Number Four – But Who’s Counting?

One of my more fortuitous undertakings upon my return to fashion sewing early in the current decade was learning how to make a Classic French Jacket. I traveled to Baltimore, Maryland (USA) to take one of Susan Khalje’s week-long classes devoted to this iconic fashion, and I never looked back. As soon as I had finished my first one, I could not wait to start another one and then another one.

From left to right, my first, second and third jackets. I made a sheath dress out of the charmeuse lining fabric for the first jacket: a blouse for the second jacket, again out of the lining silk; and a coordinating linen dress and silk scarf for the third jacket.

Choosing and applying trim is one of my favorite parts in the process of making these jackets.

Of course, the Classic French Jacket is based on Coco Chanel’s original 1920s’ cardigan jacket, updated and reintroduced as the “Chanel suit” when she reopened her couture house in 1954. A “Chanel suit” usually “consisted of two or three pieces: a cardigan style jacket, weighted with her trademark gilt chain stitched around the inside hem, a simple easy-to-wear skirt, worn with a blouse, the blouse fabric coordinated with the jacket lining.” (The Saint James Fashion Encyclopedia by Richard Martin, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, c1997, page 81.) As I have said before, “Only Chanel is Chanel.” But a classic Chanel jacket is undeniably the prototype for the Classic French Jacket.

What a succinct and perfect “thumbnail” description of a Chanel Jacket. (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 2010, page 65.)

It is such a clever design, with some basic building blocks: 1) boucle fabric, the “sponginess” of which is necessary to help hide those quilting stitches which hold it to its silk lining fabric, 2) coordinating charmeuse/silk for that lining, 3) coordinating or contrast trim/trims, 4) usually fasteners of some sort, 5) a weighted chain for the hem, and 6) a pattern which includes three piece sleeves. One of its main charms, particularly for dressmakers, is the opportunity it gives to make a unique, creatively conceived jacket, whose “heritage” is nonetheless instantly recognizable.

As planned, after finishing my “Champagne Dress” in the first half of January, I brought out my red and black houndstooth boucle to get started on my fourth classic French jacket.

I decided to use plain black charmeuse for the jacket lining. I also plan to make a sheath dress out of the boucle to match the jacket. And I am quite excited to have found this trim!

As luck and life would have it, I then ran into a “snag” for three weeks, which I will not go into, but suffice it to say, I have just returned, finally, to serious work on this jacket. So – I am little behind where I wanted to be – but excited to see some progress and enjoying the process very much.

The quilting is complete, and now onto sewing the seams and finishing them.

Because I have written about making these jackets in previous posts, I certainly do not want to bore my readers with more of the same. To help fill the “space,” I plan to do a couple posts about other sewing and fashion subjects near and dear to my heart – and maybe a few updates on Number Four, too!


Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, Uncategorized

28 responses to “Number Four – But Who’s Counting?

  1. I am never bored of seeing your work – even if it is another LFJ! The process is almost better than wearing them – almost – n’est ce pas? I love the red and black mix and look forward to seeing its progress! Enjoy!

  2. The trim looks perfect with this fabric. Please do post on the progress. There is always something new with each jacket.

  3. I too love to see these jackets. In my imagination I make and wear them, and in day-to-day life I seem not to, so am counting on those who do make them so nicely to keep the fantasy going for me!

  4. Karen Mizzi

    I don’t think it could be possible for you to bore us with the construction of a classic French jacket. In fact, now I’m inspired to go back and read your articles on the others you made. As always, thank you for the sewing love. 😘

    • Thank you, Karen . One of the advantages of writing a blog is the ability to read my thoughts on previous projects – and make connections to current ones. Your comment has reminded me of that in such a lovely way.

  5. Loraine

    I found your site recently and really enjoy all your gems – never boring! I would like to make a Chanel jacket and wondered if it would be too dressy for my rather relaxed lifestyle but now I’ve seen your latest I can imagine possibilities. I’m very excited that Susan Khalje is on her Australian tour right now and will be in our State, Western Australia, in March and I’m treating myself to two classes. She’s not doing the jacket one here but maybe one day…

    • I am so excited for you – Susan’s classes are wonderful and always inspiring in ways you cannot imagine. I am hoping to enroll in another one of her Couture Sewing School classes when she returns to the States. Thanks so much for your comment – and I firmly believe that these jackets are very versatile and definitely lend themselves to a more relaxed lifestyle.

  6. Nothing boring about your posts, whatever the topic. And a classic French jacket is always a treat. Some of us more remedial sewists sew vicariously through you. 😉

  7. Oh Karen, do give us updates, there is always something new with every project, and your experience and posts are a virtual workbook of construction tips and techniques!

  8. Beautiful jackets every one. And you can never have too many….

  9. Mery

    Blogging is a lot of work. We enjoy whatever you share. What you currently working on is beautiful.

    • Thank you, Mery! I am needing lots of light as I work on this project, but I do really like the red/black contrast in the fabric.

      • Mery

        I wish I could send you some of our summertime daylight. The dormant season here in the American Southwest includes all of August when we have 16 hours of strong sunlight. I was fortunate to have that whole month off and work only 2-3 days/week in September for 9 years starting in the mid 1970’s, and it spoiled me to have such a good sewing season. I look forward to repeating that pattern.

  10. Cheryl

    i so enjoy your sewing adventures, Karen since I am also a fan of vintage patterns. Many of my patterns I kept from many years ago and they still look fabulous when I select one to make today. One question relates to the trim selected for this gorgeous red boucle. Did it come from an online site? Would love you to share if this is the case. I have a beautiful piece of pink boucle just waiting for me to collect the trim.

    • Hi Cheryl! I found the trim for this jacket at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, CA.. Now, I live on the East Coast, but took a swatch of the fabric with me when we traveled to California last Fall. I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to select trim for these jackets online. I think you really have to audition the trim in person. There are so many variables that an online picture do not show. Britex has a wonderful selection of trims, if getting to that store is a possibility for you. Also, I have found trim in NYC at various stores which just specialize in trims, but once again, I have always done this in person. About those vintage patterns – I wish I had saved all of mine. I did save some, fortunately. And you are so right about them – they seem to be timeless, don’t they? Somehow I don’t see current patterns standing the test of time that so many of these vintage ones seem to.

  11. Such beautiful jackets. I love seeing and reading about every detail!!

  12. Patricia

    Hi Karen, I am a little late responding to your last post on the Chanel jackets. I like Donnalee’s post about imagining sewing them and wearing them. Was in the city last Friday (Sydney Australia) admiring the Chanel jackets in the store and mentioning to my friend about your post of sewing your own. When I arrived home I re-read your post and clicked on Susan Khalje to discover she is in fact in Sydney doing workshops that include making the Chanel jacket!! All those people lucky enough to have booked into the course will no doubt come away satisfied. Hard to think about Winter jackets while we are experiencing a heatwave!! I will continue to dream.

    • It is never too late to respond to a post, Patricia. I appreciate every one! Susan Khalje’s Australian tour is becoming quite famous! She posts on Instagram quite a bit from her classes, and it is so much fun to see what is being sewn by all of you talented ladies. I agree it is a bit difficult to sew for winter when you are in a heat wave. However, many Classic French Jackets are geared for warm weather; not all are woolen. They are all the stuff of dreams!

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