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

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

cc books
My two favourite Chanel biographies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1216

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what my internal eye is seeing:

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

IMG_0987
Fabric & lining from my first jacket.

 

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

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

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

img_0880
A really loopy texture this time!

 

img_0883
Printed lining – because I wouldn’t have it any other way (at least for now!).

 

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

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

IMG_0941
Long sleeves this time: Vogue 7975.I did a fitting muslin the first time around. Tis time I have only to cut the long sleeves instead of the bracelet-length ones.

 

 

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

img_0886
I’ll put the braid over the tiny ruffle edge.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in 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!