Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing, Style

How to Turn a Fast & Easy Sewing Pattern into a Challenging & Time-Consuming Project!

vogue V9184
As soon as I saw this Vogue pattern #V9184 I knew I had to have this dress. High collar, cut-in armholes, fitted silhouette and side slits. what’s not to like?

I think it takes a certain kind of perverse talent to be able to take a project that is designed to be easy and make it difficult. Or maybe I’m just missing the endless fiddly hand work that my “Little French Jacket” required. Nevertheless, I decided that I needed a linen dress for the summer, so being unable to find anything I like on the ready-to-wear racks, I take a trip to the fashion design district on Queen Street West here in Toronto, visit my favourite fabric purveyor (Affordable Textiles) and come home with all the material and notions I need to whip up a pattern I fell in love with.

 

Early in the season I was browsing through the Vogue Patterns magazine and fell in love with a new pattern – Very Easy Vogue V9184 – which they described as “a shapely sheath with cut-in armholes and raised collar band” that is, according to them, “stunning in stripes.” I was in.

As soon as the pattern came on sale at Vogue patterns online for $5.99, I had jumped on it (regular price in Canada is $33.00…in the USA $22.50 yikes!), so when I finished my bouclé jacket I was ready for a new project while I search for the perfect bouclé for a second LBJ.

I really love the shape of the dress, and I’ve observed that women of “a certain age” who have managed to stave off much mid-life weight gain – and yet have noticed that it ‘stuff’ has rearranged itself – still have lovely shoulders. This kind of cut-in armhole is very flattering. So is the fitted shape. For me, a casual summer dress that isn’t a tent yet isn’t skin-tight is worth considering.V9184 pattern package

I decide to make it in a linen-cotton blend. So I begin the process.

Well, my foray into couture sewing indicates to me that in spite of it being a “fast and easy” pattern, I will have to take the time to make a muslin. So I first fit the pattern to me (and Gloria junior) and mark the changes. I will have to move the under-arm dart and lengthen the bodice slightly. That means I will have to move the waist dart, too. So it begins.

I do the pattern changes, cut the toile and sew it together. Geesh. All those darts look – well, they look a bit old-fashioned. I’m going to have to alter the darts to make a more flattering, contemporary princess seam. I’ve never done this before, but it occurs to me that if I can get it to fit well, I may just have myself a pattern that I might use again and again. So I search online for instructions.

V9184 pattern package modifications
This is the view I’m doing, and those darts really do look quite prominent, no?

Every time I have to find a sewing or fitting answer I am so grateful for the web and everyone who has posted before me. I find a plethora of sites with information, but one is better than all the others. I find that the blog post on the Craftsy web site is terrific (see below in the resources). I want the princess seams to come from the armhole rather than the shoulder, so I get to work.

So, I redraft the pattern and cut a SECOND muslin. Fast and easy? Not so much. The second toile is a much better fit. So I cut apart the second toile and cut yet another pattern. I think this is the third and this is a simple summer dress.

I finally prepare my fabric and lay it out to cut. Maybe next week I’ll have a new dress! Or maybe not. The challenges of the “very easy Vogue” aren’t over yet, I’m afraid!

Am I the only one who can make such an easy project so challenging?

 

 

 

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Resources (these are the online sites I referred to):

Tutorial: Lowering (or raising) a bust dart http://curvysewingcollective.com/

Fashion Design 101: How to Manipulate Darts on a Bodice for Princess Seams http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/09/how-to-manipulate-darts-on-a-bodice/

How to Create a Princess Seam for Flattering Fit [these are from the shoulder] http://www.clothingpatterns101.com/princess-seam.html

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

LBJ*: Sewing Like a Chanel Seamstress**…Quilting the Jacket

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

In 1954 Coco Chanel made a return to the Paris couturier scene after something of a hiatus during and immediately after the second World War. The House of Chanel had been closed for fifteen years, but now it was time to return. During her absence, Paris style had been dominated by the likes of Christian Dior whose “New Look” had created those hour-glass shapes that constricted women’s shapes nodding more to form than function – no one could truly be comfortable with a corset and bustier! Re-enter Chanel.

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Dior’s “New Look” silhouette required lots of undergarments!

 

Before the war Chanel had already created the first sportswear that women would wear, constructed from knits & jersey’s that had never been used in women’s wear before. Her absence had seen a resurgence of constriction and she was determined to change that. So, that first season saw the birth of what we now know as the quintessential Chanel jacket.

luxury quote coco

What made it different was the construction: it was fashioned from soft bouclé fabrics and lined with silk charmeuse which is truly the most magnificent feeling against your skin. But more important than even the fabrics was the way she designed the construction. Rather than a jacket with interlining and details that made it crisp and stiff, she decided that the lining was to be quilted to the pieces of the jacket and the lining finished by hand. She was striving for luxurious comfort above all, and a jacket that was as beautiful on the inside as the outside. And the construction of the jacket to this day uses this technique. So, if one is going to pay homage to the Chanel jacket, one needs to employ her approach. Dear god…

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My little pile of pieces!

My last report found me finally at a point where the sewing machine would make and appearance. All of the fabric and lining is now cut, marked, the soft tapes to maintain a bit of definition at the front and hemlines has been hand-stitched in place. Now the jacket pieces need to be constructed.

 

I use a 3.0 mm stitch length as directed by the instructor I’m following and I’m using regular thread (I may regret this) and a walking foot. This is not to be attempted without a walking foot! There are really only a few seams that need to be completed prior to the next big (quilting) step. I am remembering that the seam allowances are a full one inch! Very important to the eventual fit.

I sew the princess seams in the front pieces and the back, and put together the sleeves along the seam, making sure to use ease stitches at the point where the elbow will be. I construct the lining pieces exactly the same way. One of the most important parts of this process, though, is the pressing.

I first press the seams flat, then press them open from the inside using only the point of the iron. Then I turn the piece over and gently press each seam from the outside. The seams took terrific. I don’t trim any seams yet, though. There will be a lot of fraying and I need the depth and stability during the rest of the construction. When I am finished this process I have the following pieces: two front pieces, one back piece and two sleeves – and the same in the lining. They are all in a nice, neat pile. At the end of that lesson the instructor says, “The next step is the quilting. That’s when the fun begins!” And she smiles. Oh. My. Actual. God. The QUILTING!

I cannot remember when I have been as frustrated in a project. The process is thus: With wrong sides together, each piece of lining is machine stitched to its matching jacket piece using a 3.0 mm stitch. Each stitch line is meant to travel down a line of the ‘print’ from about two inches from the top (so that the lining is loose and I will be able to get at the side and shoulder seams in due course. The lines of machine quilting (yes, Chanel jackets are generally machine-quilted) are to be one-and-a-half to two inches apart, all done in the same direction (from the top down) and ending two inches above the hem line. Sounds simple enough. Well…

I make my plan as directed so that I know which lines I’ll follow, pin the seam lines together and use lots of other pins so that the fabrics don’t slide out of place, then begin stitching using that 3.0 mm stitch and silk thread to match the main lines of the jacket pattern – in my case, black. From the right side as directed. Oh my god… the stitches are way more visible on the outside than I want them to be! What to do?

I start unpicking hoping like hell that the stitches don’t make holes in the silk charmeuse. They’re not too bad after I press them out. So I start again. I do another test piece using various threads and stitch lengths. I ask the instructor who agrees that the pattern on the fabric with its white lines crossing black will make it very difficult for this to sink in invisibly. I note that other students are posting with their own similar concerns. No one has a real solution.

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My fabric

 

lornas fabric
My instructor’s fabric – she has definite black lines to follow!

 

 

So, I do it again, using a 4.0 mm stitch and this seems to work better. I only catch the lining up in the stitching twice resulting in having to unpick twice for that reason. I only have one line that seems to have caused a bubble between it and the adjacent one, so only have to unpick for that reason once. I have to do this in several sessions so as not to either tear my hair out or rush through and make a mess.

Finally, it’s done. And it doesn’t look too bad in the end. I have all of the pieces quilted and the next step will be to stitch up the side and shoulder seams and then focus on the lining. That’s for next week! I need a martini now…

 

[**Please don’t take me to task for using the word ‘seamstress.’ I realize that in some people’s worlds this is a sexist term, but I think someone who sews can call herself (or himself) anything she or he wants: seamstress, sewer, sewist, tailor – you pick one, I’ll pick one today and perhaps another tomorrow. Actually at Chanel they are called ‘mains’ which of course is French for ‘hands’]

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: It’s What’s Underneath that Counts (Marking & Stabilizing)

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

I cannot wait to begin actually constructing my Little Black (French) Jacket that is an homage to Coco herself. But, in spite of all that I’ve accomplished already, and all the time I’ve spent to date, I’m still not there yet. Before I can take the fabric to the machine, I have to prepare it further by marking everything imaginable and stabilizing the edges.

Anyone who teaches sewing online or in the classroom it seems will tell you that one of the keys to a garment that fits and looks professional is ensuring that all relevant pattern markings are transferred somehow to the fashion fabric. In the case of the bouclé and silk charmeuse I’m using for this project I can only use silk thread – both tracing and tailor’s tacks.

I learned to make tailor’s tacks in home economics sewing classes when I was twelve years old. You run a double thread through the pattern and two layers of fabric leaving a tail and a loop. You then cut the loop and carefully peel apart the layers. Then you cut the thread between the layers leaving markings on both layers in exactly the same place.

 

Unfortunately, with the bouclé, these loops continually slide out leaving me with no markings. So, I’m going to have to use my Craftsy instructor’s technique which involves a single thread through a single layer stabilized with a tiny, tight stitch.

In addition to all these tailor’s tacks which have to mark both the fabric and the silk charmeuse (from which all of the threads continually slide – I’m going to have to refer to the pattern as I sew, I think), I decide to thread trace most of the seam lines. Although this particular instructor doesn’t’ suggest this, others who teach this French jacket technique do, and it will ensure that I don’t lose my sewing line as the bouclé inevitably frays – which it does. I’m trying to handle it as little as possible to reduce this, but it goes along with this type of fabric.

IMG_1024
Thread tracing & tailor’s tacks on the boucle.

 

 

Now it is time to stabilize. Most instructions for this type of jacket suggest using the selvage edges from silk organza. I had some difficulty finding some, and you need a whole lot to be able to cut enough selvage to run around the entire edge of the jacket – including the hem. So, I decide to use soft twill tape – not quite ‘kosher’ it seems, but I think it has a good feel. The stability at the edges shouldn’t be thick or hard, just enough to ensure that the trim has a foundation and the hem stays straight. So I begin.

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Pinning the tape to the centre front edges

 

I start with the centre front pieces, placing the twill on the jacket side of the seam allowance and pin-basting it in place, ensuring that the snips I make to fit it around the neck don’t go in too far, and that the corners are neatly and securely pinned.

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Then, using tiny stitches with silk thread I sew the seam-line edge of the tape to the fabric. Then I use a herringbone stitch along the inner edge so that the tape will stay flat. I also decide to interface behind where the pocket will be attached. I cut some soft, fusible interfacing (not authentic since most couture garments do not have any ‘fusibles’ in them) to go just beyond where the pocket will be, cut it in two so that the piece on the centre front and the side front go on separately, then fuse it to the pieces. Voila!

I then repeat the process with the back neck line, the hems of all the pieces and the hems of the arm pieces. It takes me quite a while, but when I’m finished, I love the thought that the under-pinnings of the jacket are so well thought out and put together. This is the work that is needed before I can begin putting the body pieces together and quilting that silk lining to the inside of the jacket à la Chanel! Lots of fun ahead!

 

Resources:

Here is a link to a terrific Craftsy tutorial on making tailor’s tacks (they seem to use my own personal method!): http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/01/tailors-tacks-for-pattern-marking/

And another one that also uses the same method!: http://coatsandclarksewingsecrets.com/blogcategory/sewing/tailor-tack-tutorial-by-gertie-2

Posted in Style Influencers

Erté: Style Influence from a Fashion Illustrator

“Not only do I do what I want to do, but I do my work in my own way and never have been influenced by another artist.” ~ Erté

I was on a cruise a few years ago on a small luxury-line ship that showcased some extraordinary artwork. I know, I know: art auctions of schlocky crap are ubiquitous on cruise lines of a certain ilk. This one was different. There were no auctions (with free champagne since champagne flowed freely for everyone all the time), there were no sales people trying sell us pieces in a gallery; rather there were wonderful pieces all around the ship everywhere you looked. It was extraordinary – and they were all for sale.

One day, late in the afternoon, my husband returned to our suite from somewhere (I can’t remember where he had been without me!). He said he had seen the perfect Gloria Glamont piece hanging in one of the staircase landings. So off we went to see it.

The piece was called “Manhattan Mary” and it was a limited edition print of a fashion drawing by Erté. At that point in my life I had no idea who Erté was. All I knew at that moment was that yes, I had to have it. So the research began.

erte as a young man
Erte as a young man.

 

As soon as we were back happily ensconced in our suite with a glass of something – probably bubbly – we got to work on Mr. Google.

Erté is, in fact, often referred to as one of the single most important fashion influencers of the twentieth century. Born in Russia in 1892 Erté became one of the twentieth-century’s best-known French designers for theatre, ballet, and the rest of us, but for me the style lessons emerge from his illustrations. His name comes from his initials: he was named Romain de Tirtoff. His initials R.T. when said with the French pronunciation become Er-té (Air-tay for those who do not speak French!)

Evidently, at age five he designed his first costume in spite of having a father who had his heart set on a military career for his son. He moved to Paris in 1912 where he began his career as a fashion illustrator. He worked first for designer Paul Poiret then for Harper’s Bazaar. I truly love Erté’s aesthetic as immortalized in his illustrations of others’ designs, but what I really love is his own designs of fashion, theatrical costume and theatre sets which are all heavily influenced by his era – Art Deco.

Well, we purchased the piece. Titled Manhattan Mary I, the piece was a limited edition print signed by the artist himself (Erté died in 1990). My research told me that he had created stage costumes for a Broadway production called Manhattan Mary in the last 1930’s and that this was one of a series he did in the 1970’s based on the earlier work. My piece is numbered 267/300. What I love about my Mary is everything.

my manhattan mary
My “Manhattan Mary”

 

I love his fashion illustration style. I love Mary’s demeanor. I really love the dress she’s wearing. As I examine more and more of his work (he also designed wall décor, brooches, earrings, did sculpture – all with the same aesthetic) I realize that at some point (after I finish my homage to Coco Chanel project) I will probably embark on a project to create a reproduction of one of his art deco-styled dresses.

I’m so inspired by those who have gone before and left their mark on our culture and style. It would be a shame for people to forget about these inspired creators who may not have fashion houses named after them in the twenty-first century because so much can be gained from studying them. I’m going to go and take a new look at my Mary and see what I can learn about her for my own wardrobe.

Who’s your favourite, lesser-known fashion influencer?

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Making a Customized Pattern for the Jacket

[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]

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I now have to cut apart the toile that I’ve grown so fond of!

Now that I’ve created a toile – fitting muslin – for my little black jacket project, I know that it’s time to cut it apart. But I’ve grown quite fond of the ugly white cotton jacket that hangs on my mannequin. I know that the next step toward making that pattern I’ll need for cutting into my actual jacket fabric can only result from me taking scissors to my creation, so I’ll have to do it, and I’m happy to learn to create a patterns since it’s something I’ve never done before. Until   I did some research, I hadn’t considered the history of modern sewing patterns that those of us who are interested in sewing take for granted. According to Joy Emery’s very interesting book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, the first known work that contained small pattern diagrams drawn to scale was published in the sixteenth century! She says, “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric.”[1] It’s funny, isn’t it, that we still try to do that today. Fabric was expensive in the sixteenth century and it is ever thus in the twenty-first century!book cover

 

Anyway, for the next couple of centuries more and more manuals of this sort were published in Europe and eventually in North America. The first companies that produced actual patterns in the US for home sewers appeared in the mid-1800’s and were Demorest and Butterick. (Although to be clear, there were full-sized patterns in Europe long before this according to my research.) But what an invention! Full-sized patterns that home sewers could use and adapt! Ever since that time, we’ve been buying and using commercially-produced patterns, while the more daring among us have simply created their own. In my view, creating a made-to-measure pattern from a commercial one is a bit of an adventure in itself for those of us who have more or less stuck slavishly to the pattern for years. I’m a bit excited about entering into the pattern-making realm!

So I take the toile from the mannequin and begin to cut it apart. I have to cut accurately along the stitching lines that I did in bright blue thread so that they would be visible. I’m very happy that I did this following the advice of my online video instructor Lorna Knight [see the Craftsy class on the Iconic Tweed Jacket].IMG_0973

After each piece is cut out (one front, one back one back side etc. – you get the picture since I’ll be using a double layer of each piece although I’ll be cutting them out single layer – more about that when I get to actually cutting out the fabric – later), I remove any seam allowances, such as around the neckline and down the front, as well as the hems so that what is left is the piece as it will be sized finished. Now I’ll have to make up a IMG_0975paper pattern piece for each one that includes seam allowances and hems.

There is such a thing as proper pattern-making paper, and Lorna Knight uses one called cross-and-dot paper which has printed crosses and dots presumably to assist with straight layouts. Some people buy rolls of paper medical offices use for covering their examining tables, while others use rolls of craft paper. I’m using sheets of packing paper left over from our recent move. I had this in mind when I rolled them up and put them in the back of my closet.

I work with each piece individually and create each pattern piece one at a time. I start by laying the muslin piece on the paper and putting in a couple of pins to hold it down to the paper. Then I have to begin to add the seam allowances and the hems.

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It seems that on couture garments, large seam allowances are de rigeur for purposes of fitting and because in the case of a Chanel-style jacket, the boucle fabric that I’ll be using frays easily and wide seam allowances ensure that you have enough fabric. So, I use a seam guide and mark full 1-inch seam allowances all around and a one-and-a-half-inch hem. My research tells me that deeper hems are also a hallmark of better garments (and the pattern calls for this anyway!).

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I use a pen to make dots all around and then join them. I then get out the original tissue-paper pattern and use it to guide my markings. I’m going to need to mark the straight grain, notches, dots and any other marks that will assist with ensuring accuracy in sewing. Of course I need to write on each piece precisely what it is a piece for: front, back, side front upper sleeve etc. The instructor in the Craftsy course I’m following also recommends writing the date on each piece. After all, I might want to use this again and I’ll presumably be able to remember what size I was when I did this – I hope the same one I’ll be in the future!

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Dot and Cross pattern-making paper — that I didn’t use!

 

All that’s now left of my pattern-making is to cut out each pattern piece. So, now I have a pattern. May I choose my real fashion fabric yet? Next time.

[1] Joy Emery. 2014. The history of the paper pattern industry: The home dressmaking fashion revolution. London, Blomsbury, p. 5.

Posted in Couture Sewing

LBJ*: Finding My Mentors

[*LBJ: Little Black Jacket sometimes known as LFJ or Little French Jacket]

luxury quote coco

I’m beginning to get anxious to really dig into this project: select or create an appropriate pattern, find just the right fabric and lining, start to cut and sew. But I have to hold myself back; I’m not ready yet. If I want to do this right, I’m going to have to figure out where to get some guidance.

Much to my surprise, there’s something of a cottage industry that has developed online of sewing enthusiasts who have already gone on this journey – for better or for worse. I do know that there is a lot to be learned from these experiences, but because the internet and its social media offerings tend to support what author Andrew Keene once called the “cult of the amateur” I have to figure out who the professionals really are. They have the most to teach me.

One of the first online sources I discover with really useful and credible information is called Emma One Sock Designer Fashion Fabrics. Yes, they are retailers, but they have posted a fantastic grouping of online sewing tutorials on topics such as sewing with leather and brocade, making shirts and, yes, working with tweed and boucle to create the Chanel-style cardigan jacket. These lessons are divided up logically providing photos and instruction for everything from selecting a pattern through prepping the fabric, then on to construction and finishing. This site has a particularly good lesson on the various hand-stitching techniques that are used in the finishing of the inside of the jacket. I’ll be referring back to these two pages for sure.

So I absorb all the information this site has to offer me, bookmark it and carry on to see what other sewing experts have to say.

Far less detailed, but with useful tips, is a piece on the Burda pattern site called A Classic French Jacket: 70 Hours to the Dream! This piece does a terrific job of emphasizing fit – and how to get it – and the length of time one might expect to spend creating this piece. Okay, I see that I’m going to have to spend some time on this!

Then I discover that sewing expert Susan Khalje has written an article in an old issue of Threads magazine that provides me with lots of tips and inspiration. The issue is November 2005 and is certainly worth chasing down. I was able to find it on ISSU and have my own copy in my electronic files now. In fact, I also discover that Susan, a contributing editor to Threads magazine, teaches an online course on creating this jacket. So, in my books, this is a truly credible source for information. Her video course, The Classic French Jacket looks extraordinary. For $195.00 (USD) the course provides three years of access to the full-length instructional videos and a custom-designed pattern.  Her face-to-face course offered in Baltimore costs $1600 and includes a shopping trip to New York! Now that would be terrific. Alas, I live in Toronto. But my search isn’t over yet.

Last year I stumbled on a web site called Craftsy which I wasn’t familiar with before. After pushing my way through a plethora of quilting and crafting courses that didn’t really interest me, I discovered a whole series of online/video classes for serious garment sewers. When it was on sale, I was able to purchase the course “The Iconic Tweed Jacket” for about $35.00 (CDN!) which gives me lifetime streaming and downloading access to the series of videos hosted by sewing instructor Lorna Knight. The Craftsy online platform permits me to download the videos for off-line watching, ask the instructor questions (which she actually answers), post photos, read other students’ questions and the answers which are extremely useful. Craftsy sent me the McCall’s pattern that Lorna uses in the course and they provide online material lists. Oh yes, I can also make video notes on my own platform as I watch the videos. I have found my main mentor!

So, off I go to watch the ENTIRE course before I buy any materials or wield the sewing shears. Next up: learning to fit a muslin!

craftsy class
This is the course I’ve enrolled in. Wish me luck! Or just come along with me…
Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Researching the real deal

*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket

jackets on displaySo my obsession with Chanel and her Little Black (French) Jacket runs deep. If I am going to re-create it, I need to know more about it. So I begin my research by trying to figure out the details of the real deal.

I need to begin my journey with a bit of philosophizing about the importance of this iconic piece of clothing. My research leads me first to blogger Tina Craig’s piece “Secrets of the Chanel Jacket Revealed” where she says quite unequivocally that in her opinion (as the owner of the real deal several times over), “…there is no other piece of clothing that transcends time, style and age as gracefully.”[1] And later, “My CHANEL jackets are my secret weapons, the pull-it-out-and-be-fabulous no matter how much I weigh or feel at the moment kind.” That is precisely the kind of feeling I’m going for. But I need to find out what’s really under the boucle. Next stop, an online retailer specializing in authenticating their luxury resale items.

I stumble upon The RealReal in my search for the facts about an authentic Chanel LBJ. Their video on How to Authenticate Chanel Jackets has proven itself to be particularly useful in helping me to understand what might need to be a part of the inside of the jacket: anyone can reproduce the external look, but it’s the interior hand-finishing and machine quilting that are the key to an authentic Chanel. Just to be clear: I have no intention of trying to pass mine off as the real deal: what I want to do is create one that contains as many of the quality finishes as a Chanel as I can. I want to learn from the artisans who even today work in the Chanel atelier.

 

 

In a very good piece Vintage Chanel Tweed Suit: How to know if it is real or not? the author lists the elements that need to be considered when determining authenticity. Of the elements she includes I believe the following ones are going to be important aspects of my learning process and the eventual outcome of this project:

  • Paneling of the jacket body;
  • Quilting of the interior lining directly to the outside fabric;
  • Silk charmeuse lining; and
  • A chain sewn at the jacket hem.

The label and logo aren’t important to me, although issue of the quality of the buttons might be: I have yet to decide if there will be any button trim on this jacket of mine.

The Vintage Chanel Jacket: What sets it apart on the Vintage Fashion Guide also provides me with further useful information on the elements of the jacket that will be important to me.

  • The pockets (originally four of them) were all real pockets. Mlle. Chanel did not believe in faux pockets it seems.
  • There was almost always contrasting, braided trim of one sort or another.
  • Tweed and boucle are the fabrics of choice. The fabrics are described this way: “…where tweed is an unfinished wool, boucle (which can be wool) is made in such a way that the different strands of yarn are plied at different tensions, creating a textured, sort of nubbly appearance.”[2]

Since I started this journey, I have found out that Chanel originally obtained all of her tweed and boucle from a UK mill called Linton Tweeds. With over 100 years of experience behind them, these fabric experts still produce Chanel-worthy materials. You can visit them at World of Linton Tweeds and even order online. I had a look. Their fabrics are fantastic, but none of the ones available when I looked bowled me over so I’m going to have to find my fabric in the fashion design district of Toronto. I think that will be part of the process – and a lot of fun.

So I now have a better idea about what the real deal is like. My objective is to create a Chanel-type jacket that pays homage to the workmanship and style of the authentic item. Next up: finding my teachers & mentors.

[1] http://www.snobessentials.com/2007/11/secrets_of_the_chanel_jacket_r.html

[2] http://www.vintagefashionguide.com/2014/10/vintage-chanel-jacket-sets-apart/

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style Influencers

LBJ*: The Project Begins

*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket

cocoherself younger
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel in her prime.

I’ve been obsessed by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, her life, her esthetic and her contribution to the cultural evolution of the twentieth century for a very long time. The closest I’ve ever come to owning Chanel is a bottle of Coco Noir perfume and a caviar-leather vintage Chanel handbag which I guard with my life! I have never owned a single piece of Chanel clothing – probably mainly because of the price-tag. But that doesn’t stop me from coveting the esthetic and considering why her world has intersected with mine – at least with my imagination which it fires almost daily.

Sometime over the past winter I began to become obsessed by the Chanel jacket. So, like you do, I decided to re-create it for myself using couture sewing techniques that I would learn as I go. However, my first step in the process was to voraciously research both the genuine item and the recreations that evidently have been spawned by a previously unknown cottage industry: women all over the world are evidently sewing these recreations. Who knew? Well, I didn’t but I soon found out. But the project begins with research, and the research begins with the genuine item.

When you mention the term “Chanel jacket” there is a very specific esthetic that is conjured: the short, semi-fitted, princess-seamed, boucle tweed cardigan jacket lined with silk charmeuse. And so it is that iconic.

It was 1954 (a terrific year in my world!) and women had been confined in those wasp-waisted dresses that gave the extreme hour-glass at the expense of comfort. Could women be elegant, alluring and comfortable al at the same time? Chanel thought so.

Her creation was a piece of clothing that should be in the closet of every woman of a certain age to wear with everything from jeans to a ball gown and all those pieces in between. I think that it was this sense of minimalism and the straight cut of the jacket in its supremely comfortable boucle tweed are the elements that attracted me.

This video created by the Telegraph online is the best introduction to the LBJ that I have seen (note that that LBJ is often not B!). You can find it here.

My research has led to the creation of an idea board that is providing me with both information and inspiration. This is where my own LBJ journey begins.

pinterest board

Posted in Fashion, Style, Style Influencers

Edith Head:Style lessons from a costume designer

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[Above, the extraordinary Grace Kelly in an Edith Head gown.]

It’s really an understatement to call the legendary Edith Head simply a ‘costume designer.’ She certainly was that, and a whole lot more. Even as a junior-high-school nerd, I knew who she was. To me her name conjured up stylish women in sophisticated suits, coats, gowns and even hats (although to tell you the truth I’ve never really been a hat woman myself – look terrible in them!). And did you know that she has won more Oscars than any other woman? Not an actress, but a designer!

This week I stumbled on a piece about her and it made me think about how her movie costumes might have influenced the way I see fashion for those of us of a certain age – and all other women who care about themselves.

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Her day dress for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951)

Edith Head designed costumes for so many movies that not only captured a film era, but also a style era. When I look back on many of the pieces she created I see timeless classics that work for young women and for women of a certain age. When you’re in your 50’s and beyond you can carry off a whole lot of sophistication and elegance that in today’s fabrics would also offer comfort. I mean, who really wouldn’t like to have a great suit like Audrey is wearing in Funny Face? (in spite of the fact that my suit wearing days are thankfully behind me as I navigate a whole new life after work!)

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7th July 1956: Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) films a scene for the Paramount musical ‘Funny Face’. Costumes by Givenchy. Original Publication: Picture Post – 8540 – Audrey Dances With Astaire – pub. 1957 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Five lessons I have learned from Edith Head about style at a certain age:

  • Sexy doesn’t equal skin exposure. It was true in her time, and it is true now.
  • Alluring is better than sexy anyway – at any age.
  • Fit is everything. If a piece fits to perfection it doesn’t matter if it’s from TJ Maxx or Chanel.
  • Most of the time, less really is more. A great piece of clothing doesn’t need huge jewelry despite what the fashion magazines might say. Big accessories are trying to distract you from something nasty usually!
  • Quality beats quantity every time. Wonderful fabrics make everything better – for me it’s better to have one fantastic, well-crafted sweater that I love to wear than three that are just meh.

Edith Head is one of my fashion influencers. But there are others! Til next time!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, Fashion Blogs, Fashion Journalism, Style, Stylish Books, Stylish Travel

Just another fashion blog for women of a ‘certain’ age

I don’t suppose the world needs another blog about anything. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t care less! This one’s for me, but I’m willing to share it with you, too, if you’re a bit like me:

  • A woman of a ‘certain’ age (it can be whatever you want it to be);
  • You have an interest in fashion but mostly in style;
  • You are interested in other things other than fashion & style – things like travel, wine & reading;
  • You’re past caring what everyone else thinks.

If this is you, then join me from time to time. I’m planning to write about fashion journalism, what I’m learning about style throughout my life, fashion and style-related books I love, my pet peeves about fashion, how travel is a style statement and whatever else I think is relevant to a fabulous life at this stage. I’m also obsessed by Gabrielle Chanel, her life, her work and mostly her LBJ (little black jacket) so my research and project on recreating her LBJ will be the focus of the Coco files.

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