Category Archives: couture sewing

Do You Dread Making Pants?

How many sewers have difficulty with the fit of pants? The sewing is relatively straightforward; only two fronts, two backs and a waistband or facing.  The truth is that pants ARE hard to fit. You’re asking flat fabric to attractively cover a very bumpy section of the body.  Jackets have multiple seams and attached sleeves which allow for many more fitting opportunities. One of my favorite resources is Cutter and which offers truly expert advice.  It is written for professionals and much of the information is geared to the expert sewer but I thought some of the ironwork techniques weren’t that complicated.

I had made a pair of pants using Style Arc’s Claudia pant. The pant is designed for stretch woven fabric but I used a non-stretch wool and added a little extra to the seams to compensate. I eliminated the seam at center front leg. The pants fit OK but I wanted to see if they could be improved.  I had purchased the fabric from B & J’s in NYC and it was not something I was willing to trash.  I tend to use better fabrics and am willing to take apart and redo if necessary.  Quality materials and natural fibers just behave better and I’m happier with the end result.


Some pattern instructions direct you to stretch the back inner leg seam while joining it to the front and also point out the need to stretch the back crotch seam but the degree of iron shaping necessary for better fit isn’t clear.

There is an  extensive article  in Cutter and Tailor about shaping the pant sections with the iron and very detailed, clear photos describing exactly how this should be done. Search for “ironwork.”  If you Google “pressing” you will get directions on how to press ready-made pants. The author points out:

The correct fit of trousers cannot be achieved by cutting alone, for this must be achieved for the most part through ironwork. Many more errors in trousers have their origins in inadequate ironwork than in the cut. The most important factor in trousers is their width. Different widths demand a different method of working up with the iron, although difference in posture and body habitus also influence this. Even the most perfectly calculated cut could never create well fitting trousers without the proper ironwork.

I eliminated most of the lower leg shaping and concentrated on the hip and seat area.  My fabric wasn’t the most pliable but eventually succumbed to stretching, heat and steam. I worked with both back sections placed right sides together at the same time. That way the stretching was equal on both right and left sides.

Pant Shaping

The pants have a half lining of soft cotton/silk voile and hand under-stitching along the waist facing.

Pants Lining Inside Pants

I’m much happier with the fit and will definitely incorporate this technique in future pant construction. My next pair will be from a softer wool which will be easier to shape but even the fit of this tightly woven plaid improved with some extra iron work.

Pants FrontPants side

All my resident photographers were unavailable so I resorted to some cell phone mirror shots. The dark fabric doesn’t show too well but it’s pouring rain so no chance of outdoor shots.

While responding to comments I found this info which may be helpful if you are having trouble with basic fitting. Note how many drafts were needed before the pants were even attempted in fabric! Also see how small some changes were and how other fit issues could result from a change.




Filed under couture sewing, Tailoring, Uncategorized

Another Wedding and a New Tunic

Our family is in wedding mode.  We gathered in Miami this past weekend to celebrate our nephew’s marriage. I also finally got to meet Sarah of Goodbye Valentino in person! We have been following each other’s blogs for several years and I was invited to do a guest post for the launch of “The Tunic Bible.”  I wore an ankle length tunic to the welcome party around the hotel pool; very appropriate attire.


The tunic fabric was purchased in Mood several years ago. It is like raffia but much softer and woven with a knit backing. The fabric is quite flexible and extremely comfortable. I used my master tunic pattern and was able to eliminate the back waist darts and incorporate the shaping into the side seams.

I enjoy having my garments look clean and finished on the inside. All seams were bound with narrow strips of bias cut china silk. I attached them with hand sewing; much more elegant and softer than machine stitching.


The side vents and hem were invisibly slipstitched, catching only the knit backing, to prevent them from flipping to the right side. The collar band was faced with a scrap of gold toned silk charmeuse.


The challenging aspect of this project was to work the trim (also purchased at Mood Fabrics) so it looked custom shaped for the neckline. The neckband trim was arranged so that the motifs were symmetrical at center front and front neck opening pieces were mirror images.


Removing the unwanted beads and stitching was tedious to say the least as I didn’t want to damage the net backing. It would be needed to back the bald areas and prevent beads from sinking into the textured fabric. Save the removed beads for later.


To create a neat finish at the lower edge I stitched silk organza in the desire shape to face the edge. Hand stitches here; machine stitching this would have been impossible to control. Turn and trim the organza.



Fill in the areas with saved beads and it looks like a custom shaped trim.

Next up will be the gown I created for this black tie wedding. Sarah just published pics of her stunning outfit; be sure to take a look.


Filed under couture sewing

The Tunic Goes Couture

The Tunic Bible has been published!


Welcome to day 2 of the blog tour. I met Sarah online through her Ready-To-Wear Fast project. I’m thrilled to present my interpretations of the tunic. At the completion of the blog tour, each of the sites will host a book give-away. In order to be entered please leave a comment before midnight October 9 and you will be entered in the drawing. The winner will be announced at the end of the tour.

The first version used a mid-weight linen and was lined/underlined with lightweight cotton/silk voile. My construction order differs slightly from the one in the book. I completed the front facing first; then stitched darts in each layer; finally joined the face fabric and lining to be handled as a single layer.


I also added extensions at the sides to provide support for the heavy trim. Hems were mitered and all seams bound with bias binding made from the lining fabric. The excess beads were removed from the ends before turning the edges under. The edges looked a little unfinished, so I cut an additional piece of trim, folded it to form a narrow edge, and stitch in place.



The next version was constructed from a saree I had worn to a wedding. I couldn’t see myself wearing it again but the fabric was a beautifully embroidered silk with an interesting decorative border.


I arranged the border as the placket and used a narrow band of trim around the placket and collar. The lining/underling was handled the same way with darts sewn first and then the two layers of fabric handled as a single layer. The seams were bound with bias strips of the lining. Loads of hand sewing, but this is the world of couture!


Here’s the schedule for the tour: Enjoy!

The Tunic Bible Blog Tour Schedule



October 3


Pattern Review  


October 4

Cloning Couture

Generation Q Magazine


October 5


Featherstitch Avenue


October 6

Allie J          

Thanks I Made Them


October 7

Sew Busy Lizzy  

Jennuine Design


October 8

Inside The Hem  

Girls in the Garden


October 9

Sew Manju      

My Love Affair with Sewing


October 10

Evolution of a Sewing Goddess

Creating in the Gap


October 11

House of Pinheiro

The Tunic Bible   








Filed under couture sewing

Luxury Lingerie

I am on a ready-to wear fast for 2015, (hosted by Goodbye Valentino) participating in another year of refraining from buying manufactured clothing. Although underwear is allowed, I delved into the world of luxury lingerie.

Carine Gilson creates the most exquisite lingerie in Belgium. Pieces are made one at a time by artisans with prices to match. The Carine Gilson site has a button on the right for either French or English. Look under the “News” section and on the far right will be a video of her working in the atelier.

The line can be purchased at Nancy Meyer or you can just drool over the selections. Purchasing these creations would probably blow anyone’s clothing budget for years.

My first clone is a simple bias cut chemise which can be either a slip or nightgown. Bias techniques are from those used by Madeline Vionnet and explained in the book by Betty Kirk. The fabric is silk charmeuse and the lace is a French chantilly, both from B&J Fabrics.

Cut garment sections on the true bias allowing generous side seam allowances. The sections will stretch in length so don’t worry about extra at the hem. The side seams will narrow considerably, so allow at least 2 inches for seams.  I stay stitched the neck and armholes and draped on the dress form.

The secret to Voinnet’s garments holding their shape over the years was in allowing the bias to fully hang out before construction. She frequently weighted bias sections by hanging weights at intervals along the hem to accomplish this. I was concerned that the fabric might not hang evenly.  I created a weight which distributed the weight evenly along the bottom.

Take 1 inch bias tape and cut in about 18 inch lengths. Put two lengths together. Sew along the top edge. Sew along the middle. Then insert drapery weights along the bottom edge at both ends and about every 4 inches in-between. Slip a length of spiral steel boning in the bottom channel. I made 4 of these which will be enough to weight most garments.  The spiral steel distributes the weight evenly.


Pin the weights along the hem. Allow to stretch for a day or two. You are encouraging the bias to fully stretch. As Voinnet said “the bias has done its work.”


Difficult to see in the photo are silk thread tacks along the center front and back lines. This ensures that the bias stays centered on the form. Don’t be surprised when the right and left sides stretch differently and you wind up with a 3/4 inch seam on one side and 1/2 inch on the other. This is because the warp and weft threads have different tensions. Remember, couture sewing focuses on the stitching line, not the cut edge.

After your fabric has had a chance to stretch, baste the side seams and remove from the form. I used narrow French seams. Now the fun of embellishing with lace. I cut around the scalloped hem and medallions, allowing extra fabric. Stitching the lace is done with a zig-zag stitch, about 1.4mm wide and 0.8 mm long. I tried two methods. One is using the Bernina BSR foot which allows you to move the fabric in any direction since the feed dogs are lowered. You can also use any free motion technique. I also tried leaving the feed dogs up and stitching with an open toe foot. All methods worked well, so choose the one you are comfortable with. Trim the excess netting after stitching is completed. Dovo lace scissors have a nub on one blade and are wonderful for this. They allow you to slip the scissors under the lace without snagging. Notice how the lace pattern is mirrored at the neck line. I noticed this detail on most of the designs.


Luxury at a fraction of the cost!


Filed under couture sewing

Luxury RTW and More

To celebrate a friend’s birthday we did a “girls day” in NYC. Although none of my friends are sewers we all enjoyed the current exhibit at the Anna Wintour Costume Exhibit. The theme was “Death Becomes Her”; a display of mourning wear through the last couple of centuries. We were lucky enough to plan our trip for opening day and were treated to a private showing of the exhibit. My photos were terrible and no flash allowed; much better shots here. The moire fabric in photo 7 was spectacular.

After the museum we wandered our way up Madison Ave. and stopped in a very upscale resale shop. Chanel dominated the racks! Even at resale prices, my shopping splurge in Paris for Chanel fabrics looked like a downright bargain. I was able to get some shots of garments and even got inside a few.

Black Chanel Jacket

White Chanel JacketHoundstoothBlouse and RoseRose
I’m working on a clone of this flower pin. Here’s a back view.
Rose Back
Inside Houndstooth
The houndstooth jacket was lined only in the sleeves. Seams were turned so they were hidden by the lining. The seams in the jacket body were serged and turned under, making a very clean finish inside.
Blouse Back
The black silk blouse had a back neck opening constructed like a shirt sleeve placket.
Lining Seams
Seams, even in the linings, were generous. The garment sections had all been serged before sewing together; makes for easier alterations and with the generous seam allowances, the salesladies assured us that the jackets could be altered three sizes up or down.
Chanel Braid
Chanel braid looks like a bias strip of fabric frayed and sewn on as trim.
Valentino Ribbon
A Valentino design with amazing pleated ribbon detail. Crystal drops were sewn in between each pleat.
Zipper Finish
Even zippers were carefully finished on the linings.
Jacket Shoulder
The jacket sleeve seam and shoulder pads were impeccable and created the shoulder line Chanel is known for. Note how the shoulder seam is pressed open at the top. The shoulder pads have a unique shape. I managed to dissect a couple of different ones.
Pattern 1
Here is the pattern for one. These are not bulky, oversized pads but provide just subtle lift and shaping for the shoulder, Notice how the pad is constructed to extend into the sleeve and provide support. I tried to convert the pattern to a pdf file but the sizing got wonky no matter how I did it. I think it will print at the correct size if you just print the photo on a 8.5 by 11 inch sheet and don’t allow scaling. Let me know if this doesn’t work and I will email you the file, hopefully in the correct size.

I used cotton quilt batting. Pieces cut and marked with placement  lines.P1000229
Mark the shoulder pad back and notches.
Stitch piece 1 and 2 together. I used a 5.0 mm wide three step zig-zig stitch. Start and one end, butt the edges together and sew, butting the edges together as you sew. The pad will take on a curved shape.
Section 4 will fold with the edges offset. Place the folded edge along the placement line on piece 3 with the narrower side up towards you. You want the layers to be graduated with the larger parts towards the outer side of the pad. Open the fold and stitch on the line. Fold back in place. Your piece should look like this:
Position sections 3 and 4 along the seam line of 1 and 2.
Turn and place a few pins on the outside of the pad to hold the layers together.
Stitch the darts closed on piece 5 using the three step zig-zag stitch. Place it on the underside of the pad.
Stitch the dart in piece 6 and add it to the underside of the pad. Be sure the edges are staggered.
Place the pad on a ham and steam. The steam will compress the batting and start holding things together.
Using a length of doubled thread, stab stitch the layers together. Don’t pull the thread tight as you don’t want dimples in your shoulder pad.
Add a line of stitches along the seam line where you have multiple layers. You don’t want this coming apart inside the finished jacket.
Put back on the ham and give it a good steam to meld the layers together. The finished pad. Notice how it isn’t huge and gives support to the top of the sleeve.
Another style I discovered. This one is even easier to make.
Pattern 2
Pattern 3
Sew pieces 1 and 2 together with the zig-zag stitch, matching notches. Notice how the neck edge is longer in the back.
Piece 3 is placed inside and then piece 4.
Sew the dart in section 5 closed and place.
Steam over the ham, stab stitch the layers together, and steam again.
Notice how the shoulder pad extends to the neckline seam.
A few readers have asked about adding shoulder pads to a Chanel style jacket. The jacket construction does not allow for internal pads, but you could cover a set with the lining fabric and tack them into the finished jacket. Some figures just look better with a little more lift at the shoulder.
I did see one quilted jacket at the shop. I couldn’t snag photos as it was carefully guarded by the salesladies. From what I could tell it was well within the skill level of many home sewers. The silk charmeuse lining was a vibrant print and the colors in the lining echoed the boucle. The trim was constructed using fibers from the jacket fabric.
We ended our “girls evening” with dinner and a painting class. We were required to purchase two glasses of wine during class so the paintings are being saved for an appropriate event.

Notes on downloading the shoulder pad patterns:
Printing directly from the photo won’t give you the correct size. Right click the pattern photos, save as a jpeg file. Open with a program allowing you to resize. You will have the correct scale if Piece number 1 measures 4 and 13/16 wide for the first pattern and 5 inches for the second.
I tried several pdf converters but nothing gave the correct scale. I’m open to suggestions if you have experience.


Filed under couture sewing

Inside Chanel

Ever wanted to see inside luxury ready to wear and compare the construction techniques to yours?  Here is a glimpse inside a few pieces of Chanel and other luxury garments.  These aren’t technically couture as there are no fittings and they aren’t made for an individual client but some of the techniques are worth considering using in your sewing.

I found more hand sewing than in most ready to wear.  The hems are sewn by hand using a catch stitch. Jacket linings are completely sewn together before inserting but are hand tacked along the shoulders and underarm point.  The jump pleat at the hem is slip stitched by hand.

Chanel Hem

Closeup view of the jacket hem. Notice the hand stitching and how it is placed.

I noticed loads of serged edges. All garment and lining pieces are individually serged along all sides(except the armhole seam). In couture sewing, sergers are generally a big no-no. Raw edges are hand overcast but how time consuming is that! The difference is that an extremely fine thread is used; no wooly nylon or what is sold as serger thread.
Chanel Dress Pieces
The pockets and pocket flaps on this Chanel dress were slipstitched by hand. They are removed here for alterations.
White Jacket
Pink Chanel Overlock
Here is a Pucci dress using the same fine thread to finish the seams.
Pucci Dress
Also note the wide seam allowances. Most are at least 3/4 inch and some are 1″ to 1 1/4″. Linings have the same generous seams.
Chanel Lining Overlock
So what kind of thread and where to buy? Oshman Brothers in NYC is one source. You are looking for Gutermann Skala U81. I also have the U151 which is slightly thicker but the U81 is the thinnest thread I have ever seen.
The thread on the left is Gutermann 100 sewing thread, middle is Skala U151 and right is Skala U81.
Another source is Bergen Tailor Supply.
Also you need to set your serger for a narrow three thread stitch. On mine this is done by removing the left needle and using the three thread narrow hem but loosening the tensions. You’ll need to play with your serger settings and once you discover what works, write it down. I have it on a post-it note next to the machine.
For unlined garments I noticed the edges were serged, turned under and stitched. Here is a test on silk charmeuse using the Skala U81 thread.
Serger Sample 1
The serged edge is turned to the wrong side and edge stitched.
Serger Sample 3
Finished seam pressed open. Put strips of brown paper under the seams to prevent any press marks on the right side.
Serger Sample 2
This seam finish wasn’t limited to silk blouses. Here is an unlined Chanel jacket of silk and linen check. The jacket seams were serged, turned under and stitched. The sleeves were lined to make the garment easy to slip on and off.
Chanel Plaid Unlined Jacket
Sleeves are a whole topic of their own and I will delve more into that with the next post. Interesting the way the top sleeve seam is pressed open for about two inches each side of center at the sleeve cap. The armhole is stayed with narrow, lightweight bias tape and the shoulder pad incorporates a sleeve head.
Chanel Shoulder Pad
Exploring the Chanel shoulder and armhole led to a self-taught course on sleeve drafting, fitting and how to achieve that high, slim Chanel sleeve. More about that to follow.

Meanwhile I did manage to get Style Arc Franki dress finished and incorporated some of my new-found finishes.
Style Arc 4

I used a linen knit and lined with bias-cut silk charmeuse. The lining extended to the armhole edges where it is fell stitched, eliminating facings. I used the fine overlock thread for seam finishes and also used it for a slipstitched hem on the silk lining.
Style Arc 2
Style Arc 5
Hope you enjoy. Mary


Filed under couture sewing

The Dress Form in Action

Here it is, the first dress created with the help of my new custom molded dress form. This would have been next to impossible to get right without the help of a perfect body double. Much of the work took place on the back. I needed a semi-formal dress for a destination wedding in the Bahamas. The bride requested all guests wear white. Although the ceremony was beachside, the reception called for semi-formal attire. Try buying something that fits that bill.

Ceremony on the Beach

I created a version of the Dior design worn by Nicole Kidman some years ago. I thread traced the seam lines into white 4 ply silk crepe and embroidered floral designs on the front using multiple hoopings. Since embroidery can cause the fabric to shrink and/or pucker, check the seam lines against the pattern after all embroidery is finished.Full Length View



Silver metallic mesh was positioned on the back and I printed templates of the embroidery designs on transparent film to finalize the design. The embroidery designs were placed to create a picture frame effect around the metallic mesh. The mesh was somewhat stretchy and having the dress on the form made getting the placement so much easier.

Back View

Another view of the back with skin toned fabric underneath. The zipper is hidden in the left side seam.

Back EmbroideryLiningAs this was to be worn in the tropics, I chose a fine Swiss cotton jersey for the lining. This was comfortable to wear and provided opacity so that the hot pink skirt lining did not show through. To attach the lining I put the dress on the form inside out and fitted the lining around the neck, armholes and back.

Back Lining

Finally a hot pink lining for the lower skirt which shows when walking.

Skirt Lining

dress 5

This is entered in the SewStylish Spring fashion Challenge at Threads Magazine.


Filed under couture sewing, Dress Forms