Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

Copying Ready-to-Wear: Making it better and making it for me (you)

I have made garments following every instruction on a commercial pattern down to the smallest detail. I have made garments using a commercial pattern but using my own approach to process. I have tweaked commercial patterns. I have used commercial patterns for the foundation for personal designs. I have designed patterns from scratch using only my own drawings. But I have never done this before. I have never actually copied a ready-to-wear garment.

Imitation CCIn my “other” life, I’ve spent a lot of my time writing, teaching and thinking about ethics. And the very notion of copying something that someone else created has never really sat well with me. Stealing intellectual property comes immediately to mind. That being said, most design these days, barring the most outrageous (and even some of them) is in some way derivative of something else. Sometimes it is simply reminiscent of another era, but often the designers seem to have a type of groupthink in a season where shapes and colours all seem to have come from a single mind. So, is there really anything that is truly original in fashion design these days?

I had that conversation with myself when I was thinking about a fairly practical issue. How could I get myself another version of a sleeveless T-shirt that I absolutely loved when the original producer was no longer making this design? The only answer would be to copy it.

Years ago, I bought a Landsend T-shirt that turned out to be one of my very favourites. You know the type of garment I’m talking about. It’s the one that you didn’t see coming. It’s the non-descript little piece that you find yourself turning to every time the weather/season/event begs for one. Yes, you have others in your closet, but this one feels terrific, fits well and just makes you feel good. You should have bought three, but who knew that you’d love it so much. So, the day comes when you look at it and think, “I can’t really be seen in public in this anymore. It’s too worn/old/holey…” Pick one, or in my case too faded. It was a black cotton jersey which, as we all know, fades miserably over time.

LE original
I doesn’t look like much now because of the faded black jersey, but it was a great T-shirt in its day. Trust me!

So, I went online to see if Landsend had them and of course, they no longer existed. So, the question was, could I recreate it and perhaps tweak the design a bit to make it even better. Well, as much as I hated the thought of cutting the thing apart, I knew I’d never wear it n public again, so I took out my trusty sheers and got to work.

LE GG update drawing
My drawing with the tweaks and updates included.

Making the pattern would be quite easy, I thought, but what would I actually make it out of? I knew I didn’t want a fade-prone black jersey again. And I know how much I love bamboo jersey. So, I wondered if I had enough of the black-striped grey that I’d used on another faux-wrap top. And I did! My newly updated faux-wrap sleeveless T design was coming together. Of course, the bamboo jersey has more stretch than the cotton jersey, so I figured that I’d probably have to tweak it a bit smaller – I was right.

Once I had all the pieces for the T cut apart, I trimmed them, pressed them and laid them out on pattern paper. I traced the pieces, added seam allowance and notches, trued the seams, decided where the shirring on the faux wrap should be (it had always been lower on the seam than I thought it should be), labeled everything and got ready to cut out the fabric.

The one thing I had to really think about was how I was going to finish the neckline and armholes. The original had binding. I wasn’t keen on that. I wanted a softer finish. So, I found that simply doing a double-turned and stitched hem was the answer.

LE T neck binding
The original neck binding.

I’m delighted at how it turned out.

 

The question is: is this really a copy or is it my own new design inspired by the original? The fabric choice is very different, so the T fits better. The designed was tweaked. Is it mine or is it theirs? In the end, does it matter? As far as I’m concerned, Coco Chanel can have the last word… Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I hope the original designer of this T is flattered. It’s meant sincerely.

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Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

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.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy 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*

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Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

Trimming & Lining my Little French Jacket (#3)

Vogue 8804 pattern frontThe 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.

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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.

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It still needs another brushing and a press at this point!

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!

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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!

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Lining my Little French Jacket

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

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

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

diors new look 1947
Dior’s “New Look” from 1947

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Japanese cotton basting thread – photo from SusanKhalje.com

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A muslin/toile for my new Little French Jacket: Marking for perfect fit

coco quoteCoco Chanel is often quoted as having said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” And nothing says impeccable dressing to me more than perfect fit. Oh how I strive for perfect fit (as anyone who has read previous posts on this journey with me will know!). As I advance down the road toward Little French Jacket #3, I am faced squarely with fitting a new design rather than reusing an already fitted one. Of course this begins with the muslin.

When last we spoke I had done a preliminary pattern fitting, tweaked a few known problems, and then began cutting out the muslin to create my first test jacket – and with any luck and a few more tweaks, it will be the only one I’ll need.

In the Spring 2013 special fitting issue of Threads magazine Susan Khalje begins her article on creating a muslin by saying, “Muslin may be an inexpensive fabric, but a muslin test garment is worth its weight in gold.” And I wouldn’t even consider cutting into that expensive bouclé or that even more expensive silk charmeuse for the jacket lining before getting as close to a perfect fit for the pattern as I could possibly get. This is especially important in the case of these jackets because of the nature of the fabrics themselves. Both bouclé and silk charmeuse fray appallingly and the less they are manipulated the better. This means that there should be no seam ripping whatsoever. The only way to avoid redoing any seam in my view is to be absolutely certain that the pattern fits then baste everything before sewing. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I now have my muslin fabric cut out and am ready to mark it. I am going to be marking and working with seam lines as I mentioned in my last post, rather than seam allowance edges, so the muslin pieces are pretty roughly cut out. Now I have to transfer all seam lines, grain lines and other markings onto the right side of the muslin pieces. The right side you ask? Well, this is what I asked after a lifetime of tailor’s tacks in good fabrics (I’ll get to those as well – wait and see) and piddly little pieces of carbon tracing paper sandwiched between two pieces of fabric to mark on the wrong side. I learned that approach in long-ago home ec. classes! With the couture approach to muslin creation, however, I need the markings on the right side so I can see them when I do the fitting in due course. Won’t I need some marks on the inside for sewing – well, yes, but I’ll get to that.

I’m using large sheets of dressmaker’s waxed marking paper that I bought online from Susan Khalje’s web site. When I started using it I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” I think each sheet (it comes in a tube of 4 sheets of different colours) measures about 26 inches X 39 inches.

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The sheets of the heavily waxed paper are enormous and wonderful to work with. But they do cause a bit of hand staining! (It comes off easily!)

I roll out the red sheet (I like red for my first pass on muslins) on my cutting board and hold it in place with random things on the four edges that will otherwise curl unmercifully. I have a tape dispenser on one, a pair of shears on another – well, you get the idea.

I place my first cut-out muslin piece on the tracing paper and just begin tracing all the marks with my tracing wheel. When I need to move the piece to be closer to me, I just move it. When I need to turn it, I just turn it. There is no rearranging of carbon paper etc. I’m in heaven. I mark everything in sight. Grain lines for sure, seam lines, darts, circles, notches, waistline, bicep line, high figure point etc. When I have all of this on one piece and I have carefully checked to ensure I haven’t missed any markings, I remove the tissue paper pattern, re-pin the two layers together and just turn it over. I use the markings on this side to mark the other side. Brilliant! I then take a red pen and label each piece: centre front, side front, upper sleeve etc. I repeat this process with every single piece. Because I’m a bit OCD about this process, I actually note which is the right side and which is the left for each piece and mark this as well.

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I’ve marked from one side, removed the tissue pattern, re-pinned and turned the piece over to use the initial markings to mark the other side. 

I need to say a few things about this pattern (Vogue 8804). It is Claire Shaeffer’s design for these LFJ’s and on the pattern pieces she has provided markings for the quilting lines. When made a LFJ before, I always made my own decisions regarding the location and spacing of the quilting lines based largely on the pattern woven into the fabric itself. However, I do note that since this one will have buttons and buttonholes, and the front will be underlined with silk organza which she specifically indicates should be quilted directly to the fashion fabric rather than doing this line through the lining, I do mark those quilting lines on the front pieces. I will leave out the back markings though, and make a decision and measure them when I get to the quilting part.Vogue 8804 pattern front

So I now have all the pieces marked on the right side, but I’ll be putting right sides together to sew up the toile, so how in the world do I get the marks I need on the wrong side? Thread tracing to the rescue.

I put all the tissue paper pattern pieces back in the envelope: I shouldn’t need those ever again as long as I live if I get this right. Then I take the muslin pieces to the machine. I thread it with red thread. (Remember, I like red for my first pass at a muslin then I know which marking I’m looking at.)

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length (it does go faster this way and there is less puckering), I sew along any line I will need to sew. This means I don’t thread-trace grain lines, waist markings etc. I don’t back-tack at all and I sew to the end of each line, stop, cut the thread, then sew the next one so that I have very clear transections of the seam lines. This should make it easier to match up the corners.

 

When this process is complete, I have a perfect set of wrong side sewing markings. I take all the pieces to the ironing board and give them a good steam press. I’m ready to sew the muslin together.

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length and dark grey thread to differentiate the stitching line from the thread tracing line, I whip it together. Well I whip it and carefully prepare and set in the sleeves to be honest. Once it’s complete, with great trepidation I put it on, approach the mirror, and hope that it comes close to fitting.

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

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

cc books
My two favourite Chanel biographies.

I’ve read a lot about Coco Chanel over the past few years as I fed my continuing obsession with all things Chanel. Every biography seems to agree on at least one thing: CC herself wasn’t fussed about other copying her  work. It’s not that she would have been happy with others actually trying to pass off their copies as authentic Chanel; rather she did, in fact, believe that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. She even encouraged others to take on her style since it clearly proved that she was the one and only style arbiter. So I have to believe that Mademoiselle herself would have been proud of the fact that those of us who are interested in couture sewing produce our own homages. It’s also true that the House of Chanel actually gave its blessing (and took a percentage) to specially-selected fashion houses who made authorized Chanel copies.

jackie-kennedys-pink-suit-ii-chez-ninon-labelFor example, until recently, I had been under the mistaken impression that Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing a favourite Chanel suit on that fateful day in 1963 when JFK was assassinated beside her in the back seat of a convertible in Dallas, Texas. In fact, her suit was an authorized copy from New York-based chez Ninon, a knock-off that was 1/10 the price of an original, and made in the USA. There are those who continue to believe that Jackie was wearing an original Chanel, but to me it’s more plausible that since she was the American first lady, and her husband evidently urged her to buy American, that the suit was an official Chanel copy. In that way it was authentic from its design to its bouclé, the fabric that has become synonymous with the Little French Jacket – which brings me to my next step toward my third LFJ: now that I have the design I’m going for, I need fabric.

I always take my time perusing bouclé fabrics whenever I’m in a good fabric store. I had a wonderful time examining Mood’s offerings in their LA outpost this past winter, but in the end I wander down to the garment district here in Toronto and while buying muslin at Leather Supply, I pick through their remnant bin. Now, I’m not a real remnant kind of sewer, but on this day they have a selection of bouclé and tweed fabric in the bin. And the pieces are a minimum of 2 meters each. I find one I like; the only down side to this find is that the precise fabric content is a bit of a mystery. They know only that it is a wool blend. Well, this is good enough for me!

It’s a mix of mostly greys and burgundy with a bit of black. The texture looks as if it will neatly hide the matching quilting and it had a nice hand. I’m sold, but I need lining.

I try my usual spot on Queen Street West: Affordable Fabrics. Today, though, they have almost no silk charmeuse in stock let alone printed charmeuse which is my prefeence for a bit of interior interest. Oh, they have lost of synthetic lining fabric, but as I said in a previous post, I will not go the polyester lining route ever again. I’m out of there and down the street to Leo’s Textiles. Now we’re talking.

The place is filled with the best high-end selection of silks and wools in Toronto. It seems that most of the customers this day are seeking bridal fabrics, and they are not disappointed. Neither am I. The sale associate quickly finds me some beautiful grey silk charmeuse.

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We have an interesting discussion about the rise in the price of quality silk. It seems that although we think of silk as a natural fabric (which it is – a renewable resource which has fewer deleterious effects on the environment than most synthetics), the way it is processed is not so natural. The silk cocoons have to be boiled and this uses lots of electricity which, in many countries, China in particular, causes air pollution because of the coal burning used to produce the electricity. So, less environmentally problematic methods are used and are more expensive. End of environment lesson.  Hence, the price tag. I pay it– in fact, I pay almost three times as much for the lining as I pay for the bouclé! I’ll have to be very careful with it, but I will be worth it.

Vogue 8804 pattern frontWith fabric selected and at the ready, I tissue-fit the pattern and cut the first muslin. Let’s just say that the fit of the first muslin is hideous.

I should have heeded the pattern reviews of Vogue 8804. Many reviewers did say that it was boxy, although when I examined the shape of the pattern pieces and some of the design elements, it didn’t seem to be the case. Oh, it is the case! And then there are the too-long bracelet-length sleeves and the sleeves cut for Sumo wrestlers. But the fitting issues are for my next post.

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

Planning Another Little French Jacket (and planning to learn a few new couture techniques…)

I suppose that when I embarked on learning how to recreate a Little French Jacket, Chanel-style, just over a year ago, I thought that it might diminish my obsession with this iconic Chanel piece. Well, since then I have completed two of the little beauties, and am obsessed with making a third. But this time, I plan on learning some new things. Before I get to that, I want to revisit what I love about them so much in case I miss something new that needs to be added to my “need-to-learn” list.

Vintage inspiration:

 

As I begin this process, I return to a few of the resources I started with so long ago.

One of the first places I need to revisit is a video of the way these jackets are made…

“Secrets of the Little Black Jacket”

 

Okay, that’s fantastic information, but as I said I discovered that before my first one. Now, I’ve found an “Inside Chanel” newer one that give me at least two new insights…

 

 

I had never considered that making the waist slightly higher will give that closer fit, but I take note of that this time around. And the notion of a sleeve cigarette is new to me, but would solve the slight droop in the shoulder that I am prone to in unstructured pieces since I have sloped shoulders. So this video is a new resources. But I will use others.

Here is my list of resources and what I’ll take from each one:craftsy class

  1. The Craftsy course on “The Iconic Tweed Jacket.” This is where I actually started. The course is clear, easy to follow and the instructor is precise. This was my complete guide the first time I embarked on this journey and I’ll refer back to it. However, I have since learned that it is “Little French Jacket light” in a way. That being said, it was mandatory for me to do it this way first. And I think the product was pretty good. My first jacket, below, was from Vogue 7975, collarless, open front, of a wonderful bouclé tweed lined with silk charmeuse. It is less trimmed than I had intended (see my post regarding the machinations I went through to come to this conclusion), because it just didn’t look right to me. The truth is that I absolutely love this jacket and have worn it with a dress, jeans and everything in between. And it feels divine. vogue chanel patternMy second LFJ was made from the same pattern, although I drafted my own full-length sleeves. Made of a true bouclé fabric, it is lined with a printed lining that did not comply with my own rule: line only with silk. I fell in love with the pattern on the lining fabric so ignored the fact that it is a polyester blend. I do love the jacket, but because it is not pure silk inside, the feel of it on the body doesn’t even come close to my first one. It doesn’t breathe, so can only be worn in the winter. But I did layer the trim and liked the effect. Lesson here: I will use only silk – and my preference is silk charmeuse – for lining, regardless of how much I love a patterned non-silk.
  2. My second resource this time will be Claire Schaeffer’s book The Couture Cardigan Jacket with its included DVD. She presents a terrific amount of information on authentic Chanel jackets and her technique is a step beyond what was taught in the Craftsy course. I’ll use her approach to cutting and marking in particular. I will work only with seam lines, never seam allowance edges for a perfect fit, and I will thread-trace each and every fabric piece. Yikes, I think I’m tired already!IMG_1137
  3. The third resource I’m using is Susan Khalje’s Craftsy course on the Couture Dress. Yes, I’m working on the muslin of this dress project as we speak, but it is her approach especially to muslin production that I will use in this new LFJ project.
  4. My own past blog posts will also be a resource for me. When I started this blog, I did it as a kind of reference for myself. And if anyone else found it entertaining or useful along the way, well, that’s the advantage of a blog over a journal!
  5. And finally, the pattern I’ve selected this time is Claire Schaeffer’s Vogue 8804 which is actually designed for the Chanel-esque process: couture hand sewing, machine quilting etc. What’ interesting about this pattern is the instructions. They are exceptionally detailed and full of her actual tips and tricks.

Vogue 8804 pattern front

I want to learn a few new tricks – and have a jacket that is a bit different from the previous ones. Here are some of the new things I will incorporate:

  • Three-piece, rather than two-piece sleeves.
  • A button-front
  • Hand-worked buttonholes
  • Thread tracing the muslin
  • Thread tracing all fabric pieces.

 

Okay, here I go!