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

My Little French Jacket #3: Muslin-fitting challenges

home-ec-class
Ah…home ec classes!

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

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

 

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

 

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

sleeve fit problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

My latest Little French Jacket: Prepping the pattern

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Claire Shaeffer’s detailed instructions in the pattern

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

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

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

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Comparing my personal sloper to the pattern

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

cc books
My two favourite Chanel biographies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage inspiration:

 

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

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

“Secrets of the Little Black Jacket”

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Vogue 8804 pattern front

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

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

 

Okay, here I go!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, sewing, Style

In the ‘Mood’ for Inspiration: A fabric store mecca and other sewing muses

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I’ve just returned from a three-week sojourn that took us from cold Toronto to sunny Los Angeles and onward to San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Scottsdale and finally Vegas. The minute we determined that we’d begin in LA this year, I began thinking about Mood Fabrics and wondering how I could wangle a solitary hour there. Well, I did. And I came away inspired. Before I left, however, I had to figure out how I’d best use my hour alone in fabric heaven.

First, if you’ve come along with me on any of my previous sewing adventures, you know that I don’t “stash” fabric (how I hate that very idea), rather I concentrate on quality over quantity and really dislike the idea of hording cheap fabrics. (No judgment here: it’s just not for me.) I love the idea of choosing quality fabrics and taking my time to complete projects in a way that ensures a garment I’ll love for a very long time. Mood Fabrics is just such a store to find those treasures. So, I first thought I’d take my list of planned 2017 projects and focus on finding just the perfect fabrics. Then I thought if I do that, I’ll miss seeing everything else. So I took Proust’s advice and stepped away from the seeking just to look.

mood fabrics la
The Mood Fabrics first view is of bolt after bolt of bridal silks, satins & laces!

 

As I walked in the store I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. I was immediately surrounded by quality silks, linens, shirting, tweeds – in short all the fabrics I love to work with and wear. It was a bit like stepping into my own favourite Toronto garment district fabric store, but on steroids. No vestiges of the chain-store fabrics anywhere in sight. I loved it. So I meditatively walked all the aisles looking, feeling, enjoying.

Once I had navigated the store this way, I then decided to take out my notebook and go back to a couple of aisles that had really caught my imagination. [Anyone who knows me realizes that I’m a digital person for most of what I do, but Moleskine notebooks are part of my life all the time!] The first stop was the silk aisles where I bought some beautiful silk organza to underline a couture dress project in an as-yet-unselected fabric (I’m going to take Susan Khalje’s course).

[My little Moleskine notebook was ready to serve!]

Then I went back to the cotton shirting aisle where the choices were almost overwhelming. I knew I needed two fabrics that could go together, and that I wanted black and white. I also hate most prints unless they are geometric, so zeroed in on stripes. In addition, I wanted a tone-on-tone white cotton shirting for a new spring project. I came away delighted with my purchases (I also picked up a new awl for my pattern-making and a bias tape maker because I’ve always wanted to use one!).

Later on the trip my husband and I wandered into the Phoenix Art Museum (like you do) without especially high hopes only to discover a true treasure: the most fascinating contemporary art collection we had ever found, the world’s largest collection of extraordinary southwestern American art (as you would expect), and an unexpected treasure: the last day of a fashion exhibit. I was so excited.

“Eye on Fashion: The Kelly Ellman Collection” was a room full of extraordinary vintage clothing donated to the Museum’s archives by collector and museum supporter Kelly Ellman. There were over 600 pieces representing many eras of twentieth-century fashion from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel to World War II fashions with a bit of the 1960’s in between (including a display of those notorious paper dresses from the 60’s).

I find these kinds of exhibits truly inspiring. I look at the overall design – what I like about it, what I don’t – then move in to see details of design and construction, always considering how I might incorporate these into future projects.

[Details, details!]

A few years ago I attended a Valentino retrospective at Somerset House, a small museum near the Thames in London. At the end of the runway portion there was a video exhibit of a variety of couture techniques employed in the couture house and that was really an eye-opener.

valentino

[The Valentino exhibit. Of course, I didn’t take it. We weren’t permitted to take photos 😦  Photo credit: http://www.ella-lapetiteanglaise.com/valentino-master-of-couture-at-somerset-house/%5D

Well, now that I’m truly inspired, it’s time to get back to my two unfinished projects (including completing my sleeve sloper). Won’t be cutting into the new fabric for a while yet! Is that a stash? Yikes!

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing in the “Olden Days”

home-ec-class
Not my home economics sewing class, but it brought back memories – found on the web.

I remember it as if it were last month – and not decades ago. I can feel myself walking into the Home Economics sewing room at Prince Arthur Junior High School. It was like a kind of playroom for a certain nerdy young woman who was struggling with the relative importance of trigonometry versus Home ‘Ec.’ The priority that should be given to passion for mathematics and science was in direct competition with an infatuation with style and fashion. I was in grade nine and this was the last year I could take Home Ec sewing before I had to get serious. “A” students simply didn’t take Home Ec in senior high. [You remember Home Ec? Sometimes called domestic science – now in the twenty-first century has morphed into something called “family and consumer sciences.”]

The room was large and airy with the requisite wall-to-wall windows that are the hallmark of traditionally designed schools. Home economics students who were in the cooking class (and by “home economics students” I mean girls) had to walk through the sewing room to get to that even larger room: the kitchen. Sewing students also had to take cooking – a situation that I fervently lamented, although nowadays I really do love to cook. I can’t remember learning much else than how to make a white sauce then, though. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what one would do with this sauce. I have since learned…but back to the sewing room.

1960s-jumper-pattern
I’m fairly certain that this is the pattern we used. I see that the alternate style has a square neck! I also remember being proud of myself for managing pockets!

 

The walls were lined with Singer sewing machines. In the centre of the room were two large cutting tables. I have little memory of anyone else in the class, but I do remember cutting out my very first sewing project: a blue corduroy, V-neck jumper. It was a plain A-line with a back zipper (!) and facings. I remember feeling proud of myself for having chosen the V-neck version rather than the round neck when I heard the teacher say that it was, in fact, more difficult to construct the V-neck with facing, and get the point of the V precisely correct than it was to sew in the round-neck facing. When I did get that point exactly right, I think it was then I knew that I had to learn more.

And I learned so much in those classes. I had three years of junior-high school sewing classes, then I was on my own. There was certainly no time in the academic schedule to take anything extra – and in any case, as awful as it sounds now – the smart kids just didn’t take home economics. No matter. I continued to make my clothes for years after that until a time when I got too busy with career and family and had more disposable income. One of the reasons I sewed my clothes as a teen-ager and young adult was so that I could have better and more clothing: it cost less. I also sewed for my sisters and occasionally my mom. Here are two patterns I whipped up then.

Just this past week I read something online from a sewer-person who opined that it was now more expensive to sew clothing these days than to buy it. There was much commiserating and sighing about this one. I respectfully disagree.

Okay, if you’re satisfied and happy with fast-clothing made in sweat shops of questionable fabric and mediocre-quality finishing, then go for it. But you might do yourself a real service and consider reading the book Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.  When I reviewed this book on my writing blog some time ago I said this: “…The author, Elizabeth Cline is an American journalist whose commitment to the investigation of the North American penchant for disposable fashion resulted in a story that had my head spinning – although much of it did not come as a surprise – and I avoid disposable fashion like the plague, given my penchant for quality…”

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Three books I highly recommend.

 

Sewing on the other hand provides me with the kind of quality fabrics and finishes that might otherwise be out of reach. Take my passion for the Chanel-style “Little French Jacket.” With price tags in the multi-thousands of dollars, they’re out of the question. But I am now able to create a reasonable facsimile with hand finishes and silk charmeuse linings that feel divine and that I love to wear. They’ll be in my closet for a long time. That’s value you just can’t get with fast-fashion.

There is also something about knowing that you created it. The piece you sew is never quite the same as someone else’s even if you use the same pattern. I just have to go on the Craftsy site to see other versions of my Little French Jacket made following the same course. Lordy they vary!

Then, of course, there’s the fit issue. My obsession with getting the fit just right has already taken me through learning about creating my own sloper. And I thought it fit so well. Well, for those of you who think I was gloating about my perfectly-fitting sloper/bodice block, you can start gloating in earnest now. I have had to tweak it.

I’ve begun learning about design by creating a variety of necklines. As I mock them up from my sloper, I’ve found a tiny problem that pushes its way into each project like a kind of virus. Every time I create something, it seems that the shoulders are just a tiny bit high and a tiny bit long – and it’s driving me crazy. So, what’s my current project? Starting over with drafting my sloper! Yes, I started again at the beginning and am close to a newly, well-fitted bodice block.

They never really taught me about fit in Home Ec class. Slavishly following the pattern was de rigeur and got us high marks. Good thing I was pretty tall, slim and straight in those days! Things fit, but now it’s not so simple.

My design ambitions will have to wait. Fit comes first!

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

Little French Jacket #2: Finished in Time for New Year’s!

happy-new-year

 

And so 2017 begins! And it seems as if everyone who designs and makes self-styled wardrobes whose blogs I follow is writing about what every news outlet does at this time of year: a look back at the year that has just ended. Looking back isn’t my style: I’d rather look ahead. It’s not so much that 2016 was a bad year – it most assuredly was a good one in our corner of the world: no one we know was killed or maimed in a terrorist attack, we live in a beautiful city where [most] people still have manners, we have plenty to eat and a comfortable home, the stock markets are on the rise and we don’t live in the UK or US where uncertainty seems to reign these days. So looking ahead is easy! That’s the end of my political diatribe – now on to what I’ve been up to in the creative wardrobe development realm…

I received a few wonderful sewing/designing/creating related presents for Christmas and I’d love to share what I have planned, but before I can get to that, it’s time to tie up a few loose ends. Of course I refer to my LFJ #2. Yes, I finished my second little French jacket in time to wear it to dinner on New Year’s Eve.

img_0942When last we talked, I had completed adding the two trims to the front, neck, hem, sleeve and pocket edges and was ready to give it a bit of a steam before moving onto the final step: sewing on the chain at the bottom of the hem.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with this style of Chanel-type jacket, please note that this finishing touch is de rigeur. Designed to help the jacket maintain its shape and drape on a moving body, depending on the fabric of the particular jacket these days, this chain might be decorative only, but even as an embellishment, it lends an air of luxury that can’t be duplicated if you leave it out. I would never omit this important finishing touch in a jacket like this, and especially in the case of my latest creation. The bouclé even quilted to its lining is so lightweight that this trim piece is actually functional: it helps the jacket fronts to hang straight.

When I was looking for this chain to finish off the jacket I thought I might look for a silver-toned one to compliment the silver and black external trim. It’s difficult to find silver-toned chain (unless you go to Canadian Tire!), but what I found in any case when researching insides of authentic Chanel jackets was that the chain is almost always gold regardless of the tone of the embellishment on the outside. I have occasionally seen a photo of one with a silver chain, but it’s rare. So I opted to continue with the gold one.

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There’s something very beautiful about having this gold chain in the hem.

 

What I like to do is pin a few inches at a time, ensuring that the chain sits just below the lining. The pinning helps to ensure that the chain doesn’t twist as I sew. Then I sew it on with a double strand of silk thread using one stitch in each link – yes, you heard that right. One stitch per link. And if you use a stitch that goes slightly back on every move forward, the thread will be completely hidden by the next link. I also sew it in short sections; this really helps if the chain happens to come loose at some point in the future. Only a small section will be affected and fixing it is a breeze.

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LFJ #2 Finished and on Gloria Jr.

I also don’t cut the chain to length until I’m about three or four links from the end. This way I can be sure I haven’t measured incorrectly. Imagine doing all that hand-stitching only to get to the end and find that your chain is too short! Anyway, when I get there I usually ask my dear husband to get his needle-nose pliers out to remove the unneeded links. Then he knows I’m well and truly finished the project!

 

 

I wore the jacket to dinner on New Year’s as I mentioned. On this occasion it topped a dress which is a real occasion for me since I so rarely wear a dress. It’s such a versatile style, though. I’ll wear it with leggings and boots and with jeans. I also think it might look good with a pair of white jeans on a cool, early summer evening.

I’m delighted with the fit and finish of the piece and look forward to LFJ #3. Oh yes, I already have the tweed. I’m still on the hunt for printed silk charmeuse for the lining, though. I’m going to try to get to Mood Fabrics when we get to LA next month! That being said, I have a few other things up my sleeve for next projects before I get to that one. Have a good one!! ~GG

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.

mokuba-toronto
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.

 

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.

V9184 pattern package
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/