Posted in Style, Couture Sewing, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: Fitting the Muslin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thread markings I can see on both sides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FYI’s

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

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

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

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

Posted in Style

“The Perfect Shirt Project”: My “frankenstyle” test shirt

It’s always wonderful to be able to take a break from winter! I’ve just spent a couple of fantastic weeks doing a “road trip” that my husband and I took starting in Key Largo, through the everglades of Florida to the west coast then up to the northeast coast ending in our favourite Florida city, Fort Lauderdale. A few of my GG Collection pieces made their way into my suitcase and served me well but now I’m back and ready to complete my perfect shirt project. But Florida will return to the discussion since I actually visited a fantastically quirky fabric store and found the perfect fabric for the perfect shirt. But more about that later.

Now…back to the frankenstyle test shirt!

My overall plan for creating this test garment that might be able to appear in public on my back was to purchase no new fabric. And since I am not a fabric hoarder (stasher if you prefer) I have only left-overs. However, I have to admit that I do tend to buy more fabric than is really required for any given project so that I can recut if necessary. Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post, I found a few pieces that I thought I could make work together.

I put a lot of thought into the placement of the fabric. This was good design practice for me and might make it wearable as I mentioned.

Layout was key to the design.

The purpose of a test garment (toile, muslin) for me is to work out fit issues in the main but I also sometimes use it to practice techniques. The fit was the most important aspect of this one.

Problem #1: the collar turned out to be two inches too large for the neckline! What the…? So I had to redraft the pattern pieces, then I recut the collar and the undercollar using a seam at the back. Remember, I have no extra fabric here so I have to use what I have. Anyway, it turned out quite well and it occurs to me that I might use this on the bias for undercollar of future designs. So I have a one-piece collar-band pattern and a two-piece collar-band pattern.

Other fitting concerns that I’ll change in the final pattern: I think that the cuffs could be a minimum of ½ inch smaller and I need to back off the bust darts a full inch for perfection.

As far as techniques are concerned, I decided to use Angela Kane’s approach to creating a sleeve placket.

The pattern looks a bit like this…

This was a new technique for me and it worked out beautifully.

She provides a terrific template on her web site and has a very useful two-part video tutorial.

Here’s part 1…

…and you’ll need part 2…

I finished off the front with a series of not-quite-matching buttons I ordered from China on eBay and in the end, I have a tailored-meets-funky kind of shirt that I actually might wear in public!

The fit in the next one should be better but I’m going to do another test in a finer fabric that could become the basis for a “blouse” because they’re not the same thing at all!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

My Little French Jacket #3: Muslin-fitting challenges

home-ec-class
Ah…home ec classes!

When I learned to sew – way back in the ‘olden’ days – the notion of making a muslin/toile/test garment never occurred to any of us in the ‘home ec’ classes of the day. In fact, the idea of taking the time to make a garment that you would never even wear (don’t get me started on the notion of a ‘wearable muslin’ – a rant for another day) was so foreign as to be laughable. These days, however, for my money, making a quality garment of quality fabric without a fitting muslin would be fool-hardy. For me, getting that fit right before laying out and cutting my fabric is key to the success of the project and my feeling of accomplishment. So, in the case of my current project, when last we talked, I had whipped together the toile and was just about to put it on. Moment of truth…

Dear god…it’s hideous. Every single complaint anyone had about this pattern played out before my eyes in the mirror. Despite the fact that I had done a tissue fit, I had not, of course, fit the sleeves. How problematic could they be? As it turns out – very problematic. And although the thing now fits around me relatively well, the shape was clearly wrong.

 

Reviews I had read of Vogue 8804, Clair Shaeffer’s LFJ pattern suggested that it was boxy, despite the picture on the pattern envelope, so I had nipped it in a bit. Not nearly enough. For me, the upper chest area was also billowy, but with princess seams, that’s always an easy fix for me and becomes the difference between the fit of an off-the-rack jacket and a custom-made one. First adjustment taken care of.

 

The sleeves are another problem. Given that one of the hallmarks of a Chanel-inspired jacket is the slimness of the sleeves, I’m left wondering just who CS and Vogue thought had arms this large. However, since they are three-piece sleeves, there are several different points of reduction available to me including that seam that runs from the shoulder point to the cuff. I also add a dead dart at the under arm which helps. But the sleeve head also seems too bit for the armscye at the front — too much fullness that will have to come out. Also, they are an odd length for me. They are designed to be bracelet length, and I thought that I’d like that. Turns out that the proportion is just wrong on me—it might work for someone else, but not me. So I decide to remove the sleeves, re-cut them and see how the second pass goes.

sleeve fit problem

The bottom line at this point is that I need to do a second muslin.

I use the pieces of my first muslin with their extensive alterations as the pattern for muslin #2 and sew it up. When I look in the mirror, I see that it is better, but there are still some fit issues.

The sleeves now fit better and are a better length, but it’s still a bit boxy – the waist is too wide and needs to be nipped in at the front princess seams and a bit at the sides. There is also another issue.

When I first cut out the pattern, I did note that CS had used ease at the bust along with the princess seaming. The pattern directions then call for this to be converted to an underarm dart in the lining.

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On the first muslin, I had to take a dead dart from the side seam to the armsye on the front to get rid of some of the boxiness. 

I had thought this would be a good idea, but now it’s just puffy. Of course the muslin fabric does not have the characteristics of fluidity that will be part of working with the bouclé, but I’m wondering if removing the ease with a dead dart will improve the fit. And…it does!

Then there is the length issue. I ignored it at the first muslin fitting, but now it’s of concern. It’s either not short enough, or not long enough. After consideration, I opt for the shorter length, then see that there is too much flair at the hemline. I lengthen it again to the original pattern length, and the flare only gets worse. So it’s back to the drawing board for the hem.

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You can see the dead dart in the sleeve: I took it from the armhole to the centre seam. This did get rid of the excessive ease in the front of the sleeve but you can still see some of the puckering at the sleeve head. 

I take the hem down again, reduce the width of the side panels and shorten it again and it works. Now I need to evaluate the pocket placement.

This jacket has four pockets and when I examine their location on Chanel originals, I note that the placement varies a lot. So, I’m going to have to go with what works best for my body shape and height. I move them up and over, then back and find them too close to the centre line making them look asymmetrical. Back they go and now the muslin is ready.

Now it’s time to pick it apart, iron the pieces well and ensure that they are free from lint bits. I now have a pattern from muslin and it’s on to the exciting bit of cutting and marking real fabric!

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

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I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket

LBJ*: Learning to Make the Toile (Muslin)

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

 

So I’ve done my research [Researching the Real Deal] and found my mentors who will guide me as I proceed to produce my own version of a Chanel-inspired little black (French) jacket. I can hardly wait to move forward.

I don’t know about you, but I learned to sew in home economics classes in junior high school. Yes, I’m that old – I don’t think the term home economics exists any more, but I have to say that the skills I learned have stood me in good stead for decades. It was those classes that hooked me on sewing and as a teenager and young adult with a love for fashion and style that was not matched by my bank account, I quickly became adept at producing the clothes I wanted, and occasionally ones that my two sisters wanted.

I made dresses, pants, tops, prom gowns, wedding gowns, bridesmaid’s gowns, tailored jackets and skirts, costumes for period plays and the list goes on. In all of this mad sewing I was always in a hurry to finish – always chasing a deadline like a wedding, prom, interview etc. Things are going to be different this time. The process is so important to me this time that I plan to take my time to enjoy it, take my time and get it right. In order to do that, my first step is to do something that I never learned to do and never even considered doing throughout my sewing career: I have to create a muslin or toile.

A toile – also known as a muslin – is a kind of test garment that I wish I had learned to do in the past. As far as I’m concerned the two most important characteristics of home-sewn clothes that don’t look homemade are that they have been well-pressed throughout the construction process and that they fit. It is this last issue that often causes my headaches with the continual fitting especially when I’m trying to fit myself. It almost takes a contortionist! I need to produce a test jacket in an inexpensive cotton fabric so that I can get it to fit me, then take it apart and make a new pattern just for me. Oh yes, there is a lot to do before I even get to the actual fabric and lining I’ll use!

IMG_0941First I decide on a pattern. My research has told me that there are several patterns from which I can re-produce a Chanel-style jacket, but the one I’m using is Vogue pattern 7975. The reason for this choice is that it is the pattern that the instructor Lorna Knight who facilitates the Craftsy course I’m following recommends and uses in the series of videos. [See Finding my Mentors]. I’ll make the open front jacket with the bracelet-length sleeves and I’ll use real pockets since Chanel never used false plackets. She also used princess seaming for fit and two or three section sleeves. This pattern has two- section sleeves (although from what I’ve learned, her jackets mostly have three-piece sleeves).vogue chanel pattern

First I purchase some light-weight cotton in white so that I’ll be able to sew it easily and write on it. I prepare the tissue-paper pattern by trimming the pieces I’ll use. Then I cut it out using the size closest to my own measurements. For anyone who doesn’t sew regularly, it must come as quite a shock to find that you will wear a size that is at least three sizes larger than what fits you in ready-to-wear! I have to remember that it’s just a number! I have to check the back length before I start so that I can be sure that the back waist length accurately reflects my back waist length or I’ll have to alter it on the pattern before I start. It turns out to be right so I’m ready to move forward.

Cutting out cotton is easy – I think that the boucle I’ll eventually be using will be more challenging. Once I have them all cut out, I carefully mark them as I’ve been taught on my video course.

I use tracing paper and a tracing wheel to mark the straight grain of the fabric and the waistline. Since the waistline isn’t marked on each pattern piece, I have to measure it down from the fold line on each piece so that I will have it marked all around. Then I use a pen to mark ease points on the sleeve heads and elbows and other assorted dots that will be useful for putting the pieces together. I’m putting all of these marks on what will be the outside of the jacket so that I’ll be able to see them when I’m fitting it later.

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At long last I’m ready to get out the sewing machine! Using a 3.0 mm stitch (a bit longer than normal stitches) I sew the pieces together with bright blue thread. It’s going to be very important to be able to see this stitching line later when I have to cut the pieces apart to make a personalized pattern.

FullSizeRender
I use bright blue thread to sew the toile (muslin) together. Later when I begin to take the toile apart, I’ll be able to clearly see where to cut.

 

I press all the seam allowances open as I go but don’t trim any of them in case I need to let something out. I clip and press in the 5/8” seam allowance at the neckline, and press in the 5/8” seam allowance down the front. I press up the 1 ½” hem around both the bottom of the jacket and the sleeves – I opt not to cut these off so that I can use them if I need to lengthen anything.

The sewing is finished and I have what resembles a very ugly white jacket! I’ve managed to acquire “Gloria Junior” as I call my new fitting mannequin and it looks quite professional on her. Next up, I’m going to have to pop it on myself and figure out how to make it fit perfectly.

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“Gloria Junior” is wearing the finished toile. Now I need to fit it to me!