Cut My Cote

Dorothy K. Burnham, Cut My Cote. Toronto, Ontario: Royal Ontario Museum, 1997.
Dorothy K. Burnham, Cut My Cote. Toronto, Ontario: Royal Ontario Museum, 1997.

Deep down in the very pit of my soul- I want to design and sew garments using my handwoven fabric. Being a fashion designer is something that I have wanted to do since I was 16 years old. However, I can’t sew. Sure I can follow a pattern pretty closely, but the garments I make never quite seem to be perfect. It is just a hurdle that I will eventually get over.

What revived my drive to make garments from my handwoven cloth came my last semester of my undergraduate program. It was a late night in the weaving studio and I was waiting for something to dry or I was waiting for someone- I am not too sure, and my husband and I started going through the old cabinets and drawers. I started finding these weaving monographs and old catalogs that hadn’t been opened in years. It was a gold mine of information on creating fashion from fiber art. Among the loot that I found was a catalog put out by the Royal Ontario Museum called Cut My Cote, written by Dorothy K. Burnham.

It is a short book, only 34 pages long. The text reads very easily and is formatted like an essay, the content focusing on the evolution of the sewn garment throughout civilization. On each page however there are diagrams. These diagrams specify the width of the given cloth (unfortunately not the length) and how it is cut to form a sewn garment. The clothing that is pictured are so beautiful and so simple that it makes me want to break over that barrier and finally cut into my weavings. If people who had no modern technology to aid them in creating these beautifully embellished and impeccably detailed garments, then why can’t I with my own two hands and my fancy machines?

Here is an example of the diagrams contained within the book.
Here is an example of the diagrams contained within the book.

For my senior show I did make a kimono based off of one of the diagrams in this book- however I tried to put in a lining that just did not do the overall garment justice. (If you must know, it was a polyester lining and it made my skin crawl.) And that bug has stayed in my mind ever since.

I recently purchased this book online and I was thrilled to add this too my bookshelf.

Once I have a little bit more time available, I am going to try to create one of the simpler shifts diagramed in the book. I highly recommend purchasing it if you can- even if you aren’t interested in making your own clothes. The history and the ideas behind the garments and the small details that make a garment more comfortable or form fitting are revolutionary! It is great read for when you want to learn something cool, but are too busy to really sit down and read a giant book on the history of fashion.

If you make anything from this book you should send along some pictures! I would love to see if anyone else has been inspired to create from this wonderful little book.





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