Category Archives: Coco Chanel

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

Gazing at Gussets and Fashion Exhibits

We are almost halfway through the sewing year! Time for me to just keep plugging along, being grateful for any hours I can spend sewing – or dreaming about sewing. Lately it seems I have spent more time dreaming about it than actually accomplishing anything. But that’s not quite true. I have actually done a lot of sewing (I call it necessary sewing) – just not anything worth sharing. But that is about to change.

I am working on a yellow linen shirtdress, using this pattern:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

I am making the short sleeve version – but a little shorter!

I am really getting to be a fan of kimono sleeves. They were incredibly popular in the 1950s (and early ‘60s), and their construction varies according to the type of gusset used. The dress in this pattern has a gusset that forms part of the sleeve, itself.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

The instructions for inserting the gusset are quite explicit and interesting, I think. The first step is to work a “bar” across the point on the bodice where the matching point of the gusset is placed. I have actually never seen this done, but it makes sense as it reinforces that stress point.

Gazing at Gussets 1st diagran

I also like the double stitching on the interior seams of the gusset as shown in this section:

Gazing at Gussets 2nd diagram

Here is how the finished short sleeve is diagrammed:

Gazing at Gussets 3rd diagram

And here are some photos of the finished gussets on my dress:

Gazing at Gussets

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the underpart of the sleeve.

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the under-section of the sleeve.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

I managed to tear myself away from my sewing room for a few hours this week to go to see an exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (USA). Entitled Philadelphia In Style, the exhibit featured fashions either made, worn or purchased in Philadelphia, PA over the course of about 100 years (1880-1980).

Duskin - Exhibit title

All are part of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a veritable treasure trove of designer, haute couture and ready-to-wear dresses, coats, ensembles, shoes, handbags, and accessories of all types. The Exhibit has special meaning for those of us with Philadelphia ties, but universal meaning for lovers of fine fashion anywhere.

Although the clothing on display was fascinating and, for the most part, lovely, it was the numerous fashion illustrations, framed and lined up one after the other, which really caught my attention. They had all been done in 1954 for a specialty ladies’ shop in Philadelphia, called Nan Duskin. The most amazing thing is that each one had a swatch of the intended fabric taped in the corner of each drawing. Here is a sampling:

Duskin sketch - purple dress

The buttons were still in question for this dress – note the line in the upper right side “buttons?”

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

I love the saucy pose in this sketch - and the posy perched on the shoulder!

I love the saucy pose in this sketch – and the posy perched on the shoulder!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

Here are a couple of the fashions represented in the Exhibit:

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table "Irene for Nan Duskin." This was Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA.

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table “Irene for Nan Duskin.” (Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA)

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. the fabric is s ilk and wool brocade.

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. The fabric is silk and wool brocade.

The Exhibit did manage to include one of the most unattractive Chanel suits I think I have ever seen.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

But it was still fascinating to look at the cuff detail:

Duskin Chanel suit detail

One of the most charming displays in the Exhibit was a collection of hat boxes from the stores in Philadelphia which were the purveyors of so many fine fashions over the decades.

Duskin - hat box display

As a lover of pretty boxes and bags, I found this vignette not only delightful, but also evocative of the thought and care inherent in buying and wearing beautiful fashions. They reminded me of the same little thrill I get when a piece of beautiful fabric which I have purchased shows up in the mail, elegantly presented in crisp tissue and tied with silky ribbons.   It makes it oh-so-easy to fall in love immediately!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Coco Chanel, Day dresses, Dressmaker suits, Fashion Exhibits, Gussets, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Because We Can’t Spend Every Waking Hour Sewing . . .

Or can we? If you are like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about sewing even when you aren’t actively engaged in the process. And how fortunate, for those of us who also enjoy a good read, to find a novel which speaks the language of couture fashion sewing.

The Pink Suit, by Nicole Mary Kelby, was published in April of 2014, so it is not a particularly new book – it took me a while to decide to read it. I knew it was about the iconic “Chanel” suit which Jackie Kennedy wore the day her husband was assassinated in November of 1963. Although I am truly a fan of historical fiction, for some reason I had my doubts about the supposed story line of this book. Could an author really convey the emotional and professional commitment that a “dressmaker to the Famous” would have to have? Well, yes. I finally succumbed to reading this novel and I am so happy I did. This is a wonderful story, on three important levels – as a narrative story, as a lesson in fashion history from a very specific period of the 1960s, and as an appreciation of couture sewing.

The Pink Suit - book cover

The heroine of the story is Kate, an Irish immigrant dressmaker who works for the prestigious Chez Ninon boutique in New York City. Extremely skilled at couture sewing, Kate is always responsible for the creation of the fashions which First Lady Jackie Kennedy orders. Although Mrs. Kennedy’s tastes gravitate towards French style, she is savvy enough to realize that her clothes must be American made. So it is that Chez Ninon and Kate endeavor to provide her with the finest French styles, American made. As talented a dressmaker that Kate is, she balances between two worlds – that of the rich, famous, and beautifully dressed – and that of the “working class.” We do not find out until close to the end of the novel that Kate is exactly the same age as Mrs. Kennedy, which, for me, emphasized this dichotomy. (There is a parallel love story, in which Kate finally marries Patrick, who has a butcher shop business in Manhattan.) However, even though Kate is part of the “working class,” this does not mean that she does not want to dress as beautifully as those for whom she sews. I do not want to give away more of the narrative, but there is a wonderful scene where Kate is dressed in a couture suit and finds herself in the Carlyle Hotel where she deftly opines to herself “A woman in a beautiful suit can go anywhere.”

I love that the back cover of the book shows a hat and gloves - two essential ingredients to being well dressed in the early 1960s.

I love that the back cover of the book shows a hat and gloves – two essential ingredients to being well dressed in the early 1960s.

As a lesson in fashion history, The Pink Suit is beautifully composed. I learned things I never knew – such as Coco Chanel allowing line-by-line “copies” of her jackets and suits under certain circumstances. The pink boucle, the trim and the buttons for the First Lady’s suit were actually supplied by Chanel herself to Chez Ninon – at a hefty price, of course. Although Oleg Cassini was the “official” fashion designer to the White House, Mrs. Kennedy obviously had the ultimate say over what she wanted to wear – and what she wanted to have made for herself. There are hints in the book at the professional snobbery and envy, which certainly circled around some of her decisions. The inner workings of Chez Ninon are described with great detail, with especial emphasis placed on the two sisters who were the owners and “manipulators” of French fashion, done American style. (I was certainly thrilled to see a Chez Ninon gown in the Exhibit at Drexel University which I attended a few weeks ago. Although from a later period of time – and certainly not my favorite – simply the inclusion of such a gown speaks to the importance of this fashion boutique in the history of dress:)

Drexel - red Chez Ninon dress

How I would love to see the inside of this dress!

One of the more charming aspects of the novel is the inclusion of a “fashion” quote at the beginning of each chapter. For example:

From Diana Vreeland: “A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, & the sort of life you had lived before, & what you will do in it later.”

From Karl Lagerfeld: “Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.”

From Oleg Cassini: “To be well dressed is a little like being in love.”

From Yves Saint Laurent: “Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”

From Coco Chanel: “Adornment, what a science! Beauty, what a weapon! Modesty, what elegance!”

Finally, I cannot give the author of this novel enough credit for her understanding and interpretation of the thrill of couture sewing and appreciation of beautiful fabrics. One can feel the stress that Kate experiences when she is working on her “assignments” – the tremendous time involved in intricate, custom sewing, the dedication to excellence she feels for each piece. And when beautiful fabrics come into the boutique, the reader can almost feel the luxurious hand of each one, see the perfect color and imagine the beauty of it made up into an exquisite dress. There is one scene where Kate is given a piece of the Linton Tweeds “Chanel” pink boucle – and I could fully feel her overpowering emotion at receiving such a gift.

This book has actually been featured in Threads Magazine’s “Great Gifts” feature in the current January 2016 issue:

The Pink Suit - Threads

So – I suggest that if you have not already read this book, you do so. Give yourself a gift, or put it on your list – along with some pink boucle!

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Filed under Book reviews, Coco Chanel, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

The Second Time Around

Coco Chanel reopened her House of Chanel in 1954, and by the early ‘60s, her suit with its narrow skirt and boxy cardigan jacket, famously made from beautiful boucles, was a dominant fashion look.  I could not help but think of another product of the early ‘60s as I was working on my Chanel-inspired Jacket No. 2:  the song, written by Sammy Cahn and set to music by Jimmy Van Heusen, entitled “The Second Time Around”.  I wondered if making my No. 2 would be “lovelier the second time around”?  And you know what?  It was!  I give so much credit to Susan Khalje, from whom I took the Classic French Jacket Class, whose tips and teachings gave me much confidence as I tackled No. 2 on my own.

There were a couple of additions and subtractions I decided to try with my second jacket.  The easy one was deciding to have just two pockets rather than four.  The more involved one was deciding to add buttonholes to the front edge, the sleeve plackets, and the pockets.  However, I remembered Susan’s statements about making buttonholes in one of these jackets – and the reason she advocates in her class the use of “hook and eye” fasteners at the abutted front edges.  It is very difficult to make acceptable hand-done buttonholes in this loosely woven fabric, unless one is extremely skilled in this procedure.  Since the only hand-done buttonholes I am used to doing are bound buttonholes – not acceptable in this application, due to the type of fabric – I knew I had to figure out another way to get buttonholes in my No. 2.

Fortunately, I have an issue of Threads Magazine from June/July 1989 in which Chanel jackets are featured.  This picture gave me the idea for seam-slot buttonholes.

You can tell the buttonholes in this jacket are vertical, nestled between two trims.

You can tell the buttonholes in this jacket are vertical, nestled between two trims.  Pictured in Threads Magazine, June/July 1989, page 28.

I would just have to add on a separate piece for the right front, make each pocket in two pieces, and make the plackets on the sleeves separate pieces, sewn on with openings in the seams to make the buttonholes.  Here is an example of what I did.

The extension is sewn on separately, leaving three openings, evenly spaced for buttonholes in the seam.

The extension is sewn on separately, leaving three openings, evenly spaced for buttonholes in the seam.

Of course doing these extra pieces meant I had to apply separate linings to each extension.

Here is the separate lining piece being applied to the placket.

Here is the separate lining piece being applied to the placket.

The entire time I was quilting the jacket, working on the seams, and figuring out these buttonholes, I was pondering the trim.  Some of you may recall (if you read my blog regularly) that I could not decide between two different trims.

Here are the two trims I had chosen.

Here are the two trims I had chosen.  I really liked the fact that the spacing on the multi-color trim matched exactly the spacing of the red rows on my fabric.

Because of the lining fabric I had chosen (and from which I am making a blouse), I was leaning towards the red, white and blue trim, but I thought it looked a little “weak”.  What to do?  I started looking at as many pictures of Chanel jackets as I could find, but the one that made the light bulb go off was one from that same issue of Threads Magazine:

The Second Time Around - grosgrain ex

Click on the picture to see the underlying grosgrain ribbon.

If I could find a Petersham grosgrain ribbon in the right color, I thought it would be the perfect backing for either trim.  Once again, Britex Fabrics  (from which I had already purchased the boucle, the lining fabric, the buttons, and the two trims) came to the rescue:  I ordered 5/8 inch Tomato Red ribbon – and then paired it with each trim.

I thought the grosgrain ribbon made both trims look better, but especially the multi-color one.

The grosgrain ribbon made both trims look better, but especially the multi-color one.  Click on the photo for a close-up view.

I thought it added just the right amount of depth to the multi-color trim, and my decision was confidently made.

I sewed the Petersham ribbon on before I did the finish work on the inside lining seams.  Then the ribbon provided a wonderful surface on which to attach the trim.

The Petersham ribbon attached.  If you look closely, you can see the sea-slot buttonholes.

The Petersham ribbon attached. If you look closely, you can see the seam-slot buttonholes.

 I took this picture to show the contrast between the trims.  I think the multi-color trim adds more interest to the jacket.

I took this picture to show the contrast between an all red  trim and the multi-color one. I think the multi-color trim adds more interest to the jacket.

So – here’s the jacket (shown on my dress form for now.  Once I get the matching blouse finished, I’ll “model” it for you.)

No 2

Back view, obviously!

Back view, obviously!

No 2

Details, details!

Details, details!  Can you tell that I added a little length to the back of the jacket?  It makes for a more graceful appearance when worn.

Here is the bottom buttonhole on the front of the jacket - and notice the chain!

Here is the bottom buttonhole on the front of the jacket – and notice the chain!

There is no way to make this jacket quickly.  The extra steps I added (buttonholes and 2 layers of trim) added to the length of the process as well.  But – it was incredibly satisfying to see it turn out as well as it did.  I am grateful that I made this No. 2 shortly (well, within 6 months) after my first jacket, as it reinforced my knowledge of the process.  For my next one I’d like to add a “mandarin” type collar, as shown in these examples:

The Second Time Around - mandarin collar ex 1

This example is from Threads Magazine June/July 1989, page 28

I love this suit in houndstooth wool.  This is pictured in Threads Magazine, January 2014, page 44.

I love this suit in houndstooth wool. This is pictured in Threads Magazine, January 2014, page 44.

So when will No. 3 commence?  I don’t see it on the horizon yet, but perhaps when it does, the third time around will be … “the charm”.

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

No. 2 ~ The Beginning

I may – or may not – find Chanel No. 5 Paris Parfum in my Christmas stocking, but Chanel-inspired, Classic French Jacket No. 2 can currently, definitely, be found in my sewing room.  Well, actually, it’s not a jacket yet.  It is just lengths of fabric and loose trims and buttons, but that is how these things begin, as every home dressmaker knows.

I actually started planning this jacket long before I took the Classic French Jacket Class with Susan Khalje this past summer.  In September of 2012 when I was at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, I found this boucle and purchased it – even then – as my intended Jacket No. 2.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

My first jacket is definitely very dressy, so I wanted this one to be less so, which meant I had to find just the right lining, trim, and buttons.  It took another, recent, trip to San Francisco to produce those ingredients – and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I found again at Britex.

A bolt of this light-weight silk twill was tucked under one of the front tables, and it was love at first sight.  I was hoping to find something with navy blue in it, and the geometric pattern in this fabric makes it bold and less dressy than a floral silk charmeuse would be.

No. 2 jacket

The ruler will help you get a feel for the size of the squares.  Click on the photo for a close-up view.

The ruler will help you get a feel for the size of the squares. Click on the photo for a close-up view.

Immediately, however, I knew that I had to purchase enough for a blouse as well, which I did.  I suspect I’ll be using this pattern from 1957 for a blouse with a bow, which should evoke the correct Coco Chanel look. (A muslin should tell me if I need to tame the bow.  I don’t want it to be overwhelming…)

View B with long sleeves has my vote.

View B with long sleeves has my vote. 

With fabrics in tow, I then headed up to the Buttons and Trims Department on the 3rd floor.  An initial look at the red trims flummoxed me, as none of them seemed right.  Then one of the wonderful assistants in the Department came to my rescue and found these two trims.

No. 2 Jacket

Shown with the lining/blouse fabric...

Shown with the lining/blouse fabric . . .

... and again.

. . . and again. 

Back and forth I went between them, unable to make a decision.  It was then that I went to my fail-safe method of choosing between two equally wonderful trims:  I bought both of them! ( It certainly helped that neither was terribly expensive – and both very versatile.)

Now that I have them home, I am leaning toward one of them – can you guess which one?  Does it help to see the buttons, too?  Once again, the experienced button assistant quickly found these – and there was no question in my mind that they were just what I wanted for this jacket.

These are shank buttons, with gold decoration reminiscent of Chanel "C"s.

These are shank buttons, with gold decoration slightly reminiscent of intertwined Chanel “C”s.

And here with the other trim.

And here with the other trim. 

Well, as in so much in life, timing is everything – or it sometimes seems that way.  My timing could be better to be starting such a lengthy project.  It is, after all, one month until Christmas.  I have those proverbial stockings to fill and much to do, but I’ll just bet I can squeeze in some sewing time before my sewing room transforms into Santa’s workshop.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Boucle for French style jackets, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Paris in Baltimore – and Beyond: A Small Fashion Show

Shortly after I returned home from my Classic French Jacket Class with Susan Khalje, an article entitled “The Comeback of Haute Couture” appeared in The Wall Street Journal.  The reporter, fashion editor Christine Binkley, gives an overview – from the haute couture week in Paris, of course – of the frenzied and renewed interest in “astronomically expensive made-to-measure clothing [ranging] from $10,000 to $150,000 or more.”  Among the fashion houses showing haute couture collections was Chanel.  To quote:  “Chanel . . . looked as though the clothes could be easily worn, even if they were assembled, pleated, and embellished by dozens of ‘petite mains,’ as haute couture seamstresses are called. ‘Of course it’s comfortable.  It’s Chanel,’ said designer Karl Lagerfeld . . .”

“Comfortable” is a description frequently used by those of us making our own Chanel-inspired jackets.  Of course, everyone knows that the inspiration for Coco Chanel’s original cardigan jacket came when she cut her lover’s cardigan sweater down the front, added some ribbon trim and created a classic.  How the construction of the jacket went from sweater to quilted, silk-lined boucle is unknown to me, but one thing is for sure:  these jackets feel as cozy and comfy as any old favorite sweater.  I think this was a revelation and lovely surprise to all of us.  It makes wearing them all the more rewarding.

And – wear them we are starting to do!  Some of my classmates have kindly given me permission to show their finished jackets here on Fifty Dresses.  I am delighted to share these lovely examples made by “petite mains” Joanne, Holly, Myra, and Sherry:

Joanne’s classic black jacket is elegant and so versatile.  Her lovely floral lining fabric does not show, but trust me that is stunning.

A simply lovely jacket!

A simply lovely jacket!

Holly’s jacket has sparkle to it, just like her!

Look at the beautiful lining that Holly chose.

Look at the beautiful lining that Holly chose.

Isn't this color perfect for Holly?

Isn’t this color perfect for Holly?

The buttons which Holly chose are perfect!

The buttons which Holly chose are perfect!

With a few scraps left over from her lining, Holly made a color-blocked shell to wear with her jacket!

With a few scraps left over from her lining, Holly made a color-blocked shell to wear with her jacket.

Myra’s horizontally and unevenly striped boucle caused some minor headaches during the pattern placement, but look how beautifully it turned out.

Looking lovely even in the hot sun!

Looking lovely even in the hot sun!

Myra's jacket - 2

Myra's whimsical lining fabric features images of Audrey Hepburn.  She brought this fabric with her to Baltimore and chose her boucle accordingly.

Myra’s whimsical lining fabric features images of Audrey Hepburn. She brought this fabric with her to Baltimore and chose her boucle accordingly.

Sherry chose a creamy white, loosely woven “windowpane” boucle for her jacket, and the result is pure loveliness.

Isn't this beautiful??

Isn’t this beautiful??

Sherry very cleverly made her pockets on the bias.  The petite buttons are just right for the weave of the fabric.

Sherry very cleverly made her pockets on the bias. The petite buttons are just right for the weave of the fabric.

Look how well Sherry's jacket fits.

Look how well Sherry’s jacket fits. 

One of the many fun aspects of the class was the color variety of jackets being sewn.  While there were other deep shades (raspberry pink, royal blue, true purple) I was the only one making a red jacket.

For starters, here is my jacket hanging.

For starters, here is my jacket hanging.

A few details.

A few details.

A view of the lining.

A view of the lining.

Shown with basic black.

Shown with basic black.

I can't believe it's finished!

I can’t believe it’s finished!

I added a gradual 1/4" to the back length, which gives it a more graceful line, I think.  This was one of Susan's many excellent suggestions.

I added a gradual 1/4″ to the back length, which gives it a more graceful line, I think. This was one of Susan’s many excellent suggestions.

Red Chanel jacket

There is nothing shy about this lining fabric!

There is nothing shy about this lining fabric!

During the lengthy process of making my jacket, I have had lots of time to reflect on some of its charms:

1) Boucle is wonderful for hand-sewing, as one’s stitches simply disappear into the fabric.

2) This is “common sense” sewing: every step (of which there are many) adds in subtle or significant ways to its wear-ability, appearance, or fit.

3) Finishing a project like this is empowering.  I felt like I grew as a “dressmaker” during this process.  And beware . . .

4) Finishing a project like this is addictive.  Yes, I already have a boucle for my next one . .

However, before I start my next one, I have one thing to (start and) finish:   That charmeuse I used for the lining?  I purchased enough to make a sleeveless sheath dress to wear with my jacket.

What was I thinking??

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, couture construction, sewing in silk, Uncategorized

A “Little” More on Chanel

Coco Chanel has been the fascinating, and sometimes controversial, subject of many, many biographies, several of which I have read.  However, none has charmed me quite the way Different Like Coco has.  This delightful slim book by Elizabeth Matthews is written for the 5 – 9 group.  Now, I don’t mean the fun-loving cocktail ladies, who start sipping at 5:00 PM and finally get to dinner at 9:00.  No, this group is the age-group of 5 – 9, meaning the “little” ones.  Yes, this is a children’s book, a small biography of Coco Chanel, with expressive illustrations, and text which strikes a good balance between simplicity and sophistication.

This bright yellow book jacket hints at the lively story inside.

This bright yellow book jacket hints at the lively story inside.

Different Like Coco was published in 2007 by Candlewick Press, a children’s book publisher located in Massachusetts.  I became acquainted with the newly-minted book when I read a review of it in The Wall Street Journal, by Meghan Cox Gurdon.  Being a “pushover” for all things about the fashion and creative sense of Coco Chanel, I ordered my own copy from Amazon.  (Little did I ever imagine that 6 years later, I would have my own little granddaughter who might just hear this book read to her – oh, who knows how many times?)

On one level, the book is purely biographical, emphasizing Chanel’s childhood spent in poverty – which she did not allow to define her.  The later part of her childhood was spent in a convent, and it was there where she learned to sew.

The author's charming illustration of Coco as a child with her sewing.

The author’s charming illustration of Coco as a child with her sewing.

Those sewing skills were the “mechanical” ticket to her success, while her creativity, her determination, her hard work and her daring flounting of convention set her apart from others of her age.

Coco's creativity on display.

Coco’s creativity on display.

The story emphasizes these characteristics for the young readers of this book, which makes it more than a biography.  Indeed, these characteristics are treated as inspirational, which they certainly can be to children.

Some of the more controversial aspects of Chanel’s life are handled discreetly, so that the opening of her first shop and the creation of the classic cardigan jacket (made from one of her lover’s sweaters) are seamless chapters in her life story.

A classic created anew!

A classic, created anew!

For the adult reader of this sweet book, there are two features which I guarantee will be read again and again.  One is the “Timeline” which is in the back of the book (accompanied by a bibliography, too).  All the important dates of Chanel’s life are succinctly listed, including the development of her perfume Chanel No. 5 in 1921; the afore-mentioned creation of her signature jacket, also in 1921, and her debut of the “little black dress” in 1926.

The other compelling aspect of this book is one of pure brilliance from a design point of view:  the lining pages feature a “running commentary” of some of Chanel’s famous and less-known quotes.

One side of the lining pages of the book.

One side of the lining pages of the book.

A sampling of her quotes about fashion:

“Fashion is made to become unfashionable.”

“A fashion that does not reach the streets is not a fashion.”

“Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.”

And some of her quotes about life:

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.”

“Luxury must be comfortable; otherwise it is not luxury.”

“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.”

And I so appreciate that this quote is placed centermost:  “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.  Aloud.”

I cannot close this post without a special word about the author, Elizabeth Matthews.  The book jacket has this short statement about her and her motivation to write this book:

Click on the window for an enlarged view.  PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT 2007, THE CANDLEWICK PRESS.

Click on the window for an enlarged view. PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT 2007, ELIZABETH MATTHEWS.

Thank you, Elizabeth Matthews, for making the life story of Coco Chanel an inspiring and almost magical tale for 5 to 9-ers of every age!

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