Posted in Style, Tailoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Couture Sewing, Tailoring

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

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

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

Hair canvas and silk organza for interfacing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Posted in Style, Tailoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many pieces!

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

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

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

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

Hair canvas and silk organza for interfacings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll share that with you next.