Create Custom Trim for your French Jacket

How much fun is selecting fabric, lining and buttons for your French jacket?  Finding the perfect trim can be another story.  If you are looking for black, white or a standard color you may get lucky but what if your fabric is a wonderful mix of other colors and the trim you’re considering just doesn’t look quite right? Another issue I frequently encounter is that many of the trims are too rigid and bulky to curve around corners and the stiffness detracts from the wonderful fluid nature of these jackets.

I searched for some time and experimented with many methods to produce a soft,  flexible custom braid.  Finally I stumbled upon Kumihimo braiding and modified the traditional technique to create a braid I’m finally happy with.  By creating your own braid you aren’t limited to the choices found in the trim section and can totally customize it to complement your jacket.  There are many books and videos explaining the Kumihimo method which can be used to create round, half-round or flat braids. Since I was interested in jacket trim I focused on flat braids.  Kumihimo braids are normally tightly woven and fairly rigid; not what I was looking to make.  By using soft yarns and increasing the counterweight I’m able to get the desired result.

Traditional Marudi or Takadai are expensive and since this started out as an experiment, I wanted minimal financial investment.  Home Depot had a round wooden disk and wooden dowels which made a serviceable stand. I cut a braiding plate from craft foam using internet photos for the design.  Braiding plates are also available online; most beading suppliers carry them.

The simplest braid is an allover design. You don’t need to arrange the cords in any particular pattern. I’ll show a 10 strand braid and then explain the specific yarns I used for trim. The numbering system on this plate may differ from one you find. I’ve wound 10 bobbins (available from Beadalon and others).  I’ve also used 10 different colors of embroidery floss for demonstration.

Tie the cord ends together and slip through the hole in the beading plate. Attach the counterweight. I used two large washers slipped through a surgical clamp. Traditionally a small bag containing weights is used. The weight is adjustable, depending on number of bobbins used and the desired effect. Most instructions will advise weighing all the bobbins and using a counterweight of about 50%. My bobbins each weigh 24 grams times 10 bobbins for a total weight of 240 grams. The counterweight is very important to maintain an even tension. THE MORE COUNTERWEIGHT, THE LOOSER THE TENSION. Since I wanted a soft braid I used a 75% counterweight. My bobbins weigh 240 grams, 75% of 240 is 180, so the weight of the washers plus surgical clamp is 180 grams.

Place a cord in slots 3,4,5,6,7,8,14,15,16,17. The position of each color doesn’t matter. This is just to illustrate the braiding sequence.

Move the cord in 5 to e (small case e on the right side), move 6 to E (capital E on the left side) Don’t ask why e and E (just the version I used)

Move 15 to 5 and 4 to 15.

14 to 4 and 3 to 14

16 to 6 and 7 to 16

17 to 7 and 8 to 17

Then E to 3 and e to 8

That completes a sequence. Keep repeating until you have enough braid. This took much longer to write than actually do and after a few repeats you won’t need the instructions. For each repeat you bring the center cords to the side, alternate cords on the left side, then the right side, and then move the side cords back to top. There are also many versions and videos of this pattern online if my version is confusing. Search for 10 cord flat braid and you’ll find many tutorials.

To guestimate how many strands of yarn for the width braid you want, twist multiple lengths together until you get close to the size.  For the pastel braid I used 36 strands divided evenly among the 10 bobbins.  I wound 6 bobbins with two strands of pom-pom yarn and two strands of metallic silver.  Then 4 bobbins with one length of pom-pom, one metallic silver and one off-white angora.


Since the braid is so pliable, it can be stretched slightly to narrow it.                                                                                                                                                                                                         To widen the braid, gently stretch it crosswise.

The braid is very easy to shape around curves and corners.

The jacket which appeared in Threads Magazine was trimmed with braid using these yarns from Linton Tweeds.

How long should you cut the strands? I found about 1.5 times the desired finished length plus 10-12 inches for knotting. Since I didn’t want to piece the trim around the jacket edge, I wove two lengths for each jacket. One length for the sleeve edges and pocket trim, the other length for the jacket body. I did the shorter length first to see if I liked my yarn combination and to test if 1.5 times finished length would be correct. Test a few short lengths before committing to yards of trim you might not like. If the braid is too narrow, add more strands of yarn. As you braid, the counterweight will move lower; when it gets close to the bottom of the stand just unclamp and move the counterweight up. I clamped right onto the completed braid with no damage.  How long does this take!!!  It isn’t fast but not as long as you might think.  After doing two jackets I can braid about 20 inches per hour and need about 140 inches per jacket to do sleeves, 4 pockets, and all around the edges of the jacket body.  Most sewers plan on at least 50-70 hours (and often more) so another 7-8 hours to get exactly what you want isn’t crazy.  It’s great TV work;  you will memorize the sequence quickly and do it without thinking.

This loosely woven trim will unravel very, very easily so I machine stitched a length of tulle to stabilize before cutting lengths for the pockets and sleeves.  Secure the ends of longer lengths also.

Next post will explore different braiding patterns and incorporating threads from the fabric.  I hope you enjoy this and consider using some custom braids.

41 thoughts on “Create Custom Trim for your French Jacket”

  1. Such wonderfully helpful information to share! I have tried various ways of creating trim for chanel jackets. Kumihimo flat braid seemed too complicated–until now. Thank you so very much.

  2. I’d be interested to know how you attach the finished braid to the jacket. Do you hand stitch along the edges, stitch diagonally along the braid, or ….? Because it is so loosely woven, is there more attention needed to attach the braid securely? Thanks, Mary – this is fascinating.

    1. Although it’s loosely woven, the yarns are textured and do hold together within the braid. I just wouldn’t cut and turn ends under without securing the threads first. I stitched on by hand. I find it works best to attach the outer edge first and then the inside edge, easing to fit around the neck curve and corners of the sleeves. The braid is thin enough to turn under and not be bulky. A gentle steam press to finish. I don’t feel it needs any stitching through the center. Thanks for reading. I love seeing what you create.

  3. This is exactly how my sewing hobby started – not being able to find the things I wanted in stores. It’s so nice to see someone tackle a seemingly intimidating craft, and break it down to where it’s much more understandable!
    Thanks a bunch for all of your informative posts!

    1. Thanks Amanda. It took some searching and experimenting but I think I’m finally on the right track. I tried to make my method clear and easy to understand.

  4. Love this post, Mary. I struggle with each jacket when it comes to trim time and would love to learn this technique. I bought a similar looking braid making gizmo, called a “Braid Maid” for a sewing friend. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Thank you Julie. I’ve seen some of your jackets on Pattern Review and they are gorgeous! I definitely know what you mean about struggling with trim choices. Even with access to NYC and the garment district, I often can’t find what I want. I looked for the device “Braid Maid” but couldn’t find anything. I wonder if it uses the same principles as the braiding?

  5. I just discovered your blog when I was looking at covering my new to me 1967 Wolf form. I read this and wow! I have been doing Kumihimo on and off for years and you just hit a light bulb in my head! My goal is to make a white French jacket with trim. This is perfect for the the trim! I will be making braid over the winter when I cannot be near my sewing machine. Thank you!!!!

    1. Thanks for letting me know. I’ve only done braids without a distinct pattern but would love to find a good reference for creating flat braids with different designs. I’ve found one with a checkerboard pattern and plan on using that for a white jacket. Any suggestions for design sources.

    1. My braiding square is about 6 inches on each side. The bobbins are 1 7/8 inch in diameter. I’m just starting to experiment with this but I don’t think the size of the braiding plate or circle matters. The bobbins just need to be able hold enough thread so the braid can be completed in one length. More important are the number of threads used and sufficient counterweight. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Hi Mary
    I have followed you for a couple of years or so with excitement of the Chanel Jacket. But when I really looked at the jacket trim and visited different places for trim the cost was way out of reach. You made me think and I would pick-up bits and pieces on different websites such as knitting with the yarn of the fashion material or crocheting such as Linton Tweeds UK. Read books and still no idea on how to make the braids. Then your post on Braids…Thanks for enlightening me on teachings of old world techniques for garment braids. With your help from the braid post I began to see trims differently and how to obtain the special techniques that I need for my jacket trims.

    1. I’m glad you found this helpful. You are right that trims can get expensive. What is wonderful about making your own braids is that they cost very little and you can create exactly what you want.

  7. You are amazing! I just found you in Threads and I am so happy to be learning so much from your blog. I am self taught except for a few classes with other great seamstresses such as yourself. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Haven’t read them all yet but I will! I signed up so I won’t miss a
    one. Thanks again! Lynne LaHood

  8. You’re right, finding the proper trim is the hardest part of the process but yet, it can make or break a garment. I”m going to try this. I’m curious as to where you source your yarns. Looking forward to your next post – I love them! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Better yarn ships, both in person and online, are good sources. I order loads from Linton Tweeds also. They have a great selection of varied colors and textures. I add it onto a fabric order so the shipping isn’t crazy. I’m working on the next episode of custom trims to make the trim from the jacket fabric. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed this.

    1. My calculations are by length, not weight. I buy several balls of yarns that will match or contrast with my fabric and experiment with various combinations. Weave a small length to see if you are getting the effect you want. Then cut longer lengths and weave your trim. I found about 1.5 times the finished length worked. One small ball of yarn should be enough for a jacket. If in doubt, most yarns are labeled with yardage as well as weight. Have fun and I hope you create something special.

      1. Thanks for getting back to me. I am looking at yarns from Linton Tweeds to use in addition to yarns taken from the jacket fabric. BTW, I really liked the jackets featured in your Threads article and the wonderful instructions you gave for the shoulder pads.

      2. Thank you. I’m working on follow up posts with more suggestions for using the shoulder pads and another with trim versions. Thanks for reading.

  9. I’m a novice sewer and I’m attempting to recreate a Chanel-like jacket from the St John collection ( https://www.lyst.com/clothing/st-john-rib-knit-zippered-jacket/ ) To approximate the shape of the garment, I’m using McCall’s 6441 and I’ve made a black fringe trim that is very similar to the one on the St. John jacket. Should I sew the trim to the jacket BEFORE I attach the jacket lining or should the trim be attached last? Won’t the contrasting thread color used to attach the trim look messy on the inside lining?

    1. I took a look at the jacket you are recreating. It looks fabulous! I would attach the trim before finishing the jacket edges. That way you can easily keep the contrast thread from coming through to the lining. It’s possible to attach the trim afterwards, you just need to be very careful not to make the stitches too deep and catch the lining. If you are quilting the jacket Chanel style, then do the quilting and leave enough room along the front edges and hem to turn under and finish after applying the trim.

      1. Thank you Mary. None of my friends or relatives sew, so this advice is really appreciated.
        Your projects are so inspirational. If I could sew half as beautifully as you, I’d make ALL of my clothes.

  10. This is so amazing! Thank you, so much, for sharing this! I am obsessed with these jackets, but trim is always an issue. So great!! I am weaving as I write this! Thank you!

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