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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

  • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

    Jun 24, 2011, 12.26 AMby wzrdreams

    Can you add any information about the type of sleeve pattern you used? In all my research I’ve heard about the 3 piece sleeve but I don’t have a 3 pc sleeve pattern and haven’t found many pictures of the sleeve construction other than the vents and the armholes.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.32 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you for the idea! I will definitely add this info on my blog. Susan has her own pattern for a three-piece sleeve so if you are taking her class you won’t need anything else; and Claire Shaeffer V8259 and V8087 patterns use three-piece sleeve as well – but I have never used those. However, these patterns are out of print and very difficult to come by. Try eBay or etsy to find them, but be prepared to pay between $60 to $100 for each.

      I think, however, that with some minimum patternmaking knowledge, some fitting help and logic you should be able to construct your own three-piece sleeve – and I will describe it soon. Stay in touch – I am always happy to take up challenging projects together with fellow sewers and designers!!!!

  • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

    Jun 24, 2011, 12.23 AMby wzrdreams

    This post is so perfectly timed! I am gearing up for my own Chanel jacket and I plan to follow the labor intensive couture methods as closely as possible. I’ve got my fabric (silk boucle and silk jacquard – from Chic Fabrics) and my pattern and I’m waiting for my walking foot to arrive and in a week or so I hope to start the muslin. The research part of this project has been a lot of fun so far. That Signe documentary was AMAZING. Searching online for images (ebay is a great resource) and reading the blogs (try http://chaneljacket.blogspot.com/ ) for extra info. I think designing the trim will be the icing on the Chanel cake.

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.23 AMby Marina von Koenig

      wzrdreams, chaneljacket.blogspot.com was one of the reasons why I got so interested in these techniques in the first place. I agree – it is a great resource. In fact, there is a group of (non)bloggers who would love to start a similar group blog – to exchange ideas, work-in-progress updates, frustrations :-) and so on. If you are interested, let me know! I am planning to do another jacket, this time for summer.

    • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.42 PMby wzrdreams

      I would LOVE to participate. Please count me in! I definintely want to document my progress because seeing so much online from other projects has been a big help to me.

  • Missing

    Jun 23, 2011, 10.40 PMby saswears

    Didnt realize it takes this much work. i am in need of tutorials on how to relate production cost and time spent in garment production to price. Lovely Jacket by the way.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.39 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you! and, yes, you cannot produce a jacket like that for ready-to-wear – not only because of time, but also because of the specific techniques and numerous fittings… It’s probably good :-)

  • 1uawbyoiaaaed3ctfilhudisb_128_large

    Jun 23, 2011, 06.54 PMby LimeSoda

    Cheers for an incredibly informative blog! The pics are clear and help in telling us about what you experienced. Now I want to take this class! Any upcoming in NYC? Anyway, good luck with your jacket!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.42 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Unfortunately, there is no Chanel Jacket class planned in NYC – but check Susan’s website – maybe you will find a suitable option! Also, she is a master of lace and boning/corsets – and if you are interested in these you can still register for August or October Sit&Sew with her and Kenneth D.King, who also teaches one of haute couture courses at FIT.

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    Jun 23, 2011, 03.10 PMby Jodi Wade

    Very interesting.

  • Cara_kiss_large

    Jun 23, 2011, 02.59 PMby caramia-made

    Great article, I also one day aspire to make one of these jackets. Your article is very helpful!

  • Ghetto_girl_goes_to_colo__large

    Jun 23, 2011, 12.54 PMby turtlegirl00

    wowowowowow! the jacket is such a staple in fashion—and timeless. I don’t know if I have the patience for something that takes so long—but these photos and the article is very inspiring. I am keeping my eye out for a boucle fabric and some trim…

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.45 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you! Check out Mendel Goldberg in NYC for fabrics – they are expensive but if you will know what’s the standard! Also, Linton Tweeds in the UK will send yoiu samples of their bouclés which you can order online. I have links to both resources on my blog, and some pictures from Mendel Goldberg.

    • Ghetto_girl_goes_to_colo__large

      Jul 7, 2011, 03.38 AMby turtlegirl00

      so random—a client was at an estate sale and there is a PERFECT boucle fabric (among several pendleton wool fabrics) in this box!!!! I have cut a small piece to keep with me since I am on the look out for trim!
      This has been in the back of my mind since reading this post and then this box of lovelies came into my life!! :) and I just read about making the muslins. becoming excited and motivated!!! thanks so much for all the info/links etc.

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    Jun 23, 2011, 11.54 AMby dottty

    Wow thats so interesting, thanks. jj:)x

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    Jun 23, 2011, 11.19 AMby bohemiannow

    Wonderful article, thanks a lot for all the information. I may try it for my mom.

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    Jun 22, 2011, 10.59 PMby mollykatherine

    What a fascinating article! Its amazing how much care and attention go into those garments, but it looks like a really fun challenge! I look forward to seeing your finished jacket :)

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.51 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Thanks! I posted the images of the finished jacket on my blog! By the way, love your vintage-inspired pieces!

  • 990745-073_large

    Jun 22, 2011, 07.57 PMby nehmah

    I grew up in the 1940s-1950s and a Chanel-styled suit was what one wore. Glad to see that Mother was right, yet again! Nehmah

  • Psheadshot_large

    Jun 22, 2011, 06.49 PMby oonaballoona

    i LOVE the jacket susan made for threads—- can’t wait to see yours marina!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.46 AMby Marina von Koenig

      yes, Susan’s jacket is amazing! we were examining it all the time during the course :-)

    • This is a question
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