Posted in sewing, Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project Continues: The lapels make the design

When it comes to tailored jackets of any type, it seems to me that the collar and lapel (or revere as my UK friends would say) shapes make the design.

According to Indochino Made-to-Measure, there are three basic lapel shapes: notch, peak and shawl.[1]

From the Indochino blog

Further, they suggest that each of them has a particular occasion. For example, it seems that the majority of men’s blazers have notched lapels which are the standard for single-breasted men’s suits and are the most common shape. The peak is evidently more expensive to create and tends to be used for more refined styles such as tuxedos. The shawl collar is inspired by the smoking jacket and these days seems to be found on more formal clothing.  My husband’s most recent tuxedo jacket has a shawl collar which I think is fabulous on him (even when styled more casually with jeans and a pocket puff – on a cruise!).

Another fashion blogger adds three more lapel styles, which are really variations on the basic three: the contrast lapel collar, the contrast trim notch lapel collar (using piping or binding) and the cloverleaf lapel collar which looks to me to be better described simply as rounded.[2]

This season’s women’s blazers offer a variety of lapel shapes. I’ve noticed that many of them have exaggerated shapes. Just look at that pink Gucci one. Not sure I like that one at all!

But what about my own blazer lapels? There is no doubt in my mind that getting this part of the project right is the key to a beautiful design and finish. So, I began. The collar and lapel on this Vogue 9099 pattern are pretty standard – and classic.

This is the kind of shape that transcends fads and seasonal fluctuations in style. In my book, that makes it a great design. And a good one to use to learn basic lapel construction.

Remember those twelve pages of couture instructions that came with the pattern? The ones created by Claire Schaeffer herself? Well, after doing some research on how to proceed here, I part ways with her once again. As you’ll recall from my previous post, I made this decision fairly early on since it had an impact on when and how I attached the undercollar and facing.

From the outset, I was confused about the interfacing for the upper collar. The pattern says I need to cut a piece, but there is nowhere on the instructions that indicates when (or even if) it needs to be attached. I just went for it.

Then, I considered machine pad-stitching the undercollar, so I did a test, but I didn’t like how it looked on the outside, so I did it by hand.

I then attached it to the neckline (not per the CS instructions if you happen to be using this pattern).

I used my newest tailoring gadget for pressing the collar – my point presser. It made the job so much easier! I recommend getting one before doing this kind of project.

Then I attached the front facing to the upper collar, pinned it on the body on my mannequin (Gloria junior) to check for the turn of the cloth. Note that there is three-eighths of an inch of undercollar chowing when the collar is turned.

If I didn’t cut that off before joining the upper and lower collar, the collar would stick up. This is the method most people suggest. So, I trimmed it and then attached it permanently.

I did this in three steps: the collar, then one side of the lapel, then the other side of the lapel. No backstitching. I left long strings to tie off later (Oh god, there are so many threads!).

Trimming the seam is kind of a magical thing. I marked the breakpoint then trimmed the seam allowance off the facing side below the breakpoint and on the jacket side above it. This allowed the fabric to turn beautifully. What a concept!

There is no doubt that creating that collar and lapels (or reveres if you like) makes it seem as if the blazer is finally coming alive. Once there are sleeves, I think I’ll be in love with it! Onward!

FYI:

Quick & Easy Lapels https://fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/sites/fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/files/ct-mmb-194.pdf


[1] JACKET BASICS: THREE TYPES OF LAPELS, http://blog.indochino.com/jacket-basics-3-types-lapels/

[2] http://amystonefashion.blogspot.com/2018/04/6-mens-blazers-suit-jackets-collars.html

Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Begins to Take Shape: Putting the body of the jacket together

Jackets come in all kinds of shapes. There are fitted jackets, semi-fitted jackets, boxy jackets, relaxed jackets, tent-like jackets and the list goes on.

Tailored jackets come in a slightly more restricted list of shapes. For example, it seems that a tailored jacket by definition has to be a bit fitted, so that leaves out relaxed or tent-like, and I venture to say, relaxed. But what about boxy?

When I embarked on my fit of making Little French Jackets inspired by Chanel, they tended toward the boxier style.

When I think about the internal construction of those ones, it makes sense. Although there is some stabilization inside, especially on all the edges, there is little interfacing (if any) and certainly no hair canvas.

It is the technique of machine-quilting the lining directly to the fabric that gives these jackets their soft shaping. Not so with this tailoring stuff.

In my last post, I had finished the internal stabilization (that is, until I get to the sleeves – a topic for another day), so then it was time to begin to put it all together. And the first thing on the agenda is to create those welted flap pockets. So, here goes!

In this pattern, since there are no side seams and the pockets run across the front seam, I had to attach the fronts to the side panels first. Then I began the process of creating those welts. The order of operations, though, is a bit questionable on this pattern.

According to the instructions, I was supposed to do the welts first. However, I did some research, and Pam Howard who does a jacket class on Craftsy, says that it’s better to make the welts first then use them as the guide for the precise length of the opening for the welts. That made a great deal of sense to me.

Once that was done, I created the welts. This is so much easier than it seems at first glance. One of the things I left out of the process was the stays Clair Schaeffer suggests in the vogue pattern instructions. It just seemed like too many layers of material in my view. I know why she suggests them – they do provide further stabilization – but if the pocket opening is less than six inches, it shouldn’t gape. I hope.

Once the welts were in, it was time to install the flap – again an easy process if you get it turned around the right way and stitch it in the right direction! I had to check this more than once to be sure I got it right. Then there were the pockets bags. Dear god!

My pockets are, of course, made from the silk charmeuse that will eventually (sewing gods willing) line the body and sleeves of the completed jacket. Now, I love silk charmeuse, and it is a dream to wear, but when you are working with it, that dream can quickly devolve into a nightmare. As I installed them, they became a terrifying tangle of silk filaments. It finally worked out – at least what I’ll be able to see on the outside looks terrific. Anyway, I basted them shut to keep them from dragging as I work on the rest of the body. Maybe I’ll leave them closed!

As I moved forward with putting together the rest of the body of the jacket, I again parted ways with the “couture” instructions in the pattern. Claire Schaeffer puts the front facing on first, in preparation for her method of dealing with the eventual turn-of-the-cloth issue in the collar. All the research I’d done suggested that most people who do this tailoring, use the following order of operations which makes sense to me:

  1. Side seams (and princess seams if any)
  2. Shoulder seams
  3. Undercollar
  4. Alter undercollar for turn-of-the-cloth (I’ll get to that eventually)
  5. Front and back facings (if there is a back facing. This pattern doesn’t have one, but if I make it again, I’m going to draft one) along with the upper collar.

The Clair Schaeffer directions require you to install the front facing before the shoulder seams. I know why she does this, but I didn’t like it so I did it the way everyone else seems to do it. Because I did it my way (as Frank Sinatra would say), I did have to install the upper back and centre-back vent and hemline interfacings at this stage.

I used my own adaptation to deal with the interfacing at the shoulder seams, cutting the front interfacing seam allowance off and then overlapping the back across the front for support.

This is a riff on what CS tells you to do in the pattern. Her instructions would have left me with too many layers – again (see above). Naughty, naughty.

Anyway, I now have something that is beginning to resemble the bodice of a jacket. My next challenge is revisiting my collar and lapel skills which I left behind me thirty-five years ago!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project Continues: Shaping the Body (with interfacings and pad stitching)

A few blocks from where we live in the city, there was, for many years, a tailor shop. Focused exclusively on menswear, they always displayed a garment-in-progress in the window. Often when we walked by, I marvelled at the “stuff” that seemed to be underneath the lapel (or revere as it is called in the UK) to help it keep its shape. I occasionally wondered what was under the rest of the body lining. Well, now I know!

The last time we talked, I was prepping and cutting fabric and interfacing. Now the rubber meets the road: time to put that interfacing in the places it needs to be using the methods I need to learn.

Hair canvas and silk organza for interfacing

Let me talk for a moment about “tailoring.” The inside-out jackets I saw in the window of that store were demonstrating their “tailored” interiors. What, then, is the difference between the regular sewing that I’ve been doing for so many years, and this new tailoring experience?

Everyone in the business seems to know what it is, but there is no one, overall, well-established definition. All definitions, however, refer to precise fitting, indeed, “custom fitting” and from what I’ve learned already, although fitting a blouse is also a “thing,” it isn’t done by a complex array of interfacings and interior design as it were.

One definition of tailoring that I think we can work with is as follows: “Tailoring is the art of designing, fitting, fabricating, and finishing garments.”[1] But there’s an argument to be made that dressmaking involves the same thing. Why, then, do couture ateliers have a dressmaking workshop and a tailoring workshop – two separate entities? For a writer like me, I look for those words that differentiate between two different entities. However, I think that the experience of “tailoring” a garment is really what defines it for me. This week I got a real dose of it. I began the process of inserting the interfacings that will shape and ultimately custom-fit the jacket for me.

The process here begins with adding some shape to the shoulder by cutting a slit as marked in the front body interfacing, spreading it apart at the shoulder and adding a bias-cut strip of canvas and stitching close to the edges then trimming.

When I first looked at this on the pattern instructions, I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. So, I just did as I was told, followed the instructions and now I get it. After I pressed it into shape, I have a canvas that will allow the shoulder joint to move. Seems like a good idea to me!

Now for the shoulder plate. I have to begin by telling you that with the research that I did, there seems to be a difference of opinion about what type of interfacing this ought to be. However, this pattern calls for hair canvas, so that’s what I am using. The detailed pattern instructions provided by Claire Schaeffer, provide some guidance for how to “hand pad-stitch” the shoulder canvas to the front body canvas. This shoulder plate will stabilize the shoulder and prevent it from falling inward especially in a woman’s jacket – like mine. (I’ll get back to the pad-stitching thing in a minute.) She also suggests (horror of horrors!) that a couture jacket might also use machine pad-stitching. Well, that just seemed like such a good way to start. So, I used my new favourite sewing gadget, my vanishing marking pen, and marked the lines for the pad-stitching as recommended in the pattern. I marked the rows one inch apart and got going.

I learned that the important bits of this technique are (1) to keep the canvas pieces flat as you sew and (2) to begin at the centre, moving outward in either direction interchangeably. This gives me the best chance of keeping the canvases flat. It works out pretty well and when I iron it, voila! The marking disappears (not that this is really an issue since this will be well hidden under the lining in due course!). I don’t have a photo of this since the stitching disappeared into the canvas. I think that’s what’s supposed to happen!

The next (and in my nerd-like way I find the most exciting part yet) is to get that canvas onto the jacket fabric so that it can begin to shape it and give it the structure a tailored blazer needs. I was so excited to get started, I almost forgot to sew the darts in the jacket front before I started. The canvas needs to have the darts cut out. Just imagine what it would be like if you put darts in the canvas! Not a pretty picture.

The first thing I like to do when two pieces of fabric (or in this case, fabric and interfacing) need to be laid flat against one another is to baste. So, using my favourite Japanese cotton basting thread and very large, diagonal stitches, I baste the canvas onto the fabric.

Then, what’s the story on those seam allowances? What’s interesting about the interfacing pieces in this pattern is that most are cut from pattern pieces specially made for interfacing (rather than ones I had to create from the main body piece myself). However, the front panel interfacing is cut from the same piece as the fashion fabric. This means that it has all the seam allowances intact.

As I researched body shaping with interfacing, I discovered that most experts think that seams benefit from not having the interfacing sewn in along the seam lines, and this makes sense to me. How can you get a smooth, sharp seam if there is hair canvas in the stitching? This means that if I follow C.S.’s instructions, I’ll have both fabric and seam allowance in the shoulder seams and the side seams. Although it seems to me that it is a good idea (as per Alison Smith’s tailoring course on Craftsy among others) to have this extra support in the neckline and the armscye, it seems like a very bad idea to have it in other places. So, I’ll take Alison’s advice and trim the seam allowance from the side seam (really the seam that connects to the side panels), along the front up to and including the lapel to the notch and the shoulder seams.

This means that I need to baste inside the body along those lines so that I can trim just inside the seam line and then catch-stitch it to the body. Since I plan to leave the interfacing at the neckline and armhole, I will not need to put stay-tape in those places. Stay with me here: we’re not done yet!

Now it is time to pad-stitch. What in the world is this pad-stitching for? According to Wikipedia, the great expert in all that is,

Pad stitches are a type of running stitch made by placing small stitches perpendicular to the line of stitching. Pad stitches secure two or more layers of fabric together and give the layers more firmness; smaller and denser stitches create more firmness. They may also be used to enforce an overall curvature of the layers.[2]

So, it means that pad-stitches are used to hold two layers of fabric together and contribute to the ability of the tailor to shape the garment. And they are dead simple to do. (FYI the University of Kentucky has posted a really great pdf with explanations of how to do all the hand-stitches you will ever need at https://grayson.ca.uky.edu/files/hand_stitches.pdf .)

Following the roll line, I mark the stitching lines with my lovely vanishing pen marker to keep my lines straight and to indicate where they need to be closer together.

Then I get at it. It doesn’t take nearly as much time as you might think, and it’s very relaxing. I would, however, recommend a high counter where you can have the fabric at elbow level and you don’t ‘have to bend over so much. Don’t’ try to do this sitting at your sewing machine table. It’s too low unless yours is on a counter with a stool!).

Scott Perkins of the blog Garb for Guys offers the following diagram[3] of pad-stitching:

It’s now time to baste the canvas to the side panels with large basting stitches. I will also have to baste inside the seam lines and catch-stitch them to the fabric since those pesky seam allowances are on the interfacing pattern pieces. I also have to make sure I can see the markings for the welt-pocket openings on both the front panels and the side panels since the welts travel across the seam line.

Then I have to tape the roll line. But before I do that, I have to shrink the twill tape. I’ve actually never bothered to do this before when I used it with my Little French Jacket projects, but I’m trying to be a good student here, so I immerse it in hot water and hang it to dry. Then I have to iron it.

Finally, I’m ready to lay it on the body side of the roll line and pin it in place. The pattern instructions differentiate between the concept of the tape being “held short” versus “laying flat.” This means that the tape is not simply flatly laid on the line; rather it is cut slightly shorter than the length needed to lay flat and the fabric is eased in. It helps the lapel to kind of curve into the body. This is easier than it sounds. I just pin it in place, baste it (did I mention that basting is my best friend?).

The pattern instructions direct you to secure it in place with a row of fell stitches on each side. Stephanie Lincecum (another Craftsy instruction who teacher tailoring) says to use a modified catch-stitch in which you move from left to right (or the reverse if you’re left-handed) and catch a bit of tape and interfacing with each stitch. I like this approach better. I think it’s easier and looks better! And really, doesn’t it need to look nice under all that lining? No one else will know, but you will!

Of course, I need to put the interfacing on the upper back and the back hemlines, but that’s for putting the body together. And what about that silk organza interfacing? I’ll get to that! Another day, another stitching line! Talk soon.


[1] The history of tailoring, https://journal.alabamachanin.com/2016/05/the-history-of-tailoring/#:~:text=The%20art%20of%20tailoring%20dates,chafing%20associated%20with%20heavy%20armor.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pad_stitch

[3] https://garb4guys.blogspot.com/2008/02/pad-stitching-with-demo.html

Posted in sewing, Style

And now for something completely different… a new Facebook Group

Please indulge me: This is just a brief diversion from my on-going tailored blazer project so that I can share some news with you.

I’ve been a member of several sewing-related Facebook groups for a few years now, and I have largely enjoyed my browsing and interacting – as limited as it has been. However, I’ve felt recently that I’d love to be able to share a bit more of my own interests in the hope of finding like-minded people out there who are passionate about the same things I am – namely fashion sewing (and styling those new me-made pieces) and books. I’m talking about books related to sewing (instructional or other), fashion, style whether they are nonfiction (like your favourite, go-to sewing manual) or a novel like The Devil Wears Prada or The Year I Made 12 Dresses (I had to put that one in there, didn’t I? So, shoot me.) Enter the new Facebook group.

I’ve never been the administrator of a Facebook group before, but I know a thing or two about organizing things. I’ve created a new group that I’d love to have you join if it’s something you think you might enjoy – and enjoyment is the number one objective. We can further discuss the things I post on this blog. You can share your newest fashion sewing projects or how you’re styling an old piece you might have made some time ago. We can share brief reviews of sewing and fashion-related books. We can recommend to one another books we enjoy. I would welcome any kind of sewing resource you might want to share with others – a video, a blog (even your own if it relates to the things this group is about. Maybe we can even find a bit of inspiration among the posts.

It’s my intention that this group be for every sewer (sewist) who loves fashion sewing, loves reading, and is just a bit of a nerd like me.

The purpose of this group is to find like-minded sewers (sewists) who want to share their journey in fashion garment sewing and books about sewing: instructional books, books that spark creativity, fiction that inspires sewing and fashion design.

The group is not for selling. But if you’ve written a book about sewing, fashion design, pattern-making or creativity, we can talk. I’d love to be able to support you and share your work, but I need to see what it’s all about first. There are other things the group is not designed for like quilting, bag-making, kid’s clothing, dog clothing, mask-making, etc.; political or religious stuff, rants. There are a few more listed on the site.

Anyway, enough about anything not related to my current tailoring project. Just thought some of you might like to know…now I’m back to my daily writing on my new book and a relaxing hour or two working on pad-stitching the undercollar of my new blazer. Later this week, I’ll share with you the next installment of the blazer project: shaping the body. Wish me luck!

Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project Continues: Preparing the fabric and interfacing(s)

If like me, you’ve ever dreamed of having that perfectly tailored bespoke suit made precisely for your own body, you’ve probably wondered where you might procure one. Earlier this month, the BBC featured a young London entrepreneur and tailor named Daisy Knatchbull who has opened the very first all-female tailor shop on the storied Saville Row in London. You probably know that Saville Row has, up until now, been exclusively focused on men’s tailoring. But not any longer. The story transported me…

But, did you notice how much such a suit will set you back? Enter an opportunity for all of us who sew. We can create these bespoke suits for ourselves at a fraction of the cost – but a lot of sweat equity it has to be said! And that’s what this project I’m in the middle of is all about. I’m doing my own self-guided course on tailoring.

In the last post, I created and altered the muslin. By the time I was finished with that, I had a well-fitting pattern (I hope) and was ready to finally get that fabric out and begin to cut.

You might remember that the fabric I’ve chosen for this project is a silk and cotton tweed and to say that it frays would be a serious understatement. This is important to know if (a) I want the seam allowances to be accurate, and (b) I want to maintain my sanity. So, as I begin to lay out and cut the fabric, I have to keep this in mind. First, I try not to handle it too much and second, later on, I’ll actually take the time to run a machine stitching line down all important edges. It’s worth the time. But back to the cutting out.

There are a lot of moving pieces in a tailored jacket that has welted flap pockets, side panels and two-piece sleeves. And since this Vogue 9099 pattern is a Claire Schaeffer couture teaching one, it has numerous pieces.

Instead of having to create your own lining and interfacing pattern pieces, they have been provided, so I must separate out the ones that are just for the fabric, the ones that are cut from fabric and interfacing, and the ones (actually there is only one) that are both a fabric and lining pattern. I’ll deal with the lining later – I can only cope with so much fraying fabric at one time. The lining is silk charmeuse and I’m well aware of that baby’s tendency to fray into super-thin silk filaments. Later.

This isn’t the most expensive fabric I’ve ever used (that would have been Italian cotton for a shirt for my husband), but it wasn’t cheap, either. So, I take a moment to ensure that I’m relaxed and calm before I attack it with the shears.

So many pieces!

Once I have that done, I need to cut the interfacing pieces because there will be no sewing of this project until the interior body and collar shaping are done.

I’ve never worked with hair canvas before, but since this one is fairly thin, it’s easy to work with and thankfully does not fray! I’ve chosen this light-weight canvas so that I don’t change the character of the fabric too much. I want shaping, but I want soft shaping.

According to the pattern instructions, there are a few pieces of interfacing that need to be cut from “batiste.” I thought I knew enough about fabrics to know what batiste is, but this didn’t make a whole of sense to me especially when I noted that the batiste was to be used to interface the undercollar and pocket flaps.

So, I go to my favourite textile bible and find out that I am right: batiste is lawn. In fact, “lawn” is called batiste when it is made from cotton and called “handkerchief linen” when made from flax. Bottom line: it’s very thin, and not at all what I would have thought ought to be interfacing for an undercollar – but it might be right for pocket flaps. Nevertheless, I decide that the decision of what to put where could come later. I follow the instructions and cut it out. However, I don’t have batiste lying around, but I do have silk organza which has many of the same characteristics of batiste (sheer and lightweight and able to hold its shape being chief among them), so I decide that silk organza would be an even better alternative. We’ll see.

Hair canvas and silk organza for interfacings.

With the pieces all cut out, it’s time to mark everything – carefully. One thing I do know about making jackets – traditionally-tailored or Chanel-style – the marking needs to be accurate and plentiful.

My favourite kind of marking for tweed uses Japanese cotton basting thread for lines and tailor’s tacks. Remember what I said about fraying? I could have handled this by using couture methods – cutting the seam allowances off the pattern, laying everything out in a single layer, rough-cutting at an inch or more and finally thread-tracing the seam lines. I choose not to do this. I cut the pieces with the regular seam allowance then carefully measure my way around the periphery of every piece adding thread-traced seam allowances. This should keep me on the right track when I get to the side seams which are the most important ones for fitting this jacket for me.

Of course, I have to figure out how to thread-trace the pieces that are cut in a double layer without removing and replacing tissue pattern pieces multiple times. I decide to use the technique demonstrated in the video below for the first step, but I really hate all those tails. That’s why I then do running stitch lines connecting the tails and remove all the annoying little bits of thread. (No, I didn’t do that on the seam lines on the periphery – I measured them all as I did my running stitch. See my little green sewing gauge above.)

It is after this step that I decide to machine stitch around all-important seam allowances (which will give me the right fit in the end) to reduce fraying. It is my sanity saver.

Marking the interfacing is also important and is much easier. I use tracing paper and will use one of those pens whose markings disappear with heat and steam. (I’ve just acquired a couple and am tickled at how well they work – unless, of course, you inadvertently steam away your markings before you need them as I have done several times).

Now that it’s all cut out (except for the lining) it’s time to learn as much as I can about things like “pad-stitching” and other aspects of what goes into the shaping of the interior of the jacket. I’ve started practicing…

What I’m learning is that there are as many “best practices” as there are experts in the field of tailoring. I’m going to try to figure out whose method works best for which aspects of the project – I’m not planning on following the pattern instructions to the letter (sorry Claire Schaeffer!).

I’ll share that with you next.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: Fitting the Muslin

I don’t know about you, but I just love making test garments. Whether you call it a muslin, a toile or a calico, it all means the same thing: a garment made for fitting and testing out sewing and tailoring techniques before cutting into your fashion fabric.

The idea of a wearable muslin is a bit of an oddity to me because if I can’t mark on the fabric, cut it apart to use as a precisely-fitted pattern, and make as many mistakes as needed to get it right, there’s not much point in it, si there? Anyway, I love making them and am often sad when it comes time to cut the ugly little thing apart. So, now it’s time to get on with the muslin for my tailored blazer.

Of course, there are times when I don’t make a muslin. That would be when I make a loosely-fitted T-shirt or something. But, if there is even the slightest possibility that it won’t fit almost out of the commercial package, I make a test garment. And, of course, whenever I draft the pattern myself, I create a muslin the first time around. It’s the only way to test the fit and the techniques.

In the past, I’ve even had to do a second muslin from time to time. The last time I used a Claire Schaeffer pattern was the last time I did this.

This pattern was the last Claire Schaeffer one I made. Quite a different technique from this tailored one.

But if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and precisely.

I always begin with a bit of tissue fitting. I think you can see a lot of issues with tissue-fitting, but in the end, it has serious limitations. No one is making a tailored jacket out of any kind of fabric that resembles pattern paper (at least not in my atelier!) so it’s very difficult to work out solutions for fit issues even after you see them. That’s why I begin by washing, drying, and ironing my muslin to make it drape a bit better, then I cut it out very carefully. Just because it’s plain, old cotton doesn’t mean that I can treat it with anything less than the highest respect. After all, it will tell me a lot about my pattern, the fit and my personal sewing skills for this project.

Before I cut out a muslin, however, I always decide how much of the inner construction I’m going to actually do. Will I put on facings? Will I use the welts? Will I install pockets? Most of these pieces are not necessary for s simple fit garment, but they are crucial if I am using the muslin to perfect techniques. In this case, I haven’t done a welt pocket in so many years, I feel I need a refresher, so I cut out the welts and flaps. If the first one is perfect (ha-ha!), I won’t need to do a second. I think I’ll plan to do two practice welt pockets. (As I mentioned in my last post, I will omit the breast flap pocket because I think it’s unflattering.)

As for the large front facing, this is a puzzle at first. Claire Schaeffer’s instructions suggest that she has provided a front facing “guide,” which looks to me like a front facing, and a very large rectangular piece to be cut of fabric to shape into a front facing. Well, perhaps I’ll do that when I get there, but for the purposes of the muslin, I will be cutting the “front facing guide” out and use it as my test facing. You might want to consider this, too, if you’re doing this pattern. I will also put together test lapels so I’ll be needing the undercollar and upper collar pieces.

After the pieces are cut out, I come to the part I really love the most about this process – the marking. Seriously! First, I get out my large pieces of waxed tracing paper I bought from Susan Khalje’s website a few years ago and use a tracing wheel to mark the underside of each piece first. Then I remove the pattern piece, turn the piece over and mark the second piece using the bottom marks as a guide.

Once these markings are complete, I do need to do some machine thread-tracing so that I have some marks on the outside of the muslin jacket as well. I’ll need the waistline, the centre front marking, the grain marking and the markings for button placement.

Thread markings I can see on both sides.

It’s finally time to sew it together. I usually use red thread for the first go at it. If I need to make changes, I’ll use blue thread. Some people suggest that you don’t iron darts, seams etc. as you go, but I feel that I can’t really see how it will look if I do it. It does, however, mean that if I have to alter anything, not only do I have to pull out the original stitches, but then I have to iron it again. But I don’t mind.

As you can see from the first fitting, I had some alterations to make.

The sleeves were too big (this was expected – these Vogue patterns seem to think everyone is built like a Sumo wrestler) and they were too long (we’re not all built like orangutans!). You can see that I cut the upper sleeve at the marking for shortening (which I had transferred onto the muslin itself) and sewed it again. I also shortened the placket slightly. The pattern suggests four buttons at the sleeve vent. I think four buttons is too much. I bought four for each sleeve, but I’ll use only three each.

I also have to shorten the shoulder length. So, I had to take the sleeve partially out and then replace it after measuring the pattern to be sure I wouldn’t have to take any ease out. I didn’t, which was a good thing because I didn’t have to re-draw the entire sleeve head pattern.

I also did both flap welt pockets for practice. I followed the instructions Claire Schaeffer created for the Vogue pattern for the first one, but then I found a few tricks Pam Howard provided in her Craftsy class that really helped me get the second one right. I think I’m going to have to be flexible about using only the pattern instructions. I’ll be referring to my tailoring book and to he video classes I own.

I’m now happy with the fit, so the next step is to cut apart the lovely little ugly jacket and transfer all the alterations to the pattern.  Then…cutting out the fabric, canvas interfacing, organza interfacing and silk lining!

FYI’s

[No endorsements or kick-backs, just information in case you’d like to learn more about the things I use in my atelier.]

I use Japanese cotton basting thread I bought from Susan Khalje’s shop: https://susankhalje.com/collections/store/products/japanese-cotton-basting-thread

And here’s where you can find that waxed tracing paper: https://susankhalje.com/collections/store/products/waxed-tracing-paper

I had no problems with having these delivered from her shop in the US to my home in Canada.

Posted in fabrics, Fashion, Style, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project: My fabulous fabric (and other things I need)

What better day to talk about great fabrics for my tailoring project than the first day of autumn? Although, in years past, whenever I thought about tailored jackets I also thought about matching pants or skirts (can you say suit?), these days the thought of a tailored jacket is more likely to have me thinking about jeans and great sneakers. That’s more my style these days. Anyway, my last post saw me rationalizing why I need to do this project and how I will begin to learn about the tailoring process. I have my pattern (along with all 12 pages of instructions it included). So, now I’m ready to talk fabrics.

I love fabrics. In fact, one of my favourite sewing-related books is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory.

One of my sewing bibles.

Call me a sewing nerd if you like, but I love to read about sewing and know a bit more about what I’m doing than simply how to do it. I need to know why. When I considered choosing my fabric for this project, I knew that I wanted it to be a bit tweedier, or bouclé-ish than flat or worsted wool that you see in men’s suits. I knew it would need some texture and I didn’t want another black jacket. I am the first person to say that a black jacket is golden – and is, in fact, the urban Toronto uniform from Labour Day until the long weekend in May – but god knows I have enough black. First, what else should I consider other than colour?

Well, I have another new book. This one’s on tailoring and it arrived yesterday. What could be more perfect for me right now than The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket?

It has 400 well-shot photos that I’m sure I’ll refer to as I move through the project. Today, I was focusing on what the authors had to say about choosing fabrics to tailor, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Well, that would be me.

This book identifies five characteristics to consider when selecting tailoring fabrics.

Interestingly, among them is, in fact, colour! Yes, colour is important because, and I actually knew this going in, medium or darker colours hide inner construction better than light-coloured ones. Also, just think about how a white fabric might look after all the handling you have to do when you tailor a jacket.

The book also says that I should consider fibre content. This should have been obvious to me, as well. Natural fibres can be shaped far more easily than synthetics. Since tailoring requires lots of pressing and manipulating into shapes, this is important.

The next important characteristic is the fabric’s weight. It also makes a lot of sense when you think about it. A fabric that is too light will get over-pressed very quickly. On the other hand, I’ll never be able to get a crisp corner (or anything else crisp) with a really heavy fabric.

Next is texture. I learned this when I made my first Little French Jacket. Those jackets are lined by machine-quilting the lining to the fabric. The stitches are, therefore, visible on the outside. However, with enough texture, the stitching is all but invisible. Just take a look at an authentic Chanel jacket in a consignment store sometime. They are machine-quilted. So, in this kind of tailoring I’m doing now, there will be some little hand-stitches that might otherwise show on a smooth fabric. Textured it is, then.

Finally, there is a question of the weave. A medium weave is easily pressed and will hold its shape. I would have to fight with a tight weave, while a loose weave will stretch.

Well, four out of five ain’t bad! My fabric choice may have a weave issue, but I’ll deal with it. I’ve used loose-ish weaves before.

I think it’s fair to say that most people choose a fashion fabric first, then they choose the lining. I did this a bit backwards since I had a piece of silk charmeuse I loved that I bought when we were on vacation (pre-COVID) earlier this year. I loved the muted pastels even though I rarely wear them. I also love the feel of authentic silk charmeuse against my body, so I always thought it would make a great lining. I then had to find a fabric that would sort of “go” with it.

Beautiful silk charmeuse!

I found the fabric on Queen Street West here in Toronto at a little fabric store I mentioned n an earlier post. It’s a silk-cotton blend in a peachy tweed weave the incorporates yellow, green and cream. I loved the fabric and I’m going to make it work.

Then, what about what goes inside the jacket…the tailoring stuff?

I needed hair canvas (more about this in a later post). Two weeks ago, my husband and I had a weekday, weekend away in Niagara-on-the-Lake (here’s a video we made if you need a bit of armchair travel in these peculiar times). On the way, I stopped in Fabricland (Canada’s answer to Joann’s but up a notch or two) in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I asked a lovely saleswoman if they had any hair canvas. She thought for a moment then managed to find a bolt stuffed away under the cutting counter.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve worked here twelve years and this is the first time I’ve ever sold any of this.” This was corroborated by another sales clerk who had never sold any either. So, it was a good day for them. At $22 a metre, it wasn’t cheap (and it’s only 20 inches wide).

I also found the stay tape I’ll need for the interior edges and some buttons that will work.

I’m excited to get on with cutting the pieces all out. There are so many of them I’ll need a database to keep track! Talk soon.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Books, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project Begins: Why create a blazer?

As far as I’m concerned, there is no single piece of clothing in the world that immediately transforms not only how you look, but how you feel about yourself than a tailored jacket – a blazer to be precise.

There was a time in my life when I had a closet full of them – and matching skirts or trousers – and I wore them every day. I’m sure that there are many women out there who can identify with this.

And even if you didn’t wear a suit jacket to work, I’m sure you recognized at one time or another that putting a blazer on over even a T-shirt changes everything.

I think I learned my strongest lesson ever about a blazer-style jacket many years ago when I was working in communications for a large organ transplant program. It was a summer day, and I was probably wearing a dress of some sort or another (I used to wear dresses for other things than cocktails). I got a phone call late in the morning from the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a Canadian). They would be arriving in a couple of hours to interview me for the evening news. The truth is that the CBC was notorious at the time for always wanting you to come to their studios if they wanted to interview you and this isn’t always convenient. There even used to be a saying among communications professionals that went this way: “The CBC was unlikely to ever come out for anything short of the second coming.” Well, this wasn’t the second coming, but it was an occasion when I knew I’d need a jacket. I ran home at lunchtime (luckily, I lived a five-minute walk from my office) and got myself a blazer. Never again was I without a jacket in my office to throw over whatever I was wearing for purposes of a television interview. But things have changed.

I have noticed that the “uniform” these days for women who are on-camera personalities, especially in the US, is what I would have labelled a cocktail dress in years gone by. To prove a point – that they don’t have to look like men to compete with them, I guess – women have forgotten the power of the jacket. These days, I can still expect to see Lisa LaFlamme on CTV news in Canada in the evening wearing some version of a suit jacket and she looks so professional.

So, I love a blazer. I think you get that. And since I have never done traditional tailoring, and it’s been over 35 years since I even created a jacket with a lapel collar for myself, I thought I’d love to take on a new challenge. Enter the new project. I am going to learn traditional and modern tailoring techniques and create for myself a perfectly-fitted blazer-style jacket. As usual, though, before I begin, I need to do a bit of research. For example, where did the name “blazer” come from and when did women start wearing tailored jackets?

According to Michael Andrews Bespoke, in a fascinating piece about the history of women in suits, “The first notable appearance of a woman making a man’s suit her own was in 1870 when actress Sarah Bernhardt began wearing her “boy’s clothes” in public.”[1] As you might expect, at that time, a woman wearing what was traditionally considered to be men’s clothing was nothing short of scandalous.

Sarah Bernhardt in a suit

In the late nineteenth century, women began to wear what could be considered early suit jackets. If you haven’t yet read historian Linda Przybyszewski’s fascinating book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and you are interested in style, stop reading immediately and go order a copy — then come back! In her book she provides some very interesting views on how style developed including references to early suit jackets on women.

Coco Chanel first began creating two-piece suits for women in the 1920s and is credited with giving the suit a boost. Chanel’s suits gave the first-wave feminists of the early twentieth century their own look, but the hallmark of the Chanel suit was its softness, its minimal tailoring. In 1966, Yves St. Laurent offered women a look that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be beaten if we want to look elegant, sophisticated and powerful. Enter “Le Smoking.”

Over the years, women have adopted many styles of suit jackets. As I look back on the last American election and take a close look at Hilary Clinton’s “pantsuits” I wonder what went wrong with that particular image. I think it might have been three things: colour, fit and proportion. She just looked unkempt and odd in my view. Did this make a difference to her political aspirations? Or should it have? Probably not, but I’m not a political writer – this is about style, design and creation!

It seems that suit jackets have been in women’s style arsenal for a very long time. So, what’s the difference between a suit jacket and a blazer?

In an interesting piece by The Gentlemanual, the difference is this: “Dressier than sports jackets but not as formal as a suit, the blazer serves as a nice middle ground piece that elevates outfits nicely without going overboard.”[2] At least this is how they describe a blazer for men, and I think we can adopt this understanding for women. As I have always thought, a blazer elevates any outfit.

The term “blazer” itself has an interesting history. According to Lanieri Italia, the blazer originated as follows:

The term was first used around 1825 to define the red blazers used by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club, the rowing Club at St. John’s College in Cambridge. Their jackets were called blazer (from the word “blaze”) because of the bright red fabric used to tailor them, but the term was thereafter used for jackets in any colour.[3]

And, of course, a blazer is fundamentally a stand-alone piece whereas a suit jacket comes with a matching pair of trousers, a skirt or even a dress. In general, as well, a blazer is either single-breasted with two pockets or double-breasted with six buttons (and they have patch pockets according to tradition).

So, I plan to create a perfectly-fitting blazer using some traditional (and perhaps a few modern) tailoring techniques. My blazer will be two-buttoned, single-breasted because that’s the most flattering style for my figure. It will also have welt pockets rather than patch pockets for three reasons: First, patch pockets are what I generally put on Chanel-inspired, soft jackets. The second reason is that I haven’t made a welt pocket in decades so I want to re-learn this skill. Third, because the commercial pattern I’ve chosen has welt pockets. Oh, yes, the pattern in question:

This is Claire Schaeffer’s couture blazer pattern. What this means is that she has personally written for Vogue patterns the instructions – all 12 pages of them. Yes, 12 pages!

I’ve done some couture sewing in the past, so a lot of the approach is familiar (and I used Claire Schaeffer’s Little French jacket pattern Vogue 8804 for my last LFJ), but OMG, just wait!

I’ll tell you more about it when I get to cutting out the muslin. But, up next, the all-important and oh-so-fun and creative part: finding the perfect fabric and lining. Stay tuned!


[1] A brief history of women’s suits. https://www.michaelandrews.com/journal/history-womens-suits

[2] https://www.ties.com/blog/whats-the-difference-sports-jacket-vs-blazer-vs-suit-jacket

[3] https://www.lanieri.com/blog/en/whats-the-difference-between-a-jacket-and-a-blazer/

Posted in Shirt-making, Style

The great shirt-making project is finally over

It’s hard to imagine how innocent and naïve we were back on January 1, 2020. Just imagine having plans for this year! Well, that hasn’t gone quite as we expected, has it? As I write this, I should be finishing up a few last-minute additions to the European travel capsule wardrobe I’d been planning to design and create. However, when we arrived home from Florida the first week in March, everything changed.

We thought long and hard, but in the end, decided to cancel our big Northern European and Scandinavian trip that was scheduled to begin in about two weeks. And I had to make some changes to my sewing and design projects for the year.

Apart from the travel collection project, I had two other big projects I hoped to accomplish this year – first, the great shirt-making project wherein I wanted to improve my design and construction skills for both my own shirts and for menswear shirts. The second is a tailoring project (yet to come). So, how did I do with the shirtmaking?

I started by examining all the reasons why button-front shirts are essential parts of my wardrobe and then began to search for the perfect commercial pattern. I acquired several but settled on McCall’s 7575 to create what I called my “Frankenstyle” shirt – the test shirt to be made from left-over fabrics. Through the process, I learned a couple of new things, primarily how to design and sew a beautiful sleeve placket. These plackets are rarely included in commercial patterns, so you often have to design the pattern for yourself. There is lots of online help. Now I was on to something!

Shirt fabrics are another thing I learned about this year. I have now used cotton-polyester shirtings, pure cottons, pure Italian cottons and even cotton-lycra sateen (the blue fabric in the Frankenstyle shirt was cotton with a touch of lycra in a sateen finish). My favourite fabric to work with this year was a piece I picked up while on our driving trip through Florida (pre-COVID, I must point out). It was pure heaven to work with.

After the test shirt (which is on fall-winter rotation), and the final design that fit well, I loosened up the design a bit and created a less-fitted version from embroidered cotton. I have to say that this is the one I’ve worn the most at this point.

Then it was on to the men’s shirt. I made a bespoke shirt for my husband last year to dip my toe into the menswear pond. Then my son gave me a book on tailoring menswear for Christmas. A hint, perhaps?

A Christmas present from my son…

Anyway, after fitting a fitted shirt for my husband last year, I created a new basic pattern for him for a loose style with an inverted back pleat. After all, when you buy shirting at the end-o-the-season Fabricville sale (3 metres for the price of one), you have to do something with it.

My husband prefers a button-down collar so I have to redesign the collar to accommodate it. Not every collar works this way.

Of course, with the leftover, I made myself a summer shirt to wear with white jeans or shorts n the hottest of Toronto summer days. This is where I learned that the right buttons can transform a shirt from ordinary to special. In fact, I’m considering changing some of the buttons n some of my RTW shirts!

It was then time to ask my son – who is picky about his clothes, especially the fit – if he would be interested in me creating the perfect pattern for him. He was, as it turned out. So, I went back to my husband’s pattern and the very first test shirt I’d created, to use it as the muslin. I fitted it to Ian (the son) and cut it apart, using the muslin as the pattern. Ian is a 30-something former professional ballet dancer who now teaches, so his build is different from that of his dad. It wasn’t as much of a challenge to fit the same pattern as I expected it to be, though.

I made his test shirt from the second piece of sale shirting I had bought (I have yet to make something from the leftover).

It fits well except that the neckline turned out too big. I researched how to alter the neckline without changing the cross-back which was perfect, and that’s where I am now. I will create a tiny muslin of the collar and the top of the shirt to perfect the fit then finalize the pattern. I just need to find the perfect fabric. That’s proving to be a challenge.

Now that September is just about upon us, it’s time to regroup and begin another big project. I’m about to embark on learning tailoring. Come along with me if you like!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, Style

The Joy of Sleeves: Especially when you find the best length for you

Could there be any more distinguishing feature of just about any kind of top than its sleeves? Think about it. When you go shopping for ready-to-wear for the upper half of your body, unless you’re just browsing aimlessly, you probably have a general idea of one aspect of the top you’re seeking – the sleeves, in particular, their length.

Sleeve Length

Let’s face it: you can cut your sleeve at any place along the full length of your arm, but you might not like how it looks – or works. In the worlds of style and fashion, there are some specific lengths that have been discovered to be most flattering.

From sizechart.com

If you’re shopping for a winter coat, clearly, you’d be a fool not to look for long sleeves (notwithstanding fashion designers’ attempts to get us to think that three-quarter sleeves with gloves would be a reasonable substitute). If you’re looking for a cool, summer top, you probably aren’t looking for long sleeves, however, you might not be sure whether you want cap sleeves, short sleeves (and what length) or elbow-length. And it’s exactly the same when we create our own clothes. I think sleeve length, in particular, is one of the most crucial parts of a flattering and useful piece of clothing. And not every length works best for everyone, although a commercial pattern with a short sleeve view will be very specific. Be brave! Be adventurous! Throw caution to the wind! Cut the sleeves whatever length you want! Back up a bit with me: I’m interested in sleeves.

Sleeve functionality

Let’s start small. Sleeves are arm coverings. Let’s face it: sleeves are largely functional. Unless you live close to the equator, you likely feel the need for an arm covering from time to time. Of course, you could throw a wrap around you but think about it. Isn’t a sleeve a lot more functional? Consider getting into and out of your car with your keys, wallet, umbrella, child who has to be wrestled out of one of those booster seat contraptions – oh, and let’s not forget that you have to put on your mask in 2020. Oops, you forgot? Get back in the car, put everything down and start again. Then consider having to keep a wrap around you at the same time.

A vintage sleeve pattern – you could add a different style and/or length to any bodice.

Well, for my money, I’d prefer to have sleeves attached to my bodice. So, apart from strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns (oh, yes, I love strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns, or at least I used to) and summer tank tops (which I’m wearing less and less as I get older), the sleeve consideration is a big one when I’m shopping ready-to-wear or sewing for myself. And since I do sew, I can decide what sleeve would be best.

A blast from the past – the one-shoulder dress! Who needs sleeves when you’re in the Caribbean on a cruise?

Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of impractical sleeves. That’s the kindest way I can put it. If I’m being honest, I really think that hideous sleeves are being hoisted on us by designers every time we turn around.

Need I say more about the hideous-sleeve trend?

Don’t they know that a well-proportioned, simple sleeve will serve us best in the long-term? *sigh* Well, I just make my tops these days. So, when I got into my most recent one (and the last summer one for this year, I hope), the sleeves became an instant quandary.

Finding a Flattering Length

Not every sleeve length is as flattering as the next one – and not every sleeve length works for every woman. It’s a matter of proportion. And there are so many choices.

This reared its head recently – you may remember this recent shirt project. The pattern, Butterick 6324 offers a sleeve length that’s somewhere between an elbow length and a short sleeve. I opted to cut it according to the pattern and roll twice. Much better on me.

I’ve also found that I like a three-quarter sleeve on me when it works for functionality. There’s something very flattering about this length on most women. In fact, whenever I’m wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt, I like the look of a turned-back sleeve even better than the sleeve left long. I even like this look on a man. It’s just my personal aesthetic.

I had a length of rayon knit that is very soft and has a lovely drape. I’d been looking forward to working with it since I’ve recently been making shirts which is great but different. When I started this most recent one, I had already made the pattern with long sleeves, so I knew that I liked it in general.

This time, I wanted short sleeves. And I know from having created my own bodice and sleeve sloper, that I have a few lengths that work for me. The short-sleeve length included in most commercial patterns is not it.

The good news is that my most flattering length is usually shorter than the one provided, so, I can always cut it as designed, then I can shorten to the perfect length. I’ve also taken to shortening RTW short sleeves lately.

The difference between lengths is often subtle, but when you find the right length, I think it can make all the difference. when you sew your own tops, you can experiment. I do every time I make something.

Sewing Sleeves In

And of course, sleeves have to be set in well. My personal sleeve-setting journey started back in sewing classes in junior high school where I learned to properly set-in a sleeve. As a result, that’s the method I’ve adhered to for all my sewing life – until recently.

Although I did sew with “knits” when I was very young, those knits were not like the knits of today. They were, in fact, more like stable knits of today. Remember crimplene? (If not, I wrote about it back a while ago). I mention this because you can use the traditional set-in sleeve method with these kinds of fabrics. Anyone who sews with today’s jerseys etc. with a stretch factor of something like 35% knows that this is next to impossible. So, I’ve had to learn to sew in sleeves (they are not really “set-in” in the true sense) before sewing up the side seams. And I’ve had to force myself to use this method when sewing shirts. Of course, sleeves in shirts are quite different from sleeves in jackets. A sleeve head in a jacket is so important. In a shirt, not so much.

Anyway, here we are in August and I’m just finishing up summer sewing. I think it might be time to move onto fall planning – I just hope the fall isn’t as unpredictable as the spring and summer of 2020 have been! (And I don’t mean the weather!)