Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Trimming my Second Little French Jacket

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

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

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An authentic Chanel jacket trimmed with a plain black embellishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My personal sewing epiphany: From fast sewing to slow

slow-downThere has always been fast food – or so it seems. More recently we have slow food. But fast versus slow sewing? Evidently it’s a thing, too. I used to be firmly in the fast sewing lane. Always a deadline. Always feeling hemmed in by the hemming – by hand. Wow, have I ever changed my tune.

Modern definitions of slow sewing seem to focus on hand sewing, but for me that’s only a part of what it takes to slow me down.

For me it’s about taking the time to plan a project; taking the time to think it through before plunging in, shears at the ready. It’s about considering the best rather than the fastest way to finish a garment. It’s about taking to heart Coco Chanel’s admonition that the inside of a garment should be as beautiful as the outside – and taking time to get it that way. It’s about the process as much or even more, than the outcome.

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Taking the time to make the inside of my most recent Little French Jacket project beautiful was a labour of love. When I wear it now, it’s my little secret!

 

Something called the slow stitching movement suggests that learning new techniques[1] is part of what we know as slow sewing. I agree wholeheartedly. I returned to sewing not to simply reuse the old techniques I had learned as an adolescent, but to learn new ones, and learning takes time. This slow stitching movement also suggests it’s about immersing yourself in the creative process – I’m totally loving the immersion. Developing excellent techniques? Completely agree. My slow sewing focus is on getting it right.

V9184 pattern package
I was even able to make this so-called “very easy” project “very slow” when I made it last summer: fitting muslin, darts transformed into princess lines, finished seams, hand-stitching…

Fast and easy used to be my watch words when looking for patterns. These were often garment patterns that required very little in the way of close fitting. And there are still many of these available. They are a bit like one-size-fits-almost-all, and this is not what I’m about these days. These days I’m more interested in the fit of clothing, the quality of the fabrics and the design details that place them a cut above the rest. When I shop now, I find myself in Saks feeling fabrics and examining the finishes – the seam finishes, the buttonholes, the top-stitching etc. I’m not the only one who believes that slow sewing is focused on quality over quantity.

 

According to blogger Paula Degrand on the blog Getting Things Sewn:

“Slow sewing recognizes a superior result and pursues ways to attain it. It has standards and aspires to mastery. Slow sewing requires investing time, money, space and abilities, but the reward is exceptional quality. Slow sewing takes nothing for granted. It understands materials and processes, but always asks questions, tests, analyzes, and problem-solves for particular figures, patterns, and fabrics. [Blog: Getting Things Sewn][2]

So, in the interests of pursuing my slow sewing mojo, I’ve started another homage to Chanel: I’m creating another Little French Jacket. However, I find myself a bit at odds with my slow sewing mantra just a bit. I’ve started logging the time it’s taking me to do go from beginning to end since the first one took me upwards of 100 hours – although I didn’t actually keep a time log. I’ve rationalized to myself that keeping a log is so that when people ask me how long it takes I can provide an accurate accounting. But I think on some level I’m interested in getting this one done faster. Good lord! I hope it’s going faster only because I have not had to do as much unpicking of seams and quilting lines, nor listen to an online instructor telling me how to do something – having the instructor in yrou ear as you go along does slow down the process, and not in a really mindful way.

Anyway, I’m moving forward. Ironing the pattern pieces (seriously)? Check. Cutting out? Check. Marking? Check. Stabilizing the underneath parts? Check. Quilting of the lining to the jacket pieces – about to begin.

[1] https://theslowstitchingmovement.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/welcome-to-the-slow-stitching-blog/

[2] http://gettingthingssewn.com/slow-sewing/

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.

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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.

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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*: Constructing the Jacket Body

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

A helpful resource:

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