Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Style

A new project begins: Creating a “collection” not a “capsule”

Ever since I began studying and learning about pattern drafting and design, I’ve obsessed about creating a kind of  “collection.” This probably stems from my internal, imaginary fashion designer. Many others who also create their own wardrobes seem to refer to “capsule” collections in a similar way. In my mind, these two are related but not quite the same. And since I’m about to embark on yet another long-term project involving just such a goal, I thought I’d begin my process by defining exactly what I’m doing (probably not what an “artist” would do, but I’m my own kind of artist) then moving directly into the creative process that got me going.

First, what is a capsule wardrobe and why is my collection different?

There is a suggestion among many (if not most) people talking and writing about capsule wardrobes that they are predicated on the notion that you’ll be down-sizing – or perhaps right-sizing? – your wardrobe. In other words…

capsule wardrobe definition

 

Well, that’s my definition based on what I’ve seen.

According to Wikipedia, that all-knowing online encyclopedia of varying accuracy, the term was actually coined back in the 1970’s by a London boutique owner named Susie Faux. Since I am of a “certain age” I do seem to recall that there was a flurry of interest in wardrobes that were well-thought-out enough to actually have all the pieces work together creating a cohesive style for the wearer. I, however, was young enough at the time to think that more was better when it came to my clothes. I most assuredly do not think that any longer. Thirty to forty items might seem like a lot (and this was the original capsule wardrobe recommendation), but if you go into an average woman’s closet, you’re going to be boggled by the number of pieces she owns. I know I am.

In 2016, the closet organizer company ClosetMaid polled 1000 women in the US and found out that on average they have 103 pieces of clothing in their closets.[1] Presumably, that doesn’t include all those pieces folded in drawers! As an aside, they also found that these women admitted that they actually like only 10% of those clothes. (When I looked this up I was also staggered to learn that “…  Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year …”[2] )  So maybe we do need to “capsulize” a bit!

The definition of a capsule wardrobe as it was originally conceived was a group of essential pieces that don’t go out of style, and that form the basis for adding fashion pieces seasonally. And there were rules.

  • Colour: There needs to be a cohesive colour scheme and the colours chosen should be the most flattering to your complexion and hair.
  • Shape: The pieces should be chosen from the classic shapes so as to flatter your particular body shape (not really specific to capsules)
  • Fabrics: The garment should be constructed of high-quality fabrics so that they are amenable to wearing numerous times through the mixing and matching that will go on.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and capsule wardrobes seem to be created for a variety of reasons: the business capsule, the travel capsule (presumably different ones depending on the climate of the destination), the weekend capsule.

One can only conclude that if you have numerous capsules in your wardrobe, you essentially have a whole lot of clothes. So, we’re back to where we started. I think I like Susie’s approach to basics.

In my view capsule wardrobes are one type of beast, a collection a bit different. Although it has to be said that they have a number of characteristics in common: colours scheme, shapes and fabric choices among them.

 

My “collection” will be a group of garments that I am designing around a common theme and aesthetic for a specific season. In the case of my first such grouping, it will be what I’m calling a cruise collection.  But my cruise collection does not conform exactly to the cruise collections as articulated by the real fashion industry.

The web site The Business of Fashion (and a fascinating one it is) defines a cruise collection this way:

“Cruise Collections, or resort or holiday collections as they are otherwise known, launch between the two main ready-to-wear seasons; Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. Originally, they were created with the jet set in mind and catered for a client who needed a wardrobe for their mid-season travels to climates different to their own. Now, they have been adopted by many of the big brands as an opportunity to inject an entirely new must-have mid-season collection into market.”[3]

chanel cruise 2019
Chanel’s 2019 cruise collection – not exactly mix and match!

It is the last sentence of their definition that truly embodies what they are these days – a mid-season collection. My cruise collection, on the other hand, really is going to be for a client (me) who needs a wardrobe for my mid-season travel to a climate different from my own. It will actually be for a cruise. In the winter. In the Caribbean.

My husband and I have been on lots of cruises (if you don’t believe me, just visit our travel blog at www.thediscerningtravelers.com). We’ve traveled through the Mediterranean several times, both eastern and western; we’ve done the South Pacific; we’ve done China and Japan; we’ve done the Panama Canal along with Ecuador, Peru and Chile; we’ve done a Cunard trans-Atlantic and we’ve been on numerous Caribbean cruises. And I’ve always gone on these cruises with a well-selected wardrobe of ready-to-wear that works for travel.

RTW cruisewear
The usual suspects in my travel-worthy RTW cruise wear – a Joseph Ribkoff black strapless gown that can be paired with numerous boleros/jackets, a midnight blue Lauren gown, an Adrienne Papell cocktail dress (all fold-friendly) and white jeans with everything. 

This year I want to take along a little collection that I’ve designed and made for the purpose.

My project begins with a design inspiration exercise. I’m going to share with you a sneak peek of where I’m headed with this project. Stand by for the next post on my creative process and getting to an inspiration board, fabric choices and potential designs.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

[1] https://goo.gl/yVPtpG

[2] Closet cast-offs clogging our landfill. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mattias-wallander/closet-cast-offs-clogging_b_554400.html

[3] https://www.businessoffashion.com/education/fashion-az/cruise-collection

Posted in Little Black Dress, Pattern-drafting, sewing

My LBD* Project: One Final Design Choice

It’s April and spring is upon us in the northern hemisphere – at least that’s what the calendar says. And that usually means I’m heading down to Toronto’s “garment district” to shop for fabrics. It’s a terrific 45-minute walk from where I live and I love walking down a few times a year to find everything I could possibly need for sewing and design plans. My husband is my sidekick on these journeys, providing much-needed extra help with seeking out specific items in these wonderfully jumbled stores. I can set him off to find “black knits” for example while I explore the silks. When he has found the general area in the shop and pulls some bolts, I can saunter over the make a decision. As a side note, he has a terrific eye and is a great second opinion. Anyway, that’s not happening any time soon.

Here in TO, we have been in the grips of a hideous April ice storm for a few days and now it’s raining buckets. The streets are full of ice-pellet slush and the sidewalks a sheet of ice. That won’t last long, but it has curtailed Toronto fabric shopping plans for the week, and for the month for that matter as it turns out. You see, this coming weekend I’m boarding a plane headed for Hong Kong and with any luck, I’ll be browsing silk stalls this time next week. But what does all this have to do with my Little Black Dress Project* you might reasonably ask. Good question.

I was planning to make a final decision on the design of the dress which would have led directly to fabric choice decisions which would have happened on Queen Street West this week. I think I have made a decision about design (and if I’m lucky I might find something inspirational in the way of fabric in Hong Kong or Shanghai, or maybe even Tokyo – all of which are on our upcoming itinerary) and actually making the dress wouldn’t be far behind. But I am getting slightly ahead of myself because I wanted to share my experience with one final design.

I’ve tested and fit three designs –one from each of Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s – so far. The last option is a design of my own. So where would one find inspiration these days for a timeless LBD? Clearly not in this spring’s ready-to-wear offerings, that’s for sure. I really just had to share with you this photo of a dress in a window in Yorkville Village, an upscale, very tony mall-like shopping space in my neighbourhood. It was in the window of TNT, a popular store in Toronto. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

hideous dress

“WTF is that?” I said to my husband.

He was as perplexed as I was. To be honest, the first time I saw it I thought it was one of those art pieces that you see in fashion windows from time to time. It never occurred to me that it was actually for sale and that it was intended for someone to wear. Needless to say, it doesn’t fit in with anything that I might recognize as timeless, flattering clothing for real people. But it was good for a laugh, n’est-ce pas?

So, I went back to my personal guidelines for the perfect LBD to begin my sketch: timeless, chic, sheath-like, open to multiple ways of styling.

Here’s how the sketch began.

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I love the idea of neckline darts – they seem to lend themselves to perfect fitting across my concave décolletage. It began with two neckline darts radiating from the centre and two waistline darts. That was okay, but not perfect. So, I extended the neckline darts and manipulated the waistline darts into a princess seam from centre front. I liked it, and after two more fittings, was able to get it to fit me perfectly.

Then what about sleeves? I started with the idea of petal sleeves. Although I liked them, given that they have to be lines, I wasn’t at all certain I liked all those layers of fabric that are necessary. There would be the bodice, two layers of front and two layers of back for a total of five layers at the sleeve head. Hmm…

What to do? Well, back to a simpler sleeve shaped with a curve. That seems to work.

draft 2 sleeves rouge
This iteration has two different sleeves. The one on the left side is much too big and floppy for me while the one on the right is much better.

 

 

After several (at least three) muslins, I finally settled on a simple design and guess what? I really have to make this one. But then I also have to make contender number two for sure and may be number three.

I think I have to find a lot of places to go to wear these dresses – and I have a lot of fabric to buy! Wish me luck! Cheers – and join me back here when I get home from Asia.

Posted in Little Black Dress, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

My LBD* Project: Considering option #2

IMG_1429
Contender #1

My Little Black Dress* project continues. I’m still mulling over designs. I have already made up contender #1 and put it away for a side-by-side comparison to the other two contenders in due course. I’m now on to the next one.

Before I get to my muslin, though, I’ve been thinking about the fine line between a “little black dress” which implies something that I might wear to a cocktail party, on a cruise or perhaps out to dinner at a chi-chi restaurant on a special occasion, and a couple of other garments that wouldn’t fit the bill at all. I’m talking about “sun dresses” and “house dresses.”

Let’s first consider the “house dress.”

Megan Reynolds, of Racked, wrote a really nice piece about this anachronistic piece of clothing. She talks about the real pleasure of coming home from work, shedding the daily armor (whatever that might be for you: anything from a buttoned-up business suit to a uniform) and kicking back in a pair of old sweat pants and a grubby T-shirt. She considers the modern house dress to be a better alternative. She writes: “A good house dress lacks anything constricting about the midsection and should slip over the head with ease…A house dress is the antidote to slovenliness and an effective way of making you feel dressed when you’re really not…”[1] And it seems to me that in the 1950’s which seems to be the height of house dress popularity, the dress was less floaty and loose than today’s versions.

And while I’m on the subject of today’s versions of the house dress, it seems to me that they could pass for what I think of as sun dresses: loose(ish), cool and most importantly, made from fabrics light handkerchief linen or cotton voile.

modern house dress
What passes for a “house dress” or “sun dress” today. Gag me!

So, why am I thinking about house dresses and sun dresses on my journey toward the ultimate LBD? It’s because I’m struck by how the style might be somewhat less important than the eventual fabric choice. I’m thinking about this because as I ponder the lines drawings of contender #2, I see that this dress, fabricated from, say, cotton sateen, would be anything but the kind of LBD I’m searching for.

lbd 2 line drawingsAnd yet, if I squint, and see black, crepe-backed silk satin in lustrous black with the crepe side used for a contrasting yoke and sleeve band, styled with beautiful gold earrings and a necklace to die for, I’m seeing possibilities. Anyway, here is contender #2, Butterick 6410, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

As I cut and fit this dress I’m struck with the fact that it’s actually a better fit than contender #1 (McCall’s 6464). It also has sleeves with that cuff detail that could look corporate in certain kinds of fabrics, but as I mentioned my image of silk, crepe-backed satin, this becomes cocktail-worthy. I also really do like the neckline, which comes as a surprise to me. I thought that and Audrey-Hepburn-inspired boat neck would be my first choice, but I see lots of possibilities for jewelry with this one.

 

As I move on to contender #3, I realize that the choice might be difficult in the end. But, then, doesn’t’ everyone need more than one LBD? We’ll see.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.racked.com/2016/9/1/12519724/house-dress

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!

Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.

In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.

And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?

  1. First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
  2. Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
  3. My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
  4. My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.

I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.

So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.

In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.

I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.

I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…

…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…

…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…

…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).

And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*

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Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!

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.

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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 Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Style inspiration: The 1960’s in the 21st century

I’m not sure why, but I’m really inspired by the styles of the 1960’s. I’ve been collecting inspirational vintage patterns on a Pinterest board for some time, and when I look at them I’m struck by a few design elements that seem to emerge again and again.

As I examine these shapes, I see that there is a certain neckline style that immediately appeals to my personal aesthetic. So, it isn’t at all surprising that I was attracted to Vogue 8886 on a recent online pattern-buying spree. It has that very retro feeling without being truly vintage – I’m not a vintage kind of gal in any way, shape or form. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t swoon over clothing from earlier eras from time to time. I just like to think that I can take elements from them and make them contemporary. So, I embarked on this sewing project hoping it would be just that kind of outcome. Well, it is – sort of.

First, this was the subject of my rant about fitting the bust. I made the mistake of thinking that I had to cut the larger cup size (which Vogue handily made available in the pattern envelope). Never again. I had to do a bit of research to understand that even if I measure a D- cup, the fact that it is a 32-D and not a 38-D makes the need for that fuller bust change entirely moot. *sigh* Well, I’m now over it.

I actually finished the top. It now fits quite well (although as usual it is probably not quite form- fitting enough since I tend to be frightened of the possibility of anything being too tight), and it is divinely comfortable. The problem is – if you must know – that the very thing that inspired me to buy the pattern and sew it up is the very thing that bothers me. It’s about the neckline.

When I first laid eyes on the pattern, it looked to be a raised boat neckline. A bateau and the Sabrina, a variation on the bateau, is probably my very favourite neckline.

sabrina neckline
Audrey in that Sabrina neckline first designed just for her!

I think it is über flattering on most women, and especially on me. I thought that the banding just made it even nicer. The problem is that the band isn’t a band at all – it’s a large, fold-over collar.

 

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

Right from the cutting out, this surprised me, but I thought, how big can it be? When I made up the toile, I had my answer: big. But I decided to persevere. It didn’t look too bad on me, I thought. In fact, I thought it might be quite nice. So I completed it as designed. But now I’m left wondering where and when I’ll ever wear it.

At this time of year when it should be the most appropriate kind of thing to wear, it occurs to me that it doesn’t fit well under a coat or blazer (it’s really bad under a blazer), and it’s too cold to go without a coat yet. Once it’s warm enough to go without a coat, it will be too wintery to wear.

My lesson here is that I need to examine the line drawing on the patterns I buy more carefully before putting my money down. I worked hard to get this pattern to fit and thought I’d make it again as a dress, but there is still that collar. I might try making it up without a collar at all, but I might as well draft my own boat neck that is ideal for me and not take a chance on this commercial pattern again. You live and learn!

I still think I can make some 1960’s style elements work in the twenty-first century, though!

Posted in sewing, Style

My commercial sewing pattern nightmare: The continuing search for the elusive perfect fit

I love to create clothing pieces that fit my lifestyle at this point in time. Really what I mean is that I love to create clothing pieces that fit. Period. I know I continue to beat this drum – and will continue to do it until everything I make (or buy off the rack for that matter) fits me like a glove, which brings me to the subject of this week’s rant. Let me take a step back for a moment.

I’m fascinated by the extraordinary cottage industry (and in some cases far beyond the cottage stage) that has sprung up for indie pattern designers/producers.

It boggles the mind of a sewer who had, for many years, slavishly followed the instructions on the patterns from the big commercial manufacturers, which these days seems to consist of the McCall’s company (one that seems to own Vogue and Butterick and be the distributors for a few other line such as Marfy – one of my sewing goals for 2017) and Simplicity. I’ve turned with delight toward many of these independent pattern designers only find fit issues there as well. There are so many swingy, baggy tops and dresses.

bolero-pattern-indie
This indie pattern may be the exception to the fit problem rule. It has funnel-neck darts, proper set-in sleeves, back shaping. I got it free as a PDF and plan to make it. Hope I can get it to fit! It will be my first experience with a PDF pattern.

 

I understand this interest in comfortable, easy-wearing, easy-sewing clothing, and I like a loose-fitting top as much as the next woman (as you’ll see below) but it just isn’t always for me, and truthfully, I think that clothing with more ease has to fit, too. My own pattern-making education is taking me ever closer to being able to design this kind of pattern for myself without the help of anyone else. But what I also perceive is that designing these kind of patterns is a lot easier than designing patterns for garments that are fitted or even semi-fitted.

Excluding pants patterns (one of which I have and will try in a few months to see about fit), so much out there seems to be tent-like, flowing and generally loose-fitting, and if it’s not, it’s not as tailored a style as I like. So where does that leave me while I learn to do it myself? Back to McCall’s patterns and the like.

img_0969I recently decided to complete what I thought would be a sort-of-at-least-partly-fitted tunic that otherwise flows. I chose McCall’s 7247 because I had it in my pattern file and I liked the cross-over front.

Right out of the envelope it is already clear to me that I will need to do some alterations to the pattern. That accomplished, I cut and sew and fit the bodice before moving on to the neck band and sleeves. A perfect fit! I am in heaven. So, I adhere strictly to the pattern and its instructions for the insertion of the neckband. When in, it looks great. I’m happy. Then the sleeves (I set in a mean sleeve, so the finished product looks pretty darn professional). It’s now almost finished; I just have to find the perfect length for the sleeves – so try it on me (Gloria junior doesn’t’ have arms) –which is when the problem becomes apparent.

The pattern instructions clearly state that you need to stretch the neckband while sewing it in. I dutifully stretch as I go although I do think that it is requiring more than the usual amount of neckline stretching even for a knit fabric. Well, I was right. Now that the neckband is in, finished and edge-stitched into place (permanently affixed as it were), all that requisite stretching was too much. Now it pulls from the shoulders and isn’t perfect across the upper chest any longer.

Damn! See those little wrinkles under the neck band? They weren’t there when I did the pre-neckband fitting. Oh, I’ll probably wear it but it will never feel as perfect as it did when fitting it before the neck band went in. My lesson here: if something seems wrong, it probably is. So on to the next commercial pattern.

Enter Vogue pattern 8886 – a “very easy Vogue.”

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I love it because it has a slightly funnel-shaped, collared neckline and well-fitted princess lines. If I can get this one to fit, I’ll be laughing. But this time, I’ll do a muslin.

So, first is sort-of tissue fit and based on this and my sloper, I make a few tweaks. Then I decide to cut the D-cup pattern because this is a “perfect fit” pattern and I wear a D-cup bra. However, I wear a 32-D and when I have done the princess seams in the front of the muslin, it’s so big for me that it’s laughable. I guess they meant 38-D or bigger! I should have cut a smaller cup size, but how was I to know?

Oh. My. God. Just look at it.

Well, the good news is that now I have all this extra fabric on the seams to get it just right. I think I’ll sew it with a machine-basting stitch in case I have to make any more adjustments after the sleeves are in. So another “very easy” pattern that isn’t! But that’s just me!

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

Little French Jacket #2: Finished in Time for New Year’s!

happy-new-year

 

And so 2017 begins! And it seems as if everyone who designs and makes self-styled wardrobes whose blogs I follow is writing about what every news outlet does at this time of year: a look back at the year that has just ended. Looking back isn’t my style: I’d rather look ahead. It’s not so much that 2016 was a bad year – it most assuredly was a good one in our corner of the world: no one we know was killed or maimed in a terrorist attack, we live in a beautiful city where [most] people still have manners, we have plenty to eat and a comfortable home, the stock markets are on the rise and we don’t live in the UK or US where uncertainty seems to reign these days. So looking ahead is easy! That’s the end of my political diatribe – now on to what I’ve been up to in the creative wardrobe development realm…

I received a few wonderful sewing/designing/creating related presents for Christmas and I’d love to share what I have planned, but before I can get to that, it’s time to tie up a few loose ends. Of course I refer to my LFJ #2. Yes, I finished my second little French jacket in time to wear it to dinner on New Year’s Eve.

img_0942When last we talked, I had completed adding the two trims to the front, neck, hem, sleeve and pocket edges and was ready to give it a bit of a steam before moving onto the final step: sewing on the chain at the bottom of the hem.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with this style of Chanel-type jacket, please note that this finishing touch is de rigeur. Designed to help the jacket maintain its shape and drape on a moving body, depending on the fabric of the particular jacket these days, this chain might be decorative only, but even as an embellishment, it lends an air of luxury that can’t be duplicated if you leave it out. I would never omit this important finishing touch in a jacket like this, and especially in the case of my latest creation. The bouclé even quilted to its lining is so lightweight that this trim piece is actually functional: it helps the jacket fronts to hang straight.

When I was looking for this chain to finish off the jacket I thought I might look for a silver-toned one to compliment the silver and black external trim. It’s difficult to find silver-toned chain (unless you go to Canadian Tire!), but what I found in any case when researching insides of authentic Chanel jackets was that the chain is almost always gold regardless of the tone of the embellishment on the outside. I have occasionally seen a photo of one with a silver chain, but it’s rare. So I opted to continue with the gold one.

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There’s something very beautiful about having this gold chain in the hem.

 

What I like to do is pin a few inches at a time, ensuring that the chain sits just below the lining. The pinning helps to ensure that the chain doesn’t twist as I sew. Then I sew it on with a double strand of silk thread using one stitch in each link – yes, you heard that right. One stitch per link. And if you use a stitch that goes slightly back on every move forward, the thread will be completely hidden by the next link. I also sew it in short sections; this really helps if the chain happens to come loose at some point in the future. Only a small section will be affected and fixing it is a breeze.

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LFJ #2 Finished and on Gloria Jr.

I also don’t cut the chain to length until I’m about three or four links from the end. This way I can be sure I haven’t measured incorrectly. Imagine doing all that hand-stitching only to get to the end and find that your chain is too short! Anyway, when I get there I usually ask my dear husband to get his needle-nose pliers out to remove the unneeded links. Then he knows I’m well and truly finished the project!

 

 

I wore the jacket to dinner on New Year’s as I mentioned. On this occasion it topped a dress which is a real occasion for me since I so rarely wear a dress. It’s such a versatile style, though. I’ll wear it with leggings and boots and with jeans. I also think it might look good with a pair of white jeans on a cool, early summer evening.

I’m delighted with the fit and finish of the piece and look forward to LFJ #3. Oh yes, I already have the tweed. I’m still on the hunt for printed silk charmeuse for the lining, though. I’m going to try to get to Mood Fabrics when we get to LA next month! That being said, I have a few other things up my sleeve for next projects before I get to that one. Have a good one!! ~GG

Posted in Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

Following Coco’s Advice: Making the inside of the Little French Jacket as beautiful as the outside

according-to-cocoCoco Chanel knew a thing or two about elegance. Most of us have an innate sense of what it means to be elegant (whether or not we aspire to it – I do), but if pressed to define the term—well, that’s a bit more elusive. Since one of my objectives in paying homage to Chanel’s aesthetic by reproducing a few pieces inspired by her approach to design is to create elegantly wearable pieces, I thought it might be informative to look it up.

Most definitions of elegant use words like, graceful, stylish tasteful, luxurious, sophisticated and chic, all of which I like the sound of, but my favourite definition is this: “…someone or something luxurious in a restrained manner or something that is very well-thought through yet simple.”[1] Oh how I wish every piece of clothing in my closet held to this standard. And how I aspire to be elegant as I age. Anyway, what does this have to do with my current sewing project? Well, lots.

As I painstakingly complete the internal workings of the Little French Jacket, I’m always bearing in mind that Chanel truly believed that the inside of finished clothing (she wasn’t just referring to the more esoteric internal beauty of individuals if that was even a part of her thought process), ought to be as beautiful as the outside. And that means that taking particular care to get it right even in the parts that no one will see is important. Whenever I wear my first LFJ it makes me feel elegant just to know that the inside is beautifully finished. It doesn’t hurt that this type of construction is sublimely comfortable either (if you choose your fabrics carefully).

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The inside of my first LFJ.

 

I’ve stabilized all of the edges of the bouclé by hand-sewing twill tape as I did before. Many expert sewers who teach about this type of construction will tell you to put selvedge from silk organza. That’s terrific, but I felt that the edges of this bouclé which has quite a bit of give to it and is floppy, required a bit more stability. Now that I have the basic construction completed, I know that I was right in my selection. You can’t be too wedded to rules, I think.

Quilting the lining to the jacket body pieces was a bit trickier this time around. The last time I made one of these jackets I had a kind of plaid design in the tweed which gave me straight lines on the outside of the jacket to follow when machine quilting. Since it does have to be quilted from the outside, it occurred to me that this might be tricky. To be fair, it would be tricky even on the inside since the lining has no lines either. So, I decided to take a page out of Claire Schaeffer’s instructions and thread baste the pieces together as well as adding a straight line of basting down the centre of each piece to follow for the first line of quilting on each piece then use that line as the basis for straight lines for the rest of the stitching (always using a 3.0 mm stitch length and a walking foot).

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Basting the lining to the fabric – and using a ruler to get the centre line straight. It will guide the first line of quilting done by machine from the outside.

 

After quilting the pieces, I started on the side and shoulder seams. The pressing of the seams is critical. In my view, pressing (or lack thereof) is one of the sure signs of an amateurish, home-made piece of clothing (notwithstanding some of the new designs on runways that look like they were done in old home economics sewing classes without benefit of a steam iron). Pressing technique is so important.

I now know to press the seam flat in its closed position before attempting to press it open. I used to do that all the time. I also know to then press with only the tip of the iron on the outside to finish. So three passes at the ironing board.

I also know not to trim the seam before pressing. No wonder it was so difficult to open them! Anyway, I also now know to use small scissors to trim the seams after – I have so much more control this way.

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I used grey thread in the spool and black in the bobbin so that the quilting would blend in to the different colours of the outside versus the inside. I also knew to leave very long threads at the end this time since they have to be pulled inside and knotted – backstitching here!

 

The next step is the sleeves which are always a treat since there are so many layers that have to be carefully put in their correct location. I never have trouble setting in sleeves, but making sure that I haven’t caught up a piece of lining where lining ought not to be caught is the real challenge for me. But once they’re completed and the lining is hand-sewn inside, it looks like a real jacket whose simple exterior belies the work done on the inside. I love knowing that!

I’m very happy with the progress so far. Christmas is just about upon us and I do hope to have the jacket ready for New Year’s Eve. Here’s hoping!

[1] http://www.yourdictionary.com/elegant#IoW3DtTDrD0Tklhy.99

Posted in sewing, Style, Stylish Books

Shaping my closet – one sewing & design project at a time

img_1523A few years ago I stumbled on a book that I found so useful (and entertainingly written) that I bought it in hardcover and have actually read at least three times (something I almost never do). It even survived the great purge of 2014 when we sold our large property and moved to a downtown condo!

The book is called What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life – and I’m rereading it yet again. Written by former fashion editor Kim Johnson Gross, it’s unlike most other books out there purporting to be the final word on what we should appropriate fashion style for women of a certain age. Instead of trying to tell us what we should be wearing, Kim commiserates with us about the kinds of changes in our lives that necessitate a bit of a re-think about our closets, then uses her considerable experience to help the rest of us see how to move forward. There are no all-encompassing platitudes that suggest, “Women over a certain age should never wear…” No, none of that. She does, however, believe that we are influenced by our closets!

Early on in the book she says, “Closets are powerful. They contain the power to make us feel fat, fit, frumpy, or fabulous.”

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She also reminds us that our closets hold memories, dreams, frustrations etc. They tell the story of our lives. Sometimes I wonder what story mine tells – I do a complete clean out twice a year. Anyway, last week when I was learning dart manipulation and discovered that I owned very few pieces of clothing with darts, it occurred to me that I had been shaping my closet for a while now. My sewing and design projects reflect this.

img_1427Along with learning to design, I’ve been playing around with various types of knit fabric since my reshaping suggests that these will continue to play a large part in my wardrobe life. To that end, I finished a tunic that I’d been eyeing in my pattern “stash” (I really hate that word – going to find a new one!), so when I found some lightweight knit I liked, I thought I’d embark on this “fast & easy” project. As anyone who has been reading along with my musings knows, I don’t seem to know how to do “fast & easy.” [See my last fast & easy project.]

This cutout-then-whip-up tunic took hours and hours of pinning, sewing unpicking, seam stabilizing, and yes, even hand-basting. Oh, and let us not forget that I cut out the sleeves for the view I selected only to discover (after hand-basting them in) that I hated their floppy bell-like shape and had to remove them and re-cut the narrower one!

Along the way I also learned how to use the double needle in my sewing machine! I know everyone else probably already uses this on a regular basis, but it was a new experience for me and I think I got it!

Anyway, the style and fabrication are two parts of what I’ve been thinking about in terms of what’s in my own closet. Neither of these elements – no matter how right they seem to me – can exist independently. The right style constructed from the right fabric for that style is an absolute requirement for my clothes. Add onto that the element of fit, and what I have are the three essential components to having a closet full of clothes that make me feel wonderful. Although Kim Gross doesn’t offer all-or-nothing rules for our evolving closets, she does give us a couple of guidelines that I think are especially important:

  • “Fit is critical to looking your best.” This is why I wanted a personal bodice sloper – and why creating a persona pants sloper is on my to-do list.
  • “Don’t follow fashion trends. Wear what looks good on your body.” This is why I’m learning to design my own clothes!

Well, I’m going to take these guidelines to heart as I move onto my next project – which is a new Chanel-style Little French Jacket! I have found some new bouclé that I love, and already have a well-fitting muslin of the pattern – so off I go!

 

Details on Kim Johnson Gross’s book: What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style. New York: Springboard Press, 2010.