Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

Create Custom Trim for your French Jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move 15 to 5 and 4 to 15.

14 to 4 and 3 to 14

16 to 6 and 7 to 16

17 to 7 and 8 to 17

Then E to 3 and e to 8

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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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

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

Winner: The Tunic Bible

Thank you for all the lovely comments. These tunics were. Fun to create and I have a few more planned. The winner of the book is Andrea Birkin. Andrea, please contact me at  before Saturday 10/15. I need your mailing address as the book will be sent directly from the publisher to you.


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