Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

Lining my Little French Jacket

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Coco Chanel herself in her soon-to-be-iconic suit in 1954

She was brilliant, wasn’t she? Of course I’m talking about Coco Chanel. When she relaunched her couture house in Paris post World War II – well, she waited until 1954 – she took the fashion world by storm. She upset the status quo. Her new designs were a bit of a slap in the face to Christian Dior whose “New Look” was dominating the runways and influencing the silhouette worn by fashion-conscious women all over the Western world.

Beginning in 1947, Dior had been showing that hour-glass silhouette with the seriously nipped-in waist accentuating the bust above and the hips further emphasized by a wide skirt below.  Over the next few years he would experiment with a variety of hemlines and tweak the silhouette – even paring it down to a more streamlined look for a few seasons. But what remained at all times was a high degree of structure. The photo of a 1947 model wearing Dior’s “New Look” clearly screams structure. Does is look a bit uncomfortable to you? Hmm.

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Dior’s “New Look” from 1947

 

Then came Chanel with her focus on sophisticated comfort. Her 1954 collection was the first to show what has become the iconic LFJ we all covet so much. Oh, she had certainly had similar looks in jersey in her collections in the years before the war, but this new bouclé jacket with its very specific construction was born that year. So, what does this have to do with lining my jacket? More than any other element, the lining technique is what makes this jacket unique, and what gives it its tailored slouchiness.

 

This is not the first time I’ve done this kind of lining. I know that I need to do some serious trial sewing before I get on with it. I do several samples using different types of thread and stitch lengths and keep notes in my trusty sewing journal. Then I’m ready. But first I need to put together the front pieces and back in both my bouclé and my lining before I can begin to quilt.

There are only a few seams, but as much as I adore silk charmeuse, it’s a slippery fellow. I pin very carefully with lots of pins, use a 2.5 mm stitch with silk thread (I tried out various lengths) and, of course, my trusty walking foot is a must with silk.

Then I go over my “rules” that I’ve learned for the quilting process.

  1. Baste the lining wrong sides together to the individual pieces: two front pieces, one back piece. Keep it to a minimum to avoid marking the silk. Since this silk is not printed, it will really show if I don’t pay attention to this. And I should get right at the quilting so that the basting doesn’t have to remain very long.
  2. Plan the quilting lines ensuring that all lines of stitching stay at least 2 inches from any edge or there will be no way to turn edges or hems and finish by hand as one must (I stay 2 ½ inches from the hem).
  3. Baste the quilting lines and stitch alongside them. But I have learned to baste only two at a time to reduce the chance of pulling or bunching between the lines.
  4. Stitch from the outside with silk thread in the bobbin.
  5. Stitch each line in the same direction: top to bottom.
  6. Leave long tails of thread at the beginning: no back-stitching! This can be a habit so I have to pay attention.
  7. Work from the centre out: one on the right of centre, one on the left, then ne on the right and so on.
  8. Pull all of the thread tails in between the bouclé and the lining and tie off.

 

These are the rules and I follow them scrupulously so that I can get to the point where I can make it begin to look like a jacket. I can now sew the shoulder and side seams.

I baste the seams first to check the fit one more time. I find I can err on the side of a slightly larger seam especially at the waist. Remember when I said this was a bit boxier than I liked? Well, I find I can nip it in at the waist just a touch at this point and the fit improves.

So, I complete the seams using a 3.0 mm stitch, remove the basting, steam-press the lines open and trim a bit. The bouclé is starting to fray – which is to be expected – so I have to be gentle and handle it as little as possible until I can get all of the seams encased in the lining permanently. I Press and catch-stitch the hem, and clip and press the neckline which I then catch stitch as well. It’s almost ready to hand-stitch the lining! A jacket is beginning to emerge!

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Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

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

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

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

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

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The inside of my first LFJ.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

LBJ*: Sewing Like a Chanel Seamstress**…Quilting the Jacket

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

In 1954 Coco Chanel made a return to the Paris couturier scene after something of a hiatus during and immediately after the second World War. The House of Chanel had been closed for fifteen years, but now it was time to return. During her absence, Paris style had been dominated by the likes of Christian Dior whose “New Look” had created those hour-glass shapes that constricted women’s shapes nodding more to form than function – no one could truly be comfortable with a corset and bustier! Re-enter Chanel.

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Dior’s “New Look” silhouette required lots of undergarments!

 

Before the war Chanel had already created the first sportswear that women would wear, constructed from knits & jersey’s that had never been used in women’s wear before. Her absence had seen a resurgence of constriction and she was determined to change that. So, that first season saw the birth of what we now know as the quintessential Chanel jacket.

luxury quote coco

What made it different was the construction: it was fashioned from soft bouclé fabrics and lined with silk charmeuse which is truly the most magnificent feeling against your skin. But more important than even the fabrics was the way she designed the construction. Rather than a jacket with interlining and details that made it crisp and stiff, she decided that the lining was to be quilted to the pieces of the jacket and the lining finished by hand. She was striving for luxurious comfort above all, and a jacket that was as beautiful on the inside as the outside. And the construction of the jacket to this day uses this technique. So, if one is going to pay homage to the Chanel jacket, one needs to employ her approach. Dear god…

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My little pile of pieces!

My last report found me finally at a point where the sewing machine would make and appearance. All of the fabric and lining is now cut, marked, the soft tapes to maintain a bit of definition at the front and hemlines has been hand-stitched in place. Now the jacket pieces need to be constructed.

 

I use a 3.0 mm stitch length as directed by the instructor I’m following and I’m using regular thread (I may regret this) and a walking foot. This is not to be attempted without a walking foot! There are really only a few seams that need to be completed prior to the next big (quilting) step. I am remembering that the seam allowances are a full one inch! Very important to the eventual fit.

I sew the princess seams in the front pieces and the back, and put together the sleeves along the seam, making sure to use ease stitches at the point where the elbow will be. I construct the lining pieces exactly the same way. One of the most important parts of this process, though, is the pressing.

I first press the seams flat, then press them open from the inside using only the point of the iron. Then I turn the piece over and gently press each seam from the outside. The seams took terrific. I don’t trim any seams yet, though. There will be a lot of fraying and I need the depth and stability during the rest of the construction. When I am finished this process I have the following pieces: two front pieces, one back piece and two sleeves – and the same in the lining. They are all in a nice, neat pile. At the end of that lesson the instructor says, “The next step is the quilting. That’s when the fun begins!” And she smiles. Oh. My. Actual. God. The QUILTING!

I cannot remember when I have been as frustrated in a project. The process is thus: With wrong sides together, each piece of lining is machine stitched to its matching jacket piece using a 3.0 mm stitch. Each stitch line is meant to travel down a line of the ‘print’ from about two inches from the top (so that the lining is loose and I will be able to get at the side and shoulder seams in due course. The lines of machine quilting (yes, Chanel jackets are generally machine-quilted) are to be one-and-a-half to two inches apart, all done in the same direction (from the top down) and ending two inches above the hem line. Sounds simple enough. Well…

I make my plan as directed so that I know which lines I’ll follow, pin the seam lines together and use lots of other pins so that the fabrics don’t slide out of place, then begin stitching using that 3.0 mm stitch and silk thread to match the main lines of the jacket pattern – in my case, black. From the right side as directed. Oh my god… the stitches are way more visible on the outside than I want them to be! What to do?

I start unpicking hoping like hell that the stitches don’t make holes in the silk charmeuse. They’re not too bad after I press them out. So I start again. I do another test piece using various threads and stitch lengths. I ask the instructor who agrees that the pattern on the fabric with its white lines crossing black will make it very difficult for this to sink in invisibly. I note that other students are posting with their own similar concerns. No one has a real solution.

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My fabric

 

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My instructor’s fabric – she has definite black lines to follow!

 

 

So, I do it again, using a 4.0 mm stitch and this seems to work better. I only catch the lining up in the stitching twice resulting in having to unpick twice for that reason. I only have one line that seems to have caused a bubble between it and the adjacent one, so only have to unpick for that reason once. I have to do this in several sessions so as not to either tear my hair out or rush through and make a mess.

Finally, it’s done. And it doesn’t look too bad in the end. I have all of the pieces quilted and the next step will be to stitch up the side and shoulder seams and then focus on the lining. That’s for next week! I need a martini now…

 

[**Please don’t take me to task for using the word ‘seamstress.’ I realize that in some people’s worlds this is a sexist term, but I think someone who sews can call herself (or himself) anything she or he wants: seamstress, sewer, sewist, tailor – you pick one, I’ll pick one today and perhaps another tomorrow. Actually at Chanel they are called ‘mains’ which of course is French for ‘hands’]