Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Lining my Little French Jacket

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Coco Chanel herself in her soon-to-be-iconic suit in 1954

She was brilliant, wasn’t she? Of course I’m talking about Coco Chanel. When she relaunched her couture house in Paris post World War II – well, she waited until 1954 – she took the fashion world by storm. She upset the status quo. Her new designs were a bit of a slap in the face to Christian Dior whose “New Look” was dominating the runways and influencing the silhouette worn by fashion-conscious women all over the Western world.

Beginning in 1947, Dior had been showing that hour-glass silhouette with the seriously nipped-in waist accentuating the bust above and the hips further emphasized by a wide skirt below.  Over the next few years he would experiment with a variety of hemlines and tweak the silhouette – even paring it down to a more streamlined look for a few seasons. But what remained at all times was a high degree of structure. The photo of a 1947 model wearing Dior’s “New Look” clearly screams structure. Does is look a bit uncomfortable to you? Hmm.

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Dior’s “New Look” from 1947

 

Then came Chanel with her focus on sophisticated comfort. Her 1954 collection was the first to show what has become the iconic LFJ we all covet so much. Oh, she had certainly had similar looks in jersey in her collections in the years before the war, but this new bouclé jacket with its very specific construction was born that year. So, what does this have to do with lining my jacket? More than any other element, the lining technique is what makes this jacket unique, and what gives it its tailored slouchiness.

 

This is not the first time I’ve done this kind of lining. I know that I need to do some serious trial sewing before I get on with it. I do several samples using different types of thread and stitch lengths and keep notes in my trusty sewing journal. Then I’m ready. But first I need to put together the front pieces and back in both my bouclé and my lining before I can begin to quilt.

There are only a few seams, but as much as I adore silk charmeuse, it’s a slippery fellow. I pin very carefully with lots of pins, use a 2.5 mm stitch with silk thread (I tried out various lengths) and, of course, my trusty walking foot is a must with silk.

Then I go over my “rules” that I’ve learned for the quilting process.

  1. Baste the lining wrong sides together to the individual pieces: two front pieces, one back piece. Keep it to a minimum to avoid marking the silk. Since this silk is not printed, it will really show if I don’t pay attention to this. And I should get right at the quilting so that the basting doesn’t have to remain very long.
  2. Plan the quilting lines ensuring that all lines of stitching stay at least 2 inches from any edge or there will be no way to turn edges or hems and finish by hand as one must (I stay 2 ½ inches from the hem).
  3. Baste the quilting lines and stitch alongside them. But I have learned to baste only two at a time to reduce the chance of pulling or bunching between the lines.
  4. Stitch from the outside with silk thread in the bobbin.
  5. Stitch each line in the same direction: top to bottom.
  6. Leave long tails of thread at the beginning: no back-stitching! This can be a habit so I have to pay attention.
  7. Work from the centre out: one on the right of centre, one on the left, then ne on the right and so on.
  8. Pull all of the thread tails in between the bouclé and the lining and tie off.

 

These are the rules and I follow them scrupulously so that I can get to the point where I can make it begin to look like a jacket. I can now sew the shoulder and side seams.

I baste the seams first to check the fit one more time. I find I can err on the side of a slightly larger seam especially at the waist. Remember when I said this was a bit boxier than I liked? Well, I find I can nip it in at the waist just a touch at this point and the fit improves.

So, I complete the seams using a 3.0 mm stitch, remove the basting, steam-press the lines open and trim a bit. The bouclé is starting to fray – which is to be expected – so I have to be gentle and handle it as little as possible until I can get all of the seams encased in the lining permanently. I Press and catch-stitch the hem, and clip and press the neckline which I then catch stitch as well. It’s almost ready to hand-stitch the lining! A jacket is beginning to emerge!

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

My Little French Jacket: Underneath it all

chanel 1960s 2Whenever I see a fantastic jacket of any sort, I always wonder exactly what is underneath that beautifully finished exterior. What does it look like between the lining and the fabric? What precisely is it that keeps those edges straight? How is it that the sleeve cap is so perfect? Oh, I know all about underlining, seam finishing, sleeve setting and all the rest, but putting it all together to achieve a specific finish – well, that’s the thing. And that’s why the stabilizing and other aspects of what goes between what the world will see – the lovely bouclé – and what I will feel – the even lovelier silk charmeuse – is at the heart of my next step.

Everything is cut out and marked. Now I have to consider what will support that beautiful exterior. But before I can even get to that in its totality, I have to deal with the buttonholes. And this begins with stabilizing the fabric to support buttons and button holes, a step that I have not had to take previously.

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A close-up of the stitches in the edge stabilizing step in my LFJ #1.

The first thing I have to do is stabilize the front open edge (I’m also going to stabilize the front neck edge while I’m at it.). So, I use the silk organza selvage along the front and attach it as I have learned to do before: a slip stitch along the fold line and a catch-stitch to hold it down. Then I have to underline just the centre front of the jacket – centre front to the princess seam. Chanel-type jackets are meant to be soft and pliable with no firm interlining to stiffen it whatsoever, but when dealing with a buttoned up front, it needs a little something. I am using silk organza because after testing a few interfacings (which is what it’s called in the pattern, but given the construction technique, it’s really more of an interlining or underlining if you prefer) I decide that the silk organza changes the hand and drape of the fabric the least.

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I cut it out roughly and lay it on the wrong side of each of the front pieces. I then baste it on with large diagonal stitch lines (and my Japanese basting thread!) to hold it in place. Then, following the instructions in the pattern (Vogue 8804), I machine quilt it to the boucle using a 35 mm stitch – I’ve already done several test pieces which are essential for me.

I have had to read the instructions for this at least four times, because it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me: normally, those machine quilting lines would be through the silk lining as well. But I do as I’m told here and later realize that it’s because the quilting line would have been too close to the front and the buttonholes. I also cut out little pieces of fusible interfacing and fuse them to the right front under where each buttonhole will be.

As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum previously, this jacket differs from my previous two in that it actually has buttons and buttonholes at the front and sleeve vents. And I’ve decided to do them the Chanel way: hand bound. Dear god! Have I lost my mind? Maybe. Anyway, I’m determined to give it a try. And I have to do it at this stage if I’m going to follow Claire Shaeffer’s instructions with Vogue 8804. The buttonholes are completed first and then a faux welt is done behind them where they will be hand-stitched to the lining.

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My little sample piece for practicing hand sewn buttonholes

I have my supplies at hand: I couldn’t get silk buttonhole thread so I’m using another suggested option, in this case a cotton button thread, beeswax and a gin and tonic. I review the online video I discovered to be the best instruction available – from The Yorkshire Tailor – prepare my samples to replicate exactly the fabric I’ll be doing it on (bouclé, fused interfacing pieces and silk organza underlining) and take a deep breath.

 

 

She makes it look so easy and tidy, right? And the stitches themselves are fairly easy. I’ve waxed my thread exactly as suggested in the video and I’m making my first sample buttonhole. It is hideous and I’m acutely aware that there is an expectation that one needs to complete 30 before really getting them right. Thirty? I do another. And another. And another. They are so hideous that I can’t even bring myself to take photos. This will not be happening. I am not a Chanel worker and this is not a Chanel jacket, after all. It is an homage and I want to be able to wear it. With my hand buttonholes, that would not be possible! But I need another plan of attack for those pesky buttonholes before I commit to completing the lining. (Maybe I’ll practice them over the winter!)

So, I get out my buttonhole attachment for my machine and prepare a few samples that also include the lining. I use silk thread in the bottom on the silk side and start experimenting. I have a lot of difficulty with getting them the right size because of how the fabric feeds (or does not feed) between the two pieces fo the buttonhole foot as it normally does. After removing the bottom plate and just letting it feed over the machine plate, I have a buttonhole I’ll be satisfied with. However, since it is also through the lining, I won’t be doing them until near the very end of the project.

At least I can move on. So I complete the stabilization of the neck and hem edges of the body (I’m completely avoiding the sleeves until I get to that point when I’ll stabilize, construct and quilt all at the same time.) I can sew a few seams and get ready for the fun part: quilting the silk to the bouclé!

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

Cutting out & marking my ‘Little French Jacket’ for a perfect fit

-Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.-The more expensive the fabric, I buy, the more trepidation I feel just at that moment when, shears in hand, I hover above the swath of fabric on the table in front of me. I have already prepared the tweed bouclé by steaming it within an inch of its life, and I have carefully laid it out, in a single layer to ensure accuracy. I have carefully measured the grain lines and pinned them precisely where they are supposed to be. But this time around – on this third Little French Jacket – I’m using a slightly different approach to cutting. Rather than simply following a seam allowance, I’m just doing a rough cut. I’ll be marking seam lines and using those for a more accurate fit. And yet, here I sit, shears at the ready, taking a moment to pause and breathe before that first snip. Once that’s underway, I’m committed. Here I go.

This is actually fun, I think as I snip away ensuring a minimum of an inch (which I am eyeballing), all around the perimeter of the muslin pattern that I have already fitted and prepared. Once I have all of the pieces cut out, I am ready to thread trace all of the important markings.

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Japanese cotton basting thread – photo from SusanKhalje.com

I’m using a product that is new to me. When I viewed Susan Khalje’s couture dress class (I am working on the dress too, but that’s a whole different story!), she introduced me to the concept of Japanese cotton basting thread. She sang its praises so much that I had to have it. I also had to have her large sheets of waxed tracing paper that I used to mark the muslin pieces, so I ordered them all together.

 

It’s interesting stuff. I have these skeins in four different pastel shades and have selected the pink for my thread tracing. The instructions are to tie a ligature around the skein and cut it in one place. Then I am to take individual threads that will evidently come straight out, not disturbing the remaining thread. And it will be in the perfect length for basting they say. Well, it actually works. So I begin.

First I trace all of the seam lines. At the corner of each intersecting line, I use Clair Schaeffer’s method for taking the corner, knowing that I’ll be able to snip those corner threads to remove them in due course. And I know that I have a precise corner point.

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I also use thread markings for the notches, circles, quilting lines on the front (as I mentioned earlier when I examined the pattern, I’ll make up my own mind about where to put the back quilting lines when I get there).

I have cut this out in one layer, but since I made up only a one-sided muslin pattern (that may not have been the best idea I’ve ever had), I do my marking and thread tracing as I go. In other words, I cut out one centre front piece, mark it and then take the muslin pattern piece off and cut out another one and so on. I have been very carefully marking the wrong side of the fabric with a piece of patterned tape held securely with a safety pin. The fabric is essentially the same on both sides, but it would be awful to find I’ve prepared two right front sides rather than a front and a left because I mixed up the right and wrong sides!

fringeIt’s important at this juncture to say that I am also being careful not to cut through any of the selvages. I am preserving them because they are fringed. I don’t know yet how I’ll trim this jacket — that’s a design decision for later. But I do know that I might want this fringe at a later date.

When all that marking is done, I move on to cutting out and marking the lining.

I love silk charmeuse against the body – but I’m not as big a fan of it on the cutting table. Usually, one would cut this in a single layer, but I am finding that using muslin as a pattern rather than any kind of paper pattern makes cutting this out double-layered so much easier. So that’s what I do. Again, I’m rough cutting because I’ll mark the stitching lines to use. I am using white waxed tracing paper and the same method I used with the muslin to mark the wrong side of the charmeuse.

I also need to cut out a piece of interfacing – it’s really underlining in my view, though, regardless of what it’s called on the pattern – for the front of the jacket to support the buttons and buttonholes. In my previous jackets, there was no such layer since they had open fronts.

I test a few fabrics and realize that the only option that will give me the look and feel I want is, indeed, the silk organza – only pure silk will do.

And so, now I’m ready to test stitches, cut out little pieces of iron-on interfacing to place behind the buttonholes, and start sewing. A jacket is on the horizon!

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 Fashion, Fashion Design, Style, Style Influencers

Inspiration for designing my wardrobe

ideaI love the idea of having a collection of clothes designed and fitted specifically for me – clothes that suit my lifestyle and my aesthetic, and fit me to perfection. The only way that this is happening is if I do it myself. First and foremost, though, I know that everything starts with an idea. And in spite of the fact that I think I know what I want, when it comes to putting pencil to paper and creating that first series of sketches, I’m not so sure that what comes out in the end will be any different than what hangs on the ready-to-wear racks. Or maybe it will. I just need to give some thought to how this creative process plays out.

Some years ago I developed and taught an undergraduate university course in creativity as applied to corporate communications. It was such fun and my students absolutely loved it. We spent a summer school semester exploring how that creative process works and what it means to be a creative person. I created for them a complete workbook for the course (maybe I should publish it!) which guided all of us through various ways of looking at creativity and processes for tapping into our potential. Here is what the introduction to the workbook said:

“You should have figured out by now that before you can “create” anything – whether it is a brochure, an academic paper, or a new recipe for frittata — something happens in your mind first. So, you need to start thinking about what Freud said: “Insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results.” Put those two ideas together and you may begin to understand that you first have to change the way you think about things if you expect to come up with new, imaginative and creative approaches to anything – whether it is solving a client’s PR problem, writing a song or choreographing a new dance.”

And in the margin I had placed the following quote from Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way (a book I highly recommend):the artists way cover

No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.

…so now it seems that I need to take my own advice. I started by considering how some of my favourite designers (Diane Von Furstenberg, Eileen Fisher, Karl Lagerfeld, Erdem & Smythe – an eclectic collection to be sure!), might approach the process. My research led me to the following conclusions:

  1. Fashion designers are inspired continually by the world around them.
  2. There is nothing magical about their creative processes.

I happened upon a video – a TED talk – that designer Isaac Mizrahi gave a few years back where he describes his own process. One of the ways he is inspired is what I call creative cross-training. He doesn’t’ call it that, but I always called it that for my students and myself. Here’s what he said…

For me, creative cross training means pursuing different creative pursuits and allowing them to feed one another. Just last year I wrote a guest blog post called Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training for a writer friend (I think I might just have outed myself in my other life and persona!). As I describe in the post, I stumbled on the idea when I signed up for a sketching course many years ago with the idea that I could improve my observational skills. I hoped that these would contribute to my writing. Well, they did, but I also discovered that I was actually finding not only improved observational skills, but also inspirational ideas. So, Isaac performs and designs and does other creative things. I write (various things), design, sew and do a bit of sketching. So, back to how other designers get their ideas.

As I surfed through various articles about where individual designers find inspiration, a number of themes emerged. Here is a list of places that were mentioned again and again…

  • books
  • movies
  • on the street
  • observing people
  • doing research
  • just sketching
  • listening to music
  • reliving lost personal memories
  • travel
  • architecture
  • interior design
  • nature
  • history
  • art
  • historical figures

…and for me, I’m inspired by my own lifestyle. In fact, the first completely-me-created design that I have been writing about for the past few posts, seemed to be completely the result of wanting a nice piece that would withstand a day of walking in the heat of summer in the city.

As of today, I have cut out and begun sewing the final garment. But here’s a bit of a refresher about how it evolved…

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I’m going to start being more observant and keep journals for design the way I have been doing for years for my writing. I’m excited to see where it takes me!

Here are some of the online places I visited for my research.

 

The Secret Journey of a Fashion Piece — Part 1: Creativity & Design https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/secret-journey-fashion-piece-part-1-creativity-design

Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion & Creativity. TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/isaac_mizrahi_on_fashion_and_creativity#t-832215 a bit about creative cross-training…although he doesn’t call it that. A bit about how fashion designers have to be a bit bored.

Where Some Designers Get Their Ideas. Time online. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1534892,00.html

33 Things That Inspired Fashion Designers and Their Collections http://www.instyle.com/awards-events/fashion-week/new-york/fall-2017-designer-inspiration

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

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I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Dueling patterns: Commercial or my own design?

A couple of months ago I found myself with a free hour to wander by myself up and down the aisles of Mood Fabrics in Los Angeles. I perused all the aisles first, then zeroed in on the two or three that were home to the fabrics I was actually on the hunt for. I am not a fabric hoarder in any way. The mere thought of a so-called “stash” makes me gag. (As I’ve said before, that’s just me – no judgment – I know others feel differently, very differently!). This stems from my and my husband’s inclination for quality over quantity in as many aspects of our lives as we can manage. That means fewer clothes, a little less wine and even fewer pairs of shoes – but every one of better quality than we might otherwise accumulate. This philosophy even governs our travel: we travel less often than many of our friends, but always in style – no economy seats on long flights, that’s for sure! Well, this is how I shop for fabric.

Anyway, as excited as I was about the surfeit of wonderful fabrics – there were dozens of silks, linens and wool bouclés I adored – I stuck to my little pink book where I had specific patterns and their requisite yardages. I only buy when I know I have a project. One such project was a bit hazy, though.

theory blouse
The Theory blouse at Saks, summer 2016 collection that inspired me

I had a picture in my mind of a sleeveless Theory blouse that I had considered last summer at Saks. It was, however, a whopping $385.00 CDN which, even for someone obsessed with quality, is a bit steep for a blouse. So, I reluctantly put it back on the rack, concluding that given what it was and its potential price-per-wearing, it was past my point of diminishing returns. But I never forgot it.

 

With the concept of the blouse still in my head, I searched the shelves for white, textured shirting to see if anything caught my eye. It did. So, against my own rules, I bought it without an actual pattern in mind. When I got home, though, I found what I thought might be the perfect pattern.

McCall’s 7546 isn’t even sleeveless, but it has of-the-moment- bare shoulders at the top of its long sleeves. It does have that tie, even if it is a bit wide and long, sewn as it is into the back seam. So, I prepped the fabric by washing, drying and ironing, then began to think about tissue-fitting and cutting a muslin. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m ready to design my own blouse, I was thinking. I had learned to draft a bodice for a blouse, how to draft necklines and collars, how to create button plackets, and I was certain that drafting a tie that was set into the side seams would be a piece of cake. I was ready. So I started sketching.

My own version of the sleeveless, tie-front blouse has that front placket, but it also has princess seams in the front and back and a mandarin collar. I just love a mandarin collar (and have a plan to draft myself a cheongsam someday). Anyway, I thought why not draft the pattern then cut and sew muslins for both of the patterns? Why not make it a bit of a competition (where I get to be the judge and decide which one will have the privilege of being cut from my Mood fabric)?

So, I started drafting a pattern then cut out both patterns in muslin. Then I started sewing.

Of course, with my own pattern, I knew I’d likely need at least two test garments to get it just right. I needed two. The second one fits perfectly, and although the muslin is stiffer than the fashion fabric, the tie isn’t bad. However, I actually think I like it better without the tie at all! I guess that’s part of the design process.

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So, here’s where I am in the duel of the commercial versus self-designed patterns: I have now completed a muslin for my own design and it’s ready to rip apart to make the final pattern. But before I do that, I’m working through the muslin for the McCall’s pattern. I want to see the two of them side-by-side. At this point, I do have a contender in mind for the prize fabric, but I’m not quite there yet.

Next week!

Posted in sewing, Style

In praise of (sewing) button-front shirts

If I had to describe my personal fashion style in one word, I’ve always immediately jumped to “tailored.” When I met my husband just over 30 years ago, he commented on the number of suits hanging in my closet (with shoes in labeled shoe boxes lining the upper shelf). In fact, he had the audacity to remark that they all looked the same. The nerve! I of course pointed out that they were indeed all quite different. Several, however, were from the same two designer – Montreal designer Simon Chang and Alfred Sung to be specific – so, I suppose to the style challenged they must indeed have all looked very similar.

As my career evolved, and dress codes changed, sadly I wore fewer and fewer suits. But what never changed was my attraction to sleek lines, button-front, collared shirts, blazers and great shoes. Even today, with my current casual lifestyle, I wear a blazer with jeans and I have a favourite Brooks Brothers cashmere one that is one of those pieces that transcends fashion and trends. It will always be in style!

All of this got me thinking about the sewing patterns and styles that I’m drawn to these days. Why is it that I so often create for myself those soft knit pieces? Of course they, too, have a place in my life, but there is little doubt that they are a bit less complicated to fit and sew. This from the woman who delights in those couture sewing techniques that require so much time and attention. I think I always hesitated to tackle a real “shirt” for example, because I so love. Brooks Brothers shirts where the workmanship is without equal for the price point. Not cheap, but certainly not the most expensive you can buy. I love that attention to quality and my question to myself is would I be able to produce something I’d be prepared to wear. Well, this is my year and I’ve just finished the first of at least two shirt type garments that I have planned.

Before I reveal my latest project, though, I was interested to find out when and where we actually started wearing this particular style that seems to transcend fashion. Where did these collared shirt designs originate and, even more interesting, when did women begin to embrace them – because to be sure, they did begin as men’s fashion. So, I did a bit of digging.

DSC05153First, I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology!

It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as laborers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men.[1]

mens collars

The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!

So, when did women start wearing this style? Just last week I received a catalogue from Brooks Brothers. It seems that in 1949 they began to notice that the smaller sizes of their famous button front shirts were selling much faster than the larger sizes. When they tracked down the cause of this they found that women were buying them! It was that year they introduced what is now their iconic button-front shirt for women and so many others have followed suit. So, what am I going to make?

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Butterick 6376 and my fabric from Mood Fabrics LA. I’m making view B

I happened on Butterick 6376 before I landed at Mood Fabrics in LA in February. While I was there, I swooned over their array of shirting fabrics and found a winning combination for me: black and white stripes and black contrast. I then scoured the Toronto garment district for buttons when I got home and plunged in.

 

What I liked about this particular pattern was that it’s not a simple white (or even coloured) shirt, rather it’s a tunic with interesting sleeves. I know that in my distant sewing past I constructed a variety of collars, but I could not remember ever making a collar with a stand. It looked a bit daunting, but it turns out it’s so easy.

The fabric was so easy to work with, but I wanted it to look great on the inside so decided to flat fell as many of the seams as it would work for and I do love the interior finish.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet – still not quite warm enough – but I do know that I need to make another button-front shirt. I have an idea of what’s next, and this time it includes a design of my own that I’ve been working on and all that entails: making the pattern is up first. I’ll let you know what’s happening next!

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[1] A Brief History of Men’s Dress Shirts. https://www.pacificissue.com/the-blog/a-brief-history-of-mens-dress-shirts

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Style inspiration: The 1960’s in the 21st century

I’m not sure why, but I’m really inspired by the styles of the 1960’s. I’ve been collecting inspirational vintage patterns on a Pinterest board for some time, and when I look at them I’m struck by a few design elements that seem to emerge again and again.

As I examine these shapes, I see that there is a certain neckline style that immediately appeals to my personal aesthetic. So, it isn’t at all surprising that I was attracted to Vogue 8886 on a recent online pattern-buying spree. It has that very retro feeling without being truly vintage – I’m not a vintage kind of gal in any way, shape or form. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t swoon over clothing from earlier eras from time to time. I just like to think that I can take elements from them and make them contemporary. So, I embarked on this sewing project hoping it would be just that kind of outcome. Well, it is – sort of.

First, this was the subject of my rant about fitting the bust. I made the mistake of thinking that I had to cut the larger cup size (which Vogue handily made available in the pattern envelope). Never again. I had to do a bit of research to understand that even if I measure a D- cup, the fact that it is a 32-D and not a 38-D makes the need for that fuller bust change entirely moot. *sigh* Well, I’m now over it.

I actually finished the top. It now fits quite well (although as usual it is probably not quite form- fitting enough since I tend to be frightened of the possibility of anything being too tight), and it is divinely comfortable. The problem is – if you must know – that the very thing that inspired me to buy the pattern and sew it up is the very thing that bothers me. It’s about the neckline.

When I first laid eyes on the pattern, it looked to be a raised boat neckline. A bateau and the Sabrina, a variation on the bateau, is probably my very favourite neckline.

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Audrey in that Sabrina neckline first designed just for her!

I think it is über flattering on most women, and especially on me. I thought that the banding just made it even nicer. The problem is that the band isn’t a band at all – it’s a large, fold-over collar.

 

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

Right from the cutting out, this surprised me, but I thought, how big can it be? When I made up the toile, I had my answer: big. But I decided to persevere. It didn’t look too bad on me, I thought. In fact, I thought it might be quite nice. So I completed it as designed. But now I’m left wondering where and when I’ll ever wear it.

At this time of year when it should be the most appropriate kind of thing to wear, it occurs to me that it doesn’t fit well under a coat or blazer (it’s really bad under a blazer), and it’s too cold to go without a coat yet. Once it’s warm enough to go without a coat, it will be too wintery to wear.

My lesson here is that I need to examine the line drawing on the patterns I buy more carefully before putting my money down. I worked hard to get this pattern to fit and thought I’d make it again as a dress, but there is still that collar. I might try making it up without a collar at all, but I might as well draft my own boat neck that is ideal for me and not take a chance on this commercial pattern again. You live and learn!

I still think I can make some 1960’s style elements work in the twenty-first century, though!

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.

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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.

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[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!