Category Archives: couture sewing

Finishing Details; The French Jacket

Thank you all for the many comments and compliments about this jacket.  The finishing details are what sets French jackets apart and make this jacket unique.  In addition to the custom trim, French jackets feature hand worked buttonholes, sleeves are set by hand, countless tiny stitches secure the lining and a metal chain inside the jacket allow it to drape perfectly when worn.

I think the sleeves are actually easier to set by hand and would be almost impossible to do by machine due to the unique construction methods. Although it would be easier to sew the armseye seam through all layers, I find joining only the outer fabrics together before hand basting the lining in place gives a softer, more fluid feel.

Here’s an inside view of the armseye seam.  Probably one if the messiest times in jacket construction. Yes, I used Pro Sheer Elegance Couture interfacing which was fused the jacket sections. It’s extremely lightweight, flexible and doesn’t change the drape of the tweed.  Linton actually recommends doing this with their more loosely woven fabrics.  I’ve serged the edges of the tweed with a wide stitch but finished the seams of the lining with a narrow two thread stitch using fine thread. I like Gutermann Skala 360-U81, Invisafil by Wonderfil Threads, or 80 weight Maderia or Aurifil cotton.  I use two strands of regular sewing thread, waxed and pressed, to set the sleeve.  I sew the top part from the right side using tiny fell stitches and the underarm portion from the inside with a backstitch.

Setting Sleeve by hand Free seam allowances

Notice at the point where the shoulder seam meets the sleeve seam, the seam allowances haven’t been caught but are allowed to float free.  This allows the seam to press more smoothly and feels less rigid.  I’ve not included the sleeve lining; I feel I get a better result by joining only two layers of fabric at one time.

Sleeve headSleeve head shaped

I create a sleeve head from cotton batting. Cut about 2.5 inches wide and 7 inches long. Fold along a long side about 1.5 inches from the edge, pull along the folded edge while steam pressing to curve.  The folded edge is sewn along the armseye seam at the sleeve cap to provide additional shape and support.

Jacket inside out Sleeve head inserted

Baste the sleeve lining just inside the armseye seam and trim away the excess fabric. I’ve struggled with getting the lining over the sleeve cap evenly if the jacket is lying flat. I’ve found it much easier to turn the jacket inside out and place on my dress form with a sleeve form attached. Now the jacket and sleeve are supported and it’s easier to manipulate the lining into position.

Pin around seam Gathering line Pull up gathers

Pin along the seam and sew a line of tiny running stitches. Pull the gathering thread up to fit and tie a tailors knot at each end. Trim off the excess and the fabric will fold under easily along the gathering line. I set the sleeve cap first, baste, then remove the jacket from the form.  The lining at the underarm is brought up and around the seam allowances.

Seam EasedSleeve underarm

I had originally planned for front buttons, but decided I liked the look of trim without buttons, and considered a front zipper.  Botani Trimming in NYC makes custom zippers and does mail order. You select the zipper tooth size, length, color and pull. The zipper arrives in a few days and they even had chain for the hem.  Finding the right zipper in a local shop would have been impossible.  Just as an interesting side note, Botani sells Lampo zippers. They are made in Italy and the same brand that Chanel uses!

Custom Zip Lining at Zip Zipper Inside

How to deal with the lining? I could have folded it back past the zipper teeth and stitched into place but that left the zipper teeth exposed on the inside of the jacket. In true couture fashion, I wanted to cover up that metal.  Placing a length of ribbon inside the fold beefed up the edge of the silk charmeuse so it would be less likely to catch on the zipper pull.  This was one time when that rigid, slightly raised edge on polyester ribbon was useful.  Now zipper teeth are concealed, both inside and out.

The dreaded buttonholes next.  Machine made buttonholes lack the couture finish this jacket needed.  I’ve experimented with countless ways to improve my hand worked version.  I’ve found that sewing around the buttonhole before cutting, especially in a fabric such as this, helps tremendously to keep the layers together.  Marking and sewing this manually on the machine requires much twisting and turning of the fabric so I searched for an easier way.  My machine sews a square buttonhole using a straight stitch so I tried that, stitching around the buttonhole twice, once at a narrow width and again a little wider.

Machine buttonholes

Looks OK but I didn’t like the thread buildup at the beginning and end (impossible to stop the machine from knotting the threads) plus I really wanted a keyhole buttonhole.

Hoop setup Buttonholes in hoop Embroidery buttonholes

My Bernina does embroidery and I have digitizing software so I created a template for the buttonholes. I hooped a square of heavy muslin, stitched out the placement lines for the sleeve; then cut out a window so the stitching wouldn’t get caught on the muslin. The sleeve was pinned onto the muslin. Working wrong side up worked better. The sleeve was easier to place and keep the fabric clear of the stitching area, plus the embroidery foot wouldn’t get snagged on the loose fibers of the tweed.  The embroidery software will insert buttonholes automatically, but I wasn’t able to adjust the shape and stitch length satisfactorily. I also wasn’t able to do the double rows.  Mirror the image for the other sleeve and remember to cut another window so your muslin doesn’t get stitched to the fabric.

Stranding Buttonholes  Best Buttonhole

There are several YouTube videos showing hand worked buttonholes if you need a review. I worked under a magnifying light and tried to keep the buttonhole stitches just inside the second row of machine stitching. It provided a nice guide for straight, narrow stitches. Buttonholes aren’t easy and most people say they need to work a hundreds before somewhat mastering the art.  I’m always trying to make mine better but these aren’t bad.

I’ve been inspired by the photos of sheath dresses with matching jackets ( Helen Haughey’s class looked wonderful) so that’s next in the sewing lineup. Thanks for reading.





Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, French jacket trim, French Jackets, Tailoring, Uncategorized

Manipulate the Fabric to Fool the Eye

This is an experiment in the art of trompe l’oeil as the French call it, or to deceive the eye.  I’ll explore how to alter the grain of fabric to create the illusion of a less bumpy and curvy shape.  I’ll also use my custom shoulder pads as explained in my last post and in my article for Threads Magazine to transform asymmetrical shoulders into an evenly shaped figure.

I’ve chosen a loosely woven patterned fabric and will create a Chanel style jacket for this figure.  The dress form has been marked with the standard balance lines. Notice the back view which clearly shows the right shoulder much more sloped than the left.  A note to those readers who have seen my posts about various types of dress forms. This is an adjustable foam style with dials. Not my favorite but after padding to match the figure it works fine. A professional model is nice but you can make anything work!

Fabric Form Front Form Side Form Back

The style lines are added in purple tape. I’ve chosen to bring the princess line closer to the neck edge which creates a more vertical line makes it easier to shape the fabric in the next step.

Style Lines Front Style Lines Back

In order to even out the shoulders I constructed shoulder pads using my pattern from the Threads Magazine article. I added additional layers to the right shoulder pad to make the shoulder height the same on both sides. Rather than try and alter a pattern, it was easier to drape the jacket directly on the form. Note that I carefully marked right and left sides. Although the garment sections look symmetrical on the form they are vastly different when laid flat.
Side Toile  Shoulder Pad PatternBack Toile

The red stitches show final alterations to the shoulders. Height is added to accommodate the shoulder pads and I widened the shoulder line to balance the torso for a more flattering shape.
Right Shoulder Changes.JPG Left Shoulder Changes

Rather than cut the side front and side back garment garment sections according to the pattern, I wanted to shape the fabric to follow the seam lines and minimize an off-grain cut at the shoulder line. For the side front I started with a rectangle of fabric. I pinned the toile to the fabric and rotated the fabric so that the straight grain lined up with the princess seam. As you can see, this caused excess fabric to bunch up along the front armhole.
Cut Rectangle Front
Working slowly with a steam iron, start easing the fabric towards the armhole. The fibers will compress and you will be able to ease out much of the excess fabric.

Work carefully as you don’t want to press permanent creases into the fabric. Depending on how pliable your fabric is, you may be able to ease all of the extra out. If not just readjust the seam line to be slightly off grain but you should be able to work the seamline almost on the straight grain. Fabric choice is crucial here. Most loosly woven boucles will ease nicely. My fabric was a little tighter weave than most wool boucles and I was able to ease almost all of the excess fabric out. Trim the excess fabric at the armhole.

Start Shaping Front Trim Armhole

The fabric is now nicely shaped but very unstable and will want to return to its original shape. I cut a stay from lightweight cotton and basted it to the fabric. I’ve added two rows of machine stay stitching and eased the armhole to correspond to the toile. Stay tape keeps the shoulder seam from stretching out of shape. This fabric wanted to ravel badly. Although many couture sources frown on using a serger I use it to overlock the seams and prevent fraying. I use a very lightweight Guttermann thread (not regular sewing thread) so as not to add bulk to the seam. The lining is cut according to the pattern (not shaped as the boucle), basted and quilted as usual following the weave of the fabric. Your quilting lines will curve and a walking foot as well as diagonal basting will keep everything lined up without puckering.

Cut Stabilizer Stay Front Shoulder

Completed Front Back Complete

This clearly shows the distorted weave but it will be hidden under the arm and the jacket front will show a flattering vertically placed weave. The side back is handled the same way. It will be easier to shape as you won’t be dealing with the bust. It does nicely conceal rounded shoulders and back.

Jacket Front with Trim Jacket Back Completed

I used purchased navy fringe and sewed a narrow white cord in the middle. Two pockets looked better than four as I wanted to minimize the bust. The princess seams are barely visible and the jacket gives a taller and slimmer appearance.

I’m working on more custom trim and have a beautiful piece of Linton tweed for the next venture.




Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, Drafting Patterns, Draping, Dress Forms, French Jackets, Uncategorized

McQueen Top Finished and Chanel Trims

Here is the final version of the flounce top adapted from a RTW Alexander McQueen design. Shown with jeans for an outdoor summer party.

Finished Top Front

I’ve also been busy developing a method for making custom trim to match your Chanel style jacket. The next few posts will go into more detail about this but here are some previews of what’s coming. I also have an article in the latest issue of Threads Magazine which explains how I go about adding a shoulder pad to the jacket and there is also a link to the pattern.

I love creating these jackets but am often frustrated when searching for just the right trim. Often what I find is too stiff, not the right color/width, etc. If you’ve watched Signe Chanel (it’s available on youtube or DVD) you’re familiar with Madame Pouzieux, the lady who created trims for Chanel. Unfortunately she is no longer alive and I understand no one quite “got” her method. Her loom and spinning devices were very large and beyond what any home sewer could possibly fit into a sewing room.

My search for a reasonable way to replicate these perfectly coordinated soft braids led to Kumihimo plate braiding. The braiding stand is easily made and I had very good luck with an inexpensive braiding plate.

Braid Stand

Here are two jackets trimmed with braid woven on the stand using yarns in my stash and some from Linton Tweeds.

Pastel Jacket    Threads JacketPastel Jacket Front

Pastel Jacket Detail

Threads Jacket FrontJacket Front CloseupThreads Braid

The braid is very soft and flexible but unravels VERY easily. I stitch a narrow strip of tulle across the ends before cutting. The 10 strand braiding pattern works well for these jackets and I’m experimenting with other patterns. The results will be up soon.



Filed under couture sewing, French Jackets, Uncategorized

Drafting Circular Flounces

My style tends towards sleek, tailored clothing but this blouse with its many circular flounces was one I had to try.  The inspiration is from Alexander McQueen’s RTW line and retailed for over $1000.  Wonderful look for summer that I could definitely do for less.

McQueen White Ruffled Top 1 McQueen White Ruffled Top 2

I draped a slim fitting princess line top using my body double dress form. It extends to the high hip line here so I can play with the placement of the hem flounce.

Blouse Drape

An interesting technical point is that these are known as flounces, not circular ruffles. In the garment industry, a ruffle by definition has the excess fullness gathered into a seam while the fullness of a flounce comes from the curved flare of the fabric.

The flounce pattern is created by drawing concentric circles. The inner circle is attached to the garment.

Drafting the flounce does require some basic math and decisions about how full you want the flounce. The left diagram shows a flounce with an inner circle of 1 inch diameter and one inch wide flounce. The circumference of the inner circle is 3.14 inches which will be the length of the seam joining to the garment. The outer edge of the flounce will be 9.42 inches. Fullness is calculated as 9.42 divided by 3.14 equals 3 or 3:1 ratio.  However, imagine that you need a 6 inch long flounce. Drawing a 2 inch diameter circle surrounded by a 4 inch diameter circle creates a flounce 6.28 inches long with an outer edge 12.56 inches long. Note that the fullness has changed from 3:1 to 2:1 (12.56 divided by 6.28).  If the desired fullness is 3:1, then the flounce will need to be cut using two of the smaller circles and seaming them together.

lower flounce

I’ve drafted a 3 inch deep flounce for the lower edge of the blouse, cut a test from muslin and attached to the toile.  To achieve 3:1 fullness, I’ll use four sections (two back and two front).

Drafting the flounces for the neckline and center front required more complicated methods.  Flounces behave differently depending upon the seam they are attached to.  Vertical hanging flounces cascade down in folds.  The fullness of a flounce is increased when attached to a inside curve and decreased when attached to an outside curve.  The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff is a wonderful resource which more fully explains these concepts.

The neckline is an outside curve. Therefore to maintain the same appearance of fullness, the flounce at the neck was drafted with 4:1 inner to outer ratio.  The math can get complicated, especially when you need to consider the length of flounce needed, width AND fullness ratio desired plus adding seam allowances.  Then compound all this with varying width flounces for the center front and armholes.  I’ve devised a relatively simple way to draft all this.

Either buy a tablet of graph paper or print some out. There are free internet sources for printing all sizes of graph paper. I like .  Search for graph paper and print out a few sheets of 1/4 inch size. Metric users try 0.5 cm; I found the 1 cm. size just a bit too large to produce smooth curves using my method.

math drillsBack neck pattern

Measure the length of the seam the flounce will be attached to. Measure the SEAM LINE, not the cut edge. All drafting is done referencing the seam line; seam allowances are added afterwards. I’ll show the back neck: seam line from CB to shoulder seam is 3.5 inches. 4:1 fullness is desired and 1.75 wide flounce so I’ll cut and tape together a strip of graph paper 1.75 inches  by 14 inches (3.5 times 4).

Cut along every fourth line leaving a tiny bit attached at one long edge. If you cut through, it’s no problem to just tape it together. Overlap the sections so there are four blocks at one edge and one block at the other edge.

Cut graph paperline up overlaps

The inside edge won’t line up perfectly but I just eyeball it. You can also draw in a line to help. Tape the sections in place as you go. This is what the pattern will look like. It’s very clear that there is a 4:1 ratio of inner to outer length. Also it isn’t a complete circle which is good as there is space to add seam allowances.

completed overlap

The pattern can be cleaned up by using it as a gauge to draw circles with a compass. Use the end points on the outer circle and connect to the center for symmetrical seam lines. I find this much, much easier than trying to mathematically calculate the dimensions of the inner circle, outer circle, width of flounce, maintain fullness ratio. With all these variables, I wound up with a partial circle and calculating the percentage needed of such circles produces some dizzying math.

cleaned up draft

The graph paper method greatly simplifies creating the long cascading flounce along the center front.  If you draft a flounce and trim off the outer edge to create a flounce narrower at one end, the proportion of fullness changes.

spiral draft

Here is a flounce which gets narrower at one end.  I trimmed off the outer edge of a 3:1 circle. If you count the squares, it goes from a 3:1 fullness to a 2:1 fullness. This may be what you want, but what if you want to maintain the same fullness the entire length?

Here’s how I created the center front flounce. Measure from center front to the desired length.  After some experimentation, I decided 3:1 was a good fullness. Create a strip of graph paper 3 times the finished length by the wider width. Draw a sloping line from wide point to narrow point.

sloped graph paper

Trim off the paper above the sloped line. Cut along every third square and overlap to create a curved pattern.

overlaped spiral

The pattern will spiral over itself.  Keep going and let it overlap. It will be divided into sections later.

completed flounce

My front flounce needed to be divided into two sections to avoid the pieces overlapping.  Deciding where to place the cuts is a trial and error process. You want a few seams as possible and the seams need to be placed where they are inconspicuous.

It may take several muslin trials to get seams where you want them.  Trace off your master pattern so it is intact in case your first seams aren’t where you want them. Since the diameter of the circle is constantly changing along the length of the flounce the circles will turn into ellipses.  Here is the lower section of my front flounce. I’ve left room for tiny seam allowances to join to the upper flounce section.

maintain ratio

My pattern traced off to pattern paper.  Label everything as the pieces will get VERY confusing. I also keep my graph paper models intact just in case I need them.


The armseye flounce is drafted in the same way. I did experiment with a 5:1 fullness but felt it too much and ultimately went back to the 3:1 proportion. Some experimentation is necessary as every flounce will behave differently depending on its width and placement.  The fullness is removed under the arm at the side seam.

5 to one draft underarm

completed toile

Since this design is symmetrical, the toile is only of the right side. I’ve also hemmed the center front flounce as the drape of flounces does change with the edge finish used. Drape flounces in a fabric similar to the fashion fabric as a silk chiffon will behave much differently than a crisp cotton. I will use a woven textured white cotton that looks almost the same on both sides as the wrong side of the fabric will show on this. Blouse is in production for the next post.


Filed under circular ruffles, Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, Drafting Patterns, Draping

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.

Threads Braid



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