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

Trimming & Lining my Little French Jacket (#3)

Vogue 8804 pattern frontThe first thing I have to do at this stage in the process of creating my Little French Jacket is review the pattern instructions for finishing the lining by hand and trimming. I know how to do this, but the pattern designer (Claire Schaeffer, Vogue 8804) has her own views that actually differ slightly from my experience.

In the past, I’ve always thought of the trim for the jacket as one of the last things to do – a bit like icing a cake. However, on this occasion, CS wants me to trim the jacket body before I even hand-finish the lining. The problem is that I haven’t got any trim yet! I’ll have to go shopping!

I really consider trim selection to be one of the most creative aspects of making on of these homage jackets. I’m not making a “Chanel Jacket”, rather I’m making one inspired by her designs that have themselves evolved over the years. And the trims that have been used on these jackets have varied wildly!

Here’s what a couple of the spring 2017 jackets looked like:

 

And the possibilities are endless! Recently, one of my very favourite couture sewing bloggers posted a terrifically informative piece on making Chanel-like trims using a Kumihimo braiding technique. [See “Create Custom Trim for Your French Jacket” on her blog Cloning Couture and I’m certain you’ll be as impressed and inspired as I was!]. This was a complete revelation to me and I immediately went to my Amazon account and put a Kumihimo disc and a book on how to create these braids on my wish list. That done, I realized that this isn’t going to happen for this jacket. I feel a winter project coming on! So, I’m better informed about the possibilities for trimming, but there will be quite a learning curve, and I’d like to finish this jacket sometime in the foreseeable future. So, what to do?

When I bought this fabric, I noticed that it had an interesting selvage in that it was a very nice fringe. So, I was careful to keep the selvages intact when I did my initial cutting.

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I highly recommend this! I took a look at my selvages and I find that they will make a very subtle, Chanel-like, perfectly-matched trim for the jacket. So, I run a line of stitching along each of the pieces to prevent any fraying and trim them neatly. Then I press it and brush it with an eyebrow brush. Then it occurs to me that putting the trim on now is not only a new idea, but the only way I can do this. This trim will not sit on top of the edges; rather it will be sandwiched between the fabric and the lining. So, I hand stitch the fringe to the front edges and the neckline, and I’m ensuring that I have enough to trim the pockets and the sleeves when I get to them. It turns out I do, so all is well.

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

This jacket does not have any trim along the bottom for one very good reason: the lower pockets are close to the edge. It also seems to me that with four pockets that are each trimmed, any more trim would be just too much.

Once I’m finished hand-sewing the trim, I’m ready to pin and hand-finish the lining. I really love this process; it’s so meditative, especially when you have a high table to work on and good lighting. My little Ikea goose-neck table lamp works like a charm.

Before I actually get to the stitches, though, I have to pin very carefully. This is not an easy task since the fringe is on the inside and I have to get very close to the edge, but not so close that it will show. I think basting is the only way to go: the problem is that I don’t want the silk to be marked by the basting stitching which might be there for the few days it will take me to finish this. So, I baste a bit at a time with my Japanese cotton basting thread which marks far less even than the silk thread. I know this because I tried them both first!

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I use an invisible ladder stitch with a single strand of silk thread as I’ve been taught and it gives a very nice finish. It’s pretty perfect I think! Now it’s really time to get on with the sleeves, which I have yet to touch. It’s getting there!

Posted in 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

My latest Little French Jacket: Prepping the pattern

I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation on the east coast of Canada and am more than ready to tackle the LFJ #3. Now that I have the fabric and the lining, I’m all set to get that pattern ready for the first (and I hope the final) muslin fit garment.

I’ve been down this route before, but the second time I made one of these jackets I used the same pattern as from the first so was able to skip much of this fitting activity. This time, I’ve chosen a different pattern.

My first and second jackets were both Vogue 7975, a basic design and one that is very easy to create if using the regular lining approach. I liked its open front and two-piece sleeves which I made three-quarter length in LFJ #1 and full-length in LFJ #2. This time I wanted to do something different, and as I mentioned in a previous post, learn a few new things. So this time I’ve selected Vogue 8804, a pattern created by Claire Schaeffer who wrote the book (really she did) on making the ‘Chanelesque’ jacket.

 

So, what do I like about this pattern that makes it different/upgraded from V 7975:

  1. This one has a three-piece sleeve, a real upgrade in my view. A two-piece sleeve provides the opportunity for a better, slimmer fit than the one-piece, and my research tells me a three-piece one is even better. And it just looks good.
  2. The sleeve has a buttoned vent. Need I say more?
  3. This pattern uses hand-worked button holes, a real couture technique. I’m excited if a bit daunted never having done them before, but I’ll get the supplies and give it a try.
  4. It has four pockets rather than two. Many Chanel jackets have four pockets – but certainly not all. This feature does, however, make it different than my last two and who wants three jackets all the same?
  5. The design employs an underarm ease for bust shaping. I think this may be a good idea, but that remains to be seen.
  6. And, although the back does not have princess seams, it does have a centre back seam as well as side panels without an actual side seam for better shaping.

So, I’m ready to begin. Well, first I read a few online reviews of this particular pattern and most suggest that it’s a bit boxy (although it doesn’t look that way on the line art) and it runs slightly large. I’ll consider this with the first fitting.

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Claire Shaeffer’s detailed instructions in the pattern

I take out all the pattern pieces and Claire Shaeffer’s instructions which are, to say the least, detailed. This pattern was designed specifically for this kind of Chanel-like construction process so the instructions reflect that. I note that there are trim guides for cutting and shaping the trim, a little extra that I will ditch. I’ve never had trouble cutting or shaping trim so I think this is unnecessary. Back in the envelope.

She has also provided a back interfacing guide. I’m inclined to think that I’ll use the French Jacket interior approach that I’ve used be for with terrific results: I’ll use my trusty twill tape and/or silk organza selvedge to stabilize the neck, hem, sleeve and front edges. Back interfacing guide: back in the envelope. There is a pattern piece of interfacing of the bottom of the sleeves that I’ll consider since this jacket has a button placket on the sleeve vent.

Right out of the pattern envelope I realize that there will be little tissue fitting to begin the process – there are simply too many seams. I pin the seams as best I can; I also pin the dart ease then compare the pattern’s high figure point to the HFP on my own bodice block. Although I give it a brave attempt and get a sense, it’s a bit ragged to tell you the truth — the fitting, that is! I note that the upper chest area is a bit too short for me (a typical commercial pattern problem) so I lengthen it before beginning. I also note that, contrary to a Chanel-type design, the waist-line is a bit too low, so I raise it slightly. According to the Chanel videos, this raised waist-line provides for a better fit. Now I’m ready to get at the muslin.

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Comparing my personal sloper to the pattern

I decide to use Susan Khalje’s couture technique and begin by going around every pattern piece marking the seam lines carefully. There was a time when commercial patterns had these marked: this was before the advent of the multi-sized pattern. In any case, I will work with seam lines (which I will thread trace) rather than seam allowances as they do in real couture houses so I’m told. Of course, intuitively it just makes sense that matching seam line to seam line rather than seam allowance edge to seam allowance edge will be more accurate and provide for a better fit.

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My trusty marker and ruler to mark ALL of the seam allowances at 5/8 in (because this is how the pattern fits at this stage)

Now that all the seam allowances are marked, I can lay out the pattern on my muslin fabric for cutting. I pin carefully, take great pains to “respect the grain” as Susan Khalje reminds us so often. The pinning takes time, but the cutting – not so much! I love this rough cutting. The seam allowance edges are immaterial in this approach since I’ll be marking all the sewing lines and using those.

 

Once I hack (cut) out the pattern pieces, I’m ready for the all-important marking. Stay tuned!

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

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

cc books
My two favourite Chanel biographies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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