Anyone who has been reading my online posts for a while will already know that I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to sewing bloggers. Rather than being a sewist who writes, as most sewing bloggers seem to be, I am a writer who sews—that’s why my posts usually contain a story or two. I don’t just tell you what and how I’ve been sewing. I usually have a story about why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I’ve been sewing since I was about twelve years old and writing for as long—but I’ve spent more of my adult life writing than sewing. About two years ago, I wrote a book that combined these lifelong passions. Until then, most of my writing had been a thirty-year career as a nonfiction health and business writer with a bit of historical fiction added to the recent mix. When The Year I Made 12 Dresses launched in mid-2020, I had no idea it was the start of a book series. I had no idea that Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson, who learned as much about herself as she did about sewing that year she made 12 dresses, would stay in my imagination through so many stories.
Charlie has become slightly more peripheral to the stories recently, although I would argue that she is pivotal—and that will become increasingly clear when the next (and final book) is published. In the last book, Charlie found an unfinished manuscript for a romance novel among her great-grandmother’s belongings after she died. And Charlie, being a writer herself, decided to finish the story. What she never counted on was that she had the ending wrong. Charlie discovers the real people behind the characters in her great-grandmother’s story and knows she has to listen to them. Today, I’m launching the fifth book in the series.
It’s 1989, and Antonia St. John has a single goal. To crash through that glass ceiling created by 1960s Madison Avenue advertising men. Then, the one thing she never saw coming threatens to derail her plans until she can find a solution. She never planned on having a baby―especially a baby who turns out to be a ballet dancer, something Antonia cannot get her head around. But the baby is just the beginning of Antonia’s journey into family life.
When she learns her baby’s father, Tim, has a secret buried in his past―a secret so big it changes everything― Antonia has to dig deep within herself to find the courage to see it through to the end and to find her place in the family. With an unlikely ally in her mother-in-law, Grace, who never liked Antonia, she finally begins to learn the lessons that families―even dysfunctional ones―have to offer. Figuring out where you fit into a family―and the world―may be the ultimate challenge.
There’s another thing about me that many of my readers don’t know. I’m a ballet mom. My son lived away from home in residence at Canada’s National Ballet School from the time he was eleven until he graduated in 2007. That experience as a parent of a student at an elite ballet school was part of the inspiration for this book, which is dedicated to 2007 graduates of the National Ballet School.
Charlie doesn’t do a lot of sewing in this book (just wait until next time, though!), but she learns a lot about life.
Coco Chanel had a thing or two to say about fashion and style, but there is one thing she said that I’ve embraced since I was a teenager who loved fashion (and style, as it turns out):
“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
I suppose there was a time in my life when I thought I was in love with fashion. Does anyone else remember salivating over the September issue of Vogue every year? I’d anxiously await its late-August arrival on the local newsstands, then scoop it up to be savoured over the Labour Day weekend. I did that through my university years, on through grad school, then when I was a mom and full-time professor.
The September issue was the fattest of the year. The 2007 September issue, for example, weighed five pounds and warranted a documentary about its creation and its creator – Anna Wintour.
Never mind that you had to page through 200 pages of ads before any of the editorial material started (!), but those ads contained lots of ideas for current fashion, so they weren’t a waste of time, in my view. Back in the day, I couldn’t afford most of what they advertised, but I loved being inspired by what was new. However, throughout this search for the latest and greatest, I seem to have developed a kind of personal style―that thing that Coco said endures. I was thinking about this earlier this week as I perused Vogue’s Instagram posts on the Met Gala.
The theme this year was “The Gilded Age,” a period (1890s to mid-1920s) in fashion marked by extravagance, yes―including corsets, gowns open at the throat and off the shoulder, jewel-toned fabrications and feathers―but what I saw on display at this year’s Met extravaganza (on the Vogue Instagram feed) was what I could only describe as eye-wateringly expensive skank. Oh, I love that word. It says so much. (Of course, there was the New York upper crust in lovely gowns, but the media focused on the boob-baring, crotch-revealing, oh-so-tight numbers that I certainly wouldn’t have called flattering or even comfortable for that matter! Who wants to spend dinner trying to avoid a wardrobe malfunction? Or to be propositioned by a John on the corner on your way to an after-party?) *sigh*
I wondered what Coco Chanel would have thought. Anyway, I didn’t get an invitation so, I suppose there’s that. But how did we get here to a point where fashion is so over-the-top, and those of us who want to be “fashionable” have little in the way of inspiration? (Yes, I know the Met Gala is a costume extravaganza for many, but those costume selections reflect a broad movement toward skank – just my opinion.)That’s where personal style development comes in. And that’s where sewing your own wardrobe―or at least part of it― comes in.
I’ve always been a bit buttoned-down, and I’ve stopped apologizing for that. I feel “bien dans ma peau,” as the French expression and perspective goes. (“Good in my skin,” just so you don’t have to run to Google translate) in well-fitting tailored shirts, a great pair of jeans, a beautifully tailored jacket. I feel less and less happy about myself in T-shirts, and I hate too-tight clothes. Maybe it’s my age, or maybe I’m just happier to embrace low-key sophistication. I look like I’m wearing upholstery when I don floral patterns, and I hate the Boho vibe on me. It wasn’t always that way, though. I remember a particular photo of me from back in the mid-1970s where I have an afro-style perm, and I’m wearing some hideous thing with a floral flounce. Dear god. What was I thinking? Anyway, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that now. So, I guess my underlying style has evolved. And knowing this makes dressing so much easier.
When asked about her famously different wardrobe, Katherine Hepburn said this: “I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear.” I like that sentiment. If I know my style and stick to it, getting dressed becomes a breeze, and I always feel well turned out.
My “Style” Sewing
So, what have I sewn in recent years to accomplish that end?
First, I taught myself to sew shirts. I have mastered many of the techniques I need to create a well-fitting shirt, and I can choose the fabric and colours that suit me, not those that suit the designer of a particular clothing brand or what they think everyone else will want t wear.
I also taught myself some tailoring. I was proud of myself when I finished my first traditionally tailored jacket. I just wish we had more transitional weather in which I could wear it! We are still on too-cold mode, and before we know it, the summer will have descended, and a jacket like that will be too warm.
So, I used my shirt-making skills to create a few summer shirts that stand up well on a 6-kilometre walk in the city, something my husband and I do almost every day. I’m still looking for that perfect design, but in the meantime, I’ll make a few more from Butterick 6324.
Keeping with the theme of buttoned-up blouses, I kind of fell in love with the sleeveless version of Butterick 6842, so I decided to see if I could get a good fit.
I’ll tell you all the details in my next post, but suffice it to say that the second mock-up that I thought would be not a muslin but a final version (made from leftover shirting fabric pictured above) isn’t working as well as I had hoped fit-wise. Back to the drawing board.
I stumbled on Alison Lumbatis’s book The Ultimate Guide to Outfit Formulas, which I have yet to order, but it looks like it might be a great guide for figuring out what to sew. I think I’ll put it on my birthday wish list. If you’ve read it, let me know how you were able to use it.
“Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
Ever since I can remember, I’ve thought about clothes. There’s an old photo of me at about age two or three, wearing a little sundress (with a bit of a wardrobe malfunction!) while sporting one of my mother’s large handbags and a pair of her high heels (with ankle socks―seems to me I’ve seen this style recently!). As far as my father was concerned, that epitomized his middle daughter.
Fast forward to high school when I made most of my clothes and loved fashion while at the same time acing my biology and analytical trigonometry courses. Naturally, I followed my academic prowess into university (sciences and social science all the way), but I never lost my love for dressing well.
Back in the 1970s, university campuses buzzed with social events that demanded formal dresses. There were several of these events every year, and I had a new dress for every one of them. By the time I was in grad school in the late ‘70s, things were beginning to change. And I suppose, in fairness, grad students were more focused on getting their degrees and getting out than they were on formal social events.
I spent the last twenty-six years of my forty-year career (before early retirement) as an academic. For most university professors, wardrobe is less an afterthought than a no-thought. That doesn’t describe all of them, but it does capture a majority in my experience. Yes, I also had to do research, publish and do administrative work, but I considered the teaching part of my job the starring role, and I was a performer. Make no mistake, university students these days expect to be entertained. For me, part of that entertainment was wardrobe. And I never did apologize for that.
In her very thought-provoking book The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasure of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter, novelist and journalist Linda Grant said the following:
“I consider it to be absolutely normal to care deeply about what we wear, and [I] detest the puritan moralists who affect to despise fashion and those who love it. Who shrilly proclaim that only vain and foolish Barbie dolls, their brains addled by consumerism, would wear anything but sensible clothes made to last. As if appearances don’t’ matter, when, most of the time, they are all we have to go on. Or sometimes all that is left in the ruins of a life.”
Amen to that. It has been my rallying cry for most of my adult life.
Of course, throughout my very serious career, *cough* I had much less time than I might have wanted to create my own clothes. For years, the only sewing I did was to make Halloween costumes for my son. But he did have the best costumes in the neighbourhood!
Now, I have the time to be even more thoughtful about what I wear. I have eschewed fast fashion and cheaply made garments. When I shop, I examine the seams and finishing as much as I look at the garment on me. I love quality fabrics and thoughtful details. I have to admit that much of my move toward quality over quantity has been a result of COVID non-spending. When I finally emerged into the retail world, I wasn’t’ interested in filling my closet. I was interested more in wearing the parts of my closet that I love regardless of the occasion.
I once read that we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time. I believe it, and I wanted it to stop. But for that to happen, I had to slow down, consider my real lifestyle these days (few formal events on the horizon) and make thoughtful decisions about how to spend my current budget. And part of that is sewing―which, as far as I can see, is the greatest way to slow your wardrobe down.
That’s why I can’t get my head around people who sew as fast as they can. I love every part of the process, from prepping the pattern and fabric through the cutting and marking and then the sewing and finishing. I’m especially in love with making muslins! So, sue me. I’m a sewing nerd, and I can channel my inner fashion designer when I do mock-ups.
For me, the bottom line is that a planned wardrobe is a wardrobe I love. No more willy-nilly shopping at sales or buying something that’s “good enough.” And my husband has, on more than one occasion, provided the best advice: “If you wouldn’t pay full price for it, forget it.”
When I think about those of us who sew some of our own clothes, it occurs to me that this, in itself, requires more thought than just buying off the rack. It’s you who has the power to make a decision about which style will be made in which fabrics. You decide on the details you want or don’t want. You choose the buttons, zippers, topstitching (or not). You choose the seam finishes. You make it fit right. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can be more thoughtful about what we wear is to think about these details ―and make it ourselves.
Remember back in the 1970s and 80s? Well, maybe you’re too young, but that was when everyone seemed obsessed with colours. Did anyone ever ask you, “Have you had your colours done?” I used to roll my eyes and think: Just look at me. I don’t need someone to tell me I’m a winter―because I knew from owning the “fashion colour bible” that I was a winter.
In 1973 author Carole Jackson published the original edition of her book Color Me Beautiful: Discover Your Natural Beauty Through the Colors That Make You Look Great and Feel Fabulous. Carole Jackson’s opinion was that any woman can wear any colour well if she just finds the right shade. Jackson wasn’t the first to say this, but she was the first one to write what became a wildly popular book on the subject.
At the time, she suggested that there were four colour groups into which every woman would fit (or any man for that matter, I suppose). Of course, they were spring, summer, autumn and winter. Well, I’m not so sure about these seemingly arbitrary groupings. However, people have been riding on Jackson’s coat strings ever since. Recently there seems to have been a resurgence in interest.
These days, there are twelve groups. Does that make it more accurate? I don’t know about that either, but I do know that this colour stuff is great fun. And I also know that selecting fabric colour is as important a step as choosing a style for those of us who sew. Carole Jackson says that colour is magic. Well, maybe it is.
Fashion moguls have been opining on colour forever. Lilly Pulitzer―of the neon print Florida-esque design―says, “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.” Of course, she does.
Diana Vreeland, late of Vogue Magazine, once said. “All my life, I’ve pursued the perfect red,” a position that Audrey Hepburn seemed to have echoed when she said (no doubt before Diana said anything), “There is a shade of red for every woman.” Audrey seemed to be predicting Carole Jackson’s approach. (And Vreeland lived her pursuit. Her New York apartment was even red!)
For me, the arbiter of colour had to be Coco Chanel, though. She had a lot to say about colour in her life, and she designed clothing of many colours for many individual women. But she always returned to her basics―black, white, beige and red. Coco once said, “Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I have said that black has it all. White, too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”
Anyway, I decided to go online and figure out my current best colours. As we age, our skin tone changes, as does our hair colour―if we let it. So, I went on colourwise.me and did a little consultation. Here’s what happened.
Step One: Upload a headshot.
Step Two: Use the sample wand on the photo to determine your skin, hair and eye colour.
Step Three: Voila! Your colours.
If I look at this colour selection, I see clear colours that I know look good on me. I also see my favourite: black. But if I want to go a bit outside my comfort zone this year, I might pick something like…
So, when Fabricville asked me to write a blog post for their spring 2022 newsletter, I went to their site to select a fabric.
When it arrived, I realized it was almost exactly this year’s Pantone colour of the year, which I had dissed when I saw it. I swore it was not a colour that attracted me. Dear god, I thought, I’m going to sew something in periwinkle! I reminded myself to keep an open mind.
The bamboo jersey fabric is to die for―soft, soft, soft. Did I mention soft? It’s also uber-drapeable and begged for a design with a bit of…you guessed it! Drape.
I selected McCall’s 7975. I’d made this one before in a fabric with a similar hand, so I knew it would work. The last time I used it, though, I found it a bit too balloon-shaped for my taste, so this time I nipped it in at the waist.
I had a little thread-matching problem, as you can see below. What to do? I tried out a bit of contrast stitching but, in the end, decided to make the off-colour purple thread look as if I had intended it that way with a bit of an embroidery stitch. Problem solved!
So, how do I like periwinkle on me? To be honest, I actually do. And it looks really great under my black cashmere blazer!!
I know, I know. I promised that my next post would be about fabric shopping for the fall and winter sewing in Montreal. And that’s coming next, but I had to stop for a moment after returning from Montreal to catch my breath and realize that today is launch day for my newest book.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that my passions are fashion design, sewing and writing. I’ve been a writer for over thirty years, and recently, I’ve been inspired by my other two passions. That’s how The Year I Made 12 Dresses began. And when that book launched, I thought I was finished with the character Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson, who spent a year clearing out her late mother’s house, learning her mother’s secrets and discovering a love of sewing―12 dresses, to be specific.
Well, I thought I was finished with Charlie, but she wasn’t finished with me. She kept talking in my head until I wrote the prequel―her mother, Kat’s story. So, Kat’s Kosmic Blues began in 1965 and followed Kat from small-town Canada to Toronto, then to New York to study fashion design at the Parsons School. But if you read that book, you’ll know that Kat learned a crucial lesson: If you want to make god laugh, tell her your plans. Charlie learned so much more about her mother.
Now there’s Frannie, Charlie’s great-grandmother.
In The Year I Made 12 Dresses, Charlie thought she’d learned all about her late mother until she discovered that there was much more to her mother, Kat Hudson, than she could ever have imagined. Could there be any more family secrets? Charlie thinks not until she discovers her great-grandmother, Frannie Phillips’s stash of eight couture dresses and a grainy photograph that seems to suggest that Frannie survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Just when Charlie thinks there can be no more skeletons in her family’s closet, she is drawn into Frannie’s incredible life.
So, there are eight couture dresses, Frannie’s passion for becoming a dressmaker, her upper-class British parents who disapprove and a rebellious streak that seems to know no bounds. Well, here’s a bit more. If you love fashion and sewing, I think this might be the next book to put on your reading list!
Of course, if you’re really keen to read it, you can find it on your favourite online bookseller’s site.
I can’t lie. I’m a bit of a nerd. I always have been and always will be. But I’m not apologizing. I love a good book, and good books about sewing and fashion have pride of place on my bookshelves. I was pulling a couple last week when I thought I might share some of my favourite tidbits―for a bit of instruction and a lot of inspiration. Here they are.
Barbara Emodi’s book, Sew…The Garment Making Book of Knowledge (I reviewed it in a previous post and highly recommend it), is required reading for anyone who sews.
Not only is it instructive, but it also contains the wisdom that can be cultivated only in someone who is passionate about this sewing journey and has been on it for decades. Here are my favourite tips from her book.
Here are my favourite bits from her words of wisdom:
“If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t make it.” This is an extraordinarily useful piece of wisdom. Why is it that we look at a pattern sometimes and think, I should make that despite it being utterly useless in our lives? My penchant for making dresses comes to mind.
“Sew for other people only if you decide you want to make them something.” I rarely sew for others, but when I do, it’s because I’ve decided to try something out for my husband or son. In my younger years, I sewed my sister’s wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses (the horror of all that satin I would never have chosen), a prom dress for another sister (miles and miles of stretch fabric to make a Vogue designer dress). You don’t get to make the design and fabric choices, which is where the problem lies.
“Keep trying new things [styles or trends], but don’t let it override your good sense of what does and doesn’t suit your body and your life.” Good sense never goes astray in my life!
Linda Lee’s book, Sewing Knits from Fit to Finish, was my go-to when I returned to sewing and began sewing with the new knits. Here are my favourite bits of wisdom from her book.
“It is important to understand the compatibility of your pattern and fabric. You could make the same pattern in five different fabrics, and it would probably fit five different ways.” Amen to this one. I think that this might be one of the most challenging concepts for new sewers to understand. If a pattern is designed for a fabric with a specific amount of stretch (or non at all), the design itself would have included the amount of ease necessary to accommodate it (ease=the amount of room a garment has in it beyond the body measurements. A very fitted design for knits fabrics might even have negative ease meaning that it stretches over the body rather than skimming it.)
“Knits are best cut out in a single layer of fabric.” Dear god, I know this is true. Why is it that I ignore it so often? I know why. Sheer laziness. These days, I often cut out my knits in a single layer, especially if they’re thin. However, pontes and other stable knits can be treated like wovens and cut out double layered. But I do need to keep repeating this as a kind of mantra. Single layer. Single layer. Single layer.
And finally, Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr’s book, A Stylish Guide to Fashion Sewing, is great fun and loads of inspiration. Speaking of inspiration, here are my favourite “quoted quotes” that they sprinkle throughout the book.
“Dressing well is a form of good manners” ~Tom Ford
“It’s not about the dress you wear. It’s about the life you lead in the dress.” ~Diana Freeland
I find a good book endlessly inspirational and frequently extraordinarily instructive. Happy reading! (and sewing!)
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.
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.
…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…
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.” As you might expect, at that time, a woman wearing what was traditionally considered to be men’s clothing was nothing short of scandalous.
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.” 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.
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!
I’ve been sewing since I was thirteen-years-old. This you might have suspected. But you probably didn’t know that I’ve also been writing since about the same time. That’s a lot of years of sewing and writing! I started my writing career as a nonfiction, health and medical writer. Eventually, I wrote a dozen books, lots of articles and recently have dabbled in fiction – women’s and historical fiction. But today is a first.
Today marks the first time in my life that my sewing and design passion has meshed with my regular life as a writer. For the past year, I’ve been working away at a story that started off as something quite different than what it ended up becoming.
I usually write satirical, humorous lit-for-intelligent-chicks and historical fiction these days. And this book started out to be one of the former. When I started writing, though, Charlie (my main character – Charlotte to those who don’t know her so well) and her sewing machine took over, and I found myself on a journey that took her (and me) to places I hadn’t expected.
Anyway, it’s dedicated to all the amazing women I’ve met both in real life and online. There are so few novels that really are about sewing, I thought I’d share it with you in the hope that some of you might enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
THE YEAR I MADE 12 DRESSES
A struggling writer, an enigmatic shop clerk, an old sewing machine and an inspirational journey of discovery – where every dress is more than it appears to be.
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 of 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. Join Charlie and Al on their inspirational journey of discovery where every dress is more than it appears to be.
To learn more, I invite you to visit the 12 Dresses page at Moonlight Press and watch the trailer video…
12 Dresses is available from all your favourite online book retailers in both paperback and as an eBook for a variety of eReaders.
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