Category Archives: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Slip stitch the lining to the pocket, attach trim and slip stitch to the jacket. Don’t catch the lining when doing this.

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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.
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The roomy armhole. I would never have guessed this much ease would be required.
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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.
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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.
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Inside the jacket showing the various linings used.
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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.
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Here’s the finished work.
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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!
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Mommy and daughter out for a ride.
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French Jacket: The Trim

Trim for the French jacket was slightly delayed because Elmo was needed at my grandson’s birthday party this past weekend.  When we asked mom what he would like for his party, she said, “He would really love a visit from Elmo.”

Hoping to avoid having to construct Elmo, grandpa and I made the party store rounds but everything looked so amateurish that there were really no other options. Off to JoAnn’s for yards of red fur.

There was no way that stuff was getting all over my sewing studio so the kitchen was set up as a workshop. Finally, after a trip back to the craft store for additional materials, Elmo materialized. He travelled to Florida in his own suitcase and made a grand entrance singing “Accidents Happen” from the Elmo potty DVD. Grandpa got talked into wearing this getup in 90 degree heat!  He did have one couture detail: spiral steel boning was used to keep his mouth from collapsing. It was the only thing that flexed in two directions yet held the shape.

Elmo

On to creating custom trim for my French jacket. Many of the trims available are simply too stiff and inflexible for this type of jacket trim. Many of the Chanel jackets I’ve seen have trims made from the fabric fibers and coordinate with the jacket.

I decided to try fringing bias strips. One layer looked too skimpy and two layers sewn together resulted in trim that I thought too stiff. The solution was to gather bias strips, compressing the fibers into a fuller fringe. This also produced a flexible and lightweight trim. I started with one inch wide bias strips cut from the jacket fabric. Leave the ends at at 45 degree angle; this makes butting them end to end invisible.
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Adjust the fullness. You could measure but I just pulled up the threads until the gathering looked even. Then steam pressed the bias strip flat.
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I fell stitched a narrow braid down the center. The bias strips were just butted end to end. Hand stitching controlled the fullness; don’t try this by machine. The feed dogs will push the fabric into all sorts of unwanted directions. Machine stitching is done after both sides of the braid are fell stitched.
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Using a zipper foot, stitch along both edges of the braid using about a 2mm stitch. This locks the fabric threads in place.
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Looked good but I felt it still needed something. Narrow silver snake chain was coutch stitched along both edges of the braid. Light grey thread makes the stitches almost invisible.
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The edges looked a little scraggly so they were cleaned up. I used a transparent ruler and rotary cutter to keep a consistent width. Fluff them up after attaching so the edges don’t look quite so neat.
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Attach to the jacket with a pick stitch using doubled waxed thread. Pick up just a thread or two on the right side and don’t stitch so deep you catch the lining. The stitches can be half an inch or so apart and will keep the trim in place just fine. Do this along both edges of the braid.
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Fit the outer edges of curves first and ease the inside curves.
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The sleeve trim was steam shaped before applying.
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Sleeve and edge trim finished.
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Looks good but I think I still need pockets; haven’t decided whether to use two or four. I usually do the trim one step at a time before deciding if the jacket needs more. One more tip. If you opt to use hooks and eyes to close the jacket, it stays closed better if you alternate them on each side rather than putting all the hooks on one side and all eyes on the other.
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I’m exploring other ways to do custom trims and have several other ideas in the works.

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French Jacket; The Beginning

Now that my body double dress form and three piece sleeve research are complete it’s time to try them in action.

This is from my stash, probably purchased at B&J Fabrics several years ago. Now seems like a good time to get it made.  Another hallmark of couture construction is the shaping of garment sections with steam before any sewing takes place.  “Vintage Couture Tailoring” by Thomas von Nordheim has probably the best diagrams of how to shape jacket and sleeve sections.  Claire Shaeffer’s videos also explain the process well.

If you haven’t seen it, the video “Secret World of Haute Couture” is a great watch. It’s about 45 minutes and interviews some of the purchasers of haute couture garments. Although these ladies don’t sew they do understand and appreciate what haute is and how it feels. About 10 minutes into the film, one of the ladies who worked in haute couture for years explains, “You don’t just cut the fabric and sew it; you work the fabric. It is shaped with special irons so that when you roll it up, pack it, etc it still looks perfect.”  The importance of prefect fit is also stressed; “the clothing fits like a second skin; feels like you are wearing nothing at all.”

I used Vogue 8891 as a starting point. I reshaped the front princess seam so it would be easier to shape a rectangular piece of fabric into the proper shape.

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Trace the grain line about one inch from the fabric edge. Place your muslin pattern (no seam allowances) on top.
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Smooth the fabric so the grain line follows the pattern shape. You will notice ripples form; these need to be steamed out so the fabric is now shaped like the pattern.
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The same process needs to be done on the back sections.
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And all sleeve sections are steamed to further build in the shape.
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Although Claire’s pattern instructions don’t specify this type of shaping, notice that what was a curved quilt line now tends to follow the grain of the shaped garment sections. I spaced my quilting lines about 1 and 1/4 inch apart and followed the lengthwise grain on each section. After quilting I like to roll the raw edges of my lining sections under; it just keeps things neater.
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I cut the sleeves after completing and fitting the jacket body. Pins show match points. Most boucles do have a subtle pattern, so look carefully if you think yours doesn’t.
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Almost completed. Here is the jacket front and back. Notice how the armhole has been eased and tightened before the sleeve is set.

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I decided to shape the upper neck edge. An easy way to get a smooth shape that is symmetrical is cut a cardboard template. Press the neck edge under. Flip the template for the other side.

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Needs sleeve buttonholes and a good final press before I’m ready for trim.
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Pockets? Undecided yet. I’ll wait and see what the trim and buttons look like first.

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Chanel and the Sleeve, Part 2

Getting a high, tight and well fitting sleeve is one of the key elements in a Chanel style jacket.  The three piece sleeve is designed to give that snug fit as well as place the vent a little more forward to showcase buttons and trim. My last post outlined how to go about converting a two-piece sleeve pattern into a three.  Another issue with most of the commercial patterns is that the armscye is rarely high enough and the shape of the sleeve cap doesn’t really fit that well.

I’ve spent the last month researching sleeve drafting. Never did I imagine it would lead to an intensive study of just about every method in multiple languages. Where to start? A website devoted to fairly advanced topics in tailoring is cutterandtailor.com. Most of the discussions of sleeve drafting referred to German systems which were complicated, difficult to translate, and I found the sleeve shape geared to mens’ tailoring.  The sleeves I drafted from these tended to be too wide and the sleeve cap too short. This site does have tons of valuable information about just about every tailoring topic. Numerous other drafting books produced less than perfect results.

The Mueller system got closer to what I wanted but placed the top of the sleeve cap too far forward. Finally!!! I found European Cut. This manual by Elizabeth Allemong is a compilation of the best French, German, English and Italian drafting techniques written in easily understood terms.  The system is far from quick and easy.  You will need patience and attention to detail but this is by far the best I found. I’m surprised it’s not more well known.

I decided to work with Vogue 8991, one of Claire Shaeffer’s new jacket patterns. It has a three piece sleeve so that part of the drafting work is already done.

Jacket Toile
I added my standard 1 and 1/4 inch to the waist length and decided to reposition the front seam. Otherwise the muslin fits perfectly. I’ve started using Osnaburg fabric, available at Joann Fabrics in the utility fabrics section, for jacket muslins. It’s heavier than regular muslin and since it’s 100% cotton, shapes easily. I wait for the discount coupon and buy 10-20 yards.

The sleeves were a different story. The pattern envelope shows fairly narrow sleeves but when I made the trial version they were much too wide at the hem and very long. The sleeve cap was also in need of reworking.

What I liked about European Cut is that the sleeve draft is based on the armscye of the garment, not arbitrary standard measurements. The sleeve cap is unevenly divided with the back width longer than the front. Since the back armhole of the jacket body is always longer than the front it makes for a better fit.  The front sleeve cap also protrudes more but the back cap curve is shallower.
Scye 8991
The scye shape from which a new sleeve shape can be drafted.

Pattern 1
The paper draft.

Pattern 3
The black outline is the pattern, red is the redraft, and green is the final draft. The sleeve cap needed raising 3/8 inch and underarm raised 1/2 inch. I also narrowed the sleeve slightly.

Sleeve Pattern Hem
I didn’t care for the flared hem so here are my changes to the bottom of the sleeve pattern. This fabric can be eased and shaped much more than regular muslin. I feel it mimics a soft wool better and gives a better read as to the final fit.

Shaped Sleeve
Completed Shaped Sleeve
Shaped sleeve ready to set.

Modeling Toile 2
I was on a mission to perfect these jacket sleeves and feel that the hard part is done.  Finally the fun of sewing this can begin!

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Chanel and the Sleeve

The past month has been occupied with a quest to develop a sleeve pattern for the French boucle jacket. Chanel was obsessed with sleeves. Axel Madsen writes in Chanel: A Woman of Her Own: “she would pin up a dress as many as twenty times to get it right. Armholes were her bane-and the engineering secret of her jackets.” Jackie Rodgers, a Boston-born mannequin, would recall: the armhole was never high enough, and she’d reset a sleeve six times. The high armhole gave the jacket the cleaner, closer fit she wanted.”

Also, just some interesting notes regarding us sewers referring to our projects as “Chanel jackets.” I’ve read that Chanel takes a dim view of this and states that “only Chanel can make a Chanel jacket.”  True but Coco had somewhat a different take on those who copied her work.  Axel Madsen also notes that: “Coco had always believed that any fashion not adopted by a majority of women was a flop. To see herself copied in the street was the greatest compliment. Piracy was the flattering result of success.”

We may not be able to make a “Chanel jacket” but Gabrielle Chanel would have been flattered by sewers devoting endless hours to emulate her work.

In order to avoid the “home sewn” look, you need to get the fit of your jacket perfected, especially the shoulders and sleeves. Too many jackets appear that are much too large through the shoulders. Most commercial patterns have sleeves which are much too wide and the whole effect of the chic jacket is lost.

The three piece sleeve seems to be the holy grail of Chanel jackets. I found almost nothing published on how to draft this sleeve and so began my quest.

This post will demonstrate my method of drafting a three piece sleeve from an existing two piece sleeve. Future posts will explore custom sleeve drafting and some radically different sleeve shapes.

First I’ll deal with the armseye shape. The scye, as it’s referred to in professional tailoring language, is the basis for beginning the sleeve draft. If your jacket has the wrong shape and size armhole, you have no chance of getting a correct sleeve fit. Perfect your muslin fit and make any changes necessary to the sleeve before proceeding. You will also need to remove all seam allowances from the pattern. All professional pattern drafting is done without seam allowances. If you try this process without removing the seam allowances, things will become muddled very quickly. Sorry to those who prefer to work with seams added.

The scye shape is easiest to visualize by laying the jacket body sections on a grid with the armhole seams just touching and all grain lines parallel.

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Here is an example of a poorly shaped scye. It is too narrow, vertical and doesn’t follow the natural shape of the arm. The armhole is also too low. Much better drafts look look this:
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Vogue 7975
Chanel scye
The scye from a Chanel ready to wear jacket.
Scye 8991
Vogue 8991
Scye shapes overlaid showing the small variations.
Scye Overlays

I’ll use Vogue 7975 as the example of how to draft a three piece sleeve. This is a pattern used by many as the basis for their Chanel style jacket. It also has a two piece sleeve, perfect for demonstrating how to transform it into the coveted three piece draft. The McCalls pattern shows what to avoid. It should also be clear from these diagrams that substuting one sleeve pattern for another can be risky. Imagine trying to get the sleeve from Vogue 7975 into the McCalls armhole. Sleeves are drafted to correspond to a specific armhole shape and size. You might get away with switching the Vogue sleeves but even that might require some tweaking.

The first step may appear counter-intuitive, but I found it easier to return the two piece draft to a one piece and then draft the three. Altering and combining the two piece into three created multiple issues and this approach worked better for me.

Start by aligning the grains and have the seams just touching. Remember, NO SEAM Allowances.

Tracing Sleeve 1

Tracing Sleeve 2
Trace the sleeve cap shape onto paper, either gridded or plain. Stop the tracing at the underarm match point on both front and back. You should now have a sleeve that looks like this. Don’t do anything with the lower sleeve yet; all you want is the shape and size of the armseye seam.
Tracing Sleeve 3
Connect the underarms with a straight line. From the shoulder match point drop a line straight down which intersects with the underarm line at right angles. Make it a few inches longer than the sleeve length. Measure and mark the sleeve length from the top of the sleeve cap to the hem. Mark back and front as its easy to get confused until you’ve done this a few times. The back will be slightly wider than the back. I’ve written 6 5/8 on the back and 6 3/8 on front.

Now mark A, B and C as shown. Cut along the sleeve cap line.

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Fold point C directly on top of point B and trace the underarm seam.

underarm line 2
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Fold point A directly on top of B and trace the underarm seam.
You should now have this:
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Measure out along the underarm line 1 and 3/8 inch left of B. Measure 1 and 1/8 to right of B. You are starting to form the undersleeve piece.

Next you need to draw in the bottom of the sleeve. Measure the finished width of the sleeve hem. Size 8 measured 8 and 3/4 inches.  The line down the middle of the sleeve is offset 1/4 inch towards the sleeve front; 6 and 5/8 along back underarm, 6 and 3/8 along front underarm. Therefore you need to offset the hem by the same amount.

Sleeve hem measures 8 and 3/4, half of which is 4 and 3/8. Add 1/8 inch to back and subtract 1/8 inch from the front.  Your sleeve hem will measure 4 and 1/2 inches along back sleeve and 4 and 1/4 inches along front sleeve.
sleeve hem
The sleeve needs to bend at the elbow to follow the natural shape of the arm. Every drafting source I found used arbitrary values to establish this bend. After measuring countless arms and sleeves I decided what made more sense was to duplicate the angle. A perfectly straight arm would have a straight line from top to bottom. Most peoples’ arms bend at about 175 degrees with the elbow as the pivot point. The dress form with sleeve showing this angle.
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A Chanel sleeve from a ready-to wear jacket showing this angle.
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This shows a two piece sleeve but the angle remained remarkably consistent with everything I measured. Therefore, I decided to draft the lower sleeve to reflect this angle. Draw a horizontal line where the elbow bends. Measure from the top of the sleeve. This measurement isn’t critical so just get close but don’t go crazy trying to find the exact point. This is the elbow line.
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This pushed the seam 3/4 inch towards the right. In order to maintain the width at the hem, the center line and front seam needed to be redrawn 3/4 inch towards the right. Come straight down from the sleeve top, pivot at the elbow and continue to the hem.

To finish the under sleeve pattern measure out along the elbow line 1 and 1/4 inch towards the sleeve back (left of center) and 1 and 1/8 inch towards the sleeve front (right).undersleeve 3
At the hem measure 1 and 1/8 inch towards back and 7/8 inch towards front. Connect the points from the underarm line through the elbow line and pivot to hem. Your undersleeve should look like this. It is is red.
In order to complete the back and front upper sleeve patterns, the width of the undersleeve needs to be subtracted from the upper sleeve pieces. Along the back seam, measure in 1 and 3/8 at the underarm, 1 and 1/4 at the elbow and 1 and 1/8 at the hem.
Along the front seam, measure in 1 and 1/8 at the underarm, 1 and 1/8 at the elbow and 7/8 at the hem. These lines are shown in green.
upper sleeve draft
Add ease to the back upper seam to allow the elbow to bend. Measure down 3/4 inch from the elbow line and form a dart about 3 inches long. This will be eased into the seam. The seam needs to lengthened by the same amount so lower the hemline 3/4 inch and angle upwards to the front seam.

elbow dart

 

angled hemTrace off the under sleeve, shown in red. Be sure to mark front and back. The upper sleeve is for the RIGHT sleeve, the under sleeve is for the LEFT sleeve. This pattern gets flipped for the right sleeve. Don’t get confused. That’s just the way this draft works.

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Trim the upper sleeve pieces along the green lines and along the center line. They can look similar so be sure and label them before you cut apart. You can also trace them to save your master draft.
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Final sleeve draft.
completed sleeve Next will be a mock up to test the fit and adding a working vent. This post took hours to write and I hope not too confusing. I am going a little buggy now and hope it makes sense. Please let me know if any steps need clarifying and I’ll address questions in the next post. This was a while coming but I think most of the glitches are worked out. Next is custom drafting the sleeve cap.

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More Chanel

I found fabric for the Little French Jacket Sew Along. This is a metallic tweed and I found a lovely light lilac charmeuse for the lining. Also found buttons but I’m still searching for trim. Fortunately the trim goes on last, so I have time.

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I found this photo and fabric and want to finish this before starting the quilted jacket. Here is the photo and I found an almost prefect match at B & J Fabrics.

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I used a basic princess line jacket and added the shaped insert at the waist. The challenge was matching this plaid pattern. I cut a full pattern, both right and left sides, so everything could be laid out before cutting.ImageImage

The pattern has no seam allowances. Thread trace around each piece. Without seam allowances, it’s much easier to see exactly where the match points are. I decided to underline this jacket with silk organza. I usually throw the organza in the washer, dryer and then press. That makes the organza softer and preshrinks it. Baste the organza to each pattern piece, making sure to match the grain lines.

There is inly one way to match this pattern and that’s to thread baste each seam from the right side. Turn one seam allowance under, match the plaid and slip stitch. This will hold your fabric without slipping when it is machine stitched. I slip baste with matching thread (in this case black), so it doesn’t need to be removed. You will need to remove the seam line tracing thread.

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End all machine stitching where two seam lines cross and tie a knot. Don’t cross one seam with another. It’s amazing how much more fluid the garment feels if you take this extra step. I can elaborate if this isn’t clear.

Finally got the jacket body together! All that basting and matching does take time. I found the prefect white enameled studs on EBay. They are about 12mm in size and looked best to me placed with about 2 cm between each one.

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Some photos of the jacket so far.ImageImageImageImageImage

One more sleeve to go. Don’t cut the sleeves until your jacket body is finished. I make a muslin sleeve, pin it into the garment, and mark where the plaid pattern needs to be placed. I then take the muslin sleeve and lay it on the fabric. Allow generous seam allowances in case you need to move up or down to perfectly match the fabric.

Thank you for following my blog. I realize some of this is very technical but please post comments and I’ll try and clarify anything you aren’t sure of. I love couture sewing and appreciate the time and skill that goes into those spectacular runway designs.

I’ll get this jacket (and hopefully skirt) finished and start on the quilted jacket next week. Please check back for updates.

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