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

Finding Inspiration: My second “little French jacket” project begins

I just knew it. When I finished my first homage to Chanel’s “little French jacket” (little black jacket) I felt that it would never be behind me. I knew that it was only the first of several (many?) that I would be inspired to make. The reason is that it is endlessly versatile, unbelievably comfortable, and exceptionally useful. Yes, I’m on to LFJ #2. And I’m inspired to make it slightly different than LBJ #1.

So, where am I finding inspiration to create the same but different jacket?

Here’s what my internal eye is seeing:

Fabric texture: This time around, I wanted a boucle in the truest sense of the word. Chanel made her originals in boucle tweeds. My first jacket was in a bouclé tweed that was a bit less bouclé (“… yarn with a looped or curled ply, or fabric woven from this yarn…”) and a bit more tweed. It had that loose weaving that hinted at authenticity, but it was missing serious bouclés.

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Fabric & lining from my first jacket.

 

Fabric content: My first jacket was a wool blended with a number of other fibres, which is typical of a Chanel jacket. I see other fibres in future – mainly cotton or linen bouclés for summer jackets. I still want a winter-ish jacket, though, so will be happy enough with another wool blend.

Lines of Chanel jackets since 1954: I’m inspired by the myriad ways that the real Chanel jackets have reimagined Coco’s original 1954 design. Every season Chanel has models strutting down the catwalk wearing versions of the jacket or other types of garments where the jacket’s influence is subtle but no less present. So I look to these variations for the inspiration to know that there are many ways to make the same piece so very different. The truth is, though, that I really don’t want this piece to be that different from the original vision; nor do I really want it to be so different from the first one. What I want it to be is to incorporate all the lessons I learned from doing it the first time and maybe going a step beyond.

Colour combinations: I’m a neutral-loving kind of dresser. I’m especially interested in garments that are expensive – either in monetary terms or in this case in terms of time – to work with a lot of other clothes in my wardrobe. I’d still like to see this n a neutral colour, but I don’t want a black jacket. I’m seeing the Chanel jackets in light colours with dark trim. That’s the look I’ll go for.

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A really loopy texture this time!

 

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Printed lining – because I wouldn’t have it any other way (at least for now!).

 

Trims: Oh, this is a good one. There is nothing better than going out to search for beautiful trims and being richly rewarded not only in finding just the perfect one that catches my imagination, but by finding a new store that sells all manner of wonderful trims. In the case of Mokuba which I discovered in the garment district in Toronto, this is really a hat-making store, but their trims are to die for – and they have so many it boggles the mind.

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Have you ever seen anything like this? This shows only a fraction of the trims on offer at Mokuba. [Photo credit: House & Home Magazine online] 
Scale that works for me: I like a short jacket to wear over all manner of slim pants and pencil skirts. The original jacket I made for LFJ (LBJ) #1 will work just fine again and has the added benefit of already having a pattern made for me (by me) from a fitting toile (muslin). But this time, I like the idea of full-length, rather than bracelet-length sleeves. After all, it supposed to be a winter garment.

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Long sleeves this time: Vogue 7975.I did a fitting muslin the first time around. Tis time I have only to cut the long sleeves instead of the bracelet-length ones.

 

 

I was wondering throughout all this where Fashion designers look for inspiration. It seems almost everywhere (Yes, we all know they now use ‘street’ fashion as inspiration, but I’m never really sure how this works. Usually that cool, creative street style is inspired by designers, or fashion magazines or peers – so it seems like a circular process somehow.)

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I’ll put the braid over the tiny ruffle edge.

 

Anyway, it seems that some designers believe that “…vintage shops hold the key to design for many bona fide a fashion designer. “a print, a cut, an embroidered pattern…” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/fashions-undercover-experts-searching-for-inspiration-designers-send-spies-to-scour-vintage-a6732531.html

Other look to architecture. I love some of the photos in this web site. http://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/fashion-designers-architecture-inspiration

Others are inspired by travel – especially the cultural differences between us. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/travel-inspired-designers

So, I visited my favourite fabric store Affordable Fabrics and found that, true to their word earlier in the summer, they had a new selection of tweeds and bouclés in time for winter creations. I also like a print for a lining, but they didn’t have any printed silk charmeuse that day so I opted for a silky satin. I hope I’m not going to regret that it isn’t 100% silk, but it does look divine with the fabric.

I put these together with my trim choices, and I’m off to the races. See you when I get it going.

 

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Posted in sewing, Stylish Books

My obsession: Seeking the holy grail of sewing journals

notebook-clipartIn another life, I’m actually a writer. I’ve written magazine articles, corporate materials, online courses materials, blog pieces of various sorts and even a dozen or so books. Throughout my writing career I’ve always been obsessed with notebooks – and this obsession has spilled over into my sewing mania. I have a sewing notebook (or three) but have yet to figure out precisely the right one for me on an on-going basis. For me to be able to do this I need to do two things: first, I need to research what’s available and what other sewers use (for ideas), and second, I need to figure out exactly what I’ll use the notebooks (journals) for. Maybe I should start there.

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My current sewing notebooks: unsatisfactory!

 

For me as a writer, those notebooks /journals are largely for capturing ideas. They’re a kind of creative repository that I can access any time. I turn to them whenever I have an idea or a part of an idea or an idea of an idea. Later I turn to them when I have no ideas at all and need to be prodded into coming up with something new. Then I use individual notebooks to capture ideas for individual projects. I have a lot of notebooks!

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This is what the inside of the notebook for my current book-length writing project looks like at present.

 

Years ago in another lifetime when I was a university professor, I designed and taught a course on creativity in communications. One of the books I recommended for my students was The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by the exceptionally creative Twyla Tharp, American choreographer extraordinaire. (If you’re unfamiliar with her work, just go to Mr. Google. You’ll see that you’re not all that unfamiliar!) Ms. Tharp uses quite a different approach to gathering her creative ideas for projects. Rather than notebooks or journals, she uses boxes. Here’s what she says about her boxes:creative-habit

“Everyone has his or her own organizing system. Mine is a box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files…I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance…notebooks, clippings, CDs, videotapes, books, photographs, pieces of art that may have inspired me…The box makes me feel connected to a project…even when I’ve back-burnered it…”[1]

As I thought about how sewers could use her approach, I could see so many things in that box: fabric scraps, sketches, photos of inspirational looks from the web, inspirational buttons, samples of trims, copies of artwork, the DVD of a movie that caught my eye and whose wardrobe I loved… well, you get the picture. I love the idea of this kind of a creativity box, but I don’t really have space to store so many boxes, so I’m back to square one in my search for the perfect journal/notebook.

My favourite kind of notebook is a Moleskine™ – the brand Hemingway used to make his notes. They actually make some specialty notebooks such as a travel journal, but they don’t make one for sewers. But some sewers among us do, and others have suggestiosn about how to use a three-ring notebook. Here’s some of what I found in my research on what others do.

But the writer in me (who has a separate notebook for each book-length writing project and a couple of generic ones!), needs a notebook to fulfil a host of objectives. The first one is to keep a record of ideas that flit across my brain unbidden usually when I’m supposed to be doing something else. The second is to record project details – for example, when I do test pieces before actually sewing a seam finish or when selecting stitch length and thread – so that as the project progresses, I can refer back (only an issue for those of us engaged in slow sewing I reckon! Everyone else just remembers for a few hours!). I also need a notebook for creative organization and for the sheer joy of going back to re-visit (so it has to be more than a place to record).

I recently stumbled on a neat online challenge: “SWAP 2017” aka “Sewing with a Plan.” Such an interesting idea. The rules include the following:

 “Eleven garments divided between Upper, Lower and Over pieces. These are tops and dresses; bottoms; and layers, all defined later. There are minimums and maximums in each category, to provide balance and variety. You decide the final distribution.

  • Upper: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
  • Lower: Minimum 3, maximum 5.
  • Over: Minimum 2, maximum 5. No more than ½ may be outerwear.

You decide how many of each, within the numbers above, to total 11 garments.

Your twist: Each garment in a category must work with at least half of the garments in each of the other two categories. Example 5 Upper, 3 Lower, and 3 Over. Each upper would need to work with 2 Lower and 2 Over garments.”[2]

It occurs to me that if you want to enter this sewing challenge, you will indeed need some kind of a notebook to plan, which further leads me to believe that planning each sewing project is a good thing – at least for me. So a journal or notebook for me needs to be both a creative repository as well as a kind of sewing diary or log to return to either to enjoy revisiting a project, or to use the past experience for a future project. Of course I could research and find an electronic notebook or app for this purpose, but that’s for another time!

Am I any closer to the Holy Grail of sewing notebooks? Closer perhaps, but not there yet!

(PS you evidently have to be a member at Artisan’s Square to enter the 2017 SWAP – but you could just to the challenge for yourself – I might just do that in the new year!)

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My current stash of Moleskines — old and new. They can be expensive, so when they’re 50% off…you know!

 

 

[1] Twyla Tharp. 2003. The Creative Habit. pp. 80-81.

[2] http://ruthieksews1.blogspot.ca/2016/11/swap-2017-official-rules.html

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My personal sewing epiphany: From fast sewing to slow

slow-downThere has always been fast food – or so it seems. More recently we have slow food. But fast versus slow sewing? Evidently it’s a thing, too. I used to be firmly in the fast sewing lane. Always a deadline. Always feeling hemmed in by the hemming – by hand. Wow, have I ever changed my tune.

Modern definitions of slow sewing seem to focus on hand sewing, but for me that’s only a part of what it takes to slow me down.

For me it’s about taking the time to plan a project; taking the time to think it through before plunging in, shears at the ready. It’s about considering the best rather than the fastest way to finish a garment. It’s about taking to heart Coco Chanel’s admonition that the inside of a garment should be as beautiful as the outside – and taking time to get it that way. It’s about the process as much or even more, than the outcome.

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Taking the time to make the inside of my most recent Little French Jacket project beautiful was a labour of love. When I wear it now, it’s my little secret!

 

Something called the slow stitching movement suggests that learning new techniques[1] is part of what we know as slow sewing. I agree wholeheartedly. I returned to sewing not to simply reuse the old techniques I had learned as an adolescent, but to learn new ones, and learning takes time. This slow stitching movement also suggests it’s about immersing yourself in the creative process – I’m totally loving the immersion. Developing excellent techniques? Completely agree. My slow sewing focus is on getting it right.

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I was even able to make this so-called “very easy” project “very slow” when I made it last summer: fitting muslin, darts transformed into princess lines, finished seams, hand-stitching…

Fast and easy used to be my watch words when looking for patterns. These were often garment patterns that required very little in the way of close fitting. And there are still many of these available. They are a bit like one-size-fits-almost-all, and this is not what I’m about these days. These days I’m more interested in the fit of clothing, the quality of the fabrics and the design details that place them a cut above the rest. When I shop now, I find myself in Saks feeling fabrics and examining the finishes – the seam finishes, the buttonholes, the top-stitching etc. I’m not the only one who believes that slow sewing is focused on quality over quantity.

 

According to blogger Paula Degrand on the blog Getting Things Sewn:

“Slow sewing recognizes a superior result and pursues ways to attain it. It has standards and aspires to mastery. Slow sewing requires investing time, money, space and abilities, but the reward is exceptional quality. Slow sewing takes nothing for granted. It understands materials and processes, but always asks questions, tests, analyzes, and problem-solves for particular figures, patterns, and fabrics. [Blog: Getting Things Sewn][2]

So, in the interests of pursuing my slow sewing mojo, I’ve started another homage to Chanel: I’m creating another Little French Jacket. However, I find myself a bit at odds with my slow sewing mantra just a bit. I’ve started logging the time it’s taking me to do go from beginning to end since the first one took me upwards of 100 hours – although I didn’t actually keep a time log. I’ve rationalized to myself that keeping a log is so that when people ask me how long it takes I can provide an accurate accounting. But I think on some level I’m interested in getting this one done faster. Good lord! I hope it’s going faster only because I have not had to do as much unpicking of seams and quilting lines, nor listen to an online instructor telling me how to do something – having the instructor in yrou ear as you go along does slow down the process, and not in a really mindful way.

Anyway, I’m moving forward. Ironing the pattern pieces (seriously)? Check. Cutting out? Check. Marking? Check. Stabilizing the underneath parts? Check. Quilting of the lining to the jacket pieces – about to begin.

[1] https://theslowstitchingmovement.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/welcome-to-the-slow-stitching-blog/

[2] http://gettingthingssewn.com/slow-sewing/

Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Shaping my closet – one sewing & design project at a time

img_1523A few years ago I stumbled on a book that I found so useful (and entertainingly written) that I bought it in hardcover and have actually read at least three times (something I almost never do). It even survived the great purge of 2014 when we sold our large property and moved to a downtown condo!

The book is called What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life – and I’m rereading it yet again. Written by former fashion editor Kim Johnson Gross, it’s unlike most other books out there purporting to be the final word on what we should appropriate fashion style for women of a certain age. Instead of trying to tell us what we should be wearing, Kim commiserates with us about the kinds of changes in our lives that necessitate a bit of a re-think about our closets, then uses her considerable experience to help the rest of us see how to move forward. There are no all-encompassing platitudes that suggest, “Women over a certain age should never wear…” No, none of that. She does, however, believe that we are influenced by our closets!

Early on in the book she says, “Closets are powerful. They contain the power to make us feel fat, fit, frumpy, or fabulous.”

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She also reminds us that our closets hold memories, dreams, frustrations etc. They tell the story of our lives. Sometimes I wonder what story mine tells – I do a complete clean out twice a year. Anyway, last week when I was learning dart manipulation and discovered that I owned very few pieces of clothing with darts, it occurred to me that I had been shaping my closet for a while now. My sewing and design projects reflect this.

img_1427Along with learning to design, I’ve been playing around with various types of knit fabric since my reshaping suggests that these will continue to play a large part in my wardrobe life. To that end, I finished a tunic that I’d been eyeing in my pattern “stash” (I really hate that word – going to find a new one!), so when I found some lightweight knit I liked, I thought I’d embark on this “fast & easy” project. As anyone who has been reading along with my musings knows, I don’t seem to know how to do “fast & easy.” [See my last fast & easy project.]

This cutout-then-whip-up tunic took hours and hours of pinning, sewing unpicking, seam stabilizing, and yes, even hand-basting. Oh, and let us not forget that I cut out the sleeves for the view I selected only to discover (after hand-basting them in) that I hated their floppy bell-like shape and had to remove them and re-cut the narrower one!

Along the way I also learned how to use the double needle in my sewing machine! I know everyone else probably already uses this on a regular basis, but it was a new experience for me and I think I got it!

Anyway, the style and fabrication are two parts of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of what’s in my own closet. Neither of these elements – no matter how right they seem to me – can exist independently. The right style constructed from the right fabric for that style is an absolute requirement for my clothes. Add onto that the element of fit, and what I have are the three essential components to having a closet full of clothes that make me feel wonderful. Although Kim Gross doesn’t offer all-or-nothing rules for our evolving closets, she does give us a couple of guidelines that I think are especially important:

  • “Fit is critical to looking your best.” This is why I wanted a personal bodice sloper – and why creating a persona pants sloper is on my to-do list.
  • “Don’t follow fashion trends. Wear what looks good on your body.” This is why I’m learning to design my own clothes!

Well, I’m going to take these guidelines to heart as I move onto my next project – which is a new Chanel-style Little French Jacket! I have found some new bouclé that I love, and already have a well-fitting muslin of the pattern – so off I go!

 

Details on Kim Johnson Gross’s book: What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style. New York: Springboard Press, 2010.

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Learning to manipulate darts

I’ve been thinking a lot about darts this week. That’s likely because now that I have a well-fitting bodice sloper, I need to start learning what to do with it if I want to design a few of my own creations. I could just do a bit of online research and plunge in head first, using trial-and-error to guide me, but I prefer to begin with another course from an instructor who knows what she’s doing and is willing to answer questions: I signed up for Suzy Furrer’s course on dart manipulation. So, I started the course and sewed up a few of the mock-ups for practice (I’ll get to that in a bit). As they sat there on Gloria junior (my dress form), I stared at them and began to wonder if darts were actually a part of my life. To find out, I rummaged through my closet.

What I discovered was quite eye-opening for me. Darts and I hardly ever co-exist! Try as I might, I could find very few items in my closet that have darts. I seem to be a no-dart-knit-wearing woman. What I found was that I had a few tailored jackets with darts and little else.

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One of the few pieces in my closet that actually has darts: front French darts, back neck and waist darts. Fits like a glove!

Over the years I have always thought that if I had to describe my personal style in a single word it would be “tailored.” My go-to work clothes ran to tailored suits with structured jackets in the early years when we were much more formal in our work attire, to more recent years when those jackets gave way to crisp white shirts from Brooks Brothers with jacket-style sweaters. So, would I actually use these dart manipulations I’ve been learning? First, a history lesson, since the evolution of textiles and style have played a part in my own personal style evolution – and my use of darted clothing (is darted a word?).

As we all know, we think of darts as those funny little triangles on patterns that are sewn into garments as a kind of pleat to make flat fabrics bend to fit round bodies. Darts were, in fact, one of the first sewing lessons that I can remember in home economics classes back in the day. They were crucial to getting a bodice (and later skirts and pants) to fit. The technical skill required to sew a really fabulous dart cannot be overemphasized – although it has to be said anyone can learn it! The truth is that poorly sewn darts are a dead giveaway to a home sewn garment that looks amateurish. Anyway, back to the general history. Who actually realized that these little darts would be needed?

Who actually invented the “dart” is a mystery, but it seems clear that by the Regency period (which began in 1811) garments worn by people in the western world had darts. It does seem to be a western thing as far as I can figure out. For example, consider the Japanese kimono – no darts. The Indian sari – no darts. But the modern Chinese cheongsam? Well, this little piece of fabulous clothing is the real reason I want to learn to manipulate darts – so that I can design a well-fitting cheongsam for myself. So, I take the course.

The technique I’m learning is what is referred to as the slash-and-spread method. From the bodice sloper that fits me, I can manipulate out the various darts into design lines. I mean – who wants a dart in the armhole?? Well, maybe someone does, but I don’t. So I learn to decide where I do want the dart or seam, then cut that dart or line, then cut a leg of each of the darts I don’t want and slide them closed. As the unwanted darts slide closed, another space opens and voila! A seam or BIG dart (or two) where I do want it. What fun!

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Three of the manipulated dart patterns: (l to r) French, armhole 9!), and neckline.

Anyway, I decide to do a few of the mock-ups (BTW if you do this, you’ll want a bolt of muslin fabric!), and find that I need to further manipulate them for them for a really good fit.

For example, as it turns out I really like the look of the front neckline darts (the shoulder, armhole and waist darts were all closed to open up these style lines radiating from the neck – and I could do 2 on each side if I want. Such fun!), but because I’m a bit concave in the upper body, I need to bow out the darts 1/8 inch at about the 4-inch down mark to get the proper fit. As I stand back and look at this ugly little toile, I can see various iterations of it in dresses, tunics and tops. I can see a cheongsam-inspired top for example.

So I guess that on balance, I will, indeed be using these dart manipulations at least on woven fabrics, but also on stable knits. I just need to learn how to draft collars and sleeves.

I have a long way to go in this journey to learn to design a few pieces for myself!

Some resources I found useful:

Pattern Making Fundamentals: Dart manipulation and pivot points. Isn’t that sew? Blog. http://isntthatsew.org/dart-manipulation/

Dart manipulation slide show. http://www.slideshare.net/thyrine/dart-manupulation