Category Archives: Chanel-type jackets

The Essential Coat

How many coats do you own? (Not enough?) How many do you need? (More than you know!) Putting need aside, how many should you have? (Plenty!) In your sewing and in planning your wardrobe, do you give as much thought to your coats as you do to your dresses or pants or blouses? My guess is that you do not.

In our very casual world, coats seem to have taken on the essence of “practical” or “function over form.”   To me, this is such a shame, as I believe coats have an aura to them unmatched by any other garment. They are, after all, so often a significant part of the first impression you make when arriving at an event or party – or anything for that matter. A fantastic coat can also leave a lasting impression when departing such an event.

In her iconic book, What Should I Wear, Claire McCardell devotes an entire chapter to coats. Here is just a small snippet of her thoughts on the impression that your coat can make: “…Remember that a first impression often comes when you are wearing a coat. When you are interviewed for a job, you keep your coat on. Your future employer’s first impression of you may be based on the coat you are wearing.

When you walk down the aisle of a theatre, you are wearing a coat … your audience has already judged you and the most beautiful dress in the world cannot alter that first impression. Coats ride buses and subways and taxicabs…. A coat is not something to be dismissed lightly.”   (The Rookery Press, New York, New York, 2012, pages 61- 62.)

In The Little Pink Book of Elegance: The Modern Girl’s Guide to Living with Style, by Jodi Kahn, she writes: “Many an elegant look is spoiled by throwing on a coat or a wrap that is anything but . . . [I]f you think about the most elegant women you know, or those in the pubic eye, you’ll probably realize they have fabulous outerwear. In the ‘60s, Jacqueline Kennedy asked her designer of the day, Oleg Cassini, to pay special attention to what she wore over her clothes since she was always being photographed coming and going. Even if you don’t have to worry about getting your picture snapped around every corner, a few great coats will transform almost any [look.]” (Peter Pauper Press, Inc., White Plains, New York, c2005, pages 29-30.)

A beautiful coat can also hint at what is beneath it. One of the most elegant looks one can wear (and make for herself) is a matching coat and dress ensemble, where the two pieces are intended only to ever be worn with each other. Such a coat and dress often share similar style lines.   This Vogue Couturier Design by Mattli of London is an example of this:

Another example of a coat and dress with complementary style lines is this Vogue pattern:

And although the style lines of the dress and the coat in this Vogue Paris Original by Madame Gres are not matching, clearly the coat and dress featured in blue on the pattern envelope are intended as such an ensemble:

Here is an example of a formal dress and matching coat, sharing seaming details and clearly designed to go together. Would this dress be anywhere as exciting without its matching coat?

This evening coat makes my heart skip a beat!

Not every coat needs to match a dress, however. Here is a small sampling of coats, both dressy “dressmaker” coats and classy, more tailored coats, the prototypes of which have their rightful place in your coat wardrobe:

This is my original pattern from which I made the featured coat when I was in my mid-twenties. I loved this coat and only wish I still had it!

I am very anxious to make a coat from this pattern.

This is a beautiful example of a dressmaker coat.

Another dressmaker coat.

A coat better suited for everyday wear, but still beautiful.

One of the many catalogs we receive here at our home is the catalog from the J. Peterman Company. It is so creatively conceived and presented, with each entry reading like a mini story, and often evocative of other times and places. The “Owner’s Manual” (as the company’s catalogs are called) arriving during this past holiday season was no exception. Imagine my delight when turning the page to this entry for a “French Coat with timeless Parisian style.”

Click on the image to read its story.

But what really caught my eye was the caption at the top of the page: “I want to know the woman in that coat.” In a nutshell, that sums up the power of a beautiful coat. What fun to know that, as ones who can make our coats, we can also be the woman who made that coat!

And now, in deference to some of my readers who want progress reports on my Number Four Classic French Jacket, here are a few photos – and a short quiz for those of you who have never made one of these jackets, but hope to one day.

Here is the neckline, ready to be stitched.

I call this the “vest” stage. This is the front of the jacket . . .

And this is the back of the jacket.

It is always fun to pin the sleeves on quickly just to see a jacket taking form!

As you can see, all the machine quilting is complete. I’ve finished the interior seams as much as I can at this point. The next step is to insert the sleeves. Then I can complete the finishing work on the interior seams and the hems and get to work on the trim and the pockets.

QUIZ: How much more will I be using my sewing machine to do this work?

  1. a) only for the insertion of the sleeves
  2. b) only to make the pockets
  3. c) both for the insertion of the sleeves and to make the pockets
  4. d) not for anything

Back to Coats:  Are you ready to make one after reading this post? I hope so!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

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!

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

A Rosy Sewing Year

It seems that every new sewing year – at least for me – does not start right on time, as I am always finishing up a project from the month of December. Such is the case in this early January of 2018. However, that does not keep me from planning and dreaming about the coats and jackets, dresses and blouses to come. I can’t help but think of the new year at hand as a “rosy sewing year,” because the fabrics that are in my queue right now share a common theme – so many are predominantly red or pink or peach or floral, a bouquet of colors and textures.

First up is this red and black “hounds tooth” boucle which I found at Mendel Goldberg. Yes, it will be a Classic French jacket, with a sheath dress to match.

I am planning some variations in detail and trim for this jacket and dress, about which I am excited. It is a big project, so I hope January gives me lots of sewing time! No doubt this will spill over into February…

As I mentioned in one of my December posts, I hope to make a coat from this vintage purple boucle I am so fortunate to own.

A few years ago I found this silk charmeuse (also at Mendel Goldberg) which I intend to use for a coordinating dress with the coat.

Other silks I would love to concentrate on this year are purchases made several years ago from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco:

This is a French crepe de chine.

This silk helps satisfy my penchant for polka dots.

Then there are two linens I never got to in 2017, one a geometric red and the other a ecru and black floral. I assume they are waiting patiently for me. Add to all this my determination to sew for my two little granddaughters and – there’s the year! (And can I possibly finish another classic French jacket next Fall?  We will see.)

But let me complete 2017 first. Whatever made me think I should start (and could possibly finish) another dress for myself in December I will never know. But that’s exactly what went through my head. I had plans to make taffeta “Cinderella” dresses for my granddaughters for Christmas presents, but thought I would sneak in some personal sewing time before I started on that project. Perhaps it was the pattern that made me do it? Or was it the fabric?

When I purchased this pattern at the end of last summer, I really had no idea when I would be using it; I just did not want to miss the opportunity to own it, knowing that I would surely use it someday. Little did I know that someday would be just a couple of months later.

Now it just so happened that I had draped this fabric, below, over my dress form so I could admire it while I worked on other things. I purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg fabrics in 2016 as an end cut, three yards in length.

I knew with three yards I would be able to use a dress pattern which called for more than normal yardage, and I had found a pattern in my collection which I thought I would use:

My idea was to lengthen the sleeves to three-quarter length.

But something just did not seem right. I could not get excited about that pattern in that fabric, even with three-quarter sleeves. Well, I had one of those proverbial light bulb moments when it occurred to me to use the Guy Larouche pattern for the champagne-colored, floral silk. It seems to be a perfect match. The bodice of the pattern is cut on the diagonal, and the meandering flower and vine motif in the fabric lends itself to both straight of grain and diagonal placement. I made my muslin (with quite a few alterations) and was really quite excited about the draped back, shown here in muslin:

And here is the front, minus one sleeve. The front neckline is a bit unusual and I think it will be flattering.

I got as far as transferring the markings onto the silk organza underlining, cutting out the fashion fabric, and basting the two layers together, all ready to start sewing. Then reality hit like a sledgehammer! I had to get those dresses for my granddaughters finished in time for Christmas (which I did, after some frantic sewing – and they love them, which made it all worthwhile!)

Just in case anyone would like to see these dresses, here they are. Big bows in back, and the sleeves are adorned with little bows. Very girly!

So that’s how I am now at this point, finishing up 2017, with the hope of starting the new sewing year one of these days – with my Guy Laroche dress perched in my closet, awaiting its debut. May the New Year be rosy and kind to all of us, and may it end with many sewing dreams fulfilled!

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Linen, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, Sewing for children, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Jacket AND Dress!

One of the aspects of fashion sewing that appeals to me so much is how projects seem to take on a life of their own. By the time I have it finished, a piece rarely ends up being exactly how I thought it might be when I started it. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. (There are those flops, which are bad things, but thankfully this post is not about a flop.)

When I did the planning and started the construction of my recent Classic French Jacket, I really thought I would be making a pale blue linen sheath to wear with it, using fabric already in my collection. But somehow that pink accent in the weave of the boucle, the trim I selected, and the buttons, all conspired together and changed my mind for me.

Fortunately, I also had a piece of pale pink linen in my fabric collection (at this point, I might ask myself, what color linen do I not have in my collection? But let’s not go there….) By this time I had already decided I needed to figure out a way to show that gorgeous lining silk in my jacket, rather than having it solely hidden inside. Having seen accent scarves paired with Chanel jackets on Pinterest gave me the idea to make a scarf. Then I thought it might be fun to “attach” the scarf to the pink (planned) dress in some fashion.

I came up with buttoned shoulder tabs as a possibility. I had purchased eight small buttons for my jacket – three for each sleeve and one for each pocket, long before I had this idea. You might recall in my last post, that I decided to make the sleeve vents for two buttons instead of three? That’s where I found/got the two buttons I needed for shoulder tabs.

I ended up liking my two button vents!

The first tabs I made just did not look right. First of all, they did not turn well, with a pleasing curve And when I placed them at the neckline of my dress, all I saw were the seams.

I even finished the bound buttonholes before deciding I didn’t like these.

I had to think through lots of possible solutions and finally had a eureka moment when I thought of piping the edges.

Piping makes the sewn curve much easier to turn well.

So much better!

I placed the tabs slightly forward rather than exactly on top of the shoulder seam.

The rest of the dress was very straightforward, as sheath dresses tend to be. It is lined with a lightweight, cotton/linen blend, but I did not underline it, as I like to preserve the washability of most of my linen garments (easier without an underlining.)  It is also cooler without an underlining.

Being a lover of pink, I already had pink pumps that match the dress exactly – and a handbag which brings out the peachy part of the pink in the boucle.

The tabs on this dress give it kind of a ’60s vibe. Unintended, but kind of a nice touch to go with the jacket.

Because these two pieces – and this look – came together from so many sources, I think it is a good idea to give credit where credit is due:

Boucle: Mendel Goldberg Fabrics , NYC, gift from my grown children.

Soutache Braid and Buttons: M & J Trimming, NYC

Pink Petersham Ribbon: Britex Fabrics, San Francisco

Lining and Scarf silk: Britex Fabrics, San Francisco

Pink Linen: vintage Moygashel, 35” wide, purchased on Etsy

Cotton/linen lining for the dress: JoAnn’s Fabrics, purchased in bulk a couple of years ago

Shoes: Ferragamo, old!

Handbag: Kate Spade, also old.

I do love pink!

So that’s it! One major project now residing in my closet rather than in my sewing room. Time to start something new…

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, piping, Scarves, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

“Secret” Ingredients

Like that extra dash of nutmeg, which makes a dish sparkle in an indecipherable way, Classic French Jackets also have some secret ingredients. Except, they really are not secrets at all. They are, however, a few of the components which help to make these jackets so “classic” and just a step above ordinary.

Before I get to those details, however, let me show you my finished – yes, finished! – jacket.

To start with, one of the main features of a classic French jacket is the three-piece sleeve. The seam placed along the center point of the shoulder and running down along the outside of the arm does two things: it allows for the all-important vent and it provides a gentle curved shaping of the sleeve. The under-sleeve piece, which straddles the underarm area reduces bulk in the lower armscye and also contributes to the shaping of the sleeve.

The depth and width of the extension on the vent is entirely subject to the decision of the dressmaker. I opted to make my vents and their extensions suitable for two buttons. I originally planned on making a three-button vent, but I changed my mind, for reasons you will see in a future post.

Probably the most visible component of one of these jackets is the trim. This is such a personal choice, and the selection of the trim can really change the entire complexion of the jacket. As you all may know by now, I decided to use a layer of Petersham ribbon under the braid I selected. Once the Petersham was on, and I had started applying the soutache braid, I took this picture to illustrate how combining two layers of trim can effect such a different look.

On this jacket I placed my trim right on the outside edges of the parts being adorned, but this is also a personal choice.   Yes, there are “rules” to making these jackets, but the way you trim your jacket is not one of them! I also like to apply my trim after the interior of the jacket is finished, but I have seen a number of very successful jackets where the trim was applied before the edges were finished in the interior.

In the Classic French Jacket Class I took with Susan Khalje a few summers ago (which I cannot recommend highly enough!), she made the point that a lot of couture jackets are hemmed slightly longer in back, allowing for a gentle curve that is flattering and feminine. I love this look and used it again for this jacket. I think it is particularly effective with contrasting trim.

The gentle slope of the back hem is a little more apparent in this side view.

Obviously the trim has to have a starting point and an ending point somewhere on the jacket, right? Common sense tells us it should be in the most inconspicuous place – which, for the most part, happens to be in the side seam under your non-dominant arm. I am right-handed, so I made my starting and ending spot under my left arm.

I decided to make a double continuous loop of the soutache braid in order to reduce the bulk at the beginning and ending spot. Here you can see how I looped it in order to apply it this way.

From a little farther away, it is barely perceptible. By the way, do you see how that pocket is buckling?  I realized I had sewn the button on a little too low, so I had to do that over.  Seems there is always something to “tweak” at the end!

Because the boucle I used for this jacket is more of a lightweight weave, I decided I needed to anchor the buttons in some way. So I sewed them on (with waxed and ironed, double thread, of course), attaching them on the lining side with small white buttons.

While we are looking inside, here are photos of the jacket turned inside out.

I did not make any attempt to “match” the print because I did not think it would have made any difference.

Another key, necessary ingredient to one of these jackets is the chain which weights the jacket and keeps it looking neat and tidy. Sewing on the chain has to follow the Goldilocks rule: not too tight and not too loose.

I chose a silver-toned chain for this color combination.

The lining fabric I used for this jacket is such a lovely silk twill print. It seems a shame to hide such a beauty on the inside, although the interiors of these jackets are one of their most delightful secret ingredients. You will, however, be seeing more of this silk, along with photos of me wearing my jacket – all in a post to come soon!

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Linings, Uncategorized

More on Making a Classic French Jacket

What more can be said about the process of making a classic French jacket? Well, actually, quite a lot! These jackets look deceptively simple (and elegant) when finished, but their looks belie the hours involved in their construction.

One of their sneaky little secrets is the sewing of the sleeves onto the body of the jacket. The shoulder seam is one of the few areas of the jacket which requires interior reinforcement. The selvedge edge of the lining fabric can be used for this, but I prefer to use a selvedge edge of silk organza.

The strip of organza is sewn on the seam line by hand.

Once that is in place, the sleeve is ready to be inserted – all by hand! Pinning the sleeve in place accurately is so important, as the grainline of the boucle needs to hang perfectly both vertically and horizontally (and match, too, of course.) The top half of the sleeve is sewn from the outside with small, tight fell stitches. Then the lower half of the sleeve is sewn on the inside with small backstitches, both segments using waxed, double thread. If done correctly, the cap of the sleeve will curve nicely.

Looking at the sleeve head from the back of the jacket

And from the front.

Finishing the sleeve insertion is, for me, the last big hurdle to get over before the really fun part starts. That, of course, is the trim. I deliberated quite a bit over the trim for this jacket. I originally thought I would emphasize the blue in the boucle, using pink as a small accent. When I could not find a “demonstrative, stand-alone” trim I liked, I determined to use an underlay of Petersham ribbon, with a coordinating, narrower trim on top.

For those of you who are not familiar with Petersham ribbon, take a look at this cover from Threads Magazine, May 2016.

In the accompanying article by Susan Khalje, one of her suggestions is to use Petersham ribbon to frame a trim.

I used Petersham ribbon on my last French Jacket, and was really delighted with the effect.

Red Petersham ribbon under the frilly trim gives it more dimension.

The more I looked at the blue, the more I thought it did not give the effect I wanted. I then decided to try Petersham ribbon in a pink hue.

There are actually two pinks in the weave of the boucle, one peachy and one clear pink. Doing the trim this way brings out both hues, which I really like.

The Petersham ribbon is peachy, while the soutache trim has a clear pink intertwined with white and navy blue. The buttons take either hue!

Of course, this application of trims means four times around the perimeter of the jacket by hand to apply first the Petersham and then the double row of soutache trim. I never make things easy. Is it any wonder this jacket isn’t finished yet?

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

Out of the Chaos …

It is not all that unusual for a big sewing projects to begin in some sort of controlled chaos, whether it is unwieldy pattern pieces, or slippery fabric, or complicated instructions – or no instructions! But nothing quite comes up to the chaos that making a classic French jacket creates.

Two main things contribute to the chaos. The first is the nature of boucle fabric, which is the building block of the jacket. Boucle is, by nature, a loosely woven, sometimes wildly variegated fabric. The loose weave is what gives it the ability to be quilted “invisibly” to its lining. But, it is also what makes the fabric fray so easily, demanding careful handling throughout the construction process.

Then there is that quilting process. To say that the construction of this type of jacket is unconventional is an understatement. Once one has her fashion fabric (boucle) pieces thread traced and cut out, the lining is cut to conform to the shape of each individual jacket and sleeve piece. Then, the lining is quilted onto the boucle following  guidelines (selected by you!), but dictated by the boucle.

A ruler and pins help me determine where my quilting lines should be, generally about an inch apart from each other and set in an inch from the side seams.

Quilting with a walking foot.

The ends of the quilting lines stop a couple of inches from the top and bottom of the marked seam lines, and the loose threads are fished into the inside and tied off, each one with three loops to secure the knot.

Although it is difficult to see, here is the tying off of one quilting line in-between the two layers.

How strange is this? Then the edges of the lining are hanging loose while you proceed to sew the seams of the boucle. I pin the edges of the lining back in order to make this process a little more orderly, but it is still kind of a mess.

One of the sleeves, quilted, with its lining pinned back.

I have a great advantage in making this jacket, in that I have a muslin pattern which I know fits me well. Knowing this allows me the option of finishing the sleeves before I do the main part of the jacket, and that is what I have done.

I have finished off two of the three sleeve seams here before sewing the final, third seam.

All the sleeve seams are now sewn, and I am about to finish attaching the lining at the cuff ends of the sleeves.

I also decided once again to make slot-seam buttonholes on the sleeves and at the center front.

Here is the extension on the sleeve cuff. Normally cut as one with that section of the sleeve, I make it a separate piece so that I can leave two openings for the buttonholes. If you look closely at this photo, you can see the slots for the buttonholes.

This shows the extensions for the buttonholes.

Two finished sleeves, except for the trim, of course.

Now, here is a diagram of what I do to make the slot-seam buttonholes for the front of the jacket.

It is important to know how much width you need for your trim and buttons before deciding the width of that extra extension piece sewn onto the front. In this case, I determined I needed a piece with a finished (not including seam allowances) width of 1¼“. Then I proceeded to sew the seams together.

The body of the jacket really looks like chaos here!

Gradually the chaos will begin to be tamed as I hand-stitch the edges of the lining in place.

Perhaps the eventual control of such chaos is what helps to make the construction of these types of jackets so appealing. It is a good thing to remember that the creative process can be messy and tedious and very time-consuming. Sometimes, as in life, you just have to see it through to the other side to be able to appreciate the journey.

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized