Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Shrug: Could it be the most useful piece of clothing ever?

I think that the shrug might just be the most useful piece of clothing a woman could own. They are so small, so light, so packable. Well, most of them are. The shrug. Sometimes referred to as a bolero. But are they the same thing? I’ll get to that, but let me begin by introducing you to the shrug.

I’d like you to meet a few shrugs I’ve known and loved in my life.

[FYI: I used McCall’s 7289, which now seems to be out of print ―for good reason in my view―for the white and black shrug shown on the veranda of a cruise ship suite, but it was so humongous and funky, I had to make a significant number of changes to the pattern.]


So, how exactly do you define a shrug?

Well, the English language is a funny bird, isn’t it? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says to shrug means “to raise or draw in the shoulders especially to express aloofness, indifference, or uncertainty.”[1] And a shrug is the act of shrugging.

Ah, the English language. A shrug is also a piece of clothing. No wonder so many people have difficulty learning the language!

Wikipedia, the arbiter of all things, says, “A shrug is a cropped, cardigan-like garment with short or long sleeves cut in one with the body, typically knitted, for women.”[2] Hmm…that doesn’t seem quite right. It seems too narrow. In fact, many online definitions on supposed style sites suggest that they are knitted garments, and when they are embellished, they are boleros. However, that doesn’t make sense to me, given the origin of the bolero and shrug.

If we look at the evolution of fashion historically, it seems that the bolero jacket evolved from a military garment called a Zouave jacket, a garment that is not, in any way, knitted. It was widely used in uniforms during the nineteenth century and even earlier, especially during the American Civil War.

A Civil-War era Zouave jacket

If you think about the fashions in Gone with the Wind, for example, and consider the jackets often worn over those voluminous dresses, you are seeing the evolution of the Zouave jacket into what we now refer to as a bolero, which has Spanish origins. Think bullfighter. So, the two similar garments come together to give us what we see today as bolero jackets. But are these shrugs?

I’ve concluded that I have to have my own definition that arises from all of this, so here’s what I’m going with.

A shrug is a short, cropped jacket that is worn open over the bodice of a dress, top or T-shirt.

A shrug sweater is a knitted shrug.

A bolero jacket is a shrug that may or may not be slightly longer but that always has a closure at the front.

How’s that? Anyway, those are my definitions and I’m sticking with them. Now that we have that out of the way, why would you even need one (or a dozen) shrugs? Here are my reasons:

  • Shrugs flatter every body type.
  • A shrug can change the look of any dress, top or T-shirt.
  • You can wear a shrug to a soccer game or a black-tie event.
  • A shrug can make one dress or top endlessly versatile.
  • Taking three little, tiny shrugs on vacation can make one dress have four looks! (Includes the look without a shrug.)
The transformative nature of a shrug.

It also seems that people have been sewing shrugs for decades. One of the vintage patterns I was drawn to and had to own is McCall’s 5337 from 1960. I haven’t made this one yet, but I will.

And here are a few more from the 1940s and 1950s.

Lest you think that shrug/bloero patterns are only an historical artifact, there are oodles of current patterns for these nifty little items. Here are a few to consider:

Recently, I had a piece of leftover ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric that I knew I should use. I paid twenty or twenty-five dollars a metre for it, so I had to use it. But what could I make? What did I have enough of it to make was the more important question.

Last year I made a knit jacket from McCall’s 7254. It has a view that when you leave off the collar and front, you’re left with a tiny shrug. It was perfect, and I managed to squeeze out enough fabric to make it. Of course, it was dead simple to make. In fact, it took so little time, I was disappointed, given my penchant for slow sewing! There was only so slowly I could go.

Now, I have a new shrug to pair with a simple white T-shirt in the spring, or perhaps even over a little dress. Although the process was quick, during it, I also discovered something interesting.

One indie pattern company that seemed to have several interesting designs for shrugs and bolero jackets was Lekala. The next time I post, I’ll tell you about my experience of falling down that particular rabbit hole.

Do you own shrugs?

FYI

I found lots of free shrug/bolero patterns online―many were hopeless.  Here are three that might work:

http://so-sew-easy.com/free-shrug-pattern-simple/#_a5y_p=3122814

https://www.sewmag.co.uk/free-sewing-patterns/floral-bolero-jackethttps://www.moodfabrics.com/blog/the-gordonia-hoodie-free-sewing-pattern/


[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shrug

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrug_(clothing)

Posted in Style, Stylish Books

Kat’s Kosmic Blues: There may be sewing involved!

Anyone who has read my blog more than a few times will know that I spend some of my life designing and sewing and a lot of my life writing. I’ve been writing books for over 30 years. I started as a health and business writer (you can even see some of my nonfiction books if you visit my web site patriciajparsons.com), but I’ve been writing fiction in recent years, mostly women’s fiction.

Last year, my book The Year I Made 12 Dresses introduced my readers to Charlotte (“Charlie”) Hudson.

After her mother’s unexpected death, struggling writer Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson moves into her family house after her older, mostly absent sister Evelyn instructs her to empty the family home of objects and memories to ready it for sale.

When Charlie stumbles on a dusty old sewing machine hidden away among the clutter of detritus in the basement, she has no idea of the journey it will take her on or the secrets it might reveal about her mother, her family and herself. If only she will let it.

With the help of an enigmatic fabric-guru named Al, Charlie discovers how little she really knows about anyone―especially herself.

When that year was over, Charlie thought she knew all her mother’s secrets. She was wrong.

Today, I’m delighted to be launching my newest book, Kat’s Kosmic Blues. Kat is Charlie’s mother, and this is her story. It all starts in 1965 (and there may be sewing and fashion design involved!).

Please click on the video below and join me for the launch. I’ll introduce you to Kat and her story and to me―Kat’s creator.

And when you’ve done that, maybe you’d like to join us sewing nerds on Facebook where fashion sewing book lovers meet to share stories aboue their projects and their reading.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Battle of the Indie Patterns―Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual

I ended my last post with a brief mention of some of the things I hate about indie patterns. So far, I’ve noted my annoyance with the gargantuan size of the pattern “envelopes” (really just cellophane thingies) and the heavyish paper on which they are printed. I also mentioned that I am generally unimpressed with the companies’ lack of design innovation. Just for fun, I surfed through a couple of the websites of indie pattern companies that are purported to be among the best. Here are some examples of the kind of design I think isn’t worth anyone’s money (unless, perhaps, this is the first time you’ve ever sewn a garment―in that case, these are for you).

See what I mean about the one-size-fits-all, which means little in the way of fit at all. They remind me of the first pattern I designed using Garment Designer software, which makes me wonder if this is how those indie pattern designers do it―just figure out what a computer program can do and do it. (If you want to read more about my foray into using software to create patterns, here’s a blog piece I wrote a couple of years ago.)

And what about those cutesy names? I’ll take a numbering system any day over the Zadie, Adrienne, Kielo and the Yukons and Hinterlands any day. My particular selections are the Renée and the Esme. Geesh! 

Okay, I’ve gotten that rant off my chest. Let’s get on with the battle and see if I have learned to love anything about them.

First, the Jalie pattern—the Renée pants. I’ve been searching for a dupe for Eileen Fisher stretch-crepe pants forever. This pattern was favourably reviewed by a person whose sewing skills I admire (but my one caveat is that our styles are different). They also looked like they might be the right shape: fitted through the hips and thigh and only a slight cigarette shape, fabricated in a stable knit. I chose a ponte with a whisker pattern that I thought was vertical but turned out to be horizontal—one of the downsides to purchasing online these days! Anyway, I made it work and went ahead with the pattern.  

Jalie boasts about including 28 sizes on one pattern. Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to brag about―just another element of indie patterns to make me grit my teeth. Just look at that mess of lines. What a nightmare! I had planned to trace it off, but in the end, it was so mesmerizing, I just said the hell with it and cut out my size from the pattern as presented. It’s not like I’ll be using it for anyone else. Oh, and they have their own sizing, so you have to be very careful of what size you cut.

And, what about their instructions? Well, I don’t suppose I really needed instructions to make a pair of elastic-waist pants so, I did it my way. When I make pants (which I rarely do), I do it the way I was taught years ago since it seems to me to be the best way to fit them as you go. This pattern tells you to put each side together, then put one inside the other and sew the crotch. Perhaps they could tell me how I would test the waist and hip fit before completing the crotch? It can’t be done that way. So, I put the two front legs together at the front crotch seam, do the same with the back, try them on, testing the crotch length, waist and hip, then complete the inseams.

Small design detail: an inset at the front hip. I would use a contrasting fabric if I ever do these again.

Then there is the seam allowance. Can I tell you how much I hate narrow seam allowances?  (Add this to the list of things I hate about indie patterns.) I don’t make my own clothes so that they resemble cheap knitwear from a Sri Lankan sweatshop. My preference would be for them to resemble designer knitwear from a Parisian couturier—well, that may be a stretch, but you know what I mean. They have only a 3/8-inch seam allowance, which is insufficient for any adjustments and a serged finish. I realize that this saves fabric (see my comment about cheap sweatshop clothing), but I always buy extra anyway. Before I make this again, I will trace off the pattern with 5/8-inch seam allowances for sure.

I also used 2-inch elastic, which I won’t do the next time. I’ll use the 1½-inch as recommended (it’s what I had on hand). You can see in the photo below that the wide elastic got wavy since I really needed to have it tighter.

And, by the way, I will make these again. They turned out to be a surprisingly good fit, after all! So, that’s something to love about this indie pattern. Are they a dupe for the Eileen Fisher pants? They are close, so I’ll look for her type of fabric and try them again. I don’t love paying $200 for pull-on pants!

Now, on to the StyleArc Esme “designer” pattern. What in the world makes it a “designer” pattern? The fact that is it resembles any number of other pieces (perhaps a bit like Eileen Fisher, but that’s another story about tent-like fashion I sometimes like!).

Anyway, this one, too, comes in an enormous cellophane bag with an instruction sheet as long as my arm (literally). To their credit, unlike the 28 sizes in one pattern for the Jalie, this one has only eight. I have to admit that I made this one last year for the first time. However, I made it in a scuba fabric (which I never intended to buy) that was mislabeled online at Fabricville, and I could never wear it owing to the way the seams dug into me. This was partly because of those damn 3/8-inch seam allowances. I’ve learned my lesson there. Oh, but the neckline seam allowance is only ¼-inch, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to serge-finish the edges with no fabric there at all. *sigh*

Not as many sizes on this pattern piece!
This instruction/pattern sheet isn’t anywhere close to being fully unfolded!

Since there wasn’t an overwhelming number of size lines in this one (as there were in the Jalie pattern), I did trace it off onto pattern paper and cut it out of an ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric I fell in love with when I last ventured into a real fabric store before all this lock-down stuff.

Once I had it cut out, I had to remind myself how to do the back of the collar. I had to re-read the instructions several times to get it through my head. The instructions are printed on the gargantuan sheet on which the pattern pieces themselves are also printed. This means you have to have a  massive space in which to unfold them. Did I mention I hate this about indie patterns??

As usual for me, the arms are far too wide―even for a dolman-type sleeve. I altered them a bit, but in the end, they were still relatively large.

This top has such a nice neckline―one that particularly appeals to my style. So, I have to say that StyleArc wins the award for the best-design lines I’ve seen in a shapeless, one-size-fits-most kind of top. Will I ever make this one again? Maybe. The next time I’m in lock-down and looking for nothing but comfort in my clothes, which I hope is never again, I’ll revisit this pattern. The Jalie pants fit the way these negative-ease pants should, but they aren’t anything innovative in design, that’s for sure!

The bottom-line for me in this attempt at learning to love indie patterns? My take-away from all this are as follows:

  • If you are a newbie sewist but have already learned a few things about patterns in general, the design lines are simple and that’s a plus. On the downside for new sewers is the fact that you have to be oh-so-careful about things like seam allowances (inconsistent) and cutting the correct size (once you have found it on the damn pattern pieces!). You have to read everything very carefully. You will also want to take the extra step of tracing the pattern out onto more transparent paper so that you have at least a fighting chance of seeing the fabric below (this can be very helpful when doing things like trying to avoid the dreaded target-on-boob faux pas when laying out patterned fabric).
  • If you are an experienced sewist who craves high fashion, you might as well step away right this minute. Apart from Marfy (which I don’t consider indie―I consider them a designer category all on their own). There is nothing of-the-moment or particularly stylish about any of the styles on offer. That being said, StyleArc does have a few terrific designs if you get away from their designs for knits.
  • If you’re looking for athletic-wear patterns, Jalie might be one to try.
  • If you want all your patterns to fit nicely into a pattern box or drawer that accommodates 6 ½ X 8-inch envelopes, you might as well forget about it. To be fair, though, some Vogue patterns these days arrive in larger envelopes than I like. This seems to be a function of which designer it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any functional reason for it.

What are your experiences with indie patterns?

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 1: In which we take a look at their history

The history of sewing patterns in the 19th and 20th centuries—and even into the 21st—says a lot about what we sew and how we sew it. And, for me, their evolution hasn’t been an entirely happy experience. But, before I get to that, let’s take a look back as I like to do.

Sewing patterns have a long history extending at least as far back as the 16th century, where they originated in tailoring manuals. According to Joy Emery in her book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, the earliest surviving sewing pattern was published in Spain around 1589 as part of a book. “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric,”[1] not unlike the current focus on zero-waste sewing. As the centuries progressed, most pattern-related publications continued to be for tailors rather than home sewers.  

A page spread from the 1589 book “Libro Geometria Practica y Traca”. You can clearly see the attempt to save fabric in the layout!

Before patterns were available to home dressmakers, only the rich could afford to have clothing made-to-measure. Anyone else who sewed did so without the benefit of a pattern, focusing mainly on the functionality of the garments needed simply for life.

Patterns contributed in no small way to the democratization of fashion by allowing anyone who could sew (or learn to sew) to reproduce stylish garments that might even reflect the work of the famous couturiers. Eventually, however, sewing patterns were made available in pamphlets or ladies’ magazines and could now be accessed by larger and larger numbers of people. At this point, it was necessary to copy and enlarge a pattern from a magazine or pamphlet. Everything changed, however, in the late 19th century. 

In 1860, a woman named Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William launched a new approach to sewing when they began holding home fashion shows and offered for sale the paper patterns Ellen created for the garments. 

The fact that Mme Demorest’s patterns were full-sized was the key marketing feature and the way of the future.

She was followed in quick succession by others whose names are familiar to anyone who sews to this day. (Lest you think I’ve forgotten that home sewers needed sewing machines, Isaac Singer—another familiar name, no?—patented what was called the “rigid arm” sewing machine and the presser foot in 1851 and by 1890, Singer sewing machines made up 90% of the world’s sewing machine sales, paving the way for home seamstresses everywhere.) In any case, those familiar names are these… 

  • Ebenezer Butterick launched the Butterick Publishing company in 1863. His Butterick patterns first started including a folded instruction sheet in the late 1910s—a great innovation, in my view!
  • James McCall, a Scottish tailor, established the McCall pattern company in New York City in 1873 and began the trend for putting full-colour illustrations on the pattern envelopes in 1932. Before that time, all the illustrations were black and white drawings. [If you do a little online digging, you’ll discover that there were other pattern companies who dabbled in coloured images five years before this.]
  • Vogue magazine created a spinoff pattern company that it launched in 1899 to complement their weekly pattern feature. Eventually, in 1914, media mogul Condé Nast bought Vogue then began selling their patterns in department stores two years later.
  • The Simplicity pattern company was formed in 1927 with a focus on easy, lower-priced patterns.

Those are the so-called “big-four” that remain (in one form or another) to this day. Recently, however, there have been rumours of their impending demise. I hope not—and in any case, that’s a story for another day (but I will get to it eventually). Oh, and I haven’t forgotten groups like the German company Burdastyle. They, too are a player, albeit a smaller one.

Apart from those main four companies, there have been others through the years. For example, I particularly remember Style patterns from the late 1960s through the 1970s (I even used one for my first wedding dress—again, a story for another day!). There were also DuBarry patterns in the 1930s and ‘40’s, Advance patterns in the1930s, the New York pattern company from 1932 until the 1950s, and the Hollywood Pattern company that used film stars on their pattern envelopes from 1932 until the end of the second world war.  

What happened then? According to some of the sewing bloggers I read, home sewers in the 1970s moved away from garment sewing to quilts-making. Now, as far as I’m concerned, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue—a conclusion for which I’ve seen no concrete evidence. No one has done a study. For example, I, for one, would never have done this since (a) I began sewing in the 1960s because I loved clothes and it was a way to produce nice pieces for less money, and (b) I hate quilts (no offence to anyone who loves them—we’re all different). The reason I stopped sewing in the late 1970s was simple: I had more money. I was still in love with fashion, but I no longer needed to sew my own garments to have stylish clothes. I could afford to buy them. I was also busy—career evolution, husband, son, travel, writing books. I simply bought what I wanted.  

Fast forward to the 21st century. Many of us have returned to sewing, and younger people (not just women) have begun to see that there is satisfaction in creating one’s own wardrobe. So, what do we use for patterns?  

For me, the big four are still the best syles and the best value. Despite the moaning and complaining people do about the cost of patterns, when you think about the design and production work that goes into them and the number of times (infinite) that you can use them, it’s hardly a stretch to pay even $20 for a pattern. However, I realize most of us buy them when they’re on sale. That is where the whole cottage industry of indie pattern makers stepped in.  

When I returned to sewing six or so years ago (I sewed only Halloween costumes and costumes for stage plays for my son in the interim!) I had no idea that so many new pattern makers had emerged. I had also never heard of PDF patterns (dear god, I wish I hadn’t!). So, I began to explore them. Several sewing bloggers sang the praises of brands like Jalie, Deer and Doe, Paper Theory and a whole lot more (I found a really good list of some 32 such companies at https://sewingbeginner.com/pattern-stores/ ).

But, somehow, I couldn’t get around the fact that so many of them were under-designed bags that were “one-size-fits-most.,” which alternatively means “one-size-fits-no-one-very-well.” I will admit that some of them have come a long way in the past few years, but for someone like me, whose style is more tailored and classic, there’s not much on offer. Whenever anyone says an indie pattern fits well, I usually find that it’s not the pattern-drafting that’s so good. It’s a style that need not fit so well. Tents, anyone? 

But, it’s always important to keep an open mind. To that end, I decided to do a battle of the indie pattern companies with two patterns I asked for and received for Christmas—one is from StyleArc, an Australian company whose designs actually have some style to them.

The StyleArc Esme top pattern

The second one is from Montreal-based Jalie, most of whose designs seem to be for athletic wear crafted in knits. Neither of them is a pdf—I’ll do a post on my adventures in pdf patterns in the future. 

First, can we talk about the patterns themselves? Why do they have to be so enormous? I mean, the “envelopes” (which aren’t envelopes; instead, they are cellophane bags) are 12 ½ inches long by 9-10 inches wide. Dear god. Where are you supposed to store them? I guess a filing cabinet built for that purpose. Of course, they have to be that big to hold the gargantuan piece of heavyish paper on which the patterns are printed. I’ve heard sewists complain about tissue pattern paper. However, that tissue paper is acid-free and lasts for decades and can be copied off—which, by the way, is what most people do with these new indie patterns because they are so damn difficult to use directly on fabric. 

Whenever I encounter these indie patterns or *choke* a pdf pattern, I long for the time when all patterns were single-sized and printed on acid-free tissue paper. Single size, you say? Well, in my next post: “The Battle of the Indie Patterns – Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual,” I’ll elaborate on the things I hate about them—multiple sizing among them—and what I have been unexpectedly happy about! Keep sewing!


[1] Joy Emery. A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. [Joy is Professor Emerita of Theatre and the Curator of The Commercial Pattern Archive at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.]

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style, Stylish Books, Tailoring

Designing and Sewing in 2020: Do I Dare to Look Back?

What a year 2020 has been! Has it been a whole year since we first heard a minor news story about a virus in Wuhan, China? Could it possibly be that we had no idea what the year would bring? Yes, and yes. So, here we are in January 2021, and what have I accomplished this past year? What did I have to miss? What can I pick up for the coming year?

In February, just before all hell broke loose, my husband and I did a driving trip through Florida to visit places we wouldn’t usually go. No offence to anyone from Florida, but we don’t usually spend our winter vacation there, preferring more exotic (to us) locales like Hawaii or Antigua in the Caribbean, a South Pacific cruise―well, you see where that’s going! But we loved finding new places in the great state of Florida. We rented a car at the airport in Fort Lauderdale then hit the road.  We visited Key Largo, Naples, Sarasota, Orlando, St. Augustine and ended up back in our old haunt, Fort Lauderdale.

Along the way, I wore a few of my own DIY wardrobe pieces…well, maybe just one. And I have to say that Key Largo is the only place in the world I’ve ever chosen to go to dinner in shorts! It was that kind of place.

This was Simplicity #8601, the only Simplicity pattern I’ve used since I was in university – and that’s more than a few years ago!

…and I found a fantastic fabric store in Naples where I bought the silk charmeuse for what would become my major project of the year: the great tailored blazer project!

Then we returned to Toronto, where we immediately cancelled our Northern Europe and Scandinavia cruise scheduled for the fall―and I stopped all consideration of the capsule travel wardrobe I planned to design and make for it.

Then we had to hunker down for the duration, and out came what I have begun to refer to as my “Covid collection” sewing. These are those pieces that are comfortable and serve me well when lounging around home!

I also just had to work on my shirt-making skills. I finally now have bespoke shirt patterns for my husband and my son― and me.

These began with commercial patterns but quickly morphed into GG’s own because of all the style changes I made: simple European front plackets, one-piece sleeves, fancier cuff plackets etc. It was interesting to make shirts from the same base for two so different men―my wonderful husband, a retired physician, and our fantastic son, a ballet dancer who now teaches at Canada’s National Ballet School.

My husband prefers a buttoned-down collar, my son does not. It was interesting to learn how to redesign a collar for these purposes and how redesigning a collar can make all the difference in terms of style.

And I worked on perfecting my own personal bespoke shirt pattern…

Of course, then the pièce de resistance was the time I devoted to learning all I could about traditional tailoring. The final product was finished just before Christmas, and I’m so happy about it.

Oh, I nearly forgot (not kidding, I almost published without this) – one of my favourite “makes” of 2020…

Now, what about 2021? I plan to work on fitting pants (dear god, not again?) with a Jalie pattern, a brand I’ve never worked with before (I received the pattern for Christmas).

Then I plan to create a small collection for spring and summer, hoping that I’ll have somewhere to wear it!

And…sometime in 2021, you’ll see another thing I’ve been working on…the prequel to “The Year I Made 12 Dresses.” It all begins in 1965…

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!

Posted in sewing, Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project Continues: The lapels make the design

When it comes to tailored jackets of any type, it seems to me that the collar and lapel (or revere as my UK friends would say) shapes make the design.

According to Indochino Made-to-Measure, there are three basic lapel shapes: notch, peak and shawl.[1]

From the Indochino blog

Further, they suggest that each of them has a particular occasion. For example, it seems that the majority of men’s blazers have notched lapels which are the standard for single-breasted men’s suits and are the most common shape. The peak is evidently more expensive to create and tends to be used for more refined styles such as tuxedos. The shawl collar is inspired by the smoking jacket and these days seems to be found on more formal clothing.  My husband’s most recent tuxedo jacket has a shawl collar which I think is fabulous on him (even when styled more casually with jeans and a pocket puff – on a cruise!).

Another fashion blogger adds three more lapel styles, which are really variations on the basic three: the contrast lapel collar, the contrast trim notch lapel collar (using piping or binding) and the cloverleaf lapel collar which looks to me to be better described simply as rounded.[2]

This season’s women’s blazers offer a variety of lapel shapes. I’ve noticed that many of them have exaggerated shapes. Just look at that pink Gucci one. Not sure I like that one at all!

But what about my own blazer lapels? There is no doubt in my mind that getting this part of the project right is the key to a beautiful design and finish. So, I began. The collar and lapel on this Vogue 9099 pattern are pretty standard – and classic.

This is the kind of shape that transcends fads and seasonal fluctuations in style. In my book, that makes it a great design. And a good one to use to learn basic lapel construction.

Remember those twelve pages of couture instructions that came with the pattern? The ones created by Claire Schaeffer herself? Well, after doing some research on how to proceed here, I part ways with her once again. As you’ll recall from my previous post, I made this decision fairly early on since it had an impact on when and how I attached the undercollar and facing.

From the outset, I was confused about the interfacing for the upper collar. The pattern says I need to cut a piece, but there is nowhere on the instructions that indicates when (or even if) it needs to be attached. I just went for it.

Then, I considered machine pad-stitching the undercollar, so I did a test, but I didn’t like how it looked on the outside, so I did it by hand.

I then attached it to the neckline (not per the CS instructions if you happen to be using this pattern).

I used my newest tailoring gadget for pressing the collar – my point presser. It made the job so much easier! I recommend getting one before doing this kind of project.

Then I attached the front facing to the upper collar, pinned it on the body on my mannequin (Gloria junior) to check for the turn of the cloth. Note that there is three-eighths of an inch of undercollar chowing when the collar is turned.

If I didn’t cut that off before joining the upper and lower collar, the collar would stick up. This is the method most people suggest. So, I trimmed it and then attached it permanently.

I did this in three steps: the collar, then one side of the lapel, then the other side of the lapel. No backstitching. I left long strings to tie off later (Oh god, there are so many threads!).

Trimming the seam is kind of a magical thing. I marked the breakpoint then trimmed the seam allowance off the facing side below the breakpoint and on the jacket side above it. This allowed the fabric to turn beautifully. What a concept!

There is no doubt that creating that collar and lapels (or reveres if you like) makes it seem as if the blazer is finally coming alive. Once there are sleeves, I think I’ll be in love with it! Onward!

FYI:

Quick & Easy Lapels https://fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/sites/fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/files/ct-mmb-194.pdf


[1] JACKET BASICS: THREE TYPES OF LAPELS, http://blog.indochino.com/jacket-basics-3-types-lapels/

[2] http://amystonefashion.blogspot.com/2018/04/6-mens-blazers-suit-jackets-collars.html

Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Begins to Take Shape: Putting the body of the jacket together

Jackets come in all kinds of shapes. There are fitted jackets, semi-fitted jackets, boxy jackets, relaxed jackets, tent-like jackets and the list goes on.

Tailored jackets come in a slightly more restricted list of shapes. For example, it seems that a tailored jacket by definition has to be a bit fitted, so that leaves out relaxed or tent-like, and I venture to say, relaxed. But what about boxy?

When I embarked on my fit of making Little French Jackets inspired by Chanel, they tended toward the boxier style.

When I think about the internal construction of those ones, it makes sense. Although there is some stabilization inside, especially on all the edges, there is little interfacing (if any) and certainly no hair canvas.

It is the technique of machine-quilting the lining directly to the fabric that gives these jackets their soft shaping. Not so with this tailoring stuff.

In my last post, I had finished the internal stabilization (that is, until I get to the sleeves – a topic for another day), so then it was time to begin to put it all together. And the first thing on the agenda is to create those welted flap pockets. So, here goes!

In this pattern, since there are no side seams and the pockets run across the front seam, I had to attach the fronts to the side panels first. Then I began the process of creating those welts. The order of operations, though, is a bit questionable on this pattern.

According to the instructions, I was supposed to do the welts first. However, I did some research, and Pam Howard who does a jacket class on Craftsy, says that it’s better to make the welts first then use them as the guide for the precise length of the opening for the welts. That made a great deal of sense to me.

Once that was done, I created the welts. This is so much easier than it seems at first glance. One of the things I left out of the process was the stays Clair Schaeffer suggests in the vogue pattern instructions. It just seemed like too many layers of material in my view. I know why she suggests them – they do provide further stabilization – but if the pocket opening is less than six inches, it shouldn’t gape. I hope.

Once the welts were in, it was time to install the flap – again an easy process if you get it turned around the right way and stitch it in the right direction! I had to check this more than once to be sure I got it right. Then there were the pockets bags. Dear god!

My pockets are, of course, made from the silk charmeuse that will eventually (sewing gods willing) line the body and sleeves of the completed jacket. Now, I love silk charmeuse, and it is a dream to wear, but when you are working with it, that dream can quickly devolve into a nightmare. As I installed them, they became a terrifying tangle of silk filaments. It finally worked out – at least what I’ll be able to see on the outside looks terrific. Anyway, I basted them shut to keep them from dragging as I work on the rest of the body. Maybe I’ll leave them closed!

As I moved forward with putting together the rest of the body of the jacket, I again parted ways with the “couture” instructions in the pattern. Claire Schaeffer puts the front facing on first, in preparation for her method of dealing with the eventual turn-of-the-cloth issue in the collar. All the research I’d done suggested that most people who do this tailoring, use the following order of operations which makes sense to me:

  1. Side seams (and princess seams if any)
  2. Shoulder seams
  3. Undercollar
  4. Alter undercollar for turn-of-the-cloth (I’ll get to that eventually)
  5. Front and back facings (if there is a back facing. This pattern doesn’t have one, but if I make it again, I’m going to draft one) along with the upper collar.

The Clair Schaeffer directions require you to install the front facing before the shoulder seams. I know why she does this, but I didn’t like it so I did it the way everyone else seems to do it. Because I did it my way (as Frank Sinatra would say), I did have to install the upper back and centre-back vent and hemline interfacings at this stage.

I used my own adaptation to deal with the interfacing at the shoulder seams, cutting the front interfacing seam allowance off and then overlapping the back across the front for support.

This is a riff on what CS tells you to do in the pattern. Her instructions would have left me with too many layers – again (see above). Naughty, naughty.

Anyway, I now have something that is beginning to resemble the bodice of a jacket. My next challenge is revisiting my collar and lapel skills which I left behind me thirty-five years ago!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project Continues: Shaping the Body (with interfacings and pad stitching)

A few blocks from where we live in the city, there was, for many years, a tailor shop. Focused exclusively on menswear, they always displayed a garment-in-progress in the window. Often when we walked by, I marvelled at the “stuff” that seemed to be underneath the lapel (or revere as it is called in the UK) to help it keep its shape. I occasionally wondered what was under the rest of the body lining. Well, now I know!

The last time we talked, I was prepping and cutting fabric and interfacing. Now the rubber meets the road: time to put that interfacing in the places it needs to be using the methods I need to learn.

Hair canvas and silk organza for interfacing

Let me talk for a moment about “tailoring.” The inside-out jackets I saw in the window of that store were demonstrating their “tailored” interiors. What, then, is the difference between the regular sewing that I’ve been doing for so many years, and this new tailoring experience?

Everyone in the business seems to know what it is, but there is no one, overall, well-established definition. All definitions, however, refer to precise fitting, indeed, “custom fitting” and from what I’ve learned already, although fitting a blouse is also a “thing,” it isn’t done by a complex array of interfacings and interior design as it were.

One definition of tailoring that I think we can work with is as follows: “Tailoring is the art of designing, fitting, fabricating, and finishing garments.”[1] But there’s an argument to be made that dressmaking involves the same thing. Why, then, do couture ateliers have a dressmaking workshop and a tailoring workshop – two separate entities? For a writer like me, I look for those words that differentiate between two different entities. However, I think that the experience of “tailoring” a garment is really what defines it for me. This week I got a real dose of it. I began the process of inserting the interfacings that will shape and ultimately custom-fit the jacket for me.

The process here begins with adding some shape to the shoulder by cutting a slit as marked in the front body interfacing, spreading it apart at the shoulder and adding a bias-cut strip of canvas and stitching close to the edges then trimming.

When I first looked at this on the pattern instructions, I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. So, I just did as I was told, followed the instructions and now I get it. After I pressed it into shape, I have a canvas that will allow the shoulder joint to move. Seems like a good idea to me!

Now for the shoulder plate. I have to begin by telling you that with the research that I did, there seems to be a difference of opinion about what type of interfacing this ought to be. However, this pattern calls for hair canvas, so that’s what I am using. The detailed pattern instructions provided by Claire Schaeffer, provide some guidance for how to “hand pad-stitch” the shoulder canvas to the front body canvas. This shoulder plate will stabilize the shoulder and prevent it from falling inward especially in a woman’s jacket – like mine. (I’ll get back to the pad-stitching thing in a minute.) She also suggests (horror of horrors!) that a couture jacket might also use machine pad-stitching. Well, that just seemed like such a good way to start. So, I used my new favourite sewing gadget, my vanishing marking pen, and marked the lines for the pad-stitching as recommended in the pattern. I marked the rows one inch apart and got going.

I learned that the important bits of this technique are (1) to keep the canvas pieces flat as you sew and (2) to begin at the centre, moving outward in either direction interchangeably. This gives me the best chance of keeping the canvases flat. It works out pretty well and when I iron it, voila! The marking disappears (not that this is really an issue since this will be well hidden under the lining in due course!). I don’t have a photo of this since the stitching disappeared into the canvas. I think that’s what’s supposed to happen!

The next (and in my nerd-like way I find the most exciting part yet) is to get that canvas onto the jacket fabric so that it can begin to shape it and give it the structure a tailored blazer needs. I was so excited to get started, I almost forgot to sew the darts in the jacket front before I started. The canvas needs to have the darts cut out. Just imagine what it would be like if you put darts in the canvas! Not a pretty picture.

The first thing I like to do when two pieces of fabric (or in this case, fabric and interfacing) need to be laid flat against one another is to baste. So, using my favourite Japanese cotton basting thread and very large, diagonal stitches, I baste the canvas onto the fabric.

Then, what’s the story on those seam allowances? What’s interesting about the interfacing pieces in this pattern is that most are cut from pattern pieces specially made for interfacing (rather than ones I had to create from the main body piece myself). However, the front panel interfacing is cut from the same piece as the fashion fabric. This means that it has all the seam allowances intact.

As I researched body shaping with interfacing, I discovered that most experts think that seams benefit from not having the interfacing sewn in along the seam lines, and this makes sense to me. How can you get a smooth, sharp seam if there is hair canvas in the stitching? This means that if I follow C.S.’s instructions, I’ll have both fabric and seam allowance in the shoulder seams and the side seams. Although it seems to me that it is a good idea (as per Alison Smith’s tailoring course on Craftsy among others) to have this extra support in the neckline and the armscye, it seems like a very bad idea to have it in other places. So, I’ll take Alison’s advice and trim the seam allowance from the side seam (really the seam that connects to the side panels), along the front up to and including the lapel to the notch and the shoulder seams.

This means that I need to baste inside the body along those lines so that I can trim just inside the seam line and then catch-stitch it to the body. Since I plan to leave the interfacing at the neckline and armhole, I will not need to put stay-tape in those places. Stay with me here: we’re not done yet!

Now it is time to pad-stitch. What in the world is this pad-stitching for? According to Wikipedia, the great expert in all that is,

Pad stitches are a type of running stitch made by placing small stitches perpendicular to the line of stitching. Pad stitches secure two or more layers of fabric together and give the layers more firmness; smaller and denser stitches create more firmness. They may also be used to enforce an overall curvature of the layers.[2]

So, it means that pad-stitches are used to hold two layers of fabric together and contribute to the ability of the tailor to shape the garment. And they are dead simple to do. (FYI the University of Kentucky has posted a really great pdf with explanations of how to do all the hand-stitches you will ever need at https://grayson.ca.uky.edu/files/hand_stitches.pdf .)

Following the roll line, I mark the stitching lines with my lovely vanishing pen marker to keep my lines straight and to indicate where they need to be closer together.

Then I get at it. It doesn’t take nearly as much time as you might think, and it’s very relaxing. I would, however, recommend a high counter where you can have the fabric at elbow level and you don’t ‘have to bend over so much. Don’t’ try to do this sitting at your sewing machine table. It’s too low unless yours is on a counter with a stool!).

Scott Perkins of the blog Garb for Guys offers the following diagram[3] of pad-stitching:

It’s now time to baste the canvas to the side panels with large basting stitches. I will also have to baste inside the seam lines and catch-stitch them to the fabric since those pesky seam allowances are on the interfacing pattern pieces. I also have to make sure I can see the markings for the welt-pocket openings on both the front panels and the side panels since the welts travel across the seam line.

Then I have to tape the roll line. But before I do that, I have to shrink the twill tape. I’ve actually never bothered to do this before when I used it with my Little French Jacket projects, but I’m trying to be a good student here, so I immerse it in hot water and hang it to dry. Then I have to iron it.

Finally, I’m ready to lay it on the body side of the roll line and pin it in place. The pattern instructions differentiate between the concept of the tape being “held short” versus “laying flat.” This means that the tape is not simply flatly laid on the line; rather it is cut slightly shorter than the length needed to lay flat and the fabric is eased in. It helps the lapel to kind of curve into the body. This is easier than it sounds. I just pin it in place, baste it (did I mention that basting is my best friend?).

The pattern instructions direct you to secure it in place with a row of fell stitches on each side. Stephanie Lincecum (another Craftsy instruction who teacher tailoring) says to use a modified catch-stitch in which you move from left to right (or the reverse if you’re left-handed) and catch a bit of tape and interfacing with each stitch. I like this approach better. I think it’s easier and looks better! And really, doesn’t it need to look nice under all that lining? No one else will know, but you will!

Of course, I need to put the interfacing on the upper back and the back hemlines, but that’s for putting the body together. And what about that silk organza interfacing? I’ll get to that! Another day, another stitching line! Talk soon.


[1] The history of tailoring, https://journal.alabamachanin.com/2016/05/the-history-of-tailoring/#:~:text=The%20art%20of%20tailoring%20dates,chafing%20associated%20with%20heavy%20armor.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pad_stitch

[3] https://garb4guys.blogspot.com/2008/02/pad-stitching-with-demo.html