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I found this lovely Escada wool in Paris a few years back. There wasn't a tremendous amount of it, and even if there had been more, I wasn't sure if it wouldn't be a bit bold worked up into a jacket, so I decided a skirt would be the way to go.
That said, I wanted to make more than a simple straight skirt, so I decided that a flare along the bottom edge would be fun.
Of course, it's essential, especially with such a strong plaid, to make things as symmetrical as possible, and to match everything as carefully as possible.
You can see the narrowing in the top of the side seam, but you can also see how, despite the side seam, the pattern does appear to be continuous along the lower edge of the straight part of the skirt.
Here's the flare at the bottom of the skirt - it's a full circle, and the skirt sits right in the middle of it, absolutely symmetrically placed.
I decided to use an inner grosgrain waistband - a very narrow facing, if you will. Proper grosgrain - sometimes referred to as petersham - has tiny scallops along its edges. It's woven so that it can be streamed into a gentle curve which mimics the shape of the waistline.
The flare has been underlined with silk organza and lined with silk crepe de chine. A row of understitching has been applied (by hand,with tiny pickstitches) about 1/2" above the lower edge of the flare; it keeps the lining from falling below the hemline.
The skirt has been underlined with silk organza as well - it helps maintain its shape, and adds a bit of body to the whole garment.
Here's the center back and its hand-picked zipper - again, the plaid's been carefully lined up to be symmetrical.
I came across this lovely Guipure lace suit the other day. I’d made it some time ago for a private client and she was kind enough to give it back to me once she’d worn it a few times and retired it from her wardrobe. It’s a lovely teaching sample - and it’s always fun to revisit something that I enjoyed making.
Guipure’s generally a heavy lace, so it needs a bit of special attention. And it’s impossible, clearly, to make bound buttonholes (or even machine buttonholes) successfully–so fabric loops are a good option. That’s what I did here, paired with custom-covered buttons.
The lining was sewn in by hand, and understitched by hand as well - there’s a row of small prick stitches just below the edge of the lining, to hold everything in place. They go through every layer except the outermost - which, in this case, would be the lining, the underlining, and their seam allowances.
Here’s a closer look at the center front, with its bias-cut fabric loops and button...
...and here’s the bottom of the sleeve(the seam was left open at the bottom, with two buttons mimicking cufflinks)...
As I mentioned, the fabric was heavy, and I didn’t want it to collapse at the peplum (which is, after all, the main design feature of the jacket). I fused it, which supported it perfectly.
And if you look closely, you’ll see internal rows of white thread - they’re basting stitches to hold the fabric to the underlining. Without them, the lace can droop, distort, and pull away from the under layers.
Here’s the peplum, nicely flared, thanks to the underlayer of cotton batiste and the layer of fusible.
There was a matching skirt - no fusing needed here, but as with the jacket, there are horizontal rows of tacking to keep the lace in place. And the waistband, sensibly, is just plain silk charmeuse. Clearly, a guipure waistband wouldn’t be a good option.
When I was working on the Linen and Cotton book, I searched, understandably, for the prettiest cottons and linens I could find for the sample garments. I fell in love with this one immediately - it’s from the Italian designer Gai Mattiolo, and it’s pique, meaning it’s got a nice bit of surface interest as well as a little bit of internal padding. Perfect for a jacket! Here is NYC-based Dancer Lauren Shoemaker modeling it...
I used a Vogue Ungaro suit pattern - there was originally a sleeveless dress as a part of the ensemble as well, but that was long ago given to a girlfriend. Happily, the jacket remains, and I love it as much as I did when I was making it.
I remember following the pattern directions to a T - something I don’t always do - but in this case, it worked well. The pattern directions suggested self-lining the jacket - fortunately, the pique was soft and pliable enough that I knew that would work just fine. I did depart from that instruction in the sleeves, though. I felt that pique-lined sleeves just wouldn’t feel very good–nor would they be supple enough–so I lined them with green silk crepe de chine...
The jacket lining (which sort of served as an underlining as well) was staystitched to the fashion fabric around the armscye, and the crepe de chine lining was then pulled up from the inside of the sleeve and fell-stitched into place by hand. If you look carefully, you’ll see a dart on the inside of the lining, right at the top of the sleeve. It eliminates a little extra fulllness, and allows the sleeve lining to fit very easily in to the armscye. You’ll also see a lot of topstitching–as per the pattern directions...
And a couple of tips, once you figure out exactly what your parameters are (how far the stitching will be from the edge the garment, and how far apart the individual rows will be): stitch slowly, and press the garment after each row of stitching. I’m not at all sure why that second piece of advice works so well, but it does. You’ll get far less distortion that way–trust me! In the image below you can see the topstitching on the sleeves. The thread tails have all been buried inside and I added a couple of layers of silk organza before I topstitched, just to add a little bit of loft...
One more important addition: you can see a sleeve head tucked inside the seam allowances at the top of the sleeve. It’s more important than you might think: it nicely fills out the space between the very top of the sleeve and the beginning of the upper arm. There’s always a bit of space there, so sleeves tend collapse, and once that happens you lose the visual treat of a nicely-defined shoulder.
I'm often asked who my favorite designer is - and it's an easy answer: Valentino. To my eye, no one surpasses his range, his depth, his decades-long career of making the most beautifully feminine clothes.
Fortunately, his work is well archived, and there are several wonderful books that preserve it for all for us. But my favorite is the first Valentino book I ever got - Valentino: Thirty Years of Magic. I seem to recall finding it, years ago, at Rizzoli Books in New York (which makes sense, as it's a Rizzoli publication).
I've spent hours with it - absolutely amazed and inspired from a technical point of view: velvet and silk chiffon stripes? velvet scallops? finely-worked pleats with the faintest shadow of another color? And the most exquisite coat I've ever seen - sable-trimmed sheepskin, decorated with red leather, velvet, and braid:
And whenever the creative well ran dry, as I was creating gowns of for my own clients, I'd simply page through it and be overwhelmed with ideas. I carry in my agenda a small tear-out from a magazine; to quote the master:
I am of the thinking - and it may be old-fashioned - that being well-dressed makes you more comfortable with yourself. When you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and you look wonderful, it makes you feel powerful and respect yourself...I love to see beauty, and I never want my eyes to stop looking at beautiful things. My life has been dedicated to the pursuit of beauty, and the day that I am not in this world any more, I expect to see beauty again.
This jacket was made a number of years ago for an article in Threads Magazine – the focus, as you can pretty easily see, was piping – so I incorporated it wherever I could.
The fabric is gorgeous – at the time, heavily embroidered fabrics were first appearing – in fact, I liked this one so much I used it later for a mother-of-the-bride outfit for a private client (a tunic was made from the embroidered silk, and there were matching silk doupioni bell-bottom trousers. Quite the outfit!!!)
Anyway, back to the jacket at hand. I decided to use a band around the entire jacket – around the neckline, down the fronts, and around the hem. The idea was carried further around the base of the sleeves.
And defining both sides of the band gave plenty of opportunities for inserting piping. As I recall, things got a little thick in the shoulder area, especially at the sleeve end of the seam - much of that work was done was hand - it was just easier to manipulate and place all of the piped bands exactly where I wanted it.
Piping can be purchased, of course, but options are limited – and it’s easy to make your own. The trick is to cut the fabric strips exactly on the bias; if they’re off even slightly, drag lines will form, and they’re impossible to get rid of. Piping can be filled with a number of fillers – I like to use rattail. It’s a smooth rayon cording, easy to find at any fabric store. Cording can be used, but sometimes the twist that are a part of the cords are visible through the fashion fabric – and that’s not good.
Piping is only lovely if it’s of a consistent width, even around inner and outer curves. Outer curves require a lot of clipping in the seam allowance of the piping; inner curves, you’ll see, are formed from overlapping pieces of piping.
The entire lining’s been inserted by hand, including the sleeves; there’s an ease pleat at the center back, to give a bit of extra movement in the lining.
The treatment of the inside of the bound buttonholes (they’re piped, of course!) is interesting; it’s always tricky to line bound buttonholes beautifully, I think….and one option is to create a vertical seamline in the facing. Openings in the seamline match the openings in the bound buttonholes – the layers are fell-stitched together. It’s a neat, clean, secure finish.