I wanted to have a go at making a collarless, open fronted jacket, popularised by Coco Chanel, ubiquitous on any star, and widely seen at golf clubs and other functions for dressy matrons.
Before tackling the more advanced three-piece sleeve “French” or Chanel-style jacket Vogue 8804, I decided I would try to make a jacket using the simplified Vogue 7975. I hadn’t done any tailoring for about 25 years and was fairly intimidated by the amount of time, and cost of materials, that was apparently required to make the “couture” version.
V 7975 is a “Vogue basic design” – not sure what that means other than it can be customised.
It features bracelet or full length sleeves; buttons or open front; longer or shorter length; patch or fake welt pockets; and can be finished with or without “purchased” trim. Although the models on the pattern envelope look somewhat dowdy (especially E and D – the buttoned up pair) I thought the younger set (A,B and C) looked quite shapely. In order to test the pattern I bought an inexpensive tweedy cotton from Simply Fabrics and made up jacket B fairly quickly in my size ie b34, size 12.
The main problem with this pattern, and V 8804 if you progress to that, is the huge amount of ease allowed for. I think this is what stops a lot of sewists persevering. Their toile looks like something a chef would wear. Coco Chanel’s original idea of a “cardigan-jacket” was that it would be comfortable as well as smart. She wore her jacket in many versions, and looking at photographs, it is clear that she was someone who was very stylish, with an absolutely obsessional attitude to impeccable fit. Look at how nicely set in her sleeve is.
The Vogue patterns look a bit like they are made of cardboard – cardboard boxy. This jacket is supposed to be flexible, lithe, supple. That is why is is made without interfacing, with applied pockets. In my opinion this pattern is simply not flattering and needs considerable shaping and fitting before it does justice to the woman inside.
Once I had a clear idea about how the pattern would make up I reshaped it, going down to the size 6 (purportedly for a 31 inch bust) across the upper chest and waist line (for a 23″ waist, supposedly), cutting out s8 sleeves, while retaining the s12 cutting lines at the hips, and between 10 and 8 elsewhere. I also lengthened the jacket by 3 inches at the waist line, and did not take up the hem by the same amount. This means it is longer than the B on the packet.
I bought a nice Linton tweed in light navy, with a fairly open basket weave and a silver thread (bottom, centre).
For once I actually had enough fabric to make both a jacket and skirt. I made a really nice 60’s skirt from Vogue 6600. Both jacket and skirt are lined with an emerald habotai silk.
I have argued that the perfect dress isn’t a “Designer” dress, or “Occasion” wear. It is not an item that cost a lot of money or one with an incredible “wow” factor.
For me the perfect dress is one that can be worn anytime, for any occasion, and it always makes you feel your best. It gives you confidence because you know it enhances you, rather than just speaking for itself. While many clothes look absolutely splendid on a tall, skinny, youthful model, very few look as good on ordinary women. In fact there is much mirth to be found in the idea of dressing head to toe in one of these outfits and actually going out.
In my opinion the “perfect” dress is actually a supporting act. It enhances who you are, what you look like, making the most of your attributes, and disguising your less desirable features. When I was being trained we called them “figure faults” (I remember making an alteration for a Dowagers’ Hump!), although nowadays we have to be a lot more tactful. In fact, I actually have an aversion to words like “saddlebags” “cankles” “double-bust”, “dumpy” etc as they are normally used to undermine women’s confidence. But, by the law of averages, women’s bodies are very varied and less than 10 per cent of us will fit an off the peg item to perfection.
So, let’s reiterate what a perfect dress must do.
- Its shape must flatter our shape, and disguise our less attractive qualities
- It must fit our body well
- The colour and scale of pattern must be harmonious with the wearers own colouring
There is a small chance that a RTW item will be “perfect” but I usually find that at least one of the above must be compromised. The only way to achieve all of these elements, every time, is to go bespoke.
For the wealthy having a tailor make up exactly what you want is very attractive. And although getting exactly the right dress or trousers or coat might be a great investment as you know you will wear the item until it disintegrates, you have to know what to ask for and this can be challenging.
The same thing is true of making your own clothes. Many women spend hours making up an item “straight out of the packet” – without fitting it. They choose fabric in a colour that they love, but simply doesn’t suit them. They make up an item which is fashionable – dungarees anyone? – or by a designer they like, or something which is doing the rounds on the blogs. And the said item is just not for them. Look at the sewing blogs and you will sadly see lots of this going on – just because you can sew doesn’t mean you know what works best for you.
I decided to experiment. I know what dress shape suits my body best – it will be fitted above the hips, then flare out in an A line, and end just above or on the knee. It will have sleeves of some description and the neckline will not be too low, nor too high, with a graceful curve. I chose to make the simplest version I could find that would meet these criteria.
I used a McCalls 3129 pattern. I am surprised anyone would buy this pattern as the woman on the envelope looks as dowdy as they come. But of course it is just a princess line dress that is relatively easy to get a good fit in the upper body without relying on a waist seam.
The colour, to suit me, would need to be cool, bright and not too dark. I chose an inexpensive linen from Simply Fabrics, in a nice blue shade that complements my colouring, and made up the dress. I worked on the fit, but the neckline is a little wonky. Excuse me.
What do you think? I feel relaxed and happy in it, despite it being a very simple dress. It is a dress you can dress up with a colourful belt, or jewellery, but its ideal for everyday. I think it makes the most of my figure, and lights up my face. It is not obvious, or fashionable and won’t get many comments. But to me it is a perfect dress.
I wasn’t sure about including a pair of fairly casual trousers in my SWAP. I made the trews, to use a 60s word, as I started my quest for a pair of well fitting strides. This shape – fairly fitted, narrow at the hem, and curvy on the hips while fitted into the waist, with a facing rather than a waist band – is good for me. I also like a back or side zip, thereby avoiding a fly front. This gives a very nice smooth line across the abdomen (which is fine if you are fairly flat there – pleats, pockets and other distractions are useful to disguise a tummy). Everyone has a trouser shape that works well for them, and there are other shapes which work just fine for me, and I will blog on trouser shapes and fitting at a later date. But I knew the shape I wanted and found a pattern -Simplicity 6087 – that would be about right.
All trousers need careful fitting, and while these were pretty good in crotch depth and the hip area I had to reduce the side seams to fit my waist. The leg shape wasn’t great though, and I had to take the side seams in from waist to hem. And then let them out again in the calf. So quite a lot of faff. I would have preferred them an inch or two longer, although I cut them according to the pattern and I think this is the style. The ankle reveal is fine – its just I do like the option of socks and closed shoes – which is, I think, necessary for work. Having said that I have worn them a lot, especially in the summer.
I chose a lovely cotton with around 3% Lycra, reputedly Roland Mouret, in a deep blue-pink that I love. The fabric came from Simply Fabrics in Brixton.
They are very comfortable. They fit. But also they are made in a stretch fabric which I think we are all used to these days. The original pattern is very much for a woven, and I think that is why I had to take quite a lot out of the side seam.
Inspired by the very able Ruth of Corecouture I have signed up for the Vivienne Westwood Challenge. I really love Dame Vivienne’s approach to clothes. Designed to flatter the female form, unlike a number of male designers who appear to design clothes for men (very tall skinny ones). I have a bought a few Dame Viv items over the years, mainly in the Liberty’s sale, or for a very special occasion – for example when Ben and Melanie got married. As the grey, floppy fronted jacket was rather expensive I have tried to wear it as much as possible and it is the kind of item that “makes” an outfit really stand out.
Apart from the flattering cut which emphasises full hips and busts, Dame Vivienne is known for her use of tartan, asymmetric, draped cutting and a certain rebelliousness. All of this appeals to me.
Now Sew2Pro has issued a challenge – to construct a garment that pays homage to VW. I haven’t yet actually started making anything as I am still getting over the four month sewing-fest that was the SWAP competition. The deadline is fast approaching (7 June) and I am wondering if I can make the time. I can’t make the widget work that declares that I am joining the Challenge. Even worse I tried to reply to a comment last night and managed to delete my post. So I am rewriting it this morning before work. Feeling pretty hopeless.
I was considering making a skirt from a lovely piece of wooly, plaid-like German fabric that I got from Dragonfly fabrics. There is about a meter in my cupboard.
But in the end I decided to try to copy my RTW jacket, perhaps with modifications. While I have more or less drafted the pattern now I didn’t have suitable fabric. While the lovely, drapey blue fabric, pictured below, is what I had in mind, the squares measure 2.5 inches, and I think the scale is a bit large for a top half garment. It might be possible to embroider with silver thread to alter this, but I am worried about the drape. I also have some wonderful fuchsia wool (it’s positively ecclesiastical) but it is really a coating weight fabric and not right for this style.
I may have to go shopping!
Between Christmas and the end of April at least 30 women from all over the world worked on the same sewing project. Their mission? To create between nine and 11 garments which to some extent “worked together”. If we were famous designers this might be known as a collection, albeit a small one. Maybe a “capsule collection”? But as we were mainly, although not exclusively, working from existing patterns I suppose it was more the production of a “capsule wardrobe” – the creation of a number of outfits (top and bottoms, or top, bottom and outer wear) that could be mixed and matched to form the core of a workable wardrobe. This approach appealled to me as it is tempting to sew whatever takes your fancy, rather than thinking about what you might actually wear, day to day. This thought has occured to many seamstresses, so the idea of sewing with a plan was born. It’s the sewists version of buying sensibly rather than impulsively!
The rules differ a little from year to year, and in 2011 they were perhaps somewhat off putting (there were only two entries in 2011). This years rules allowed plenty of choice. Here are the SWAP 2014 rules.
The Stitcher’s Guild “Sewing With A Plan” contest .
Three “3 packs” + two “wild cards” = eleven garments.
Each three pack will be:
2 tops + 1 bottom
1 top + 1 bottom + 1 outer layer
1 dress + 1 top + 1 bottom
+2 other garments
Not everyone finishes in time, and not everyone who finishes decides to go public with their results. Real life intervenes for many of the participants and they gracefully drop out of the contest. Many go on to the site of the Stitchers’ Guild (Artisan Square) to record, and alter, and explain their plans. They use IT software, their sketch books, or even their children’s crayons to outline what designs they will make up. They photograph their fabric choices and some carefully cost out the ingredients. Other members give feedback, advice and support. Some use the contest as an excuse to use up fabric they have already bought. Some, like me, are shy of sharing their plans in case they don’t come off. And there may be dozens more who make plans, and sew, but never come out into the open. Some may feel intimidated by the contest and some of us just don’t need it. But the concept of planning your clothes seems to be to a worthwhile and quite exciting prospect. For me it meant making some tops!
I would urge everyone to take a look at the work displayed.
There are a wide range of skills from the almost novice to almost professional. But the delight of the contest is that you see a group of women (no men yet) who have worked out, to the best of their ability, what clothes and shapes suit them. They have made clothes taking a close interest in the fit – fit you just can’t buy. And everyone has thought about the colour of her collection – ensuring it co-ordinates, and hopefully in colours that enhance her complexion, hair and eyes. I don’t know if there is any official judging criteria; in one sense it is impossible to “judge” any women who has (like me) worked hard, for so many hours, with concentration, attention to detail, thought and love. However I invented some criteria for myself when I voted. I looked at a) Style, b) Fit and c) Colour, not in terms of my own preferences, but in relation to the model (who was usually also the seamstress).
Miranda, for example, has used some quite unusual colour combinations in an amazingly proficient set – blue and brown, green and brown, gold and kingfisher – which enhance her beautiful muted colouring. Miss Carrion has a lovely clear, bright complexion and has used her blues, teals and mauves to great effect to complement her fresh look. The pink cardi really sets it all off with a neat contrast. Cherylanne looks fantastic in strong, bright colours that complement her cool, bright colouring. Her set works really well together and is the sort of wardrobe, if money were no object, one might buy for a holiday trip. I would be pleased to have a selection like this in my suitcase. Carolyn has warm colouring and her colour palette includes warm greens, browns and yellow – all of which work really well with her wonderful red hair. She is an exceptional sewstress, a competent knitter, very creative and constantly excites with her blog. Ruth from Corecouture really went to town with her colours setting herself the objective of sewing (and knitting) a rainbow. Her bright blue eyes and clear colouring mean that bright colours are most flattering – in real life I expect these items may get mixed with a few neutrals. Or maybe not! Her blog is entertaining as well as illuminating and I loved her 2013 SWAP too, based on the clothes of Audrey and Katherine Hepburn. She is tall and poised and her trousers, in particular, fit perfectly.
Wendy has made clothes that fit well – she is very slim and slight and has chosen designs that flatter her figure. BeeBee is experimenting to some extent, as well as really improving her technique. I think the outfits which work the best for her are the wrap dress, and the Coco – both of which flare out a little at the hem, and the blue bombshell dress which elongates her figure beautifully. Ruthiesews is a great seamstress, her outfits fit really well, and I think she knows what suits her. Last years SWAP from Ruthie was one of my favourites as it featured some glorious greens and blues that were so flattering to her cool colouring – I really loved that set – wear more emerald green Ruthie! Its hard to comment on Yorkshire lass as she has shown the clothes on a stand or in headless shots, and I wish I could see Luz Clara’s eyes! Her outfits are exuberant and fun. And perhaps the sweetest entry are the clothes created for Deb’s eight year old son – in many ways a perfect set of clothes that are appropriate, well made and colour coordinated.
It takes guts to put your wardrobe on the internet, and I hope that no-one will be offended by my remarks. I am grateful for feedback given to me as I always seek to improve.
Diane Von Furstenberg is one of my favourite designers. I just love her jersey wrap dress from 1974 – the original Vogue 1679 American Designer Original is usually available on eBay for up to about £30. However there is a very acceptable alternative available – Vogue 8379, which apart from a more contemporary collar (ie smaller) and slightly shorter ties, is virtually identical to the original.
I have a small collection of original DVFs – most of these are much cheaper – going for between £2 and £10 on eBay. Many of them are apparently only suitable for knits, but I have found you can use wovens, and I will blog about this in future.
For me it is the ultimately flattering shape for curvy or pear-shaped women. It is modest but sexy, smart but comfortable and it works well for day to evening events. It can be made without a collar (I made a maternity version for my daughter without the collar), with no, short, three quarter and full length sleeves. But the one I made for SWAP involved adding two inches in the torso length, some tinkering with the collar and then sadly made from a piece of stretch jersey I got out of the bucket at Simply Fabrics, rather than a silk jersey. But the fabric worked out well I think. The blues and greys are lovely, with a little touch of brown. The scale of the pattern is just right for me (ie petit, and therefore not overwhelming). The dress is nice with a t shirt under it for warmth and several shades work well – light blue, grey, brown, white, navy. For winter I can wear it with thick tights and boots. It looks good with a jacket, or a cardigan, and in summer its fine all by itself.
An easy to make, easy to wear number. What’s not to like? I must make another one – but I might wait until I get an overlocker.
Laird-Knox American Designers
I was inspired to make this suit after reading the Pattern-Vault blog. In response to the period clothes featured in the popular TV series Mad Men, Sarah has been doing some fascinating research on the garments of the period. In this post she mentions the New York Designers’Collection plus 1, a line created by McCalls in the 1960s. I realised I had two patterns from this collection, one of which was a Laird-Knox double breasted skirt suit with a nice skirt; McCall’s 7981. Slightly unsure about double breasted jackets which are not my very best look, I thought making this up in pink would be a great addition to my summer wardrobe and could be my second SWAP set, matched with a suitable top.
I already had two metres of pink Linton tweed featuring in a slightly shiny basket weave. I consulted family members who all hate shiny, and seriously considered using the back side on this occasion. But I felt this was disrespectful to the original designer and went with the rather loud look, knowing that shiny, especially in light colours, makes everyone look bigger.
Shiny fabric reflects the light and makes the wearer appear larger and more important. Which of course is why silk satin was the fabric of choice for royalty and aristocracy in the past. I am not sure how the photographer persuaded these three to go with the hair dresser capes, piped in red, and adorned with the family jewels, but I think this is a fabulous postcard.
There isn’t much of a construction story. I shaped the jacket a tiny little bit in the back. I did the top stitching as required. I lined the whole jacket and sleeve cuffs with cotton organdie as proposed in the notes. No pad stitching proposed, so I sadly left it off. I liked the pockets. I bought pink shell buttons, including a little one to do up the collar, similar to the ones on my blue SWAP suit. The skirt is unremarkable, except it has darts in the back, and gathering (maybe just a little too much) into the front waist band. I left it knee length so that it will look fine with lightweight tights in summer (winter skirts with thicker tights can be shorter). I had the skirt on the stand (Camilla, or the Duchess, as she is known in our house), and as a result put the zip on the right hand side. Oh well, its surely just a convention? If I hadn’t been sewing to the end of April SWAP deadline I would have changed it.
Both jacket and skirt were lined in silk satin (if you are going with shine, why not the whole hog?). I used a grid pattern on the jacket, but created a floral look for the skirt. In retrospect I wish I had put pockets in the skirt too.
My daughter had been asking me if I could make her some silky tops to wear to work. Feeling t shirts were a bit too informal for going to court etc she wanted a cool, easy to put on, easy to wash and dry top, in a range of bright colours. It sounded like a fairly easy project. I downloaded and tried the well-loved Sorbetto top (my first experience with downloading a pattern). Despite the generosity of the designer I am afraid I didn’t like it much, and she hated it – way too baggy for a skinny size 6. The thought of a bias top then occurred to me. This would enable the top to be put on over the head, it would cling to the body as if it were a t-shirt, yet it could be made to look quite formal in a woven fabric.
I searched the internet for a simple bias top pattern. As I couldn’t find one (any suggestions?) I decided to draft one. In fact I simply drew a simple sleeveless top, joining the side seams so there was one half piece.
In order to see if the neckline and shoulders were acceptable and to check that it would go over my head I recycled an old linen skirt I had bought from the Shelter charity shop £2 rail. I chose it because it was nearly ankle length, size 18, with a draw-string waist (I know…). But the fabric was a nice tonal linen with a blue weft and greenish warp, made by East (an Indian company – they also make FabIndia products).
I added seam allowance and placed the centre-front on the cross grain (and of course this placed the centre-back on the cross too). The skirt had some decorative seaming in it which I manoeuvred so it produced a nice chevron effect design line across the front of the top. I used the draw-string for a little belt to pull the top in more.
I drafted some sleeves, which I wasn’t sure should be cut on the bias or not. I found it easier to layout the sleeves on the cross. I think it is the mixing of straight and cross grain that is probably more fabric greedy than using a consistent approach.I managed to squeeze the whole top out of a piece of pink and grey wool Linton tweed I had, but there wasn’t enough for any facing. I had a pink chiffon remnant which had already been cut on the cross. I thought this would be a good neutral shade and luxurious enough for my binding, and used this on the cuffs, neckline and hem. I lined the top in light weight pink habotai silk. There wasn’t much fabric left so I used what there was to make a little skirt, hip measurement plus 2in then gathered the waist into a waistband, lined again in the light pink silk. It’s a nice set to wear.
I am keen to progress my bias experiments in due course.
I love to wear a fitted coat. The problem is that if it is too fitted you can only wear it over a lightweight dress. I needed a coat I could wear in winter – over a blouse, cardigan and jacket, and still move my arms. I decided I needed a coat that was closer to a blanket – something that wrapped without constricting, belt-less and unstructured, but warm too. In fact I am wearing it today, for a trip to Birmingham.
My mind turned to the 1950s swing coat – a garment that swings and swaggers – now that fabrics were plentiful again (after the war), and women could swish around town, feeling indulged. I identified a really nice Vogue pattern on the internet and bought it, thinking I wanted a fairly loud wool with impact. I had just over 2m of a lovely Linton tweed, and hoped it might be enough.
In fact the pattern called for three and a half yards. This didn’t initially put me off as a) yardage is always overstated and b) I don’t really suit mid calf length. I consulted Facebook and work friends. I reduced the length by 8 inches. I laid the pattern pieces top to tail. I thought about using a second fabric (which I didn’t have) for the bound button holes, pockets, collar, or even sleeves. Once I had cut out the coat this was what I had left!
In the end I resorted to piecing the facings, slimming down the sleeves slightly, and using the most pathetic scraps for the button holes and pocket welts (which had three joins in them… bulky or what?). I had considered covered buttons (only two, and they are optional), but in the end I found some nice grey plastic ones at Sharon’s on Clitheroe market. I lined it in silk satin, painted in a roughly check pattern, including grey, blue, pink and purple.
I really enjoy wearing it. And with vintage, it usually works multi-generationally. It looks nice on my Mum.
And on my daughter too!
I have had a bad experience with tops.
I remember making a shirt for my City and Guilds exam. It had to be drafted and made up. Drafting the collar was really hard work and I didn’t understand what I was doing. The fitting was really challenging, and took forever.
I used an inexpensive white poly-cotton. Everything thing that could go wrong with a make went wrong – iron-on interfacing that bubbled; uneven buttonholes; the curved hem didn’t sew up properly and the double yoke was wonky. I tried to machine sew the buttons – broke the needle, then broke the buttons. Not sure if this is what actually happened – its nearly three decades ago – or if this is simply a recurring nightmare. But I think I have had an aversion to making a shirt ever since.
So when it dawned on me that tops were required for the SWAP I realised I would have to re approach the topic and give it a go. And I am so pleased I did!
My first attempt was a very simple one – to make a shell top. During the sixties these tops were very common, usually with a zip down the back to give a clean finish on the front. Many of my suit patterns feature them and I think they look really neat, with or without a sleeve. Unlike a t-shirt they do need a bust dart, and during the sixties there were a number of ways they found to shape the bust – princess lines, Dior darts, curved darts, double darts, deep side seam darts, gathering at the neck etc. As I have a fairly full bust but a slim rib cage I wanted to create a flattering shape. One of my patterns, Simplicity 6527, features a shell top with two darts that I thought might give sufficient shaping for me. In fact I had enough fabric to make up the skirt too, so I now have a top and full length skirt which is a little dressy but might work well for a summer evening event.
I had bought some fairly crisp pink silk with a slight stretch in it, from Simply Fabrics, from their Roland Mouret shelf, attracted by the colour but originally with no plan, beyond “blouse”. But I was put off as it was a little bit scratchy. A shell top with a soft silk lining turned out to be a good solution, creating comfort in wear but enough structure so that the top has a bit of body to it. I used a plain un-dyed habotai silk to line it as the fabric is slightly translucent and the whiteness helped bring the colour out. I used my usual technique of lining a sleeveless dress or top – finishing the inside shoulder lining by hand, at the end. I was worried it might show a little but my sewing was good enough on this occasion to avoid it. Had it shown, I would have coloured it to match the outer fabric with my fabric paints.
Will the shell top come back into fashion, or has it been superseded by jersey?