Tag Archives: Susan Khalje Couture

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.

22 Comments

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

The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, Part I

Those of us who do fashion sewing sometimes have difficulty identifying what we do in a single descriptive word. A “sewer” (not those stinky things that go underground that happen to be spelled the same way) can be one who sews many different things, right? The term “sewist” is a somewhat new word, made up of sew + artist, which really doesn’t describe anything specific to my way of thinking. Most of us are not “designers” (and not all designers can sew), although most of us use some design techniques in our fashion sewing.   Some of us may be “sewing professionals,” a term which covers a broad range of endeavors, such as being a custom clothier, a sewing teacher, a writer about sewing, or even a retailer involved in the sewing industry. The term “seamstress” implies one who sews on a machine, as in a factory; although this person may be very talented in certain techniques, her job does not leave room for innovation or creativity. And that is why I like the term “dressmaker” so much. In one word it expresses many things explicit and implied. And although it is a term much used until the 1960s and not much since then, I consider myself a Dressmaker; maybe you do, too?

This wonderful Vogue book, copyright 1957, still used the term "Dressmaking" in its title.

This wonderful Vogue book, copyright 1957, still used the term “Dressmaking” in its title.

A dressmaker is one who makes custom clothing for women (oneself included.) She usually works from a commercial pattern, and then uses all her creative, design, and technical skills to create a one-of-a-kind dress, blouse, skirt, coat, etc. I have devised this ABCs of DRESSMAKING to define some of the important aspects and practices of dressmaking, especially in the couture sense.

D is for Design. This seems like it should be common sense, but it cannot be said too often that you should choose a design that is going to work for you. Unlike ready-to-wear that we get to try on, when we sew, we are working from patterns that we think will be flattering, but we really will not know until it is finished (a muslin takes some of the guesswork out of this, but not entirely.) Most of us have our own personal style that we know is flattering to us. Even if you want to diverge a bit from it (which is fine), it’s probably best not to go too far afield. Also, beware of trends that may not be flattering. (An example of this from a couple of years back is the revival of the peplum, a look that not too many of us can wear very successfully.)  When it comes to Design, choose one that is “smart for [many] seasons” rather than “one that’s soon outdated.”

The first page of the book pictured above tells the reader why she should be using Vogue patterns, but it also suggests some of what it means to be a "Dressmaker."

The first page of the book pictured above tells the reader why she should be using Vogue patterns, but it also suggests some of what it means to be a “Dressmaker.”

R is for Risk. Let’s face it, fashion sewing can be risky. We can be sewing with really expensive or “difficult” fabric or vintage fabric, which is now no longer available – or sewing with a complicated design/pattern – or making something for a very special occasion – and the outcome is entirely in our hands! It takes bravery, confidence in one’s skills, patience, and a willingness to take a risk to grow in our dressmaking, but the rewards are manifold.

One of the Dressmaking signs I have hanging in my sewing room.

One of the Dressmaking signs I have hanging in my sewing room.

E is for two things: Engineering and Embellishment. I have said this before, but it bears repeating – sewing is engineering. I love to read pattern instruction sheets, especially for something that is complicated, and I bet many of you do, as well. It’s fascinating to see how patterns go together, how different fabrics demand specific approaches to that process, how the pattern pieces need to be manipulated to fit one’s particular form. A well-engineered pattern is a beautiful thing, and it takes a sewing-engineer’s mind to know how to best bring that pattern to life in a stylish and successful fashion. It takes a dressmaker.

Another one of my signs, the first one I purchased and still my favorite!

Another one of my signs, the first one I purchased and still my favorite!

Embellishment is almost synonymous with the term dressmaker. “Dressmaker Details” include such things as ruffles and frills, ribbon, or braid, but also those little touches that add so much to a successful garment, such as well-chosen buttons, interior trims, non-boring linings, covered snaps, bound buttonholes (when appropriate), and the creative manipulation of, or addition to, a pattern to get the effect you want. A creative dressmaker can start with something basic and make it unique – and couture – by adding just the right embellishments or details.

S is for Seams. This is about as basic as it gets, but those seams must be sewn well and finished well for a successful finished garment. One of the techniques I learned in the couture sewing classes I have taken with Susan Khalje is, for me, the method to achieve successful seams. That is – thread basting along seam lines to use as your sewing guide, rather than relying on the seam allowance markings on one’s sewing machine.   This is the building block for successful dressmaking.  And then, finish those seams on the inside to control bulk and add to the wearability and durability of your garment.

S is also for Steam. As in ironing. A good steam iron is worth its weight in gold! Steam is useful in so many ways – here are just a few:   1) When sewing with wool or most dry-cleanable fabrics, a good place to start is steaming your fabric before you begin to lay out your pattern pieces. Even if you have pre-washed cotton or linen fabrics, a good initial steaming of your yardgoods will insure a better outcome. 2) Steam newly sewn seams flat to set your stitches before spreading the seam open for its second pressing. 3) Contours can be set beautifully with steam, especially when using a pressing ham and/or a seam roll, or draping your work-in-progress on a dress form.

Te Vogue Dressmaking Book has an entire section on pressing, with guidelines still appropriate almost 60 years later. Click on the image to read the page.

The Vogue Dressmaking Book has an entire section on pressing, with guidelines still appropriate almost 60 years later. Click on the image to read the page.

And then, S + S  is for Sewing Sense, which is what every successful Dressmaker must develop. This subject is so vast it warrants its own blog post sometime in the future!

So now I am halfway through the ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G. Part II is yet to come…

17 Comments

Filed under couture construction, Dressmaker forms, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Vogue patterns

Can a Coat be Glamorous?

And what exactly is glamour? A recent quote by Carolina Herrera – “It’s important for women to feel glamorous and feminine but always themselves” – prompted me to look up the definition of the word “glamour” – and I was surprised by what I found. Here is how Webster’s defines it in its noun form: 1) the quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, esp. by a combination of charm and good looks 2) excitement, adventure, and unusual activity, like the glamour of being an explorer 3) magic or enchantment; spell; witchery. And then there is the definition of “glamorous”: 1) full of glamour; fascinatingly attractive; alluring 2) full of excitement, adventure , and unusual activity: to have a glamorous job.

Glamour was the last thing on my mind when I started out on my current coat project. Making a muslin (toile) can be time-consuming and tedious, especially when it shows you that some serious alterations need to be made. Fortunately, my coat muslin revealed only some small changes to the shoulder of my raglan sleeve coat, compensating for my square shoulders. My go-to book to guide me through these complexities is Fitting and Pattern Alteration, by Liechty, Rasband, and Pottberg-Steineckert (recommended to me by Susan Khalje.)

I highly recommend this book.

I highly recommend this book.

One of the things I love about this book is that it covers all sorts of situations. Square shoulders for Raglan sleeves? Not a problem.

The diagrams take the guess work out of alterations to patterns.

The diagrams take the guess work out of alterations to patterns.

Once I had my muslin adjusted, my silk organza interlining marked and cut (to be used as the pattern for the wool), I felt like I was off to the races. Not so fast. A careful steaming of my wool fabric revealed three small “thin” areas (not holes, but thin enough that I would need to work around them). This is not unusual for vintage fabric, and is one of the reasons why a careful pre-steaming or pre-pressing of any fabric is important, but especially so for vintage goods.

I marked these small imperfections with yellow chalk.

I marked these small imperfections with yellow chalk.

And then double-marked the areas with orange post-its when I was arranging the pattern pieces.

And then double-marked the areas with orange post-its when I was arranging the pattern pieces.

After untold hours of basting the layers of silk organza and fashion fabric together, I was finally ready to sew.   And this is when I think it began to get glamorous. The first major details to be completed were the pocket plackets. I thought I might faint when I had to make that first cut into one of the side panels of the coat front. But bravery saw me through!

I have the placket catch-stitched temporarily so it does not get caught on something while I finish the remainder of the coat.

I have the placket catch-stitched temporarily so it does not get caught on something while I finish the remainder of the coat.

Here is the inside of the pocket and placket.

Here is the inside of the pocket and placket.

With the first pocket and pocket placket successfully completed, the second pocket placket was simply fascinating and alluring, my progress encouraged by the charm and good looks of the first one. Definitely glamorous!

Progress - both pockets/plackets finished!

Progress – both pockets/plackets finished!

More seams ensued, each one carefully pinned, sewn, pressed and catch-stitched. Particularly rewarding were the shoulder seams of the raglan sleeves. Properly clipped, pressed and catch-stitched, the seams lie beautifully and look good, too.

The benefits of a silk organza interlining (or underlining) are manifold, but not least of which is a foundation upon which to secure the seams.

The benefits of a silk organza interlining (or underlining) are manifold, not least of which is a foundation upon which to secure the seams.

A view of the back of the coat (in progress.)

A view of the back of the coat (in progress.)

Although I have many more hours to go with the construction of this coat, I can’t help but feel that not only is this coat going to be glamorous, with its elegant gray cashmere, its vintage sensibility and all its hidden, inside secrets used to tame those seams, it is also going to be feminine and definitely me.

Perhaps the next question to ask is “Can sewing be glamorous?” It is “fascinatingly attractive, full of excitement, adventure and unusual activity.” It is magical and enchanting, too. The answer would have to be, “Yes, sewing most definitely can be very glamorous!” Even when we are in our bedroom slippers and blue jeans, covered in threads and pins, if we are sewing, I say we are glamorous.

20 Comments

Filed under Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Does Sewing Make Us Smarter?

Could it be that while we are planning, fitting, pinning, cutting, stitching, (and re-stitching), we are also using skills that can enhance the ability of our brains to process information and solve complex problems?

I have always loved the fact that sewing demands so many different skills and abilities, but I never thought of it as “brain-enhancing” until I read an article with the intriguing title “Which Professions Can Make You Smarter?” (by Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2015: search here.) The author identified five criteria that indicate the activity or job you are doing, can, according to some neuro-scientists, enhance the “elasticity” and cognitive ability of the brain. One by one, as these criteria were listed, I thought of how apropos they are to sewing. See what you think:

1) “You work at tasks that are difficult enough that you make some mistakes.”

As we all know only too well, mistakes are part of sewing. Why else would seam rippers have been invented?  Have you ever sewn a sleeve in backwards or failed to match a plaid? I immediately thought of this blouse which I made a couple of years ago; while sewing the collar/tie to the front of the bodice, I made the same mistake over and over until I finally got it right.

The Necessary Blouse

2) “You have a job [or avocation] that is continually challenging.”

Whether the challenge comes from the pattern you have chosen, the fabric, the fitting issues you are facing, your time constraints, or any other myriad of potential hazards or goals, sewing is inherently challenging. A good example of a sewing challenge is the use of Marfy patterns. With no written instructions, minimal marking on the pattern tissues, and often complex (but very exciting) designs, Marfy patterns are definitely for the dressmaker who relishes a challenge.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

3) “Your work lets you progress to higher skill levels, but you are never able to master it.”

I am always amazed at people who, knowing that I have  taken numerous couture-sewing classes, comment to me that I “must know everything there is to know about sewing.”  I find that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Just take a look at the Table of Contents of this special Designer edition of Threads Magazine from Summer 2014.   So much to learn, and while every piece we finish expands our sewing knowledge – and abilities – we are still humbled by some of the amazing techniques that would take more than a lifetime to master.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques

Click on the image to read the text.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques - 2

4) “Improving your skills is rewarding enough that you want to keep trying to do better.”

I believe this is one of the most important aspects of sewing. The reward of using – and improving – your skills is something you can wear! Although I love a Classic French Jacket, and want more of them because of their wearability, style, and enduring appeal, I have to confess that after making my first one in a class with Susan Khalje, I immediately wanted to make another one to see if I could improve on the first one. Now I have two more in my queue – and yes, it does have at least some small part to do with making each one better than the one before.

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes on my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes to my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

5) “You have to pay attention to details while solving more complex problems.”

The details in sewing are legend! The darts, the seams, the proper alignment of your fabric, using the correct thread, choosing buttons, marking – well, the list goes on and on and on. We do all of this as a matter of course in our sewing, but we also know that if one of these details is not done well, it can affect the outcome of the entire garment. So, for example, while I am working my way through some complex instructions such as the sheet below, I have to be completing each detail, no matter how simple, with mindfulness and skill.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

One of the sewing quotes I love so much is from the great American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“It is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their hearts than while so occupied.”

It seems we are also at home with our minds while stitching away the hours.

 

 

31 Comments

Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Love of sewing, Marfy patterns, Quotes about sewing, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized

The Allure of Silk, Part 3: Finishing Touches for a Fancy Frock

In planning for my ‘50s-inspired silk party dress, my original intention was to use a red sash, just as shown on the original dress which I first saw on Pinterest.

Blue taffeta:silk dress - originalWhen I sent off for swatches of silk taffeta from Emma One Sock Fabrics, however, I requested reds and yellows, just in case I might change my mind. When the swatch card arrived, there were clearly two obvious choices – the clear red and the vibrant yellow.Allure of silk - cummerbund picture

Then a funny thing happened. I ordered the red, which was out-of-stock temporarily. The owner of Emma One Sock (who, I might add, is one of the pleasantest and most helpful people from whom one will ever order fabric!), held up the order, at my request, while I thought about it some more. By the time I went to Baltimore to start my dress in Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School, I had just about decided to switch to yellow. With Susan’s hearty endorsement and the additional approval of my classmates, the decision was made: the sash would be yellow, not red.

When the yellow silk taffeta arrived, I knew the decision was the right one. All I had to do then was figure out how to make the sash. Easy, right? With lots of time to think about this while I finished the embroidered organza top and the sapphire blue skirt – and the dress lining – I gradually came up with a plan. I decided a more structured cummerbund and bow would be the best look. First I went in search of a cummerbund pattern, which I found in an early 1960s pattern in my collection:

Allure of silk - cummerbund picture-1

I decided to loosely pleat it instead of gathering it, so it would appear smoother around my waist. Because I had underlined it with silk organza, I had an anchor upon which to secure the soft pleats:

I used a loose catch-stitch to secure the pleats.

I used a loose catch-stitch to secure the pleats.

allure of silk final

And I folded in the two ends, ready for hooks and eyes.

Then I lined it with silk crepe de chine.

Allure of silk final

Now –  I really love a beautiful bow. And I knew just where to go to get the perfect bow pattern. I made this Butterick pattern in the early 1990s, and while I still like the dress I made (I’ll feature it sometime… it’s still in my closet!), I love the bow. I have used this bow pattern numerous times, always successfully.

Allure of silk - bow picture-2

Here is a close-up of the instruction sheet, showing the simple but effective construction of this bow.

Allure of silk - bow diagram-3

I increased the width and length a bit, as I knew it would need to be a focal point of the dress. I attached the bow to one end of the cummerbund, and used a snap to secure it in place on the other end.

All of this took more time than I could have ever imagined! The event for which I made this dress is next week, and I’ll get proper pbotos taken then. But here is a sneak peek, first of the shoes I found which really seem to be the perfect pairing for this dress:

allure of silk final

And here is the dress on my dress form:

Allure of silk final

Allure of silk final

I thought I'd include this photo of the dress lining for anyone interested in seeing it.

I thought I’d include this photo of the dress lining for anyone interested in seeing it.

I am very pleased that I decided to "V" the back of the outer bodice!

I am very pleased that I decided to “V” the back of the outer bodice!

A close-up of the bow.

A close-up of the bow.

One of my favorite fashion quotes is one from Madeleine Vionnet: “The dress must not hang on the body but follow its lines. It must accompany its wearer and when a woman smiles the dress must smile with her.” Will my dress put a smile on my face when I wear it? Yes, if only for the fact that it has been finished just in time!

Details:

Blue silk taffeta:  Britex Fabrics

White embroidered organza:  Waechter’s Fabrics (now out of business)

Yellow silk taffeta:  Emma One Sock Fabrics.

Under bodice and outer bodice pattern:  Vogue 8766

Cummerbund pattern:  Vogue 5234 (vintage)

Bow pattern:  Butterick 3582 (vintage)

Shoes:  Butter, sold by Simply Soles

40 Comments

Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

The Allure of Silk: Sewing with Susan Khalje, Part 2

Whoever knew there could be so many valuable tips to be learned about sewing with taffeta?   The second “part” of my dress, which I began under the tutelage of Susan Khalje in early June, was simple compared with the embroidered silk organza overlaid bodice. However, it proved to be an excellent opportunity to learn about some of the peculiarities inherent in silk taffeta.

The skirt pattern for which I had made a muslin (toile) in preparation for class was actually a full circle with 4 seams. I wasn’t so sure I wanted anything quite so full, and as I only had 3½ yards of 35” wide taffeta, I also wasn’t so sure I had enough fabric to make such a skirt. But what really put the kibosh to those plans was Susan’s observation that silk taffeta does not perform well with seams cut on the straight of grain (seams sewn thus, apparently do not lie flat and drape well.) She suggested a three-part skirt, with one panel centered on the front, and the other two joined to the sides of that front panel and then seamed together up the back. All cut edges would be on the bias, with the straight of grain being down the center of each panel. So we took one prepared muslin piece and made these changes to it:

This is one of the original 4 panels.  We redrew the side seams, adding enough to the waist to compensate for reducing the skirt to three panels, and by doing that, also reduced the width at the bottom of the panel.

This is one of the original 4 panels. We redrew the side seams, adding enough to the waist to compensate for reducing the skirt to three panels, and by doing that, also reduced the width at the bottom of the panel.

Here is a close-up, with the new straight of grain going up the middle rather than down the side.

Here is a close-up, with the new side seam lines and straight of grain going up the middle rather than down the side. Both are marked in black.

Once I had my new pattern piece, cutting it out was easy and took every inch of the sapphire blue taffeta I had brought with me. Here is what it looked like when the seams were stitched:

All the basting lines are still visible.

All the basting lines are still visible.

The next surprise I had was about the silk organza underlining. I am so used to catch-stitching seams to organza underlining in couture sewing. But with taffeta, it’s better not to do so. With the impressionable finish of taffeta, such catch-stitching could “shadow” on the front of the garment. So I left the seams unsecured on the wrong side:

Blue taffeta skirt

Ironing those seams also took special attention. Susan had me iron them over a seamroll, taking care to “spread” the seam so that the tight stitching actually would show in front of the point of the iron. This was to get a crisp seam. Once ironed, taffeta does not respond well to changes in your intent (like some people we all know), so it has to be done correctly the first time.

Because the center back zipper would be applied onto the bias, Susan had me use a little fusible interfacing to reinforce that seam. Luckily, Becky, a classmate, had a bag of all kinds of high quality fusible interfacings with her! (Thanks, Becky!)

The interfacing was sandwiched between the fashion fabric and the underlining.

The interfacing was sandwiched between the fashion fabric and the underlining.

I certainly did not get to the hem of the skirt before I left for home, but Susan gave me tips on how to sew that wide and curved expanse. I cut a 2½” strip of silk organza to use as a hem facing. I turned it up with a very narrow strip of blue taffeta exposed on the wrong side. Then I used a very short straight stitch to secure the organza facing to the organza underlining:

Blue taffeta skirt

I haven’t pressed the hem yet, but Susan has instructed me not to press the edge of the hem flat. It should have a little softness to it, which is the French way! I’m all for that.

The hemmed skirt

The hemmed skirt

The lining, which will be the full expanse of the skirt itself, will be out of silk crepe de chine and will hang loose.

In the past, I have always thought of taffeta as kind of stiff and a little too structured for my taste, but now I am a fan. I like the slight rustle to it, and when constructed properly, it drapes and moves beautifully. The secret is to work with very fine quality silk taffeta – and know the tricks! Thanks, Susan!

 

18 Comments

Filed under couture construction, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized

The Allure of Silk: Sewing with Susan Khalje, Part 1

Any week spent in one of Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School classes is a week filled with opportunity. This past class was my third one taken with Susan, and I have come to expect that I will learn unexpected things! My first class with her was the Classic French Jacket; the second class was when I started my color-blocked coat; and this class saw the beginning of a silk formal dress which I need for a black-tie event in early July.

She asks her students to come with a prepared muslin (toile), ready for fitting.  I have so many vintage patterns for long, lovely, fancy dresses, that it was difficult to focus on just one. As it turned out, I found myself drawn repeatedly to a dress which I had pinned to one of my Pinterest boards, and it is this dress which became my inspiration:

Blue taffeta:silk dress - originalI say “inspiration” as I knew I wanted to make certain changes. I decided I did not want to go completely strapless. Instead I envisioned a strapless underbodice, covered by a lacy, semi-transparent, sleeveless overbodice, both in white. I had already purchased a silk-embroidered organza (from Waechter’s Fabrics, before they closed their business), and I had also already purchased 3½ yards of sapphire-blue silk taffeta from Britex Fabrics. Those were my fabrics of choice for this project.

A Noisy Spring

I started with the strapless top and the sleeveless top from this current Vogue pattern:

Blue taffeta:silk dress - bodice pattern

Here’s what happened when Susan fitted the muslin on me:

The pattern for the strapless under bodice consisted of a front panel, two side princess panels, and two back panels.  However, Susan divided the side princess panels into two, giving me 7 bodice pieces rather than 5.

The pattern for the strapless under bodice consisted of a front panel, two side princess panels, and two back panels. However, Susan divided each side princess panel into two pieces, giving me 7 bodice pieces rather than 5.

The pattern for the over bodice needed major adjustments.  Here is the front . . .

The pattern for the over bodice needed major adjustments. Here is the front . . .

. . . and here is the back.  I wanted to make the back into a V-shape, which was a minor adjustment to the pattern i was using.

. . . and here is the back. I made the back into a V-shape, which was a minor adjustment to the pattern I was using.

One of the reasons I wanted to start this dress under Susan’s tutelage was for the opportunity to learn how to add boning to a structured bodice. I knew the fashion fabric for the strapless underbodice would be white silk crepe de chine. What I did not know is that the channels for the boning would be cleverly made out of two pieces of silk organza, with parallel stitching strategically placed every couple of inches – making the perfect slots for the pieces of boning.

Lotsa of seams!

Lots of seams!

Click on the photo to see the channels for the boning.

Click on the photo to see the channels for the boning.

With the boning inserted.

With the boning inserted.

Then the shocker came: in order to keep the boning from showing through to the right side, I needed to add another layer of … something. When Susan suggested white flannel – flannel! – I was skeptical, but trusting (I think!).  I kept thinking of the bulk that flannel was going to add to this very fitted underbodice, but Susan assured me it would work. She consoled me by telling me that we would be able to cut away the seam allowances of the flannel, reducing much of the added bulk. But the real surprise was the wonderful softness the flannel added to the finished underbodice. The flannel not only camouflages the boning on the right side, it also adds an amazing smoothness to the appearance of the underbodice.

Once the underbodice was complete, I set about to start the embroidered silk organza overbodice. We played around with the placement of the motifs, making sure that two big “daisies” would not be right on top of the bust.

The Allure of Silk, pt 1

 

Small daisies close to the bust seemed to be okay.

Small daisies close to the bust seemed to be okay.

The back of the over bodice

The back of the over bodice

And this is what the embroidered silk organza would look like over the strapless under bodice.

And I wanted to see what the embroidered silk organza would look like over the strapless under bodice.  So pretty!

Interior seams were finished by hand, and darts were left as is, with no additional finishing. The neck and armhole edges were another story, as they would need to be bound in bias-cut crepe de chine. I found this very tedious and time-consuming and appreciated Susan’s suggestions and tips to help make these delicate finished edges as even as possible. First I practiced, then I sewed, then I took out stitches and started over again, carefully clipping away noticeable bulk from the embroidery in that narrow edge.

Practice!

Practice!

Working on that narrow binding. . . .

Working on that narrow binding. . . .

Once both bodices were completed, I basted them together at the waist. The only other place they are joined is at the back seam where the zipper will be inserted.

It surprised me that no other joining of these two bodices would be needed, but once again, I have found that the unexpected often makes the most sense when it comes to couture sewing!

40 Comments

Filed under couture construction, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings