Paris in Baltimore – Part 1

It might be stretching a point to compare our Classic French Jacket Class, taken with Susan Khalje at her workspace just outside Baltimore, Maryland (USA), to spending time in Paris, France.  However, I could not help but feel that the twelve of us in the class were a small part of a continuum of dressmakers dedicated to haute couture, even if we were all sewing for ourselves!  Certainly the outstanding instruction we received and the techniques we learned are consistent with the standards associated with such fine custom sewing  – and with timeless, classic fashion.

A classic French jacket (or Chanel-inspired jacket) has certain characteristics and sewing techniques which are specific to it. Among these are:

1) These jackets are usually cardigan style, with the front edges abutting rather than over-lapping.

2) The fabrics of choice for these jackets are boucles or sometimes loosely woven tweeds.

3) The lining is machine quilted to the fashion fabric, but does not show because of the nature of the fabrics which are traditionally used.

4) The interior structure and integrity of the garment depends on this quilting and on extra-generous seam allowances (common in haute couture).  The only interior interfacing is a small section at the shoulder, front and back, extending down just to the lower armscye.

5) Shaping of the garment is accomplished by vertical princess seams which form the fullness for the bust line.  Darts are rarely used, but sometimes necessary (as several of my classmates discovered).

Here is Vogue 7975, which is the "go to" pattern for one of these jackets.  (However, as Susan says, the pattern is just a starting point.)  The vertical princess seams can be seen on these drawings.

Here is Vogue 7975, which is the “go to” pattern for one of these jackets. (However, as Susan says, the pattern is just a starting point.) The vertical princess seams can be seen on these drawings.

6) Hand sewing is used extensively in the construction and finish work on these jackets.

Our instruction began the day after our whirlwind trip to NYC to buy our boucle, charmeuse lining, trim and buttons.  Looking back on the week, it seems to me that the process can be divided into specific sections:  (1) preparing and fitting the muslin, and cutting out the fashion fabric and lining, (2) quilting and assembling the body of the jacket, (3) fitting, cutting out, and sewing the sleeves, and (4) all that finish work.  Although none of the techniques is difficult, it is all very time-consuming, and it can not be rushed.

To start the process, we all came to class with pre-prepared thread-traced muslins.  (I believe we were all using the standard Vogue 7975 pattern, details of which are shown above.)  The fitting process began with the body of the jacket, minus the sleeves.  (I quickly lost count of how many jokes were made during the week about our “vests”.  But on about Friday, the thought of making vests instead of jackets was beginning to appeal!)  Susan meticulously and expertly fitted each of our muslins, which was fascinating to watch.  When it came to deciding preferred hem lengths, we usually had a group consensus – collective thought for something like this is incredibly helpful!

Susan making adjustments in Diane's muslin.

Susan making adjustments in classmate  Diane’s muslin.

After marking and adding all the fitting changes onto our muslins, part of the uniqueness of the construction of these jackets became apparent.  Why?  Susan instructed us to cut out our muslins on the sewing line – and these pieces became our new pattern.  The extra-generous seam allowances would be added as the pieces were cut out.

Here are some of my trimmed muslin pieces.

Here are some of my trimmed muslin pieces.

Some of my muslin pattern pieces laid out on my boucle.  Notice the wide spaces between the pieces.  This allowed for very generous seam allowances.

Some of my muslin pattern pieces laid out on my boucle. Notice the wide spaces between the pieces. This allowed for very generous seam allowances.

A close-up of the same.

A close-up of the same.

Then we used our cut fashion fabric pieces as the guidelines by which to cut out the charmeuse lining fabric.  With these two fabrics held carefully together with pins, we were ready to machine quilt each separate piece, another technique (with lots of do’s and don’ts to it) which was new to most of us.

Getting ready to cut my lining.

Getting ready to cut my lining.

Sewing the pieces of the body of the jacket together had its own set of rules, especially as the loose edges of the quilted linings had to be avoided in that stitching frenzy!  Those loose edges were finally tidied up and joined together by hand, using  a fell stitch, which helps to make a lovely and soft interior.

Here is a side seam in my jacket, partially closed using the fell stitch.  Machine quilting can be seen on either side of this  seam.

Here is a side seam in my jacket, partially closed using the fell stitch. Machine quilting can be seen on either side of this seam.

By this time, it was late Thursday afternoon, and I was wondering how I would ever get sleeves put in my jacket by Sunday…  This was s-l-o-w sewing, but fascinating and fun and clever and precise.  I was loving every minute of it  (well, almost every minute.)

And those sleeves?  Part 2 will cover those little lovelies.  To be continued . . .


Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Uncategorized, Vogue patterns

17 responses to “Paris in Baltimore – Part 1

  1. I know your jacket is going to be beautiful! =)

    I love sewing on the lines too – it’s how we do a lot of costuming. All that extra seam allowance is especially helpful if a costume is pulled out of storage to be worn by someone else.

  2. Your wonderful commentary makes it almost like being there! Can’t wait to read about sleeves! Is there a nice way to talk about them — or will that post have to be carefully censored?!

    It is indeed slow sewing — but your second one will go much faster!

  3. Oh so fascinating! I’ve been looking forward to reading about the sewing and you didn’t disappoint.

  4. Wow …. this is fascinating.

  5. I so want to take this class with Susan. What a wonderful experience – look forward to part two!

  6. Pam

    That is fascinating. What is used for interfacing?

  7. Pam

    Still trying to grasp this construction, so sorry to pester with questions. You said the lining is machine quilted to the boucle? Are there stitching lines on the right side? Obviously I don’t own a Chanel jacket to examine, but I am really enthralled with this construction. Also, is the lining interfaced?

    • The construction on these jackets is so unique – so I can understand why you might be confused! Believe it or not, you machine quilt (using a walking foot) on the finished side of the jacket pieces, through the charmeuse lining pieces (which are carefully pinned onto those jacket parts). The lining is not interfaced. The quilting stitches disappear into the boucle fabric, so the quilting lines are not visible on the outside of the finished jacket. Hopefully my next post will explain this further for you.

  8. Aud Steier Griem

    Hi, Karen,
    I am also a bit confused about the quilting. As the stiches are visible on the lining, I suppose you have to take care that the quilting lines of the different garment pieces will match up? Like sewing some kind of plaid?
    My second question is whether a classic French jacket might have shoulder pads. And the third, does the jacket always have shoulder princess seams? I already have Simplicity 2284 with no princess seams in the back and wonder whether that pattern might work. Thanks for your reply and best wishes from a wonderful summer day at the coast of southern Norway.

  9. About that quilting – your boucle will dictate where you place your quilting lines – yes, like sewing a plaid, except that the quilting lines are just vertical, not horizontal, too. So – on your lining, you will see what looks like sewn channels. I’ll try to include a photo of this in my next post, although it is a little difficult to photograph clearly.
    According to Susan, using a shoulder pad is optional. However, the way the shoulder seam is sewn, it creates a natural shoulder pad, so that I doubt many additional ones are ever needed or wanted!
    And, also according to Susan, the jacket almost always has those shoulder princess seams. The reason they are so important is that the boucle fabric is loosely woven and bulky, so that adjustments are much more easily made in the seams rather than with darts. Also, those princess seams make for a wonderful fit! (You would have to check with Susan about the Simplicity pattern.)
    Finally, the southern coast of Norway sounds like a delightful place to be!

    • Aud Steier Griem

      Thanks for your valuable information! I just found an uncut Vogue 7975 at a moderate price on the internet, so the correct pattern for my jacket will soon be on its way.
      Looking very much forward to seeing your finished jacket!

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