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.

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

Finding Inspiration: My second “little French jacket” project begins

I just knew it. When I finished my first homage to Chanel’s “little French jacket” (little black jacket) I felt that it would never be behind me. I knew that it was only the first of several (many?) that I would be inspired to make. The reason is that it is endlessly versatile, unbelievably comfortable, and exceptionally useful. Yes, I’m on to LFJ #2. And I’m inspired to make it slightly different than LBJ #1.

So, where am I finding inspiration to create the same but different jacket?

Here’s what my internal eye is seeing:

Fabric texture: This time around, I wanted a boucle in the truest sense of the word. Chanel made her originals in boucle tweeds. My first jacket was in a bouclé tweed that was a bit less bouclé (“… yarn with a looped or curled ply, or fabric woven from this yarn…”) and a bit more tweed. It had that loose weaving that hinted at authenticity, but it was missing serious bouclés.

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Fabric & lining from my first jacket.

 

Fabric content: My first jacket was a wool blended with a number of other fibres, which is typical of a Chanel jacket. I see other fibres in future – mainly cotton or linen bouclés for summer jackets. I still want a winter-ish jacket, though, so will be happy enough with another wool blend.

Lines of Chanel jackets since 1954: I’m inspired by the myriad ways that the real Chanel jackets have reimagined Coco’s original 1954 design. Every season Chanel has models strutting down the catwalk wearing versions of the jacket or other types of garments where the jacket’s influence is subtle but no less present. So I look to these variations for the inspiration to know that there are many ways to make the same piece so very different. The truth is, though, that I really don’t want this piece to be that different from the original vision; nor do I really want it to be so different from the first one. What I want it to be is to incorporate all the lessons I learned from doing it the first time and maybe going a step beyond.

Colour combinations: I’m a neutral-loving kind of dresser. I’m especially interested in garments that are expensive – either in monetary terms or in this case in terms of time – to work with a lot of other clothes in my wardrobe. I’d still like to see this n a neutral colour, but I don’t want a black jacket. I’m seeing the Chanel jackets in light colours with dark trim. That’s the look I’ll go for.

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A really loopy texture this time!

 

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Printed lining – because I wouldn’t have it any other way (at least for now!).

 

Trims: Oh, this is a good one. There is nothing better than going out to search for beautiful trims and being richly rewarded not only in finding just the perfect one that catches my imagination, but by finding a new store that sells all manner of wonderful trims. In the case of Mokuba which I discovered in the garment district in Toronto, this is really a hat-making store, but their trims are to die for – and they have so many it boggles the mind.

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Have you ever seen anything like this? This shows only a fraction of the trims on offer at Mokuba. [Photo credit: House & Home Magazine online] 
Scale that works for me: I like a short jacket to wear over all manner of slim pants and pencil skirts. The original jacket I made for LFJ (LBJ) #1 will work just fine again and has the added benefit of already having a pattern made for me (by me) from a fitting toile (muslin). But this time, I like the idea of full-length, rather than bracelet-length sleeves. After all, it supposed to be a winter garment.

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Long sleeves this time: Vogue 7975.I did a fitting muslin the first time around. Tis time I have only to cut the long sleeves instead of the bracelet-length ones.

 

 

I was wondering throughout all this where Fashion designers look for inspiration. It seems almost everywhere (Yes, we all know they now use ‘street’ fashion as inspiration, but I’m never really sure how this works. Usually that cool, creative street style is inspired by designers, or fashion magazines or peers – so it seems like a circular process somehow.)

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I’ll put the braid over the tiny ruffle edge.

 

Anyway, it seems that some designers believe that “…vintage shops hold the key to design for many bona fide a fashion designer. “a print, a cut, an embroidered pattern…” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/fashions-undercover-experts-searching-for-inspiration-designers-send-spies-to-scour-vintage-a6732531.html

Other look to architecture. I love some of the photos in this web site. http://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/fashion-designers-architecture-inspiration

Others are inspired by travel – especially the cultural differences between us. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/travel-inspired-designers

So, I visited my favourite fabric store Affordable Fabrics and found that, true to their word earlier in the summer, they had a new selection of tweeds and bouclés in time for winter creations. I also like a print for a lining, but they didn’t have any printed silk charmeuse that day so I opted for a silky satin. I hope I’m not going to regret that it isn’t 100% silk, but it does look divine with the fabric.

I put these together with my trim choices, and I’m off to the races. See you when I get it going.

 

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

LBJ*: Choosing my Jacket Fabric & Lining

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

 

bolts of fabricAnd so the real fun begins. Here’s where I get to play fashion designer. I remember years ago when I used to make most of my own clothes, I never began a project without having first chosen the fabric for it. I found a pattern in a big pattern book at a fabric store, then went immediately to the bolts of fabric to find and buy my fabric. Nowadays, I actually buy all my patterns online, and use online and in-store sources for fabrics. In fact, in the case of this – my little black (French) jacket project – I put off the fun of finding the right fabric until I had gotten to the point of actually being ready to cut it out. I am now ready, so I need fabric.

I am lucky to live in a city where the fashion design industry is vibrant. Toronto might not be Paris or Milan, but it is the epitome of internationally-recognized Canadian design, and we have a ton of great designers, many of whom now live and work abroad as it turns out. But they started here. It also means that there are fashion design programs of study and putting these two things together means that we have an actual fashion design district where the fabric stores line the street – Queen Street West to be specific.

After my previous experiences with those large, light-filled, airy fabric-store chains, the real fashion fabric stores came as a bit of a surprise – and a surprise that I am loving. Each of them is jam-packed from floor to ceiling with bolt after bolt of fabrics, not all of whose provenance or fiber content are immediately evident. However, these stores are staffed by exceedingly knowledgeable staff members who will be able to answer any of my questions and they do.

I amble along Queen Street browsing several stores. Because of my research about the Chanel jacket, I’m looking for a specific type of fabric – a bouclé – because many if not most of the real Chanel jackets are constructed of bouclé. So, what exactly is it I’m looking for?

First, it’s important to realize that the word bouclé is the French word for “curl.” So, the word bouclé refers to both a kind of fabric and a kind of yarn, both of which are characterized by loops. Bouclé fabric has a kind of loopy appearance if you look at it closely. It is also fairly loosely woven – which was the reason that I used one-inch seam allowances when I created the patter as you might recall. This loose weave means that it frays. But what about fiber content?

Bouclé can be made from a variety of fiber types – wool, cotton, silk – and these natural fibers are often combined with one another and even with synthetics to achieve various properties. Since they were introduced in 1954, the jackets produced by The House of Chanel have been created in a variety of fibers and, as I mentioned in my initial research post, Coco herself found her original fabric at Linton Tweeds in northern England.

I did browse through their site when I first began to search for my fabric and I found wonderful bouclé’s and tweeds. However, none of them really were exactly what I am looking for. I am looking for something that is in the black, white and/or grey family. I think that a neutral jacket will suit my lifestyle better than any other colour. But what I did learn from their site is a lot about the fiber content of their fabrics.

I found this one that I liked, though. Notice that the fabric content is 65% viscose and 35% cotton (I also noticed the price which was £34.00 which is about $70.00 CDN a yard – not going to happen the first time I make this jacket! But isn’t the fabric beautiful?

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If you look closely, you can see the loops on the surface.

I also liked this one, and I think you can actually see the loops that I’m talking about. Beautiful. Same fabric content. I also found others with various combinations of polyester, viscose, wool, nylon, cotton and acrylic. So, I realized that I was really looking for a combination or fiber types and I was looking specifically for some kind of a wool blend when I perused the shops on Queen Street.

 

When I walked into “Affordable Fabrics” and found their large stash of bouclé bolts, I was fairly sure I’d found my fabric store. Sure enough, after taking down several bolts (with help from the young man working in the store that day), opening out the fabric and taking them to the window for better light, I found the one that I was looking for. Then all I needed was lining.

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The unimpressive exterior belies the wealth of fabrics inside!

The instructor on the Craftsy video course that I’m following is using silk dupioni which of course is a bit sturdier than some silks. My research told me that real Chanel jackets are generally lined with silk charmeuse. I first looked at their stash of silk dupioni and didn’t see a colour that I felt would do what I wanted for the design (there’s the fashion designer in me talking!). when I asked the young man about their silk charmeuse, he said, “I have just the thing for this fabric!”

 

He pulled out a bolt of fabulous printed black and white silk charmeuse and I fell in love. When I asked him the price, I was ready to cringe, but it wasn’t so bad. I now had the makings of a beautiful jacket. Of course I was going to have to learn to match a pattern, but that would come later. Oh, and I’ll need braid trim and a chain for the hem, but I think I’ll work with the fabric a bit before I decide on the finishing.

Next up: cutting it out! Yikes!

A great blog post on finding fabric on Queen Street in Toronto: http://www.loulou.to/streets-of-toronto/shopping-for-fabric-on-queen-street-west/