Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

My Little French Jacket #3: Muslin-fitting challenges

home-ec-class
Ah…home ec classes!

When I learned to sew – way back in the ‘olden’ days – the notion of making a muslin/toile/test garment never occurred to any of us in the ‘home ec’ classes of the day. In fact, the idea of taking the time to make a garment that you would never even wear (don’t get me started on the notion of a ‘wearable muslin’ – a rant for another day) was so foreign as to be laughable. These days, however, for my money, making a quality garment of quality fabric without a fitting muslin would be fool-hardy. For me, getting that fit right before laying out and cutting my fabric is key to the success of the project and my feeling of accomplishment. So, in the case of my current project, when last we talked, I had whipped together the toile and was just about to put it on. Moment of truth…

Dear god…it’s hideous. Every single complaint anyone had about this pattern played out before my eyes in the mirror. Despite the fact that I had done a tissue fit, I had not, of course, fit the sleeves. How problematic could they be? As it turns out – very problematic. And although the thing now fits around me relatively well, the shape was clearly wrong.

 

Reviews I had read of Vogue 8804, Clair Shaeffer’s LFJ pattern suggested that it was boxy, despite the picture on the pattern envelope, so I had nipped it in a bit. Not nearly enough. For me, the upper chest area was also billowy, but with princess seams, that’s always an easy fix for me and becomes the difference between the fit of an off-the-rack jacket and a custom-made one. First adjustment taken care of.

 

The sleeves are another problem. Given that one of the hallmarks of a Chanel-inspired jacket is the slimness of the sleeves, I’m left wondering just who CS and Vogue thought had arms this large. However, since they are three-piece sleeves, there are several different points of reduction available to me including that seam that runs from the shoulder point to the cuff. I also add a dead dart at the under arm which helps. But the sleeve head also seems too bit for the armscye at the front — too much fullness that will have to come out. Also, they are an odd length for me. They are designed to be bracelet length, and I thought that I’d like that. Turns out that the proportion is just wrong on me—it might work for someone else, but not me. So I decide to remove the sleeves, re-cut them and see how the second pass goes.

sleeve fit problem

The bottom line at this point is that I need to do a second muslin.

I use the pieces of my first muslin with their extensive alterations as the pattern for muslin #2 and sew it up. When I look in the mirror, I see that it is better, but there are still some fit issues.

The sleeves now fit better and are a better length, but it’s still a bit boxy – the waist is too wide and needs to be nipped in at the front princess seams and a bit at the sides. There is also another issue.

When I first cut out the pattern, I did note that CS had used ease at the bust along with the princess seaming. The pattern directions then call for this to be converted to an underarm dart in the lining.

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On the first muslin, I had to take a dead dart from the side seam to the armsye on the front to get rid of some of the boxiness. 

I had thought this would be a good idea, but now it’s just puffy. Of course the muslin fabric does not have the characteristics of fluidity that will be part of working with the bouclé, but I’m wondering if removing the ease with a dead dart will improve the fit. And…it does!

Then there is the length issue. I ignored it at the first muslin fitting, but now it’s of concern. It’s either not short enough, or not long enough. After consideration, I opt for the shorter length, then see that there is too much flair at the hemline. I lengthen it again to the original pattern length, and the flare only gets worse. So it’s back to the drawing board for the hem.

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You can see the dead dart in the sleeve: I took it from the armhole to the centre seam. This did get rid of the excessive ease in the front of the sleeve but you can still see some of the puckering at the sleeve head. 

I take the hem down again, reduce the width of the side panels and shorten it again and it works. Now I need to evaluate the pocket placement.

This jacket has four pockets and when I examine their location on Chanel originals, I note that the placement varies a lot. So, I’m going to have to go with what works best for my body shape and height. I move them up and over, then back and find them too close to the centre line making them look asymmetrical. Back they go and now the muslin is ready.

Now it’s time to pick it apart, iron the pieces well and ensure that they are free from lint bits. I now have a pattern from muslin and it’s on to the exciting bit of cutting and marking real fabric!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

A muslin/toile for my new Little French Jacket: Marking for perfect fit

coco quoteCoco Chanel is often quoted as having said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” And nothing says impeccable dressing to me more than perfect fit. Oh how I strive for perfect fit (as anyone who has read previous posts on this journey with me will know!). As I advance down the road toward Little French Jacket #3, I am faced squarely with fitting a new design rather than reusing an already fitted one. Of course this begins with the muslin.

When last we spoke I had done a preliminary pattern fitting, tweaked a few known problems, and then began cutting out the muslin to create my first test jacket – and with any luck and a few more tweaks, it will be the only one I’ll need.

In the Spring 2013 special fitting issue of Threads magazine Susan Khalje begins her article on creating a muslin by saying, “Muslin may be an inexpensive fabric, but a muslin test garment is worth its weight in gold.” And I wouldn’t even consider cutting into that expensive bouclé or that even more expensive silk charmeuse for the jacket lining before getting as close to a perfect fit for the pattern as I could possibly get. This is especially important in the case of these jackets because of the nature of the fabrics themselves. Both bouclé and silk charmeuse fray appallingly and the less they are manipulated the better. This means that there should be no seam ripping whatsoever. The only way to avoid redoing any seam in my view is to be absolutely certain that the pattern fits then baste everything before sewing. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I now have my muslin fabric cut out and am ready to mark it. I am going to be marking and working with seam lines as I mentioned in my last post, rather than seam allowance edges, so the muslin pieces are pretty roughly cut out. Now I have to transfer all seam lines, grain lines and other markings onto the right side of the muslin pieces. The right side you ask? Well, this is what I asked after a lifetime of tailor’s tacks in good fabrics (I’ll get to those as well – wait and see) and piddly little pieces of carbon tracing paper sandwiched between two pieces of fabric to mark on the wrong side. I learned that approach in long-ago home ec. classes! With the couture approach to muslin creation, however, I need the markings on the right side so I can see them when I do the fitting in due course. Won’t I need some marks on the inside for sewing – well, yes, but I’ll get to that.

I’m using large sheets of dressmaker’s waxed marking paper that I bought online from Susan Khalje’s web site. When I started using it I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” I think each sheet (it comes in a tube of 4 sheets of different colours) measures about 26 inches X 39 inches.

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The sheets of the heavily waxed paper are enormous and wonderful to work with. But they do cause a bit of hand staining! (It comes off easily!)

I roll out the red sheet (I like red for my first pass on muslins) on my cutting board and hold it in place with random things on the four edges that will otherwise curl unmercifully. I have a tape dispenser on one, a pair of shears on another – well, you get the idea.

I place my first cut-out muslin piece on the tracing paper and just begin tracing all the marks with my tracing wheel. When I need to move the piece to be closer to me, I just move it. When I need to turn it, I just turn it. There is no rearranging of carbon paper etc. I’m in heaven. I mark everything in sight. Grain lines for sure, seam lines, darts, circles, notches, waistline, bicep line, high figure point etc. When I have all of this on one piece and I have carefully checked to ensure I haven’t missed any markings, I remove the tissue paper pattern, re-pin the two layers together and just turn it over. I use the markings on this side to mark the other side. Brilliant! I then take a red pen and label each piece: centre front, side front, upper sleeve etc. I repeat this process with every single piece. Because I’m a bit OCD about this process, I actually note which is the right side and which is the left for each piece and mark this as well.

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I’ve marked from one side, removed the tissue pattern, re-pinned and turned the piece over to use the initial markings to mark the other side. 

I need to say a few things about this pattern (Vogue 8804). It is Claire Shaeffer’s design for these LFJ’s and on the pattern pieces she has provided markings for the quilting lines. When made a LFJ before, I always made my own decisions regarding the location and spacing of the quilting lines based largely on the pattern woven into the fabric itself. However, I do note that since this one will have buttons and buttonholes, and the front will be underlined with silk organza which she specifically indicates should be quilted directly to the fashion fabric rather than doing this line through the lining, I do mark those quilting lines on the front pieces. I will leave out the back markings though, and make a decision and measure them when I get to the quilting part.Vogue 8804 pattern front

So I now have all the pieces marked on the right side, but I’ll be putting right sides together to sew up the toile, so how in the world do I get the marks I need on the wrong side? Thread tracing to the rescue.

I put all the tissue paper pattern pieces back in the envelope: I shouldn’t need those ever again as long as I live if I get this right. Then I take the muslin pieces to the machine. I thread it with red thread. (Remember, I like red for my first pass at a muslin then I know which marking I’m looking at.)

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length (it does go faster this way and there is less puckering), I sew along any line I will need to sew. This means I don’t thread-trace grain lines, waist markings etc. I don’t back-tack at all and I sew to the end of each line, stop, cut the thread, then sew the next one so that I have very clear transections of the seam lines. This should make it easier to match up the corners.

 

When this process is complete, I have a perfect set of wrong side sewing markings. I take all the pieces to the ironing board and give them a good steam press. I’m ready to sew the muslin together.

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length and dark grey thread to differentiate the stitching line from the thread tracing line, I whip it together. Well I whip it and carefully prepare and set in the sleeves to be honest. Once it’s complete, with great trepidation I put it on, approach the mirror, and hope that it comes close to fitting.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

My latest Little French Jacket: Prepping the pattern

I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation on the east coast of Canada and am more than ready to tackle the LFJ #3. Now that I have the fabric and the lining, I’m all set to get that pattern ready for the first (and I hope the final) muslin fit garment.

I’ve been down this route before, but the second time I made one of these jackets I used the same pattern as from the first so was able to skip much of this fitting activity. This time, I’ve chosen a different pattern.

My first and second jackets were both Vogue 7975, a basic design and one that is very easy to create if using the regular lining approach. I liked its open front and two-piece sleeves which I made three-quarter length in LFJ #1 and full-length in LFJ #2. This time I wanted to do something different, and as I mentioned in a previous post, learn a few new things. So this time I’ve selected Vogue 8804, a pattern created by Claire Schaeffer who wrote the book (really she did) on making the ‘Chanelesque’ jacket.

 

So, what do I like about this pattern that makes it different/upgraded from V 7975:

  1. This one has a three-piece sleeve, a real upgrade in my view. A two-piece sleeve provides the opportunity for a better, slimmer fit than the one-piece, and my research tells me a three-piece one is even better. And it just looks good.
  2. The sleeve has a buttoned vent. Need I say more?
  3. This pattern uses hand-worked button holes, a real couture technique. I’m excited if a bit daunted never having done them before, but I’ll get the supplies and give it a try.
  4. It has four pockets rather than two. Many Chanel jackets have four pockets – but certainly not all. This feature does, however, make it different than my last two and who wants three jackets all the same?
  5. The design employs an underarm ease for bust shaping. I think this may be a good idea, but that remains to be seen.
  6. And, although the back does not have princess seams, it does have a centre back seam as well as side panels without an actual side seam for better shaping.

So, I’m ready to begin. Well, first I read a few online reviews of this particular pattern and most suggest that it’s a bit boxy (although it doesn’t look that way on the line art) and it runs slightly large. I’ll consider this with the first fitting.

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Claire Shaeffer’s detailed instructions in the pattern

I take out all the pattern pieces and Claire Shaeffer’s instructions which are, to say the least, detailed. This pattern was designed specifically for this kind of Chanel-like construction process so the instructions reflect that. I note that there are trim guides for cutting and shaping the trim, a little extra that I will ditch. I’ve never had trouble cutting or shaping trim so I think this is unnecessary. Back in the envelope.

She has also provided a back interfacing guide. I’m inclined to think that I’ll use the French Jacket interior approach that I’ve used be for with terrific results: I’ll use my trusty twill tape and/or silk organza selvedge to stabilize the neck, hem, sleeve and front edges. Back interfacing guide: back in the envelope. There is a pattern piece of interfacing of the bottom of the sleeves that I’ll consider since this jacket has a button placket on the sleeve vent.

Right out of the pattern envelope I realize that there will be little tissue fitting to begin the process – there are simply too many seams. I pin the seams as best I can; I also pin the dart ease then compare the pattern’s high figure point to the HFP on my own bodice block. Although I give it a brave attempt and get a sense, it’s a bit ragged to tell you the truth — the fitting, that is! I note that the upper chest area is a bit too short for me (a typical commercial pattern problem) so I lengthen it before beginning. I also note that, contrary to a Chanel-type design, the waist-line is a bit too low, so I raise it slightly. According to the Chanel videos, this raised waist-line provides for a better fit. Now I’m ready to get at the muslin.

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Comparing my personal sloper to the pattern

I decide to use Susan Khalje’s couture technique and begin by going around every pattern piece marking the seam lines carefully. There was a time when commercial patterns had these marked: this was before the advent of the multi-sized pattern. In any case, I will work with seam lines (which I will thread trace) rather than seam allowances as they do in real couture houses so I’m told. Of course, intuitively it just makes sense that matching seam line to seam line rather than seam allowance edge to seam allowance edge will be more accurate and provide for a better fit.

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My trusty marker and ruler to mark ALL of the seam allowances at 5/8 in (because this is how the pattern fits at this stage)

Now that all the seam allowances are marked, I can lay out the pattern on my muslin fabric for cutting. I pin carefully, take great pains to “respect the grain” as Susan Khalje reminds us so often. The pinning takes time, but the cutting – not so much! I love this rough cutting. The seam allowance edges are immaterial in this approach since I’ll be marking all the sewing lines and using those.

 

Once I hack (cut) out the pattern pieces, I’m ready for the all-important marking. Stay tuned!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style Influencers, Stylish Books

Fabric & lining & muslin, oh my! Starting my newest Little French Jacket

cc books
My two favourite Chanel biographies.

I’ve read a lot about Coco Chanel over the past few years as I fed my continuing obsession with all things Chanel. Every biography seems to agree on at least one thing: CC herself wasn’t fussed about other copying her  work. It’s not that she would have been happy with others actually trying to pass off their copies as authentic Chanel; rather she did, in fact, believe that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. She even encouraged others to take on her style since it clearly proved that she was the one and only style arbiter. So I have to believe that Mademoiselle herself would have been proud of the fact that those of us who are interested in couture sewing produce our own homages. It’s also true that the House of Chanel actually gave its blessing (and took a percentage) to specially-selected fashion houses who made authorized Chanel copies.

jackie-kennedys-pink-suit-ii-chez-ninon-labelFor example, until recently, I had been under the mistaken impression that Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing a favourite Chanel suit on that fateful day in 1963 when JFK was assassinated beside her in the back seat of a convertible in Dallas, Texas. In fact, her suit was an authorized copy from New York-based chez Ninon, a knock-off that was 1/10 the price of an original, and made in the USA. There are those who continue to believe that Jackie was wearing an original Chanel, but to me it’s more plausible that since she was the American first lady, and her husband evidently urged her to buy American, that the suit was an official Chanel copy. In that way it was authentic from its design to its bouclé, the fabric that has become synonymous with the Little French Jacket – which brings me to my next step toward my third LFJ: now that I have the design I’m going for, I need fabric.

I always take my time perusing bouclé fabrics whenever I’m in a good fabric store. I had a wonderful time examining Mood’s offerings in their LA outpost this past winter, but in the end I wander down to the garment district here in Toronto and while buying muslin at Leather Supply, I pick through their remnant bin. Now, I’m not a real remnant kind of sewer, but on this day they have a selection of bouclé and tweed fabric in the bin. And the pieces are a minimum of 2 meters each. I find one I like; the only down side to this find is that the precise fabric content is a bit of a mystery. They know only that it is a wool blend. Well, this is good enough for me!

It’s a mix of mostly greys and burgundy with a bit of black. The texture looks as if it will neatly hide the matching quilting and it had a nice hand. I’m sold, but I need lining.

I try my usual spot on Queen Street West: Affordable Fabrics. Today, though, they have almost no silk charmeuse in stock let alone printed charmeuse which is my prefeence for a bit of interior interest. Oh, they have lost of synthetic lining fabric, but as I said in a previous post, I will not go the polyester lining route ever again. I’m out of there and down the street to Leo’s Textiles. Now we’re talking.

The place is filled with the best high-end selection of silks and wools in Toronto. It seems that most of the customers this day are seeking bridal fabrics, and they are not disappointed. Neither am I. The sale associate quickly finds me some beautiful grey silk charmeuse.

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We have an interesting discussion about the rise in the price of quality silk. It seems that although we think of silk as a natural fabric (which it is – a renewable resource which has fewer deleterious effects on the environment than most synthetics), the way it is processed is not so natural. The silk cocoons have to be boiled and this uses lots of electricity which, in many countries, China in particular, causes air pollution because of the coal burning used to produce the electricity. So, less environmentally problematic methods are used and are more expensive. End of environment lesson.  Hence, the price tag. I pay it– in fact, I pay almost three times as much for the lining as I pay for the bouclé! I’ll have to be very careful with it, but I will be worth it.

Vogue 8804 pattern frontWith fabric selected and at the ready, I tissue-fit the pattern and cut the first muslin. Let’s just say that the fit of the first muslin is hideous.

I should have heeded the pattern reviews of Vogue 8804. Many reviewers did say that it was boxy, although when I examined the shape of the pattern pieces and some of the design elements, it didn’t seem to be the case. Oh, it is the case! And then there are the too-long bracelet-length sleeves and the sleeves cut for Sumo wrestlers. But the fitting issues are for my next post.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Planning Another Little French Jacket (and planning to learn a few new couture techniques…)

I suppose that when I embarked on learning how to recreate a Little French Jacket, Chanel-style, just over a year ago, I thought that it might diminish my obsession with this iconic Chanel piece. Well, since then I have completed two of the little beauties, and am obsessed with making a third. But this time, I plan on learning some new things. Before I get to that, I want to revisit what I love about them so much in case I miss something new that needs to be added to my “need-to-learn” list.

Vintage inspiration:

 

As I begin this process, I return to a few of the resources I started with so long ago.

One of the first places I need to revisit is a video of the way these jackets are made…

“Secrets of the Little Black Jacket”

 

Okay, that’s fantastic information, but as I said I discovered that before my first one. Now, I’ve found an “Inside Chanel” newer one that give me at least two new insights…

 

 

I had never considered that making the waist slightly higher will give that closer fit, but I take note of that this time around. And the notion of a sleeve cigarette is new to me, but would solve the slight droop in the shoulder that I am prone to in unstructured pieces since I have sloped shoulders. So this video is a new resources. But I will use others.

Here is my list of resources and what I’ll take from each one:craftsy class

  1. The Craftsy course on “The Iconic Tweed Jacket.” This is where I actually started. The course is clear, easy to follow and the instructor is precise. This was my complete guide the first time I embarked on this journey and I’ll refer back to it. However, I have since learned that it is “Little French Jacket light” in a way. That being said, it was mandatory for me to do it this way first. And I think the product was pretty good. My first jacket, below, was from Vogue 7975, collarless, open front, of a wonderful bouclé tweed lined with silk charmeuse. It is less trimmed than I had intended (see my post regarding the machinations I went through to come to this conclusion), because it just didn’t look right to me. The truth is that I absolutely love this jacket and have worn it with a dress, jeans and everything in between. And it feels divine. vogue chanel patternMy second LFJ was made from the same pattern, although I drafted my own full-length sleeves. Made of a true bouclé fabric, it is lined with a printed lining that did not comply with my own rule: line only with silk. I fell in love with the pattern on the lining fabric so ignored the fact that it is a polyester blend. I do love the jacket, but because it is not pure silk inside, the feel of it on the body doesn’t even come close to my first one. It doesn’t breathe, so can only be worn in the winter. But I did layer the trim and liked the effect. Lesson here: I will use only silk – and my preference is silk charmeuse – for lining, regardless of how much I love a patterned non-silk.
  2. My second resource this time will be Claire Schaeffer’s book The Couture Cardigan Jacket with its included DVD. She presents a terrific amount of information on authentic Chanel jackets and her technique is a step beyond what was taught in the Craftsy course. I’ll use her approach to cutting and marking in particular. I will work only with seam lines, never seam allowance edges for a perfect fit, and I will thread-trace each and every fabric piece. Yikes, I think I’m tired already!IMG_1137
  3. The third resource I’m using is Susan Khalje’s Craftsy course on the Couture Dress. Yes, I’m working on the muslin of this dress project as we speak, but it is her approach especially to muslin production that I will use in this new LFJ project.
  4. My own past blog posts will also be a resource for me. When I started this blog, I did it as a kind of reference for myself. And if anyone else found it entertaining or useful along the way, well, that’s the advantage of a blog over a journal!
  5. And finally, the pattern I’ve selected this time is Claire Schaeffer’s Vogue 8804 which is actually designed for the Chanel-esque process: couture hand sewing, machine quilting etc. What’ interesting about this pattern is the instructions. They are exceptionally detailed and full of her actual tips and tricks.

Vogue 8804 pattern front

I want to learn a few new tricks – and have a jacket that is a bit different from the previous ones. Here are some of the new things I will incorporate:

  • Three-piece, rather than two-piece sleeves.
  • A button-front
  • Hand-worked buttonholes
  • Thread tracing the muslin
  • Thread tracing all fabric pieces.

 

Okay, here I go!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

The first complete G.G. design finished!

done finishedThere is something deeply satisfying about reaching the successful conclusion of a project that has been planned carefully and executed systematically taking the time along the way to get it right. Well, I have just completed my first start-to-finish personal G.G. design and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Unlike my deep, dark past when sewing meant getting to the finish line before the deadline, my year-long foray into slow sewing (…from fast sewing to slow…), my present sewing self is much more interested in taking on projects that will teach me something. To say that this project has taught me something would be a serious understatement.

It all started last year when I decided that now was the time to begin fulfilling a long-standing dream of mine and begin to learn something about fashion design. I decided to begin with learning flat pattern-making. This would have two important outcomes: first, I would be able to actually design something that could be sewn together; and second, I could find that elusive perfect fit.

suzys classAs you probably already know, this meant beginning with a Craftsy class (or three) delivered via video by instructor Suzy Furrer. I began with creating my own sloper developed from a personal moulage – the moulage which I eventually used to create my personalized dress form. The sloper then became the basis for learning the first steps in design – baby steps, the first of which was dart manipulation to create different style lines. Then it was on to learning how to create different necklines, collars and closures, then finally a sleeve that would fit me and any bodice I might create. It was at that point I decided it was time to plunge into my own first design.

I’ve noticed that many people choose a very simple “pop-over” type top for their first project. I wanted to challenge myself a bit more so designed something that would fit my summer, downtown kind of lifestyle. It would have to be sleeveless; it would have to have a collar; it would have to have a front placket. And so I began sketching.

As I mentioned in my last post, the design actually evolved through the process; this was a situation that I had not anticipated, but I suspect is more the norm with “real” designers. The initial concept has to be tested to see if it actually works and has the aesthetic that you’re looking for.

I started with an idea which became the sketch.

first pattern

…which became the toile…

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…which resulted in a few new ideas…

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…which became the final pattern…

 

…which was then cut from my cotton/polyester, linen-look fabric and sewn into the final garment…

…which is now awaiting the perfect day for its first outing!

I have a couple of other small projects on the go now: I’m challenging myself to use up some left-over fabrics, so I’m doing a commercial project and a simple new design. Then I begin my third Little French Jacket project. Who wants to sew that one along with me? Hmm?

ends and beginnings

 

 

 

Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Style, Style Influencers

Inspiration for designing my wardrobe

ideaI love the idea of having a collection of clothes designed and fitted specifically for me – clothes that suit my lifestyle and my aesthetic, and fit me to perfection. The only way that this is happening is if I do it myself. First and foremost, though, I know that everything starts with an idea. And in spite of the fact that I think I know what I want, when it comes to putting pencil to paper and creating that first series of sketches, I’m not so sure that what comes out in the end will be any different than what hangs on the ready-to-wear racks. Or maybe it will. I just need to give some thought to how this creative process plays out.

Some years ago I developed and taught an undergraduate university course in creativity as applied to corporate communications. It was such fun and my students absolutely loved it. We spent a summer school semester exploring how that creative process works and what it means to be a creative person. I created for them a complete workbook for the course (maybe I should publish it!) which guided all of us through various ways of looking at creativity and processes for tapping into our potential. Here is what the introduction to the workbook said:

“You should have figured out by now that before you can “create” anything – whether it is a brochure, an academic paper, or a new recipe for frittata — something happens in your mind first. So, you need to start thinking about what Freud said: “Insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results.” Put those two ideas together and you may begin to understand that you first have to change the way you think about things if you expect to come up with new, imaginative and creative approaches to anything – whether it is solving a client’s PR problem, writing a song or choreographing a new dance.”

And in the margin I had placed the following quote from Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way (a book I highly recommend):the artists way cover

No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.

…so now it seems that I need to take my own advice. I started by considering how some of my favourite designers (Diane Von Furstenberg, Eileen Fisher, Karl Lagerfeld, Erdem & Smythe – an eclectic collection to be sure!), might approach the process. My research led me to the following conclusions:

  1. Fashion designers are inspired continually by the world around them.
  2. There is nothing magical about their creative processes.

I happened upon a video – a TED talk – that designer Isaac Mizrahi gave a few years back where he describes his own process. One of the ways he is inspired is what I call creative cross-training. He doesn’t’ call it that, but I always called it that for my students and myself. Here’s what he said…

For me, creative cross training means pursuing different creative pursuits and allowing them to feed one another. Just last year I wrote a guest blog post called Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training for a writer friend (I think I might just have outed myself in my other life and persona!). As I describe in the post, I stumbled on the idea when I signed up for a sketching course many years ago with the idea that I could improve my observational skills. I hoped that these would contribute to my writing. Well, they did, but I also discovered that I was actually finding not only improved observational skills, but also inspirational ideas. So, Isaac performs and designs and does other creative things. I write (various things), design, sew and do a bit of sketching. So, back to how other designers get their ideas.

As I surfed through various articles about where individual designers find inspiration, a number of themes emerged. Here is a list of places that were mentioned again and again…

  • books
  • movies
  • on the street
  • observing people
  • doing research
  • just sketching
  • listening to music
  • reliving lost personal memories
  • travel
  • architecture
  • interior design
  • nature
  • history
  • art
  • historical figures

…and for me, I’m inspired by my own lifestyle. In fact, the first completely-me-created design that I have been writing about for the past few posts, seemed to be completely the result of wanting a nice piece that would withstand a day of walking in the heat of summer in the city.

As of today, I have cut out and begun sewing the final garment. But here’s a bit of a refresher about how it evolved…

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I’m going to start being more observant and keep journals for design the way I have been doing for years for my writing. I’m excited to see where it takes me!

Here are some of the online places I visited for my research.

 

The Secret Journey of a Fashion Piece — Part 1: Creativity & Design https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/secret-journey-fashion-piece-part-1-creativity-design

Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion & Creativity. TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/isaac_mizrahi_on_fashion_and_creativity#t-832215 a bit about creative cross-training…although he doesn’t call it that. A bit about how fashion designers have to be a bit bored.

Where Some Designers Get Their Ideas. Time online. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1534892,00.html

33 Things That Inspired Fashion Designers and Their Collections http://www.instyle.com/awards-events/fashion-week/new-york/fall-2017-designer-inspiration

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

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I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Dueling patterns: Commercial or my own design?

A couple of months ago I found myself with a free hour to wander by myself up and down the aisles of Mood Fabrics in Los Angeles. I perused all the aisles first, then zeroed in on the two or three that were home to the fabrics I was actually on the hunt for. I am not a fabric hoarder in any way. The mere thought of a so-called “stash” makes me gag. (As I’ve said before, that’s just me – no judgment – I know others feel differently, very differently!). This stems from my and my husband’s inclination for quality over quantity in as many aspects of our lives as we can manage. That means fewer clothes, a little less wine and even fewer pairs of shoes – but every one of better quality than we might otherwise accumulate. This philosophy even governs our travel: we travel less often than many of our friends, but always in style – no economy seats on long flights, that’s for sure! Well, this is how I shop for fabric.

Anyway, as excited as I was about the surfeit of wonderful fabrics – there were dozens of silks, linens and wool bouclés I adored – I stuck to my little pink book where I had specific patterns and their requisite yardages. I only buy when I know I have a project. One such project was a bit hazy, though.

theory blouse
The Theory blouse at Saks, summer 2016 collection that inspired me

I had a picture in my mind of a sleeveless Theory blouse that I had considered last summer at Saks. It was, however, a whopping $385.00 CDN which, even for someone obsessed with quality, is a bit steep for a blouse. So, I reluctantly put it back on the rack, concluding that given what it was and its potential price-per-wearing, it was past my point of diminishing returns. But I never forgot it.

 

With the concept of the blouse still in my head, I searched the shelves for white, textured shirting to see if anything caught my eye. It did. So, against my own rules, I bought it without an actual pattern in mind. When I got home, though, I found what I thought might be the perfect pattern.

McCall’s 7546 isn’t even sleeveless, but it has of-the-moment- bare shoulders at the top of its long sleeves. It does have that tie, even if it is a bit wide and long, sewn as it is into the back seam. So, I prepped the fabric by washing, drying and ironing, then began to think about tissue-fitting and cutting a muslin. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m ready to design my own blouse, I was thinking. I had learned to draft a bodice for a blouse, how to draft necklines and collars, how to create button plackets, and I was certain that drafting a tie that was set into the side seams would be a piece of cake. I was ready. So I started sketching.

My own version of the sleeveless, tie-front blouse has that front placket, but it also has princess seams in the front and back and a mandarin collar. I just love a mandarin collar (and have a plan to draft myself a cheongsam someday). Anyway, I thought why not draft the pattern then cut and sew muslins for both of the patterns? Why not make it a bit of a competition (where I get to be the judge and decide which one will have the privilege of being cut from my Mood fabric)?

So, I started drafting a pattern then cut out both patterns in muslin. Then I started sewing.

Of course, with my own pattern, I knew I’d likely need at least two test garments to get it just right. I needed two. The second one fits perfectly, and although the muslin is stiffer than the fashion fabric, the tie isn’t bad. However, I actually think I like it better without the tie at all! I guess that’s part of the design process.

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So, here’s where I am in the duel of the commercial versus self-designed patterns: I have now completed a muslin for my own design and it’s ready to rip apart to make the final pattern. But before I do that, I’m working through the muslin for the McCall’s pattern. I want to see the two of them side-by-side. At this point, I do have a contender in mind for the prize fabric, but I’m not quite there yet.

Next week!

Posted in sewing, Style

In praise of (sewing) button-front shirts

If I had to describe my personal fashion style in one word, I’ve always immediately jumped to “tailored.” When I met my husband just over 30 years ago, he commented on the number of suits hanging in my closet (with shoes in labeled shoe boxes lining the upper shelf). In fact, he had the audacity to remark that they all looked the same. The nerve! I of course pointed out that they were indeed all quite different. Several, however, were from the same two designer – Montreal designer Simon Chang and Alfred Sung to be specific – so, I suppose to the style challenged they must indeed have all looked very similar.

As my career evolved, and dress codes changed, sadly I wore fewer and fewer suits. But what never changed was my attraction to sleek lines, button-front, collared shirts, blazers and great shoes. Even today, with my current casual lifestyle, I wear a blazer with jeans and I have a favourite Brooks Brothers cashmere one that is one of those pieces that transcends fashion and trends. It will always be in style!

All of this got me thinking about the sewing patterns and styles that I’m drawn to these days. Why is it that I so often create for myself those soft knit pieces? Of course they, too, have a place in my life, but there is little doubt that they are a bit less complicated to fit and sew. This from the woman who delights in those couture sewing techniques that require so much time and attention. I think I always hesitated to tackle a real “shirt” for example, because I so love. Brooks Brothers shirts where the workmanship is without equal for the price point. Not cheap, but certainly not the most expensive you can buy. I love that attention to quality and my question to myself is would I be able to produce something I’d be prepared to wear. Well, this is my year and I’ve just finished the first of at least two shirt type garments that I have planned.

Before I reveal my latest project, though, I was interested to find out when and where we actually started wearing this particular style that seems to transcend fashion. Where did these collared shirt designs originate and, even more interesting, when did women begin to embrace them – because to be sure, they did begin as men’s fashion. So, I did a bit of digging.

DSC05153First, I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology!

It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as laborers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men.[1]

mens collars

The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!

So, when did women start wearing this style? Just last week I received a catalogue from Brooks Brothers. It seems that in 1949 they began to notice that the smaller sizes of their famous button front shirts were selling much faster than the larger sizes. When they tracked down the cause of this they found that women were buying them! It was that year they introduced what is now their iconic button-front shirt for women and so many others have followed suit. So, what am I going to make?

IMG_1772
Butterick 6376 and my fabric from Mood Fabrics LA. I’m making view B

I happened on Butterick 6376 before I landed at Mood Fabrics in LA in February. While I was there, I swooned over their array of shirting fabrics and found a winning combination for me: black and white stripes and black contrast. I then scoured the Toronto garment district for buttons when I got home and plunged in.

 

What I liked about this particular pattern was that it’s not a simple white (or even coloured) shirt, rather it’s a tunic with interesting sleeves. I know that in my distant sewing past I constructed a variety of collars, but I could not remember ever making a collar with a stand. It looked a bit daunting, but it turns out it’s so easy.

The fabric was so easy to work with, but I wanted it to look great on the inside so decided to flat fell as many of the seams as it would work for and I do love the interior finish.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet – still not quite warm enough – but I do know that I need to make another button-front shirt. I have an idea of what’s next, and this time it includes a design of my own that I’ve been working on and all that entails: making the pattern is up first. I’ll let you know what’s happening next!

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[1] A Brief History of Men’s Dress Shirts. https://www.pacificissue.com/the-blog/a-brief-history-of-mens-dress-shirts