Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Books, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project Begins: Why create a blazer?

As far as I’m concerned, there is no single piece of clothing in the world that immediately transforms not only how you look, but how you feel about yourself than a tailored jacket – a blazer to be precise.

There was a time in my life when I had a closet full of them – and matching skirts or trousers – and I wore them every day. I’m sure that there are many women out there who can identify with this.

And even if you didn’t wear a suit jacket to work, I’m sure you recognized at one time or another that putting a blazer on over even a T-shirt changes everything.

I think I learned my strongest lesson ever about a blazer-style jacket many years ago when I was working in communications for a large organ transplant program. It was a summer day, and I was probably wearing a dress of some sort or another (I used to wear dresses for other things than cocktails). I got a phone call late in the morning from the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a Canadian). They would be arriving in a couple of hours to interview me for the evening news. The truth is that the CBC was notorious at the time for always wanting you to come to their studios if they wanted to interview you and this isn’t always convenient. There even used to be a saying among communications professionals that went this way: “The CBC was unlikely to ever come out for anything short of the second coming.” Well, this wasn’t the second coming, but it was an occasion when I knew I’d need a jacket. I ran home at lunchtime (luckily, I lived a five-minute walk from my office) and got myself a blazer. Never again was I without a jacket in my office to throw over whatever I was wearing for purposes of a television interview. But things have changed.

I have noticed that the “uniform” these days for women who are on-camera personalities, especially in the US, is what I would have labelled a cocktail dress in years gone by. To prove a point – that they don’t have to look like men to compete with them, I guess – women have forgotten the power of the jacket. These days, I can still expect to see Lisa LaFlamme on CTV news in Canada in the evening wearing some version of a suit jacket and she looks so professional.

So, I love a blazer. I think you get that. And since I have never done traditional tailoring, and it’s been over 35 years since I even created a jacket with a lapel collar for myself, I thought I’d love to take on a new challenge. Enter the new project. I am going to learn traditional and modern tailoring techniques and create for myself a perfectly-fitted blazer-style jacket. As usual, though, before I begin, I need to do a bit of research. For example, where did the name “blazer” come from and when did women start wearing tailored jackets?

According to Michael Andrews Bespoke, in a fascinating piece about the history of women in suits, “The first notable appearance of a woman making a man’s suit her own was in 1870 when actress Sarah Bernhardt began wearing her “boy’s clothes” in public.”[1] As you might expect, at that time, a woman wearing what was traditionally considered to be men’s clothing was nothing short of scandalous.

Sarah Bernhardt in a suit

In the late nineteenth century, women began to wear what could be considered early suit jackets. If you haven’t yet read historian Linda Przybyszewski’s fascinating book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish, and you are interested in style, stop reading immediately and go order a copy — then come back! In her book she provides some very interesting views on how style developed including references to early suit jackets on women.

Coco Chanel first began creating two-piece suits for women in the 1920s and is credited with giving the suit a boost. Chanel’s suits gave the first-wave feminists of the early twentieth century their own look, but the hallmark of the Chanel suit was its softness, its minimal tailoring. In 1966, Yves St. Laurent offered women a look that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be beaten if we want to look elegant, sophisticated and powerful. Enter “Le Smoking.”

Over the years, women have adopted many styles of suit jackets. As I look back on the last American election and take a close look at Hilary Clinton’s “pantsuits” I wonder what went wrong with that particular image. I think it might have been three things: colour, fit and proportion. She just looked unkempt and odd in my view. Did this make a difference to her political aspirations? Or should it have? Probably not, but I’m not a political writer – this is about style, design and creation!

It seems that suit jackets have been in women’s style arsenal for a very long time. So, what’s the difference between a suit jacket and a blazer?

In an interesting piece by The Gentlemanual, the difference is this: “Dressier than sports jackets but not as formal as a suit, the blazer serves as a nice middle ground piece that elevates outfits nicely without going overboard.”[2] At least this is how they describe a blazer for men, and I think we can adopt this understanding for women. As I have always thought, a blazer elevates any outfit.

The term “blazer” itself has an interesting history. According to Lanieri Italia, the blazer originated as follows:

The term was first used around 1825 to define the red blazers used by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club, the rowing Club at St. John’s College in Cambridge. Their jackets were called blazer (from the word “blaze”) because of the bright red fabric used to tailor them, but the term was thereafter used for jackets in any colour.[3]

And, of course, a blazer is fundamentally a stand-alone piece whereas a suit jacket comes with a matching pair of trousers, a skirt or even a dress. In general, as well, a blazer is either single-breasted with two pockets or double-breasted with six buttons (and they have patch pockets according to tradition).

So, I plan to create a perfectly-fitting blazer using some traditional (and perhaps a few modern) tailoring techniques. My blazer will be two-buttoned, single-breasted because that’s the most flattering style for my figure. It will also have welt pockets rather than patch pockets for three reasons: First, patch pockets are what I generally put on Chanel-inspired, soft jackets. The second reason is that I haven’t made a welt pocket in decades so I want to re-learn this skill. Third, because the commercial pattern I’ve chosen has welt pockets. Oh, yes, the pattern in question:

This is Claire Schaeffer’s couture blazer pattern. What this means is that she has personally written for Vogue patterns the instructions – all 12 pages of them. Yes, 12 pages!

I’ve done some couture sewing in the past, so a lot of the approach is familiar (and I used Claire Schaeffer’s Little French jacket pattern Vogue 8804 for my last LFJ), but OMG, just wait!

I’ll tell you more about it when I get to cutting out the muslin. But, up next, the all-important and oh-so-fun and creative part: finding the perfect fabric and lining. Stay tuned!


[1] A brief history of women’s suits. https://www.michaelandrews.com/journal/history-womens-suits

[2] https://www.ties.com/blog/whats-the-difference-sports-jacket-vs-blazer-vs-suit-jacket

[3] https://www.lanieri.com/blog/en/whats-the-difference-between-a-jacket-and-a-blazer/

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In Search of the Perfect Wrap Top: Fall/Winter 2019

Have you ever found a silhouette that you just love? For me, it’s been the pencil skirt, the skinny pant and the wrap top. I don’t wear skirts all that often (with the exception of my cruise collection 2019 skirt) so searching for a pencil skirt is a bit of a time-waster.  I have actually found my perfect skinny jeans (Paige denim – no, I do not make jeans and will never make my own jeans as long as Paige continues to exist).

But…I have been searching for the perfect wrap top for years and this season wanted to add one or two perfect ones to my wardrobe.

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve experimented with a couple and my desire to create one in (expensive) silk knit set me off on a quest to ensure the perfect silhouette, the perfect wrap and the perfect fit – before I take the plunge into an as-yet-unpurchased piece of (expensive) silk. But first, where did this little gem of a piece of clothing begin? It’s a fascinating history.

Of course, Diane von Furstenberg has been credited with “inventing” the wrap dress more than 40 years ago back in the 1970s (not all the clothes during that decade were hideous), and we can all be forgiven if we believed, up until this minute, that this is where this silhouette began. It did not. If you look closely, you might even conclude that DVF borrowed the idea from an American designer who preceded her by some 40 years.

Original Charles James wrap dress

According to most online sources, the wrap silhouette can be traced back to American couturier Charles James in the 1930s when his body-hugging designs were just short of scandalous. Of course, he was also known for his extraordinary ball gowns, but it is the wrap silhouette that is the most avant-garde as far as I’m concerned.

Until I began looking into the origins of the wrap design, Charles James hadn’t even registered with me. But there he is. This little video, hosted by none other than Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, provides a terrific overview for those interested in the history of fashion. But CJ’s wrap creation doesn’t really appear here.

However, if you have a few moments and the interest), you’ll notice that buried among all his other voluminous creations, the CJ wrap dress appears (at about 3:27 of the video is you want to skip ahead).

What’ really interesting about the design as far as I’m concerned, is the way it wraps. And not every one of his wrap dresses had the same inner construction. The one featured in the videos above is actually a wrapped skirt.

The above dress opened out

If we move forward into the 1950s, you can see that even the pattern companies were offering home sewers options. The silhouette in general is a very ’50s look the way I see it.

I started my own wrap journey with a faux-wrap tank top that I designed based on a favourite top from, of all places, Landsend. (I wrote about it here.)

It’s kind of cute, but not the real deal. I do like the fact that with a faux-wrap you don’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction, though!

Then I moved on to Butterick 6517. (Note the same striped bamboo jersey).

I liked the outcome, although I did think that the wrap-over bit at the front was a tad bulky. So many folds. Nice, but not worthy of (expensive) silk jersey.

I finally hit upon Butterick 6628 and with a few tweaks I’m happy to say that it became the first piece of my 2019-20 F/W wardrobe. You might remember my inspiration board for this season along with its colour palette.

I picked up a drapey synthetic for the purpose of trying out this pattern before the (expensive ) silk knit that I plan. It turned out better than I had expected and this will be the design for the final product when I find the right fabric.

In the meantime, I’ve put this one into the fall/winter rotation and am still searching for the perfect silk knit. On to the next design!

More images of the Charles James wrap dress: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/171965

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style, Stylish Travel

Cruise collection complete: Let the packing begin!

It’s Valentine’s Day and for so many people out there it seems like this is such an important day, although to tell you the truth, I cannot really remember anything special about Valentine’s Days gone by. We used to do something like go out for a lovely dinner, and that was nice, but when you get to a certain point you realize that every day is a day to celebrate love. So that’s what we do. And in so many recent years, we have found ourselves on vacation anyway – which is pretty special in itself. This year, as it happens, we are still a couple of sleeps away from sunshine, palm trees and a cruise ship. But my cruise collection is finished and I’ll be packing it up momentarily. So, here’s the wrap-up.

Since we last “spoke” I actually added a few more pieces – some hits, some misses.

I added a second skirt. It’s based on the original design sans pockets, with a side zipper and a front seam. I went looking for the fabric at King Textiles in the Toronto fabric district because I wanted something particular, and came home with what is supposedly rip-stop, but it has an oddly shiny interior which has design possibilities, but I fear it may stick to me. Never mind: I plan to take it and wear it in the 28-degree Celsius weather and I’ll report back.

I also wanted two more, cool tops. Based on the design of the little black dress that will be the basis for many a cocktail evening coming up, I created a princess-line top from the seersucker that is at the heart of this collection. It fits me well, and is comfortable, but there is something about it…

It has a bit of a funky, broad-front look about it despite my careful selection of the placement of the stripes. We’ll see.

I added a tank made from the patterned (you know I rarely wear patterns) textural material as I work on creating my perfect tank. This one isn’t exactly what I’m going for on a long-term basis – the pattern still needs work – but it’s going to be great on the cruise.

 

I also wanted to make a floaty tunic top from some Indian cotton I bought for the project last summer while we were in Portsmouth, Hew Hampshire. I designed a tunic with short sleeves, and know I will wear it, but it looks more like a bathing suit cover-up than a top that should be worn on the street. It is such a heavenly comfortable fabric, though. Beach walk here it comes.

I started this project back in September. September?! Wow, that’s a long time. I wanted to enjoy the whole process from concept, through design and then execution. And I have done that.

I started by researching a capsule versus a collection. So many people online seem to create, through either shopping ready-to-wear or making it themselves, what they are calling a capsule collection. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for, so I decided to design a collection.

I created a “mood board” for lack of a better term so that I could visualize where I was headed. It was a very creative exercise that I will probably repeat  seasonally. It forced me to really consider my personal aesthetic, which included colours, textures and eventually fabrics I loved.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

But for a cruise collection that will actually cruise, there is more to it than aesthetics – there is also functionality.

We will be spending almost a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we expect the daily temperatures to be around 28 C with a humidex of 31C or so. We do love San Juan. We’ve been there several times, but this is the longest stay for us. We stay in an area called the Condado, named for the miles-long beach it borders. It’s about 5 km from old San Juan in a lovely, upscale residential neighbourhood. We’re staying in a new hotel for us, but the area is familiar. Then we’ll board the Silver Spirit, a 604-passenger Silversea Cruises ship – a bit large for our taste, but Silversea provides a wonderful experience. This will be our fourth Silversea cruise. This one is doing a historical-cultural tour of Cuba and a few other islands, ending in Fort Lauderdale.

 

[Some images from our last visit to San Juan]

Silversea has interesting wardrobe expectations. We will have two formal nights on this one (I will wear a gown and my dear husband will take his tux – not so many opportunities to gear up for a formal occasion these days, so we have to get some mileage out of the wardrobe). Not everyone aboard will go long-dress-and-tuxedo, but they will be dressed up. Even on the informal nights, most will be in cocktail dresses, and I will be wearing the LBD from my collection. There are only three casual nights on this cruise where I’ll be attired in white jeans, beautiful tops and appropriate sandals. This is not a T-shirt and ball-cap kind of cruise. And there are generally no children so that’s great, too, at this point in our lives.

Anyway, the new cruise collection, in concert with my favourite ready-to-wear pieces, is about to get its work-out. There will be photos.

Stay warm!

Silver Spirit here we come!

[photo from http://www.silversea.com]

silver spirit