Susan Khalje Couture Sewing School Review

Last month I attended Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School. I first heard about Susan’s classes when Melanie (a.k.a. Poppykettle) took her classes and blogged about them back in 2013. I’ve been fantasizing about taking one ever since. Though Susan is perhaps best know for her French Jacket classes (where each person sews a Chanel style jacket), her Couture Sewing School is a much more flexible class where each sewist brings her own, unique project and works on it over the course of the week.

Since the description of the class is pretty much “show up and sew something” I thought it might interest others to hear a personal account of what the week was like. The first day we all had our muslins fit. It was quite interesting to see as each woman brought a very different project though a bit hard to learn by observing since there were so many variables – different bodies and different projects. Additionally, Susan made some fitting changes with amazing precision and some she ignored since a garment is first basted together with massive seam allowances (1″ or more!) so there’s plenty of wiggle room for adjustments during construction. I think one might learn even more about fit during a French Jacket Class when you can see the same garment fit on a variety of different bodies.

The first day was supposed to end with a trip to Britex to get whatever fabric or notions people still needed for their projects, though a power outage caused us to go there midday and then return to finish muslins which made the day a little discombobulating. Shopping at Britex with a group of passionate women was quite a treat. I was quickly given the nickname of “magpie” as I flitted from one woman’s shopping to another, always excited to help with decisions or just admire the pretty goods. I had already purchased everything I needed for my jacket but I did still manage to walk out with a bag full of fabric and ideas for future sewing projects :)

The rest of the days were all pretty similar. People would trickle in in the morning and Susan would talk over what their next step on their project should be. She would alternate sitting and letting people come to her with questions with making her way through the room to check up on sewists’ progress. At the end of the day she would do one final lap to talk through what people could choose to do that evening if they wanted to sew on their own back in their hotel rooms. I took my sewing home every night but many women (especially locals returning to their home and not a hotel) opted not to. There was a grocery store with a nice deli a block away so we ended up eating together every day in small (or large) groups.

There were quite a variety of projects and I spent a lot of time flitting between desks (again, ever the magpie) so I could learn from the differences and similarities between the constructions of the various garments. Just in my class there was my tuxedo jacket, a wool crepe cocktail dress with exposed darts and embellished collar, a high-waist pencil skirt built over a corselette, a mens style overcoat, a casual cotton jacket, an embellished boucle sheath dress, a silk blouse, a silk sheath dress, a strapless gown with lace overlay, a paneled lace skirt, and a lace cocktail dress. So many pretty things!

Susan has definitely developed quite a following as many of the women there had been to her classes many times – in fact one woman (Joann) had been attending since the 90’s! Amazingly, Susan could remember the garments that Joann had sewn over the years even better than she could! It was immediately clear to me why Susan has such a following as she greeted every attendee with a hug and brought a thoughtful focus to each discussion. She asked and seemed to genuinely care about each woman’s life and story.

One thing I would have wished was just a bit more guidance about what to bring (or not) to the class since I stressed about packing and just about couldn’t carry my luggage myself. It was nice to have my own machine and its accoutrement. I was laughed at (in a friendly way) for bringing pattern weights (since I flew down) but many people did borrow them, so I felt justified :) Having my own chalk and tracing supplies was important. The studio had plenty of irons and hams and other pressing equipment to share (though that may be different in other locations). Susan brings a case full of supplies that she recommends so I bought her recommended basting needles and basting thread. It would have been nice to know not to bother to bring my own organza (since Susan brings a bolt and none of the organza that any students brought was deemed up to snuff). I was laughed at for bringing hair canvas (Susan’s version of couture tailoring never uses it as it’s too sharp for women to wear) and forbidden from using my tracing paper (since all pattern adjustments are made on muslin) (again, friendly laughter. There was lots of laughing over the week!). Other things were my own fault – I brought a couple books on tailoring thinking I might read the in the evenings (nope, just more hand sewing and binging on Netflix). I also brought the supplies for a second project just in case I finished my first (ha ha ha! That so totally didn’t happen).

The only other thing I would have wished from the class was a more direct statement from Susan on what she wanted to give us of herself. On the last day I wanted to talk through the order of operations for sewing a matching skirt for my jacket out of the rest of the wool I had left. Susan kind of brushed me off – perhaps it’s because it was the last day and everybody was scrambling for one last bit of Susan’s attention. Perhaps it was because she only wanted to offer help on a single project per person (another woman told me that she had hoped for fit advice on a different work-in-progress that she brought into the class but Susan wouldn’t help). I can imagine that it would be exhausting to be “on” all day (for long days) every day for a week so it’s understandable that Susan would set limits – it would just have been nice for them to be clearly communicated to us before the class.

That being said, it really was an amazing experience. I learned a ton about couture sewing, but the most magical part was being immersed in sewing with a group of other women just as nuts about it as I am. I got to geek out with women from all around the world, of very different ages and shapes and backgrounds but all with the same passion. I would recommend the class for anyone that wants to sample a new set of skills (since it’s quite different from most home sewing) or if you have a fancy garment you want help with or if you just want the chance to immerse yourself in sewing and make some new friends.

Finally, I have to thank my husband for his role in the class. Stepping away from “real life” for a whole week is not easy and without his encouragement I wouldn’t have been able to make it happen. Adam took much of the week off also so that he could take care of Evie and keep our house running while I was gone and I greatly appreciate him for it.

(I have quite a bit of work left to do on my jacket, so I’ll share all about it when it’s finally done.)

Comments 10

  1. Thanks for the review! I hope to take a Susan K class some day, and I’ll remember the ‘1 project’ rule. Have you taken any Palmer/Pletsch classes? If so, how do they compare?

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  2. I am glad you wrote this review. I had never even heard of this person before. I hope you were able to give her some feedback when you finished. I can’t imagine paying all that money and then being “laughed at” and dismissed when you asked for help? Maybe I am reading this the wrong way. I hope so. I hope you learned a ton while you were there. There is a market for good sewing teachers, obviously. Happy sewing!

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      I didn’t mean for the review to sound that harsh. All of the laughing done during the week was very friendly – it was such a positive, happy environment that there was lots of shared laughing at mistakes and learning experiences. I’ll go make a few minor changes to the post to communicate that more clearly. I was a bit disappointed at not getting the help I was hoping for on the very last day, but I don’t think Susan declining to help was unreasonable, I just wish it had been communicated at the beginning of the week instead of the end.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. I love hearing about Poppykettle’s experiences, and it was fun to see it through a different lens.

  4. I did a Susan Khalje couture class in Sydney after loving and following many other people’s experiences online. She did make a comment during the week ‘people often ask me if I could fit, fit and fit multiple muslins, and I suppose I could spend a week doing that, but that’s not the point.’ So, I think sometimes we get so excited about how much knowledge and skill she has and just want to know all the answers, when really she wants us to do our project really, really well – because that then should give us a good base to problem solve and ‘think couture’ for our next projects.
    I made a coat, and even though I’m an advanced sewer, the biggest thing I gained was a clear perspective of how every step can be broken down and how complex isn’t really complex when broken down. Also, how much easier handsewing and threadtracing makes everything! I also brought 2 projects along and got no where near the 2nd one!

    What advice were you looking for about your skirt?

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      Thanks for sharing your experience.
      I had a pattern I was interested in using and just wanted to talk through the order of operations with construction questions like “is my fabric too thick for this skirt to even work?”, “should each piece have a silk organza underlining or should I use a different underlining?”, “does the waistband need additional stabilization?”. It would have taken 5 minutes to talk through it all the way. Since I’ve done very little couture sewing, I just wanted to make sure that I was “thinking couture” the right way for my next project and that I had appropriately applied what I learned on the jacket to the skirt.

      1. Ok, I understand.
        From my experience, and without seeing your fabric, some ideas:
        1) Your waistband holds up the entirety of your skirt, so strengthening it should be a priority.
        2) Underlining – you need to think about how you want the end product to act. Does it drape? Hang? Hold stiffly? Have flatly pressed pleats, or are you ok with ‘organic’ bouyant seams? Silk organza often gets touted as the holy grail, but it doesn’t mean it’s right for every situation, or every pattern piece. Also, some underlinings can affect how the final fabric presses.
        3) Heavy fabric is the opposite for light, eretheal pattern design – so does your intended design match your fabric? Could you mock your skirt up in a similar weight fabric before you cut into your prized fabric?

        If you spend some time reading some couture-inspired seamstresses’ works (poppykettle, achallengingsew, tanyetlamode) it helps you absorb into that world. And then, sample sample and sample. YOU’RE the person who needs to like the end product, so keep that in mind if ‘the rule says’ but you want to do otherwise.

  5. Hello Erin,
    I am a beginner sewist and I want to take my sewing to another level. Fortunately I live near Baltimore and Susan is running her week long sessions. Question, do people need to be fairly advanced in sewing in order to attend? I have been looking around for schools but the closest one would be in PA.

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      Hi Grace – I’d recommend reaching out to Susan with any questions. I think the answer depends on what you want to get out of the week. Most of the students in my class were fairly advanced sewists, though there was one woman who hadn’t been sewing for long and was very successful with a simple dress. Another woman hadn’t sewn in 20 years and made a lovely simple coat. They were able to ask questions of the other students when they hit stumbling blocks and Susan was busy. The class is about each person making a single garment so I’m sure that you could pick a garment that you could make beautifully. The class may not be the best fit if you’re hoping to learn a lot of things relevant for upping your general home sewing since Susan teaches couture construction that you probably won’t use on most of your home sewing.

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