20 April 2016

Little French Jacket (Two years in the making!)

Around two years ago, I got the idea to make a Little French Jacket. I had seen a lot of these gorgeous jackets across the blogosphere, and decided that I had to have one too! Although I made the pattern in May 2014, and had hoped to have it finished for Winter 2014, it didn't take that long until it went from a WIP, to a UFO. When that first winter came and went, I think I lost my sewjo on this one, and let it languish. To be honest, the main reason that I decided to get it done ready for this winter, was because I found some black leather in my store room that I'd forgotten about, and now I'm really keen to make a leather jacket. I'll use the pattern from this jacket as my starting point, but to do that, I really needed to have a finished jacket and be able to wear it for a while to assess what changes I need on to the fit before I even begin.

A few of the jackets that I saw were following a sewalong, hosted by bloggers Inna of Thewalinna and Leisa of A Challenging Sew, so I spent a lot of time reading through the sewalong for inspiration and instruction, and faithfully followed their instructions to make this jacket. That doesn't sound like me at all, since I mostly work without any instructions at all, but I really had no clue where to begin with this one.

The Pattern
I had a look at the designs for some of the commercial patterns used for Little French Jackets, and decided, quite predictably, to made my own pattern. I normally use a Size 10 block for most of my patterns, but for jackets I start with a Size 12. With very little alterations, I made my pattern straight from the block, adding in princess seams to the shoulder, front and back. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing with the sleeves at this stage, but pretty much cut the same shape as the block, but in a two piece sleeve, so I would have something to work on for fittings.

I had thought about putting a placket under the centre front so that if there was a gap when closed, you wouldn't see it. I decided to leave it without and suffer the consequences, and, as you can see from the first photo, there is certainly a gap there. This could have been avoided by the placket, or simply sewing the hooks and eyes further further away from the CF edge.

Of course, I didn't have any fabric, so when the Fabric Store were having a sale, I was there (I know, so predictable). At the time, they only had a couple of fabrics that were suitable, and I wasn't game enough to try a hot pink fabric, so blue it was (also, so predicable).

The Toile
For my jacket toile, I re-used the toile of a dress that I had recently made for a client. All my pieces fit into this full circle skirt! I placed tracing paper between the two layers of calico, traced around the stitching line, and drew in another line 3cm away to use as my cutting line.

I have a fellow dressmaker friend who lives quite near to me, so I enlisted her help for my first fittings, as I'm pretty bad at sticking pins in myself whilst wearing said garment. My toile fitting was pretty uneventful. Apart from adding a bit of extra width around the waist and hips, we decided that the changes were so minimal that it wasn't worth making any until trying it out in the real fabric. Calico does tend to behave rather differently to boucle!

I thread traced my seams onto the boucle before cutting out the seams a few centimetres away. I've read a few other people saying that they love doing thread tracing - I personally just want to get on with the real sewing! Before moving along, I added organza to the shoulders and neckline of my pieces to stabilise them. As my fabric frays so badly (as boucle does), I then overlocked around all the edges of each piece.

To minimise movement of the pieces whilst quilting together, I even tacked the boucle to the lining before quilting them together, tying off the ends, and tacking the seams together ready for the next fitting. (How grown up am I?)

Changes after fitting
My fitting using the boucle resulted in needing a bit more excess fabric removed along the back princess seams, as the jacket seemed to have some fabric bunching up in that area. I also needed to redraft the fit of the sleeves, and add a little more room, especially near the shoulder. I used the calico sleeves tacked onto the jacket as a base for this. I like a bit of room around the armhole, as if it is too fitted, apart from having less freedom of movement, I find that it causes me to sweat more, which is not something you want in winter, and especially not while wearing a wool and silk jacket. I was in such a rush to just get on with it, that I omitted to make a placket for the sleeve opening, so the slit is literally that, with no overlap.

After the fun task of working out where to attach the sleeves, I had the arduous task of attempting to line up the stripes going across the sleeves onto the body of the jacket, and hand stitch them on using waxed thread.

As it so happened I had some beeswax on hand. I'd actually bought it to use on teddy bears to wax their noses. I've never actually tried doing that, but it came in handy to wax some thread to make it stronger when hand stitching the sleeves, hooks and eyes and chain in place. It's a bit of a tedious process to make, but I absolutely love sewing with waxed thread. Apart from the strength factor, it tends not to tangle, and just glides through your fabric. Love. It.

It was somewhere around here in the process that I stopped for a little while.

Anyway, when it came to the trim, I wasn't sure whether to go with my original plan of purple braid, or whether to search for something with a little more bling. I liked the idea of using the selvedge as trim, but my fabric has a very boring edge. Since I just wanted to get this thing done, I stuck with the original plan.

The pockets were pretty straightforward, but lining them up was made more difficult as the stripes weren't an even width apart across the princess seam.

The Insides
Just finding a chain for this jacket was a huge issue. Unless you get something online from someone like Susan Khalje, it's actually quite difficult to find something that fits the bill. Just so I'd know how much money I didn't spend on a chain, I calculated what it would have cost to get a chain from Susan. Taking into account the current exchange rate (as I'm pretty sure that it was still in USD), and the length I needed, the chain itself would have been more than $34.24, and then the postage was $17.70 for the cheapest option. $52 for one chain. Hmmm. That would be why I searched for months for the perfect chain.

I bought a few chains, as each time I found something, I thought it was as good as I was going to get, and then I found something better. I eventually bought three shorter lengths of chain with keyring hooks on either end of them, took the hooks off and joined them together. Cost: approx $4.00, a saving of $48 on the really-super-duper-chain-that-looks-so-pretty.

When I started sewing on the chain I found it a bit tricky to keep it in place while sewing it down, and keeping the whole thing level, but I found my rhythm pretty quick, and practically flew back on the lower side of the chain (sewing into every second link of chain). It's rather satisfying to see the finished chain in place after all this time.

I was in two minds about whether to add buttons or not. I had planned on doing self cover buttons using a mauve chiffon a similar colour to the trim, but couldn't see the point of plastic buttons that had no purpose in life. I think they would have looked out of place, and a bit lopsided on the front since the jacket meets at CF with no overlap.

I started out keeping track of the length of time to make this jacket, keeping meticulous notes on timings each step of the way, curious to see if reports of 40 plus hours would hold true for my jacket. I did not include time taken for fittings, because, let's face it, I spent more time chatting than actually fitting, and I did have a tendency to just put the jacket on and look in the mirror, when I had no intention of making changes by myself. Similarly, I didn't keep track of the many hours that I spent reading through blog posts on Inna and Leisa's sewalong, trying to work out what I was actually supposed to be doing! When I picked it up again to finish after about 18 months, I wasn't so picky about timekeeping anymore, I just wanted to get it finished, whilst simultaneously catching up on TV shows!

Can I just say, I've made wedding dresses that didn't take as long to make as this jacket!

For those interested in a break up of hours, here goes (some numbers may not be accurate):

Pattern making / alterations                              2hr 30 min
Toile                                                                 1 hr 10 min
Cutting /layout jacket                                       2 hr 35 min
Tacking / Thread tracing etc                             4hr 05 min        
Machine quilting                                               1 hr 35 min
Tying off ends                                                   1 hr 35 min
Sewing / pattern matching etc                          5 hr 35 min
Flat fell lining                                                   4 hr 15 min
Sleeves                                                             5 hr 20 min
Finish up insides                                                5 hr 20 min
Sew on hooks and eyes                                      1 hr
Make and attach pockets                                   2 hr
Sewing on trim                                                  3 hr
Sewing on chain                                                1 hr

If my numbers are accurate, which for the later parts I'm not really sure about, my jacket took almost 37 hours to sew. Not quite 40 hours, but still a huge chunk of time, albeit spread out over 2 years, which made it feel like a lot longer. Like really, a loooong time.

Fabric: Wool blend boucle from The Fabric Store
Lining: Navy silk from China (in stash 6 or 7 years?)
Organza: Stash 10 or so years
Trim: Purple trim gifted to me a few years ago, ie earlier in the same year that I started the jacket.
Chain: Silver metal chain from E & M Greenfield. Three chains joined together.

I finally get to count this in my stashbusting tally: 1.6m boucle, 1.5m lining

The Fit
As you can see from the photos, this jacket fits me like a glove. The sleeves have a little too much fullness in them, but no so much that they cause a problem. You can see in the back photo especially that there seems to be excess room around the elbows. When I added extra ease at the sleeve head, I cut and spread from the sleeve head tapering down to the wrist, so there is added fullness down the full length of the sleeve. I didn't want to play with that at the time, as I wasn't sure how it would go when actually worn. Now that I have worn it, I can see that it could do with taking a bit out. When the hooks are done up at the front, if I don't suck my tummy in, the jacket splays open a bit. I can live with this, I'll probably have it open most of the time that I wear it anyway.

When I was doing my final fittings, I thought I had the length spot on, but from looking at these photos, I would also say that the jacket looks a touch too short. I think it needs another 2 or 3cm added.

Apart from the leather that I have waiting for me, I also have this gorgeous gold boucle, which I bought when I thought this jacket would be finished in a timely fashion. I'm not really sure what lining I should use with this, and after looking around, my front runner is the same silk that I used for this one.

I will make a few minor changes to the pattern, adding a little extra length, taking out a bit of fullness in the sleeves, adding a placket to the sleeves, and either adding a placket at CF, or extending the fronts to overlap and add functional buttons (I'm thinking I'd need bound buttonholes if I tried that). It also bugs me that the princess seam didn't end up in the middle of the shoulder seam once I'd placed the sleeves where I wanted them. (I think there's a bit of OCD happening there), so that needs to be moved a touch towards the neckline. The selvedge does have a nice edge to it that I could use for trim, so that's a bonus too.

I'm in no hurry though, so watch this space in a couple more years?


  1. Hi Andrea, THIS IS BEAUTIFUL and a Chanel jacket is on my bucket list. Looks great on you and I think the length is just fine. You have another beautiful fabric waiting and can't wait to see what you do with that. Go with a different color lining, you've already used the navy. I do like the length. So glad for you that it is done!

  2. Wow, what a marathon, but so worth the effort. I love the chain idea.

  3. These jackets are definitely a labour of love and hand sewing and so glad the leather jacket possibilities move this jacket up the line.

    It is gorgeous and will work for so many outfits and only you and us know that you would like some changes but the rest of the world will be impressed with your perfectly fitting jacket.