Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

Following Coco’s Advice: Making the inside of the Little French Jacket as beautiful as the outside

according-to-cocoCoco Chanel knew a thing or two about elegance. Most of us have an innate sense of what it means to be elegant (whether or not we aspire to it – I do), but if pressed to define the term—well, that’s a bit more elusive. Since one of my objectives in paying homage to Chanel’s aesthetic by reproducing a few pieces inspired by her approach to design is to create elegantly wearable pieces, I thought it might be informative to look it up.

Most definitions of elegant use words like, graceful, stylish tasteful, luxurious, sophisticated and chic, all of which I like the sound of, but my favourite definition is this: “…someone or something luxurious in a restrained manner or something that is very well-thought through yet simple.”[1] Oh how I wish every piece of clothing in my closet held to this standard. And how I aspire to be elegant as I age. Anyway, what does this have to do with my current sewing project? Well, lots.

As I painstakingly complete the internal workings of the Little French Jacket, I’m always bearing in mind that Chanel truly believed that the inside of finished clothing (she wasn’t just referring to the more esoteric internal beauty of individuals if that was even a part of her thought process), ought to be as beautiful as the outside. And that means that taking particular care to get it right even in the parts that no one will see is important. Whenever I wear my first LFJ it makes me feel elegant just to know that the inside is beautifully finished. It doesn’t hurt that this type of construction is sublimely comfortable either (if you choose your fabrics carefully).

IMG_1131
The inside of my first LFJ.

 

I’ve stabilized all of the edges of the bouclé by hand-sewing twill tape as I did before. Many expert sewers who teach about this type of construction will tell you to put selvedge from silk organza. That’s terrific, but I felt that the edges of this bouclé which has quite a bit of give to it and is floppy, required a bit more stability. Now that I have the basic construction completed, I know that I was right in my selection. You can’t be too wedded to rules, I think.

Quilting the lining to the jacket body pieces was a bit trickier this time around. The last time I made one of these jackets I had a kind of plaid design in the tweed which gave me straight lines on the outside of the jacket to follow when machine quilting. Since it does have to be quilted from the outside, it occurred to me that this might be tricky. To be fair, it would be tricky even on the inside since the lining has no lines either. So, I decided to take a page out of Claire Schaeffer’s instructions and thread baste the pieces together as well as adding a straight line of basting down the centre of each piece to follow for the first line of quilting on each piece then use that line as the basis for straight lines for the rest of the stitching (always using a 3.0 mm stitch length and a walking foot).

img_1528
Basting the lining to the fabric – and using a ruler to get the centre line straight. It will guide the first line of quilting done by machine from the outside.

 

After quilting the pieces, I started on the side and shoulder seams. The pressing of the seams is critical. In my view, pressing (or lack thereof) is one of the sure signs of an amateurish, home-made piece of clothing (notwithstanding some of the new designs on runways that look like they were done in old home economics sewing classes without benefit of a steam iron). Pressing technique is so important.

I now know to press the seam flat in its closed position before attempting to press it open. I used to do that all the time. I also know to then press with only the tip of the iron on the outside to finish. So three passes at the ironing board.

I also know not to trim the seam before pressing. No wonder it was so difficult to open them! Anyway, I also now know to use small scissors to trim the seams after – I have so much more control this way.

img_1531
I used grey thread in the spool and black in the bobbin so that the quilting would blend in to the different colours of the outside versus the inside. I also knew to leave very long threads at the end this time since they have to be pulled inside and knotted – backstitching here!

 

The next step is the sleeves which are always a treat since there are so many layers that have to be carefully put in their correct location. I never have trouble setting in sleeves, but making sure that I haven’t caught up a piece of lining where lining ought not to be caught is the real challenge for me. But once they’re completed and the lining is hand-sewn inside, it looks like a real jacket whose simple exterior belies the work done on the inside. I love knowing that!

I’m very happy with the progress so far. Christmas is just about upon us and I do hope to have the jacket ready for New Year’s Eve. Here’s hoping!

[1] http://www.yourdictionary.com/elegant#IoW3DtTDrD0Tklhy.99

Posted in sewing

Vogue 9184: Very Easy? Not so much!

V9184 pattern packageIt is an easy dress pattern to whip up. That is if you actually follow the pattern instructions to the letter, do not veer off into couture sewing territory, do not focus too much on fit, and completely ignore Coco Chanel’s exhortation that the inside of a piece of clothing should be as beautiful as the outside. Do any one of those things, and you’ve got yourself a time-consuming and not super-easy dress-making project.

So, I told you about getting myself into this – veering first into a focus-on-fit situation that resulted in the requirement to create not only one but two fitting muslins, and also to actually redraft the front of the pattern. That and the cutting out finally done, I proceed to the sewing.

It’s a simple pattern: anyone with a modicum of garment sewing ability would be able to whip this up in no time. So that should be with me. However, there are a few issues.

IMG_1201
Hand-basting the princess seams assures me a smooth finish.

I begin with the princess seams that I added to the pattern. Sewing them is really no problem, but I do find it best to hand-baste curves, so there goes the quick seaming! Then, of course, there is the question of what to do with the seam allowances. In my view, they simply cannot be left as is. There is the fraying issue, not to mention the ugliness of the interior of the garment. Hello Coco! There goes the quick seaming. After doing an overcasting test, I decide that the only appropriate seam finish (since I’m not prepared to do Hong Kong seams on a simple summer dress) is to turn and edge-stitch. So I do that and they press out well. Then I move to the back.

 

I stitch up the waist darts which I left in the back and prepare to do the zipper. The pattern says to do a simple slot zipper. I can see the wisdom of a centred zipper with the collar design – I had intended to do an invisible zipper, but in deference to the instructions, I bought a regular one. So I install it and it looks butt-ugly. So I unpick everything and start again. Since I still have only a regular zipper, I turn to my trusty lap zipper, a technique I have mastered. It looks much better, although I do realize that the neckline might be a bit of a challenge to get perfect. The next time, I’ll do an invisible zipper regardless of what the pattern says. So it’s on to shoulder seams and side seams.

The next fitting shows it to be still a big too big for me in spite of all those muslins! I re-pin the side seams, then have to hand-baste them for another fitting. I finally take them in and redo the side seams. I’m happy that I didn’t finish the seams yet.

The collar is an easy one, but I decide to use a ladder catch-stitch instead of a slip stitch inside to a smoother finish. The it’s the arm openings.

IMG_1216

I decided to use a purchased bias binding (since I’ve never actually made my own binding, but it’s on the list of things to do), in a lighter shade than the dress. It’s an easy process and the top-stitching does give a nice finish. The hem and side slits are also top-stitched, and voila! It’s done. But I’m not ecstatic about it. It doesn’t hang as well as I’d like and that colour!

The flax colour of the linen-cotton blend is a neutral that I liked in the shop, but now it looks a bit like a fabric that you’d use to make a muslin. And about that drape – well, there is none.

Here’s where I made my mistake. I should have thought a bit more about the hand and drape of the fabric before I bought it. I had an idea in my mind that I wanted to emulate slightly the look of the linen-look dress in the original photograph. And the tone-on-tone stripes are more my style. When I go back to the pattern envelope, though, I note that linen isn’t even among the recommended fabrics, and I do think there is something to be said about using recommendations from the pattern company – to a point.

Fabrics have what is called ‘hand’, drape, weight and texture, among other characteristics. I’ve always know that each of these plays a part in fabric selection, but I find that I’m sometime drawn to a piece of fabric for its look, which includes colour. If I forget to take the bolt of fabric, unroll a two-metre length and hold it up to see its drape while considering the actual garment I’m about to cut, I’m in trouble. And so I have a dress that I’m not wild about, but does do the trick on a hot summer day.

Maybe all of this experience is as good a reason as any not to have a fabric stash – more about that later!

 

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.

IMG_1086
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.

IMG_1089
My red pen marks align with the main lines in the fabric pattern.

 

IMG_1093
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.

IMG_1094
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.

coco-chanel_sleeve
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.

IMG_1078
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.

IMG_1083
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 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.

new_look_tailleur_bar_vzg_03
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.

luxury quote coco

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…

IMG_1040
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.

IMG_0984
My fabric

 

lornas fabric
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 Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: It’s What’s Underneath that Counts (Marking & Stabilizing)

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

I cannot wait to begin actually constructing my Little Black (French) Jacket that is an homage to Coco herself. But, in spite of all that I’ve accomplished already, and all the time I’ve spent to date, I’m still not there yet. Before I can take the fabric to the machine, I have to prepare it further by marking everything imaginable and stabilizing the edges.

Anyone who teaches sewing online or in the classroom it seems will tell you that one of the keys to a garment that fits and looks professional is ensuring that all relevant pattern markings are transferred somehow to the fashion fabric. In the case of the bouclé and silk charmeuse I’m using for this project I can only use silk thread – both tracing and tailor’s tacks.

I learned to make tailor’s tacks in home economics sewing classes when I was twelve years old. You run a double thread through the pattern and two layers of fabric leaving a tail and a loop. You then cut the loop and carefully peel apart the layers. Then you cut the thread between the layers leaving markings on both layers in exactly the same place.

 

Unfortunately, with the bouclé, these loops continually slide out leaving me with no markings. So, I’m going to have to use my Craftsy instructor’s technique which involves a single thread through a single layer stabilized with a tiny, tight stitch.

In addition to all these tailor’s tacks which have to mark both the fabric and the silk charmeuse (from which all of the threads continually slide – I’m going to have to refer to the pattern as I sew, I think), I decide to thread trace most of the seam lines. Although this particular instructor doesn’t’ suggest this, others who teach this French jacket technique do, and it will ensure that I don’t lose my sewing line as the bouclé inevitably frays – which it does. I’m trying to handle it as little as possible to reduce this, but it goes along with this type of fabric.

IMG_1024
Thread tracing & tailor’s tacks on the boucle.

 

 

Now it is time to stabilize. Most instructions for this type of jacket suggest using the selvage edges from silk organza. I had some difficulty finding some, and you need a whole lot to be able to cut enough selvage to run around the entire edge of the jacket – including the hem. So, I decide to use soft twill tape – not quite ‘kosher’ it seems, but I think it has a good feel. The stability at the edges shouldn’t be thick or hard, just enough to ensure that the trim has a foundation and the hem stays straight. So I begin.

IMG_1026
Pinning the tape to the centre front edges

 

I start with the centre front pieces, placing the twill on the jacket side of the seam allowance and pin-basting it in place, ensuring that the snips I make to fit it around the neck don’t go in too far, and that the corners are neatly and securely pinned.

IMG_1030

Then, using tiny stitches with silk thread I sew the seam-line edge of the tape to the fabric. Then I use a herringbone stitch along the inner edge so that the tape will stay flat. I also decide to interface behind where the pocket will be attached. I cut some soft, fusible interfacing (not authentic since most couture garments do not have any ‘fusibles’ in them) to go just beyond where the pocket will be, cut it in two so that the piece on the centre front and the side front go on separately, then fuse it to the pieces. Voila!

I then repeat the process with the back neck line, the hems of all the pieces and the hems of the arm pieces. It takes me quite a while, but when I’m finished, I love the thought that the under-pinnings of the jacket are so well thought out and put together. This is the work that is needed before I can begin putting the body pieces together and quilting that silk lining to the inside of the jacket à la Chanel! Lots of fun ahead!

 

Resources:

Here is a link to a terrific Craftsy tutorial on making tailor’s tacks (they seem to use my own personal method!): http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/01/tailors-tacks-for-pattern-marking/

And another one that also uses the same method!: http://coatsandclarksewingsecrets.com/blogcategory/sewing/tailor-tack-tutorial-by-gertie-2

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.

IMG_0607

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.

IMG_0608
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:

IMG_0612
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)

Posted in Couture Sewing

LBJ*: Finding My Mentors

[*LBJ: Little Black Jacket sometimes known as LFJ or Little French Jacket]

luxury quote coco

I’m beginning to get anxious to really dig into this project: select or create an appropriate pattern, find just the right fabric and lining, start to cut and sew. But I have to hold myself back; I’m not ready yet. If I want to do this right, I’m going to have to figure out where to get some guidance.

Much to my surprise, there’s something of a cottage industry that has developed online of sewing enthusiasts who have already gone on this journey – for better or for worse. I do know that there is a lot to be learned from these experiences, but because the internet and its social media offerings tend to support what author Andrew Keene once called the “cult of the amateur” I have to figure out who the professionals really are. They have the most to teach me.

One of the first online sources I discover with really useful and credible information is called Emma One Sock Designer Fashion Fabrics. Yes, they are retailers, but they have posted a fantastic grouping of online sewing tutorials on topics such as sewing with leather and brocade, making shirts and, yes, working with tweed and boucle to create the Chanel-style cardigan jacket. These lessons are divided up logically providing photos and instruction for everything from selecting a pattern through prepping the fabric, then on to construction and finishing. This site has a particularly good lesson on the various hand-stitching techniques that are used in the finishing of the inside of the jacket. I’ll be referring back to these two pages for sure.

So I absorb all the information this site has to offer me, bookmark it and carry on to see what other sewing experts have to say.

Far less detailed, but with useful tips, is a piece on the Burda pattern site called A Classic French Jacket: 70 Hours to the Dream! This piece does a terrific job of emphasizing fit – and how to get it – and the length of time one might expect to spend creating this piece. Okay, I see that I’m going to have to spend some time on this!

Then I discover that sewing expert Susan Khalje has written an article in an old issue of Threads magazine that provides me with lots of tips and inspiration. The issue is November 2005 and is certainly worth chasing down. I was able to find it on ISSU and have my own copy in my electronic files now. In fact, I also discover that Susan, a contributing editor to Threads magazine, teaches an online course on creating this jacket. So, in my books, this is a truly credible source for information. Her video course, The Classic French Jacket looks extraordinary. For $195.00 (USD) the course provides three years of access to the full-length instructional videos and a custom-designed pattern.  Her face-to-face course offered in Baltimore costs $1600 and includes a shopping trip to New York! Now that would be terrific. Alas, I live in Toronto. But my search isn’t over yet.

Last year I stumbled on a web site called Craftsy which I wasn’t familiar with before. After pushing my way through a plethora of quilting and crafting courses that didn’t really interest me, I discovered a whole series of online/video classes for serious garment sewers. When it was on sale, I was able to purchase the course “The Iconic Tweed Jacket” for about $35.00 (CDN!) which gives me lifetime streaming and downloading access to the series of videos hosted by sewing instructor Lorna Knight. The Craftsy online platform permits me to download the videos for off-line watching, ask the instructor questions (which she actually answers), post photos, read other students’ questions and the answers which are extremely useful. Craftsy sent me the McCall’s pattern that Lorna uses in the course and they provide online material lists. Oh yes, I can also make video notes on my own platform as I watch the videos. I have found my main mentor!

So, off I go to watch the ENTIRE course before I buy any materials or wield the sewing shears. Next up: learning to fit a muslin!

craftsy class
This is the course I’ve enrolled in. Wish me luck! Or just come along with me…
Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Researching the real deal

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

jackets on displaySo my obsession with Chanel and her Little Black (French) Jacket runs deep. If I am going to re-create it, I need to know more about it. So I begin my research by trying to figure out the details of the real deal.

I need to begin my journey with a bit of philosophizing about the importance of this iconic piece of clothing. My research leads me first to blogger Tina Craig’s piece “Secrets of the Chanel Jacket Revealed” where she says quite unequivocally that in her opinion (as the owner of the real deal several times over), “…there is no other piece of clothing that transcends time, style and age as gracefully.”[1] And later, “My CHANEL jackets are my secret weapons, the pull-it-out-and-be-fabulous no matter how much I weigh or feel at the moment kind.” That is precisely the kind of feeling I’m going for. But I need to find out what’s really under the boucle. Next stop, an online retailer specializing in authenticating their luxury resale items.

I stumble upon The RealReal in my search for the facts about an authentic Chanel LBJ. Their video on How to Authenticate Chanel Jackets has proven itself to be particularly useful in helping me to understand what might need to be a part of the inside of the jacket: anyone can reproduce the external look, but it’s the interior hand-finishing and machine quilting that are the key to an authentic Chanel. Just to be clear: I have no intention of trying to pass mine off as the real deal: what I want to do is create one that contains as many of the quality finishes as a Chanel as I can. I want to learn from the artisans who even today work in the Chanel atelier.

 

 

In a very good piece Vintage Chanel Tweed Suit: How to know if it is real or not? the author lists the elements that need to be considered when determining authenticity. Of the elements she includes I believe the following ones are going to be important aspects of my learning process and the eventual outcome of this project:

  • Paneling of the jacket body;
  • Quilting of the interior lining directly to the outside fabric;
  • Silk charmeuse lining; and
  • A chain sewn at the jacket hem.

The label and logo aren’t important to me, although issue of the quality of the buttons might be: I have yet to decide if there will be any button trim on this jacket of mine.

The Vintage Chanel Jacket: What sets it apart on the Vintage Fashion Guide also provides me with further useful information on the elements of the jacket that will be important to me.

  • The pockets (originally four of them) were all real pockets. Mlle. Chanel did not believe in faux pockets it seems.
  • There was almost always contrasting, braided trim of one sort or another.
  • Tweed and boucle are the fabrics of choice. The fabrics are described this way: “…where tweed is an unfinished wool, boucle (which can be wool) is made in such a way that the different strands of yarn are plied at different tensions, creating a textured, sort of nubbly appearance.”[2]

Since I started this journey, I have found out that Chanel originally obtained all of her tweed and boucle from a UK mill called Linton Tweeds. With over 100 years of experience behind them, these fabric experts still produce Chanel-worthy materials. You can visit them at World of Linton Tweeds and even order online. I had a look. Their fabrics are fantastic, but none of the ones available when I looked bowled me over so I’m going to have to find my fabric in the fashion design district of Toronto. I think that will be part of the process – and a lot of fun.

So I now have a better idea about what the real deal is like. My objective is to create a Chanel-type jacket that pays homage to the workmanship and style of the authentic item. Next up: finding my teachers & mentors.

[1] http://www.snobessentials.com/2007/11/secrets_of_the_chanel_jacket_r.html

[2] http://www.vintagefashionguide.com/2014/10/vintage-chanel-jacket-sets-apart/