My Little Black Dress* project continues. I’m still mulling over designs. I have already made up contender #1 and put it away for a side-by-side comparison to the other two contenders in due course. I’m now on to the next one.
Before I get to my muslin, though, I’ve been thinking about the fine line between a “little black dress” which implies something that I might wear to a cocktail party, on a cruise or perhaps out to dinner at a chi-chi restaurant on a special occasion, and a couple of other garments that wouldn’t fit the bill at all. I’m talking about “sun dresses” and “house dresses.”
Let’s first consider the “house dress.”
Megan Reynolds, of Racked, wrote a really nice piece about this anachronistic piece of clothing. She talks about the real pleasure of coming home from work, shedding the daily armor (whatever that might be for you: anything from a buttoned-up business suit to a uniform) and kicking back in a pair of old sweat pants and a grubby T-shirt. She considers the modern house dress to be a better alternative. She writes: “A good house dress lacks anything constricting about the midsection and should slip over the head with ease…A house dress is the antidote to slovenliness and an effective way of making you feel dressed when you’re really not…” And it seems to me that in the 1950’s which seems to be the height of house dress popularity, the dress was less floaty and loose than today’s versions.
And while I’m on the subject of today’s versions of the house dress, it seems to me that they could pass for what I think of as sun dresses: loose(ish), cool and most importantly, made from fabrics light handkerchief linen or cotton voile.
So, why am I thinking about house dresses and sun dresses on my journey toward the ultimate LBD? It’s because I’m struck by how the style might be somewhat less important than the eventual fabric choice. I’m thinking about this because as I ponder the lines drawings of contender #2, I see that this dress, fabricated from, say, cotton sateen, would be anything but the kind of LBD I’m searching for.
And yet, if I squint, and see black, crepe-backed silk satin in lustrous black with the crepe side used for a contrasting yoke and sleeve band, styled with beautiful gold earrings and a necklace to die for, I’m seeing possibilities. Anyway, here is contender #2, Butterick 6410, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.
As I cut and fit this dress I’m struck with the fact that it’s actually a better fit than contender #1 (McCall’s 6464). It also has sleeves with that cuff detail that could look corporate in certain kinds of fabrics, but as I mentioned my image of silk, crepe-backed satin, this becomes cocktail-worthy. I also really do like the neckline, which comes as a surprise to me. I thought that and Audrey-Hepburn-inspired boat neck would be my first choice, but I see lots of possibilities for jewelry with this one.
As I move on to contender #3, I realize that the choice might be difficult in the end. But, then, doesn’t’ everyone need more than one LBD? We’ll see.
And so, the real work begins. I decide on three contenders for my *Little Black Dress project and get to work. Here are the three contenders:
What I like about all of them is that they have a variety of style lines that provide me with the ability to fine-tune the fit – and if you’ve been reading any of my posts for the past while, you’ll know that one of my most passionate goals is to have well-fitting clothes. But this good fit does have to be tempered with comfort: in my view, life is too short to wear uncomfortable or frumpy clothes!
I begin with McCall’s 6464. My first step, as always, is tissue fitting and making a few adjustments to the pattern at this initial stage. I will use my newly acquired knowledge of couture dress-making techniques for this project. I put Susan Khalje’s “Couture Dress Course” from Craftsy in my ears and mark all the seam lines on the tissue pattern. I then cut it out roughly because I’ll be marking seam lines and using those rather than using seam allowances.
First, I have to bring out the massive sheets of waxed tracing paper and mark everything on the muslin pieces.
Of course, that’s only half of the marking I need: since this marks on only one side of the fabric, I’ll need to have those seam lines, darts etc on both sides, so I use the sewing machine to thread trace everything. Time-consuming, but it should be worth it to get the fit right. I like that fact that this pattern gives me options regarding the sleeves. I haven’t decided yet if I want sleeves, but I am leaning toward that.
When I sew up the toile, there are quite a few tweaks needed to get that fit just right. [Just a sidebar: I always pop in a zipper so that I can fit myself, although my husband will willingly pin in back issues for me.]
I realize that I’m going to need to do two or even three toiles to get it just right. One of the things that surprises me about this pattern is that for the sleeveless version, it provides the same armhole as for the sleeve variations. This means that I would have to take a dart in the armhole and transfer that to the bust dart or princess seam if I decide to use this one and I find that I want a sleeveless LBD. An armscye for a sleeve will gape on me (as on most people, I’d wager) if used in a sleeveless version.
I make it up as designed in the original pattern and take a look at it. Do I like the style? The lines? The fit? As I look at it closely, I realize that I might not be so fond of those darts. In fact, to my eye, there is something about the style lines of the skirt that seem to scream for a princess seam in the upper bodice. I do up a few sketches and like what I’m seeing.
So, a trace off the pattern, transfer the darts into a princess seam and replace the bodice with my new one and the tweaked skirt. After a few false starts, I get the fit just right. I’m beginning to be able to see this in black silk—maybe raw silk, maybe satin-backed crepe silk (or crepe-backed satin depending on how I look at it). I can almost feel the silk charmeuse lining that I might use.
As it turned out, I didn’t manipulate the skirt darts into one line: it changed the fit too much, so I removed only the darts in the bodice, turning them into a princess line which I then had to fit better as you can see: the right side is still pinned in this last version.
So, as I said, it now fits really well, and I’m liking the 3/4 sleeves better than the sleeveless version. Anyway, I feel I like this one, but is it too matronly? Well, on to the next one.
Next up, the test of Butterick 6410.
FYI…Here are some photos of the large sheets of waxed tracing paper in action in a previous project…
It’s time for me to move on from gazing at inspirational (and aspirational) pieces and do a deep dive into the kinds of sewing patterns available to me in my quest for the perfect (for me) Little Black Dress.
Let me get straight to the point about commercial sewing patterns: Many of the “big three or four” are far too embellished to put it politely, while so many of the “indie” patterns available are bags. What ever happened to elegant and sophisticated?
Let me show you what I mean. I generally find that Vogue patterns provide the me with the most appealing style options, but if I look at the most recent offerings, I find myself scratching my head. Take for example Vogue 1576. A sophisticated option for the perfect LBD? I think not. Because I prefer not to look like a bat just about to take flight.
Then there’s Vogue 1578.
At first glance it seems like it might have possibilities – but then I take a look at the line art and what do I see? Gathers. Gathers? Gathers everywhere. Not in my sleek LBD. So, I move on.
I see that Vogue’s 1579 has that sheath silhouette that is so appealing to me.
But what about that attached cape? Uh-uh. Not what I’m looking for. So, it’s on to other brands.
Just look at some of the McCall’s spring 2018 dress offerings. I think not…
…but McCall’s 7714, view C has possibilities.
Then there are the new offerings from Butterick. Their new #6515 is actually appealing to me, but it is really too much “of-the-moment”, too trendy and not timeless enough. Those statement sleeves (I think I may want sleeves) will date it faster than you can say “fake news,” and the ruffles on the sleeveless one – don’t get me started. I’m not a ruffle type. So that’s out.
I surf on over to Simplicity to see the new offerings and am met with…
…and what is this obsession I see all over online sewing communities with vintage? I like a bit of retro myself – although I tend to prefer the 1960’s aesthetic to the 1940’s – but I think it needs a bit of an update. I don’t find the literal reproduction appealing at all.
So, I have a quick look at some offerings from indie companies. I don’t find most of the sites appealing at all, but I am drawn to Style Arc for their knit patters. Let’s see what they have in dresses…
…hmm, not what I’m looking for, but to be fair to Style Arc, they do have a couple that I really like, maybe just not for this project. I really love their Serena dress and their Renae. This last one is actually a possibility that I might return to.
There are other online indie pattern companies, but most seem to design for knits or people who really just want to hide in a tent. I get it, though. If I were to offer any of my own designs as patterns, I would choose to offer the ones whose fits are the most forgiving. That way I wouldn’t have to test them on so many bodies to get the very best composite sizing. S-M-L is so much easier than 6-8-10-12. Anyway, I think I need to look at some of the older patterns that might fit my criteria as follows: elegant, sophisticated, stream-lined and timeless. On to Susan Khalie’s Couture Dress course on Craftsy.
I have been all through this course with the intention of using it to guide my couture dress project. However, I find I’ve used many of her techniques on other projects to date, but have not plunged into doing the dress along with her. One of the reasons I have hesitated so long is that the pattern Craftsy sends along to be used in the course is Vogue 8648, View A or B. It fulfils many of the criteria that I am looking for, but it has one serious drawback. I really don’t like the square neckline.
Oh, actually it has two drawbacks if you must know: I don’t think I want that inset waist. The pattern is one of those that permits fine-tuning the fit – all of those seams lines make fitting much easier than in a fitted dress that is minus those offerings. So, I’m back to the drawing board.
I find that I have been contemplating three patterns for dresses in general, so I dig one of them out of my pattern box and order the other two. The first option that I’ll make a muslin for is McCall’s 6464. I really love a boat neck and it has both sleeve and sleeveless options, the sheath silhouette I love, and style lines for fine-tuning that fit. Stay tuned!
I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!
Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.
In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.
And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?
First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.
I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.
So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.
Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.
My second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.
In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.
I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.
I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…
…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…
…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…
…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).
And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*
Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!
While everyone around me is readying themselves for the upcoming Christmas season (it may be upon you already, but for me it is still upcoming!), I’m toiling away at finishing a project that I had planned to accomplish for over a year. I am making a tunic. From a book. That is probably old news to you.
So, I’m late to the Tunic Bible party. That does not mean I am any less sincere!
I love a great book, especially one on the general topic area of sewing, couture sewing, style, fashion and how to look one’s best as one embraces the wisdom of the mature years *clears her throat* I occasionally review books here or rather I share my particular responses and general musings about them, so this is not really a book review. That being said, it is really a how-to book and so if you want to know about the qualities of a how-to book, you really have to get in there, turn up your sleeves so to speak, and learn “how-to.” But please let me set the stage.
I love certain kinds of tunics. I mean I really love them, and always have. When I think of “tunics” I’m not thinking of the box-pleated tunic I wore to elementary school – although now that I think of it, maybe the love of tunics did start there. I really liked school. And this one looks just like the tunic I had to wear (sans tie)…
And I’m not thinking of all those shapeless, knit tunics that women wear to cover up parts of them they would prefer not to show although the jersey-type fabrics might not really be doing their job. No, I’m talking about the Tory Burch kind of tunic.
Since the first time I saw a Tory Burch tunic quite a few years ago, I have loved her approach to creating a garment with a dizzying array of approaches to carrying it off. She refers to her tunics as “the height of bohemian chic” which is probably true, but the idea of me being the slightest bit bohemian would probably make anyone who knows me giddy. Nevertheless, this is why I swooned when I happened upon the Tunic Bible.
Written by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr, The Tunic Bible purports to be… “One Pattern, Interchangeable Pieces, Ready-to-Wear Results…” To me it seemed like the most brilliant idea in the world. Well, for me it was two out of three, anyway. It is just up my alley these days as I attempt to create my own working pattern blocks that can be changed over and over into different well-fitting garments that I love. So, when no one bought it off my Amazon wish list last Christmas, I bought it for myself.
I spent a few months just enjoying its photos and planning how my first one might look. I didn’t, however, ever get around to actually buying a piece of fabric exclusively for the purpose of a tunic creation of my own. So, for months, it was just a figment of my imagination.
Then I had a brain child. I had been looking for ways to use up some remnants left over from this year’s projects. I would have just enough if I used the coordinating pieces effectively. So, I determined my size in the included pattern, traced off my size and proceeded to create a fitting muslin. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The fit was hideous – but the neckline was good.
The pattern seems to fit so many people from the reviews I had read, but I just could not get rid of the bubble of material in the front of the tunic sample. The shape of it just wasn’t right for me. If I had taken waist darts it might have worked, but I wanted to be able to use it with or without those darts. Sometimes you just don’t want it so fitted and don’t want to have to put in a zipper. If it had had a front seam, I could have accomplished it, but alas, that would ruin the look of the tunic. So, I took out my own bodice sloper and began to experiment with the Tunic Bible necklines and my own bodice size. It had mixed results – pun intended.
The muslin fit well enough for me to go ahead with cutting it out of the left-over material I had on hand. I was excited because I was going to creatively use the pieces to get a unique piece that I hoped would be great for next summer. The cutting and sewing went so well. That was until I began to attach the collar – I had not put a collar on the muslin – my first mistake.
There was not a doubt about it: the collar was too small for the neckline. Well, I thought, maybe I’m supposed to ease it in. Mother of god – just look at the gathers I had to put in.
It wasn’t that this looked so bad, but it really changed the fit of the back (which I had expected at this stage) and of course, as nice as it looked on the dress form, I would never be able to wear it. So, I thought about what my husband might do if faced with a situation where he had run out of, say, duct tape, and decided I could remove the collar to just past the shoulder seams, cut it at the mid-back, measure the gap, insert a piece of contrasting fabrics as if it were a design element (!) and sew it back on. So that’s what I did.
But really, there was a 1 3/8 inch gap when I took it off.
Had I changed the size of the neckline when I transferred it to my own bodice? Had I cut the collar out incorrectly? So, I went back to the original pattern from the book, measured the neckline, then measured the one on my pattern. The length, curve, everything was the same. So, I measured my collar pattern piece and compared it to the collar pattern provided in the book. Identical. I have no idea what I did wrong.
I really love the idea of a tunic that fits well and lends itself to so many possibilities, but this one isn’t it. I won’t be making his particular one again, but some day I’ll make it work!
What’s in your closet? In terms of fabrics, I mean. Do you have more natural fibres represented, or are you a synthetics lover? Do you even know the precise fabric content of every piece of clothing? If you fabricate your own clothes, do you always ask about the fibre content if it isn’t clearly indicated on the bolt? I’ve always been interested in fabrics and never buy a piece of clothing without checking the label. Of course, one reason to check is to see how to care for it. Dry clean only? Hand wash? Machine wash and dry? It makes quite a difference. But for me there’s much more to it than that.
When it comes to sewing my own clothes, I am always working at improving my ability to figure out which fabrics work well with which designs. Does it drape? Wrinkle? Stretch? Should it drape, wrinkle or stretch? But there’s another important factor: I’m interested in how a fabric feels next to my skin; this has always been important to me, but even more so as I get older. From a style perspective, feeling good in one’s clothes is almost as important as a flattering colour or a perfect fit in my view. When I’m uncomfortable, I fidget with my clothes, and I wager that you do, too. That’s why when I have an opportunity to examine a new-to-me kind of fabric, I’m there: feeling, scrunching, gently pulling. You know, just what you do.
It’s not that long ago that learned about cupro (I know, I’m late to the party), and most recently I made it a point to learn about alpaca. My husband and I have just returned home from a trip that took us through the Panama Canal and down the west coast of South America, spending a week or more in Peru and ending up with eight days in Chile. Before we left, I had already done some research on alpaca because I knew that in all the world, Peru is the hot-spot for alpaca fibre and clothing.
For years I have coveted alpaca outerwear…
[A Max Mara alpaca coat on the left; a Sentaler – a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge – on the right]
The drape and softness of alpaca and alpaca-blend fabrics make for some of the most luxurious coats on the planet as far as I’m concerned. And there’s that warmth-without-weight that is so welcome in those cold Toronto winters.
In the case of fabrics for coats, alpaca is almost always blended with virgin wool (100% alpaca fabric is very expensive – see below!). Where I’ve often seen 100% alpaca is in knitwear, and when we headed to Peru, it was knitwear that was on my mind. I wasn’t disappointed.
While we were in Lima, we had the pleasure of having a private guide (if you want to read about our experience more fully, you can click here and you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of the travel blog I keep with my husband). One of the great advantages of private guides is that the tour you get is a bespoke one based on your interests and desires. One of my desires was to see if I could find an alpaca scarf and/or sweater in a high-end shop. The reason I stipulated high-end is that there is alpaca of a wide variety of qualities on offer in Peru. You can buy a sweater from a kiosk on the street (or the cruise ship pier) where, at best, you might find a design that will forever remind you of your Peruvian adventure (while you scratch yourself vigorously), or you can plan to pay more and find a baby alpaca sweater, hat or scarf that is a dream to wear forever. I am firmly in the latter camp.
Anyway, on that day in Lima, our guide deposited us at the end of the day at Kuna, one of best known alpaca purveyors in Peru, Chile and beyond – they have an online shop that I had spent some time perusing long before I ended up in Lima. That day, however, as nice as the shop was, I didn’t find the right piece in the right size.
I did find a wonderful baby alpaca scarf (60% baby alpaca, 30% pima cotton, 10% nylon), though, at a converted mansion filled to the brim with artisanal, hand-woven baby alpaca among many other beautiful things.
But we still had almost two weeks in Peru and Chile and I knew there would be other opportunities. Then I found myself in Arequipa.
Some 7700 feet above sea level in the Andes mountains, Arequipa is a city that you can reach only after a two-hour drive inland from the coast through the Atacama Desert. Our first stop was Sol Mundo.
We visited a few alpacas and lamas, the origin of the fibres, then we learned about the sorting and combing process. Like sheep, alpacas are sheared yearly and their wool obviously replenishes itself – a renewable resource if ever there was one! Baby alpaca wool is the finest of all, so soft to the touch.
Then we found ourselves in their shop. What a beautiful feeling to be surrounded by garments crafted of some of the finest alpaca wool in the world. I was on the hunt for a cardigan (I know, that makes me sound old, but cardigans are the next best thing to soft, tailored jackets. Just ask Chanel!).
I was trying on my usual plain black and navy in the midst of a riot of colours when my husband, one of the best shopping companions in the world – I think I could make a lot of money pimping him out as a shopping companion/consultant – beckoned my over to the opposite side of the shop. He had found what he thought was the perfect compromise for me – a compromise between my penchant for plain neutrals and the riotous colours on offer. He was right.
Fabricated of the softest baby alpaca, the sweater displayed muted shades of grey and black in a print reminiscent of the sweater’s Andean provenance. The fact that it has interesting design details, too, was cause for celebration. There were details of grey, felted baby alpaca down the front button placket, in triangles on the cuffs and as elbow patches. We had a winner! And they threw in a hand-crafted baby alpaca scarf in my choice of colours – of course I chose neutral beige!
I won’t lie: I’m still hankering to find some lengths of alpaca or alpaca-blend fabric to make a coat. Yes, there are online places I can get it (Mood offers a 100% alpaca coating for $99.99 a yard! Also a 65% wool and 35% alpaca blend for $35.00 a yard). But that’s a project for next year. This winter I’m gong to try to take apart my husband’s old tuxedo and refashion it for me. Yeah, really.
The day has finally arrived…I have finished my third Little French Jacket and I am now excited to find places to wear it!
We just returned from a wonderful four-week vacation that saw us taking a ship through the Panama Canal and spending a few weeks tooling along the west coast of South America, spending a week in Peru and just over a week in Chile. That meant that I had to put my couture sewing work on hold for a while, but there are two very good outcomes from this. First, I am very excited to have returned and to see my LFJ with fresh eyes. In addition, I learned all about alpaca wool fabric and sweaters so will share that insight eventually. But now, here’s how I finished that jacket.
When last I posted, I had finished the sleeves along with their trim and hand-finished the silk charmeuse lining. What is left at this stage is the really creative, fun part: making it my own with buttons and pockets.
I ordered a selection of buttons from China (perhaps not the best idea I’ve ever had) but the quality was not exactly as I might have hoped. However, they’ll be great for smaller projects. They were also very late arriving so in my impatience, I headed down to Queen Street West here in Toronto to a favourite spot for button selection (Neveren’s Sewing Supplies) and spent a bit of quality time rummaging through hundreds of styles. I came home with another selection then set about determining the look I was going for.
In the end, I decided that the buttons should make a subtle statement reflecting the gold chain that I would be stitching along the hem line in due course.
But first, I have to tell you about the debacle of the buttonholes.
Way back at the beginning of this process I made a decision to go with hand-worked buttonholes, a process that I would have to learn since I’ve never done them before. Well, that didn’t work out so well, so I did some tests of machine buttonholes on the fabric and lining and was satisfied. However, when the time came to actually complete those buttonholes, I realized that I had not taken into consideration the bulk of the seam allowance when I did those samples. It simply was not going to work. I was now in a real pickle. It was too late to do the faux-welts on the interior, the technique that Claire Schaeffer recommends in both this pattern (Vogue 8804) and in her book, so what to do? I was left only one choice: doing hand-worked buttonholes through both the fabric and lining, an approach that you do, indeed sometimes see in couture garments, but that when done by an amateur can look dreadful. I would have to spend some time learning. So, I made up some samples and start the process. It took me two weeks.
According to the Yorkshire Tailor whose video I shared in an earlier post, you have to do about 30 such buttonholes before you get it right. He has a point. For the first six that I did (using waxed button twist) I made a variety of mistakes. On each occasion I corrected that mistake for the next one until I finally thought I had corrected them all. After about a dozen samples, I decided they were all right so I started with the sleeves. They were okay, but not terrific. The truth is, however, that the thread matches so well that you can hardly see the buttonholes at all anyway. Then it was on to the front.
I took a deep breath and began. The scary part is after the initial preparation of the spot by hand-basting around it to ensure stability while sewing when you have to cut the hole open. At that point there is no going back. It’s not like machine button holes where you cut them after they’re completed. No, these ones have to be cut before you begin since the whole point of them is that the edges are completely covered by the stitches thereby avoiding any of those little strings that can be such a problem in machine buttonholes.
When they were finally completed, I sighed a big sigh of relief and sewed on the buttons. I was not 100% happy with them, but 80% was going to have to do for this first attempt. I’ll do them again on another project and look for perfection. When that was done, it was time to place the four pockets.
Some patterns suggest that you do this before the buttons are in place. I figured that if I did it that way I would run the risk of the pockets looking too crowded with the buttons. This way I could actually see the finished product.
So, I pinned them in place then hand-sewed them to the jacket using double-stranded silk thread for a bit of stability. The final step, of course, is the hem-line chain, a feature of Chanel’s jackets.
Originally inserted as a practical way of weighing down the jacket edges, the chain is now really more of a style statement. However, in the case of this jacket, the extra weight will be welcome. I sew the chain on using short lengths of doubled silk tread with one stitch in each link. These stitches, when done properly, are hidden under the link. I use short lengths in case the chain ever comes loose (which it has done in one of my previous jackets). The short lengths mean that it will only come away for a short distance to be fixed.
The chain is completed, so that can only mean one thing: I finally have a jacket!
What would a jacket be without sleeves? Well, a vest, I suppose. But the truth is that a sleeve is not a sleeve is not a sleeve. In fact, when I look at this season’s runway collections (and everything in ready-to wear from the most expensive to the cheapest fast fashion) it seems that it truly is the season of the sleeves.
The fashion writers are calling them “statement sleeves.”
There would be this monstrosity from Gucci…
Or this equally hideous one from D & G…
Or this from Prada (as my husband would say, before WTF?, there is WHY?)…
But even more ubiquitous than all of the rest are various iterations of bell-shaped sleeves…
I don’t love big sleeves, although an understated bell sleeve would be my style. So I’m not very adventurous…but I’m true to my style and really, doesn’t a sleeve have to have some practicality? Wouldn’t it be nice to wear sleeves that won’t drag in your pasta sauce, get caught in the escalator, elevator door, car door, subway car door, snag on someone’s enormous backpack, strangle you in a revolving door? Or is it just me? Anyway, this does bring me to the topic of beautiful, well-fitted jacket sleeves à la Chanel style.
When I made my first Little French Jacket I did a bit of research on what Chanel was really going for when she designed the three-piece sleeves in her original jackets. Apart from the fact that the three-piece sleeve fits better than the two-piece, which fits better than the one-piece sleeve, there was a bit more to it. For Chanel, the sleeve design began with the armhole. In these jackets, they were meant to have higher armholes than other jackets so that you could raise your arms without the jacket pulling up very much. If you think about it, that’s not a bad idea. Anyway, before we go there, I have to do one more thing with the lining of the jacket body: the lining has to be basted to the armholes so that when I set in the sleeves, I can then finish the armhole seam in the lining by hand. Now, on to the actual sleeves.
In the past I’ve wimped out and made only a two-piece sleeve, which does have its charms and offers considerably more opportunities for a good fit than a one-piece sleeve. This jacket, however, has a three-piece sleeve with a vent that will be trimmed and have two buttons with matching buttonholes. These sleeves are lined in exactly the same way as the body of the jacket: the silk charmeuse is machine-quilted to the fabric and the finishing is all done by hand. Only the actual setting in of the sleeve itself is done by hand: the lining is hand-stitched at the armscye.
The pattern’s designer (Claire Schaeffer – Vogue 8804) wants me to trim the sleeves before I quilt the lining on. However, my trim has to be sandwiched between the lining and the fabric. That means that I’m hand-stitching the trim to the underside of the fabric before I finish the lining edges around the vent opening. In fact, before I do any finishing.
Setting in sleeves is a wonderful challenge in my view. So many people who sew seem to complain about this, but with practice, it gets easier. With this kind of wool tweed boucle, once you have two or three lines of machine gathering stitches in the head, the shape can be eased in with both the stitches and a lot of steam over the tailor’s ham. Claire Shaeffer also suggests that if you’re not going to set the sleeves in immediately after shaping, you should stuff them so that they keep their shape. Seems like a good idea to me, but I plan to shape them one at a time and set them in.
Ever since I was in junior high school and set in my very first sleeve, I have always basted in the sleeves. If I don’t I have hordes of pins that continually stick into me. So I’m hand-basting as always with my Japanese cotton basting thread. Once I have it the way I want it, it’s time to sew it in. but this time around there is also going to be one more step.
These jackets are meant to be a bit slouchy, but only a bit. I guess you’d say they are meant to be soft. This means that generally there are no shoulder pads or other such underpinnings. However, my recent research suggests that a sleeve-head “cigarette” is often inserted. I’ve seen such a thing that looks a bit like a rolled cigarette, but more often than not when searching for a “sleeve-head cigarette” you’ll find it’s more like flat tape. I decide to make my own by measuring from notch to notch on each sleeve and cutting a 1 ½ inch wide strip of quilting that I used when I customized my dress form (Gloria junior). I then attached it by hand to each of the sleeve heads before drawing the lining up to the sleeve head, turning it, pinning it, hand-basting it then finishing the had-insertion. I use doubled silk thread for this since there is relatively more strain on armholes than there will be on the rest of the lining edges.
As for the results with the sleeve-head “cigarette,” well they are spectacular!
My jacket is taking shape! I’ll be doing the fun part of finishing with buttons choices and those four lovely pockets, but that will have to wait. My husband and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary on Tuesday and are off to South America for a vacation to celebrate. See you in November!
The first thing I have to do at this stage in the process of creating my Little French Jacket is review the pattern instructions for finishing the lining by hand and trimming. I know how to do this, but the pattern designer (Claire Schaeffer, Vogue 8804) has her own views that actually differ slightly from my experience.
In the past, I’ve always thought of the trim for the jacket as one of the last things to do – a bit like icing a cake. However, on this occasion, CS wants me to trim the jacket body before I even hand-finish the lining. The problem is that I haven’t got any trim yet! I’ll have to go shopping!
I really consider trim selection to be one of the most creative aspects of making on of these homage jackets. I’m not making a “Chanel Jacket”, rather I’m making one inspired by her designs that have themselves evolved over the years. And the trims that have been used on these jackets have varied wildly!
Here’s what a couple of the spring 2017 jackets looked like:
And the possibilities are endless! Recently, one of my very favourite couture sewing bloggers posted a terrifically informative piece on making Chanel-like trims using a Kumihimo braiding technique. [See “Create Custom Trim for Your French Jacket” on her blog Cloning Couture and I’m certain you’ll be as impressed and inspired as I was!]. This was a complete revelation to me and I immediately went to my Amazon account and put a Kumihimo disc and a book on how to create these braids on my wish list. That done, I realized that this isn’t going to happen for this jacket. I feel a winter project coming on! So, I’m better informed about the possibilities for trimming, but there will be quite a learning curve, and I’d like to finish this jacket sometime in the foreseeable future. So, what to do?
When I bought this fabric, I noticed that it had an interesting selvage in that it was a very nice fringe. So, I was careful to keep the selvages intact when I did my initial cutting.
I highly recommend this! I took a look at my selvages and I find that they will make a very subtle, Chanel-like, perfectly-matched trim for the jacket. So, I run a line of stitching along each of the pieces to prevent any fraying and trim them neatly. Then I press it and brush it with an eyebrow brush. Then it occurs to me that putting the trim on now is not only a new idea, but the only way I can do this. This trim will not sit on top of the edges; rather it will be sandwiched between the fabric and the lining. So, I hand stitch the fringe to the front edges and the neckline, and I’m ensuring that I have enough to trim the pockets and the sleeves when I get to them. It turns out I do, so all is well.
This jacket does not have any trim along the bottom for one very good reason: the lower pockets are close to the edge. It also seems to me that with four pockets that are each trimmed, any more trim would be just too much.
Once I’m finished hand-sewing the trim, I’m ready to pin and hand-finish the lining. I really love this process; it’s so meditative, especially when you have a high table to work on and good lighting. My little Ikea goose-neck table lamp works like a charm.
Before I actually get to the stitches, though, I have to pin very carefully. This is not an easy task since the fringe is on the inside and I have to get very close to the edge, but not so close that it will show. I think basting is the only way to go: the problem is that I don’t want the silk to be marked by the basting stitching which might be there for the few days it will take me to finish this. So, I baste a bit at a time with my Japanese cotton basting thread which marks far less even than the silk thread. I know this because I tried them both first!
I use an invisible ladder stitch with a single strand of silk thread as I’ve been taught and it gives a very nice finish. It’s pretty perfect I think! Now it’s really time to get on with the sleeves, which I have yet to touch. It’s getting there!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Stitch from the outside with silk thread in the bobbin.
Stitch each line in the same direction: top to bottom.
Leave long tails of thread at the beginning: no back-stitching! This can be a habit so I have to pay attention.
Work from the centre out: one on the right of centre, one on the left, then ne on the right and so on.
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!