Frequently Asked Questions

What level of sewing skill do I have to have to attend one of Susan Khalje’s classes?

As long as you have good strong sewing skills, and a desire to improve your sewing, you’ll benefit enormously from the class.

Do I need to bring my machine? My serger?

If the class is held at the Sewing Workshop or Apparel Arts (both in San Francisco), then machines are provided (you can still bring your own); otherwise, you will need your machine. You won’t need a serger, as they’re not used in couture sewing.

Is the couture sewing school really a year-round school?

No. It’s always been a series of couture sewing seminars – usually 6 days long – held in Baltimore, where I live. I was then asked if I would teach the same class at other sewing schools, so seminars are offered at The Sewing Workshop in San Francisco, at Apparel Arts in San Francisco, and sometimes for sewing guilds or other sewing organizations around the country.

Is the curriculum always the same?

Well, it’s the same in that couture techniques are always used. The focus is different, sometimes, though – in addition to the regular sessions, there are sessions that concentrate on classic French jackets, and I sometimes offer a corset seminar.

I feel like everyone will be better than I am. Should I still come?

Absolutely! We all have different bodies of knowledge – and one of the nicest side benefits of coming to the class is that it will confirm much of the knowledge that you do have. The majority of sewers are self-taught, so we have no real way to measure our skills and knowledge – it’s nice to know that what you’ve been doing all along is right.

What project should I choose?

Well, some students come with a very specific idea – they want to work on boning, or learn to work with lace, or with a specific fabric, for example. Other students want to work on a garment for a special event. I’m always happy to discuss possible projects ahead of time with students – we put our heads together and see what’s best to concentrate on, and determine the project from there. I always joke that I could have you make an A-line skirt, and fill it with enough couture techniques to make it a fantastic learning experience. And it’s true!

Will I finish my project?

It really depends on a lot of variables – your skill level, how much time you devote to it, what your main focus for the week is (someone might concentrate on the lace bodice of a gown, for example, knowing that the skirt is something they don’t really need my help on), and so on. In any event, you’ll be sent home with full and specific instructions on how to complete any unfinished work.

Can I call you later?

I’m always available to answer questions, and I really do love hearing from past students.

Is the class for professionals or amateurs?

There’s always a mix in the class – what all the students have in common is a love for fine sewing, and a desire to take their skills to the next level.

Do I have to stay at the hotel where the class is held?

Actually, it’s only in Baltimore that classes are held at the same hotel where most of the students stay (it is convenient, and as we have our classroom there on a 24-hour basis, it’s a great chance to get a lot of work done).

What expenses will I have?

Well, in addition to tuition, there’s room and board (I do supply an accommodations list,), transportation (it’s usually not necessary to rent a car), and of course, the cost of fabric and supplies for your project. It’s not an inexpensive proposition, but it’s a serious class that provides a great deal of high-level knowledge that’s pretty impossible to obtain anywhere else.

How many students are in the class?

I keep the classes small to allow for individual attention – 8-10 students is average.

Is the class taught by anyone other than Susan Khalje?

No – just me, with lots of personalized attention for each student.

What are the hours?

We begin around 9 or 9:30, and finish around 6 or 6:30, though I generally arrive earlier and stay later.

Do we discuss anything other than sewing techniques?

For these who are interested, we do spend one evening discussing business practices. Often, students are either hoping to get into the custom clothing business, or are re-directing an existing sewing business, so it’s useful. I was a couture dressmaker for about 25 years, and I share what I know with the students. We talk about public relations, studio set-up, wholesale resources, organizations to join, networking, pricing, getting clients, business card design, all sorts of things.

Do I need to bring fabric with me?

No, a shopping excursion is always included. Students are welcome to bring fabric if they have it, but so many students don’t have access to good fabric stores these days, and one reason students are here is to learn to work with unfamiliar fabrics. I find they often want my input when it comes to buying fabric – which I’m happy to give – so finding just the right fabric for the project is critical.

How much should I plan to spend on fabric?

Well, it’s hard to be specific, but couture garments really do deserve fabulous fabrics – and there are linings and underlinings to consider, too. Your time and effort really deserve the best fabric you can afford – but having said that, I know that budgets aren’t unlimited, and I’m used to working within a student’s fabric budget.

What preparation do I need to do ahead of time?

I do ask students to put together a muslin of their intended garment (I send full instructions when I send out pre-class information). If the garment is for someone other than the student, then we really do need a fitted muslin copy of the garment as a starting point. And, since it’s a new process for so many sewers, we spend much of the first day of class fitting and perfecting the muslins before we move on.

What sort of pre-class information will I get?

You’ll get a long letter which gives full details of the class, muslin instructions, and information about travel and accommodations.

Does Susan Khalje stock any supplies?

A few, but really important ones! I’ve found that students often come with not-very-good scissors, so I have some of my favorites on hand, as well as the best hand-sewing needles and pins I’ve ever found, as well as some basic fabrics (mostly underlinings and linings). And I try to have enough on hand so that students can get extras from me to have in their own sewing rooms for later use. And, once they’re available on CD, I’ll have copies of my books.

Is it necessary to read Bridal Couture before the class?

Absolutely not, though if you have an interest in this sort of sewing, you’ve probably read it already. It wouldn’t be a bad idea, though, just to familiarize yourself with the whole concept of couture sewing.

Can I repeat the class?

Absolutely – I have lots of students who come every year. They work on different projects – one student started with a casual top and pull-on pants, then she did a very fitted and heavily-boned camisole, then a classic French jacket; she’s told me she wants to work with lace for her next project this summer. And what is so fabulous is that I bet she couldn’t have imagined, a number of years ago when she took her first class with me, that she’d be sewing garments on this level. Another lady first made an evening suit, then a bustier for her daughter, then a bustier for herself; I don’t know what she’ll work on this year. Hopefully, one’s skills keep growing, along with an interest in the art of sewing. So the learning just continues.

Are there different levels?

Well, at one point I did that – just to sort of recognize the students who were returning. But since everyone is always working on something different, it really didn’t make sense. Maybe if I had a set curriculum, it would, but that’s not how it’s structured. It’s each individual moving to her or his next level, so it’s a very personalized approach.