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?

Fabric shopping in Paris and…Steampunk Chanel?

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Hello again, friends. Having been forcibly removed from Paris by train and coerced by family members into days of sliding down an Alp on a couple of laminated boards, which was then followed by slumber-inducing 5-course French meals, I haven’t had the opportunity to update you about the Paris sewing outpost that puts the FAB! in “fabric”.

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In a previous post, I wrote about last year’s visit to Janssens et Janssens during which I pounced on the remnant table and then attempted to move into the place permanently, as I had basically spent the mortgage before I left.image

Like mecca, I had to return. Feast your eyes on those delicious tweeds.imageimageimage

Silks and Italian wools:

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The fancy stuff’s in the basement.image

And the trims!image

I found a couple of trims that have chains woven into them. So much easier to sew on if you’re making a French jacket:

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All of these things pictured can be found at Janssens et Janssens, at 3-5 rue d’Anjou, at the corner of rue Faubourg St. Honore (janssensparis.com). While I was there, I bumped into another American blogger and fellow Chanel jacket obsessor, Mary, of the blog “Cloning Couture.” She’s already whipped up a pretty spiffy tweed jacket, and I’ll be watching her blog to see what she makes from her Janssens haul.

So now after my nightly couple three glasses of wine, I’ve had time to reflect on the year ahead. I’m going to move on to American Look designers! I’m going to make things that are easy and fun! I’m going to endeavor to make a dent in my massive fabric stash, and in the meantime, not buy anymore!

But really what I’m thinking is…the minute my feet hit the ground back in Paris, I am running to Janssens et Janssens, to get me some black tweed. See, I bought some antique brass snap tape at Bon Marche, and the grosgrain with brass chain imbedded in it at Janssens (above), and well, I think it’s time to bring the funk to Chanel.

I’m talking a Steampunk Chanel jacket. Steampunk is a look cooked up by people who got tired of being punk or goth or anime or whatever and came up with this Buck Rogers meets Wild Wild West (60s TV show that’s impossible to explain) look where they dress like Edwardian aviators or motorists and decorate their iPads with antique watch  parts. It’s a great look for the guys, though the women tend to look more like Liza Doolittle (pre-makeover), “Little House” schoolmarms or Miss Kitty, the saloon girl from Gunsmoke, and I say this knowing I’m going to get in trouble with the entire Steampunk community for this post. Just google it. I’ve got to hand it to the Steampunk people, though, they really get their sewing on.

As a vintage sewing hack I was thrilled when my son wanted to be Steampunk for Halloween, and in the midst of cranking through Chanel jacket #4, I powered down and made him a Steampunk vest, in the course of which, I learned to bag a lining. From a Big Four costume pattern!

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Chanel herself was plenty Steampunk, what with the Liza Doolittle hats and layers of hardware. And Lagerfeld, well, all you have to do is make his outfit sepia-toned and he’s good to go.

So the jacket of my reverie is going to be black, with antique brass snap tape to hold it together, and a brass chain tape at the bottom. It will need a lining that’s either Beaux Arts flowery or maybe 20s Singapore Chinoise. Will I try to bag it and then quilt it? Or stitch the whole thing together wrong sides together and fringe the raw seams then quilt it? (like I did in Chanel jacket #3, my “fake it till you make it” Astronaut Wives Club raw silk job) And the trim, the trim, hmmmmm… this is how I get in fabric trouble.

Was I dreaming? I believe that if you’re in your mid-fifties and still doing vintage (and honey, I was a 40s pin-up in the 70s, when old clothes first became “vintage”, and young Bette Midler was singing “Company B”), vintage needs to be a) wearable in public, and b) not too costumey. And it can’t look like it’s still in your closet from way back when.

And when you make a Chanel jacket repro, you do run the risk of looking like granny having brunch at the country club. So you’ve got to funk it up.

Steampunk Chanel. Of course! All of those chains and faux baubles, so Machine Age. Another glass of wine and I’ll have figured out that trim. What do you think; should I go for it?

Chanel/Vionnet Smackdown!

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The book "Madeleine Vionnet" by Betty Kirke

The book “Madeleine Vionnet” by Betty Kirke

Are you ready to rrrrrumble?!? This post looks at who’s cooler, Coco Chanel or Madeleine Vionnet. Chanel is still in the public eye due to intense marketing by the modern company that bears her name, as well as the numerous books about her highly dramatic life.

But I’d argue that one of Chanel’s design contemporaries in the 20s and 30s, Madeleine Vionnet, was every bit of a maverick. She perfected the bias cut, inspired countless designers (including my current girl-crush, Claire McCardell), and yet was a much more decent and mature human being.

As  Chanel references for the smackdown, I’m using my faulty memory of a number of books either glorifying or trashing “Mademoiselle” Coco, the chain-smoking party girl who basically made it possible for women to wear comfortable clothes, become enlightened, go to work, and then stress out about having it all. Thanks, hon.

I’ll admit that I’m cribbing a number of points from a review (by The Vintage Traveler blog) of a book about Chanel positing that not only did Chanel have a Nazi lover during WWII, but she was also a spy. Here’s a link to that review, and Lizzie, thank you again for reading a book so I don’t have to:

http://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/currently-reading-sleeping-with-the-enemy-coco-chanels-secret-war/

As my reference for Vionnet, I’m using one of the sewing/vintage fashion world’s most fabulous books, “Madeleine Vionnet” by Betty Kirke. This book should either be put on your coffee table or Christmas list immediately. Here’s the link on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Madeleine-Vionnet-Betty-Kirke/dp/1452110697/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386857010&sr=1-1&keywords=vionnet

Originally published in 1991, this cult classic is filled with pictures of Vionnet’s groundbreaking bias-cut gowns, and it includes drawings of the pattern pieces, meticulously researched by the author. The text is a complete history of Vionnet, her philosophy, her methods of construction, her inspirations, her company. All I have to say to Betty Kirke, author of this excellent tome, is “you rock”. Here’s a peek inside:

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Smackdown point #1:

Who was better to her workers?

Coco Chanel had a bitter labor dispute with her workers in the 30s that she lost. Rumor has it that she shut down her atelier during World War II to get back at them, putting 3,000 people out of work.

Madeleine Vionnet, on the other hand, remembering her exploitive treatment at couture houses as a girl, was the first to offer her workers coffee breaks, paid vacation, maternity leave, and the opportunity to advance in the company. During vacations her employees were welcome to come hang out with her at her villa in the south of France. Score 1 Vionnet.

Smackdown point #2:

Who was riding out WWII shacking up with a Nazi in the Paris Ritz? And sleeping with just about everybody else the rest of the time? I have to admit I’ve given that a lot of thought while hand-stitching the Chanel jackets I’ve made.

Meanwhile, Vionnet was caring for her father in a little garden apartment until his death in 1922. After that, she married a man 18 years younger and their relationship was a happy one in the early years at least. You go girl.

Smackdown point #3:

Whose clothing from the 30s would I been seen in walking down the street in now?

Well, unless I’m going to a toga party, I’d be more comfortable wearing a 30s Chanel suit than a floaty bias-cut gown. I’ll give you that one, Coco. However, I have made a bias-cut scarf from a pattern in the Vionnet book that’s very jaunty, and I have been wearing it to death.

Smackdown point #4:

Whose clothing from the 30s would I wear to the Oscars? Though Chanel did create a number of lovely gowns in that era, the hands-down winner is Vionnet, whose bias-cut confections were architectural works of art. Also, because they’re cut on the bias, they have more give, so you can gain a few pounds and still get in them.

And the winner is…

I’ll admit, it’s splitting hairs. They both got women out of corsets and into the modern world. They both were innovators in manipulating fabric for soft structure. They both were geniuses who inspired generations of designers. And they represent the “yin and yang” of modern woman–the unconscionable control freak vs. the mature mentor.

Here’s a photo of Deepika, founder and fearless leader of patternreview.com, modeling a Vionnet scarf that I made:

Deepika in Vionnet Scarf

She looked so cute, I just had to hand it over to her. In my next post, I’ll be writing about how I made this scarf using drawings from the Vionnet book and instructions from this Japanese pattern book:

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It’s an easy and fun project.

Who do you think wins the smackdown? Chanel or Vionnet? Leave a comment and let me know. And I’m always interested in hearing about your projects! Thanks for stopping by.

I’m tired of Coco, how about you?

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Okay, here are a few last details of the construction of Chanel Jacket #4 that I’d like to add before moving onto my next, much more fun topic, a Coco Chanel vs. Madame Vionnet Smackdown! Are you working on a Chanel-style jacket right now? If so, leave me a comment; I’d love to hear about it.

1962 Chanel pattern released by Spadea

1962 Chanel pattern released by Spadea

As I mentioned before, this Spadea Chanel pattern from 1962 was drafted from a retail jacket, the design of which was licensed from Chanel by the US company Suzy Perette. This was a common practice back in the days before off-shore manufacturing. In fact, the pink suit worn by Jacqueline Kennedy on the tragic day of the assassination, though often attributed to Chanel, was actually a copy made in a New York haute couture boutique. Here’s a story about the historic preservation of that suit from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/fashion/jacqueline-kennedys-smart-pink-suit-preserved-in-memory-and-kept-out-of-view.html?smid=pl-share

The instructions from the 1962 Spadea Chanel pattern I used were very thorough and old school in terms of construction. Though I had never made welt pockets before, by following the instructions they were a breeze.

Pocket welts

Pocket welts

I created the flaps, attached the pockets, sewed up the side panel seam, and voila, a pretty little pocket made of colorful lining. Though Chanel jackets don’t typically have vertical pockets like this, I have seen examples from this era.

Completed welt pockets

Welt pocket in progress

Let’s talk about the obsession with 3-part sleeves, shall we? The two godmothers of haute couture, Susan Khalje and Claire Shaeffer, both have their disciples make 3-part sleeves for their home-made Chanel jackets, so the sleeve has a graceful bend at the elbow and the vent is high enough on the cuff to show off the trim and buttons.

But the truth is, not all Chanel jackets have had three-part sleeves. In Claire Shaeffer’s new book, for example, she shows several vintage Chanel jackets with two-part sleeves. The Spadea pattern I used cleverly fakes the three-part sleeve with a one-part sleeve by putting some ease in the seam to give it the bend at the elbow. Then the vent is added by cutting a slash in the sleeve and adding a facing that goes around the cuff.

Sleeve facing

Sleeve facing

Whether this is the original Chanel design, or a change made by Suzy Perette for US manufacturing, we’ll never know. But it does work pretty well. It’s still time-consuming, but probably not as much of a hassle as building a three-part sleeve.

My last comment on the sleeve is that I added sleevehead under the sleeve cap and then steamed it on a sleeveboard like this, to give the sleeve cap a nice, round shape.

Shaping sleeve cap

Shaping sleeve cap

After lining the jacket, I added the trim, chain (cleverly woven into a 5/8″ tape–much easier to sew on), buttons, and button loops, then collapsed.

Finished cuff and chain

Finished cuff and chain

My blog has been visited by people from around the world and I appreciate you all. Even the spammer guy from Korea! What projects are you working on? Please leave me a comment and let me know.

Working with a vintage unprinted pattern, if you’re lazy.

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1962 Spadea/Chanel unprinted pattern

1962 Spadea/Chanel unprinted pattern

If you sew from vintage patterns, you may have been nonplussed to open that package and see absolutely nothing printed on the pieces, like in the photo above. Printed patterns only came into vogue in the 50s, and before that people needed to follow the notches and dots cut into the pattern to find their way. The Spadea company continued to hand-cut their unprinted patterns well into the 60s.

Above is a piece of the Spadea/Chanel jacket pattern I wrote about in a previous post. The instructions included with the pattern explain what the markings mean.  Each pattern piece has a letter made of small dots punched in it, to identify the back, front, sleeve etc. The notches are small “v” shapes on the side, three large dots indicate the fold, two large dots indicate the grainline, and medium and small dots are used in the instruction to indicate buttons, buttonholes, ease lines etc.

Marking pattern on to "Kwik Trace" muslin

Marking pattern on to “Kwik Trace” muslin

The first thing I do when I open an unprinted vintage pattern is write the pattern number, name and original bust size measurement on each piece so they don’t get mixed up with other patterns. Since I was using a rare vintage pattern, I traced it onto tracing paper and put the original away. Then I compared the pattern piece with a pattern from a previous jacket I made to make some fit adjustments. You can do this with a pattern block or sloper if you have one. (Those are basic fitting patterns some people make for themselves to fit patterns more quickly. So far I’ve been too lazy to make one.)

I then used a large piece of tracing paper (from the http://www.richardthethread.com/  website in LA) and a tracing wheel to copy the pattern onto my “muslin” version of the jacket. (Though in this case I’m using Kwik Trace tracing fabric rather than actual muslin, again being lazy.) The downside of Kwik Trace is that it’s unwoven and doesn’t have a grain, so I wouldn’t recommend it for projects where you need to know how the fabric will behave, such as a bias cut dress.

Completed "muslin" of jacket

Completed “muslin” of jacket

I cut out the pieces and constructed the muslin loosely using the method outlined in Susan Khalje’s “Couture Dress” course on Craftsy. (Okay, I skipped a few steps, but you get the idea.) I’ve recommended that course in previous posts, and it really helps with vintage projects like this. http://www.craftsy.com/class/The-Couture-Dress/53?_ct=sbqii-sqjuweho-qbb&_ctp=53,1

Once I tweaked the fit, I marked any changes on the Kwik Trace with a sharpie and took the “muslin” apart. Those pieces now became my pattern. At this point I wrote the pattern number and name on each piece and indicated that it had been fitted for me, in case I wanted to reuse it.

Cutting the fabric with large seam allowances

Cutting the fabric with large seam allowances

I pinned the pattern pieces on my fabric and then cut loosely around them to leave plenty of seam allowance. Boucle like this unravels in a huge hurry, and by the time you’re ready to finish the seams, you may have already lost more than 1/2 an inch.

Thread tracing the seam line

Thread tracing the seam line

At this point, if you follow Susan’s Khalje’s instructions in the Couture Dress course, you are supposed to “thread trace” (loosely baste with contrasting silk thread) around all of the seam lines to mark the seams on the front and back. This is a great idea! But I can’t face it at this point in the construction! (Because I’m lazy.) So, despite the fact that Susan warns against this, I marked both sides of my fabric with tracing paper, which I then could not get out of the fabric. Fortunately my fit was pretty good, so I just stitched inside the line and the marks ended up inside the seam allowance. I did thread trace the armscye and sleevecap as it makes it a million times easier to line up.

How about you? Have you ever worked with an unprinted pattern? How did it go? Leave me a comment, and a link if you have one. I’d love to see your projects.

Till next time… (I used to work in TV so I feel like I need a sign-off line) “May your bobbins be full and your tension even?”

Claire Schaeffer: Godmother of Haute Couture Sewing #2

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If Susan Khalje is the hands-on “Godmother of Haute Couture”, who learned her craft making confections for Bridezilla, then Claire Schaeffer is the historian, whose in-depth study of haute couture techniques have made her books a must-have for my sewing library.

Her “Couture Sewing Techniques” book, in particular, describes just about every haute couture technique that a sewing enthusiast will encounter in a lifetime (or the half-life of your fabric stash, which is 9 million years…). Fitting, sleeve-setting, hems, buttonholes, pockets, jacket tailoring (including Chanel-style jackets), fabrics, pressing etc. are all covered in painstaking detail. Here’s where you can find it on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Couture-Sewing-Techniques-Revised-Updated/dp/1600853358/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_z

If you go to the Threads Magazine website, there is a series of videos by Claire Schaeffer illustrating the techniques from the book, which I highly recommend. The hand-stitching tutorial in particular I found very useful. If your hand-sewing skills are not that strong, it’s worth it for you to watch this video and practice before you undertake sewing a Chanel-style jacket. You need to subscribe to the Threads website for access to the videos, or buy the DVD:

http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/23016/couture-techniques-workshop-basics-with-claire-shaeffer

Claire Schaeffer just published a comprehensive book on the history and making of the Chanel-style jacket, entitled “The Couture Cardigan Jacket: Sewing Secrets from a Chanel Collector.” The enclosed DVD walks you through every step of her method of making a jacket. Here it is on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Couture-Sewing-Cardigan-secrets-Collector/dp/1600859550/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384778985&sr=1-1&keywords=claire+schaeffer

(I have a confession to make at this point. I love Claire Schaeffer’s books, but just looking at the zillions of steps she outlines in her Chanel-style jacket method gives me so much anxiety that I want to go bake cookies instead.) Fortunately, Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler, a favorite blog of mine, has written a nice rundown of the book and video, which you can find here:

http://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/currently-reading-and-viewing-the-couture-cardigan-jacket-by-claire-shaeffer/

One person who made a very pretty jacket using Claire’s pattern is seamstress Ann Rowley. During construction, she took a series of very helpful photos illustrating every step:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/7370831@N07/sets/72157630204914658/

And here’s a link to reviews from patternreview.com by people who have completed jackets from this pattern.

Vogue 8804 http://sewing.patternreview.com/patterns/54069

If you are someone who can fathom spending the time it takes to hand-sew a couple of intricate quilts and fashion them into a tiny jacket, then Claire’s method may be for you. There’s a lot of basting involved, and people who have made the pattern say it takes more than 100 hours start to finish. The result is a meticulous and authentic jacket that’s a little conservative for my tastes, but may be just what you’re looking for.

Curse you, Coco.

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coco_chanel_14_V_16jul09_chanel_pr_b_426x639Chanel best look

Here’s our Coco, dressed in an early version of her revolutionary suit in the 20s, then again in the classic 60s version. Love her or hate her, she set the tone for how powerful women dressed for a century. Her basic jacket, top and skirt became a high class, comfortable signifier for every upscale woman who needed to walk into a room with confidence, long before women were supposed to do that.
For people who sew, making a Chanel jacket has become something of a Holy Grail. Traditionally, the jackets are make from a loosely-woven boucle or tweed that unravels with the slightest touch. Rather than traditional padded tailoring, the jackets are made by quilting the wool directly to a silk lining, making them maleable and light, like a sweater, yet more structured. The high, tight armholes allow freedom of movement but require numerous fittings. Much of the jacket is hand-sewn to give it a mysterious haute couture simplicity. Tacking on the famous chain weight at the bottom can take hours. The trim can take days. To buy an haute couture (made-to-measure) version can cost upwards of 40,000 Euros–more than $50,000. Making one of these jackets, which take 70 to 100 hours of labor, is tedious and maddening.
So how did I end up making four different Chanel jackets, in a variety of vintage styles, using four different construction methods, in less than 18 months?
Curse you, Coco.