Posted in sewing

Vogue 9184: Very Easy? Not so much!

V9184 pattern packageIt is an easy dress pattern to whip up. That is if you actually follow the pattern instructions to the letter, do not veer off into couture sewing territory, do not focus too much on fit, and completely ignore Coco Chanel’s exhortation that the inside of a piece of clothing should be as beautiful as the outside. Do any one of those things, and you’ve got yourself a time-consuming and not super-easy dress-making project.

So, I told you about getting myself into this – veering first into a focus-on-fit situation that resulted in the requirement to create not only one but two fitting muslins, and also to actually redraft the front of the pattern. That and the cutting out finally done, I proceed to the sewing.

It’s a simple pattern: anyone with a modicum of garment sewing ability would be able to whip this up in no time. So that should be with me. However, there are a few issues.

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Hand-basting the princess seams assures me a smooth finish.

I begin with the princess seams that I added to the pattern. Sewing them is really no problem, but I do find it best to hand-baste curves, so there goes the quick seaming! Then, of course, there is the question of what to do with the seam allowances. In my view, they simply cannot be left as is. There is the fraying issue, not to mention the ugliness of the interior of the garment. Hello Coco! There goes the quick seaming. After doing an overcasting test, I decide that the only appropriate seam finish (since I’m not prepared to do Hong Kong seams on a simple summer dress) is to turn and edge-stitch. So I do that and they press out well. Then I move to the back.

 

I stitch up the waist darts which I left in the back and prepare to do the zipper. The pattern says to do a simple slot zipper. I can see the wisdom of a centred zipper with the collar design – I had intended to do an invisible zipper, but in deference to the instructions, I bought a regular one. So I install it and it looks butt-ugly. So I unpick everything and start again. Since I still have only a regular zipper, I turn to my trusty lap zipper, a technique I have mastered. It looks much better, although I do realize that the neckline might be a bit of a challenge to get perfect. The next time, I’ll do an invisible zipper regardless of what the pattern says. So it’s on to shoulder seams and side seams.

The next fitting shows it to be still a big too big for me in spite of all those muslins! I re-pin the side seams, then have to hand-baste them for another fitting. I finally take them in and redo the side seams. I’m happy that I didn’t finish the seams yet.

The collar is an easy one, but I decide to use a ladder catch-stitch instead of a slip stitch inside to a smoother finish. The it’s the arm openings.

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I decided to use a purchased bias binding (since I’ve never actually made my own binding, but it’s on the list of things to do), in a lighter shade than the dress. It’s an easy process and the top-stitching does give a nice finish. The hem and side slits are also top-stitched, and voila! It’s done. But I’m not ecstatic about it. It doesn’t hang as well as I’d like and that colour!

The flax colour of the linen-cotton blend is a neutral that I liked in the shop, but now it looks a bit like a fabric that you’d use to make a muslin. And about that drape – well, there is none.

Here’s where I made my mistake. I should have thought a bit more about the hand and drape of the fabric before I bought it. I had an idea in my mind that I wanted to emulate slightly the look of the linen-look dress in the original photograph. And the tone-on-tone stripes are more my style. When I go back to the pattern envelope, though, I note that linen isn’t even among the recommended fabrics, and I do think there is something to be said about using recommendations from the pattern company – to a point.

Fabrics have what is called ‘hand’, drape, weight and texture, among other characteristics. I’ve always know that each of these plays a part in fabric selection, but I find that I’m sometime drawn to a piece of fabric for its look, which includes colour. If I forget to take the bolt of fabric, unroll a two-metre length and hold it up to see its drape while considering the actual garment I’m about to cut, I’m in trouble. And so I have a dress that I’m not wild about, but does do the trick on a hot summer day.

Maybe all of this experience is as good a reason as any not to have a fabric stash – more about that later!

 

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Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style

How to Turn a Fast & Easy Sewing Pattern into a Challenging & Time-Consuming Project!

vogue V9184
As soon as I saw this Vogue pattern #V9184 I knew I had to have this dress. High collar, cut-in armholes, fitted silhouette and side slits. what’s not to like?

I think it takes a certain kind of perverse talent to be able to take a project that is designed to be easy and make it difficult. Or maybe I’m just missing the endless fiddly hand work that my “Little French Jacket” required. Nevertheless, I decided that I needed a linen dress for the summer, so being unable to find anything I like on the ready-to-wear racks, I take a trip to the fashion design district on Queen Street West here in Toronto, visit my favourite fabric purveyor (Affordable Textiles) and come home with all the material and notions I need to whip up a pattern I fell in love with.

 

Early in the season I was browsing through the Vogue Patterns magazine and fell in love with a new pattern – Very Easy Vogue V9184 – which they described as “a shapely sheath with cut-in armholes and raised collar band” that is, according to them, “stunning in stripes.” I was in.

As soon as the pattern came on sale at Vogue patterns online for $5.99, I had jumped on it (regular price in Canada is $33.00…in the USA $22.50 yikes!), so when I finished my bouclé jacket I was ready for a new project while I search for the perfect bouclé for a second LBJ.

I really love the shape of the dress, and I’ve observed that women of “a certain age” who have managed to stave off much mid-life weight gain – and yet have noticed that it ‘stuff’ has rearranged itself – still have lovely shoulders. This kind of cut-in armhole is very flattering. So is the fitted shape. For me, a casual summer dress that isn’t a tent yet isn’t skin-tight is worth considering.V9184 pattern package

I decide to make it in a linen-cotton blend. So I begin the process.

Well, my foray into couture sewing indicates to me that in spite of it being a “fast and easy” pattern, I will have to take the time to make a muslin. So I first fit the pattern to me (and Gloria junior) and mark the changes. I will have to move the under-arm dart and lengthen the bodice slightly. That means I will have to move the waist dart, too. So it begins.

I do the pattern changes, cut the toile and sew it together. Geesh. All those darts look – well, they look a bit old-fashioned. I’m going to have to alter the darts to make a more flattering, contemporary princess seam. I’ve never done this before, but it occurs to me that if I can get it to fit well, I may just have myself a pattern that I might use again and again. So I search online for instructions.

V9184 pattern package modifications
This is the view I’m doing, and those darts really do look quite prominent, no?

Every time I have to find a sewing or fitting answer I am so grateful for the web and everyone who has posted before me. I find a plethora of sites with information, but one is better than all the others. I find that the blog post on the Craftsy web site is terrific (see below in the resources). I want the princess seams to come from the armhole rather than the shoulder, so I get to work.

So, I redraft the pattern and cut a SECOND muslin. Fast and easy? Not so much. The second toile is a much better fit. So I cut apart the second toile and cut yet another pattern. I think this is the third and this is a simple summer dress.

I finally prepare my fabric and lay it out to cut. Maybe next week I’ll have a new dress! Or maybe not. The challenges of the “very easy Vogue” aren’t over yet, I’m afraid!

Am I the only one who can make such an easy project so challenging?

 

 

 

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Resources (these are the online sites I referred to):

Tutorial: Lowering (or raising) a bust dart http://curvysewingcollective.com/

Fashion Design 101: How to Manipulate Darts on a Bodice for Princess Seams http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/09/how-to-manipulate-darts-on-a-bodice/

How to Create a Princess Seam for Flattering Fit [these are from the shoulder] http://www.clothingpatterns101.com/princess-seam.html

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

LBJ*: The Finishing Details on my Homage to Chanel Style!

 

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

A couple of days ago I ventured down to the fashion district here in Toronto to my favourite fabric store to peruse their bouclé and silk stock – because I’m finished! My Little French Jacket, that is. When I started this process back in March, I vowed that I’d take my time and get it right. I would not rush: I would get the fit right; I would take the time to do tests of all machine and hand techniques involved; and that I would make friends with my seam ripper. Well, I have done that, and the jacket is comfortable (oh so comfortable), fits well, and I think it adds a certains je ne sais quoi to my wardrobe. But it doesn’t quite pay complete homage to Chanel’s original LBJ style, and the story of why this is the case is related to the final part of the journey that I have yet to tell you about: it’s all about the trim.

No one seems to have written anything much about Chanel’s design considerations when she decided on how to trim her original 1954 tweed jackets, but we do know that they (almost) always have had trim.

Often the trim contrasts with the fabric, but these days the House of Chanel’s jackets more often seem to have trim that blends into the fabric. Whichever way you look at a Chanel jacket, it usually has trim around the neckline, down the front, across the pockets and on the sleeves. But that’s not all.

Chanel always said that the inside of a garment ought to be as beautiful as the outside, so she used exquisite silks to line them, and these little jackets were adorned with flat-link chains along the hemline. Originally, these chains played a practical role in ensuring that the jacket hung well even when the wearer raised her hands. You have to admit, though, they make a wonderful style statement even if you’re the only one who knows it’s there. Then, just imagine throwing the jacket over your chair back when dining out. Ah, the chain is now a part of your jewellery! So, in creating an homage to Chanel’s jacket, it’s important to consider the final trimming.

So, I begin to trim the jacket. I have purchased two types of gimp braid: one is a folded gimp, the other a more traditional flat gimp. Strictly speaking about definitions, gimp is made from twisted silk, worsted, or cotton and has a cord or wire running through it. Traditionally, gimp has been used in upholstery work and in making hand-wrought buttonholes. Gimp is then braided to produce the various types we see today and that the young woman in the fabric store who sold mine to me said they call it “Chanel braid.” The truth is that many (if not most) authentic Chanel jackets are trimmed with anything but gimp, although it does give that Chanelesque look especially when layered over other materials such as self-fringe or grosgrain ribbon. Anyway, my plan was to layer flat gimp braid over the folded gimp braid that would fold over all the edges. Well…

That idea didn’t work out very well. In my last post about the pockets, this is when I began to see a problem. First, I delayed the pocket finishing so that I could contemplate the trim a bit more. So glad I did! If I had put the layers of braid on the pockets (notwithstanding the significant bulk problem I would have had), I would likely have had to remove the pockets simply because of how they looked.

First, I hand-stitch the braid to the neck and front edges – it has to be hand-stitched first on the outside, then on the inside. It takes days. Then I pin the flat braid on top and begin hand-stitchng. I get all the way across the front and notice that it is distorting the line of the hem. Although I like the look of the layered braid, I cannot have a distroted hem. So, I finally un-pick the hand-stitching on the top braid and decide that the trim is finished.

 

In the meantime, I’ve been toyng with the braid which I had fully planned to put on the sleeve hems and on the pockets à la Chanel, but the look is too heavy. The pattern in the bouclé is such that it has heavy black patches and any more black just looks overdone.

So, the outside trim is well and truly finished. Now it’s on to the chain.

I had originally purchased a very lightweight gold-coloured chain. When I researched Chanel chains, though, I discovered that her jackets use various chain weights depending on the weightiness of the fabric, and that sometimes the chains are not even gold-coloured. Jackets that are trimmed with silver-toned buttons, for example, will have silver-toned chains. Huh.

The light-weight chain looks peculiar on this fabric, so I find a heavier one and bingo! I have the right chain. Then, ensurng that the chain remains flat, I start securing it invisibly with a double-strand of black, silk thread to the hem just below the lining – it fits neatly between the lining and the turn-up of the hem as it turns out. I start about 2 cm in from the jacket front and continue all the way across, pinning only a few links ahead to maintain the flat edge. I also do the stitiching in fairly short sections – this ensures that the thread does not knot and should a bit of the chan ever come undone, I’ll only have to re-stitch a small section. It’s time-consuming, but worth it. I then ask my husband to join me with his pliers to remove the link when I’ve come to the end. I choose not to measure and cut before I begin to avoid the dreaded possibility of cutting it too short!

The final stitch is in and god love my husband, he pours me a gin-and-tonic!

I try the jacket on and discover it’s the most comfortable jacket I’ve ever worn – and I love it! I’m dying to wear it, but it’s the height of summer in this part of the world, so I’ll have to put it away until October. I just might be able to wear it when we travel to Nova Scotia in September, though. They have cool evenings.

I’m taking only a brief break from jacket sewing to make a linen dress, but I’ll be back at the jackets as soon as the fall bouclé shipments are in! À bientôt!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Chanel-Style Pockets

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

It’s a bit like giving birth – without all the pain and messiness – when at last I can put what resembles an almost-finished jacket on my mannequin (Gloria Junior as you’ll recall). And there it is, looking for all the world like a real jacket, yet still missing something. Next on the agenda, then, is to consider the pockets, because any jacket that is an homage to Chanel and her style needs pockets.

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It’s beginning to look like a jacket – but Chanel would not be pleased: no pockets or trim!

 

Before Coco Chanel, visible pockets were the exclusive domain of men’s clothing. Long before she designed the first “Little French Jacket” for her 1954 collection, she had already ventured into the external, highly visible pocket game. In the 1930’s she had designed the new sportswear sweaters with these external pockets.

many pockets
Well, there are pockets, then there are too many pockets!

 

 

According to most sources, Chanel herself was a little obsessed with pockets. She used them incessantly for lipstick, coins, cigarettes of course etc. and wanted them on her own clothing. Naturally, she thought others would want them as well. Many (if not most) original Chanel jackets from mid-twentieth century actually had four, not just two, pockets. These days even in collections from the House of Chanel itself, some jackets have two, some four, and not all are traditional patch pockets. However, in payng tribute to Chanel’s original jacket, they should be patch pockets – never just flaps! And since that’s what the pattern I’m using has, that is what will adorn the front of my jacket. On the other hand, I will put only two pockets on. I think four might be a bit much for this fabric (and you’ll see how right I really am!).chanel and her jacket

I didn’t cut out the pockets when I cut out the rest of the jacket so that I could be assured of a really flawless matching of the pattern. First I make a new pattern piece from the tissue paper one in the pattern envelope so that I can use it again. There’s really no need for full 1-inch seam allowances since I won’t be manipulating the fabric very much, so I stick with the usual 5/8-inch one. Then I make another pattern piece that is the size of the pocket only to the fold line. I’ll use this for the silk lining.

I then take my pocket pattern piece to the jacket front and place the fold line at the tailor tacks that are mercifully still there in the jacket front so that I can place it in the exact location where I will sew it on. Then with the pattern piece folded back, I mark the pattern where I’ll match it on the top and the sides. When I have that ready, I pin and cut the fabric pieces. Do they match? Well, if they don’t I do have extra fabric. But they do! A relief.

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My red pen marks align with the main lines in the fabric pattern.

 

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The pockets are there. Can you see them? If not, they match!

 

The first thing I have to do with the pockets is to stabilize the top edge. I don’t want the fabric stretching out of shape when I slide a hand into the pocket! So, using the same process I used when stabilizing the front, neck and sleeve edges, I proceed to prepare them for the next step.

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Stabilizing along the fold line.

 

I then cut out the silk lining then machine-stitch it right sides together to the top of the pocket. When I then fold the fabric down on the fold line, the fabric comes down about an inch inside the pocket and the lining covers the rest. Again with right sides together and folded back on the fabric fold line, I machine-sew the sides part way down, trim lightly, then turn right side out. I have to tuck under the rest of the seam allowance in on both the fabric and the lining so that I can finiish it with a hand catch-stitch.

The instructor in the Craftsy course suggests a neat way to ensure that both pockets – which have curved bottoms – are exactly the same. I follow her instructions taking a piece of light-weight coardboard to make a template from the bottom of the pocket pattern. Then I sew a single line of 5 mm ease stiting around the bottom and up the side about an inch. I put the cardboard template inside the bottom of the pocket then draw up the stitches to form the perfect rounded curves. I carefully slide out the cardboard and voila! I have a pocket ready to be trimmed, pressed and have the rest of the lining hand-sewn to it.

The pockets are finished – but not quite. They have to be trimmed before they are hand-stitched to the front of the jacket. So, I get out the first layer of gimp that I plan to use to trim the jacket à la Chanel. But it’s too much, I think. But I’m not sure. So I go off script for a bit and decide that I’m not going to put the pockets on at all until I actually finish the trim on the rest of the jacket. Then I’ll decide about whether I’ll use two layers of trim as I’ve planned, one layer or none. It’s a bit of a design process.

So, my jacket isn’t actually any futher ahead than it was at the beginnning of the pocket process. But the pockets will be ready when I am!