Having a dressform that duplicates the figure you’re sewing for makes the process SO much easier! Your model stands perfectly still for hours and doesn’t mind being stuck over and over with pins. She also eliminates the need for multiple in-person fittings, which was a life-saver during the worst days of COVID.
Here’s my process to create this gown which made it’s debut at the recent opening of Carnegie Hall in NYC. The design was inspired by this exquisite pleated tulle from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.
I start by draping the fabric on the mannequin and experimenting with how it will drape and best positioning of the design. This fabric was meant to have a full skirt with one seam at center back. Additional seaming would have interrupted the flow of fabric. I also secured a full tulle underskirt to the form to get a clear vision of how much fabric was needed for the skirt.
The bodice looked best using the denser side of the lame portion at the neck and semi sheer section along the waist. I tried two versions, one using the sheer tulle for the back, a second option with the gold. I decided on the first option as the sheer back seemed more interesting; the gold back was too much gold. With the skirt basted into a grosgrain ribbon waistband, the design was complete.
Pattern work for front bodice: left photo is 1/2 of front which will be cut with fold at center front. In order to cut it with the neck gathered fuller, I drew 6 evenly spaced lines from neck to waist, left the pattern attached at the waist and spread out along the neck edge until the side seam was parallel to center front. The altered pattern was traced onto a new sheet of paper.
Left photo shows altered pattern on the tulle. Neck is at the top, waist at bottom with center fold at the right edge. Placed on the form, checked for accuracy and waistline thread traced. The back was cut from sheer portion of the tulle with pleating running vertically.
Basted everything together for a final fit check. I opted to finish the neckline with a stand collar of gathered tulle cut from the gold portion. A zipper in both underskirt and tulle allows the outer layer of tulle to hang freely; attaching it to the inner layers resulted in unattractive pulling. An inner waistband of grosgrain ribbon holds everything in place and supports the weight of the skirt.
Final try-on in the studio; fit was perfect on the first go thanks to a custom form and worn for gala night out.
I’ve been working on additional trim ideas to customize and embellish your custom French jacket. Alice, of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC, sent me a generous sampling of her new fall boucles to play with.
When creating custom trim, the possibilities are almost endless. Here’s a few variations I came up with for one fabric. I used varying textures of black yarn combined with fibers pulled from the fabric to create coordinated trims.
This trim also utilizes fibers from the boucle as well as a textured grey and white yarn.
To make this trim, I made a crochet chain, turned and worked a double crochet in each stitch. Inserted a large Trim Tube (available in my shop) and steamed to even out the stitches. Then, using a smaller size tube, wove through the chain and inserted a metallic fiber from the boucle. After nudging the metallic ribbon to one side, wove the tube through again, alternating the up and down weave, and threaded a second metallic ribbon through.
For the trim with fringing, I cut a narrow band of boucle fabric and pulled threads from each side. The crochet band was accented with a row of chain stitches on each side using grey yarn pulled from the fabric. Stitch on top of the fringed strip for the completed trim. A second variation uses chain stitching with black/white yarn around the outer edge. I prefer the softer look of the fringed version.
Here’s another idea to coordinate with this open weave ivory with gold and silver metallic threads. The version on the left is crocheted with narrow strips of silk georgette fabric bias cut 1cm wide and used as yarn. The version on the right uses wool/angora yarn. A chain of gold and silver metallic yarn is threaded through the crochet chain.
I’m also experimenting with adding pearls to the trim.
Finally, while sleuth shopping in Chanel boutiques, I found this jacket and was drawn to the unique use of ribbons and yarns in the weave. It’s listed for $$$ on EBay (untrimmed version) but stumbled across a VERY similar fabric on Etsy.
If you’re interested in a 6 day class focused on creating your own unique jacket and trim, join me in Palm Beach Gardens, FL from November 8-13, 2021. Details can be found in the shop under Classes.
I’ve created a new category on my main menu which will be links to free patterns, sewing/workroom tips, and other topics which readers may wish to refer back to. Not everything is linked yet but will be updated as soon as I organize. Having everything listed under one category will eliminate the need to search through past posts.
Here’s my pattern for a shoulder pad I designed several years ago. I love the shape of this shoulder pad as it has a built-in sleeve head and you can vary the thickness according to your needs. I’ve started making these using wool felt (which is available at JoAnns Fabrics) for a very couture shoulder pad. The wool felt is not inexpensive but one yard goes a long way and it’s a perfect use for the discount coupon. Cotton quilt batting also works well.
Several years ago I began experimenting with techniques for a better pattern match along the princess seams of the French jacket. Here’s a photo and link to the post explaining my approach.
Since then, I’ve continued to refine the method. It’s easy to achieve this match across the upper chest on model shapes but what about figures that have more curves? I started by giving one of my mannequins a much curvier (about a G cup) body and started playing with the fabric.
I purchased this lovely boucle fabric from Apple Annie Fabrics and started experimenting with custom braids to compliment the fabric. Possible choices of materials: navy cotton tulle, gray silk georgette, chunky ivory and charcoal yarns to stuff tubing, gray yarns, ivory with flecks of gold yarn and thin silver metallic yarn.
First step was to make narrow bias tubing using the tulle and georgette. Cut bias strips of fabric about 1.5 inches wide. Fold in half lengthwise and stitch 1/4 inch away from folded edge. Trim seam to 1/8 inch.
I’ve been writing this blog since 2014 and am thrilled to learn the tutorials presented are helpful to other sewists. Joyce posted photos of her completed jacket on Instagram and tagged me as a resource for her construction methods. I invited her to write a post, highlighting the information she found especially valuable.
Thank you Joyce, for taking the time to write this and allowing me to share your work.
Hello! My name is Joyce. After my recent completion of a French jacket, Mary asked me to write about my experience in a post for her blog. Before we get started, here’s a bit about me: I live in southern Manitoba, Canada with my husband, who is also my best friend! We have raised two children, who have blessed us with five grandchildren. I am a retired Interior Design Consultant & Kitchen Designer. My talented mother taught me to sew, crochet, knit, and hand embroider. From the time I was five years old, she allowed me to use her sewing machine. I made a lot of clothes for my dolls until the age of ten when I began sewing my own clothes. My favourite things to sew are coats, jackets and dresses. My favourite fabrics are made of natural fibers.
About seven years ago, I began dreaming of making a French jacket. While reading blogs of sewists who documented their experiences on the subject, I became aware of the hours involved, as well as the couture techniques they had learned along the way. It was when I discovered Mary’s blog, cloningcouture.com, that I soon realized what a treasure store of information it is. Her precision and her impeccable attention to detail reveal incredible skill. I was amazed that she was willing to share her extensive knowledge and experience with her readers at no cost to them. I read each post in detail, bookmarking those I wanted to refer to later. By early 2019, I had collected all my supplies for this project, and was ready to begin. My fabric is appropriately called “Giverny Tweed”. The lining is silk charmeuse.
Of course, the first step was to make a well-fitting toile. I cut the body of the jacket according to Vogue 8804, but in reading online reviews, I heard repeatedly that the sleeve in this pattern was wide. Since I have thin arms, I knew I would have to draft a narrower sleeve. This is where Mary’s post https://cloningcouture.com/2014/08/04/chanel-and-the-sleeve/came to the rescue. I know she has since updated it, but her original method worked for me! I also changed my sleeves to full-length instead of the three-quarter length from the pattern.
As many of you already know, after fitting the toile, it is cut apart and used as the pattern to cut the pieces in the tweed and lining fabrics, adding wide seam and hem allowances. In hindsight, I should have fused Pro-Sheer Elegance Couture interfacing to the tweed at this point, since I was working with a fabric that frays very easily. Mary gives this advice in the following post: https://cloningcouture.com/2018/02/15/finishing-details-the-french-jacket/Instead, I used a stepped zigzag to secure the fibers along the edges.
Over the next couple of weeks, I interfaced the fronts with silk organza, quilted the silk charmeuse lining to the front and back pieces, before joining them along the princess and side seams. I really enjoyed slipstitching the lining seams together by hand.
Now that the body of the jacket was taking shape, it was time to turn my attention to the trim. I was unable to find a ready-made trim that complemented my fabric, but then I remembered Mary’s post on making your own. My first attempt was a crocheted chain using fibers from the tweed, but it was too narrow and did not contrast enough with the fabric. I was intrigued by Mary’s detailed instructions on Kumihimo braiding, so I decided to try my hand at it. See her post here: https://cloningcouture.com/2017/08/30/create-custom-trim-for-your-french-jacket/After locating a Kumihimo plate at my local fabric store and watching some YouTube videos on 10-strand braiding, I was ready to begin. After a couple of false starts, while deciding which fibers to use, I settled on four blue strands and two ivory from my fabric, in combination with four strands of ivory Phildar yarn left over from a sweater I knitted for my husband many years ago.
This was the set-up I used. It is certainly not the traditional way, but it worked for me. Every few inches I had to stop and release more material from my “bobbins”. It took me about three days to work out my setup and make three and a half yards of trim.
You can see it being “auditioned” here with the buttons I planned to use. Btw, although these were inexpensive buttons, they remind me of Coco Chanel’s favorite camellia rose.
After making the trim, I did some work on the sleeves, then packed the project away before going on vacation in March 2019. As it turned out, this is where the project stalled out until a couple of weeks ago.
I had been putting off making the handworked buttonholes, but one day I gathered up courage and got to work. First, I made a sample buttonhole to work out the method. Then, in a pleasant afternoon’s sewing, I made five buttonholes on the jacket front. You can see Mary’s post on buttonholes here: https://cloningcouture.com/2020/01/07/buttonholes-and-more-trim/
After crossing this hurdle, I knew I was on the home stretch. The next two days were spent finishing the sleeves.
After this, I applied the trim to front and neck edges with a running stitch and the occasional backstitch. It was actually easier to do than I thought it would be. Then I fellstitched the lining to the jacket edges. This was my favourite step!
In summary, I learned so much about couture sewing methods while working on this project. I easily spent a hundred hours on it, but the result is something I will wear with much satisfaction for years to come. It has also given me a great appreciation for the work of couturiers. They are indeed a skilled lot!
Mary, many thanks for all your informative, detailed and inspiring posts on couture sewing! Thanks also for letting me share my experience with your readers. You can find me on Instagram at amakersshowandtell, where I post photos of my projects. They include sewing, watercolor painting, home decorating, gardening, knitting, and occasionally, upholstery. Best regards, Joyce
This is a variation of the trim in the last post. I’ve used the same crocheted base and woven three knitted cords through. For the base, I used a sport weight yarn and size E (3.5mm) hook. This will produce trim which is about 5/8 to 3/4 inch wide.
Crochet a chain the length of trim. Turn and work double crochet in the 4th chain from the hook. Work double crochet in every stitch.
Knit icord three times plus several inches the length of trim. You can use three strands of the same icord or any combination. Insert the knitted icord into the smallest tube it will pull easily through. The knitted cords can be threaded on a large needle and pulled through, but feeding them through a tube is easier and prevents the cord from fraying. A larger tube will be more difficult to weave through the crocheted base, especially when inserting the second and third rows of cord.
Weave the tube with cord inserted in and out of the crochet stitches. Hold the ends of the crocheted base and cord in one hand and pull back to remove the tube, leaving the knitted cord in place.
To prevent the knitted cord from unraveling, tie thread around the cord at the end and beginning of each length. Weave the second cord through, alternating with the first cord. Nudge the first and second cords to one side and repeat with a third cord.
A row of chain stitches can be worked in the front of each stitch along the outer edges if desired.
More examples of trim with three cords woven through the basic crochet base. The top trim used three strands of the same cord and a chain stitch worked along the edges. The bottom trim used fine variegated sock yarn for cords, the darker shade along the edges and lighter shade in the middle. Have fun creating additional combinations. Trims using a three strand braid as a base coming next.
Here’s the step by step method I used to create this custom trim for a fabric from Linton Tweeds. I used a sport weight black yarn which had a fine strand of silver thread running through. I made knitted tubing with fine linen yarn using the Embellish Knit device mentioned in the last post. The yarn tube was filled with a soft thicker dark charcoal yarn. Finally a line of metallic silver chain stitches in the center of the braid.
I use this crocheted base as a starting point for many trims. It’s very simple to make. I make a sample using about 30 stitches to test yarn combinations, yarn weights and stitches before committing to a long length. If you’re creating trim for a jacket, I would suggest doing trim for the sleeves in one length, all the pockets as another length, and finally enough to do neckline, fronts and hem if desired. The trim is very soft and can be pieced if necessary.
Here’s an illustration of two variations of the stitch pattern. Chain a length as long as you want. Keep the stitches loose; you can also make the chain with a larger hook to avoid pulling the stitches too tight. Then switch to a hook 1-2 sizes smaller. I make the lengths several inches longer than needed to avoid running short. Chain 4 more stitches. Turn. Make double crochet in the 4th stitch from the hook. Chain 1. Skip one stitch on the chain and make double crochet. Chain 1. Repeat to the end.
To make the double crochet bars closer together, you can work a double crochet in every stitch and omit the chain stitch between the double crochets. Experiment to see which look you prefer.
Samples of both variations worked in bulky yarn.
For the braid shown in this post, I used the second version (double crochet worked every stitch). It doesn’t show well in black.
Next, I used the Embellish Knit (available on Amazon) and thin beige linen yarn to knit a cord twice the length of the crochet base plus several inches. The weight supplied with the knitted wasn’t heavy enough to pull the yarn over the tiny latch hooks. I’ve discovered the key to success with this knitter is fine relatively smooth yarn, adequate weight to pull the stitches over the latch hooks and turning the hand crank slowly until the stitches start forming. A surgical clamp with several large washers works well. Add or subtract washers until the stitches form easily.
The resulting cord measured about 1/4 inch in width. I though it would add additional interest to fill the cord with a contrasting color yarn. I chose a tube (https://cloning-couture.com/products/trim-tubes ) which looked small enough to thread through the center of the knitted cord and large enough to allow the fill yarn to pass through.
Although the brass tube will feed through the center of the knitted tube, it’s easier to insert a crochet hook, hook side first. The crochet hook will stop at the wider thumb rest, creating a slightly rounded end. Insert the crochet hook end through one of the stitches in the tube and feed the brass tube through the middle of the knit tube. The knitted tube will likely be longer than the brass tube. Allow the excess to bunch up.
Next take a length of heavy thread about 30 inches long, fold in half and insert the cut ends into one end of the brass tube. Push the thread through until the ends emerge from the opposite end. Pull the thread until a loop remains on the end. Insert the fill yarn through the loop and pull the cut ends of the thread, pulling the fill yarn into the brass tube.
Holding the fill yarn and knitted cord in one hand, gently pull the brass tube back, leaving the fill yarn inside the knitted cord. Ease the scrunched up knitted cord towards the tube end and continue pulling until the entire length of knitted cord is filled.
Don’t try and make 5 yards of trim in one shot. I measure the positions I want to use the braid and work in manageable sections. I like to do the shorter lengths first and longer sections after a bit of practice. If I’m doing a very long section, maybe for a jacket neckline, fronts and hem, I’ll make the crochet base and cording in one long length and do the next step of weaving starting at the center and working out to both ends.
Next, select the smallest tube that the now filled knit cord will pass through and weave the tube in and out through the bars of the crochet base.
Use heavy thread as before to pull the filled knitted cord through the brass tube. Hold both crochet base and filled cord in one hand and gently pull brass tube out, leaving the knitted cord woven through. To secure the cut ends of knitted cord, wrap with thin yarn or thread, tie and cut.
Use the blunt end of a crochet hook and force the cording to one side of the base. Thread the brass rod alternating the previous weave, as shown. Remove the brass rod.
I wanted the black edges a tiny bit more defined, so added a row of chain stitching to both edges using the same black sport yarn and a size E (3.5mm) hook. I also used thin silver metallic yarn and size D (3.25mm) hook to make a line of chain stitches along the middle if the braid.
Final braid is very light and flexible. I’ve pinned to the fabric and even without any steaming or stitching, it turns a tight right angle without any bunching or thickness. To invisibly join edges I steam heavily placing the edge of the iron at exactly the point I want the braid to turn under. Place a clapper, edge of clapper on the line which will be turned and allow to cool. You want to completely flatten the braid which will turn under and not flatten the braid which will be seen. Secure the cut edges with a couple of rows of machine stitching or narrow strip of light fusible interfacing.
Trim used on RTW Chanel jackets is thin, light and flexible. Most pre-made trims available are heavier and won’t navigate tight curves this easily. Here’s a view of several jackets I took during a pre-COVID shopping trip. Notice how the trim curves easily in the pockets. I’ll show my method for recreating this version in the next post. Thanks for reading.
I received a comment suggesting that the fill cord could be added while knitting the cord, eliminating the step to insert fill yarn after the cord was finished. I had experimented with this in the past but did more testing to determine if it would work. This is what I found. You can do short lengths but the knitted cord spirals as it is formed, causing the fill to twist. You can untwist the fill for several inches but when working a length longer than about 10 inches, it becomes difficult. You also need to watch carefully that the fill cord stays in the center and doesn’t get caught on the latch hooks. It’s worth a try.
Since the last post on creating custom trims, I’ve been inventing more combinations and ways to vary the three cord braid shown in this post. Here are a few ideas.
I’m usually frustrated when shopping for pre-made trims. What’s available is wrong colors, wrong size, too rigid, they have 2 yards and I need 5, etc., etc… Much easier to create your own. I’ve developed two trim styles, one based on a three cord braid and the other on a crocheted base. This post will cover trims based on a three cord braid. I’ll explain the crochet base in the next installment.
The cords used for the braid should be 3/16 to 1/4 inch wide. Soft, pliable cords made from tubes of fabric filled with wool yarn work very well. Knitted fabric tubes created with this knitter have volume yet are flexible and won’t result in a stiff finished braid.
This little gadget is available on Amazon. It produces yards and yards of soft, knitted cord in minutes. I’ve discovered a few helpful hints for getting this to work. 1. Use THIN yarn: fingering, lace or sock weight yarn works great. Thicker yarns such as sport weight will cause the tiny latch hooks to jam up and break. I see tons of product reviews of customers complaining that it broke with medium weight yarn. The directions say fine yarns and they mean it. Yarn with a relatively smooth surface also works best; fuzzy yarns and those with slubs tend to get caught on the hooks. Start slowly and make sure the yarn is feeding properly. If the yarn doesn’t drop below the hooks, try adding more weight to the end of the cord emerging from the bottom of the knitting device.
I often fill the knitted cord with a contrast color yarn. The fill adds some volume and is more interesting than a solid color. I created this set of brass tubes to help with turning, filling and weaving the trim.
I’m using the third tube from left (5/32 inch) and a 2.75mm (size C) crochet hook. Exact size isn’t important. Choose a size that is large enough for your filler will slide through easily and is small enough to fit through the middle of the knitted tube.
Insert the crochet hook, hook first into the tube. It will stop when the flattened thumb rest reaches the tube opening.
Insert the rounded end of the crochet hook into a stitch in the knitted tube and thread the hook and tube into the middle of the knitted tube. Hold the open end of the tube against a table or your leg to keep the crochet hook in place. Don’t try and force the hook further into the tube or you will cause damage. The tube can be threaded through the knitted tube but the slightly rounded end of the crochet hook makes it easier.
Make sure the entire length of knitted tube is on the brass tube and remove the crochet hook. Fold a length of heavy thread in half. The thread should be several inches longer than the brass tube when folded (brass tube is 12 inches long so thread should be at least 30 inches). Insert two cut ends of thread into one end of brass tube and push through until the thread comes out opposite end.
Insert end of filler through the thread loop. Pull the two opposite ends of thread. The filler will be pulled through the brass tube.
Holding both filler and knitted tube in your left hand, gently pull the brass tube with your right hand, easing the knitted cord over the filler.
Cut the filler several inches longer than the knit cord. I pull the finished cord gently, pin to my ironing surface and steam to block and set the stitches. Make the cord a little longer than you think you need. If I’m creating trim for a jacket or dress, I break the trim construction into manageable lengths. I’ll do the pocket trims as one length, sleeve trim as one or two lengths. If I’m making a length to do the neck, fronts and hem as one length, save until last when you’ve practiced with shorter lengths and worked out any problems. If I need to fill a very long length, start at the midpoint and work to each end. Much easier than working all the way from one end to the other.
Next post will cover braiding and adding crochet edging to create a more finished look.
Testing out trims to compliment this Linton tweed fabric. Trim turns a right angle corner easily. Beige linen yarn knitted tube with black wool filler yarn woven through black crocheted base. Line of metallic silver chain stitched through middle.