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, 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 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 sewing, Style

And now for something completely different… a new Facebook Group

Please indulge me: This is just a brief diversion from my on-going tailored blazer project so that I can share some news with you.

I’ve been a member of several sewing-related Facebook groups for a few years now, and I have largely enjoyed my browsing and interacting – as limited as it has been. However, I’ve felt recently that I’d love to be able to share a bit more of my own interests in the hope of finding like-minded people out there who are passionate about the same things I am – namely fashion sewing (and styling those new me-made pieces) and books. I’m talking about books related to sewing (instructional or other), fashion, style whether they are nonfiction (like your favourite, go-to sewing manual) or a novel like The Devil Wears Prada or The Year I Made 12 Dresses (I had to put that one in there, didn’t I? So, shoot me.) Enter the new Facebook group.

I’ve never been the administrator of a Facebook group before, but I know a thing or two about organizing things. I’ve created a new group that I’d love to have you join if it’s something you think you might enjoy – and enjoyment is the number one objective. We can further discuss the things I post on this blog. You can share your newest fashion sewing projects or how you’re styling an old piece you might have made some time ago. We can share brief reviews of sewing and fashion-related books. We can recommend to one another books we enjoy. I would welcome any kind of sewing resource you might want to share with others – a video, a blog (even your own if it relates to the things this group is about. Maybe we can even find a bit of inspiration among the posts.

It’s my intention that this group be for every sewer (sewist) who loves fashion sewing, loves reading, and is just a bit of a nerd like me.

The purpose of this group is to find like-minded sewers (sewists) who want to share their journey in fashion garment sewing and books about sewing: instructional books, books that spark creativity, fiction that inspires sewing and fashion design.

The group is not for selling. But if you’ve written a book about sewing, fashion design, pattern-making or creativity, we can talk. I’d love to be able to support you and share your work, but I need to see what it’s all about first. There are other things the group is not designed for like quilting, bag-making, kid’s clothing, dog clothing, mask-making, etc.; political or religious stuff, rants. There are a few more listed on the site.

Anyway, enough about anything not related to my current tailoring project. Just thought some of you might like to know…now I’m back to my daily writing on my new book and a relaxing hour or two working on pad-stitching the undercollar of my new blazer. Later this week, I’ll share with you the next installment of the blazer project: shaping the body. Wish me luck!

Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project Continues: Preparing the fabric and interfacing(s)

If like me, you’ve ever dreamed of having that perfectly tailored bespoke suit made precisely for your own body, you’ve probably wondered where you might procure one. Earlier this month, the BBC featured a young London entrepreneur and tailor named Daisy Knatchbull who has opened the very first all-female tailor shop on the storied Saville Row in London. You probably know that Saville Row has, up until now, been exclusively focused on men’s tailoring. But not any longer. The story transported me…

But, did you notice how much such a suit will set you back? Enter an opportunity for all of us who sew. We can create these bespoke suits for ourselves at a fraction of the cost – but a lot of sweat equity it has to be said! And that’s what this project I’m in the middle of is all about. I’m doing my own self-guided course on tailoring.

In the last post, I created and altered the muslin. By the time I was finished with that, I had a well-fitting pattern (I hope) and was ready to finally get that fabric out and begin to cut.

You might remember that the fabric I’ve chosen for this project is a silk and cotton tweed and to say that it frays would be a serious understatement. This is important to know if (a) I want the seam allowances to be accurate, and (b) I want to maintain my sanity. So, as I begin to lay out and cut the fabric, I have to keep this in mind. First, I try not to handle it too much and second, later on, I’ll actually take the time to run a machine stitching line down all important edges. It’s worth the time. But back to the cutting out.

There are a lot of moving pieces in a tailored jacket that has welted flap pockets, side panels and two-piece sleeves. And since this Vogue 9099 pattern is a Claire Schaeffer couture teaching one, it has numerous pieces.

Instead of having to create your own lining and interfacing pattern pieces, they have been provided, so I must separate out the ones that are just for the fabric, the ones that are cut from fabric and interfacing, and the ones (actually there is only one) that are both a fabric and lining pattern. I’ll deal with the lining later – I can only cope with so much fraying fabric at one time. The lining is silk charmeuse and I’m well aware of that baby’s tendency to fray into super-thin silk filaments. Later.

This isn’t the most expensive fabric I’ve ever used (that would have been Italian cotton for a shirt for my husband), but it wasn’t cheap, either. So, I take a moment to ensure that I’m relaxed and calm before I attack it with the shears.

So many pieces!

Once I have that done, I need to cut the interfacing pieces because there will be no sewing of this project until the interior body and collar shaping are done.

I’ve never worked with hair canvas before, but since this one is fairly thin, it’s easy to work with and thankfully does not fray! I’ve chosen this light-weight canvas so that I don’t change the character of the fabric too much. I want shaping, but I want soft shaping.

According to the pattern instructions, there are a few pieces of interfacing that need to be cut from “batiste.” I thought I knew enough about fabrics to know what batiste is, but this didn’t make a whole of sense to me especially when I noted that the batiste was to be used to interface the undercollar and pocket flaps.

So, I go to my favourite textile bible and find out that I am right: batiste is lawn. In fact, “lawn” is called batiste when it is made from cotton and called “handkerchief linen” when made from flax. Bottom line: it’s very thin, and not at all what I would have thought ought to be interfacing for an undercollar – but it might be right for pocket flaps. Nevertheless, I decide that the decision of what to put where could come later. I follow the instructions and cut it out. However, I don’t have batiste lying around, but I do have silk organza which has many of the same characteristics of batiste (sheer and lightweight and able to hold its shape being chief among them), so I decide that silk organza would be an even better alternative. We’ll see.

Hair canvas and silk organza for interfacings.

With the pieces all cut out, it’s time to mark everything – carefully. One thing I do know about making jackets – traditionally-tailored or Chanel-style – the marking needs to be accurate and plentiful.

My favourite kind of marking for tweed uses Japanese cotton basting thread for lines and tailor’s tacks. Remember what I said about fraying? I could have handled this by using couture methods – cutting the seam allowances off the pattern, laying everything out in a single layer, rough-cutting at an inch or more and finally thread-tracing the seam lines. I choose not to do this. I cut the pieces with the regular seam allowance then carefully measure my way around the periphery of every piece adding thread-traced seam allowances. This should keep me on the right track when I get to the side seams which are the most important ones for fitting this jacket for me.

Of course, I have to figure out how to thread-trace the pieces that are cut in a double layer without removing and replacing tissue pattern pieces multiple times. I decide to use the technique demonstrated in the video below for the first step, but I really hate all those tails. That’s why I then do running stitch lines connecting the tails and remove all the annoying little bits of thread. (No, I didn’t do that on the seam lines on the periphery – I measured them all as I did my running stitch. See my little green sewing gauge above.)

It is after this step that I decide to machine stitch around all-important seam allowances (which will give me the right fit in the end) to reduce fraying. It is my sanity saver.

Marking the interfacing is also important and is much easier. I use tracing paper and will use one of those pens whose markings disappear with heat and steam. (I’ve just acquired a couple and am tickled at how well they work – unless, of course, you inadvertently steam away your markings before you need them as I have done several times).

Now that it’s all cut out (except for the lining) it’s time to learn as much as I can about things like “pad-stitching” and other aspects of what goes into the shaping of the interior of the jacket. I’ve started practicing…

What I’m learning is that there are as many “best practices” as there are experts in the field of tailoring. I’m going to try to figure out whose method works best for which aspects of the project – I’m not planning on following the pattern instructions to the letter (sorry Claire Schaeffer!).

I’ll share that with you next.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: Fitting the Muslin

I don’t know about you, but I just love making test garments. Whether you call it a muslin, a toile or a calico, it all means the same thing: a garment made for fitting and testing out sewing and tailoring techniques before cutting into your fashion fabric.

The idea of a wearable muslin is a bit of an oddity to me because if I can’t mark on the fabric, cut it apart to use as a precisely-fitted pattern, and make as many mistakes as needed to get it right, there’s not much point in it, si there? Anyway, I love making them and am often sad when it comes time to cut the ugly little thing apart. So, now it’s time to get on with the muslin for my tailored blazer.

Of course, there are times when I don’t make a muslin. That would be when I make a loosely-fitted T-shirt or something. But, if there is even the slightest possibility that it won’t fit almost out of the commercial package, I make a test garment. And, of course, whenever I draft the pattern myself, I create a muslin the first time around. It’s the only way to test the fit and the techniques.

In the past, I’ve even had to do a second muslin from time to time. The last time I used a Claire Schaeffer pattern was the last time I did this.

This pattern was the last Claire Schaeffer one I made. Quite a different technique from this tailored one.

But if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and precisely.

I always begin with a bit of tissue fitting. I think you can see a lot of issues with tissue-fitting, but in the end, it has serious limitations. No one is making a tailored jacket out of any kind of fabric that resembles pattern paper (at least not in my atelier!) so it’s very difficult to work out solutions for fit issues even after you see them. That’s why I begin by washing, drying, and ironing my muslin to make it drape a bit better, then I cut it out very carefully. Just because it’s plain, old cotton doesn’t mean that I can treat it with anything less than the highest respect. After all, it will tell me a lot about my pattern, the fit and my personal sewing skills for this project.

Before I cut out a muslin, however, I always decide how much of the inner construction I’m going to actually do. Will I put on facings? Will I use the welts? Will I install pockets? Most of these pieces are not necessary for s simple fit garment, but they are crucial if I am using the muslin to perfect techniques. In this case, I haven’t done a welt pocket in so many years, I feel I need a refresher, so I cut out the welts and flaps. If the first one is perfect (ha-ha!), I won’t need to do a second. I think I’ll plan to do two practice welt pockets. (As I mentioned in my last post, I will omit the breast flap pocket because I think it’s unflattering.)

As for the large front facing, this is a puzzle at first. Claire Schaeffer’s instructions suggest that she has provided a front facing “guide,” which looks to me like a front facing, and a very large rectangular piece to be cut of fabric to shape into a front facing. Well, perhaps I’ll do that when I get there, but for the purposes of the muslin, I will be cutting the “front facing guide” out and use it as my test facing. You might want to consider this, too, if you’re doing this pattern. I will also put together test lapels so I’ll be needing the undercollar and upper collar pieces.

After the pieces are cut out, I come to the part I really love the most about this process – the marking. Seriously! First, I get out my large pieces of waxed tracing paper I bought from Susan Khalje’s website a few years ago and use a tracing wheel to mark the underside of each piece first. Then I remove the pattern piece, turn the piece over and mark the second piece using the bottom marks as a guide.

Once these markings are complete, I do need to do some machine thread-tracing so that I have some marks on the outside of the muslin jacket as well. I’ll need the waistline, the centre front marking, the grain marking and the markings for button placement.

Thread markings I can see on both sides.

It’s finally time to sew it together. I usually use red thread for the first go at it. If I need to make changes, I’ll use blue thread. Some people suggest that you don’t iron darts, seams etc. as you go, but I feel that I can’t really see how it will look if I do it. It does, however, mean that if I have to alter anything, not only do I have to pull out the original stitches, but then I have to iron it again. But I don’t mind.

As you can see from the first fitting, I had some alterations to make.

The sleeves were too big (this was expected – these Vogue patterns seem to think everyone is built like a Sumo wrestler) and they were too long (we’re not all built like orangutans!). You can see that I cut the upper sleeve at the marking for shortening (which I had transferred onto the muslin itself) and sewed it again. I also shortened the placket slightly. The pattern suggests four buttons at the sleeve vent. I think four buttons is too much. I bought four for each sleeve, but I’ll use only three each.

I also have to shorten the shoulder length. So, I had to take the sleeve partially out and then replace it after measuring the pattern to be sure I wouldn’t have to take any ease out. I didn’t, which was a good thing because I didn’t have to re-draw the entire sleeve head pattern.

I also did both flap welt pockets for practice. I followed the instructions Claire Schaeffer created for the Vogue pattern for the first one, but then I found a few tricks Pam Howard provided in her Craftsy class that really helped me get the second one right. I think I’m going to have to be flexible about using only the pattern instructions. I’ll be referring to my tailoring book and to he video classes I own.

I’m now happy with the fit, so the next step is to cut apart the lovely little ugly jacket and transfer all the alterations to the pattern.  Then…cutting out the fabric, canvas interfacing, organza interfacing and silk lining!

FYI’s

[No endorsements or kick-backs, just information in case you’d like to learn more about the things I use in my atelier.]

I use Japanese cotton basting thread I bought from Susan Khalje’s shop: https://susankhalje.com/collections/store/products/japanese-cotton-basting-thread

And here’s where you can find that waxed tracing paper: https://susankhalje.com/collections/store/products/waxed-tracing-paper

I had no problems with having these delivered from her shop in the US to my home in Canada.

Posted in fabrics, Fashion, Style, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project: My fabulous fabric (and other things I need)

What better day to talk about great fabrics for my tailoring project than the first day of autumn? Although, in years past, whenever I thought about tailored jackets I also thought about matching pants or skirts (can you say suit?), these days the thought of a tailored jacket is more likely to have me thinking about jeans and great sneakers. That’s more my style these days. Anyway, my last post saw me rationalizing why I need to do this project and how I will begin to learn about the tailoring process. I have my pattern (along with all 12 pages of instructions it included). So, now I’m ready to talk fabrics.

I love fabrics. In fact, one of my favourite sewing-related books is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory.

One of my sewing bibles.

Call me a sewing nerd if you like, but I love to read about sewing and know a bit more about what I’m doing than simply how to do it. I need to know why. When I considered choosing my fabric for this project, I knew that I wanted it to be a bit tweedier, or bouclé-ish than flat or worsted wool that you see in men’s suits. I knew it would need some texture and I didn’t want another black jacket. I am the first person to say that a black jacket is golden – and is, in fact, the urban Toronto uniform from Labour Day until the long weekend in May – but god knows I have enough black. First, what else should I consider other than colour?

Well, I have another new book. This one’s on tailoring and it arrived yesterday. What could be more perfect for me right now than The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket?

It has 400 well-shot photos that I’m sure I’ll refer to as I move through the project. Today, I was focusing on what the authors had to say about choosing fabrics to tailor, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Well, that would be me.

This book identifies five characteristics to consider when selecting tailoring fabrics.

Interestingly, among them is, in fact, colour! Yes, colour is important because, and I actually knew this going in, medium or darker colours hide inner construction better than light-coloured ones. Also, just think about how a white fabric might look after all the handling you have to do when you tailor a jacket.

The book also says that I should consider fibre content. This should have been obvious to me, as well. Natural fibres can be shaped far more easily than synthetics. Since tailoring requires lots of pressing and manipulating into shapes, this is important.

The next important characteristic is the fabric’s weight. It also makes a lot of sense when you think about it. A fabric that is too light will get over-pressed very quickly. On the other hand, I’ll never be able to get a crisp corner (or anything else crisp) with a really heavy fabric.

Next is texture. I learned this when I made my first Little French Jacket. Those jackets are lined by machine-quilting the lining to the fabric. The stitches are, therefore, visible on the outside. However, with enough texture, the stitching is all but invisible. Just take a look at an authentic Chanel jacket in a consignment store sometime. They are machine-quilted. So, in this kind of tailoring I’m doing now, there will be some little hand-stitches that might otherwise show on a smooth fabric. Textured it is, then.

Finally, there is a question of the weave. A medium weave is easily pressed and will hold its shape. I would have to fight with a tight weave, while a loose weave will stretch.

Well, four out of five ain’t bad! My fabric choice may have a weave issue, but I’ll deal with it. I’ve used loose-ish weaves before.

I think it’s fair to say that most people choose a fashion fabric first, then they choose the lining. I did this a bit backwards since I had a piece of silk charmeuse I loved that I bought when we were on vacation (pre-COVID) earlier this year. I loved the muted pastels even though I rarely wear them. I also love the feel of authentic silk charmeuse against my body, so I always thought it would make a great lining. I then had to find a fabric that would sort of “go” with it.

Beautiful silk charmeuse!

I found the fabric on Queen Street West here in Toronto at a little fabric store I mentioned n an earlier post. It’s a silk-cotton blend in a peachy tweed weave the incorporates yellow, green and cream. I loved the fabric and I’m going to make it work.

Then, what about what goes inside the jacket…the tailoring stuff?

I needed hair canvas (more about this in a later post). Two weeks ago, my husband and I had a weekday, weekend away in Niagara-on-the-Lake (here’s a video we made if you need a bit of armchair travel in these peculiar times). On the way, I stopped in Fabricland (Canada’s answer to Joann’s but up a notch or two) in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I asked a lovely saleswoman if they had any hair canvas. She thought for a moment then managed to find a bolt stuffed away under the cutting counter.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve worked here twelve years and this is the first time I’ve ever sold any of this.” This was corroborated by another sales clerk who had never sold any either. So, it was a good day for them. At $22 a metre, it wasn’t cheap (and it’s only 20 inches wide).

I also found the stay tape I’ll need for the interior edges and some buttons that will work.

I’m excited to get on with cutting the pieces all out. There are so many of them I’ll need a database to keep track! Talk soon.

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Books, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project Begins: Why create a blazer?

As far as I’m concerned, there is no single piece of clothing in the world that immediately transforms not only how you look, but how you feel about yourself than a tailored jacket – a blazer to be precise.

There was a time in my life when I had a closet full of them – and matching skirts or trousers – and I wore them every day. I’m sure that there are many women out there who can identify with this.

And even if you didn’t wear a suit jacket to work, I’m sure you recognized at one time or another that putting a blazer on over even a T-shirt changes everything.

I think I learned my strongest lesson ever about a blazer-style jacket many years ago when I was working in communications for a large organ transplant program. It was a summer day, and I was probably wearing a dress of some sort or another (I used to wear dresses for other things than cocktails). I got a phone call late in the morning from the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a Canadian). They would be arriving in a couple of hours to interview me for the evening news. The truth is that the CBC was notorious at the time for always wanting you to come to their studios if they wanted to interview you and this isn’t always convenient. There even used to be a saying among communications professionals that went this way: “The CBC was unlikely to ever come out for anything short of the second coming.” Well, this wasn’t the second coming, but it was an occasion when I knew I’d need a jacket. I ran home at lunchtime (luckily, I lived a five-minute walk from my office) and got myself a blazer. Never again was I without a jacket in my office to throw over whatever I was wearing for purposes of a television interview. But things have changed.

I have noticed that the “uniform” these days for women who are on-camera personalities, especially in the US, is what I would have labelled a cocktail dress in years gone by. To prove a point – that they don’t have to look like men to compete with them, I guess – women have forgotten the power of the jacket. These days, I can still expect to see Lisa LaFlamme on CTV news in Canada in the evening wearing some version of a suit jacket and she looks so professional.

So, I love a blazer. I think you get that. And since I have never done traditional tailoring, and it’s been over 35 years since I even created a jacket with a lapel collar for myself, I thought I’d love to take on a new challenge. Enter the new project. I am going to learn traditional and modern tailoring techniques and create for myself a perfectly-fitted blazer-style jacket. As usual, though, before I begin, I need to do a bit of research. For example, where did the name “blazer” come from and when did women start wearing tailored jackets?

According to Michael Andrews Bespoke, in a fascinating piece about the history of women in suits, “The first notable appearance of a woman making a man’s suit her own was in 1870 when actress Sarah Bernhardt began wearing her “boy’s clothes” in public.”[1] As you might expect, at that time, a woman wearing what was traditionally considered to be men’s clothing was nothing short of scandalous.

Sarah Bernhardt in a suit

In the late nineteenth century, women began to wear what could be considered early suit jackets. If you haven’t yet read historian Linda Przybyszewski’s fascinating book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and you are interested in style, stop reading immediately and go order a copy — then come back! In her book she provides some very interesting views on how style developed including references to early suit jackets on women.

Coco Chanel first began creating two-piece suits for women in the 1920s and is credited with giving the suit a boost. Chanel’s suits gave the first-wave feminists of the early twentieth century their own look, but the hallmark of the Chanel suit was its softness, its minimal tailoring. In 1966, Yves St. Laurent offered women a look that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be beaten if we want to look elegant, sophisticated and powerful. Enter “Le Smoking.”

Over the years, women have adopted many styles of suit jackets. As I look back on the last American election and take a close look at Hilary Clinton’s “pantsuits” I wonder what went wrong with that particular image. I think it might have been three things: colour, fit and proportion. She just looked unkempt and odd in my view. Did this make a difference to her political aspirations? Or should it have? Probably not, but I’m not a political writer – this is about style, design and creation!

It seems that suit jackets have been in women’s style arsenal for a very long time. So, what’s the difference between a suit jacket and a blazer?

In an interesting piece by The Gentlemanual, the difference is this: “Dressier than sports jackets but not as formal as a suit, the blazer serves as a nice middle ground piece that elevates outfits nicely without going overboard.”[2] At least this is how they describe a blazer for men, and I think we can adopt this understanding for women. As I have always thought, a blazer elevates any outfit.

The term “blazer” itself has an interesting history. According to Lanieri Italia, the blazer originated as follows:

The term was first used around 1825 to define the red blazers used by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club, the rowing Club at St. John’s College in Cambridge. Their jackets were called blazer (from the word “blaze”) because of the bright red fabric used to tailor them, but the term was thereafter used for jackets in any colour.[3]

And, of course, a blazer is fundamentally a stand-alone piece whereas a suit jacket comes with a matching pair of trousers, a skirt or even a dress. In general, as well, a blazer is either single-breasted with two pockets or double-breasted with six buttons (and they have patch pockets according to tradition).

So, I plan to create a perfectly-fitting blazer using some traditional (and perhaps a few modern) tailoring techniques. My blazer will be two-buttoned, single-breasted because that’s the most flattering style for my figure. It will also have welt pockets rather than patch pockets for three reasons: First, patch pockets are what I generally put on Chanel-inspired, soft jackets. The second reason is that I haven’t made a welt pocket in decades so I want to re-learn this skill. Third, because the commercial pattern I’ve chosen has welt pockets. Oh, yes, the pattern in question:

This is Claire Schaeffer’s couture blazer pattern. What this means is that she has personally written for Vogue patterns the instructions – all 12 pages of them. Yes, 12 pages!

I’ve done some couture sewing in the past, so a lot of the approach is familiar (and I used Claire Schaeffer’s Little French jacket pattern Vogue 8804 for my last LFJ), but OMG, just wait!

I’ll tell you more about it when I get to cutting out the muslin. But, up next, the all-important and oh-so-fun and creative part: finding the perfect fabric and lining. Stay tuned!


[1] A brief history of women’s suits. https://www.michaelandrews.com/journal/history-womens-suits

[2] https://www.ties.com/blog/whats-the-difference-sports-jacket-vs-blazer-vs-suit-jacket

[3] https://www.lanieri.com/blog/en/whats-the-difference-between-a-jacket-and-a-blazer/