I realized the other day that I’d never really told the story of making Chanel Jacket #1, which, thanks to Susan Khalje’s online presence, is the story of how I re-embraced sewing.
Here’s a look at the finished jacket:
Do I look like the cat who ate the canary? Well, that’s how I felt.
I’ve talked a little about the sewing I did in my teens and twenties in this post (American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns), and I did make a lot of my school and work wardrobe back then, including the velvet funnel neck sheath I wore to the Waldorf to pick up a TV award at 25. (TV did not pay very well back then.)
I had been taught to sew as a child by my mom and my sisters in our northern Michigan basement, on a straight-stitch Singer 15-91 like this:
If you’re looking to buy one of these elegant workhorse machines, it’s listed here on Etsy: Singer 15. You can sew knits on a machine like that; just stretch them a little bit as they go under the needle.
When I moved to New York City in in 1983, a sewing machine was not in one of my seven boxes.
In the interim, I’ve had a career, gotten married, been a stepmother, and then became a mother myself. I occasionally broke down and made curtains on a borrowed machine, and always thought, gee, I used to love to sew.
A few years ago, when being a non-working hausfrau and modern mom was becoming really old, (because in the U.S. it means schlepping your kid around and doing a lot of anxious “parenting”), I bought myself a little Janome mini to do hems and basic mending:
It was about $60, and I thought it was going to be little more than a toy, but it actually sewed really well. I’d recommend it for people who want to try sewing, but don’t have a lot of money or space. Janome is a good manufacturer.
After I made my money back hemming three pairs of jeans, I bought a few patterns and made some tops and a French terry sheath to wear across the yard to the outdoor shower in Martha’s Vineyard. I thought, “wow, this zigzag really helps when you’re sewing knits.”
I got some Missoni-ish fabric and knocked off a favorite shirt by Vince:
(I know, the grain’s a little off.) Why was I paying $200 for these things?
I was a fan of vintage clothes from my 20s on, and during my marriage I’ve acquired a number of vintage haute couture gowns, which I wrote about here: (Vintage Couture Heaven).
Here I am in a 1957 haute couture gown from the house of Patou, designed by Lagerfeld:
As I was looking around for fabric online a couple of summers ago, an ad from Craftsy.com popped up, telling me that I could learn to sew haute couture clothing myself, for $25. (Susan Khalje’s “The Couture Dress” on Craftsy.com)
What a deal–sign me up!
Well, about a hundred hours and roughly $500 later, I had finished a Chanel-style jacket using haute couture methods, and was completely hooked on sewing again.
The Couture Dress course on craftsy.com is 10 hours long, and covers just about everything you need to know about taking a pattern and turning it into a garment using haute couture methods. In it, Susan Khalje covers getting the stuff you need, including what types of pins, needles, thread, machine (straight stitch only–I got a bigger Janome), tracing paper, chalk marker etc.; prepping a pattern; marking, making and fitting a muslin; picking and prepping fabric, underlining, and lining; using the muslin as a pattern; cutting, basting and sewing the fabric; matching plaids; cutting and sewing on the bias, hand-picking a zipper, sewing a variety of hand-stitches; frankenpatterning and hand-setting a sleeve; lining a dress; sewing different types of hems; hand-stitching on closures; and about eight million other things I can’t even remember. And Susan is such a great teacher that she keeps you from freaking out about the whole thing. I wrote about Susan being one of the “Godmothers of Haute Couture” in this post.
For the course, Susan chose this dress pattern:
which she uses to illustrate all of those techniques, but as I started to watch the series in our non-air conditioned summer cottage, I kept thinking that a three-layer wool and silk dress was just going to give me hot flashes, so I decided to make a jacket using her methods instead.
At that point I had started obsessively looking through vintage patterns on eBay and Etsy, and was stumbling across patterns by the Spadea company, a mail-order company from the 50s and 60s that sold patterns drafted from designer retail garments, as well as patterns “designed” by celebrities like Patti Page, Dinah Shore, and the Duchess of Windsor believe it or not (of course by then, what else did she have to do?). I’ve written more about Spadea patterns here.
So I chose this pattern “by” Dinah Shore:
(Dinah Shore was singer who had a variety show in the 50s and 60s and a daytime talk show through the 70s. I used to get to watch her show on days that I was home sick from school, and sometimes she would have her titillating younger boyfriend, Burt Reynolds, as a guest. At the end of the show, she would blow the audience a big kiss and say “MMMMwah!”)
Here’s clip of Dinah Shore doing a cooking segment with Frank Sinatra and rocking some fab 70s fashions: (Dinah’s Place)
The pattern was very simple and nice, with bust and shoulder darts, which were more common in the 60s, and 3/4 sleeves with elbow darts. This style of jacket, originally designed by Chanel, had been embraced in the upscale American market during the 50s, and popularized by Jackie Kennedy in the 60s.
I found some beautiful French wool and novelty yarn tweed from emmaonesock.com and silk crepe de chine for lining on Etsy.com. I ordered silk organza for the underlining.
Following Susan’s instructions, I took the unprinted 60s Spadea pattern and marked the seamline, darts, grainline etc.
Then I used a tracing wheel and tracing paper to put the pattern onto the muslin. I sewed the muslin version together, tweaked the fit, then took it apart. The muslin pieces were now my pattern.
As you can see by the many marks and cross-outs on the muslin, this simple pattern took a lot of fitting.
I used the muslin pattern to cut out the exterior fashion fabric, organza interlining, and crepe de chine lining, and started to assemble the jacket using Susan’s instructions, though I’ll admit I did skip the thread tracing and thread basting step (you’re supposed to baste it all together first).
I underlined the entire jacket with the organza, and since I’d been reading about Chanel quilted jacket construction, I decided to give quilting a go by using a walking foot on my machine to quilt the exterior fabric to the organza. I also finished the seam allowances and hem by hand catch-stitching them to the organza, and put some lambswool sleevehead (ordered from susankhalje.com) under the sleeve caps.
Then, as I’ve learned, just when you’re really tired of making a jacket, you get to make another one for the lining. Here I’m attaching the lining to the jacket by hand, using fell stitches:
Even though this isn’t the “traditional” way of making a quilted jacket, I like this method because the organza gives the jacket a soft body, and the lining covers up a multitude of sewing sins.
I was quite pleased with the way the jacket was turning out, and the countdown was on to finish it, because I wanted to enter it into the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a crafting bloodsport.
The morning I needed to get it to the Fair, I was still stitching away at that frickin’ chain, which takes forever to hand-stitch on.
My husband clipped off the end the chain with wire-clippers, and I hauled it out to the fair.
The next day, I was thrilled to discover that my jacket had won the blue ribbon, which came with a check for a whopping five bucks.
Since then, I’ve worn that jacket to a number of big events, stuffed it in my carry-on to D.C. and Paris (they don’t wrinkle), and enjoyed every minute of wearing it. Retail jackets just do not compare.
And I’ve kept right on sewing.