs with Pantone colours, and there were ones which were pencil sketches, and others combining pantone and pencil.  They looked very real…. She told me to be patient, and soon I will learn how to draw like hers...

Well I began drawing, and concentrating hard at getting the models right.  I still drew with that central grid line, but I did not draw with an inner skeleton to define the movement of the body of the model.  I put all my tutor's comments, suggestions and corrections into the drawing.  It also took me a whole half an hour to complete, and this was relatively quicker than my previous drawings.  I do not know why I felt confident and more at ease.  Maybe it was the Christmas season, and maybe it was the practice I did in the week before.

When I finished, the model looked very good to me, and to my surprise my design tutor like it too. Other than the relatively large head, everything was in the same proportions as the original sketch, and the balance and the movement of the body were O.K. too.  She told me to draw the next one. With so much confidence I finished that one too quickly, but taking into account to concentrate on the head as well. S he was amazed that I did it right, and found nothing in it to be corrected.  Her positive attitude gave me a burst of self confidence, which had been down for the previous few lessons.

She showed me how to shade those using pencils and mixing pens.  She showed me how to hold the pencil, and how and where to shade.  She advised me to try shading at home with different pencil leads (2H,4H,6H,HB,2B,6B), to get used to the different intensities of shading.  I shaded one figure, and I used the pencil sparingly, that it darkened the model.

She liked it so much, and she told me that I brought up beautifully some details in the figure like the neck, the pelvic bones, and the shoulders.  This was because of too main reasons. The first reason was my knowledge of the human body anatomy from my medical profession .(Anatomy also helped me greatly in comprehending body movements and body proportions, and its balance at drawing moving female bodies, although drawing this right was a completely different issue, and I realized this in the past few weeks). The other reason for my good shading is that I used to draw and shade with pencil, and pencil colours. .. .

I shaded another couple of figures, but in a lighter intensity, and my design tutor liked it too. I was thrilled today of my tremendous improvement.  Finally, I knew where I went wrong. I sat in the evening redrawing all the figures I did before, and I will shade them later on.

I still do not know why my sudden improvement.  Now I am on track with the others.  It must have been my lucky day today…..

Note from Pauline   My sincere thanks to Vivian Mikhail for her account to date of her fashion design experience.  This account is Viv's personal description of her course and feelings of excitement, jubilation and despair to date.  Viv forms part of's new section where Visitor's contribute to the fashion-era site.  This is the third account and is of the last weeks of the first Autumn 2004 session.

Pauline's Comment on This Third Page of Vivian's Journal

It sounds like you have a great and understanding tutor who wants to lead you to a specific way of drawing figures.  She is probably thrilled to have so responsive a student.  The sketching of TV models is great idea and your natural talent and medical understanding of human anatomy will stand you in great stead.

I'm so glad that that the sewing skills are improving.  The more you use the machine the happier and more comfortable you will be when sewing.  Soon you will be mentally visualising how to construct garments when you are not even at the machine.  You will be mentally thinking of dart manipulation when you see a garment you like that graces a shop window, knowing how you can slash and spread pattern pieces to get that effect.  Later on you will be able to achieve almost any effect you can see in your mind when you learn to pattern make on the model/dress form or dress stand and combine the two methods. 

Your pattern/construction tutor has taken an approach that can work very well.  For example when I was taught to tailor it was suggested we buy a good quality jacket or coat from a thrift shop and unpick it to see how it was constructed.  I recall buying an old fashioned British warm coat and inside it had a label inside that said Buckingham Palace Road and a little chain hanging loop and a secret inside pocket.  It must have been at least 50 years old.  I was loathe to unpick it, but it was worth seeing the inside which was a work of reinforcement tailoring art.

The shoulder and various edges were full of interesting canvas and layered padding, tape and reinforcement areas that helped me absorb concepts about tailoring that are better seen on the inside of a garment like that one, than in pictures in a book.

As for lucky day Vivian - luck makes itself with the sheer hard work you have put in combined with your natural ability.  Hmmmmmm... it is odd how the harder and more diligently we work, the luckier we get.......


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