Friday, March 4, 2016

The Ultimate Sewing Pinnacle - Chanel

At some point in a sewist's life of creativity, a deep yearning for a couture garment arises.  Whether she acts upon that urge to create a sewn masterpiece or talks herself down from the whole scary proposition is directly proportional to the no-fear, self-confidence and inner crazy inside her.

I have sewn many a wedding gown and tailored a few coats in my lifetime, but I can't say that I've truly made a garment worthy of being called couture.  I joined the American Sewing Guild several months ago, largely because they had a small neighborhood group designated as the "Couture Group".  I imagined that at the very least it would be a group a women who probably sewed as well as myself and at best, I would be able to pick the brains of some incredible sewists better than myself.  Either way, I would be inspired to create!

So began this journey into couture sewing and the world of Chanel. To a sewist, the classic Chanel jacket is a masterpiece of design and hand sewn Nirvana.  For Mr. Lagerfeld and his haute couture team, a Chanel jacket is the culmination of over 130 hours of painstaking care in every seam and stitch. Their techniques are closely guarded and unless you fork over the $4 - 5K to buy one yourself and rip it apart, you will only get bits and pieces of his genius.  To make such a garment is the height of accomplishment for any sewist.  And I am no different - I have to say "I did it", before old lady impatience and bad eyesight get the best of me.

Ms. Claire Schaeffer is a Chanel addict/collector, and fortunately for us run of the mill hoi-polloi, she is a Vogue pattern designer: hence, a Chanel - styled jacket for the masses.  So I will start with her and take you on a journey with "us" in my blog, making my first ever couture garment.

Vogue pattern in hand.... 

Her book ordered Amazon...

Watching and re-watching the DVD...taking notes

I had several pieces of wool fabric to choose from: 1) a beautiful wool that I picked up from Britex the year that retired from SureWest and I vowed at that time to make something special.  It's been in my stash ever since; and 2) a lovely soft grey tweedy wool with some metallic threads that I picked up from Stomemountain that I was going to make into a swing coat.  At first I thought I would go with the Britex wool, but in the end, my shiny crow-like personality decided that a jacket with gold threads would absolutely compliment my skinny jeans (yep, that's what I plan to wear my couture jacket with!)

 There is no other fabric lining choice for a couture garment than silk. I'm using a beautiful Silk Charmeuse...a lightweight fabric woven with a satin weave, in which the warp threads cross over three or more of the backing weft threads - technical talk that just says the front of the fabric has a smooth finish—lustrous and reflective—whereas the back has a dull finish. Stonemoutain And Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley CA (you already know it's my favorite store!) has such a huge selection it was hard to choose, but I landed on this one - who doesn't look beautiful in peach, even if it is on the inside?

The interfacing on a Chanel jacket is also critical.  Even though I own yards of fusible pellon and woven interfacing, using any version of self-sticking interfacing would be like making "a purse from a sow's ear" - suffice it to say, a ghastly faux pas in the world of couture! And thus, I spare no expense, and go right for the silk organza. Either of these amazing fabrics is not found at any Joanne's or Hancock's that I've ever been get your big girl panties on and make the trip to Berkeley.

The only thing perhaps more important than choosing quality fabrics is choosing the right trim and buttons. Chanel jackets have all manner of trim designs and materials. The jacket styles of today are now as varied as any haute couture designer's runway showing, but Coco's classic designs have withstood the test of time - they are as fashionable today as they were decades ago. The only way to truly capture the essence of their genius is to actually go look at them, up close and personal.

I would have posted pictures here, but alas, that too is a no-no. I strolled through Neiman Marcus' Chanel boutique, lifted a few hemlines, fondled a few sleeves and asked for a photo of the salon.  And since I don't know Mr Lagerfeld personally to ask his permission, NO Iphone pics for me!  I totally respect that.  The sweet salesman did ask if I wanted to try one on...I chickened out. I have an aversion to trying on garments that I have no intention of buying - like I have an extra $4 grand in my checking account!
The salesman thought Karl might be filming the salon with hidden security cameras (joke)!

Across the street from Neimans and a few steps away from a Chanel store is Britex, a five or six floor mecca of expensive fabrics, trims and all things sewing.  I used to shop in it regularly...until I found Stonemountain.  But they do boast a huge selection of trims, so it's worth the drive over the Bay Bridge and into the massive traffic snarl of Downtown San Fransisco.

I spent over two hours, pulling trims, ribbons and buttons. And after all that contemplation and discussion (everyone on the floor had an opinion!) I opted to pair a trim with what would be a self-made trim using the selvage edge of my wool fabric. A little chain for the hem, some trim and buttons and my purchases for this jacket are complete...maybe...

I'll probably watch that DVD have to get the entire sewing "process" clear in your brain before you start cutting, mainly because Ms Schaeffer's pattern instructions detail the "traditional" assembly process that I know backwards and forward, but her couture technique is something I have never done before. It's not intuitive for an old school seamstress, but a process that I'm already starting to obsess over in the wee hours of a fitful sleep. And I haven't even cut an inch of fabric yet.

Just for the heck of it, I will track my hours and $$ spent making my jacket.  I can't help but wonder if my time investment will rival that of the couture houses that do this all the time.  Of course, I don't have any little sweat-shop helpers armed with needles and thimbles...just me.

So, on to my "toile" - that's a muslin to you and me - if it doesn't "FIT" right, then it's not worth making.

I shall name her Celeste. Heavenly.

  Laurel. Channelling Chanel.


  1. I'm certainly no expert on "couture" but I think many of your creations excellent.

    1. Thanks are always a great supporter:)

  2. You're off to a great start! Love the peach lining! So glad y out joined our little group!

  3. You're off to a great start! Love the peach lining! So glad y out joined our little group!

  4. Thank you Beth - I'm happy I joined as well. Looking forward to see what others are creating!!


Thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate all those who share and leave their comments very much. Laurel

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