Category Archives: French Jackets

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

French Jackets and Custom Trim

As promised in my last post, I’ve been experimenting with more custom trims.  The fabric was ordered from Linton Tweeds last summer.  Finding suitable trim in the right colors and weight proved impossible, so the perfect solution was custom trim. Here’s a preview early in the construction process.

I cut the jacket sections following the straight grain and then shape to match the contours of the pattern.  The process is detailed in my last post.  I’ve found I prefer that look to an off-grain line along the front princess seam.

One sleeve set  Shaped front

If you look closely, you’ll also notice that I cut one inch seam allowances and serged the edges.  Although some couture sources shudder at the use of a serger, this fabric was so loosely woven that it practically fell apart just touching it.  I certainly wouldn’t sew seams with a serger, but it did provide a nice stable and clean finish.  I also serged the lining seams (using a two thread stitch and extremely fine thread).  Every Chanel jacket I’ve been inside of uses these seam finishes.

While the loose weave was maddening to sew, it made the unweaving process much easier.  I ordered an extra 1/2 yard of fabric which provided plenty of yarns to work with.  In addition to fabrics, Linton also has a wonderful selection of yarns. They are inexpensive and I always look to see if there is something suitable for coordinating a trim.

Unweaving yarns Trim Yarns plus silver

The unweaving process is messy! Work over a waste bin and keep the vacuum handy.  I unwove for an inch or so, then trimmed the warp yarns and wound the weft yarns (keeping each type separate) on a card.

There is no set formula for the braided trim so some experimentation is necessary. I set up several test strands and make a few samples until I was happy with the combination.

Practice trim

The first tries produced a braid that was too stiff and thick but I kept revising the weaving technique and number of strands.  I settled on a ten strand flat braid using this combination of teal and silver yarns.  My goal was to produce a braid that matched the fabric yet had enough of the silver to contrast.  I’ve explained the braiding process more fully in my Create Custom Trim for your French Jacket.  The weighted bobbins and counterweight are essential in maintaining even tension and keeping the braid soft and flexible. I used 10 strands, 6 yards of each combination, to produce a generous 4 yards of completed trim.

Trim weaving setup Finished Trim

The jacket closes with a custom zip and I’ve refined my techniques for hand-worked buttonholes, which I’ll show next time (coming soon, I promise!).

Finished Jacket

Before that, I wanted to show the previous jacket again. It was a birthday present for my dear mother-in-law who wore it to her recent 71st Anniversary Party.

Jacket Front with Trim Lila Jacket

How many couples are fortunate enough to have 71 years together?  They met shortly after WWII when my husband’s father returned from his service overseas as a B-24 pilot (not too many of those pilots are around either).  They enjoyed a wonderful family party including their four children, spouses, 6 grandsons and 7 great-grandchildren.




Filed under French Jackets, 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

Chanel Shoulder Pads

Anyone who has constructed their version of the classic Chanel quilted jacket is aware that there is no provision in the design for shoulder padding. Unfortunately, many figure types are enhanced by the addition of even just a slight lift at the shoulder line. I came across this RTW Chanel quilted jacket WITH shoulder pads.


The lining is silk chiffon and is difficult to see in the photo. Each section of the jacket, including sleeves, is quilted in vertical lines about one and 1/4 inch apart. The lining seams are finished by hand: amazing to find this in RTW! There are also shoulder pads covered with the silk chiffon. Happily I was able to get inside this garment and copy the details.


Here is the jacket wrong side out with the shoulder pad visible and the pattern I was able to reconstruct. The inner working of the shoulder pad were identical to a pattern I previously posted on 1/20/2016: The Chanel Shoulder.

Here is a copy of the shoulder pad itself:


I don’t have pdf conversion software, but if you right click anywhere on the pattern you will have an option to print. Print to fit on 8.5 by 11 paper and it should print to the correct scale.

I’ll run through the construction of the shoulder pad again so readers don’t need to toggle back and forth between posts.
On the right are the sections cut from cotton batting. Left photo shows the sections completed. Check the post from 1/20 if you need additional hints.


I’ve shown the inner layer (pattern piece 3) placed on the mannequin first, topped with the optional additional padding (pattern piece 4). Stitch these layers together.


Pattern pieces 1 and 2 (already stitched together) are layered on top and pinned for sewing. Next photo shows the completed shoulder pad.


Since the lining in this jacket has already been attached by quilting, the shoulder pad needs to be covered by matching lining. Here are the lining pieces: Shoulder Pad Cover



Sew the darts in both top and bottom cover pieces. Notice both sections are cut out bias grain. There is also NO SEAM ALLOWANCES on the outer edges. Allow about 3/4 inch or 2 cm. Pin the upper cover (the piece with two darts) on the top of the pad. Stitch just INSIDE the edge of the batting.



Place the bottom cover section on top of the top cover layer and stitch just OUTSIDE the batting. I find it easier to sew with the cotton batting layer on top and the silk fabric next to the sewing machine feed dogs. It controls the ease better.


Leave about 2 to 2.5 inches open along one side to turn. Trim the seam allowance to 1/8 inch. I increase to 1/4 inch around the opening the make sewing that closed easier.


Attach to the jacket with 1/4 inch French tacks so the shoulder pad will move slightly when worn. I usually use four tacks: one at each end of the shoulder seam and one at front and back where the sleeve joins the jacket body. These aren’t limited to Chanel jackets. Anytime you need a covered shoulder pad these are wonderful. I like that the sleeve head support is incorporated into the design. Also the pad is securely stitched to the lining so these should withstand the cleaning process. Enjoy!





Filed under French Jackets

The Chanel Shoulder

One of my latest projects has been to reshape the shoulder line on two Chanel jackets for a client. These are not couture but from the Chanel RTW line. Chanel does produce some of the very best RTW clothing and many of the techniques can be incorporated in home sewing. The first jacket was long, almost a coat. I’m not sure who they intended this coat to fit, but the sleeves were inordinately long. There is a white cotton cuff, attached by tiny buttons, which gives the illusion of a tailored shirt underneath. I’m fairly tall with longish arms so imagine how this looks on a petite figure! Also notice how the plaid matching is slightly off from sleeve to jacket body.

The sleeves needed to be shortened by a whopping 5.5 inches. In addition the shoulder was too wide and needed 3/4 of an inch removed and 5 inches of width removed from the body.

The width alterations needed to be done at the side back seam as that was the only seam without pockets or vent. Chanel leaves wonderfully wide seams in both the outer garment and lining. 3/4 inch or 2 cm. seems to be standard. Notice the hand sewn hem. Chanel also finishes each garment piece by individually overlocking so that taking in or letting out seams is a dream.

The sleeves needed to be shortened from the top down, leaving the working sleeve vent intact. My method is to remove the sleeves and open all seams except in the area of the sleeve vent. I certainly didn’t want to redo that detail! Trace off the sleeve patterns without seam allowances.

The completed sleeve pattern needed to be narrowed by 2 inches at the bicep, tapering to 1/2 inch at the hem. I slit the pattern and removed the excess width.

Place the altered pattern down the required length to be removed and recut the sleeve. I thread traced the new seam lines.

Notice that Chanel presses the center 3 inches (1 and 1/2 inches each side of center) open. The remainder of the seam is pressed towards the sleeve. The blue thread is my mark for the amount to narrow the shoulder when the sleeve is reinserted. I use Japanese basting cotton as it has some texture and tends not to pull out during construction.

Here is a second jacket getting similar treatment of narrowing the shoulders.

Notice the little shoulder pad with built in shape for the sleeve head. Here is my pattern for making these. I make my own shoulder pads and find them far superior to purchased ones, not to mention being almost free.
I posted two variations of shoulder pads Chanel uses in RTW on November 18, 2014. One of my readers, olden bears, kindly sent me pdf files for these and I’m inserting the link in case you want those patterns.

Shoulder Pad Pattern

This post has been edited to link to a pdf pattern. Click on the above link and the pattern should open in pdf format.
(I’ve scanned the new pattern but don’t have software to convert to pdf. I think if you open the picture and print, scaling to 8.5 x 11 paper it should be close to size. The size isn’t too critical and you can add or subtract according to your shoulder length.)

Here is the pattern for another shoulder pad with a built-in sleeve head.

Shoulder Pad Pattern
For each shoulder pad you will need to cut pieces 1 and 2 twice, piece 3 once and 4 once. Piece 4 is optional. Use it if you want an additional layer for more lift in the pad. Butt the edges together and sew. I use a three step zig-zag stitch.


You will have two (or three) dish shaped pieces. If using piece 4, place inside the sewn outer layer sections; Place piece 3 on top and pin the layers together.

Baste through all layers. I just discovered the basting stitch on my Bernina. Maybe I should read the manual. Your machine may have a similar stitch. Loosen the tension so you don’t wind up with a puckered mess like this.

Fit the pad over a tailors ham and steam heavily to set the shape. Let the shoulder pad dry before removing from the ham.

Completed jacket with a beautifully shaped and supported sleeve cap. I was also able to get a better pattern match between jacket body and sleeve.


Filed under French Jackets

Jacket Finished, Plus Two More

The last step in finishing was to add pockets. I played around with different sizes and debated two versus four. A great way to visualize size and placement is to cut pockets from shop towels (they are heavier than paper towels) and play around until you get the right look.

I had four larger buttons and decided to add them at the center front. They are sewn at the right front edge and don’t actually fasten.
I find it easiest to get pockets exactly the same size and shape by pressing the pocket around a cardboard template. I interfaced the pocket with bias cut interfacing which is cut just a tad smaller than the finished pocket. The bias gives the pocket a softer shape. I cut a slightly smaller template for the lining.
Slip stitch the lining to the pocket, attach trim and slip stitch to the jacket. Don’t catch the lining when doing this.

I had a chance to get a closeup look at some geniune Chanel jackets at an upscale resale shop on Madison Ave. and noted some distinctive details. Trims are applied after construction and are made to be removed if necessary for cleaning. More about my findings in the next post.
I was sidetracked by an request from my daughter-in-law. She was invited to join the hunt staff of our local equestrian team. Hunt staff wear red jackets and bespoke versions are a small fortune. Since I had made her wedding gown, she figured a jacket would be an easy task.
Just make a tailored jacket from a commercial pattern, right? Wrong. Riding clothing is another animal. We combined my research and her knowledge and came up with a punch list of what this garment needed.
*Roomy armholes with significant ease in the back to allow the rider forward arm movement
*Sleeves pitched much more forward than conventional clothing as the arm is held almost horizontal
*Abrasion resistant lining in the jacket skirt to resist wear
*Flared skirt with most of the flare at the back to cover the seat while in the saddle
*Warm lining as hunt season runs through the winter
*Slippery sleeve lining to allow the jacket arms to slide freely over shirts/sweaters
Mood Fabrics had a beautiful heavy wool/cashmere/nylon fabric. They also had abrasion resistant lining and wool flannel for the upper jacket lining. I drafted a fitting muslin from cotton canvas which mimicked the weight and drape of the wool better than lightweight muslin. Note the exaggerated curve of the sleeve.
The roomy armhole. I would never have guessed this much ease would be required.
The jacket fabric was thick and required loads of steam and heavy use of a tailors clapper to get things flattened into shape. I found it helpful to flatten the inside of especially bulky seams with a clamp from the hardware store. Get loads of steam into the fabric, clamp it down hard, and leave until it’s cold.
Also, don’t sew across the layers of intersecting seams. You can get a much flatter press by folding the seam allowances to one side and end the stitching at the seamline. Fold the seam allowances the other direction and begin stitching at the seamline. The seam allowances will remain free and press much flatter.
Inside the jacket showing the various linings used.
The color of the upper collar is unique to the particular hunt club; her’s is purple. The fabrics were so heavy and it was applied with traditional tailoring techniques.
Here’s the finished work.
I couldn’t resist using the leftover fabric for a matching jacket for the one year old. Fittings were a bit of a challenge on a squirmy baby but we got it done!
Mommy and daughter out for a ride.


Filed under French Jackets, Tailoring