I've spent the afternoon watching the three episodes of Signé Chanel I could easily find online while stitching a few blackwork embroidery squares. Signé Chanel follows Rue Cambon's couturières in the weeks leading to a Chanel fashion show. It's incredible insight into the work that goes into a single item of clothing.
Three things struck me about the work:
- the ready shrug and smile with which the seamstresses accept each required new version. Need to make a new train for a dress, after you've spent over 20 hours on the previous version, stitching it by hand? Okay, let's get to work. One hour to un-pick a seam, remove a row of beading, and stitch it back together, again, by hand? Let's do it! Incredible.
- just one woman, a 75 year-old who raises horses on a farm outside of Paris, is responsible for a good part of the hand-woven trim. She's tried to teach a bunch of others, but no one gets it to her level of perfection, and so she's still the only trim-maker for Chanel.
- Lagerfeld, Chanel's designer, is so inspired by one wedding dress... that he gives the seamstress three more pieces to execute, on top of her regular work, before the show. "The dress was so good," he says, "I can't help wanting more". The reward for good work is more good work ahead. I love this.
When I was in journalism school, one of my professors had a habit of flunking the first person to hand in their work. What he was rejecting wasn't speed, he told us, but over-confidence. "I want you to tremble with fear every time you hand in a final draft. Every mistake you make costs me time in correcting it." Harsh. Wise.
This is probably why I enjoy needlecraft. Each tiny stitch has to be done perfectly, or else you undo it and start over. Online, it's both easy and impossible to delete a mistake: you get an instant do-over, but we all know that nothing is ever truly deleted. Even when you can edit anything with the press of a button, it's worth having a little shudder of fear before pressing "publish".