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

A Detour through the Strawberry Patch

Sewing on more than one project at a time is, I guess, a form of multi-tasking. Although I believe I am like most women in that I am good at multi-tasking, I prefer not to do so with sewing. I like to work on one thing at a time, but sometimes, life just doesn’t lend itself to such discipline. Such has been the case with the hours I have spent sewing, not on my Classic French Jacket, but on two little dresses – birthday dresses! – for my two little granddaughters. I know they won’t always want to wear sister dresses, so I am anxious to sew such things for them while they might still think it is fun. And if that means I need to steal some hours away from my personal sewing, then that’s what happens.

Spring birthdays are lovely as it means I get to sew with cheery cottons and make little puffed sleeve dresses with big sashes in back. I was especially inspired this year with a 5+ yard length of vintage fabric I purchased from an Etsy shop a couple of years ago.

A strawberry print cotton for two little Spring sisters

I knew this fabric was most certainly from the 1950s, as this type of print was prevalent then, as well as the fact that the fabric was only 35” wide. The more traditional width of 45” most of us are used to, did not become commonplace until about 1960. To corroborate my suspicions, I saw this dress on Pinterest:

Sold as a vintage 1950s’ dress, it is edged with rickrack.

Although this fabric would probably have been used for adult fashions in the 1950s, I found it to be perfect for little girls’ dresses in 2017. Not only that, I found these vintage strawberry buttons which just seemed to be made to go with the fabric!

The Etsy store from which I purchased these buttons indicated they are from the 1960s. They are hand-painted and quite small.

I started with a (new) pattern I have used before, and made new copies of the sizes I needed for my two little ones.

I used View C of this pattern last year for another birthday dress, but obviously made some apparent changes to it for these dresses.

I knew I wanted to make the collars and sleeve bands out of white cotton, and pipe them in red. I made my own piping out of cotton kitchen string and some vintage all-cotton bias tape I had in my sewing supplies.

I decided to add a bit of embroidery to the collars just to make these dresses a step above ordinary. I selected a strawberry motif from the fabric and made a drawing, which I then transferred onto the collars.

This is the dress for the 4-year-old.

This is the dress for the two-year-old.

On the back of the dresses, I added snaps to the edges of the collars to make them lay flat. They can be unsnapped for ironing or to wear a sweater, but it certainly makes for a nicer appearance,

When it came to the hems, I found that I had cut the skirt length for my older granddaughter just a little too short. I was pretty irritated with myself until I realized that facing the hem in white bias cotton actually looked better than if I had just turned up the hem. The strawberry print fabric is lightweight and the design would have shown through a hem which was just turned up. You can see this happened in the dress featured on Pinterest.

When it was time to hem the dress for my younger granddaughter, I had enough length, but I decided to underline the hem with white cotton to avoid that “see-through” of the design. So my mistake on the larger dress made for a better outcome with both of the dresses. (It doesn’t always work that way, does it?)

I sewed the bias strip on as if I were facing the hem, then turned it up again. This way, the dress can be easily lengthened if need be.

After doing a light running stitch by hand to secure the bias band inside the hem, I then turned up the hem and sewed it as usual.

Three little buttons at the front were the finishing touches for both dresses.

The larger dress…

…and the smaller one.

The back of the larger dress

And a back view of the smaller dress.

Interestingly, I had to do some strategic planning when laying out the pattern pieces on the fabric. While the design does not have an up-and-down orientation, there are spacing issues that I had to account for. For example, I wanted each bodice front to have a spray of strawberries in the center, with enough space to add the buttons above. In addition, the spacing of the strawberry sprays determined how the patterns for the skirts were arranged on the cloth, as I wanted a balanced appearance of the strawberry sprays, without any cut in half at the waistline.

Here I am trying to find the “sweet spot” for the design on the bodices when arranging the pattern pieces.  It was easier to do on the larger dress.  The bottom button on the smaller dress is a little closer to the strawberry design than I would have liked, but in order for the design to be centered as much as possible, I opted to go this route.

This is the front bodice of the larger dress, with a carefully placed central motif.

And this is the smaller dress, with a tighter fit for the placement of the buttons.

Sometimes it can get a bit boring making the same dress twice, but the quality of this silky soft fabric is such that it was an absolute joy to sew. And, of course, I was inspired by the thought of my two little girls dressed up and looking so cute! They seem to like their strawberry dresses.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Heirloom sewing for children, Sewing for children, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric

Timeless: The Classic French Jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allowing for wide seam allowances…

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

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

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

How Exciting Can a Bathrobe Be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the pattern pieces close up.

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

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

Click on the picture to see the details.

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

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

A detail of the back neck edge.

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

Two pockets!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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