Category Archives: couture construction

Classic French Jacket – Number Four

Many of you, no doubt, are familiar with the “10,000 hour” theory. In a nutshell, it purports that to master something, artistically or technically, you must devote at least 10,000 hours to that endeavor (assuming you have a proclivity for it in the first place.) Well, cognitively I know I have a long way to go towards having 10,000 hours devoted to these Classic French Jackets, but it sure seems like I just devoted at least half of those hours to my current, just-finished jacket!

That said, I was aware of an interesting phenomenon as I plugged away on this project. I felt more confident in the process on this one – and more confident in my ability to execute it well. I noticed this especially when I got to the point of inserting the sleeves. The sleeves are, as many of you know, inserted entirely by hand. In previous jackets this has always been my least favorite part. For one thing, you are working within the confined area of the armhole, with lots of very wide seam allowances and “flapping” fabric. It is messy, but precision is necessary to get a beautiful shoulder line and a sleeve that fits well and feels comfortable.   This time it did not feel like an imperfect process; I actually felt like I knew what I was doing!

Getting ready to insert one sleeve.

Voila! It’s in.

Perhaps another of the clues to my feeling more confident in the process of this jacket is the fact that I felt I could take it in a little bit of a new direction. The most obvious departure from the norm is the fact that it has no buttons. Having seen some of the real Chanel jackets in my Pinterest feed that are embellished with bows instead of buttons, gave me the idea to change up this jacket. I really like bows, and I thought using bows would be the perfect foil to this rather regular, non-whimsical hounds-tooth boucle.

I also decided I would eliminate the sleeve extensions and go for curved hems, set off by the trim alone – no bows even for this professed lover of them, as I thought that would be just too much.

Before the trim is applied.

Here is what it looks like on the inside.

Another guiding principle I used for the embellishment of this jacket is the fact that I am planning a matching sheath dress for it. Obviously I want the two pieces to complement each other beyond the shared fabric, so the dress will be trimmed in a manner coordinating with the jacket. (These details will be shared in a future post when I have the dress underway. Eternally optimistic here!) Anyway, envisioning the jacket and dress worn together led me to add both the waistline trim and the trim above the bust (which is across the front only.)

First some details on the waistline trim: I set the pockets to follow this line; the trim is continuous across the top of the pockets (which pick up the curved hems of the sleeves.) I gradually dipped the back edge of the jacket by ½ inch in the center back (a couture technique I picked up from Susan Khalje) and had the waistline trim follow that contour, which I think adds a very graceful look.

I sewed the pocket linings by machine, as that gave the curved dip a better turn. I sewed first along the stitching lines and then cut the curve.

The slightly curved back of the jacket.

Second, I decided I needed the trim across the upper bust as an anchor for the bow I had planned. Obviously I had to set this trim in place before I inserted the sleeves.

The left sleeve pinned in place, the trim already applied.

It was a difficult decision for me to forego a printed lining for this jacket, but I am so glad I did. The black charmeuse has been tiring to work on for my blurry eyes, but it just seems right in this application. And just think – now I have an entire dress to concoct using more black lining!

The boucle is from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics; the trim is from Britex Fabrics, and the black silk charmeuse lining is from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

Until the matching dress is finished, a black sweater and black skirt will have to do.

A red handbag is just what this rather dark and dreary day needs.

I will definitely be ready for some bright Spring colors when this entire ensemble is finished.


Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Bows as design feature, Chanel-type jackets, classic French jacket, couture construction, Linings

The Champagne Dress

It is a fact of sewing life that the construction of some dresses is just more difficult and time-consuming than other ones. This was a difficult dress to make and at times I really wondered just how long it would take to finish.

Before I go into the making of this dress, I want to put its pattern into historical context. This pattern is one of Vogue Patterns’ “Paris Originals.”

A former owner of this pattern made the notation about the bust enlargement.

As is obvious from the envelope cover, the dress was designed by Guy Laroche (1923-1989; pronounced Ghee Lah-rush); it is copyright 1960. According to the St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Laroche was a French couture and ready-to-wear designer who worked for Jean Desses from 1950-57. Desses was known for his intricately draped dresses, asymmetry in his designs and ornament derived from the “architecture” of the garment, according to his profile in The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia by Richard Martin, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, c1997, page 100. Bingo! It appears that Laroche learned well from his time with Desses and incorporated some of the same details into his couture designs once he opened his own fashion house in 1961.

I find it interesting that this pattern is dated 1960, one year before Laroche opened his couture house. Perhaps this statement in the Vogue Sewing Book from 1963 helps to explain how Vogue Patterns managed to obtain a Guy Laroche design before he had his own eponymous line:

Please click on the image to enlarge the print.

In any event, the appeal of this pattern, for me at least, was the asymmetrical draped bodice back and the tailored bow which anchors the drape on the right shoulder of the dress. It was also these details – and others – which made it a time-consuming project.

I made some alterations to the pattern before I even got started, as I wanted to eliminate some of the blousing above the waist of the dress. I do not have enough height to carry off too much excess around the mid-section, so I pulled most of the blousing into darts. Doing this made me rethink the instructions for the lining, the waistline of which was supposed to be sewn to the waistline of the dress itself. I assume the joining of these two elements was to insure that the blousing of the dress remained at the proper “elevation.”

The series of dots around the waistline indicate the sewing line to anchor the dress to the lining.

Having removed most of the blousing, I did not need to anchor the dress to its lining, so I left the lining loose.

This photo shows the loose lining and also the back neckline. Ordinarily, in couture sewing, facings are eliminated. However, in this case, knowing that the weight of the drape would be added to the back neck, I chose to use the facing to add more stability. I finished its edge with Hug Snug tape.

As you can see from the diagram of the lining (above), the back neckline is asymmetrical, to accommodate the attached drape on the bodice. I’m not sure why, but I found this rather confusing, resulting in sewing the lining together, first correctly, then thinking I had done it wrong, redoing it in what I thought was correct – and then realizing I had it right the first time. Fortunately it was easy to remove the stitching from the crepe de chine lining silk, but really? Three times? And then guess what this is?

Yes, this is a backwards back bodice!  Apparently I had flipped (or marked incorrectly) my silk organza underlining/pattern when I placed it on the fashion fabric, cut it out incorrectly and even had the underlining and the fashion fabric all carefully basted together.  When I discovered my mistake,  you can imagine my panic until I realized I had enough of the charmeuse left to cut it out again, this time correctly. Of course, then I had to baste it to the organza underlining for a second time. Tick tock, tick tock!

Things then went along fine until I got to the front neckline, which presented a quandary to me. From the instruction sheet, it seemed there was to be no interior finishing of it. It appeared to be a draped version of a bateau neckline. When I tried the dress on, it was uncomfortable as it pulled too tightly from the shoulders (which did not show up in my muslin).  It also did not look good. I decided the only way out of this predicament was to reshape it. I carefully basted and clipped and trimmed and clipped and trimmed some more (no photos of this, I am sorry to say. I was too intent on the task at hand to even think about photos!) But it all worked out. The front neckline certainly isn’t as draped as was intended, but I love the way it fits and looks.

The lining is not supposed to be attached to the dress at the front neck, according to the instruction sheet. In order to finish the neckline without adding any bulk (which would surely show up on that wide bias expanse), I stay-stitched and then catch-stitched the raw edge to the organza underlining. Not as finished a look as I would like, but it works well.

Another section of the pattern which did not present a proper interior finish for this very particular dressmaker, was the drape. It is partially gathered as you can see from the instruction sheet.

#7 shows the gathering of the interior drape.

As I did not care for a raw edge to be hiding under the drape, I decided to bind the edge with Hug Snug tape. This worked out so well and looks nice and tidy!

Besides these time-consuming corrections and additions, there were the hours of work involved in making the bow, attaching it to the dress, and making the belt. Then when I thought I was just about finished, I remembered I needed to add lingerie keepers, due to the wide stance of the shoulders. Okay, I thought. What else??

I have decided the belt is a little loose, so I need to reset the fasteners… What else, indeed!

What a good feeling of accomplishment to finish this dress and like it!

Here is a detail of the bow. I do love a tailored bow!

I haven’t worn it yet for any occasion, but when I do, I hope there is champagne involved, as I am going to toast myself for successfully finishing this one!



Filed under Bows as design feature, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Linings, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, side-placed zippers, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part 2, the Skirt

If I had known how lengthy a process it is to make a couture Guipure lace skirt, I would have chosen to make it before the blouse. Here I thought I was getting the more complicated part finished first. Well, I could not have been more mistaken! However, it certainly feels good to have both finished, although I may be in “skirt recovery” for a while!

The Guipure lace I used was some that I had purchased a couple of years ago. I liked the fact that the color from my fashion fabric – that coppery brown silk – would be a good contrast to the white lace. However, I did not consider if it was really the best choice for a Guipure skirt, due to the fact that part of the allure of these skirts is camouflaging the seams and darts. The light weight nature of this Guipure – and its very regular pattern – made it somewhat difficult to use for this purpose.

One of the first things I did was determine what selvedge edge of the lace I wanted to use for the hem. Once I had settled that, I had to decide how much of the fashion fabric to leave showing on the hem edge.

This selvedge edge is marked by some of the small daisy-like flowers in a horizontal line with the larger motifs.

And here the larger motifs are more prominent.I preferred this one, but I moved it up a bit to show more of the fashion fabric, in order to “ground” the lower edge.

From then on, I followed the Craftsy Class presented by Threads Magazine, with Susan Khalje teaching. Here are some pictures taken along the way:

Pinned in place, ready to stitch part of the lace covering the back seam.

In trying to camouflage the zipper, I chose to have a fairly substantial flap of lace on the left, to be snapped in place on the right. It would have been better to have smaller overlays across the zipper, which are much easier to handle.

The back of the skirt with all the lace attached and snapped in place.

All in all, the back of the skirt looks okay, I think.

And the shaping over the darts is almost imperceptible on this view of the skirt front.

I have one tip to add: when I was ready to insert the silk lining, there were many fuzzies and threads clinging onto the cotton underlining. I really did not want them encased in my skirt forever, so I quickly removed them all with a lint roller. Then the lining went in just as intended, followed by the Petersham ribbon inner waist band.

Here is the lining with its built-in drop pleat for ease of wearing.

View of the interior Petersham ribbon waist “facing.”

All in all, I am fairly pleased with how this skirt turned out. I learned so much from taking this course and making this skirt, and it probably isn’t surprising that I have a list of things to do differently the next time.

1) choose a heavier weight – or more substantial – Guipure, with a more intricate pattern. This should make it easier to hide the snaps and manipiulate the motifs in the lace to conceal all which must be concealed!

2) use a lighter weight cotton for my underlining. I felt the one I used was just a little heavier than needed. (It was some I found in my stack of quilting cottons.)

The underlining cotton. A little lighter in weight would be preferable.

3) leave 1/2” distance from the top of the zipper to the line for the Petersham ribbon. I left about 3/8” and I think the zipper is a little squashed at the waistline.

4) when I tried on the skirt midway through to doublecheck on the fit, I thought the waist was a little snug, so I added 3/8”. But once the skirt was finished, I found I really did not need the extra fullness. So next time, I’ll keep my original measurement! Hopefully I won’t need suspenders to keep the skirt from falling down.

5) next time I will definitely use a more exciting lining. I think this one is dull.

Now I have one more small thing to make for this outfit (with full pictures to come.)  But I have small on the brain right now as I need to do some sewing for my little granddaughters, making for a fierce competiton in my sewing room. I believe multi-tasking will be on the agenda.



Filed under couture construction, Lace, Linings, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

C is for Couture . . .

. . . And Courage. I guess “C” could also be for Craftsy, come to think of it. Although I thought I would be writing only one post solely devoted to my guipure lace skirt (when finished!), I really feel the need to address my progress and the Craftsy course which is leading the way for me.

When, just a few months ago, Craftsy announced a new class by Susan Khalje, The Couture Lace Skirt, presented by Threads Magazine where Susan is a Contributing Editor, I jumped at it. Susan has not only written about these skirts in Threads Magazine (November 2014, number 175), she has also developed her own skirt pattern – with one view expressly intended for a guipure lace skirt – and, of course, she teaches the construction of these skirts in her own classes, too. Now with this class on Craftsy, there is ample reason to feel confident in plunging ahead with the construction of one of these elegant skirts.

View C is the version intended for use with Guipure lace. Although this looks like a simple straight skirt, there are subtle details which make it a step above ordinary. For example, the side seams are set slightly back from the front. There is slight fullness built in at the hip; not enough to be noticeable, but enough to make it more comfortable for wearing. This pattern is available on Susan’s website.

I knew I could not go wrong with this course, but it is even better than I imagined. To look at one of these skirts, one could never imagine the amount of work in something with such a simple silhouette. About halfway through the lessons, it dawned on me that there are quite a few similarities between making one of these skirts and making a classic French jacket. Both have very specific, and unusual, construction techniques. Both defy many of the normal sewing rules. Both have a tremendous amount of handwork involved. And both garments go through a really messy stage – almost chaotic! – before emerging in their final manifestation.

Here is one of the skirts illustrated in the Threads article from November 2014.

The course has ten parts, and although it is a couture sewing course, Susan’s directions can be implemented by someone with no couture construction experience. However, patience is a must. She walks you through the making and fitting of a toile, followed by preparation of the underlining and fashion fabric (the fabric which peeks through the lace, usually silk charmeuse), then the sewing of the side seams (only) and hem. I had never worked on a skirt where the back seam is not sewn until so far into the construction process, but such is necessary to provide a flat surface on which to shape and attach the lace overlay.

Another example of one of these skirts, from the Threads article.

This is where Courage comes in. Shaping the lace to lie properly on curves and darts requires a good amount of snipping and clipping and cutting of the lace! This is not for the faint of heart, but once you get into the process, it really is logical and even captivating. Besides, as Susan says, if you make a mistake, you can always patch!

A detail from my skirt, with the lace pinned and ready to attach.

This is also the part that looks somewhat chaotic, with great flaps of lace waiting to be tamed, and a crazy network of tiny stitches emerging on the underlining, but invisible on top.

One section of the underlining cotton showing the maze of stitching required to attach the lace to the top of the skirt. Leaving the basting stitches in helps to orient the lace properly.

I am about ready to insert the hand-picked zipper, which will be hidden when finished.

Ready for inserting the zipper. This is a good example of the flaps of lace which still need to be “tamed.”

What an interesting process this has been so far. Susan has so much sewing wisdom to impart, and she does it in such an engaging way, that it is like having your own personal couture teacher right by your side. If you have ever admired these skirts and thought about making one, you will find this course to be invaluable!  More on my skirt to follow in the next post on Fifty Dresses.

These opinions are my own. I purchased my subscription to the course on Craftsy and have no affiliation with the company.  



Filed under couture construction, Lace, sewing classes, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

Linen for Fall

Although Fall is undoubtedly my favorite season, I find it the most difficult one for which to dress. Bright Summer colors look out of place, it’s not chilly enough for wool yet, and the days can be very variable. And although linen is usually thought of as a Summer fabric, I believe there are some linens which lend themselves beautifully to this time of year. These are, of course, not lightweight, or handkerchief linens. These are linens with some heft to them, which can be cool to the skin if needed and add some warmth as the sun goes down (sweaters help, too!).

I was fortunate to find a length of Moygashel linen on eBay several years ago, which seemed to fit this bill, especially in its color combination. What could be more Fall-ish than burnt orange, chestnut brown and deep navy, all set on an ecru background?

Moygashel dress linen was produced in a few different weights. The pink dress I made in early Summer was fairly lightweight; this linen is heavier, but still dress-weight.   It was 35” wide, which tells me it was produced not any later than about 1962 or 1963. (About that time, Moygashel seems to have switched to wider looms, thereafter producing 45” wide yard goods.) That “daisy” design also is a clue to its age of production, although it certainly does not scream 1960s. I had 2¼ yards so I had to find a pattern that would accommodate narrow fabric width and limited yardage. That pretty much eliminated the idea of sleeves! However, knowing how warm some of these Fall days can be, I was fine with a sleeveless dress. And I am an avid cardigan sweater-wearer, so I knew this fabric would lend itself to a pairing with a deep navy sweater.

With that in mind, I went searching through my pattern collection for a sheath dress with something more to it – and here is the winner:

This pattern is also from the early 1960s.

I really liked the half-belt, and the seaming detail of the bodice.

So I was off and running after making quite a few adjustments to the pattern for fit. I prefer to work with a 32” bust/34” hip pattern, but this was what I had. (I think if I make this pattern again, I will take it in just a bit more, especially in the bust.)

I considered adding some self-piping to the front seaming detail and around the perimeter of the belt, but I decided against it as I felt that would add too much bulk. So instead, I decided to top-stitch those areas.

Here is the front center seam detail. I used a light brown thread for the top-stitching.

I had this one lovely pearl button which seemed perfect for the belt with its concentric circle design.  I did a bound buttonhole, just what the pattern instructions called for!

The belt follow the lines of the front bodice.

I did a lapped, hand-picked zipper, and I also lowered the neckline just a bit in the front.

And note those neat shoulder darts. Why don’t new patterns have such necessary details?

I lined the dress with a very lightweight linen/cotton blend. I eliminated the facings and brought the lining up to the neck and armscye edges, as in customary couture sewing. Although I did not underline this dress (I have found that linen usually does not benefit from underlining in silk organza. Also, machine washing is easier without an underlining), it is still possible to tack the lining around those areas to insure the edges stay put!

I know I am always going on and on about Moygashel linen (which is no longer being produced), but it really is such a delight to sew – and to wear!

Nice with a sweater…

So there you have it – my first dress made specifically for Fall! However the story does not end here. With any luck this dress will have a starring role in a more complete outfit, which is going to have to wait until next Fall before I can get to it. Do you have any idea what I might be planning?



Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“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!


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?


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