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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!