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

LBJ*: Finally Cutting the Fabric & Lining

 [*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

FullSizeRenderWhenever I’ve thought about sewing projects in my past, I’ve always considered cutting out the fabric to be the first job in the process. This project is so different.

I’ve already researched, found mentors and teachers, measured, cut and sewed a toile, made a personalized pattern and found fabric and lining perfect for the project. Now it’s really time to cut. And I have to say I’m just a bit nervous to put my shears to this boucle and silk charmeuse. But I must be brave and cut!

One more thing to do before I lay out the fabric: I have to steam the fabric so that it sort of shrinks now and not after I’ve already cut it out. As I do so, I need to be sure that I don’t let the fabric hang over the side of the counter because it will surely stretch, and after all the time I spent preparing the pattern to actually fit, that would be a big problem.

So now I can lay it out, and as my online instructor says, it is laid out in a manner that no one really wants to hear: in a single layer. This means that after each piece is cut out, a mirror image has to be cut out. It is a time-consuming process, but I do feel that this is the only real way to ensure that the pattern matches.

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So first I lay out the back piece and then the side back right beside it, checking that the seam line (not the sewing line) matches up at important places: corners, notches, hem line. I also loosely lay out the rest of the pieces along the single layer of fabric since I don’t want to find out that I’m short fabric. Lining them up this way also ensure that they are all laid out in the same direction. Although the boucle doesn’t have nap as such, it needs to be treated as if it does – hence the need for extra fabric. I bought extra fabric, and I’m going to need it.

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You can hardly see where on piece ends and the other begins. I think I’m on my way to pattern matching!

 

I will also need to line up the pattern at the shoulder seams as I move the pieces across the fabric. Now I’m finally ready to cut. I take a deep breath and start. Once the fabric is actually cut, I know I’m past the point of no return. I carefully cut each piece out matching as I go. I’m especially concerned that the front pieces match across the opening. Nothing says “amateur” more than mismatched patterns in a sewing project of this nature.

I then have to take each piece and lay it on the fabric to cut its mirror image. It has to be laid out so that you can’t really see each piece like this:

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Can you see the edges where I’ve laid one cut piece onto the single layer of fabric to cut its mirror? Look hard – the edges are there! But I think it’s going to be a good match if all continues to go well.

 

Then it’s time to lay out and cut the silk lining. That’s tricky since the charmeuse is so thin and slippery. Applying the lining in this jacket project is one of the features that makes it different than other jacket construction approaches, and it’s what sets a real Chanel jacket apart from the competition. The lining will be machine quilted to the jacket body and sleeves. This means that the lining needs to be slightly larger than the shell to allow for ‘shrinking’ down of the fabric with the quilting. This means that I have to add about 1/8 to ¼ inch to the pattern pieces everywhere except the hem. It’s not as precise as I would like.

I follow the instructor’s directions to simply lay each fabric piece as cut on the lining (doubled which is contrary to what I know about working with silk), add a few pins and cut larger. This is treacherous since the silk charmeuse moves around. I become frustrated that I might be cutting off the grain, but persist until I am finished. The next time I do this I’m going to cut out the lining single-layer with the pattern piece on top and a piece of pattern paper underneath. I will then cut through all three layers to keep the silk from slipping. My only salvation here with the cutting lines so imprecise is that the lining will be quilted to the well-cut fabric and I can deal with the seam allowances with accuracy after the jacket body is put together.

Two pieces I don’t cut out yet are the pockets since I’ll have to match the pattern after the front pieces are assembled.

So now that I have the fabric and lining cut out, I’m reminding myself of the long process ahead by watching the video from the Chanel atelier. And I’m thinking about all the marking I have ahead of me before I can get at the sewing machine.

 

Secrets of the Little Black Jacket (At the Chanel atelier)

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

LBJ*: Choosing my Jacket Fabric & Lining

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

 

bolts of fabricAnd so the real fun begins. Here’s where I get to play fashion designer. I remember years ago when I used to make most of my own clothes, I never began a project without having first chosen the fabric for it. I found a pattern in a big pattern book at a fabric store, then went immediately to the bolts of fabric to find and buy my fabric. Nowadays, I actually buy all my patterns online, and use online and in-store sources for fabrics. In fact, in the case of this – my little black (French) jacket project – I put off the fun of finding the right fabric until I had gotten to the point of actually being ready to cut it out. I am now ready, so I need fabric.

I am lucky to live in a city where the fashion design industry is vibrant. Toronto might not be Paris or Milan, but it is the epitome of internationally-recognized Canadian design, and we have a ton of great designers, many of whom now live and work abroad as it turns out. But they started here. It also means that there are fashion design programs of study and putting these two things together means that we have an actual fashion design district where the fabric stores line the street – Queen Street West to be specific.

After my previous experiences with those large, light-filled, airy fabric-store chains, the real fashion fabric stores came as a bit of a surprise – and a surprise that I am loving. Each of them is jam-packed from floor to ceiling with bolt after bolt of fabrics, not all of whose provenance or fiber content are immediately evident. However, these stores are staffed by exceedingly knowledgeable staff members who will be able to answer any of my questions and they do.

I amble along Queen Street browsing several stores. Because of my research about the Chanel jacket, I’m looking for a specific type of fabric – a bouclé – because many if not most of the real Chanel jackets are constructed of bouclé. So, what exactly is it I’m looking for?

First, it’s important to realize that the word bouclé is the French word for “curl.” So, the word bouclé refers to both a kind of fabric and a kind of yarn, both of which are characterized by loops. Bouclé fabric has a kind of loopy appearance if you look at it closely. It is also fairly loosely woven – which was the reason that I used one-inch seam allowances when I created the patter as you might recall. This loose weave means that it frays. But what about fiber content?

Bouclé can be made from a variety of fiber types – wool, cotton, silk – and these natural fibers are often combined with one another and even with synthetics to achieve various properties. Since they were introduced in 1954, the jackets produced by The House of Chanel have been created in a variety of fibers and, as I mentioned in my initial research post, Coco herself found her original fabric at Linton Tweeds in northern England.

I did browse through their site when I first began to search for my fabric and I found wonderful bouclé’s and tweeds. However, none of them really were exactly what I am looking for. I am looking for something that is in the black, white and/or grey family. I think that a neutral jacket will suit my lifestyle better than any other colour. But what I did learn from their site is a lot about the fiber content of their fabrics.

I found this one that I liked, though. Notice that the fabric content is 65% viscose and 35% cotton (I also noticed the price which was £34.00 which is about $70.00 CDN a yard – not going to happen the first time I make this jacket! But isn’t the fabric beautiful?

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If you look closely, you can see the loops on the surface.

I also liked this one, and I think you can actually see the loops that I’m talking about. Beautiful. Same fabric content. I also found others with various combinations of polyester, viscose, wool, nylon, cotton and acrylic. So, I realized that I was really looking for a combination or fiber types and I was looking specifically for some kind of a wool blend when I perused the shops on Queen Street.

 

When I walked into “Affordable Fabrics” and found their large stash of bouclé bolts, I was fairly sure I’d found my fabric store. Sure enough, after taking down several bolts (with help from the young man working in the store that day), opening out the fabric and taking them to the window for better light, I found the one that I was looking for. Then all I needed was lining.

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The unimpressive exterior belies the wealth of fabrics inside!

The instructor on the Craftsy video course that I’m following is using silk dupioni which of course is a bit sturdier than some silks. My research told me that real Chanel jackets are generally lined with silk charmeuse. I first looked at their stash of silk dupioni and didn’t see a colour that I felt would do what I wanted for the design (there’s the fashion designer in me talking!). when I asked the young man about their silk charmeuse, he said, “I have just the thing for this fabric!”

 

He pulled out a bolt of fabulous printed black and white silk charmeuse and I fell in love. When I asked him the price, I was ready to cringe, but it wasn’t so bad. I now had the makings of a beautiful jacket. Of course I was going to have to learn to match a pattern, but that would come later. Oh, and I’ll need braid trim and a chain for the hem, but I think I’ll work with the fabric a bit before I decide on the finishing.

Next up: cutting it out! Yikes!

A great blog post on finding fabric on Queen Street in Toronto: http://www.loulou.to/streets-of-toronto/shopping-for-fabric-on-queen-street-west/

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Making a Customized Pattern for the Jacket

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

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I now have to cut apart the toile that I’ve grown so fond of!

Now that I’ve created a toile – fitting muslin – for my little black jacket project, I know that it’s time to cut it apart. But I’ve grown quite fond of the ugly white cotton jacket that hangs on my mannequin. I know that the next step toward making that pattern I’ll need for cutting into my actual jacket fabric can only result from me taking scissors to my creation, so I’ll have to do it, and I’m happy to learn to create a patterns since it’s something I’ve never done before. Until   I did some research, I hadn’t considered the history of modern sewing patterns that those of us who are interested in sewing take for granted. According to Joy Emery’s very interesting book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, the first known work that contained small pattern diagrams drawn to scale was published in the sixteenth century! She says, “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric.”[1] It’s funny, isn’t it, that we still try to do that today. Fabric was expensive in the sixteenth century and it is ever thus in the twenty-first century!book cover

 

Anyway, for the next couple of centuries more and more manuals of this sort were published in Europe and eventually in North America. The first companies that produced actual patterns in the US for home sewers appeared in the mid-1800’s and were Demorest and Butterick. (Although to be clear, there were full-sized patterns in Europe long before this according to my research.) But what an invention! Full-sized patterns that home sewers could use and adapt! Ever since that time, we’ve been buying and using commercially-produced patterns, while the more daring among us have simply created their own. In my view, creating a made-to-measure pattern from a commercial one is a bit of an adventure in itself for those of us who have more or less stuck slavishly to the pattern for years. I’m a bit excited about entering into the pattern-making realm!

So I take the toile from the mannequin and begin to cut it apart. I have to cut accurately along the stitching lines that I did in bright blue thread so that they would be visible. I’m very happy that I did this following the advice of my online video instructor Lorna Knight [see the Craftsy class on the Iconic Tweed Jacket].IMG_0973

After each piece is cut out (one front, one back one back side etc. – you get the picture since I’ll be using a double layer of each piece although I’ll be cutting them out single layer – more about that when I get to actually cutting out the fabric – later), I remove any seam allowances, such as around the neckline and down the front, as well as the hems so that what is left is the piece as it will be sized finished. Now I’ll have to make up a IMG_0975paper pattern piece for each one that includes seam allowances and hems.

There is such a thing as proper pattern-making paper, and Lorna Knight uses one called cross-and-dot paper which has printed crosses and dots presumably to assist with straight layouts. Some people buy rolls of paper medical offices use for covering their examining tables, while others use rolls of craft paper. I’m using sheets of packing paper left over from our recent move. I had this in mind when I rolled them up and put them in the back of my closet.

I work with each piece individually and create each pattern piece one at a time. I start by laying the muslin piece on the paper and putting in a couple of pins to hold it down to the paper. Then I have to begin to add the seam allowances and the hems.

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It seems that on couture garments, large seam allowances are de rigeur for purposes of fitting and because in the case of a Chanel-style jacket, the boucle fabric that I’ll be using frays easily and wide seam allowances ensure that you have enough fabric. So, I use a seam guide and mark full 1-inch seam allowances all around and a one-and-a-half-inch hem. My research tells me that deeper hems are also a hallmark of better garments (and the pattern calls for this anyway!).

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I use a pen to make dots all around and then join them. I then get out the original tissue-paper pattern and use it to guide my markings. I’m going to need to mark the straight grain, notches, dots and any other marks that will assist with ensuring accuracy in sewing. Of course I need to write on each piece precisely what it is a piece for: front, back, side front upper sleeve etc. The instructor in the Craftsy course I’m following also recommends writing the date on each piece. After all, I might want to use this again and I’ll presumably be able to remember what size I was when I did this – I hope the same one I’ll be in the future!

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Dot and Cross pattern-making paper — that I didn’t use!

 

All that’s now left of my pattern-making is to cut out each pattern piece. So, now I have a pattern. May I choose my real fashion fabric yet? Next time.

[1] Joy Emery. 2014. The history of the paper pattern industry: The home dressmaking fashion revolution. London, Blomsbury, p. 5.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Learning to Make the Toile (Muslin)

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

 

So I’ve done my research [Researching the Real Deal] and found my mentors who will guide me as I proceed to produce my own version of a Chanel-inspired little black (French) jacket. I can hardly wait to move forward.

I don’t know about you, but I learned to sew in home economics classes in junior high school. Yes, I’m that old – I don’t think the term home economics exists any more, but I have to say that the skills I learned have stood me in good stead for decades. It was those classes that hooked me on sewing and as a teenager and young adult with a love for fashion and style that was not matched by my bank account, I quickly became adept at producing the clothes I wanted, and occasionally ones that my two sisters wanted.

I made dresses, pants, tops, prom gowns, wedding gowns, bridesmaid’s gowns, tailored jackets and skirts, costumes for period plays and the list goes on. In all of this mad sewing I was always in a hurry to finish – always chasing a deadline like a wedding, prom, interview etc. Things are going to be different this time. The process is so important to me this time that I plan to take my time to enjoy it, take my time and get it right. In order to do that, my first step is to do something that I never learned to do and never even considered doing throughout my sewing career: I have to create a muslin or toile.

A toile – also known as a muslin – is a kind of test garment that I wish I had learned to do in the past. As far as I’m concerned the two most important characteristics of home-sewn clothes that don’t look homemade are that they have been well-pressed throughout the construction process and that they fit. It is this last issue that often causes my headaches with the continual fitting especially when I’m trying to fit myself. It almost takes a contortionist! I need to produce a test jacket in an inexpensive cotton fabric so that I can get it to fit me, then take it apart and make a new pattern just for me. Oh yes, there is a lot to do before I even get to the actual fabric and lining I’ll use!

IMG_0941First I decide on a pattern. My research has told me that there are several patterns from which I can re-produce a Chanel-style jacket, but the one I’m using is Vogue pattern 7975. The reason for this choice is that it is the pattern that the instructor Lorna Knight who facilitates the Craftsy course I’m following recommends and uses in the series of videos. [See Finding my Mentors]. I’ll make the open front jacket with the bracelet-length sleeves and I’ll use real pockets since Chanel never used false plackets. She also used princess seaming for fit and two or three section sleeves. This pattern has two- section sleeves (although from what I’ve learned, her jackets mostly have three-piece sleeves).vogue chanel pattern

First I purchase some light-weight cotton in white so that I’ll be able to sew it easily and write on it. I prepare the tissue-paper pattern by trimming the pieces I’ll use. Then I cut it out using the size closest to my own measurements. For anyone who doesn’t sew regularly, it must come as quite a shock to find that you will wear a size that is at least three sizes larger than what fits you in ready-to-wear! I have to remember that it’s just a number! I have to check the back length before I start so that I can be sure that the back waist length accurately reflects my back waist length or I’ll have to alter it on the pattern before I start. It turns out to be right so I’m ready to move forward.

Cutting out cotton is easy – I think that the boucle I’ll eventually be using will be more challenging. Once I have them all cut out, I carefully mark them as I’ve been taught on my video course.

I use tracing paper and a tracing wheel to mark the straight grain of the fabric and the waistline. Since the waistline isn’t marked on each pattern piece, I have to measure it down from the fold line on each piece so that I will have it marked all around. Then I use a pen to mark ease points on the sleeve heads and elbows and other assorted dots that will be useful for putting the pieces together. I’m putting all of these marks on what will be the outside of the jacket so that I’ll be able to see them when I’m fitting it later.

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At long last I’m ready to get out the sewing machine! Using a 3.0 mm stitch (a bit longer than normal stitches) I sew the pieces together with bright blue thread. It’s going to be very important to be able to see this stitching line later when I have to cut the pieces apart to make a personalized pattern.

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I use bright blue thread to sew the toile (muslin) together. Later when I begin to take the toile apart, I’ll be able to clearly see where to cut.

 

I press all the seam allowances open as I go but don’t trim any of them in case I need to let something out. I clip and press in the 5/8” seam allowance at the neckline, and press in the 5/8” seam allowance down the front. I press up the 1 ½” hem around both the bottom of the jacket and the sleeves – I opt not to cut these off so that I can use them if I need to lengthen anything.

The sewing is finished and I have what resembles a very ugly white jacket! I’ve managed to acquire “Gloria Junior” as I call my new fitting mannequin and it looks quite professional on her. Next up, I’m going to have to pop it on myself and figure out how to make it fit perfectly.

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“Gloria Junior” is wearing the finished toile. Now I need to fit it to me!
Posted in Couture Sewing

LBJ*: Finding My Mentors

[*LBJ: Little Black Jacket sometimes known as LFJ or Little French Jacket]

luxury quote coco

I’m beginning to get anxious to really dig into this project: select or create an appropriate pattern, find just the right fabric and lining, start to cut and sew. But I have to hold myself back; I’m not ready yet. If I want to do this right, I’m going to have to figure out where to get some guidance.

Much to my surprise, there’s something of a cottage industry that has developed online of sewing enthusiasts who have already gone on this journey – for better or for worse. I do know that there is a lot to be learned from these experiences, but because the internet and its social media offerings tend to support what author Andrew Keene once called the “cult of the amateur” I have to figure out who the professionals really are. They have the most to teach me.

One of the first online sources I discover with really useful and credible information is called Emma One Sock Designer Fashion Fabrics. Yes, they are retailers, but they have posted a fantastic grouping of online sewing tutorials on topics such as sewing with leather and brocade, making shirts and, yes, working with tweed and boucle to create the Chanel-style cardigan jacket. These lessons are divided up logically providing photos and instruction for everything from selecting a pattern through prepping the fabric, then on to construction and finishing. This site has a particularly good lesson on the various hand-stitching techniques that are used in the finishing of the inside of the jacket. I’ll be referring back to these two pages for sure.

So I absorb all the information this site has to offer me, bookmark it and carry on to see what other sewing experts have to say.

Far less detailed, but with useful tips, is a piece on the Burda pattern site called A Classic French Jacket: 70 Hours to the Dream! This piece does a terrific job of emphasizing fit – and how to get it – and the length of time one might expect to spend creating this piece. Okay, I see that I’m going to have to spend some time on this!

Then I discover that sewing expert Susan Khalje has written an article in an old issue of Threads magazine that provides me with lots of tips and inspiration. The issue is November 2005 and is certainly worth chasing down. I was able to find it on ISSU and have my own copy in my electronic files now. In fact, I also discover that Susan, a contributing editor to Threads magazine, teaches an online course on creating this jacket. So, in my books, this is a truly credible source for information. Her video course, The Classic French Jacket looks extraordinary. For $195.00 (USD) the course provides three years of access to the full-length instructional videos and a custom-designed pattern.  Her face-to-face course offered in Baltimore costs $1600 and includes a shopping trip to New York! Now that would be terrific. Alas, I live in Toronto. But my search isn’t over yet.

Last year I stumbled on a web site called Craftsy which I wasn’t familiar with before. After pushing my way through a plethora of quilting and crafting courses that didn’t really interest me, I discovered a whole series of online/video classes for serious garment sewers. When it was on sale, I was able to purchase the course “The Iconic Tweed Jacket” for about $35.00 (CDN!) which gives me lifetime streaming and downloading access to the series of videos hosted by sewing instructor Lorna Knight. The Craftsy online platform permits me to download the videos for off-line watching, ask the instructor questions (which she actually answers), post photos, read other students’ questions and the answers which are extremely useful. Craftsy sent me the McCall’s pattern that Lorna uses in the course and they provide online material lists. Oh yes, I can also make video notes on my own platform as I watch the videos. I have found my main mentor!

So, off I go to watch the ENTIRE course before I buy any materials or wield the sewing shears. Next up: learning to fit a muslin!

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This is the course I’ve enrolled in. Wish me luck! Or just come along with me…