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by Elena Tran
October 13, 2021
Just until a few years ago, I never even dreamed of making a couture Chanel style jacket. I didn’t dare to think that my sewing skills were that good. But after making a few vintage Givenchy and Dior garments, I was inspired. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I am now in the process of making my very first Chanel jacket. To get a touch of courage, I acquired great books about haute couture sewing, and particularly the books about the famous Mademoiselle Chanel. It was important to me to get the spirit of Coco Chanel in my first jacket.
Chanel jacket construction is a lot simpler than your typical tailored jackets. There are some unique techniques, of course, but you can master these very quickly. But first things first. One of the most exciting parts of making Chanel inspired jacket is purchasing the fabric. Just visit Linton Tweeds and your eyes will sparkle. Boucle and tweed fabrics are the traditional choice for Chanel jackets and you can easily find these fabrics in the fabric stores around this time. Checks, stripes, hound-tooth, herringbone tweed patterns come in a variety of exciting colours.
But before you hit the “Checkout” button, let’s chat a bit about fabric nap and how it affects planning your garment construction. Fabrics with nap have a one-way print design (for example, flowers or checks), or surface texture (like pile on corduroy or velvet). Fabrics like that require with-nap layout, meaning you will need to purchase extra fabric so you can match the print or texture. To avoid the extra cost, you can choose fabric without nap. If you set your heart of those checks or stripes (I always like the challenge myself), there are some tricks that you can use to avoid too much wastage.
Examine your fabric closely and identify the dominant colour. This will help you in choosing your trim and buttons. Determine the dominant vertical and horizontal stripes. The dominant stripes will determine the pattern placement. For example, your jacket will look much nicer if you use the dominant stripe at the hem and on top of the lapels.
If you have any vertical darts, place them between your dominant stripes. Avoid placing your dominant horizontal stripes at the bust or the hips. This will draw attention to these parts and make them look bigger. However, the dominant stripes will look great just below the front neckline. (Shaeffer, Couture Tailoring: A Construction Guide for Women's Jackets)
Don’t cut the sleeves, lapel facings, top collar or pockets right away. This is where your patience will be put to the test. Cut your front and back bodice first and only then match the rest to these pattern pieces. For example, you should always match the collar to the center back of the jacket and the sleeve cap should be matched at the front notch. Cut the facings so the dominant color stripes are on the top of the lapels. (Shaeffer, Couture Sewing Techniques)
Different dressmakers offer different tips on how to match the pattern. Claire Shaeffer recommends cutting off all seam allowances from the pattern pieces. You can then thread-trace the seam lines (a.k.a stitching lines) and match the fabric pattern of adjoining pieces at the seam line. (Shaeffer, Couture Tailoring: A Construction Guide for Women's Jackets). The strategy of cutting away seam allowances makes me nervous because you may get distracted and forget that you don’t have any ‘wiggle room’. Literally. Most of us are not professional dressmakers and we live super busy lives so we may forget about seam allowance.
Another matching strategy used by one of the famous design houses is to use a fabric scrap with the print or pattern and baste it onto the toile. Then use this toile to match the adjoining pieces. (Shaeffer, Couture Sewing Techniques). This strategy has potential and I will try it in my next project.
One more trick I saw in the Threads magazine is to make a duplicate of every piece of pattern and use a single layer of fabric to cut all sections at once. (Haughey). This requires a serious time commitment, not to mention a super large cutting table. If you chose this strategy, lay out all relevant pattern pieces on the right side of the fashion fabric matching the fabric nap.
I personally used this tip: I traced a small section of the dominant lines or the prominent print element at the notches onto my Pellon Easy Pattern so I can match the adjoining pieces. If I get other tips, I will make sure to share them with you.
When it comes to pattern matching, just remember that this is not a race. Lay out your pattern pieces, have a cup of coffee and take a break. My amazing sister, who is a fantastic fashion designer, always takes her time when working with fabrics that have any kind of nap. She suggests cutting the fabric first thing in the morning so you have a fresh head. You only have one kick at the can and the fabric is expensive. No pressure…
Once you put cutting the expensive fabric behind you, you need to transfer all the markings and quilt the lining to the fashion fabric. This is a tricky bit because the quilting lines depend on the fabrics that you buy. Can you skip quilting? I do not recommend it. Quilting is done to support the delicate tweeds because they have loose weave. These types of fabrics will end up sagging where you don’t want them to if there is no support.
The general rule of thumb is that the quilting lines in a traditional jacket should be inconspicuous and parallel to grain lines. If you are working with fabric in solid colour, you can make vertical or horizontal quilting lines. Wake up the artist in you and give it a go. Look at this solid white Chanel suit. The horizontal quilting lines are stitched in matching thread and they give great support to this gorgeous tweed. Add the trim in black, white and silver and the effect is out of this world.
And here is an example of vertical quilting rows that you can only see if you look on the inside of the jacket and a skirt. This suit looks very comfortable, like a cozy sweater.
On fabrics with checks, you can make either lines or quilted rectangles. You will just follow the pattern of the dominant stripes. Remember to match the thread as close as possible to the colour of the stripes so the quilting lines simply blend with the fabric.
Quilting diamond rectangles is great to achieve a dramatic effect. But I would only do it with the right design and with striking unusual fabrics. You typically see this quilting in Chanel bags and accessories.
And if you work with large prints and unusual irregular pattern then it is safer to quilt by hand. Choose the thread in the matching colour to make it ‘blend’ with the pattern. Silk or cotton thread would be great, but any thread is fine for quilting.
And then have a glass of wine and celebrate your first victory!
Bott, Daniele. Chanel Collections and Creations. Thames & Hudson Inc., 2020.
Desiree Sadek, Guillaume de Laubier. Inside Haute Couture. Abrams, 2016.
Haughey, Helen. "Unraveling Boucle." Threads (2021): 74-79.
Haye, Amy de la. Chanel: The Couturiere at Work. The Overlook Press, 1994.
Shaeffer, Claire. Couture Sewing Techniques. The Taunton Press, 2011.
—. Couture Sewing: The Couture Cardigan Jacket. The Taunton Press, 2013.
—. Couture Tailoring: A Construction Guide for Women's Jackets. Laurence King Publishing, 2021.
Why should I make a mockup or toile when I have a pattern? Isn’t it overkill? This concern comes up often so I think it’s important to clarify the importance of making a mockup, or a test run of your garment, also known as the toile or muslin.
Your mockup should be a shell of your garment that you can actually try on complete with zipper, collar, pockets, sleeves and any relevant pieces of detail, such as marked or drawn placements of your buttons and buttonholes, and even a rough drawing of applique, embroidery or beadwork.