Posted in Style, Tailoring

My Tailored Blazer Project: The Finished Product

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…

Posted in fabrics, Fashion, Style, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project: My fabulous fabric (and other things I need)

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.

One of my sewing bibles.

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.

Beautiful silk charmeuse!

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.

Posted in fabrics, sewing, Shirt-making

The Perfect Fabric for the Perfect Shirt (the “perfect shirt” project continues)

What is the perfect fabric for the perfect shirt? That is the question. Late last year when I was searching for the perfect fabric for my husband’s shirt, the answer was “expensive”! I think my hand shook when I cut into that $80-a-metre Italian cotton shirting fabric that he had chosen for his perfect shirt. But, I wonder, is it possible to find the perfect fabric for my perfect shirt without breaking the bank? Yes, I believe it is.

Let’s start at the beginning. One of the things that makes a shirt a shirt (and not a T-shirt, sweater or blouse for example) is the kind of fabric it’s made from. When I think of men’s shirts, my mind goes immediately to plain, striped and checked cottons…

Propercloth.com sells beautiful and very expensive shirtings. Can you see the $145-a-yard pricing?

…but these days even men’s shirt-makers are branching out into wilder territory. Have you seen Robert Graham or Ted Baker shirts lately?

Then there’s the actual type of fabric. The web site Real Men Real Style is a great reference for shirting weaves. There are Oxford, poplin, twill, broadcloth and end-on-end the main (read about it here) – all 100% cotton and then there are the more modern blends of cotton with polyester (not as nice but fewer wrinkles) and cotton with a hint of stretch which sounds so much nicer. There is even linen.

Of course, shirts can also be made of flannel (no, everyone in Canada does not wear flannel shirts. My husband wouldn’t be caught dead in one).

[Bob & Doug MacKenzie aka Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas of Second City comedy fame notwithstanding, most Canadians do not wear flannel shirts!}

The theme throughout is that shirts are made from woven fabrics that have some body and a stiffer hand than, say, silk charmeuse. This crispness is part of what makes a shirt, well, a shirt. Even a woman’s shirt that is shaped and curved should have a degree of crispness or veers into blouse territory! So where does that leave me?

One of the things I don’t like about online fabric shopping is the lack of the touch factor. I’ve ordered several shirting pieces online but doing so doesn’t really let me feel the fabric. A great cotton shirting should feel silky to the touch and is probably going to set me back more than $15 a metre. In fact, I see lots of shirt fabrics online for well over $100 a metre as you can see above. I’m not going that high for this project.

I could take a walk downtown to Queen Street West here in Toronto, home to my favourite independent fabric stores, but that’s usually a walking destination for better weather (but before tourist season. God help me if I find myself on Queen West at the height of tourist season in the summer!). Lucky for me though, I’ve just returned from a winter getaway in Florida.

Before we left on this holiday, I did a little bit of online research and found that there was an interesting fabric store in Sarasota that just happened to be on the route we would be taking from Naples to downtown Sarasota. So, we plugged it into our GPS and set out.

We were almost into Sarasota. I was the passenger for this segment so I was looking feverishly at the GPS map and the surrounding roads. We were getting close but the area didn’t look at all like a place you’d find a fabric store. Finally, we were right on the place and I spotted the sign. Pennie Fabrics. An unprepossessing house-plus-garage kind of arrangement, the store looked a bit odd. But we turned quickly and pulled into the small parking lot.

I gingerly opened the door to find myself in a room crammed with bolts of fabric. The proprietor who introduced himself as Nasir bade me welcome with a smile. “Please come in. Look around. There’s lots to see,” he said as he gestured around the store. And was he right!

The place was, indeed, a repurposed bungalow with every room crammed with bolts of fabrics – silks, jerseys, tweeds, cottons, knits, and yes, some shirting.

As I made my way from room to room (including the garage which doubled for a fabric room as well) touching as many of the fabrics as I could, I fell in love with two pieces.

The first one is a swath of printed silk charmeuse. The muted pastel pink and mint green are not colours that usually attract me but there was just something about this one. I didn’t know exactly what I’d do with it, but I had to have a piece. I will use it for the lining of a tailored jacket, one of my planned projects for later this year. Now all I need is the outer fabric! It will be fun to move from lining to the outer fabric rather than the other way around as I usually do when creating a lined jacket.

Then I found it. The perfect piece of shirting. Many shirtings scream “menswear” to me. Now, I have no problem with wearing menswear as a style, however, for this one I wanted it to be menswear with a feminine edge. You might not agree but when I saw this fabric it said that to me. And the feel! Such a silky, fin cotton. And just look at those selvages! I have to use them but I’m not sure a tailored shirt is the place. We’ll see.

While we were at Pennie Fabrics, women started arriving for a sewing class that’s held in the light-filled back room evidently on a regular basis. A kind of local community of women, the group was gathering that day to celebrate the results of a recent challenge. They had been challenged to each use the same fabric to create different garments. They arrived that day wearing their creations. One of the most striking was this one. And she even agreed to pose for me while Nasir held up a length of the fabric behind her. What a wonderful find this was! You really must visit this store if you’re anywhere near Sarasota, Florida!

So, I’m home now and have cut my four-inch square and put it in the washing machine for its test today. I will wash and iron the fabric to prep it (probably won’t put this one in the dryer) but I have one more piece to make from my newly-created pattern before I cut out the perfect shirt. It’s yet another test. Soon to come…

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

Fabric & lining & muslin, oh my! Starting my newest Little French Jacket

cc books
My two favourite Chanel biographies.

I’ve read a lot about Coco Chanel over the past few years as I fed my continuing obsession with all things Chanel. Every biography seems to agree on at least one thing: CC herself wasn’t fussed about other copying her  work. It’s not that she would have been happy with others actually trying to pass off their copies as authentic Chanel; rather she did, in fact, believe that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. She even encouraged others to take on her style since it clearly proved that she was the one and only style arbiter. So I have to believe that Mademoiselle herself would have been proud of the fact that those of us who are interested in couture sewing produce our own homages. It’s also true that the House of Chanel actually gave its blessing (and took a percentage) to specially-selected fashion houses who made authorized Chanel copies.

jackie-kennedys-pink-suit-ii-chez-ninon-labelFor example, until recently, I had been under the mistaken impression that Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing a favourite Chanel suit on that fateful day in 1963 when JFK was assassinated beside her in the back seat of a convertible in Dallas, Texas. In fact, her suit was an authorized copy from New York-based chez Ninon, a knock-off that was 1/10 the price of an original, and made in the USA. There are those who continue to believe that Jackie was wearing an original Chanel, but to me it’s more plausible that since she was the American first lady, and her husband evidently urged her to buy American, that the suit was an official Chanel copy. In that way it was authentic from its design to its bouclé, the fabric that has become synonymous with the Little French Jacket – which brings me to my next step toward my third LFJ: now that I have the design I’m going for, I need fabric.

I always take my time perusing bouclé fabrics whenever I’m in a good fabric store. I had a wonderful time examining Mood’s offerings in their LA outpost this past winter, but in the end I wander down to the garment district here in Toronto and while buying muslin at Leather Supply, I pick through their remnant bin. Now, I’m not a real remnant kind of sewer, but on this day they have a selection of bouclé and tweed fabric in the bin. And the pieces are a minimum of 2 meters each. I find one I like; the only down side to this find is that the precise fabric content is a bit of a mystery. They know only that it is a wool blend. Well, this is good enough for me!

It’s a mix of mostly greys and burgundy with a bit of black. The texture looks as if it will neatly hide the matching quilting and it had a nice hand. I’m sold, but I need lining.

I try my usual spot on Queen Street West: Affordable Fabrics. Today, though, they have almost no silk charmeuse in stock let alone printed charmeuse which is my prefeence for a bit of interior interest. Oh, they have lost of synthetic lining fabric, but as I said in a previous post, I will not go the polyester lining route ever again. I’m out of there and down the street to Leo’s Textiles. Now we’re talking.

The place is filled with the best high-end selection of silks and wools in Toronto. It seems that most of the customers this day are seeking bridal fabrics, and they are not disappointed. Neither am I. The sale associate quickly finds me some beautiful grey silk charmeuse.

IMG_1216

We have an interesting discussion about the rise in the price of quality silk. It seems that although we think of silk as a natural fabric (which it is – a renewable resource which has fewer deleterious effects on the environment than most synthetics), the way it is processed is not so natural. The silk cocoons have to be boiled and this uses lots of electricity which, in many countries, China in particular, causes air pollution because of the coal burning used to produce the electricity. So, less environmentally problematic methods are used and are more expensive. End of environment lesson.  Hence, the price tag. I pay it– in fact, I pay almost three times as much for the lining as I pay for the bouclé! I’ll have to be very careful with it, but I will be worth it.

Vogue 8804 pattern frontWith fabric selected and at the ready, I tissue-fit the pattern and cut the first muslin. Let’s just say that the fit of the first muslin is hideous.

I should have heeded the pattern reviews of Vogue 8804. Many reviewers did say that it was boxy, although when I examined the shape of the pattern pieces and some of the design elements, it didn’t seem to be the case. Oh, it is the case! And then there are the too-long bracelet-length sleeves and the sleeves cut for Sumo wrestlers. But the fitting issues are for my next post.

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

LBJ*: Choosing my Jacket Fabric & Lining

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

 

bolts of fabricAnd so the real fun begins. Here’s where I get to play fashion designer. I remember years ago when I used to make most of my own clothes, I never began a project without having first chosen the fabric for it. I found a pattern in a big pattern book at a fabric store, then went immediately to the bolts of fabric to find and buy my fabric. Nowadays, I actually buy all my patterns online, and use online and in-store sources for fabrics. In fact, in the case of this – my little black (French) jacket project – I put off the fun of finding the right fabric until I had gotten to the point of actually being ready to cut it out. I am now ready, so I need fabric.

I am lucky to live in a city where the fashion design industry is vibrant. Toronto might not be Paris or Milan, but it is the epitome of internationally-recognized Canadian design, and we have a ton of great designers, many of whom now live and work abroad as it turns out. But they started here. It also means that there are fashion design programs of study and putting these two things together means that we have an actual fashion design district where the fabric stores line the street – Queen Street West to be specific.

After my previous experiences with those large, light-filled, airy fabric-store chains, the real fashion fabric stores came as a bit of a surprise – and a surprise that I am loving. Each of them is jam-packed from floor to ceiling with bolt after bolt of fabrics, not all of whose provenance or fiber content are immediately evident. However, these stores are staffed by exceedingly knowledgeable staff members who will be able to answer any of my questions and they do.

I amble along Queen Street browsing several stores. Because of my research about the Chanel jacket, I’m looking for a specific type of fabric – a bouclé – because many if not most of the real Chanel jackets are constructed of bouclé. So, what exactly is it I’m looking for?

First, it’s important to realize that the word bouclé is the French word for “curl.” So, the word bouclé refers to both a kind of fabric and a kind of yarn, both of which are characterized by loops. Bouclé fabric has a kind of loopy appearance if you look at it closely. It is also fairly loosely woven – which was the reason that I used one-inch seam allowances when I created the patter as you might recall. This loose weave means that it frays. But what about fiber content?

Bouclé can be made from a variety of fiber types – wool, cotton, silk – and these natural fibers are often combined with one another and even with synthetics to achieve various properties. Since they were introduced in 1954, the jackets produced by The House of Chanel have been created in a variety of fibers and, as I mentioned in my initial research post, Coco herself found her original fabric at Linton Tweeds in northern England.

I did browse through their site when I first began to search for my fabric and I found wonderful bouclé’s and tweeds. However, none of them really were exactly what I am looking for. I am looking for something that is in the black, white and/or grey family. I think that a neutral jacket will suit my lifestyle better than any other colour. But what I did learn from their site is a lot about the fiber content of their fabrics.

I found this one that I liked, though. Notice that the fabric content is 65% viscose and 35% cotton (I also noticed the price which was £34.00 which is about $70.00 CDN a yard – not going to happen the first time I make this jacket! But isn’t the fabric beautiful?

linton 1

linton 2
If you look closely, you can see the loops on the surface.

I also liked this one, and I think you can actually see the loops that I’m talking about. Beautiful. Same fabric content. I also found others with various combinations of polyester, viscose, wool, nylon, cotton and acrylic. So, I realized that I was really looking for a combination or fiber types and I was looking specifically for some kind of a wool blend when I perused the shops on Queen Street.

 

When I walked into “Affordable Fabrics” and found their large stash of bouclé bolts, I was fairly sure I’d found my fabric store. Sure enough, after taking down several bolts (with help from the young man working in the store that day), opening out the fabric and taking them to the window for better light, I found the one that I was looking for. Then all I needed was lining.

20120316-affordable-textiles-inc
The unimpressive exterior belies the wealth of fabrics inside!

The instructor on the Craftsy video course that I’m following is using silk dupioni which of course is a bit sturdier than some silks. My research told me that real Chanel jackets are generally lined with silk charmeuse. I first looked at their stash of silk dupioni and didn’t see a colour that I felt would do what I wanted for the design (there’s the fashion designer in me talking!). when I asked the young man about their silk charmeuse, he said, “I have just the thing for this fabric!”

 

He pulled out a bolt of fabulous printed black and white silk charmeuse and I fell in love. When I asked him the price, I was ready to cringe, but it wasn’t so bad. I now had the makings of a beautiful jacket. Of course I was going to have to learn to match a pattern, but that would come later. Oh, and I’ll need braid trim and a chain for the hem, but I think I’ll work with the fabric a bit before I decide on the finishing.

Next up: cutting it out! Yikes!

A great blog post on finding fabric on Queen Street in Toronto: http://www.loulou.to/streets-of-toronto/shopping-for-fabric-on-queen-street-west/