Wednesday, 15 October 2014

French jacket, thread tracing and quilting



After sewing some Vogue and Indie patterns with included seam allowances it was such a relief to work with marked seamlines once again! To quote Claire Shaeffer: 'The cutting and marking process is very different from that of home sewing. The couture method of construction is to match the seamlines, not the cut edges; therefore, seam allowances can be any width and are often trimmed after the garment sections are stitched together." (source: The Couture Cardigan Jacket). What??! In my neighbourhood that's the definition of regular home sewing! Who would have thought that even the first Barbie coats and aprons I produced during my childhood sewing experiments, as ugly as they looked, were made using couture methods! 

Over the years about 80% of my sewing projects started with thread tracing. And when I don't, I feel guilty for cutting corners. Goody two-shoes? Who knows, but it's really working for me. The markings are accurate, visible on both sides of the fabric, and unlike chalk markings, they do not disappear unless I want them to. Specially when it comes to putting in sleeves I really like the guidance of properly marked seamlines. Also, back in the glorious days of fewer fitting issues, using ample seam allowances near critical spots enabled fitting on the go, as opposed to making toiles. But I digress.

Speaking of ample seam allowances! I used 7 cm at the seamlines and about 10-12 cm at the hems. And I needed it, because that bouclé is fraying like mad.


After marking all seams and grainlines the next step was quilting lining and fabric together. Oi! How? Where? After comparing all instructions I could find in books and on the internet I started with a test run to determine the right stitch length and tension. I also had to pick a colour for the thread. Since the lining had all colours of the rainbow in an ever changing pattern there was no way I could find a colour that would match each and every flower on it. It was just as arbitrary to choose pink as it was to choose blue on the bobbin. Blue felt safer, in case the bobbin thread incidentally showed on the right side. The fashion fabric consists of threads going from white to dark navy and at least five shades of blue in between. Laying out several spools of blue thread on the bouclé showed how the middle tone almost disappeared, as could be expected.
After fiddling around I settled for stitch length 4.5 and tension 7. (The test row on the right)



Since the order of construction of a cardigan jacket is very different from a tailored jacket the quilting rows have to be placed very carefully. The quilting rows are all parallel to the grainline but they stop 3-5 cm from all seams and hemlines. You need that space later to turn under seam allowances and hems. I used a quilt ruler to determine where the first and last quilting row would be and then decided on the spacing of the rows in between.


This is the first panel. I'm happy to report the execution standard improved after a little more practice on the next panels. Also, this was before pressing and with long thread tails still showing at the beginning and end of each row.



Ahh, those tails! A gazillion of them, all waiting to be pulled between layers where they end up in a double or triple knot. Here's another reason why you should not work on a French jacket with any time schedule whatsoever on your mind. Because, seriously, how long can it take to tie those knots? Forever, when you're in a hurry. Not nearly long enough when you're mindfully working your way through these tiny knots on a sunny autumn day. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

French jacket: the final preparations


A year ago I was ready to start a French jacket. At least, that's what I thought. Finished my muslin, bought fabric, lining and thread and with some relatively quiet weeks at work ahead I was all set to join the sewalong. Uh oh. By the time I got to the second blogpost I found out I needed silk organza, silk basting thread and a walking foot. My usual fabric suppliers gave me the side eye when I asked for such fancy stuff. Silk what?? 

The age of my good old sewing machine, anno 1987, complicated the search for a walking foot. Never mind, I had to wait anyway for my basting silk to arrive from Japan and the silk organza from Hong Kong. In the meantime I tracked down an old school walking foot. It came at the price of two new sewing machines at Ikea. Eeek! I'm happy to report though it's worth every penny. 

The magic time slot passed and the project was put in a box. Pandora's box ready to be opened when I had lots and lots of sewing time. When pigs fly.
In short that's why I'm working on a summer jacket now. Because I discovered there's never a right time for such a big project. And if there's never a right time, there's also never a wrong time! At least that's what I keep telling myself. Don't laugh. 

Next I made a muslin, but forgot to take pictures of me wearing it. This is rapidly turning into a real success story ;) I tweaked the muslin and then took it apart. After removing the seam allowances the muslin was used as working pattern.


As I was cutting a single layer I needed the biggest working space I could think of: the garden table.


With a forecast of heavy showers my time outside was limited. To be continued!


Thursday, 2 October 2014

French jacket, design choices



 Aren't those French jackets Chanel-inspired and thus boxy and square, with high rounded necklines and made from pastel coloured tweed? Boxy jackets don't look good on my curvy frame, high necklines are to be avoided at all costs and I don't do pastels. It's no surprise that when I visited the Chanel exhibition in The Hague the overall look of a lot of the garments on display did not really appeal to me. Of course I admired the details, the beautiful fabrics and the stunning techniques. I just could not picture myself wearing the 1960s iconic jackets.


We followed the exhibition's timeline and when we reached the Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel collections the look and feel of the jackets definitely changed. Especially the yellow 'Scuba' jacket from the 1991 spring/summer collection caught my attention. Not because of the colour, or the sequins. This jacket had a v-neck, a zipper, it was a bit longer, had a sleeker outline and waist definition!


Or how about this cropped jacket?


Finally the penny dropped. It was never my intention to knock off an existing jacket. All I wanted was to learn some new techniques and create a soft tailored, comfortable jacket in beautiful fabrics. The only way to go was by choosing a pattern with the right style lines for me.  A pattern however that would have to meet the needs for making a quilted jacket. 

Bouclé or tweed are the most suitable fabrics for making a couture cardigan jacket. The lining is quilted to the fashion fabric and you need texture and loft to hide the quilting lines on the outside. Working with a textured fabric means you don't want to work with darts because they may end up bulky. Princess seams, and especially princess seams ending at the shoulder, are the best to create shaping in a French jacket. I own lots of beautiful jacket patterns but most of them had design details like yokes or double darts in front and back that made them useless for this project. Guess what I ended up with: V7975. Quelle surprise!


After mixing up all views I'll make the longer jacket with abutting front edges and bracelet length sleeves. I redrafted the neckline to a v-neck.

I found my fabrics at Harry's Stoffen in Enschede, The Netherlands. The cotton bouclé is very soft and the lining is so beautiful, love at first sight. My only regret is that I did not think of buying more to make a matching blouse. Unfortunately it is out of stock now. It will be a pleasure to look at those colourful flowers during my countless hours of hand stitching!




Monday, 29 September 2014

French jacket, books and blogs


During summer I did a lot of research about construction techniques used for a couture cardigan jacket. For future reference, and by special request, I'll write some blogposts on resources for couture techniques, design inspiration and fabrics and supplies. 

Over the years I bookmarked the epic tales of six bloggers who wrote about the Classic French Jacket Class they took with Susan Khalje in Baltimore. If you're in for some jawdropping stories read the adventures of Marina (Frabjous Couture), Karen (Fifty Dresses), Melanie (Poppykettle), Sarah (Goodbye Valentino), Leisa (A Challenging Sew) and Inna (Thewallinna)

Last year Leisa and Inna hosted a French Jacket Sewalong, with wonderfully detailed posts and video's. During the construction of my jacket their posts will be my lifeline!

For general couture techniques I rewatched Susan Khalje's Craftsy class: The Couture Dress.

Books: 
The Couture Cardigan Jacket, sewing secrets from a Chanel collector by Claire Shaeffer, a step by step guide including a dvd.
Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer, a useful reference book
Cool couture by Kenneth D King, construction details for runway style 

The next best thing to going to Baltimore for a couture class must be watching Susan Khalje's video course on the French jacket. It's coming soon! There is no release date yet, and I want to start my jacket now.  I can see more cardigan jackets in my future so I'm looking forward to this video!

For now take a look at this wonderful video from the Chanel atelier!





Saturday, 27 September 2014

And now for something completely different


As a freelance writer and editor (you have to take my word for it I'm much more eloquent in my native language) I work from home. During writing sessions in my home office I wear jeans or a skirt with a knit top. When I go out to visit a client, or make an interview, I always add a jacket to finish my outfit. Sometimes I'm multitasking and taking the pictures for my articles as well. The last thing you need when juggling pen, paper and camera is a restrictive jacket!

Over the years I bookmarked every post I found about couture methods for constructing a Chanel inspired jacket. Coco Chanel's revolutionary cardigan jacket was designed to be stylish, yet comfortable. It has the look of a jacket and the feel of a cardigan, as Chanel wanted women to be able to move and drive a car without bursting their seams. Just what I need!

So I'm moving from one extreme to another. After seven months of simple knit sewing I'm in for 100+ hours work on a garment with lots of hand stitching involved. I'm fond of hand stitching and I think I'll enjoy every minute of this project!




Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Sewing with knits, a beginner's evaluation


Back in February, when I finally unpacked my second hand serger, I was not convinced I would enjoy sewing with knits. Seven months after this Start the serger post, and twelve knit garments later, it is time to make up my mind. Do I like sewing with knits? Place your bets!


Let's start with my thoughts on the Bernina 1100 D. It behaved well, from the very first moment on. Which is more than can be said about it's owner, who may or may not have used some inappropriate language in the sewing room while threading the beast. 

Really, I felt like the biggest klutz in sewing history. Determined to master the situation I kept threading and threading over again for about two hours until I got the hang of it. I never had a threading issue after that. Also: no breaking needles, no fabric eating or other incidents during those seven months of serger joy.

So technically it was a success. Yet I'm not completely sold.
As I said at the start of this experiment, I don't like fast sewing. After making some easy skirts and shirts I was missing the feeling of accomplishment, of making bespoke one of a kind garments with nice details. That's when I started to bring some of my favourite techniques into the mix. After whipping up a Moneta dress in a few hours, I wanted my next dress to be more of a challenge. And it was! Stretch lace, underlined bodice, french seams for the skirt and a hand stitched hem.


It's the most 'me' garment I made during this test period and I'm wearing it whenever I can. 

Although I may not get overjoyed by sewing knits, I do like wearing them.
Initially I thought sewing simple tees was a waste of time. Why bother? But after making a Deer&Doe Plantain shirt I completely changed my mind. This was so different! A relaxed (and forgiving) fit, sleeves that ended where I wanted them to end, nice details and a loud print. Just because I could pick whatever I fancied!


When it comes to fitting with knits each fabric will behave differently. Lots of variables have to be taken into account. The amount of stretch, mechanical- and yarn stretch, vertical stretch, weight of the fabric and more. In The Colette guide to sewing knits the advice is to fit as you work. I find that hard, especially when it comes to creating the right neckline. With my frame I look massive when the neckline is too high, on the other hand a neckline that drops too low can be pretty indecent when you're blessed with a large bust. Fitting a bodice can not be done properly without knowing how much the neckline and waistline will drop once you've added the skirt. It's interesting to compare pictures of Moneta dresses, made by bloggers in different fabrics. Fabrics with little stretch result in high necklines and short skirts, too much vertical stretch and you'll end up with lots of cleavage, a dropped waist and a midi skirt! Making a test garment is only useful when you use the same fabric you're planning to use for your final garment. That's not a very cheerful thought when you lay your hands on some beautiful but expensive knit fabric!

All in all I've learned a lot about sergers and knits and there's a lot more to investigate. And I will! The serger will stay for sure. Must make more Mabels and Monetas.
And Plantains, and... Yet, I don't know how to put it, something is missing. 



If you force me now to push one of the three buttons above I'll pick the middle one. I like the garments I've made so far cause they're easy to wear in everyday life. But when it comes to sewing, for me it's not the destination but the journey that counts. Seeing a garment come to life little by little, going through your reference books to find a new technique. Nothing beats daydreaming with a fine needle in your hand!

Maybe I need to find a balance. Sew up some knits for quick wardrobe fixes, alternated with slow and mindful sewing projects? 


Monday, 22 September 2014

Lekala 8004, a faux wrap knit top


What to do with an end of the bolt piece of lightweight knit in deep purple? Back in March BT (Before Tripod) I tried my first Lekala pattern. More on the construction and thoughts on sizing can be found here. What the pictures did not show clearly (duh, no wonder when you're not modeling your garment!) is how wide the neckline is. The shoulder seam is barely existing, the v-neck practically ends at the top of the arm.
As much as I liked the look, the combination of long sleeves and bare shoulders wasn't very practical. It was often too hot or too cold to wear this top. Time to get the pattern out again!


In brown the extra length added for a vertical only FBA, in red the extra inches now added to the neckline, front and back. It may not look like a big difference but it's much more comfortable when you're not feeling like you're sitting in the middle of a draught all day long. 


Excusez the weird look, it's the best close up shot of the new neckline....



And the back. Looks like I'm directionally challenged when I'm trying to take pictures of my back side. Always missing some limbs or even my head.


Looking at these pictures it may appear like I could go down a size. I pinned the side seams in to check and although it improved the fit, it did not improve the overall look. This fabric is so lightweight that the belt loops and button of my jeans show through it if I go any tighter. 

I do recommend this free pattern to anyone who wants to try a customized sewing pattern. Instant gratification: just minutes after sending my measurements the pdf was in my mailbox. 
Someday soon I will try one of Lekala's skirts to check the fit on my bottom half.

Did you try a Lekala pattern? Did you like it?