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

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

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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, sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing in the “Olden Days”

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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.

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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 Stylish Books, sewing

My obsession: Seeking the holy grail of sewing journals

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

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My current sewing notebooks: unsatisfactory!

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, Fashion Blogs, Fashion Journalism, Style, Stylish Books, Stylish Travel

Just another fashion blog for women of a ‘certain’ age

I don’t suppose the world needs another blog about anything. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t care less! This one’s for me, but I’m willing to share it with you, too, if you’re a bit like me:

  • A woman of a ‘certain’ age (it can be whatever you want it to be);
  • You have an interest in fashion but mostly in style;
  • You are interested in other things other than fashion & style – things like travel, wine & reading;
  • You’re past caring what everyone else thinks.

If this is you, then join me from time to time. I’m planning to write about fashion journalism, what I’m learning about style throughout my life, fashion and style-related books I love, my pet peeves about fashion, how travel is a style statement and whatever else I think is relevant to a fabulous life at this stage. I’m also obsessed by Gabrielle Chanel, her life, her work and mostly her LBJ (little black jacket) so my research and project on recreating her LBJ will be the focus of the Coco files.

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