Long Live Edith Head!

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Well, Edith Head and I made it to the Hollywood Costume Exhibit dinner with only minutes to spare.

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(I believe that’s Faye Dunaway doing a photo bomb in back of me.)

After I finished wrangling with the difficult neckline on this #$&?! pattern, I got a comment from reader Mary Ann Kiefer about how she’d made this pattern back in the day, and her mother had had to help her with the bolero because it was so tricky. So that made me feel a little better about my struggle with the extremely brief instructions. Mary Ann, I wish your mother had been around to help me!

Once I completed construction of the exterior, I tested the fit again, and saw that my muslin fitting had been correct. Phew!

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Godzilla! (Oh Gawd, you can see my bellybutton.)
At this point it dawned on me that what I was making was not a simple bolero, but was actually a backwards lined jacket. So I had to get moving!
There were several points that had to be turned on the jacket, so I used a technique I think I read about on the Sew Maris blog, which is full of handy tips. Once you’ve sewn the corner, you clip it, then put a needle and thread through the inside of the point, pull the thread through for a couple of inches, and put the needle back in again.

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So much cleaner and easier than trying the shove the point out from the inside.
I was mystified as to why the bottom of the bolero was finished with a facing, rather than a turned up hem. But once I made the facing, I saw that it was because the facing needed to curve outward to accommodate the extension at the bust. Very clever!

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After I attached it, I understitched the facing to the seam allowance to keep the facing from popping out.

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When it came time to make the buttonholes, I used a feature on my darling Karl, the Bernina 560, which automatically sets the buttonhole length by measuring your button. I just hold up the button and twist the knob until it matches the size of the button.

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(For details about how Bernina USA is supporting my reconstruction projects, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.)
I spaced the buttonholes using this vintage “Slimflex” expandable sewing gauge I got from Ebay. The box looks like it’s from the 50s or 60s. Recently I’ve seen modern versions of this gauge on websites such as RichardTheThread.com and Nancy’s Notions. Same thing and same brand after all of these years!

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Karl was good to go, so we (actually he) made corded buttonholes.

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Then it was time for my least favorite part of any jacket project, the lining! Since I was using slippy-slidey rayon challis, I used my Bernina walking foot to keep the layers from sliding around.

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Then it was time to pack Edith up, still full of pins, (ignoring the sniffling and blubbering coming from Karl’s direction, where I heard “don’t take Edith, take MEEEEEE!”).

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How do you like my classy Ziplock hand-sewing kit? I managed to get more of the lining sewn in on the plane.

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Then I finished the rest of the handsewing at the hotel, looking out over this film noir view of L.A.

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(The hotel iron was something out of “Psycho,” which was costumed by Edith Head, by the way.)

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After I put on the buttons, I realized that I needed one snap. My excuse to go to a fabric store! I high-tailed it to International Silks and Woolens on Beverly.

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It’s one of those completely overwhelming places with a lot of everything, and it takes patience.

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(Look on this table if you want “Liberty (like)” fabrics.)
There are also a lot of pictures of marginal stars on the walls. Is that Prince? No wonder they had so much metallic purple spandex.

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Don’t get me wrong, you can find good things here. They have a good notions department, where I got my snaps:

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And on the third floor, they have a very eclectic collection of vintage fabrics, some of which appear to be from as early as the 40s.

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During the spring, I used some vintage wool challis from this store to make a crushed boatneck shell. When we got to L.A., I wore it over to the Academy Museum when I was tagging along with my husband. I’m always amazed at how things made out of quality wools, lined with silk crepe de chine, literally jump out of my carry-on without a wrinkle.

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With the snap in place, the bolero was finished! For those of you who weighed in on the button choice, I went with the overwhelming favorite of the green buttons.

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I got ready to go, put on the bolero, and everything was copacetic. After we walked up the red carpet, the first thing we saw, upon entering the exhibit, were all of Edith Head’s Oscars lined up in a row.
As for the other thrilling pieces of Hollywood fashion history I gawked at in this comprehensive exhibit, that will have to wait for next time. No photos allowed, but I have plenty to tell you.

50s Scarf Free Downloadable Pattern, and my nemesis, Edith Head

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I have some fun news to share! I know it looked like I was just sitting around at the beach for the latter half of the summer, but in truth, I was in my sewing Batcave (occasionally) cooking up a 50s scarf pattern, which is now available as a free download on WeAllSew.com. Here’s where you can find it: Hepburn Scarf Pattern

The pattern’s based on an authentic 50s design, and it holds it’s shape with some little tucks and a big buttonhole that you tuck one end through to make the knot. You can cut the pattern on either the lengthwise or crosswise grain, so it’s easy to make from a remnant.

Here’s the glamour shot:

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And here’s how the scarf looks laid out:

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It’s quick and easy, so I hope you’ll give it a try! If you’re a beginner, you can make it without the tucks, and it will still look fine. The pattern is part of my collaboration with Bernina USA, and once again I have to thank them for the generous support of my vintage reconstruction projects. I couldn’t do it without you, Karl! (For details, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.)

If you end up trying the pattern, please send a photo my way so I can post it here at Jet Set Sewing. I’d love to see how it turns out.

As for current sewing, I’m still plugging away on this Edith Head bolero:

IMG_0540 (details of the muslin version I made of it are here.)

I was still a little unsure of the fit, so rather than cutting the pattern at the cutting line, or thread tracing (baste loosely to mark the seamline on the fabric, a technique used in haute couture), I went with a method known in France as “Le Rig de Jerry” (or jerry-rig in English, probably named after Jerry Lewis), which is to say I faked it.

I was inspired by this recent post by sewing penpal Carmen of the CarmencitaB blog, about how there’s no absolutely “right” way to sew any given thing. Carmen is currently competing in the French sewing bee show called “Cousu Main,” which I’ve been watching on the sly here in the States (via an internet jerry-rig). Go Carmen!

So I used large sheets of wax tracing paper and my tracing wheel to mark the seamlines and darts along the back of the fabric. You can find this big tracing paper at RichardTheThread.com and SusanKhalje.com. It helps to have several different colors for different fabrics.

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Big caveat here (that’s legalese for “Warning, Will Robinson”), the wax tracing paper marks can become permanent on the fabric, so only try this if your fabric is thick, and only mark it on the wrong side. (The white tracing paper will come off easily with an iron, but it wouldn’t show up on this fabric.)
Once I was done marking the fabric, I machine-basted just outside of the tracing marks, so I would see the seamline on the right side of the fabric. This stitching will also function as stay-stitching (I hope).

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The reason I went through this whole rigamarole was so that I could cut the fabric with large seam allowances, leaving room beyond the seamline to make the bolero bigger if I needed to.
After that, the construction was pretty much smooth sailing with this study, easily sewn and formed silk.

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The easing in the shoulder went smoothly, the darts stitched up nicely, and I cheated and used fusible for the interfacing instead of organza (because I knew it would be fine, and the fusible was higher up on the stash pile than the organza). I’m using Pro-Weft Supreme Lightweight Fusible interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply, which is a high-quality fusible with some loft. It works well for soft tailoring on Chanel-style jackets or something like this.

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La la la down the primrose path, and then…

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Looks easy, right? Except the collar edge is straight, and the neckline is curved, Edith Head!!! True, the straight edge is on the bias and stretches, but just to be safe, I hand-basted the two edges together before I stitched. Worked like a charm:

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So, there I was, back on the primrose path, la la la…until:

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So perfectly clear and not all that complicated, I kept telling myself during Shavasana at yoga, when I was supposed to be meditating but was grinding my teeth instead.
And here’s how it looked in real life:

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(When I posted that photo on InstaGram, the hashtag was #seeyouinhelledithhead.)
But this is why we’re doing these hard projects, right? To understand how they’re done? So after quite a bit of monkeying around, revisiting the instructions, and visualizing the construction, the design started to make sense and I was able to tame the beast:

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See, docile as a lamb. And such a beautiful design.
Tomorrow I’ll cut and construct the lining, which I’ll probably be hand-sewing in on the plane to Los Angeles at this rate. But I feel like the major problems have been solved. (Famous last words.)

Edith Head Bolero Getting Ready for Its Close-Up, Mr. DeMille

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So I got going on that Edith Head bolero I’m making to wear to the Hollywood Costume exhibit in L.A.

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First I prepped the silk (which feels like a heavy silk duppioni) by throwing it in the bathtub.

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My experience is that it’s better to handwash silk first, so you don’t have shrinkage issues or nasty spots when your iron spits, but it’s a personal preference. I always test wash a 4″ x 4″ swatch first, with any fabric.
I went back and forth about what lining to use, because, though my first choice is usually silk crepe de chine, it could be 80 degrees F in L.A., and I didn’t want to have a hot flash in front of my husband’s clients. In the end I ordered a vintage rayon challis from Etsy.com, which I think will be comfortable and cool. The print has that late 50s/early 60s Doris Day vibe I’m going for (Karen of the blog Fifty Dresses brought that reference to my attention).

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My adorable Bernina 560, AKA “My Swiss Intern, Karl,” has settled into his new Boston digs, in what I shall refer to as the sewing “nook,” as basically only me, Karl and a squirrel could fit in it.

IMG_3515.JPG That’s urban sewing for you! (For details about the Bernina USA/Jet Set Sewing arrangement, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.)
(As an aside about this post’s title, it refers to Billy Wilder’s dark comedy “Sunset Boulevard” when, at the end, Norma Desmond is led off to the asylum having gone mad from basically not being able to work in Hollywood anymore. Her character is 50. 50!!!!)

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You know the old Hollywood saying, “Better to be nuts with style than to have never had style at all…” Or something like that.
Since this pattern is not that hard to find on eBay and Etsy.com, (I have three copies in different sizes, speaking of being nuts over 50) I decided not to trace it, and just go ahead and cut it. First I used a giant sheet of wax tracing paper and roller to mark the pattern onto my muslin.

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Little Miss In-A-Hurry did a lousy job of telling the cutting line from the seam line (it’s supposed to be the seam line) but I could still tell what was going on.

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Of course these vintage patterns are always full of surprises, and on this one, it was that the roll-collar neckerchief thingy had a straight line that needed to be connected to the curved front neckline. What the what?

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I have been wondering why the collar piece had been cut on the bias (I thought it was just an aesthetic element) but then realized that it gave it some give to go around the neckline. At least the two pieces weren’t curved in the opposite direction, like the Charles James pattern!

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Vrrrroooom!
Kimono sleeves with two darts; be still my heart. I love the attention to detail in these vintage patterns.

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Since the pattern was close to my size, and the sleeves were cut-in, I was happy to see that the muslin didn’t need much fitting.

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Being married to a vintage (literally) man with OCD (Obsessive Collecting Disorder) all I had to say was “Honey, you still got that box of vintage buttons?” and a few minutes later, I had three choices.

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Any opinions on which I should choose?
Right now I’d better get that fashion/lining fabric cut, I need to wear it in a week! How’s your sewing going?

Not about sewing; about not sewing.

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And stopping to smell the…well, you know the rest.

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Even though I had a pattern project to finish, an interview to write up, and a laundry list of things to do (including the laundry), a perfect day like this is too rare to spend on chores.

So we packed up a few sandwiches and drinks, beach towels and a boogie board, and headed to the beach.

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(I’m wearing my 40s beach jacket, which thankfully did not end up looking like Gertrude Stein’s bathrobe, and a pair of Tom’s shoes, needed to hit the clutch in the old manual Jeep Wrangler.)

We headed “up island” to the part of Martha’s Vineyard now known by the Wampanoag Indian name “Aquinnah.” The town changed the name several years ago, but the locals often still call it by the old name, “Gay Head.”

When you’ve turned onto Moshup Trail and can see the water over the windswept shrubs and poison ivy, you know you’re getting close.

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We have access to a beach that has a parking lot you open with a key, but it’s not too far from the public beach called Philbin.

You’ve got to haul your gear over a big hill to get to the beach, so we pack light.

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On the top of the hill is a beautiful view looking out over Aquinnah, with the Gay Head lighthouse in the distance.

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Ahhh, that’s better.

We had our picnic, and I took a little stroll.

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Those rocks get covered and uncovered, depending on whether a big storm has come through in any given year.

I turned and walked toward the multi-colored clay Gay Head Cliffs which have been drawing tourists for a couple hundred years, and were home to the Wampanoag Indians long before that. A number of Wampanoag families still live in the town.

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Big waves today, so my son spent a lot of time surfing into shore on his boogie board, while we were jumping the waves. When I got home, my suit was full of sand and seaweed.

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I love how the Hug Snug rayon seambinding on my jacket glistens in the sun.

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(Oh, come on, you didn’t think I could do an entire post without bringing up sewing, did you?)

Boston Museum of Fine Arts Quilts and Color Exhibit

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Yesterday I had the good fortune to visit another exhibit celebrating ways that fabric and thread can create works of art. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has been using “color” as its theme this year, and the exhibit “Quilts and Color” celebrates that concept.

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When you walk into the spacious gallery with high ceilings, the individual quilts are hung and lit like overscale paintings. Quilts that first appear to be abstract art become marvels of precise stitching upon closer inspection.

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The quilts displayed are from the collection of Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy. Here’s more information about the exhibit and the collectors from the MFA’s website:

(Quilts and Color Exhibit)

The quilts, which are primarily from the 1800s and early 20th century, are marvels of design, planning, stitch execution, and mostly likely teamwork among the makers. Not being a quilter, I can’t give technical details, but both my non-sewing friend and I were completely floored by the beauty and mastery displayed.

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It’s impressive that these (mostly) women artistsans, who had so many other things to do in the pre-mechanized age, could take the time to design, plan, and create such labor-intensive works of art.

Looking at this exhibit, I was struck by the notion that what makes us human is less about how we’ve learned to use tools and weapons, and more about how we’re willing to take some additional time to make a useful item more beautiful. Any of us who have picked up a needle and thread for pleasure know that feeling.

The exhibit runs through July 27th. I highly recommend it.

 

Sewing in Paradise? Sign me up!

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If you were to dream up a sewing business, would it be along the lines of sewing the summer away at the seashore in France, then cruising through the winter selling your wares on a Caribbean island? I’ve seen for myself that it can be done.

Let’s start this story at the spring break way-station that separates the hoi polli from the high cotton, Princess Juliana airport on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

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Here plane loads of Americans, Canadians and French coming off the big jets get sorted into the commuter puddle-jumpers going to the “All-Inclusive” islands (like Antigua), the “Do We Know You?” expensive islands (like Anguilla), and the “We Don’t Care If We Know You or Not, We’re French” island of St. Barthelemy, (or St. Barts to Americans and St. Barth to Euros).

We were on our way to St. Barts, so we got culled from the waiting area filled with Americans sprawled around in day-glo tank tops and white cutoffs, to enter a stairwell holding upscale families leaving for spring vacation, where the reigning multitasking travel/beach bag is apparently the Louis Vuitton tote.

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Scanning the Americans waiting, I noted style statements ranging from the willowy Upper East Side blonde in a wispy white Calypso St. Barth tunic, high-maintance long cashmere cardi and some boot/sandal contraptions; the “Seven Sisters” gal from the D.C. suburbs with “honest” salt and pepper unkempt hair, mid-calf black skirt, comfort Mary Janes and a Vuitton Speedy bag (you’re not fooling anyone, honey); the 70-something woman whose face was both pulled back and puffed out, with orange hair, white pants and lots of gold on the neck, wrist and ears; and finally me, trying to be the karma chameleon in my default camel jeans, Saint James tee, bag from the Cole Haan outlet near Legoland, and the canvas Toms shoes I knew I’d need to get the Suzuki into first gear on a 45 degree incline in hilly St. Barts.

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My one retro style statement was a favorite early 40s Mexican silver cuff, known as the “River of Life” design by William Spratling.

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Oh, how I love that thing.

As we were all sitting on the steps, bags and behinds on the gritty floor, one of the commuter airline workers came in to take a roll-call of people getting on the plane, because even if you have a seat on a specific flight, it’s still pretty much first-come, first-served.  He called out a few names and then said, “Jagger?” Pause. “Jagger, party of four?”

Well, the Jagger party never did arrive, but as we boarded the bus to the plane I caught a glimpse of the most chic woman in the place; a 70-something old-school French grand-mere, a little round in the middle and face unworked, in a classic navy linen shirt-waist dress, Hermes scarf folded expertly at the neck, Frey Wille enamel bracelet on her wrist, and ivory linen beach hat on her head. There was no room left on the bus for her and her party, so the bus driver called out that he’d come back to get them, and soon after the plane left with four empty seats.

I don’t take anything fancy when I go to St. Barts. Despite what you may have seen in the U.S. tabloids about celebrities boat-hopping and partying, that’s pretty much just during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, though here’s a picture of a famous corporate raider’s yacht that pulled up near the Grande Saline beach one morning while we were there:

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It anchored there for an hour or so with only staff in white polos running around, and I pictured the kingpin owner sitting his cabin on a satellite phone yelling at minions in New York, while his yacht’s guests remained trapped off-shore waiting for him to decide if he wanted to do anything.

After the holidays, most of the celebrities just come here to hide (like the talk show host who looked away as he jogged by us), so the rest of the time it’s boho-casual and (God forbid) not gaudy. A few simple bathing suits, tunics, tops and casual pants or skirts, maybe a dress to go out, and you’re good.

Unlike most of the Caribbean, St. Barts is officially part of mainland France, so when you go in the Super U grocery (or Super Ooo as we refer to it) the place is all French products: great wine, stinky cheese, fermier chicken, chevre-flavored cheese balls, Badoit bubbly water etc. When I went in there looking for the European sewing magazine Burda, I found the crafting journaux intermingled with the nudie magazines.

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The currency is the Euro and the locals are mostly French nationals. As soon as I get there, I put that French look on my face: pursed lips and raised eyebrows.

The beaches are open and unspoiled, the restaurants and take-out are great, and there’s not much to do, so for the most part we sit on the beach and then eat a lot.

But you can’t sit around looking at this view forever:

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So I decided to do some shopping. Most things in the shops tend to be French beach boho, with a lot of tunics cut for someone “tall and tan and young and lovely,” and apart from occasionally pulling off “lovely,” that doesn’t describe me anymore. Here are a few by French designer Isabel Marant:

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Unfortunately, my return to sewing has ruined shopping for me, because now I walk around thinking, “I’m not paying $250 for something that easy to make.” And I knew my husband would not be happy if I spent $300 on a Vanessa Bruno “Cabas” bag, which is basically an L.L. Bean canvas “Boat and Tote Bag” with sequins.

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Wandering around the port town of Gustavia, which is duty-free and therefore has an Hermes, Cartier and a number of other high-end stores (though how much you “save” in taxes is relative, considering that luxury accessories can have a mark-up as high as 90%), I stumbled upon this charming shop:

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And when you spot a shop full of clothes made from Liberty of London and French toile de Jouy fabrics, you need to check it out.

The warm, soft-spoken Popie was sitting outside, and as I looked around at the hundreds of items made of tana lawn cotton, silk prints and French linen, she politely explained that she made them all herself.

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I have to admit that I did a double-take on that, because the place was jammed with flowy silk tops like this:

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Liberty cotton tunics and dresses:

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men’s and boys button-down shirts, and old-fashioned little girl’s dresses. There were bathing suits, big beach bags, hats, hair scrunchies, even thin bracelets made from the scraps. It was pretty impressive.

My photos don’t do justice to how cute these things were, but you can see more on her website: (Popie’s Mode website)

She told me that she lived on the beach in Bordeaux, France, where her house was also her workshop and shop. She has four children, and they live in France from April through October, during which she makes this massive amount of stuff, and then they all decamp for St. Barts to ride out the winter and sell her wares in her shop.

She also sells her items in Cap Ferret on the Mediterranean, which led to more jealous qvelling on my part as that’s the setting of one of my favorite novels about Jazz-Age ex-pats, Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is The Night.” (“Tender Is The Night”) The main characters in that book were loosely based on Sarah and Gerald Murphy, wealthy Americans whose house on the Riviera became party central for the the lost generation in the 1920s. (Sarah and Gerald Murphy biography)

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If the internet is to be believed, this is a picture of Gerald Murphy, Genevieve Carpenter, Cole Porter, and Sarah Murphy, back in the day. I really want to make that striped outfit, second from the left.

Popie explained that in the spring and summer, she spends the first month developing and making patterns for that year, in all sizes, creating simple styles that are easy to sew. She orders most of her fabrics directly from Liberty of London, using either their silk (which is machine washable) or their tana lawn cotton. She also make items for the Toile de Jouy museum (out of the classic French fabric) which is in the town of Jouy en Josas near Versaille. (Toile de Jouy Museum website)

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After she’s finished making the patterns, she spends the next month cutting out all of the pieces using a laser-cutter, which she said works fast, but if you make a mistake, the thing you’re cutting is trashed.

Then she gets going on putting them together using her industrial sewing machine, and during that period she can make up to 50 garments a day. Having looked at the garments inside and out, I’d say that apart from a few threads needing to be clipped, they’re very nicely made, with even top stitching and serged seam finishes. Here’s a look at the interior of a little girl’s dress, which has a contrasting lining on the placket:

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Popie told me that though she doesn’t have formal design and patternmaking training, her mother was seamstress who taught her eight children to sew, knit and embroider, so she learned her craft there. This whole story reinforced my observation that French women, whom Americans tend to think of as sort of laconic, are actually extremely energetic and productive with domestic arts.

So of course I had to pick up a few things, including this adorable little girl’s dress with fabric-covered buttons (which Popie makes using a press that creates fabric-covered pins):

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and a man’s shirt for my own beach attire, made from this pretty William Morris Liberty Print:

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(A note to all of those style-challenged and shlumpy American men, European men will wear a fitted shirt with flowers on it, and not worry that someone will think they’re gay! And they look hot!)

No doubt it’s easier for a mother to start and maintain an entrepreneurial business like this when backed by a social system with easily available healthcare, child care and education. I hope as things go that direction in the U.S., there will be more women like Popie earning a living at their sewing machines on U.S. shores.

When we landed back in Boston, it was freezing cold with more snow in the forecast. I’ve decided that  the only way to bring on spring is to start sewing for it.  If Popie can sew 50 garments a day, I can certainly get a cotton dress done by May, don’t you think?

How’s the sewing going in your part of the world?

In The Mood: L.A. Fabric Stores

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Oooo, let’s go to fabric heaven, shall we?

I know, it’s pretty tough to beat Janssens et Janssens in Paris, (Fabric Shopping in Paris and…Steampunk Chanel?) but the sticker shock of getting there and buying there can only be pulled off once in awhile. I’m still in awe of Mary from the Cloning Couture blog, who took her husband to browse at Chanel first, and then over to Janssens after she’d convinced him how much money she’d save making her own. (Mary, yours is made better anyway.)

One morning in L.A., I announced to the boys that I was going to the fabric store, and not hearing any response, I grabbed my purse and ran. I drove south on LaBrea to Wilshire to hit the new giganto outpost of Mood Fabrics (645 S. LaBrea Ave.). (Mood Fabrics Website)  I had been to this location a year ago soon after they’d opened, so I knew it was huge, but now they had twice as much stuff.

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Gianormus.

Fashion fabrics on one side, leather and home dec on the other.

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Pretty much anything you’re looking for, they’ve got it. Knits, suiting wools, tweeds…

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Designer roll-ends, particularly printed silks…

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And gorgeous fancy stuff…

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I had almost convinced myself to get some of that blue and black tweed with sequins (at the bottom), even though I know sequins are a bitch to sew with. But when I came back to get it, it was gone! (I was secretly relieved.)

Here’s what really made me jealous…

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A bunch of women sitting around in muslins enjoying one of Mood’s FREE sewing classes. (Sewing classes at Mood Fabrics L.A.) Behind that wall of fabric rolls is another class of cute grade-school age kids learning to sew. The L.A. Mood location offers a mind-boggling array of sewing/draping/patternmaking/designing classes for free, often taught by professional designers and costumers. Every time I get one of their emails, I want to immediately decamp for L.A. and make up a little bed for myself among the linens and raw silks.

You know what they say, give someone a fast-fashion T-shirt, they have clothes for three washes…but teach someone to sew, and… (they soon have an overwhelming pile of fabric stash?)

As much great stuff as they had at Mood, the size of my stash was on my mind, so I decided to drive up LaBrea a few blocks to The Fabric Store, which is in a stretch of high-end hipster vintage and home dec stores around 2nd St (136 S. LaBrea Ave.).  I’d read that this New Zealand company had opened their first U.S. location, and wanted to check it out. (The Fabric Store’s U.S. website)

In complete contrast to the “packed to the rafters” feel of Mood, the Fabric Store is in an open-plan store front with wooden tables and shelves, and sedate zen-y music playing.

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I chatted briefly with the young, hip, soft-spoken manager, who told me that the New Zealand owners source the fabrics from their home office and ship them to L.A. What I found was a beautifully curated selection of mostly natural fabrics, including gorgeous silks and cottons…

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and tempting linen tweeds…

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But The Fabric Store’s claim to fame is their high-quality New Zealand merino wool jersey, which come in a range of weights, colors, and designs.

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They were really something, and most were under $20 a yard for a hugely wide swath of jersey (up to 62″ width), all of it smooth, itch-free stuff.

I’m a Claire McCardell freak, and in the past year I’ve managed to track down, outbid, and over-pay for about 12 of her original sewing patterns. So I’m now starting to make them up. McCardell and Chanel were basically the original proponents of using wool jersey for sportswear, so I knew that quality merino jersey like this would work well for my McCardell “makes.”

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I ended up buying some lightweight black New Zealand 100% merino jersey, a periwinkle/royal blue Italian wool/viscose jersey and some “tie” silk, all pictured above, and believe me, I could have gone home with more. I have since machine washed and air-dried swatches of both wool jerseys and they came out perfectly. I’ll definitely be stopping by The Fabric Store on my next trip to L.A.

The one L.A. store I didn’t get to this time, but highly recommend, is International Silks and Woolens at 8347 Beverly Boulevard, less than a mile from The Fabric Store and Mood. (International Silks and Woolens Website) When I visit, I go straight to the little room on the 3rd floor where they have authentic vintage fabrics that look like they go from the 30s to the 80s. They’re not cheap (usually around $40/yard), but you can find unique retro fabrics like the one I used to make this Madeleine Vionnet bias scarf. If you do buy any vintage fabrics, inspect them carefully as they may be faded at the fold, so you’ll need more yardage.

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Here’s the post about how I made that scarf:  (How To Make The 30s Madeleine Vionnet Scarf)

There are a number of other great fabric/sewing/costuming stores in L.A., and if you have been to any of them, let us know what you think!

Now to make a dent in my stash so I can go fabric shopping again.

Chanel 2.55 “Tribute” bag: stunt or status sewing?

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Let’s talk about fashion and status. And making yourself a Chanel(ish) bag. I just did.

Chanel 2.55 style bag

You can’t walk half a block down tony Newbury Street in Boston without practically getting hit by a Chanel 2.55. 

Chanel 2.55 leather bag

In the U.S., our culture is less “melting pot” and more cheerleading pyramid.

Vintage Cheerleading

You know that blonde’s going to get thrown off of the top of the heap at some point. They always are.

For those who came here via Ellis Island, or in my great-great grandfather’s case, on a “coffin ship” from the Irish potato famine to the east coast of Canada, then somehow, without a cent, to Detroit, the U.S. was a place to completely reinvent yourself.

If you grew up in Michigan in the 50s and 60s, as my husband and I did, the wealth of the auto industry made it possible for whole generations to elevate their status in giant leaps, so that my grandfather, son of blacksmith, could send my mother to college by selling wall-to-wall carpeting to soldiers returning from WWII.

C & C Carol's Grad Jan 44 - 005 My gorgeous Mom and handsome Dad in the 40s.

In these culturally shifting sands, the things that were signifiers of wealth and class in the old countries were completely out the window, so everybody had to grab onto new ones. I think this created a herd mentality when it comes to style that has gripped the U.S. for a lot of years. Having recognizable products that people know the cost of (a Cartier Tank watch would be a current upper-middle class example) demonstrates where you stand in the U.S. social system.

Cartier Tank Watch

You have no idea how many of these I see at the beach in Martha’s Vineyard. (Meanwhile, I’ve been running around wearing a Timex from Target because I like the style.)

The only problem with status dressing is that everyone’s style gets really boring, because people will buy something highly recognizable to show off their wealth (like a Chanel bag) or to fit in with their clan (earth mama, power-suiter, goth chick) instead of picking out something really interesting and different. So then the stuff in the stores is boring.

I was tired of boring, so I started sewing again. Now my closet’s pretty zesty.

My Closet

So anyway, I was looking Chanel ads, and even though I’m not a fan of their bags (because, let’s face it, they are pretty repetitive and boring and “rich chick at the country club”) I noticed that lately they’ve been made of festive things like painted canvas with unfinished seams.

Chanel canvas bag For $5,000.

I saw this one in particular and thought, “I could totally make that.”

Chanel 2.55 bag original

I was making a Breton shirt anyway, from the frankenpattern muslin (Muslin Madness) for the crushed bateau-neck I just made (Bateau-neck Top, fait accompli). Speaking of boring style statements, I have a tendency to default to Breton shirts and jeans about 90% of the time when I’m kicking around, as I’m in the “boomer gal who likes France” clan. So I figured I’d ought to start making my own. If you want to see a lot of old Hollywood types in Breton shirts, as well as some good Breton shirt sewing patterns, check out my pinterest page (Breton Shirt Pinterest Page).

I ordered some fabric made by the French brand St. James, who make and export the traditional Breton shirts, or Marinieres, to groovy middle-aged Americans like me. I’ve had a bunch of St. James shirts and they last for years. I found the fabric at Hart Fabrics (hartfabrics.com) . This fabric is medium weight viscose/poly, and though it’s not the typical heavy cotton jersey, it’s easy to wash and sew.

I thought making the shirt would be a breeze. Then I remembered that I had to match all of those stripes.

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I got a little obsessive, but it worked. You can match the stripes part way up the sleeve cap, but when you get to the top half, forget it.

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I think that’s why a number of these shirts have white at the top instead of stripes.

For those of you who expressed interest in how the shoulder tuck is constructed in the crushed bateau-neck design, here’s a look at the inside:

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and the outside. image

You make the front shoulder seam about an inch longer than the back seam, and make a tuck in the middle of the front shoulder. Then the neckline goes straight across from one shoulder seam to the other. (If you add an extension of about 1 1/2 inches to the top of the neckline, it folds inside to become a self-facing.)

I also decided to try “tailors’ tacks” on this project, a vintage method of marking fabrics without chalk or tracing paper. I thought it would be a pain, but it was fast and easy.

I doubled a long thread on a needle (do you have one of these automatic needle-threaders from Clover? I’d be blind without mine…)

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I sewed large thread loops through the muslin pattern and both layers of fabric, at places that I had to mark things like gathers and dart points:

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Then I gently separated the layers of fabric and clipped.

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Now I had precise markings on both sides of the fabric, but didn’t have to worry about the fabric being discolored.

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To finish the seams, I decided it was time to get out of the 50s and use the stretch stitch on my Bernette 20. It worked fine and didn’t pucker, so I made another row of the stitches 1/4 away and then trimmed the seam.

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So I had enough fabric left over to make a bag, and this crazy pattern that Vogue released for about two seconds in the early 2000s.

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Make your own Chanel 2.55, Hermes Kelly or Birkin? We’ll show you how! (I love the notes I get from sellers when I buy patterns on Ebay.)

I measured out the pattern pieces and saw that they were the exact dimensions of the Chanel 2.55’s I saw online. So did the Vogue pattern editor put a Chanel, Kelly and Birkin bag in her budget to draft the pattern? Somebody get legal on the phone!

I thought that it would be a lark to make a knock-off, and put on the chain and hardware and blog about it, and how hard would it be to make a bag, right?

So I headed down to Winmil Fabrics in Boston’s Chinatown to get the “fusible fleece” required, and ordered hardware on Ebay to look like the rectangular “Mademoiselle” toggle closure that was on the bags before Karl tarted them up in the 80s with the tacky double “C”s. I even got a grommet-setter so the chain could go through grommets.

Chanel Bag Elements I was pumped!

There are all sorts of design legends surrounding this bag, which I read about in this blog: (history of the Chanel 2.55 bag); that the chain handle was inspired by the key chains carried by the nuns at the orphanage where Chanel lived as a child, that the garnet color of the lining was the same as her school uniform, that the zipper pocket was where she kept her love letters, that the interlaced “double C’s” of the logo were taken from a church window, and blah-dee-blah-dee-blah. For more on the Chanel mystique and why it’s creepy, check out my recent post: Chanel/Vionnet Smackdown! My only pattern modification was to bring the edges of the front flap down on either side to look more like a 2.55 bag.

An hour or two into cutting fabric, lining, fusible fleece, and an interlining of fusible hair canvas, I started thinking maybe this wouldn’t be so easy.

You’re supposed to fuse the fleece onto a 26″ x 26″ square of fabric, and then quilt it into diamond shapes, coming up with perfectly spaced 45 degree lines that cross. But they don’t tell you how to mark the lines. I couldn’t use tracing paper or chalk, because it would show. So I cut out the pieces, and used this quilter’s ruler and painter’s tape to mark the lines and then quilt them.

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This was tedious, but I’d already cut the stuff out and fused it, so I wasn’t quitting. When it came time to quilt the sides, I decided to go in parallel lines in the style of the quilting on a Chanel jacket, because there was no way I was marking off any more diamonds.

As I quilted, I thought a lot about the people in off-shore factories who sew the same seam on a “fast fashion” hoodie or bag, day after day, twelve hours a day, for maybe $35 a month. A lot of them are scarcely older than my 12-year-old. Apparently factories that make black market bag knock-offs are even worse.

I got the fusing and quilting done, and stuck fusible hair canvas on the back of the fleece.

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Then I realized that I had to match the stripes to put it all together. AAAyyyyyeeeeeiiiiii! First of all, the fusible fleece, which is one of the most disgusting and artificial things known to man, was completely gumming up my needle and making my machine skip stitches. And I wouldn’t be able to see the stripes to match them as I sewed anyway. And I was completely over the whole thing.

Reader…I resorted Steam-a-Seam. That’s right, I glued my Chanel bag together. I was turned on to Steam-a-Seam Lite 2 watching a craftsy.com class with Sandra Betzina, which had a lot of helpful hints about sewing on the bias that I’ll be using in my constantly upcoming Claire McCardell projects.

As I was watching her throw stuff together and thinking “she’s the laziest gal in town” I also thought, “I should get me some of that Steam-a-Seam.” It’s a fusible webbing that you can use to line up your seams, then glue them for good with a steam iron. It works well to secure bias hems without puckering, and in this case, those stripes matched up like a dream. I stitched through after that to reinforce the seams, stopping frequently to scrape the fusible crud off my needle as I went.

Chanel Bag Construction

At that point, I started thinking, “this looks kind of good,” so I decided that rather than go full jokey knock-off, I would make the bag into something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to use. I lined it with quilting cotton, and rather than the Ebay hardware, put on a vintage label (with Steam-a-Seam).

The bag turned out pretty well, don’t you think? (Please note the matching stripes in this lousy picture taken by my crabby husband.)

Chanel Bag and Breton Top

I’m never doing THAT again.

I still can’t see spending $5,000 for a bag that’s made from jersey or canvas (or leather, for that matter), but you can make your own for about, oh, thirty bucks. I have some gold Tyvek in my stash…maybe a Birkin?

After I first posted this, I heard from fellow blogger Karin of “Karin’s Chamber” about her own “re-make” of the Chanel 2.55. Take a look; she did a great job and managed to figure out the design and pockets through internet research. (Karin’s Chanel 2.55 Bag)

And lastly, here’s a take on the whole Chanel international marketing juggernaut, from designer Jeremy Scott’s Autumn/Winter collection for Moschino:

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Big Mac, anyone?

The Making of Chanel Jacket #2: Blood, Sweat and Tears

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A couple of posts ago, I promised details about how I constructed Chanel jacket #2.

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Even though I was working on this project a year ago, it’s alllll coming back to me. The ill-fated muslins, the horrendous plaid matching, the pricked fingers and blood on my white lining, the furry fabric that felt like a shedding lapdog as I did hour after hour of hand sewing. No wonder it was sitting in my closet for a year!

Here’s the story: while in the thrall of creating Chanel jacket #1, which I made as a project for Susan Khalje’s “Couture Dress” course on craftsy.com, I started obsessively researching all things related to sewing a Chanel jacket. Looking at the Elliott Berman Textiles website one day, I noticed a listing for actual Chanel tweed fabric for $55 a yard. Not knowing at the time that that was a bargain for this type of fabric, I waited for a sale and got a couple of yards at 20% off.

Soon after, I completed Chanel jacket #1, then won a blue ribbon for it at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, which is a blood-sport crafting competition between rural crafters, hippy artsy folk, and overeducated gentleman/women farmers, with a few summer residents like me jumping in. Filled with hubris, and my $5 Fair winnings, I embarked on Chanel #2.

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Embracing sewing has helped me get in touch with a scary competitive side of myself I didn’t know I had.

My plan was to use Vogue pattern 7975, (Vogue pattern 7975) which at that time was a favorite of Susan Khalje’s during her Chanel boot camps, though apparently she helps her students change the sleeve pattern into 3-part sleeves (Susan Khalje’s week-long Chanel Jacket class). So I started obsessing about the sleeve and decided to do a “frankenpattern” of that pattern with the sleeve from the Claire Shaeffer’s Vogue 8804 jacket pattern, which had just been released (Claire Shaeffer’s Chanel jacket pattern).

image  As I muslined 7579, which is a fairly conservative pattern with curving princess seams, I kept thinking, “I look lousy in princess seams,” and “this is too dowdy for me.” Undeterred and in denial, I finished the muslin and hated it. If you’re built like me, with boobs, a short waist, and hips, a fitted Chanel-style jacket is not your finest look to begin with, and it can easily turn you into a dumpy “pepper pot” (as the guys from Monty Python used to call themselves when they played middle-aged women in drag).

7975 muslin

I hate the way I look in muslins, but I’m always glad I did them.

In the end I selected a Simplicity pattern (Simplicity 2154) with kimono sleeves and side panels, which I reasoned would be easier for plaid matching and construction. I had convinced myself that I could throw this jacket together. I have no idea why! I have seen photos of Chanel jackets using this cut, so it is an authentic look.

Chanel jacket with kimono sleeves

I muslined the Simplicity pattern and liked it a lot better–it had a much more retro 60s vibe, and it looked better on me. Also, I saw that I could create a vent on the top sleeve seam, which would save me the hassle of creating a three-part sleeve.

After taking about 2″ off the top shoulder/arm seam, raising the side panel to make the underarm higher, and cutting lengthwise rectangles at the cuff of the top sleeve seams to make the vent, the muslin was fitted and good to go.

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I took apart the muslin and trimmed it to the stitching line to make the pattern pieces. I laid out the front pieces on one layer of fabric, side by side, so that the plaids would match up. Ditto for the back. The side pieces I thought would match pretty closely. I cut around the pieces, leaving a large seam allowance. At this point, you’re supposed to thread-trace (hand baste) around the pattern pieces to mark the seamline, but I think I used tracing paper instead. As I noted in the construction of Chanel #4, this is a bad idea because the tracing lines can permanently mark the fabric. But thread tracing is so boring!

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Then the fun started. The fabric I selected has a subtle, very tricky, plaid repeat that is about 6″ long. So when you think you’ve got it lined up properly, you’re really about 2″ off. By the time I got into the serious matching and construction I got so obsessive that I spent hours trying to ensure that the large black thread was matching the other large black thread, and not the small black thread, which would completely throw off all of the fuchsia and grass green threads. It made me nuts.

For lining, I used a double silk georgette from Emma One Sock (emmaonesock.com), which, though lovely, I realized during construction was not all that sturdy for the amount of hand-work required.  And even though I really liked the style of the kimono sleeves (because the bodice starts on the grain and then the sleeves dip down on the bias), when it came to attaching the bottom of the sleeve/bodice pieces to the two small side panels that go under the arms, it was such a pain. Such a pain! It requires a weird pivot on your machine that I botched and then ended up doing by hand. Set-in sleeves would have been a hundred times easier. But it was worth it, as it gives this jacket a non-traditional look.

For instructions, I used an old article by Susan Khalje from Threads Magazine (Threads Magazine article), outlining the steps she uses to make a traditional Chanel-style jacket, where, prior to construction, the lining pieces are quilted directly onto the exterior “fashion” fabric pieces. The exterior pieces are machined together, and then the interior seams allowances are finished by catch-stitching them down to keep them from rolling up. Finally, the lining seams are hand-sewn closed to cover the fashion-fabric seams.

So I machine-quilted the pieces of lining to the pieces of fashion fabric, using a walking foot. Then I attempted to put the exterior together, with the attached lining pieces flapping around the seams. No fun at all. I had convinced myself that I would close the lining seams by folding them over one another and machine top-stitching the whole thing, but it looked awful. So it was back to hand-stitching. Everything.

Here you can see my haphazard machine quilting, with the hand-stitched line where the lining was connected over the exterior seam. So much flippin’ hand sewing! If you look closely you can see a small dot of blood on the lining from when I pricked my finger. I can’t believe that some people do the quilting by hand, too.

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I also watched a video from the Chanel atelier showing the construction of a modern “little black jacket” and saw that they were using fusibles to support the neckline, center front and sleeve cuffs. I decided that if it’s okay by Karl, it’s okay by me! (Video of the making of a Chanel “little black jacket”.)

What you’re looking at below, on the left, is the center front of the right bodice, with the edge reinforced by sewing on a piece of selvedge from some silk organza (I learned that trick from Susan Khalje’s Craftsy course) and stabilized with lightweight knit fusible. I did this around the neckline and cuffs as well. You can see that the lining was already quilted on so I have to fold it back to put on the fusible. The lining was constantly getting caught in the stitching during the exterior construction. Yiiii!

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I turned in the center-front edge, hand catch-stitched it down, then turned under the lining and fell-stitched it down. Here’s the finished center front, after I had put on the chain and hooks and eyes.

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I basically jerry-rigged some vents on the upper sleeves by cutting a rectangle, about 3″ long and 2″ wide, on the cuff end of the sleeve back piece. I turned the rectangle in by 1″ (self-facing it), catch-stitched it down, and then attached the lining.

image At that point, nearing the freak-out zone, I remembered that I hadn’t done buttonholes in 30 years. We didn’t have a buttonholer when I was a kid, so I just went at them by hand. I like to think of the buttonholes on this jacket as “funky.” Note: you can avoid funky buttonholes and other pitfalls by consulting Claire Shaeffer’s book with DVD: The Couture Cardigan Jacket.

imageYes, that is a picture of Coco Chanel on those buttons. I bought a trashed Chanel blouse on Ebay, cut the buttons off and sewed them on the jacket. Now when I wear this jacket, stupid Coco’s always giving me that look.

I wanted to make the jacket look 60s, so rather than the jewel neck, I made the neckline more bateau. However, I had to close up the ends of the neckline, as the bateau shape made the front hang in a weird way. I still like it, though.

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I found a roll of those vintage “La Cote d’Azur” clothing labels on etsy. Now they’re my “private label”.

For pockets, I was inspired by this 60s jacket:

Chanel best look

but since I’m short-waisted, I didn’t want to do the upper set of pockets, which I assumed were for Coco’s ciggies anyway. More dastardly plaid-matching ensued while I created and lined two patch pockets and hand-sewed them on. (Basically cut a rectangle of fabric and one of lining, sew three sides right sides together, turn them right-side out, turn under the raw ends and hand-stitch, hand-sew on the trim, stick the pocket on the jacket and hand-stitch it on, repeat.)

Meanwhile, the exterior fabric was getting fuzzier and more played-out looking the more I stitched away, and the silk was getting tiny pulls all around the edge.

But as frustrating as it all was, I could see for myself why Chanel had added various design elements. The trim goes around the neck and center front to reinforce and stabilize that area without heavy tailoring. It keeps the neckline from flopping open, and it keeps the simple design from being too blocky and boring. Though I wasn’t using upper pockets, I could see how they would be useful on a princess-seamed jacket, to cover the place where the plaids don’t match at the bust point. The chain helps to keep the lightweight fabric hanging well so it won’t ride up, and the weight can counter-balance heavy buttons. The brilliant simplicity and wearability of this design has kept these jackets in vogue for more than 60 years.

I finally hand-sewed on the chain (time-consuming because you’ve got to get the needle around and through the metal loops) and hand-sewed on the trim and hooks and eyes. Then I put it in my closet until I recovered from the trauma ten months later.

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Chanel Jacket #2 comes out of the closet.

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I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Chanel Jacket #2 since I started making it over a year ago. Even in this picture I look iffy about it.

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Originally I was planning to wear it in Paris last Christmas, and it did come with me–but it was still in pieces. At that point I was in denial about whether the fabric was “me”. Though it was authentic Chanel Tweed from Elliot Berman Textiles (Chanel Tweed)  it was made of fuchsia (fuchsia!), grass green and black wool, with very sparkly gold mylar threads through the whole thing. So then  I found some black trim with more sparkles from Janssens et Janssens on that trip. Viva Las Vegas!

Though I finally finished the jacket last February, since then it has been hanging in my closet  unworn for months, basically saying “you’re never really going to wear me, right? Too glitzy?”

I live in Boston nowadays, which to me is the US’s most European of cities. Boston is small and walkable, with old (for the US) buildings and well-maintained parks, and it’s cosmopolitan. It has a couple of the best universities in the US, a number of research medical centers, and thriving tech and financial industries, so it’s filled with upscale grad students and smart employed people, with a lot of foreign ex-pats. The symphony and ballet are world-class, and a number of movies are shot here, including the recently released “American Hustle.” It’s a classy, well-mannered city.

Here’s Boston’s Public Garden, a half a block from us. So lovely.

Boston's Public Garden

Though Boston style has a dusty reputation for preppy J. Crew meets “Love Story” duffle coats and weejun loafers, in reality the look is mostly understated yet sophisticated fashion, that goes from the black-clad urban boomers like me, to the glossy-brunette students in skinnies and Uggs, to the sharp suits of the North End Italian, uh, I won’t say “mobster” look, though there is a bit of a reputation for that, to the Michelle O sheath and boots many women wear to work.

The look you don’t have around Boston, over the age of 4, is “pink and sparkly”, and that’s how Chanel jacket #2 looked to me. When I finished the jacket, I was happy and relieved, since 100+ hours had gone into it, and I’d learned so much making it.

But after I took the pictures and submitted my reviews of it (Chanel #2 Review) ,    I didn’t wear it. It seems too fancy for movie night and too out there for dinner with friends. Spring was around the corner and then fall was balmy. Thanksgiving with family was too casual.

Packing for Paris, I knew I needed to travel light to cram in city and ski stuff, so in went four pairs of black pants and a stack of black tees and sweaters. But it was the holidays, and Paris. I needed something unique and distinctive.

On a whim, I pulled out jacket #2, and tried it on over my ubiquitous black jeans and tee. I’d forgotten how softly it fell and fit. It looked funky and festive. And it wasn’t perfect (just look at the buttonholes), which is key to the current French Jane Birkin/Boho look. I threw the jacket in my carry-on and headed to Logan Airport. They don’t wrinkle, people!

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When I got to Paris, I realized that the problem wasn’t with the jacket, it was with the city. I had made this jacket to wear in Paris during the holidays and that’s where it worked. The jacket fit right in with the festive but not-too-dressy atmosphere of Le Vaudeville, the 30s Art Deco brasserie where we had dinner on Christmas Eve. That’s where I wore it for the first time, with black waxed jeans.

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As they say in Boston, now I look “wicked” happy.

In an upcoming post, I’ll give details about how this jacket was constructed. Happy new year! Any new projects in the hopper?