Here’s some info on how I put together this McCardell-meets-Chanel cardigan jacket during my two-week sew-jo-pumping sewing blitz last month.
About 18 months ago, I’d made a muslin version (a test version in cheap fabric) of the jacket in this 1958 McCalls playsuit pattern by American look designer Claire McCardell.
In all my time trolling the internet for McCardell patterns, I’ve only seen two copies of this one, and I’d managed to get my hands on one of them.
The pattern has the archetypical “McCardellisms” as she called them: cut-in sleeves, large, low darts, and a bias cut that makes a chevron at the center front and back.
She used this particular cut for years, and my take is that it was as much for ease of manufacturing as it was for looks; the cut-in sleeves are much faster to cut and sew than set-ins, and the bias cut gives the underarm more give, so you don’t need to insert a gusset. And it looks great!
Here’s a similar early 50s McCardell jacket, from the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection:
After I made the muslin, my machine died on me (this was before I had my beloved Bernina 560, Karl) so the project got shelved.
So I got the muslin out again, and compared the size to Chanel Jacket #2 which has cut-in sleeves and a panel under the arm. It fits well and is very comfortable.
I took up the underarm curve considerably, though, to make the jacket look more like the McCardell jackets of the 40s and 50s. The pattern is cut to be more of a bat-wing than the originals, and since it was released around the time of McCardell’s death from cancer, I suspect the design may have been modified by the patternmakers.
Also, since the design is meant to be a young woman’s playsuit, the waist is short and comes in considerably, so I lengthen and widened the waist somewhat to resemble more of a contemporary Chanel jacket. (And to fit my middle-aged body.) After fitting the muslin, I took a Sharpie pen to the seams to mark the final seamlines.
With no time to lose, I laid out the fitted muslin, now taken apart and ironed to become pattern pieces. You have to be really careful cutting for a chevron, to ensure that you don’t have the bias going the same direction on both pieces. It needs to be laid-out at opposing angles to meet in the middle. Fortunately, this bonded wool sweater knit I used had stripes that didn’t need to be matched exactly in the middle, which saved time.
I laid out the front piece, drew around it with chalk, then flipped it and pinned it, checking that in both pieces the stripes came down in the middle. Then I did the same for the back.
Then I cut it out with wide seam allowances (in case I needed to make it larger, gulp), and marked the seamlines on the back with a tracing roller and wax sheets.
I sewed the darts, top shoulder/sleeve seams, and bottom side/sleeve seams, using a narrow zigzag that would be easy to pick out to fit it. But it fit! So I finished those seams with a lingerie stitch and trimmed them.
In the original pattern, you’re supposed to put a facing on the neckline and center front, but I wanted to give it more of a finished, Chanel jacket feel. Also, I have a similar knit jacket by Claire McCardell, which has a binding that looks like piping as a finish, something she used frequently in her designs.
Here’s the Claire McCardell original, part of a knit suit that I have in my collection:
Isn’t it sweet? Too bad it’s so small it would only fit a modern 11-year-old.
Hm, where was that piping foot?
I used a bulky overlock foot (#12C) on my Bernina to whip up some quick piping, leaving a large edge. I was using some Eileen Fisher rayon/lycra and piping cord to make it.
Then I attached the piping to the outside of the jacket at the seam allowance (using the same bulky overlock foot), leaving the large edge sticking out.
I graded the seams, turned the edge to the interior, and then stitched in the ditch between the piping and the fabric on the outside to hold the piping in place.
Then I quickly fell-stitched the large edge down by hand on the inside to give the neckline a clean finish.
I decided that it would be easier to just put binding on the sleeves, so I attached a circular strip of the same fabric at the seam allowance of each sleeve.
I turned the binding under and stitched in the ditch again to secure it.
A quick blind hem at the bottom, and the machine sewing was done.
I used an antique brass shoe button at the neckline, and hand made a thread loop to attach it. During World War II rationing, McCardell was known for her clever use of fasteners like shoe hooks and buttons like these in her thoroughly American designs.
A cardigan jacket that’s this easy to make? Hm…what else have I got in my stash for something like this?
When I put the finished product up on the Instagram international sewing bacchanal, Charlotte Witherspoon of the clever blog Seam Ripped dubbed it a “McCardellgan,” so that’s what it is.
Since then, me and my McCardellgan have been seen around town and on Amtrak, heading for the Yves St. Laurent/Halston Exhibit in The City That Never Sleeps (though, alas, at this age I need to).
How’s your sewing going?
(For details of BERNINA of America’s support of vintage reconstruction projects on JetSetSewing.com, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)