Couture Sewing School: Day 2

The second day in and I find myself adjusting to the incredibly different dynamic, pace and vibe this class is generating in comparison to last week’s French Jacket Class. There’s 12 people – all working on vastly different projects all needing Susan’s attention and instruction to get some momentum going on their own project, where as last week there was 9 of us – all working on the same thing and generally all at the same pace (slooow…. ha!). Considering the load, Susan does do a pretty impressive job at balancing everyones needs.

After prepping all my silk organza pattern pieces which have all been traced out using carbon tracing paper from the fitting-adjusted muslin pieces, I’m ready to lay out those pieces on my wool crepe:


In the background there is some amazing animal print Cavalli charmuese which is going to be sewn up as Vogue 1302 (a Kay Unger pattern) and I’m so curious to see how the ruching is going to turn out!

The open space on the floor of the carpet gallery is a very comfortable place to arrange and cut, and I find I don’t miss the usual process of cutting out precisely which sewing by the cut edge (instead of the actual seam line) requires – this method you can just hack loosely around your pieces and be done with it! The precision cutting required by the sewing process we all usually sew with is something I find oddly relaxing :) Being a newb to this method, I find myself erring on the side of caution and end up with the most gigantic of seam lines ever.

Once I’m done it’s all about the thread tracing.


And you know what? That takes me the rest of the day and a good part of that evening to complete. Pretty boring stuff for me to be reporting on, right?

But there’s so much going on in the background – like ogling the other ladies fabrics and projects… just check out this wool guipere, which is soon to be an evening dress:


I learnt that guipere (pronounced gwah-pier in an Australian accent) is specifically lace that doesn’t have a mesh backing. The sleeve you see on the right in the picture above was being ‘pieced’ – cut out and hand sewn in such a fashion so that you can’t see the join between the abutting sides.

Or how about this lace which will be sewn onto a little cocktail dress? I feel sorry for the person who probably went blind stitching the bazillion little french knots on every single one of those sequins:



So there’s no shortage of inspiration or conversation to be had. Fun all around!

Couture Sewing School: Day 1

You know, seven days straight of sewing and I’m not even sick of it yet.

Yep, I spent the Sunday between the French Jacket Class and the Couture Sewing School sewing. A few of the other ladies from that class were around and willing to get together – so we figured, why not? I’ve now got both sleeves in with lining sewn shut, pocket locations mapped out and hem locations pinned in place. Oh, and the first row of trim is sewn on, too.


I was super excited for this week as I’d be meeting some people I’ve admired from afar for a long while (Leisa from A Challenging Sew, Norma from Orange Lingerie, Sarah from Goodbye Valentino to name a few) plus some fabulous personalities even Susan had raved about the week before (Cissie, that’s you! :D).

So Monday was like a groundhog day of sorts!  Same location and same teacher – but all new people with big ideas and fabulous projects to work on!

I decided on sewing Marfy 3157, mostly because I love the drape detail on the skirt, and working with spiral steel boning is something I’d been wanting to try.


To make it difficult, I’ve strayed from the straight and narrow of the recommended macrame lace and silk satin – and am instead making up the bustier and skirt in a dusty rose pink wool crepe, lined with a matching but paler shade of peach charmeuse, and for some visual interest the overlay in a mottled but matching wool/cashmere blend:


If there is one thing I can never remind myself enough of, it’s that moving away from the recommended fabrics changes everything. One of the ladies made a gorgeous Marfy dress during the course of the week (to be worn whilst in Paris… ooh!) and that was certainly the theme of her week. If one is willing to stray from the recommendation, one must be willing to put up with a little heartache.

Also – Leisa so very kindly traced out her copy of a Marfy bustier (F2630) for me. Between Susan and Norma, it was just too good an opportunity to pass up having fitted! Even before I got the niggle to want to learn how to sew, corsetry was of huge fascination for me.

Marfy bustier F2630

And here it is again:


Well, we kick start today with a bit of show and tell – who we are, where we’re from, what pattern and what fabric. I think if I had my time again, I would bring fabric along with me – leaving it to chance on the shopping trip to A Fabric Place left me a little anxious! Although they do have some seriously lovely stuff, it’s touch and go – if you’re after something specific – find it beforehand and bring it along.

Then we head straight into the fitting phase. This time it’s doubly as fascinating because everyone has such varying things to fit – dresses, coats, skirts and jackets. I again watch with fascination! When it comes to my turn, I again get away with virtually no changes – I’m talking extending the darts on the skirt slightly and raising the height of the bustier. I know I shouldn’t complain… but I feel a little cheated of having my toile ripped to pieces and put back together again by the Master ;) Call me the almost-perfect size 46? Ha!

After taking apart my muslin to be traced onto my silk organza underlining, it’s the end of the day. You know, it’s not always a good idea to underline with silk organza – but it’s more common than not. Sandra asked previously why I underlined my French Jacket with batiste rather than organza – and the answer is because organza would change the hand of the fabric to the extent that it would lose the suppleness that a French Jacket is known for. It’s supposed to feel like a cardigan, not a blazer/jacket. I underlined my Octopus’ Garden Jacket which was sewn in a very loosely woven tweed with silk organza, and you can see the stark difference it makes:

silk organza underlining difference

Hmm…. I wonder if I’ve got enough of this left over to make myself another French Jacket…?
I reckon I might!

If you were making a drapey top out of silk charmuese for example, but wanted to increase the opacity of the fabric, you would underline with a crepe de chine as it has similar properties to both the fashion fabric and the soft drape of the look you are trying to achieve. Underlining a drapey silk top with organza would totally ruin the look of the garment! You need to match your underlining to both your fashion fabric AND the desired end result of your garment.

Obviously, a heavy wool crepe like what I’ll be sewing with can happily handle a silk organza underlining – as in couture sewing – the organza holds all of the pattern piece information needed to put your garment together whilst allowing you to have the wide seam allowances necessary, provides a fabulous base to secure hems to without having your stitches go through to the outer layer and also can provide additional structure and support where required.


Mid afternoon, we pile into cars and in convoy make our way to A Fabric Place to buy more fabric. You really never can have enough of the stuff, yes?

The rest of the day is, for me, spent transferring changes to the muslin and separating all the pieces ready to be used for transferring onto the silk organza underlining.

That night I get a serious arm workout steaming all 4.5 yards of my wool crepe and wool/cashmere (oh yes people, I speak imperial now!) which took over an hour, thankfully I had Stephen and Jon to keep me company…


My pattern pieces are all traced out on organza ready to go for tomorrow morning :)

Oh, and both Leisa and Sarah have written wonderful posts on our week of sewing – I’d highly recommend popping over to have a read! And yes… the contents of that mysterious box will be revealed soon!

French Jacket Class: Day 6

It’s officially the final day, and most of us are starting out still with our Jacket in three separate pieces. The goal is to leave with at least the sleeves pinned in places by Susan – she does this whilst you’re actually in the jacket and I must say – the result is incredible.

Then the sleeve is stitched in – by hand.



The trickiest part is not to catch your lining whilst doing it – I think I catch mine in about three places. ARGH. And all the ladies here are just so lovely and ladylike – that I bite my tongue and keep the swear-fest inside my head. Mum, please skip over this next part of the sentence… but I’m particularly partial to a well-placed f bomb.

And here we are at the starting line:

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And you can see once again the handy-ness of uber-wide seam allowances when you’re continuing to refine the fitting as you go, with the changes in seam positions from that fitting.

Popping the jacket on for the first time with the sleeves on, I’m amazing at how snug the fit is, but how impeccably it moulds to my body. It’s a bit like a second skin, oddly! Seeing it like this gives me a fresh burst of enthusiasm for completion :)

Then we’re back to more fell stitching…

And with Susan’s help we pin the neckline to the desired shape (which can change based on how your trim will sit – the trim ‘draws’ your eye and can really affect the neckline positioning) which I stay-stitch and then clip.

As many of the others are leaving this afternoon, Susan talks chain, trim and pocket positioning before we depart at the usual 6:30pm. That night I manage to sew up the lining in one of my sleeves:



The other got completed about a week later whilst watching Project Runway with a few of my fellow classmates from the Couture Sewing School. And the proof of improvement can really be seen here – learning the hand of the charmeuse and how to fold it in under itself to the right degree is something you can only do with practise, for sure. The last half of my second sleeve is a bazillion times better looking than my stitching around the first half attempt! The more pins I used, the better control I had.

From here it’s all pretty much up to me, and there’s still a loooong way to go:

– Sewing on the trim (of which there are three that will join together to make one, and I’m guessing there’s going to be at least 2 passes of hand stitching for both)

 - Sewing on the hooks and bars down the front sides

 - Closing up the lining around the edges with that ever present fell stitch

 - Sewing on the chain along the bottom hem. 

That night I start playing with the trim placement:


But for now, it’s getting packed in my suitcase, because I’ll have my hands full with meeting all the fabulous ladies for the Couture Sewing School next week. It will be so delightful to meet in person people who I’ve been exchanging comments with for ever and a day! Not to mention seeing what everyone else is going to be sewing… BRING IT.

French Jacket Class: Day 5

I kickstart the morning by quilting my sleeve pieces and sewing them together, in between waiting my turn for the ironing and sleeve boards to tidy up my seams.

Thankfully someone does indeed have a blunt embroidery needle with a big eye so I can weave that errant orange piece back into place!

It takes the better part of the day to turn two of these (each with three seams):


Into this:


Then fell stitching the 6 sleeve seams and my 4 remaining bodice lining seams together… phew.

The sleeve vents complicated things a little, but look great now complete!

Before the end of the day, I also managed to sew shut my shoulder seams, before fell stitching the lining together:


Considering the progress to date and the fact that there is only one official day left of the class… I’m wondering how close I’ll get to actually completing this! There is still an incredible amount of work to be done. Apparently this jacket takes the Chanel atelier 70 hours to complete – I think my first attempt might be a little closer to 100+ hours, and I’m beginning to understand just how much value is in the $6-7000 price tag of a RTW Chanel jacket (not to even mention the $25-30k price tag for the couture version).

And here we are – I managed to get 2 of the 3 seams in each sleeve to match:

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French Jacket Class: Day 4

A new morning and a close inspection of my efforts last night highlight an additional few more spots where my pattern matching is off at the seams, so I kickstart the day unpicking, pinning and re-stitching.

And hour or so later and I’m ready for my second fitting, which – you guessed it – means a few more changes are required. Due to underlining with the batiste, the boucle doesn’t have as much ‘give’ in it as it would otherwise – the difference means I need a lot of extra space at the shoulders and to let out the princess seams at the fullest part of my bust. Also, I need an additional 1/2 inch of ease at each of the side seams. The one lesson I seem to keep learning over and over again is the importance of considering how the hand, weave and drape can affect the outcome you’re aiming for.

Frustratingly I forgot my camera today, so it’s dodgy iphone pictures to go…


The top line is the original seam line as per my muslin, and the line about 1-1.5″ below is my new seam line. Another good cause for super wide seam allowances!

Susan marks the spots of the new stitch lines and sends me back to re-baste, pin and sew the adjustments – I also add in a few more quilting lines now I have an extra inch of ease at the side seams. Quilting when the jacket pieces are joined is not something I would recommend….

It’s 2:30pm and after another quick try-on Susan says I’m good to go.

Time to start working on the sleeves! Susan pins one muslin sleeve to the jacket and makes any necessary adjustments:


Then we all gather around to watch her explain how to convert a two piece sleeve into a three piece sleeve, as well as the best place to position the sleeve vent so your buttons and trim end up in a flattering position on your forearm.


Most of us managed to adjust our sleeve pattern pieces and start cutting them out before having Susan demonstrate how to ‘clean up the seams’ at the end of the day.

Homework? There’s a lot.

- My sleeves need to be underlined then the seam lines traced.

- Lining for the sleeves needs to be cutout

- Quilting lines on all 6 sleeve pieces need to be pinned (I’ll do the sewing tomorrow)

-  The 5 vertical seams in the jacket need to be pressed, cut back the lining pinned in place and fell stitched together. I’ll probably do a lot of this tomorrow as it requires a sleeve board and a tailors ham, neither of which I have. (Susan’s was lent to one of the ladies who has to finish the class a day earlier).

But then disaster strikes!!

My fingernails are battle weary from all the hand sewing and beginning to catch on my super loose boucle. Inna’s Japanese hand sewing needles take no prisoners. Right about the time I’m cursing my lack of foresight in not including an emery board in my sewing kit, this happens:


Hopefully someone has an embroidery needle stashed in their supplies tomorrow so I can weave it back into place… tweezers weren’t quite up to the task.

At 11pm I settle in to burn the midnight oil with some hand stitching – and quickly decide that the fell stitch and I are going to become excellent friends. Probably a good thing really, because there is a LOT of fell stitching to be done – virtually all of the jacket’s insides is sewn shut this way.


I manage to get the two side seams sewn up before falling asleep. It’s actually starting to look like something other than a messy pile of scrappy fabric now!

Amazingly, I haven’t experienced the usual rollercoaster of increasing and flagging enthusiasm I usually do whilst sewing. You know how you get to a point and a project just kind of gives you the sh*ts? There’s been none of that. Maybe it’s the class atmosphere, maybe it’s the mindset of knowing you’re in the hands of someone who knows the process inside out.

I am kinda getting sick of the sight of lilac, though. You can guarantee that the fabric for next weeks project will NOT be any shade of purple…