Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

Finishing my Little French Jacket: Making it my own with buttons and pockets

The day has finally arrived…I have finished my third Little French Jacket and I am now excited to find places to wear it!

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Oh how I loved the alpacas…and their wool! More about that in an upcoming post.

We just returned from a wonderful four-week vacation that saw us taking a ship through the Panama Canal and spending a few weeks tooling along the west coast of South America, spending a week in Peru and just over a week in Chile. That meant that I had to put my couture sewing work on hold for a while, but there are two very good outcomes from this. First, I am very excited to have returned and to see my LFJ with fresh eyes. In addition, I learned all about alpaca wool fabric and sweaters so will share that insight eventually. But now, here’s how I finished that jacket.

When last I posted, I had finished the sleeves along with their trim and hand-finished the silk charmeuse lining. What is left at this stage is the really creative, fun part: making it my own with buttons and pockets.

I ordered a selection of buttons from China (perhaps not the best idea I’ve ever had) but the quality was not exactly as I might have hoped. However, they’ll be great for smaller projects. They were also very late arriving so in my impatience, I headed down to Queen Street West here in Toronto to a favourite spot for button selection (Neveren’s Sewing Supplies) and spent a bit of quality time rummaging through hundreds of styles. I came home with another selection then set about determining the look I was going for.

In the end, I decided that the buttons should make a subtle statement reflecting the gold chain that I would be stitching along the hem line in due course.

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But first, I have to tell you about the debacle of the buttonholes.

Way back at the beginning of this process I made a decision to go with hand-worked buttonholes, a process that I would have to learn since I’ve never done them before. Well, that didn’t work out so well, so I did some tests of machine buttonholes on the fabric and lining and was satisfied. However, when the time came to actually complete those buttonholes, I realized that I had not taken into consideration the bulk of the seam allowance when I did those samples. It simply was not going to work. I was now in a real pickle. It was too late to do the faux-welts on the interior, the technique that Claire Schaeffer recommends in both this pattern (Vogue 8804) Vogue 8804 pattern frontand in her book, so what to do? I was left only one choice: doing hand-worked buttonholes through both the fabric and lining, an approach that you do, indeed sometimes see in couture garments, but that when done by an amateur can look dreadful. I would have to spend some time learning. So, I made up some samples and start the process. It took me two weeks.

According to the Yorkshire Tailor whose video I shared in an earlier post, you have to do about 30 such buttonholes before you get it right. He has a point. For the first six that I did (using waxed button twist) I made a variety of mistakes. On each occasion I corrected that mistake for the next one until I finally thought I had corrected them all. After about a dozen samples, I decided they were all right so I started with the sleeves. They were okay, but not terrific. The truth is, however, that the thread matches so well that you can hardly see the buttonholes at all anyway. Then it was on to the front.

I took a deep breath and began. The scary part is after the initial preparation of the spot by hand-basting around it to ensure stability while sewing when you have to cut the hole open. At that point there is no going back. It’s not like machine button holes where you cut them after they’re completed. No, these ones have to be cut before you begin since the whole point of them is that the edges are completely covered by the stitches thereby avoiding any of those little strings that can be such a problem in machine buttonholes.

When they were finally completed, I sighed a big sigh of relief and sewed on the buttons. I was not 100% happy with them, but 80% was going to have to do for this first attempt. I’ll do them again on another project and look for perfection. When that was done, it was time to place the four pockets.

Some patterns suggest that you do this before the buttons are in place. I figured that if I did it that way I would run the risk of the pockets looking too crowded with the buttons. This way I could actually see the finished product.

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So, I pinned them in place then hand-sewed them to the jacket using double-stranded silk thread for a bit of stability. The final step, of course, is the hem-line chain, a feature of Chanel’s jackets.

Originally inserted as a practical way of weighing down the jacket edges, the chain is now really more of a style statement. However, in the case of this jacket, the extra weight will be welcome. I sew the chain on using short lengths of doubled silk tread with one stitch in each link. These stitches, when done properly, are hidden under the link. I use short lengths in case the chain ever comes loose (which it has done in one of my previous jackets). The short lengths mean that it will only come away for a short distance to be fixed.

The chain is completed, so that can only mean one thing: I finally have a jacket!

 

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Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

Sleeves for my Little French Jacket (#3)

What would a jacket be without sleeves? Well, a vest, I suppose. But the truth is that a sleeve is not a sleeve is not a sleeve. In fact, when I look at this season’s runway collections (and everything in ready-to wear from the most expensive to the cheapest fast fashion) it seems that it truly is the season of the sleeves.

The fashion writers are calling them “statement sleeves.”

There would be this monstrosity from Gucci…

gucci fall 2017

 

Or this equally hideous one from D & G…

d and g fall 2017

 

Or this from Prada (as my husband would say, before WTF?, there is WHY?)…

prada fall 2017

But even more ubiquitous than all of the rest are various iterations of bell-shaped sleeves…

statement sleeves

I don’t love big sleeves, although an understated bell sleeve would be my style. So I’m not very adventurous…but I’m true to my style and really, doesn’t a sleeve have to have some practicality? Wouldn’t it be nice to wear sleeves that won’t drag in your pasta sauce, get caught in the escalator, elevator door, car door, subway car door, snag on someone’s enormous backpack, strangle you in a revolving door? Or is it just me? Anyway, this does bring me to the topic of beautiful, well-fitted jacket sleeves à la Chanel style.

When I made my first Little French Jacket I did a bit of research on what Chanel was really going for when she designed the three-piece sleeves in her original jackets. Apart from the fact that the three-piece sleeve fits better than the two-piece, which fits better than the one-piece sleeve, there was a bit more to it. For Chanel, the sleeve design began with the armhole. In these jackets, they were meant to have higher armholes than other jackets so that you could raise your arms without the jacket pulling up very much. If you think about it, that’s not a bad idea. Anyway, before we go there, I have to do one more thing with the lining of the jacket body: the lining has to be basted to the armholes so that when I set in the sleeves, I can then finish the armhole seam in the lining by hand. Now, on to the actual sleeves.

In the past I’ve wimped out and made only a two-piece sleeve, which does have its charms and offers considerably more opportunities for a good fit than a one-piece sleeve. This jacket, however, has a three-piece sleeve with a vent that will be trimmed and have two buttons with matching buttonholes. These sleeves are lined in exactly the same way as the body of the jacket: the silk charmeuse is machine-quilted to the fabric and the finishing is all done by hand. Only the actual setting in of the sleeve itself is done by hand: the lining is hand-stitched at the armscye.

The pattern’s designer (Claire Schaeffer – Vogue 8804) wants me to trim the sleeves before I quilt the lining on. However, my trim has to be sandwiched between the lining and the fabric. That means that I’m hand-stitching the trim to the underside of the fabric before I finish the lining edges around the vent opening. In fact, before I do any finishing.

trimming the sleeve vent

Setting in sleeves is a wonderful challenge in my view. So many people who sew seem to complain about this, but with practice, it gets easier. With this kind of wool tweed boucle, once you have two or three lines of machine gathering stitches in the head, the shape can be eased in with both the stitches and a lot of steam over the tailor’s ham. Claire Shaeffer also suggests that if you’re not going to set the sleeves in immediately after shaping, you should stuff them so that they keep their shape. Seems like a good idea to me, but I plan to shape them one at a time and set them in.

setting in the sleeve
Hand-basting the sleeves before final setting. 

Ever since I was in junior high school and set in my very first sleeve, I have always basted in the sleeves. If I don’t I have hordes of pins that continually stick into me. So I’m hand-basting as always with my Japanese cotton basting thread. Once I have it the way I want it, it’s time to sew it in. but this time around there is also going to be one more step.

These jackets are meant to be a bit slouchy, but only a bit. I guess you’d say they are meant to be soft. This means that generally there are no shoulder pads or other such underpinnings. However, my recent research suggests that a sleeve-head “cigarette” is often inserted. I’ve seen such a thing that looks a bit like a rolled cigarette, but more often than not when searching for a “sleeve-head cigarette” you’ll find it’s more like flat tape. I decide to make my own by measuring from notch to notch on each sleeve and cutting a 1 ½ inch wide strip of quilting that I used when I customized my dress form (Gloria junior). I then attached it by hand to each of the sleeve heads before drawing the lining up to the sleeve head, turning it, pinning it, hand-basting it then finishing the had-insertion. I use doubled silk thread for this since there is relatively more strain on armholes than there will be on the rest of the lining edges.

sleeve head cigarette

As for the results with the sleeve-head “cigarette,” well they are spectacular!

one sleeve with head one without
You can clearly see the difference between the right shoulder with its cigarette already in place, and the left shoulder before I put it in. 

My jacket is taking shape! I’ll be doing the fun part of finishing with buttons choices and those four lovely pockets, but that will have to wait. My husband and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary on Tuesday and are off to South America for a vacation to celebrate. See you in November!

 

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

My Little French Jacket: Underneath it all

chanel 1960s 2Whenever I see a fantastic jacket of any sort, I always wonder exactly what is underneath that beautifully finished exterior. What does it look like between the lining and the fabric? What precisely is it that keeps those edges straight? How is it that the sleeve cap is so perfect? Oh, I know all about underlining, seam finishing, sleeve setting and all the rest, but putting it all together to achieve a specific finish – well, that’s the thing. And that’s why the stabilizing and other aspects of what goes between what the world will see – the lovely bouclé – and what I will feel – the even lovelier silk charmeuse – is at the heart of my next step.

Everything is cut out and marked. Now I have to consider what will support that beautiful exterior. But before I can even get to that in its totality, I have to deal with the buttonholes. And this begins with stabilizing the fabric to support buttons and button holes, a step that I have not had to take previously.

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A close-up of the stitches in the edge stabilizing step in my LFJ #1.

The first thing I have to do is stabilize the front open edge (I’m also going to stabilize the front neck edge while I’m at it.). So, I use the silk organza selvage along the front and attach it as I have learned to do before: a slip stitch along the fold line and a catch-stitch to hold it down. Then I have to underline just the centre front of the jacket – centre front to the princess seam. Chanel-type jackets are meant to be soft and pliable with no firm interlining to stiffen it whatsoever, but when dealing with a buttoned up front, it needs a little something. I am using silk organza because after testing a few interfacings (which is what it’s called in the pattern, but given the construction technique, it’s really more of an interlining or underlining if you prefer) I decide that the silk organza changes the hand and drape of the fabric the least.

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I cut it out roughly and lay it on the wrong side of each of the front pieces. I then baste it on with large diagonal stitch lines (and my Japanese basting thread!) to hold it in place. Then, following the instructions in the pattern (Vogue 8804), I machine quilt it to the boucle using a 35 mm stitch – I’ve already done several test pieces which are essential for me.

I have had to read the instructions for this at least four times, because it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me: normally, those machine quilting lines would be through the silk lining as well. But I do as I’m told here and later realize that it’s because the quilting line would have been too close to the front and the buttonholes. I also cut out little pieces of fusible interfacing and fuse them to the right front under where each buttonhole will be.

As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum previously, this jacket differs from my previous two in that it actually has buttons and buttonholes at the front and sleeve vents. And I’ve decided to do them the Chanel way: hand bound. Dear god! Have I lost my mind? Maybe. Anyway, I’m determined to give it a try. And I have to do it at this stage if I’m going to follow Claire Shaeffer’s instructions with Vogue 8804. The buttonholes are completed first and then a faux welt is done behind them where they will be hand-stitched to the lining.

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My little sample piece for practicing hand sewn buttonholes

I have my supplies at hand: I couldn’t get silk buttonhole thread so I’m using another suggested option, in this case a cotton button thread, beeswax and a gin and tonic. I review the online video I discovered to be the best instruction available – from The Yorkshire Tailor – prepare my samples to replicate exactly the fabric I’ll be doing it on (bouclé, fused interfacing pieces and silk organza underlining) and take a deep breath.

 

 

She makes it look so easy and tidy, right? And the stitches themselves are fairly easy. I’ve waxed my thread exactly as suggested in the video and I’m making my first sample buttonhole. It is hideous and I’m acutely aware that there is an expectation that one needs to complete 30 before really getting them right. Thirty? I do another. And another. And another. They are so hideous that I can’t even bring myself to take photos. This will not be happening. I am not a Chanel worker and this is not a Chanel jacket, after all. It is an homage and I want to be able to wear it. With my hand buttonholes, that would not be possible! But I need another plan of attack for those pesky buttonholes before I commit to completing the lining. (Maybe I’ll practice them over the winter!)

So, I get out my buttonhole attachment for my machine and prepare a few samples that also include the lining. I use silk thread in the bottom on the silk side and start experimenting. I have a lot of difficulty with getting them the right size because of how the fabric feeds (or does not feed) between the two pieces fo the buttonhole foot as it normally does. After removing the bottom plate and just letting it feed over the machine plate, I have a buttonhole I’ll be satisfied with. However, since it is also through the lining, I won’t be doing them until near the very end of the project.

At least I can move on. So I complete the stabilization of the neck and hem edges of the body (I’m completely avoiding the sleeves until I get to that point when I’ll stabilize, construct and quilt all at the same time.) I can sew a few seams and get ready for the fun part: quilting the silk to the bouclé!

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

My Little French Jacket #3: Muslin-fitting challenges

home-ec-class
Ah…home ec classes!

When I learned to sew – way back in the ‘olden’ days – the notion of making a muslin/toile/test garment never occurred to any of us in the ‘home ec’ classes of the day. In fact, the idea of taking the time to make a garment that you would never even wear (don’t get me started on the notion of a ‘wearable muslin’ – a rant for another day) was so foreign as to be laughable. These days, however, for my money, making a quality garment of quality fabric without a fitting muslin would be fool-hardy. For me, getting that fit right before laying out and cutting my fabric is key to the success of the project and my feeling of accomplishment. So, in the case of my current project, when last we talked, I had whipped together the toile and was just about to put it on. Moment of truth…

Dear god…it’s hideous. Every single complaint anyone had about this pattern played out before my eyes in the mirror. Despite the fact that I had done a tissue fit, I had not, of course, fit the sleeves. How problematic could they be? As it turns out – very problematic. And although the thing now fits around me relatively well, the shape was clearly wrong.

 

Reviews I had read of Vogue 8804, Clair Shaeffer’s LFJ pattern suggested that it was boxy, despite the picture on the pattern envelope, so I had nipped it in a bit. Not nearly enough. For me, the upper chest area was also billowy, but with princess seams, that’s always an easy fix for me and becomes the difference between the fit of an off-the-rack jacket and a custom-made one. First adjustment taken care of.

 

The sleeves are another problem. Given that one of the hallmarks of a Chanel-inspired jacket is the slimness of the sleeves, I’m left wondering just who CS and Vogue thought had arms this large. However, since they are three-piece sleeves, there are several different points of reduction available to me including that seam that runs from the shoulder point to the cuff. I also add a dead dart at the under arm which helps. But the sleeve head also seems too bit for the armscye at the front — too much fullness that will have to come out. Also, they are an odd length for me. They are designed to be bracelet length, and I thought that I’d like that. Turns out that the proportion is just wrong on me—it might work for someone else, but not me. So I decide to remove the sleeves, re-cut them and see how the second pass goes.

sleeve fit problem

The bottom line at this point is that I need to do a second muslin.

I use the pieces of my first muslin with their extensive alterations as the pattern for muslin #2 and sew it up. When I look in the mirror, I see that it is better, but there are still some fit issues.

The sleeves now fit better and are a better length, but it’s still a bit boxy – the waist is too wide and needs to be nipped in at the front princess seams and a bit at the sides. There is also another issue.

When I first cut out the pattern, I did note that CS had used ease at the bust along with the princess seaming. The pattern directions then call for this to be converted to an underarm dart in the lining.

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On the first muslin, I had to take a dead dart from the side seam to the armsye on the front to get rid of some of the boxiness. 

I had thought this would be a good idea, but now it’s just puffy. Of course the muslin fabric does not have the characteristics of fluidity that will be part of working with the bouclé, but I’m wondering if removing the ease with a dead dart will improve the fit. And…it does!

Then there is the length issue. I ignored it at the first muslin fitting, but now it’s of concern. It’s either not short enough, or not long enough. After consideration, I opt for the shorter length, then see that there is too much flair at the hemline. I lengthen it again to the original pattern length, and the flare only gets worse. So it’s back to the drawing board for the hem.

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You can see the dead dart in the sleeve: I took it from the armhole to the centre seam. This did get rid of the excessive ease in the front of the sleeve but you can still see some of the puckering at the sleeve head. 

I take the hem down again, reduce the width of the side panels and shorten it again and it works. Now I need to evaluate the pocket placement.

This jacket has four pockets and when I examine their location on Chanel originals, I note that the placement varies a lot. So, I’m going to have to go with what works best for my body shape and height. I move them up and over, then back and find them too close to the centre line making them look asymmetrical. Back they go and now the muslin is ready.

Now it’s time to pick it apart, iron the pieces well and ensure that they are free from lint bits. I now have a pattern from muslin and it’s on to the exciting bit of cutting and marking real fabric!

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!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, sewing, Style

In the ‘Mood’ for Inspiration: A fabric store mecca and other sewing muses

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I’ve just returned from a three-week sojourn that took us from cold Toronto to sunny Los Angeles and onward to San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Scottsdale and finally Vegas. The minute we determined that we’d begin in LA this year, I began thinking about Mood Fabrics and wondering how I could wangle a solitary hour there. Well, I did. And I came away inspired. Before I left, however, I had to figure out how I’d best use my hour alone in fabric heaven.

First, if you’ve come along with me on any of my previous sewing adventures, you know that I don’t “stash” fabric (how I hate that very idea), rather I concentrate on quality over quantity and really dislike the idea of hording cheap fabrics. (No judgment here: it’s just not for me.) I love the idea of choosing quality fabrics and taking my time to complete projects in a way that ensures a garment I’ll love for a very long time. Mood Fabrics is just such a store to find those treasures. So, I first thought I’d take my list of planned 2017 projects and focus on finding just the perfect fabrics. Then I thought if I do that, I’ll miss seeing everything else. So I took Proust’s advice and stepped away from the seeking just to look.

mood fabrics la
The Mood Fabrics first view is of bolt after bolt of bridal silks, satins & laces!

 

As I walked in the store I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. I was immediately surrounded by quality silks, linens, shirting, tweeds – in short all the fabrics I love to work with and wear. It was a bit like stepping into my own favourite Toronto garment district fabric store, but on steroids. No vestiges of the chain-store fabrics anywhere in sight. I loved it. So I meditatively walked all the aisles looking, feeling, enjoying.

Once I had navigated the store this way, I then decided to take out my notebook and go back to a couple of aisles that had really caught my imagination. [Anyone who knows me realizes that I’m a digital person for most of what I do, but Moleskine notebooks are part of my life all the time!] The first stop was the silk aisles where I bought some beautiful silk organza to underline a couture dress project in an as-yet-unselected fabric (I’m going to take Susan Khalje’s course).

[My little Moleskine notebook was ready to serve!]

Then I went back to the cotton shirting aisle where the choices were almost overwhelming. I knew I needed two fabrics that could go together, and that I wanted black and white. I also hate most prints unless they are geometric, so zeroed in on stripes. In addition, I wanted a tone-on-tone white cotton shirting for a new spring project. I came away delighted with my purchases (I also picked up a new awl for my pattern-making and a bias tape maker because I’ve always wanted to use one!).

Later on the trip my husband and I wandered into the Phoenix Art Museum (like you do) without especially high hopes only to discover a true treasure: the most fascinating contemporary art collection we had ever found, the world’s largest collection of extraordinary southwestern American art (as you would expect), and an unexpected treasure: the last day of a fashion exhibit. I was so excited.

“Eye on Fashion: The Kelly Ellman Collection” was a room full of extraordinary vintage clothing donated to the Museum’s archives by collector and museum supporter Kelly Ellman. There were over 600 pieces representing many eras of twentieth-century fashion from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel to World War II fashions with a bit of the 1960’s in between (including a display of those notorious paper dresses from the 60’s).

I find these kinds of exhibits truly inspiring. I look at the overall design – what I like about it, what I don’t – then move in to see details of design and construction, always considering how I might incorporate these into future projects.

[Details, details!]

A few years ago I attended a Valentino retrospective at Somerset House, a small museum near the Thames in London. At the end of the runway portion there was a video exhibit of a variety of couture techniques employed in the couture house and that was really an eye-opener.

valentino

[The Valentino exhibit. Of course, I didn’t take it. We weren’t permitted to take photos 😦  Photo credit: http://www.ella-lapetiteanglaise.com/valentino-master-of-couture-at-somerset-house/%5D

Well, now that I’m truly inspired, it’s time to get back to my two unfinished projects (including completing my sleeve sloper). Won’t be cutting into the new fabric for a while yet! Is that a stash? Yikes!

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Sewing in the “Olden Days”

home-ec-class
Not my home economics sewing class, but it brought back memories – found on the web.

I remember it as if it were last month – and not decades ago. I can feel myself walking into the Home Economics sewing room at Prince Arthur Junior High School. It was like a kind of playroom for a certain nerdy young woman who was struggling with the relative importance of trigonometry versus Home ‘Ec.’ The priority that should be given to passion for mathematics and science was in direct competition with an infatuation with style and fashion. I was in grade nine and this was the last year I could take Home Ec sewing before I had to get serious. “A” students simply didn’t take Home Ec in senior high. [You remember Home Ec? Sometimes called domestic science – now in the twenty-first century has morphed into something called “family and consumer sciences.”]

The room was large and airy with the requisite wall-to-wall windows that are the hallmark of traditionally designed schools. Home economics students who were in the cooking class (and by “home economics students” I mean girls) had to walk through the sewing room to get to that even larger room: the kitchen. Sewing students also had to take cooking – a situation that I fervently lamented, although nowadays I really do love to cook. I can’t remember learning much else than how to make a white sauce then, though. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what one would do with this sauce. I have since learned…but back to the sewing room.

1960s-jumper-pattern
I’m fairly certain that this is the pattern we used. I see that the alternate style has a square neck! I also remember being proud of myself for managing pockets!

 

The walls were lined with Singer sewing machines. In the centre of the room were two large cutting tables. I have little memory of anyone else in the class, but I do remember cutting out my very first sewing project: a blue corduroy, V-neck jumper. It was a plain A-line with a back zipper (!) and facings. I remember feeling proud of myself for having chosen the V-neck version rather than the round neck when I heard the teacher say that it was, in fact, more difficult to construct the V-neck with facing, and get the point of the V precisely correct than it was to sew in the round-neck facing. When I did get that point exactly right, I think it was then I knew that I had to learn more.

And I learned so much in those classes. I had three years of junior-high school sewing classes, then I was on my own. There was certainly no time in the academic schedule to take anything extra – and in any case, as awful as it sounds now – the smart kids just didn’t take home economics. No matter. I continued to make my clothes for years after that until a time when I got too busy with career and family and had more disposable income. One of the reasons I sewed my clothes as a teen-ager and young adult was so that I could have better and more clothing: it cost less. I also sewed for my sisters and occasionally my mom. Here are two patterns I whipped up then.

Just this past week I read something online from a sewer-person who opined that it was now more expensive to sew clothing these days than to buy it. There was much commiserating and sighing about this one. I respectfully disagree.

Okay, if you’re satisfied and happy with fast-clothing made in sweat shops of questionable fabric and mediocre-quality finishing, then go for it. But you might do yourself a real service and consider reading the book Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.  When I reviewed this book on my writing blog some time ago I said this: “…The author, Elizabeth Cline is an American journalist whose commitment to the investigation of the North American penchant for disposable fashion resulted in a story that had my head spinning – although much of it did not come as a surprise – and I avoid disposable fashion like the plague, given my penchant for quality…”

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Three books I highly recommend.

 

Sewing on the other hand provides me with the kind of quality fabrics and finishes that might otherwise be out of reach. Take my passion for the Chanel-style “Little French Jacket.” With price tags in the multi-thousands of dollars, they’re out of the question. But I am now able to create a reasonable facsimile with hand finishes and silk charmeuse linings that feel divine and that I love to wear. They’ll be in my closet for a long time. That’s value you just can’t get with fast-fashion.

There is also something about knowing that you created it. The piece you sew is never quite the same as someone else’s even if you use the same pattern. I just have to go on the Craftsy site to see other versions of my Little French Jacket made following the same course. Lordy they vary!

Then, of course, there’s the fit issue. My obsession with getting the fit just right has already taken me through learning about creating my own sloper. And I thought it fit so well. Well, for those of you who think I was gloating about my perfectly-fitting sloper/bodice block, you can start gloating in earnest now. I have had to tweak it.

I’ve begun learning about design by creating a variety of necklines. As I mock them up from my sloper, I’ve found a tiny problem that pushes its way into each project like a kind of virus. Every time I create something, it seems that the shoulders are just a tiny bit high and a tiny bit long – and it’s driving me crazy. So, what’s my current project? Starting over with drafting my sloper! Yes, I started again at the beginning and am close to a newly, well-fitted bodice block.

They never really taught me about fit in Home Ec class. Slavishly following the pattern was de rigeur and got us high marks. Good thing I was pretty tall, slim and straight in those days! Things fit, but now it’s not so simple.

My design ambitions will have to wait. Fit comes first!

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 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!