Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: The Finished Product

It seems so appropriate that as we enter the final days of 2020, I have finally finished that last of my two major 2020 sewing-designing-related projects for the year. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to master (as much as possible) shirt-making. That project took up much of the first half of the year. The second goal I had was to learn a few things about traditional tailoring. In September, I began the project – I have now finished it.

When last we spoke (okay, I did most of the “speaking”), I had a complete blazer – complete except for a few crucial details, namely a lining, buttonholes and buttons.

I waited until I was at the point of needing a lining before cutting the silk charmeuse to avoid the dreaded fraying that is a characteristic of this otherwise divine fabric. If you’ve never worn a jacket (or dress) lined with silk charmeuse, you are missing out on one of life’s exquisite pleasures – and I’m sure we can all agree that treats like these we can experience alone are much needed in this strange year.

It’s a bit pricey, but it’s worth every penny. Anyway, when you cut it out (single layer for the least amount of frustration), the silk filaments begin to fray ever so slightly at first, then it gets worse if you manipulate it too much. Thus, I wait until the last possible moment to cut.

You’ll recall that I’m using Vogue 9099 for this project. Of course, this one is a Claire Schaeffer pattern where she wrote the twelve pages of instructions. The pattern also provides separate pattern pieces for the lining, so you don’t have to create them yourself. My problem is that some of the instructions were a bit perplexing.

For example, when the pattern says, “cut here for right side,” which “right side” does it mean? Right side as you look? As the lining is right side out? Inside out? I recut it twice and still didn’t seem to get it right. I figured that this meant the side of the lining in the back that went on the right side of my body. Well, I thought wrong. Thus, I ended up with a vent lining that didn’t work. I had to do a frustrating workaround but ended up with something acceptable., Whenever I make a boo-boo like this, I always try to make it look intentional. It sort of worked.  The bottom line for me was that the instructions were sub-optimal. After a career in corporate communications, writing and twenty-six years as a university professor, I figure that I should understand simple instructions. Nope. I’d cut my own lining the next time.

I was happy I had decided to insert it by hand (although it’s a bit of a hybrid insertion since I set the sleeves in the lining by machine). This made it easier to correct my mistakes. I would highly recommend waxing the thread! It made it so much easier.

Then it was time for the buttonholes. Well, of course, you’re supposed to do hand-worked buttonholes. I’ve done them before, and I have to admit that I’m not that good at it. So, I did a few samples of machine buttonholes, and I was pleased with the results. In fact, with this fabric, the buttonholes are all but invisible!

Then I popped on the buttons, did a final press, and voila! A new jacket!

Through my research and this process, I’ve learned so much about the fine art of tailoring – and it is, indeed, a fine art if you ask me. Next year, I’m going to try my hand at modern tailoring that uses fusibles. Well, that’s only one of the projects I’m planning. In the meantime, I just need a place to wear a nice blazer. Oh well, come the spring, I’m just going to wear it when I go out for a walk around town! And…

Posted in Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Nears Completion: Now I have sleeves

There are specific aspects of design that I associate with a tailored blazer. The shape of the body, as well as the collar and lapels, are foremost. But now that I’ve put together those pieces of the puzzle, what’s next? Sleeves, of course.

The sleeves for my tailored blazer have a couple of essential characteristics.

  • They are two-piece sleeves. Anyone who sews knows that the more seams there are in any part of the garment, the better fit you can accomplish. That’s as true of sleeves as it is of a bodice with princess seaming. However, there are limits! A sleeve for a dress, for example, is likely to be a one-piece sleeve – one piece of fabric seamed under the arm. Sleeves on any well-made jacket, though, will have at least two pieces (two seams) or even three for the best fit.
  • They have sleeve heads. These sleeve heads are essential to ensuring that the top of the sleeve has that nice, ever-so-slightly extended cap with some body. For this project, I bought professional tailoring sleeve heads. In the past, when I’ve added them to a softer jacket, I’ve made them myself from some cotton batting.
  • They have vents. This may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to jacket or blazer sleeves, but it isn’t. I even have a Claire Schaeffer Custom Couture Collection Vogue pattern (#9342) that doesn’t have vents. (I think I’ll make that one next! So simple without vents!). Although it does result in extra work, real, working vents are important to learning the tailoring process. And, after all, I’m not on a deadline!
  • They have buttons and working buttonholes. Yes, vents need buttons, and a well-tailored jacket has working buttonholes in the sleeve vents. Well, as you’ll soon see, that particular detail may go the way of the dodo in my tailoring journey.

The first consideration in preparing the sleeves for setting in was the hemline and vent interfacing. This was a bit tricky because the interfacing is placed along the seamline on one end and along the fold line on the other one. I did it wrong the first time and had to remove it and reposition. This is important to the under and over parts of the sleeve vent.

That being said, when I did some online research on sleeve vents, it seemed to me that the shape of the vent (and the lining when I get to it) isn’t optimum in this pattern. (I’ll say more about that when I get to the final installment and complete the lining. It was a nightmare.)

When I was completing the vent seam and catch-stitching the sleeve hems, I wondered why in this pattern, which purports to be “couture” techniques, there was no mention of mitering the corner. I decided to do a miter anyway.

Another oddity of the pattern instructions was the admonition to stretch one of the pieces into the other rather than easing it. This approach is supposed to be the couture technique of doing it, but really? I mean, what difference could it possibly make? In the end, I needn’t have worried. The two pieces seemed to have stretched or eased themselves and fit together perfectly!

I set in the sleeves using my regular technique: basting, basting, basting. They came out perfectly.

Then I put in the shoulder pads, by hand, of course. This was the first time I realized that shoulder pads have a front and a back (who knew? I suppose everyone reading this!) and that one of them is for the right shoulder and one for the left. Of course, this was probably the first time I used shoulder pads from an actual tailoring supplier rather than those cheap ones at Fabricville or other major retailers. Then it was time for those sleeve heads.

I cannot tell you how many times I had to put the first one in, pin it, turn the jacket right side out, then look it and say, “That makes no sense!” I had to go back to pictures in my tailoring book several times to ensure I put them on the right way around! I also found a good tip in a Craftsy video by Pam Howard, who suggests that the sleeve head be cut to a length that ensures it doesn’t overlap seams.

She also suggests that you trim the end to make it round to reduce bulk. Smart idea!

Then it was down to the fun part: deciding on the number and placement of the buttons on the vents.

The pattern indicates that I should install four buttons on the vents (along with four buttonholes). I don’t know about you, but I never took a really close look at buttons on sleeve vents before. I thought that four buttons might be too many, and I wondered if the even number might just be wrong. I would have to do a bit of research. So, I took a deep dive into my husband’s closet, the home of several high-end suit jackets and blazers.

Among the examples of sleeves were several Brooks Brothers, an Ermenegildo Zegna, a BOSS, a fabulous one he bought in Paris some years ago, and a new tuxedo. I learned several things.

The sleeves on the far right are on a kind of avant-garde French jacket that has an extra buttonhole.

First, most of them have four buttons (who knew?), and the four buttons looked perfect. Second, the buttons are generally “stacked” together, meaning that they are slightly overlapped. There is no space between them.

And finally, I learned that even high-end men’s tailored jackets mostly don’t have working buttonholes. When I mentioned this to my husband, he scoffed at me for even considering doing buttonholes on sleeve vents. So, my decision was made. There would be no working buttonholes!

I finally have what looks like a blazer. One more update to go: lining and finishing. Stay tuned!