Tag Archives: Susan Khalje Couture

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

Number Four – But Who’s Counting?

One of my more fortuitous undertakings upon my return to fashion sewing early in the current decade was learning how to make a Classic French Jacket. I traveled to Baltimore, Maryland (USA) to take one of Susan Khalje’s week-long classes devoted to this iconic fashion, and I never looked back. As soon as I had finished my first one, I could not wait to start another one and then another one.

From left to right, my first, second and third jackets. I made a sheath dress out of the charmeuse lining fabric for the first jacket: a blouse for the second jacket, again out of the lining silk; and a coordinating linen dress and silk scarf for the third jacket.

Choosing and applying trim is one of my favorite parts in the process of making these jackets.

Of course, the Classic French Jacket is based on Coco Chanel’s original 1920s’ cardigan jacket, updated and reintroduced as the “Chanel suit” when she reopened her couture house in 1954. A “Chanel suit” usually “consisted of two or three pieces: a cardigan style jacket, weighted with her trademark gilt chain stitched around the inside hem, a simple easy-to-wear skirt, worn with a blouse, the blouse fabric coordinated with the jacket lining.” (The Saint James Fashion Encyclopedia by Richard Martin, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, c1997, page 81.) As I have said before, “Only Chanel is Chanel.” But a classic Chanel jacket is undeniably the prototype for the Classic French Jacket.

What a succinct and perfect “thumbnail” description of a Chanel Jacket. (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 2010, page 65.)

It is such a clever design, with some basic building blocks: 1) boucle fabric, the “sponginess” of which is necessary to help hide those quilting stitches which hold it to its silk lining fabric, 2) coordinating charmeuse/silk for that lining, 3) coordinating or contrast trim/trims, 4) usually fasteners of some sort, 5) a weighted chain for the hem, and 6) a pattern which includes three piece sleeves. One of its main charms, particularly for dressmakers, is the opportunity it gives to make a unique, creatively conceived jacket, whose “heritage” is nonetheless instantly recognizable.

As planned, after finishing my “Champagne Dress” in the first half of January, I brought out my red and black houndstooth boucle to get started on my fourth classic French jacket.

I decided to use plain black charmeuse for the jacket lining. I also plan to make a sheath dress out of the boucle to match the jacket. And I am quite excited to have found this trim!

As luck and life would have it, I then ran into a “snag” for three weeks, which I will not go into, but suffice it to say, I have just returned, finally, to serious work on this jacket. So – I am little behind where I wanted to be – but excited to see some progress and enjoying the process very much.

The quilting is complete, and now onto sewing the seams and finishing them.

Because I have written about making these jackets in previous posts, I certainly do not want to bore my readers with more of the same. To help fill the “space,” I plan to do a couple posts about other sewing and fashion subjects near and dear to my heart – and maybe a few updates on Number Four, too!


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

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

“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

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.


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