Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

My latest Little French Jacket: Prepping the pattern

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Claire Shaeffer’s detailed instructions in the pattern

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

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

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

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Comparing my personal sloper to the pattern

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

happy-new-year

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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LFJ #2 Finished and on Gloria Jr.

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

 

 

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

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

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Trimming my Second Little French Jacket

I’m not really an embellishment kind of woman. My wardrobe tends toward the minimalist which is the reason I so love some of the new shops like COS and designers like Armani. A Little French Jacket, however, requires embellishment.

As I look back through my inspirational Pinterest board where I’ve been amassing photos of Chanel jackets through the years, it is clear that (a) a jacket that pays homage to Chanel will have trim; and (b) when Chanel was doing the designing, the embellishment was more subdued than in recent years under the design leadership of Karl Lagerfeld. I’m sticking with Coco.

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An authentic Chanel jacket trimmed with a plain black embellishment

Someday I’d love to use the fringed selvage of my tweed fabric to trim a Chanel-type jacket, but my current project’s fabric really didn’t lend itself to this. In fact, when I cut off the selvages in the hope it might work,  I put them up against the loopy fabric, where they completely disappeared. You couldn’t see the trim at all! That would have been a waste. Here’s hoping I can use them on a future project. The fabric is such a true bouclé that when the edges are turned back on themselves, there are loops that mask the fringy-ness (is that a word?) of the trim. So, I put them aside to trim something else in the future and shopped for the trim.

[Pictured above: Authentic Chanel trims. I don’t like the silhouette of the jacket on the bottom right, but the trim is interesting!]

When I talked about my inspirations in an earlier post about this project, one of them was trims themselves. I found one layer of my trim in the shop where I usually buy my fabrics in the garment district in Toronto. I found the other at a hat-making shop nearby. Together they have a subtleness, with a bit of a kick this time since I hope to be able to dress this jacket up. So, in spite of my tendency for all things plain (and I really did like this jacket when it was all put together and without its trim!), the upper part of the trim is silver. Yes, silver! But I love it and think it will look great on New Year’s Eve and later with jeans.

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My two trims to layer on the edges of the new jacket.

Anyway, when I was searching for trim, I followed the instructions of everyone who has done this more times than I have and held the piece of trim upright as it will appear on the jacket to see how it would look. Well, that has its limitations. When I started attaching the trim, it was clear that my preview had been limited to say the least. That being said, I still like it. Just know that holding up the trim to a swatch is not the same as seeing metres and metres of it pinned to your jacket. At least that’s the way it is for me.

Trimming my first LFJ was a bit fraught! I had high hopes of using two layers of gimp braid to reproduce a Chanel-like look. What a disaster! It was the first time I had ever worked with gimp which, when cut, unravelled mercilessly. This I had not been aware of when I began to cut it. My dear husband helped me to find a gluing solution to this problem, but that only highlighted the second one – that trimming to plan (neckline, front opining edges, sleeves and pockets) was a good idea at the time, but when I put my trim on the actual jacket, there was way too much of it. I ended up spending a lot of time unpicking and removing trim.

[The first photo above is of the layered trims on my first jacket. They made the edges of the jacket so stiff, I had to remove the extra layer of gimp. The finished edges on the right are more like the Chanel jacket in the first photo in this post.]

This time would be different – so it is, yet I have a new problem.

I hand-stitched the first layer of very tiny, fine black ruffle to the all edges with tiny slip stitches of silk thread. Then I stitched the four metres of silver/black braid over top with similar, tiny hand stitches.

Then I stood back and looked at it. To my horror, the bouclé fabric is so loopy that you can see the loops created by the folded fabric. In my view it looks hideous. So I had to find a solution to the loopiness without resorting to shaving them off (a solution offered by my husband and quickly discarded by me).

I decided to use a grey silk thread and try to invisibly adhere it to the inside so that it will lay flat. Well, that does seem to be working out – that’s where I am now. Then I’ll steam the neckline into position and then it’s time for the final step – adding the gold chain to the inside of the hem. Very exciting to be nearly finished!

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

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

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

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

Here’s what my internal eye is seeing:

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

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Fabric & lining from my first jacket.

 

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

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

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

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A really loopy texture this time!

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

LBJ*: The Finishing Details on my Homage to Chanel Style!

 

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

A couple of days ago I ventured down to the fashion district here in Toronto to my favourite fabric store to peruse their bouclé and silk stock – because I’m finished! My Little French Jacket, that is. When I started this process back in March, I vowed that I’d take my time and get it right. I would not rush: I would get the fit right; I would take the time to do tests of all machine and hand techniques involved; and that I would make friends with my seam ripper. Well, I have done that, and the jacket is comfortable (oh so comfortable), fits well, and I think it adds a certains je ne sais quoi to my wardrobe. But it doesn’t quite pay complete homage to Chanel’s original LBJ style, and the story of why this is the case is related to the final part of the journey that I have yet to tell you about: it’s all about the trim.

No one seems to have written anything much about Chanel’s design considerations when she decided on how to trim her original 1954 tweed jackets, but we do know that they (almost) always have had trim.

Often the trim contrasts with the fabric, but these days the House of Chanel’s jackets more often seem to have trim that blends into the fabric. Whichever way you look at a Chanel jacket, it usually has trim around the neckline, down the front, across the pockets and on the sleeves. But that’s not all.

Chanel always said that the inside of a garment ought to be as beautiful as the outside, so she used exquisite silks to line them, and these little jackets were adorned with flat-link chains along the hemline. Originally, these chains played a practical role in ensuring that the jacket hung well even when the wearer raised her hands. You have to admit, though, they make a wonderful style statement even if you’re the only one who knows it’s there. Then, just imagine throwing the jacket over your chair back when dining out. Ah, the chain is now a part of your jewellery! So, in creating an homage to Chanel’s jacket, it’s important to consider the final trimming.

So, I begin to trim the jacket. I have purchased two types of gimp braid: one is a folded gimp, the other a more traditional flat gimp. Strictly speaking about definitions, gimp is made from twisted silk, worsted, or cotton and has a cord or wire running through it. Traditionally, gimp has been used in upholstery work and in making hand-wrought buttonholes. Gimp is then braided to produce the various types we see today and that the young woman in the fabric store who sold mine to me said they call it “Chanel braid.” The truth is that many (if not most) authentic Chanel jackets are trimmed with anything but gimp, although it does give that Chanelesque look especially when layered over other materials such as self-fringe or grosgrain ribbon. Anyway, my plan was to layer flat gimp braid over the folded gimp braid that would fold over all the edges. Well…

That idea didn’t work out very well. In my last post about the pockets, this is when I began to see a problem. First, I delayed the pocket finishing so that I could contemplate the trim a bit more. So glad I did! If I had put the layers of braid on the pockets (notwithstanding the significant bulk problem I would have had), I would likely have had to remove the pockets simply because of how they looked.

First, I hand-stitch the braid to the neck and front edges – it has to be hand-stitched first on the outside, then on the inside. It takes days. Then I pin the flat braid on top and begin hand-stitchng. I get all the way across the front and notice that it is distorting the line of the hem. Although I like the look of the layered braid, I cannot have a distroted hem. So, I finally un-pick the hand-stitching on the top braid and decide that the trim is finished.

 

In the meantime, I’ve been toyng with the braid which I had fully planned to put on the sleeve hems and on the pockets à la Chanel, but the look is too heavy. The pattern in the bouclé is such that it has heavy black patches and any more black just looks overdone.

So, the outside trim is well and truly finished. Now it’s on to the chain.

I had originally purchased a very lightweight gold-coloured chain. When I researched Chanel chains, though, I discovered that her jackets use various chain weights depending on the weightiness of the fabric, and that sometimes the chains are not even gold-coloured. Jackets that are trimmed with silver-toned buttons, for example, will have silver-toned chains. Huh.

The light-weight chain looks peculiar on this fabric, so I find a heavier one and bingo! I have the right chain. Then, ensurng that the chain remains flat, I start securing it invisibly with a double-strand of black, silk thread to the hem just below the lining – it fits neatly between the lining and the turn-up of the hem as it turns out. I start about 2 cm in from the jacket front and continue all the way across, pinning only a few links ahead to maintain the flat edge. I also do the stitiching in fairly short sections – this ensures that the thread does not knot and should a bit of the chan ever come undone, I’ll only have to re-stitch a small section. It’s time-consuming, but worth it. I then ask my husband to join me with his pliers to remove the link when I’ve come to the end. I choose not to measure and cut before I begin to avoid the dreaded possibility of cutting it too short!

The final stitch is in and god love my husband, he pours me a gin-and-tonic!

I try the jacket on and discover it’s the most comfortable jacket I’ve ever worn – and I love it! I’m dying to wear it, but it’s the height of summer in this part of the world, so I’ll have to put it away until October. I just might be able to wear it when we travel to Nova Scotia in September, though. They have cool evenings.

I’m taking only a brief break from jacket sewing to make a linen dress, but I’ll be back at the jackets as soon as the fall bouclé shipments are in! À bientôt!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Chanel-Style Pockets

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

It’s a bit like giving birth – without all the pain and messiness – when at last I can put what resembles an almost-finished jacket on my mannequin (Gloria Junior as you’ll recall). And there it is, looking for all the world like a real jacket, yet still missing something. Next on the agenda, then, is to consider the pockets, because any jacket that is an homage to Chanel and her style needs pockets.

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It’s beginning to look like a jacket – but Chanel would not be pleased: no pockets or trim!

 

Before Coco Chanel, visible pockets were the exclusive domain of men’s clothing. Long before she designed the first “Little French Jacket” for her 1954 collection, she had already ventured into the external, highly visible pocket game. In the 1930’s she had designed the new sportswear sweaters with these external pockets.

many pockets
Well, there are pockets, then there are too many pockets!

 

 

According to most sources, Chanel herself was a little obsessed with pockets. She used them incessantly for lipstick, coins, cigarettes of course etc. and wanted them on her own clothing. Naturally, she thought others would want them as well. Many (if not most) original Chanel jackets from mid-twentieth century actually had four, not just two, pockets. These days even in collections from the House of Chanel itself, some jackets have two, some four, and not all are traditional patch pockets. However, in payng tribute to Chanel’s original jacket, they should be patch pockets – never just flaps! And since that’s what the pattern I’m using has, that is what will adorn the front of my jacket. On the other hand, I will put only two pockets on. I think four might be a bit much for this fabric (and you’ll see how right I really am!).chanel and her jacket

I didn’t cut out the pockets when I cut out the rest of the jacket so that I could be assured of a really flawless matching of the pattern. First I make a new pattern piece from the tissue paper one in the pattern envelope so that I can use it again. There’s really no need for full 1-inch seam allowances since I won’t be manipulating the fabric very much, so I stick with the usual 5/8-inch one. Then I make another pattern piece that is the size of the pocket only to the fold line. I’ll use this for the silk lining.

I then take my pocket pattern piece to the jacket front and place the fold line at the tailor tacks that are mercifully still there in the jacket front so that I can place it in the exact location where I will sew it on. Then with the pattern piece folded back, I mark the pattern where I’ll match it on the top and the sides. When I have that ready, I pin and cut the fabric pieces. Do they match? Well, if they don’t I do have extra fabric. But they do! A relief.

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My red pen marks align with the main lines in the fabric pattern.

 

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The pockets are there. Can you see them? If not, they match!

 

The first thing I have to do with the pockets is to stabilize the top edge. I don’t want the fabric stretching out of shape when I slide a hand into the pocket! So, using the same process I used when stabilizing the front, neck and sleeve edges, I proceed to prepare them for the next step.

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Stabilizing along the fold line.

 

I then cut out the silk lining then machine-stitch it right sides together to the top of the pocket. When I then fold the fabric down on the fold line, the fabric comes down about an inch inside the pocket and the lining covers the rest. Again with right sides together and folded back on the fabric fold line, I machine-sew the sides part way down, trim lightly, then turn right side out. I have to tuck under the rest of the seam allowance in on both the fabric and the lining so that I can finiish it with a hand catch-stitch.

The instructor in the Craftsy course suggests a neat way to ensure that both pockets – which have curved bottoms – are exactly the same. I follow her instructions taking a piece of light-weight coardboard to make a template from the bottom of the pocket pattern. Then I sew a single line of 5 mm ease stiting around the bottom and up the side about an inch. I put the cardboard template inside the bottom of the pocket then draw up the stitches to form the perfect rounded curves. I carefully slide out the cardboard and voila! I have a pocket ready to be trimmed, pressed and have the rest of the lining hand-sewn to it.

The pockets are finished – but not quite. They have to be trimmed before they are hand-stitched to the front of the jacket. So, I get out the first layer of gimp that I plan to use to trim the jacket à la Chanel. But it’s too much, I think. But I’m not sure. So I go off script for a bit and decide that I’m not going to put the pockets on at all until I actually finish the trim on the rest of the jacket. Then I’ll decide about whether I’ll use two layers of trim as I’ve planned, one layer or none. It’s a bit of a design process.

So, my jacket isn’t actually any futher ahead than it was at the beginnning of the pocket process. But the pockets will be ready when I am!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: My Jacket Now has Sleeves

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

sleeve pattern
A vintage pattern for nothing but sleeves!

There is nothing quite like setting in the sleeves to make a jacket look like – well, a jacket! Sleeves are interesting, aren’t they? I was browsing some vintage patterns online the other day (like you do), and stumbled upon a pattern from the 1930’s that was nothing but sleeves. I thought, what a great idea! Well, it’s part of a great idea. You have to have a garment body that suits them!There is little doubt that the same body with different sleeves can look vastly different. Even the pattern I’m using for my homage to Chanel’s Little Black (French) Jacket has two sleeve variations.

 

I’ve chosen to make it with the two-piece, bracelet-length sleeves for this time around (I’m already considering the next one!).

Even Chanel herself gave a lot of thought to her sleeves. In the past when I’ve put sleeves in jacket-like garments, they have always tended to be a single pattern piece. If you think about it, this kind of construction doesn’t give much leeway for what our arms are really like – that is, they bend. A real Chanel jacket always has at least a two-piece sleeve and usually a three- piece one which allows for having some ease in one of the seams at the precise place where our elbows bend. In addition, the multi-piece sleeve permits the sleeve to be narrower which gives it a more polished, well-fitting, custom look.

Another of Chanel’s concerns about sleeves was that they have a relatively high armhole. This vintage photo of Chanel herself shows her holding up her arm to demonstrate that a higher armhole allows the jacket to remain in place when the wearer raises her arms. What a great idea.

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Coco Chanel demonstrating the advantages of the high armhole (Smithsonian)

 

Anyway, all of this research leads me back to the challenge of the day: preparing and setting in the sleeves on my own jacket.

I have already joined each sleeve’s two pieces ensuring that the requisite ease has been included. I have also machine-quilted the lining to each of the pieces. Now I am ready to construct them.

I pin back the lining along the seam just as I did when constructing the jacket body so that it doesn’t get caught up. Then, using a 3.0 mm stitch length and my trusty walking foot (could not live without it) as always with this bouclé, and remembering that I’m using a 1-inch seam allowance, I sew the seam. Then I add the two rows of ease stitching (5.0 mm stitches) over the top of the sleeve head.

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Seams are now sewn and the lining needs to be finished.

 

I begin pressing the seam by pressing it flat first, then using a seam roll (or in my case a rolled up towel since I’ve been too cheap to buy an actual seam roll), I steam the seam allowances open with the tip of my iron. Then I steam it lightly from the right side to finish the pressing. I trim the seam allowances then it’s time to deal with the lining.

Using the same technique I used with the body of the jacket, I first secure the one-and-a-half-inch hem with a catch stitch, then use a lapped seam for the lining along the seam and fold under a half-inch above the hem. Then I use that ladder stitch to hand sew the lining in place. Now I’m ready to shape the shoulder.

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Using my tailor’s ham

I use my tailor’s ham (fortunately I wasn’t too cheap to buy a real tailor’s ham which in my opinion is an essential sewing item) as a stand-in for a shoulder, I ease in the shoulder shape. It’s now ready to be set in. I am sewing the fabric (without the lining) of the sleeves to the fabric AND the lining of the body (I basted the lining to the jacket body fabric at the armholes ages ago in the process). Many people simply pin-baste the sleeves. I am going to do what I always do with set-in sleeves – I thread baste it in. This is a challenging situation since there is so much fraying fabric and open lining pieces that will eventually have to be hand-stitched into place, not to mention a plaid that has to be matched that I do not want to take a chance on losing pins or having the sleeve shift while I’m sewing. So, working inside what is akin to a paper bag, I slowly sew the armhole seam. When I finish, I hold my breath for a moment as I turn it right-side out. The sleeve is beautiful without a pucker in sight and even more fantastic is that the plaid is perfectly matched. The I have to do it all again on the other side!

 

Finally, they are in and my jacket looks like it is a real jacket. I just have to trim the seams and then hand sew the sleeve lining to the body lining. They are finished and I am delighted.

I try it on with a bit of trepidation. I altered the shoulder length a bit at the muslin stage and now this is the moment of truth as regards the shoulder fit. There is nothing worse than a jacket that droops over the shoulders when it is designed to be perfectly set at the shoulder line. I adjust things and look in the mirror. Perfect. Well, perfect enough.

I’m getting close to the end of the project although there are still many hours of hand sewing ahead. I first have to consider pockets and trim, but that’s the next step.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Constructing the Jacket Body

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It is high time that this pile of lined fabric pieces began to resemble a jacket!

It’s been quite a process, this project of paying homage to a Chanel icon by constructing a *Little Black (French) Jacket for myself. Many have gone before me – I was happy to use their experience as guidance when I was seeking my mentors to help along the way. Sometimes when I’m sitting at my counter sewing hundreds of tiny little stitches to connect pieces of the silk charmeuse lining together inside my jacket I consider what it must have been like for the seamstresses in the Chanel atelier in 1954 when they were working on the original jackets. Indeed, I wonder what it must be like today for seamstresses in the fashion houses who work on the haute couture garments – there is still a lot of hand sewing. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to tell you about what I’m doing.

Now that I have all my pieces quilted by machine, it’s time to construct the body of the jacket. My first task is to sew together the shoulder seams (remembering that I’m using a 3.0 mm stitch and a walking foot for all of these seams in the body), carefully matching the seam lines of the princess seams AND the pattern. It’s a bit fraught, but I do it and it’s perfect! Then it’s on to the side seams.

Since I’m feeling a bit nervous about making sure this is perfect, I decide to baste the seam line first. I do this only on one side only to find that it makes no difference: my pin-basted side works just a well. Years ago, I was taught to pin baste perpendicular to the seam so that the sewing machine could saunter over the pins. These days, everyone says do not ever sew over pins – take them out as you go along. In fact, the Craftsy instructor whose course I’m following, puts her pins in along the seam line which make a lot of sense if you really want to look at the right side to see if everything is matched. Of course, she takes out each pin along the way before she gets to it while sewing. I am now doing the same thing. Those perpendicular pins that I sewed over did, indeed, from time to time, get caught directly under the needle causing the pin to bend, often the needle to break, and there is no telling what kind of cumulative damage that had been doing to my old sewing machine! I will never again sew over a pin!

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Carefully trimming the bulk from the seam allowances after pressing them open.

 

I finish sewing the side seams and the moment of truth is upon me. Are the patterns perfectly matched? Yes! What a relief. Now it’s time to press the seams open – together flat first, then open with the tip of the iron on the wrong side, finally a light press from the right side.

Then the hem has to be stitched so that it doesn’t fall in future. The instructor uses an invisible catch stitch: I choose a small herringbone stitch (which is often also called a catch-stitch) so that the fraying ends are more secure. Then the front and edges have to be pressed in using the edge of the stay tape as a guide. The neck is tricky since it has to be snipped in – the fraying of the fabric can be a bit troublesome!

The lining now has to be joined at the shoulders and side seams by laying the front pieces flat over each seam, trimming the excess lining, then laying the back pieces over, trimming then folding under, pinning along the way. The lining is placed so that there is a small line of the jacket fabric showing on the inside along the front and neck edges, and there is no chance of the lining peeking out to the outside. The hem is similar, but the hem is folded up so that a half an inch of the fabric is showing. Once all that pinning is done, I start sewing. And I sew a lot.

I use silk thread, a very short, fine needle and a slip stitch for the seams. I use a stitch that is new to me for the front, neck and hem edges. It’s a bit like a ladder that when pulled gently actually creates a completely invisible thread line inside the folds adhering the lining to the fabric. It’s beautiful.

So I finally turn the jacket body right side out and put it on Gloria Junior (that’s what I call my mannequin). She’s still armless, but I love her anyway! Sleeves are next up!

 

A helpful resource:

Here’s a great blog post I found on How to Do the Ladder Stitch: http://www.squishycutedesigns.com/ladder-stitch/

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

LBJ*: Sewing Like a Chanel Seamstress**…Quilting the Jacket

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

In 1954 Coco Chanel made a return to the Paris couturier scene after something of a hiatus during and immediately after the second World War. The House of Chanel had been closed for fifteen years, but now it was time to return. During her absence, Paris style had been dominated by the likes of Christian Dior whose “New Look” had created those hour-glass shapes that constricted women’s shapes nodding more to form than function – no one could truly be comfortable with a corset and bustier! Re-enter Chanel.

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Dior’s “New Look” silhouette required lots of undergarments!

 

Before the war Chanel had already created the first sportswear that women would wear, constructed from knits & jersey’s that had never been used in women’s wear before. Her absence had seen a resurgence of constriction and she was determined to change that. So, that first season saw the birth of what we now know as the quintessential Chanel jacket.

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What made it different was the construction: it was fashioned from soft bouclé fabrics and lined with silk charmeuse which is truly the most magnificent feeling against your skin. But more important than even the fabrics was the way she designed the construction. Rather than a jacket with interlining and details that made it crisp and stiff, she decided that the lining was to be quilted to the pieces of the jacket and the lining finished by hand. She was striving for luxurious comfort above all, and a jacket that was as beautiful on the inside as the outside. And the construction of the jacket to this day uses this technique. So, if one is going to pay homage to the Chanel jacket, one needs to employ her approach. Dear god…

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My little pile of pieces!

My last report found me finally at a point where the sewing machine would make and appearance. All of the fabric and lining is now cut, marked, the soft tapes to maintain a bit of definition at the front and hemlines has been hand-stitched in place. Now the jacket pieces need to be constructed.

 

I use a 3.0 mm stitch length as directed by the instructor I’m following and I’m using regular thread (I may regret this) and a walking foot. This is not to be attempted without a walking foot! There are really only a few seams that need to be completed prior to the next big (quilting) step. I am remembering that the seam allowances are a full one inch! Very important to the eventual fit.

I sew the princess seams in the front pieces and the back, and put together the sleeves along the seam, making sure to use ease stitches at the point where the elbow will be. I construct the lining pieces exactly the same way. One of the most important parts of this process, though, is the pressing.

I first press the seams flat, then press them open from the inside using only the point of the iron. Then I turn the piece over and gently press each seam from the outside. The seams took terrific. I don’t trim any seams yet, though. There will be a lot of fraying and I need the depth and stability during the rest of the construction. When I am finished this process I have the following pieces: two front pieces, one back piece and two sleeves – and the same in the lining. They are all in a nice, neat pile. At the end of that lesson the instructor says, “The next step is the quilting. That’s when the fun begins!” And she smiles. Oh. My. Actual. God. The QUILTING!

I cannot remember when I have been as frustrated in a project. The process is thus: With wrong sides together, each piece of lining is machine stitched to its matching jacket piece using a 3.0 mm stitch. Each stitch line is meant to travel down a line of the ‘print’ from about two inches from the top (so that the lining is loose and I will be able to get at the side and shoulder seams in due course. The lines of machine quilting (yes, Chanel jackets are generally machine-quilted) are to be one-and-a-half to two inches apart, all done in the same direction (from the top down) and ending two inches above the hem line. Sounds simple enough. Well…

I make my plan as directed so that I know which lines I’ll follow, pin the seam lines together and use lots of other pins so that the fabrics don’t slide out of place, then begin stitching using that 3.0 mm stitch and silk thread to match the main lines of the jacket pattern – in my case, black. From the right side as directed. Oh my god… the stitches are way more visible on the outside than I want them to be! What to do?

I start unpicking hoping like hell that the stitches don’t make holes in the silk charmeuse. They’re not too bad after I press them out. So I start again. I do another test piece using various threads and stitch lengths. I ask the instructor who agrees that the pattern on the fabric with its white lines crossing black will make it very difficult for this to sink in invisibly. I note that other students are posting with their own similar concerns. No one has a real solution.

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My fabric

 

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My instructor’s fabric – she has definite black lines to follow!

 

 

So, I do it again, using a 4.0 mm stitch and this seems to work better. I only catch the lining up in the stitching twice resulting in having to unpick twice for that reason. I only have one line that seems to have caused a bubble between it and the adjacent one, so only have to unpick for that reason once. I have to do this in several sessions so as not to either tear my hair out or rush through and make a mess.

Finally, it’s done. And it doesn’t look too bad in the end. I have all of the pieces quilted and the next step will be to stitch up the side and shoulder seams and then focus on the lining. That’s for next week! I need a martini now…

 

[**Please don’t take me to task for using the word ‘seamstress.’ I realize that in some people’s worlds this is a sexist term, but I think someone who sews can call herself (or himself) anything she or he wants: seamstress, sewer, sewist, tailor – you pick one, I’ll pick one today and perhaps another tomorrow. Actually at Chanel they are called ‘mains’ which of course is French for ‘hands’]

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

LBJ*: Finally Cutting the Fabric & Lining

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

FullSizeRenderWhenever I’ve thought about sewing projects in my past, I’ve always considered cutting out the fabric to be the first job in the process. This project is so different.

I’ve already researched, found mentors and teachers, measured, cut and sewed a toile, made a personalized pattern and found fabric and lining perfect for the project. Now it’s really time to cut. And I have to say I’m just a bit nervous to put my shears to this boucle and silk charmeuse. But I must be brave and cut!

One more thing to do before I lay out the fabric: I have to steam the fabric so that it sort of shrinks now and not after I’ve already cut it out. As I do so, I need to be sure that I don’t let the fabric hang over the side of the counter because it will surely stretch, and after all the time I spent preparing the pattern to actually fit, that would be a big problem.

So now I can lay it out, and as my online instructor says, it is laid out in a manner that no one really wants to hear: in a single layer. This means that after each piece is cut out, a mirror image has to be cut out. It is a time-consuming process, but I do feel that this is the only real way to ensure that the pattern matches.

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So first I lay out the back piece and then the side back right beside it, checking that the seam line (not the sewing line) matches up at important places: corners, notches, hem line. I also loosely lay out the rest of the pieces along the single layer of fabric since I don’t want to find out that I’m short fabric. Lining them up this way also ensure that they are all laid out in the same direction. Although the boucle doesn’t have nap as such, it needs to be treated as if it does – hence the need for extra fabric. I bought extra fabric, and I’m going to need it.

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You can hardly see where on piece ends and the other begins. I think I’m on my way to pattern matching!

 

I will also need to line up the pattern at the shoulder seams as I move the pieces across the fabric. Now I’m finally ready to cut. I take a deep breath and start. Once the fabric is actually cut, I know I’m past the point of no return. I carefully cut each piece out matching as I go. I’m especially concerned that the front pieces match across the opening. Nothing says “amateur” more than mismatched patterns in a sewing project of this nature.

I then have to take each piece and lay it on the fabric to cut its mirror image. It has to be laid out so that you can’t really see each piece like this:

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Can you see the edges where I’ve laid one cut piece onto the single layer of fabric to cut its mirror? Look hard – the edges are there! But I think it’s going to be a good match if all continues to go well.

 

Then it’s time to lay out and cut the silk lining. That’s tricky since the charmeuse is so thin and slippery. Applying the lining in this jacket project is one of the features that makes it different than other jacket construction approaches, and it’s what sets a real Chanel jacket apart from the competition. The lining will be machine quilted to the jacket body and sleeves. This means that the lining needs to be slightly larger than the shell to allow for ‘shrinking’ down of the fabric with the quilting. This means that I have to add about 1/8 to ¼ inch to the pattern pieces everywhere except the hem. It’s not as precise as I would like.

I follow the instructor’s directions to simply lay each fabric piece as cut on the lining (doubled which is contrary to what I know about working with silk), add a few pins and cut larger. This is treacherous since the silk charmeuse moves around. I become frustrated that I might be cutting off the grain, but persist until I am finished. The next time I do this I’m going to cut out the lining single-layer with the pattern piece on top and a piece of pattern paper underneath. I will then cut through all three layers to keep the silk from slipping. My only salvation here with the cutting lines so imprecise is that the lining will be quilted to the well-cut fabric and I can deal with the seam allowances with accuracy after the jacket body is put together.

Two pieces I don’t cut out yet are the pockets since I’ll have to match the pattern after the front pieces are assembled.

So now that I have the fabric and lining cut out, I’m reminding myself of the long process ahead by watching the video from the Chanel atelier. And I’m thinking about all the marking I have ahead of me before I can get at the sewing machine.

 

Secrets of the Little Black Jacket (At the Chanel atelier)