Monthly Archives: March 2017

Timeless: The Classic French Jacket

So much has been written and illustrated about Coco Chanel’s classic cardigan jacket, it is difficult to imagine more can be said, but that won’t keep me from trying. Of course, only Chanel is Chanel, and that fashion house rightly owns the claim to the mystique and allure of its trademark design. However, interpretations of that classic French jacket – and those who are making them – have added to the jacket’s lexicon over the years. In many ways, I think the advanced (in skill level, not age) sewing community has been instrumental in adding a whole new dimension to the way we look at the jacket and then personalize it.

Interest by home dressmakers in the classic Chanel jacket has been evident for decades. This Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1962 is a prime example. To quote precisely, the caption for the cover says: “the new after-dark dazzle involves a certain amount of alchemy. Take a clean-lined suit design (shades of Chanel) and make it shimmer: a springy white suit wool scored with gold metallic and red braid…”

The June/July 1989 issue of Threads Magazine has one of the most iconic covers ever, described above the masthead as “Inside a Chanel jacket.” The extensive article by Claire Shaeffer covers the history of the jacket, idiosyncrasies of its construction and tips for the home dressmaker wishing to make her own Chanel-inspired jacket.

In more recent years, books and instructions for making the classic French jacket have been joined by classes, most notably on Craftsy and by couture teachers such as Susan Khalje, who, in my opinion, teaches the purest jacket construction interpretation available to the sewing community. If you are unable to attend one of her Classic French Jacket classes, then by all means, subscribe to her video for the next best thing.

There are several reasons, I believe, why the classic French jacket appeals to home dressmakers, particularly to those of us who delight in couture procedures, hand work, and artistic license. It is we who have the ability to chose from such a broad array of beautiful boucles and silk charmeuses, both at select fabric shops and online. Therefore, we are not limited to the fabric selections of a particular fashion house. Furthermore, we can adapt the jacket to our own individual preferences, for example, fitted or boxy, longer or shorter, collarless or not, to mention just a few potential changes. Finally, the finishing components of trim and buttons make it unique and uniquely our own.

This quote from Oscar Wilde is an appropriate summation of how home dressmakers, privileged as we are to know the “recipe” of jacket construction, approach the making of our classic French jackets: “To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.” We dressmakers see the jacket from various viewpoints:

1) construction techniques; including, but not limited to, the unique method of marking seamlines, quilting the layers of boucle and lining silk together, and hand-finishing the raw interior seams.

2) as already stated, the privilege of selecting our own fabrics, trims and buttons.

3) stylistic details which enhance the ability of the jacket to flatter ones particular form, such as altering the length of the sleeves, pocket details, front neckline variations, adding bust darts in certain situations, etc.

4) an appreciation for – and knowledge of – the engineering magic of invisibly quilting two fabrics together to produce an entirely new medium.

In my opinion, it is this ability to see – and appreciate firsthand- the complexities of the jacket which makes it such a worthy undertaking.

You may ask at this point why I am thinking so much about classic French jackets. Could there be any other reason than the fact that I have started work on my third, but far from final, one? Using boucle gifted to me by my grown children a little over a year ago, I am intently working through the “process.” Because I am fortunate enough to have a fitted pattern muslin template from my class with Susan Khalje 3½ years ago, my initial progress has been speedier than normal.

Here are my muslin pattern pieces freshly ironed and ready to start.

My muslin pattern arranged on the boucle, ready to double-check and cut out.

Allowing for wide seam allowances…

Pieces cut and thread-traced.  Next step:  the lining fabric.

Stay tuned as I make further posts about my time-consuming progress on this timeless style.

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, couture construction, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

How Exciting Can a Bathrobe Be?

Or – Who Is That Woman in our Kitchen? After well over twenty years of wearing the same ratty old bathrobe (well, it wasn’t old or ratty when I first started wearing it, but the years took their toll on it), I now have a new one. I will admit to being almost unrecognizable in the mornings and evenings now, as I float through the house in my new attire – leading my husband to wonder if a new woman is now making the morning coffee.

I found vintage Viyella wool/cotton fabric on eBay last year. Although only 35” wide, the length available was 5 ½ yards which I determined should be enough for a ankle-length bathrobe. Viyella is a lovely blend of 40% wool and 60% cotton, and it is machine washable. It is lightweight, but warm, very soft, and such a pleasure with which to sew.

The paper labels were still attached to this length of Viyella.

From four bathrobe patterns in my collection, I chose this one for its classic styling, including a wrap front and shawl collar:

I made a muslin (toile) to check on the fit, and then I used the muslin as my pattern, marking the seam lines onto the Viyella using waxed tracing paper.

Because of the narrow width of the fabric, and the need to be precise with matching the plaid in the fabric, I laid out my muslin pattern singly. I had to do this on the floor because of the great length with which I was working. Matching the plaid, although thankfully a very even plaid, took a lot of time – and time on my knees! Ouch!

One of the pattern pieces close up.

And here is one piece with markings transferred onto it. I am used to sewing on a marked seam line, and prefer this method rather than using set seam allowances.

I am always impressed by some of the subtleties in these vintage patterns. This one includes bust darts that descend from the shoulder seams. Also, two small back darts make the fit across the shoulders so much more precise. Both are clearly shown in the diagrams on the reverse side of the pattern envelope.

Click on the picture to see the details.

Also detailed on the pattern layout diagram is the slight flare to the front edges of the robe. I didn’t really pick this up in the muslin I made, but once I was working on the robe, especially in this plaid, which makes a flared seam more apparent, I was very aware of it. It is such a nice detail, making the wrapped front closure more graceful in appearance and offering just a bit more coverage than a straight edge would do.

You can follow the flare of the front edge by looking at the descension of the plaid.

A detail of the back neck edge.

I did make a few changes to the pattern. First of all, I used a fusible interfacing instead of a “sew-in” one (typically indicated on vintage patterns form the 1950s, as this one is.) I don’t use fusible interfacings very often, but I decided this would be a good application for such. I used “Heat n Bond” woven interfacing, ordered from fabric.com, and so far, I am very pleaded with its performance. Secondly, I added another pocket, as I like two pockets on my bathrobes. I also had to lower the placement of the pocket from the lines indicated on the pattern, which were inexplicably high!

Two pockets!

A third change was the elimination of the wide self-binding on the pockets and the cuffs of the sleeves. Instead I used a 1¼ inch self-binding which I cut on the bias. With all that plaid, I thought a little bit of variety would add a nice touch.

A minor fourth change was the addition of fabric belt loops, as opposed to the thread loops called for in the pattern instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the classic styling of this robe. The fact that I was able to use such a glorious fabric for it (contemporary with the age of the pattern, by the way!) makes it even more lovely to wear. Not only am I – yes – very excited (!) about wearing this new bathrobe, I also find it to be an unexpected, but wonderful change of persona for my early morning and late evening hours.

 

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Filed under Bathrobes, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Do You Do Pink?

Apparently, pink is a controversial color. Or maybe “was a controversial color” is a better statement. A recent article by Nancy MacDonnell in the Off Duty section of The Wall Street Journal (“Making Peace with Pink” February 11-12, 2017) makes a case for the appropriateness – and timeliness – of pink even for those who think they don’t like it. While I am one who thinks pink is always in fashion, it turns out that this Spring, it really is in fashion! According to Ms. MacDonnell, “On this season’s runways, pink predominated.” The different fashion houses showed varying interpretations of pink: Michael Kors was “brisk, All-American, [and] cheery.” J. Crew was “equally upbeat,” while Valentino showed pink that was “lush and romantic, with intricate appliqués and historical references…”   The list goes on and on. The unifying thread (pardon the pun), as claimed by the designers, was the lack of traditional “sweetness” associated with pink, with emphasis on the feminine power inherent in the color.

Looming large on page 58 from the November 2016 WSJ Magazine is a Valentino coat, quite traditional in design, but made very special by its stunning appliquéd pink wool.

According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the Museum Director at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, who was quoted frequently in Ms. MacDonnell’s article, the idea of pink as a feminine color did not take hold until the 1950s. Back in 1954 when Christian Dior wrote The Little Dictionary of Fashion, his entry on “pink” stated: “The sweetest of all the colors. Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe. It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”   He even used pink throughout his book for illustrations, chapter headings and the title page. He recommended pink “for blouses and scarves; … for a young girl’s frock; it can be charming for suits and coats; and it is wonderful for evening frocks.” Who can argue with that, be it 1954 or 2017?

The title page of Dior’s smart little dictionary. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY, NY, copyright 2007)

This page from the June/July 2013 issue of Town and Country Magazine gives an interesting timeline of the color pink, “how the color of little girls and baby dolls came of age”:

Click on the image to read it.

I particularly like this statement from Laura Vinroot Poole, the founder of boutique Capitol in Charlotte, N. C., quoted in The Wall Street Journal article: “To wear pink, you have to be an interesting and smart person… You have to have things to say. In pink, you can’t hide.”   Nor would you want to.

Personally, pink is my favorite color. I am always drawn to it, regardless of its hue. And its hue covers a huge range from palest pink to deepest fuchsia, from bubblegum pink to raspberry red. In thinking about pink for this post, I gathered this stack of pink fabrics from my collection. Just looking at it makes me happy!

From top to bottom:
1) vintage Moygashel linen, purchased on eBay
2) silk charmeuse, purchased from Britex Fabrics
3) vintage Moygashel linen, purchased by me in the 1970s
4) linen, possibly Moygashel, purchased on etsy
5) silk jacquard purchased from Britex Fabrics
6) silk charmeuse, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics
7 & 8) coordinating silks, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics

The only controversy I have with pink is deciding which hue of it I like best.

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Moygashel linen, silk, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric