Tag Archives: French jacket

Paris in Baltimore – Part 1

It might be stretching a point to compare our Classic French Jacket Class, taken with Susan Khalje at her workspace just outside Baltimore, Maryland (USA), to spending time in Paris, France.  However, I could not help but feel that the twelve of us in the class were a small part of a continuum of dressmakers dedicated to haute couture, even if we were all sewing for ourselves!  Certainly the outstanding instruction we received and the techniques we learned are consistent with the standards associated with such fine custom sewing  – and with timeless, classic fashion.

A classic French jacket (or Chanel-inspired jacket) has certain characteristics and sewing techniques which are specific to it. Among these are:

1) These jackets are usually cardigan style, with the front edges abutting rather than over-lapping.

2) The fabrics of choice for these jackets are boucles or sometimes loosely woven tweeds.

3) The lining is machine quilted to the fashion fabric, but does not show because of the nature of the fabrics which are traditionally used.

4) The interior structure and integrity of the garment depends on this quilting and on extra-generous seam allowances (common in haute couture).  The only interior interfacing is a small section at the shoulder, front and back, extending down just to the lower armscye.

5) Shaping of the garment is accomplished by vertical princess seams which form the fullness for the bust line.  Darts are rarely used, but sometimes necessary (as several of my classmates discovered).

Here is Vogue 7975, which is the "go to" pattern for one of these jackets.  (However, as Susan says, the pattern is just a starting point.)  The vertical princess seams can be seen on these drawings.

Here is Vogue 7975, which is the “go to” pattern for one of these jackets. (However, as Susan says, the pattern is just a starting point.) The vertical princess seams can be seen on these drawings.

6) Hand sewing is used extensively in the construction and finish work on these jackets.

Our instruction began the day after our whirlwind trip to NYC to buy our boucle, charmeuse lining, trim and buttons.  Looking back on the week, it seems to me that the process can be divided into specific sections:  (1) preparing and fitting the muslin, and cutting out the fashion fabric and lining, (2) quilting and assembling the body of the jacket, (3) fitting, cutting out, and sewing the sleeves, and (4) all that finish work.  Although none of the techniques is difficult, it is all very time-consuming, and it can not be rushed.

To start the process, we all came to class with pre-prepared thread-traced muslins.  (I believe we were all using the standard Vogue 7975 pattern, details of which are shown above.)  The fitting process began with the body of the jacket, minus the sleeves.  (I quickly lost count of how many jokes were made during the week about our “vests”.  But on about Friday, the thought of making vests instead of jackets was beginning to appeal!)  Susan meticulously and expertly fitted each of our muslins, which was fascinating to watch.  When it came to deciding preferred hem lengths, we usually had a group consensus – collective thought for something like this is incredibly helpful!

Susan making adjustments in Diane's muslin.

Susan making adjustments in classmate  Diane’s muslin.

After marking and adding all the fitting changes onto our muslins, part of the uniqueness of the construction of these jackets became apparent.  Why?  Susan instructed us to cut out our muslins on the sewing line – and these pieces became our new pattern.  The extra-generous seam allowances would be added as the pieces were cut out.

Here are some of my trimmed muslin pieces.

Here are some of my trimmed muslin pieces.

Some of my muslin pattern pieces laid out on my boucle.  Notice the wide spaces between the pieces.  This allowed for very generous seam allowances.

Some of my muslin pattern pieces laid out on my boucle. Notice the wide spaces between the pieces. This allowed for very generous seam allowances.

A close-up of the same.

A close-up of the same.

Then we used our cut fashion fabric pieces as the guidelines by which to cut out the charmeuse lining fabric.  With these two fabrics held carefully together with pins, we were ready to machine quilt each separate piece, another technique (with lots of do’s and don’ts to it) which was new to most of us.

Getting ready to cut my lining.

Getting ready to cut my lining.

Sewing the pieces of the body of the jacket together had its own set of rules, especially as the loose edges of the quilted linings had to be avoided in that stitching frenzy!  Those loose edges were finally tidied up and joined together by hand, using  a fell stitch, which helps to make a lovely and soft interior.

Here is a side seam in my jacket, partially closed using the fell stitch.  Machine quilting can be seen on either side of this  seam.

Here is a side seam in my jacket, partially closed using the fell stitch. Machine quilting can be seen on either side of this seam.

By this time, it was late Thursday afternoon, and I was wondering how I would ever get sleeves put in my jacket by Sunday…  This was s-l-o-w sewing, but fascinating and fun and clever and precise.  I was loving every minute of it  (well, almost every minute.)

And those sleeves?  Part 2 will cover those little lovelies.  To be continued . . .

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Uncategorized, Vogue patterns

Shopping for Fabric

Are there any more magical words for those of us who sew?  And what if that shopping trip is to New York City to visit Mendel Goldberg Fabrics?  For those of you unfamiliar with this exceptional purveyor of the finest fabrics, this short statement in their recent (and first) ad in Threads Magazine will help to acquaint you:  “This family-owned business carries European designer fabrics, from French lace to brocades, boucles, Italian silk prints and novelties.  You’ll be amazed by their selection of imported couture fabrics.”

The distinctive sign for Mendel Goldberg Fabrics on Hector Street in NYC.

The distinctive sign for Mendel Goldberg Fabrics on Hester Street in NYC.

Well, amazed we were – all 11 of us who visited Mendel Goldberg Monday a week ago (June 24) on the first day of our class with Susan Khalje – The Classic French Jacket.  We were also just a little bit giddy (no, we were actually unabashedly giddy) as we viewed the treasures before us.  However, I am getting ahead of myself . . .

Arriving at the store after our 4-hour drive from Baltimore, we were enthusiastically and graciously met by Alice, the proprietress whose great-grandfather started the business in 1890.  Her daughter Josie works with her, and they are assisted by long-time employee Louis.  Also there to help us was Pierre, a young Frenchman who was interning with the business for two months.

Alice is on the right, in a pose seen often - cutting fabric.

Alice is on the right, in a pose often seen – cutting fabric.

Josie and Louis

Josie and Louis

Pierre shown here in front of all those luscious fabrics.

Pierre shown here in front of all those luscious fabrics.

Our mission was to find and purchase our fabrics for the week-long class.  Thus – each of us needed to decide on a boucle for the jacket, and a silk charmeuse (the preferred fabric) for our lining.  The quantity of boucle fabric which Mendel Goldberg carries makes one’s decision fraught with “how can I ever narrow this down to just one?”  Well, of course, being the intrepid shoppers that we were, many of us actually could not narrow down our choice to just one.  Is it any surprise that many more than just 11 lengths each of boucle and charmeuse yardage were cut that day?

Bolts and bolts of boucles and other fabrics.

Bolts and bolts of boucles and other fabrics.

Just a small sampling of the boucles from which to choose.

Just a small sampling of the boucles from which to choose.

More fabric under the cutting tables.

More fabric under the cutting tables.

And more bolts in the basement, which we were privileged to visit.

And more bolts in the basement, which we were privileged to visit.

A lovely houndstooth, tucked away in the basement.

A lovely houndstooth, tucked away in the basement.

Deciding on the lining fabric was as much fun as the boucle, and the exquisite designs, unique prints, and lustrous quality of Alice’s charmeuses are something to behold.  Truly, the selection is a testament to Alice’s good taste and her diligence in finding the best that is available in France, Italy and Switzerland, and shipping them home to her store in the States.

So many charmeuses from which to choose.

So many charmeuses from which to choose.

Susan helping with the "match-up".

Susan helping with the “match-up”.

Alice bent over more fabric.

Alice bent over more fabric.

Susan  with a beautiful charmeuse.

Susan with a beautiful charmeuse.

Classmate Diane's final selection of boucle and charmeuse.

Classmate Diane’s final selection of boucle and charmeuse.

Alice cutting the charmeuse I selected for my lining to be paired with a bright red boucle.

Alice cutting the charmeuse I selected for my lining.

Alice's father who still comes in to help.

Alice’s father who still comes in to help.

As we left Mendel Goldberg after two quick hours of shopping, I took a moment to view the beautiful display of fabrics in their front window.

Despite the glare, the fabrics still captivate!

Despite the glare, the fabrics still captivate!

More fabric on display in the window.

More fabric on display in the window.

Then we gathered on the street next to our van.  Our bounty of bags spoke to the remarkable, memorable experience of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.

Just a few of the bags that went home with us!

Just a few of the bags that went home with us!

Now that we all had in our possession the two building blocks for our jackets (the fashion fabric and the lining), it was time to look for the embellishments, namely the trim and the buttons.  So off we went to M & J Trimming uptown in the Garment District.   Walking into M & J was a little bit like walking into a penny candy store, only better (no calories and more selection)!  There were trims and people and sales staff everywhere, and it seemed like everyone was on their own important mission.  We certainly were!  With our boucle and our complementary silk charmeuse in hand, we each first needed to find the perfect trim to set off our jackets.  Although numbering in the thousands, the trims were arranged by color and quite logically, so that once we understood the system, we were each able to pick and choose several “possibilities”.  Susan was there to help us make final decisions – and miraculously, we could start to see a glimpse of the final look of each of our own unique jackets.

Red and black trims, waiting for my perusal.

Red and black trims, waiting for my perusal.

A view inside the store.

A view inside the store.

Classmates Sherry  and Carol being assisted by Susan.

Classmates Sherry and Carol being assisted by Susan.

The only thing left to do was pick out buttons.

The entrance to the Button section of  M & J Trims.

The entrance to the Button section of
M & J Trimming.

As an enthusiastic fan of unique and beautiful buttons, I was smitten.  The button displays went from floor to ceiling, arranged by color and type, again very logically.

Buttons and more buttons.

Buttons and more buttons.

As sewers, each of us is accustomed to choosing buttons appropriate to our garment. So – what fun it was to place different ones next to our fabrics and trims so they could audition for the final starring part.  With Susan’s guidance, wonderful suggestions, and knowledgeable nod of approval, we all left the store with little bags filled with  great and varied treasures.

Shopping for Fabric - M & J bag

So which of those treasures did I find for my classic French jacket?  I went with the hope of finding a lovely red boucle, which I did.  Paired with that remarkably designed charmeuse shown above, the red seemed to me to be set off most beautifully with black trim and black and gold buttons.

My trim and buttons - click on the photo to see them close-up.

My trim and buttons – click on the photo to see them close-up.

Boucle - charmeuse - trim - buttons.

Boucle – charmeuse – trim – buttons.  All set to begin my jacket . . .

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Uncategorized