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Ok, let’s start with a cliché: Chanel jackets are one of the most coveted garment pieces for women all over the world. Check! Their Haute Couture versions reportedly sell for some $30,000, while a ready-to-wear version sells for around $5,000 and up. Check! It inspired countless imitations, by runway designers as well as home seamstresses. Check!

Pictured: The jacket that spawned a thousand copies – a Chanel tweed next to jackets by the likes of Marc Jacobs, Milly and Tory Burch which have obviously been inspired by the original.

While an Haute Couture version remains unaffordable for most of us (right?), I was keen to find out more about techniques used in the construction of the legendary garment. And more, I wanted to make my own Chanel-inspired jacket! So, after reading every available article or book on the subject, watching movies and combing the web for bits and pieces of information, I decided to join a Classic French Jacket Class by Susan Khalje, the author of a sought-after Bridal Couture book, a contributing editor to the Threads magazine and the founder of the Couture Sewing School.

Just get on with it!

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Susan demonstrates a jacket she made for the Threads Magazine feature ‘Inside a Designer Jacket’, Issue 121, November 2005

The good news: the jacket (even using couture sewing techniques) is easy to construct.

The ‘bad’ news is, it takes 70 to 80 hours to make it! It’s a lot, even for sewing nerds like myself, and perfectionists alike, but I like to think of it as a timeless wardrobe staple that I can wear for many years – completely worth the time investment. Don’t you have a few pieces like that, pieces that you’ve been wearing for five or ten years and are still in love with?

That’s what I was thinking when I joined the class, which covers the entire process of sewing of this classic French cardigan jacket, from the fabric selection to the trim. Twenty-six steps and seven pages of Susan’s instructions separated me from the dream. By the way, she sent them to us only after the class was over! “If you saw them now, you would freak out,” she told us on the first day.

In other words, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Susan guided us through the process so skillfully – we haven’t noticed how the six days passed. So, no fear, friends – just get on with it!

It all starts with great fabric and matching trim!

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Show and Tell session: class participants show their fabrics and trims

Bouclé is the most classical choice for the jacket. Look for interesting texture and color. There are so many beautiful bouclé fabrics out there, in casual or dressier options. Choose wool for cooler weather, or silk for warmer days. Use silk charmeuse or crepe de chine as your lining choice.

My tip: if you want to avoid matching work (for you would want this unique jacket to be meticulously matched), go for fabric with less obvious pattern. Also, wool is more forgiving than silk, especially when setting-in the sleeves.

Bring your fabric to a trim store and see how the fabric-trim combination looks as a whole. Trim can make or break the jacket. A false choice, and your jacket may end up looking like an upholstery refashion project. Watch Chanel or other designers’ fashion shows for some inspiration.

The fit is the key

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Participants queuing for fitting with Susan

This is probably the most challenging part of the project, but also one of the most important ones. Don’t just whip it up! Really, make a test garment (or toile, in French). Fit the toile. Fit the bodice in fashion fabric. Fit the sleeves. Fit again, to determine the hem and the sleeve length.

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After the bodice is fitted, alteration lines are thread-traced in a different color

A Chanel jacket signature technique – quilting

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Quilted portion of the jacket bodice

Why are these jackets quilted? The answer is simple – loosely woven fabrics need some support and structure to maintain their shape. When I heard about this technique for the first time – I thought interfacing would do the job as well… Quilting seemed to be more of a couture gimmick to me. How I was wrong! A quilted jacket feels so soft and luxurious!

If you have doubts about making your own jacket, please, just try the quilting technique only: quilt a small square of boucle and silk charmeuse using straight stitch rows, approximately 1 inch apart (or, follow the lines of your fabric pattern). Touch it – you will see what I mean!

Set-in sleeves

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Here, pins stabilize the upper half section of the sleeve before it is sewn on

When I started working on my sleeves, a classmate told me: “Did you know, it takes seventeen hours to set-in the sleeves in a couture jacket?” My first reaction was – no way! I was keen to prove that it’s possible to do it faster and was extra conscious of time. Seventeen hours (or very close) it was!

Sleeves are sewn-in entirely by hand and the reason is – control. First, the underarm section is sewn-in and overcast, and then, the upper half section is shaped and sewn using tiny fell stitches. The more your fabric lends itself to shaping, the easier will the job be.

The chain

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Chain balances out the weight of the trim on the front, and helps jacket hang smoothly

Once the jacket is assembled, the trim is sewn on and all the edges are cleaned up – it’s time for the famous chain. It is added just above the hemline and helps the jacket hang smoothly.

Finally…

I realize that this project is not for everyone – but even if you use just one of these techniques, it will lend your jacket that very special feel that we are all after as seamstresses or designers.

Finally, Susan wanted to share with you, BurdaStyle readers, some tips that you can use in your everyday sewing. Here they are…

Susan’s Tips

Use pins as a stitch – insert pins perpendicular to the seamline as close to it as possible. This will ensure minimum shifting of the fabric layers, and often eliminate the need for basting.

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Pins inserted ‘as a stitch’ often eliminate the need for basting

Twisting thread – sometimes, when you are handsewing or basting, the thread twists and forms a knot – very annoying! In most cases you can see when it’s going to happen; so, when you just pull out the needle out of the fabric layer, roll the needle between your index finder and the thumb to unwind the twist.

Wax your thread – use double-strength of waxed thread to set-in sleeves by hand or to sew on a chain or buttons. The wax provides additional strength and prevents thread twisting. Thread the needle, pull the thread through the beeswax and press it to blend the wax with the thread. Wax several threads at once to save time.

More resources:
I highly recommend these two articles for more details on the techniques used for the construction of Chanel-inspired jackets. They are available as a part of Threads Archive CD, which can be purchased on the publisher’s website.

Inside a Designer Jacket (Susan Khalje, Threads, Issue 121, November 2005)

Master Class: Setting a sleeve by hand (Susan Khalje, Threads, Issue 122, Dec 2006 – Jan 2006)

• Check out Susan’s website to find out more about her Couture Sewing School and the upcoming classes

• For inspiration, visit the Chanel website.

• And, finally, do watch Signé Chanel – a great documentary on making of Chanel couture collection. It is available from the French Amazon site, if you have a multi-region DVD player.

~Marina

Check out Marina’s blog, Frabjous Couture, for a day-by-day report of the Classic French Jacket Class and images of her finished jacket!

42 Comments

  • Picture1_large

    Nov 14, 2012, 08.51 PMby KristinaBerisha

    Great jackets. I am crazy for this models. This are very glam models and you can wear it with your jeans too

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    Jul 3, 2011, 08.03 PMby loulourosa

    I suppose the quilting is done by hand? Or am I wrong?
  • Holy_large

    Jun 29, 2011, 01.05 PMby tungufoss

    I never knew how much time and effort went into that garment. And the chain, I would never have guessed it. No wonder it looks so great! When I grew up, I’ll give couture a go. ;-)

  • Fb2227aaf242c0d041dbcd583baae4e4ccfba73d_large

    Jun 29, 2011, 07.33 AMby loulourosa

    Thank you for sharing this! I also think there a lead coin shaped pieces in the bottom seams? I’ve bought “Chanel” bouclé years ago, it is still in my stash, so finaly I can do something with it!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 29, 2011, 08.22 PMby Marina von Koenig

      I have heard about and use lead coin pieces for skirt vents and similar application, but not in Chanel jackets – will try to research!

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    Jun 29, 2011, 05.22 AMby KLKing

    Thanks for this article! I want to add something. I was a garment fitter for the San Francisco I MAGNIM Dept. store, prior to it’s closing in 1991. I had the opportunity to get into the “GUTS” of Chanel’s clothing, as well as other famous labels. The one detail that comes to mind is this: Chanel clothing had a trademark 1" seam allowances on all their tailored pieces. This was on everything vertical. One could literally let out up to 4" on those suits. Most other makers reduce the seams to a serged, or sometimes pressed open 1/2". Silk bound edges were often seen, especially on a loosely woven wool. But not always. On some garments the binding added too much bulk. Since most home-sewers have become used to the standard 5/8" seams, they often do not know the industry standards for seam allowances. A couture garment will not skimp. Some designers will hand sew the seam edges loosely with a long tailors x-stitch. These details make the garment feel and wear more luxuriously. Another detail… learn how to make hand bound buttonholes. There are several types. Avoid the machine buttonholes for a project you are spending time and money on. My favorite technique is to bind the buttonholes with silk, turned almost invisibly to the inside. Only a thin line of silk is seen. I hope this was of value to someone.

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Jun 29, 2011, 08.24 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you so much for sharing this! Really interesting! I am intrigued about silk-bound buttonholes – do you have a tutorial somewhere?

    • 773b12b1fb0258dd9763bf3ed654e9ab97724175_large

      Jun 30, 2011, 07.40 AMby KLKing

      Ok! I will have to sit down and make some of those bound buttonholes.

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    Jun 29, 2011, 05.22 AMby maxwell

    I made Claire Scaeffer’s Couture Jacket V7467. I started it when I began my university degree (at 17), and did bits and pieces when I had the time and patience while I was studying, 3 years on from starting I finally finished it (a bit of an extreme example but I think it probably took me AT LEAST 100 hours to complete ). It was my first experience with couture techniques and I had no idea how much time it would take me to finish it. It is the best thing I’ve done for my sewing skills, it made me appreciate the use of thread basting, seam treatment (pressing, trimming, clipping, pressing), thread tracing, quilting (the inner lining, lapels and collar are quilted giving structural integrity and shape) dart balancing, …

    I think purely if you want to advance your skills you should make a couture garment, every garment after it will be better for the skills that you learn. And you’ll have something lovely to wear, and that will last an age.

    Thank you for this article Marina, it made me remember and appreciate my own couture beginnings.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 29, 2011, 08.31 PMby Marina von Koenig

      I can so much relate to what you said! Once thing is reading about couture techniques in books and another doing it (especially with an expert to guide you). I can now easily tackle similar projects! By the way, the next one is a quilted bouclé skirt…

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    Jun 29, 2011, 04.28 AMby mineday

    thx u so much.

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    Jun 28, 2011, 08.36 PMby mdiez

    Lovely, even with jeans!

  • Me_large

    Jun 26, 2011, 04.32 AMby NYAM Afia Cayee'

    I love the style…

  • Me_large

    Jun 25, 2011, 04.11 PMby jessdunstan

    Hi Marina. Fantastic article and you have inspired me to try out some couture sewing! I wanted to ask if you would recommend attending Susan’s couture sewing course that she offers? I was thinking of vacationing in the US later in the year and thought of attending the course. There are no such courses here in South Africa that I know of and thought it would be fun to try it while I was there. Thanks! Jess

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Jun 29, 2011, 08.37 PMby Marina von Koenig

      sorry for late reply, Jess! I didn’t take that particular class, but many others with her. I suggest to contact her directly and talk to her about your goals, what you want to learn in this class, because each student brings his/her own project to the class and it can be anything. That way you also learn from your classmates’ projects. By the way, Susan is the expert for everything lace and evening ware – including boning – so if this is something you want to learn, I would definitely recommend the class.

    • Me_large

      Jun 30, 2011, 07.33 AMby jessdunstan

      Thanks for the reply Marina! I was in contact with her and I definitely think I’m going to do the course if there’s still space left. I would love to do evening wear and bridal so if she is the expert then even better!

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    Jun 24, 2011, 08.12 PMby Paula Lucas

    I have a handmade blazer that I made about 15 years ago. It is absolutely perfect, and even if I outgrow it someday, I’ll keep it anyway. I’d love to make a jacket like this even if it does take 70 hours!

  • Bee_on_the_pollen_2_large

    Jun 24, 2011, 04.43 PMby pinkflorentina

    As one who loves couture methods of sewing and the Chanel jacket I thought you all might like an insight into the woman Mme Pouzieux who makes the braids for the infamous jacket

    the DVD is called Signe Chanel

    Enjoy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpty9CQtvMQ&feature=related

    1 Reply
    • Anyaberry_large

      Jun 26, 2011, 02.48 AMby Anya Sievers

      thank you for the link!

  • Princezica_large

    Jun 24, 2011, 04.35 PMby mokosha

    was thinking of making sort of chanel jacket for past week or two.. now you inspired me to really give it a try :)

  • Missing

    Jun 24, 2011, 04.22 PMby Margaret Louis

    Among the many sewing episodes in my past “fun times” … sewing often times until 5am … I’d made a wool sports jacket for my husband … in a navy blue … so many years ago … that project took almost two weeks to completion. YOU’VE validated me!!! Thank YOU!!! Between the pinning and hand sewing … the stabilizers for the chest and the collar – those techniques were a first time experience for me never mind fitting in the sleeves. Reading this article is for me is yet another piece of my education … I appreciate soooooooo very much your detail!!! Fabric shops in my area are disappearing. Sad but true. Right now i want to get to Manhattan and shop at MOOD!!!

    • This is a question
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