Friday, January 17, 2020

Story of the Couture Velvet Jacket - a work in progress

This week I have a work in progress post. Some of the more couture methods that I use for garment making mean that it can take a couple weeks or longer to make a garment. The ultimate in slow and intentional sewing! This garment is quite different from any I have done before because it is un-selfish sewing. To be completely honest I was worried that I would get knee deep into this project and start to feel resentful because it wasn't for me. I was silly to worry about that! It is for my sister and every step of this project has been done in love so it is a total feel good at this point!
WIP jacket. No lining, .facings or hems yet.
So here is the story of how the Velvet jacket came to be.

My sister is an artist and went to work at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1999 as the Department Chair. She stepped back from this position to concentrate on teaching  and to do more art around 2006. Since then she has been head of the 3-D art department and she specializes in sculpture. All kinds of amazing sculpture! From Iron to wood and every sort of substrate in-between. Early in 2019 my sister let all of the family know that she had been accepted for a solo exhibition at an art museum. This is a single person exhibit and it is a big deal. She has been in MANY joint exhibits before and smaller things but this one is her biggest solo exhibit to date.
I am so proud of her and I wanted to do something special for the opening and gallery talk that she is giving at the show. So, I told her that I wanted to give her the gift of clothing. And asked what she envisioned herself wearing. Her answer was a blue velvet jacket.
I immediately went about collecting swatches of all kinds of blue silk and silk/rayon velvets from many resources. Making sure to get 2 sets of each so that I could mail her a set and I could keep a set. Made it easier to discuss. Once a velvet was chosen, a 100% silk navy velvet from Promenade fabrics in New Orleans I went about searching for a lining. This was much easier!! I found this fantastic silk charmeuse print on Emma One Sock. I sent the link to my sister and she loved it, which I knew she would, and I ordered it!
Partial selection of velvet swatches that we worked with.
When discussing style of jacket, she mentioned that she had a black ponte-ish jacket in her closet that she really likes wearing. It makes her feel good and confident and looks good and that she would like that sort of style. So she sent it to me in the mail. I then talked with her about it and took notes on what she liked and didn’t like about it and so on.
It was a basic armscye princess jacket with a slight boxy shape that has a self fabric belt, and asymmetric closing with the buttons running down left side and a large asymmetric roll collar. I did a rub off of the jacket to get a good starting point. It would not be perfect by any means. The original jacket is a totally different textile and was never custom fit to her body. Luckily for me it is a armscye princess seamed jacket so plenty of areas to adjust for fit!

·         Rub off of all the pieces of the jacket.

·         Create a pattern

·         Walk and adjust all the seam lines

·         Add notches and other placement marks

·         Make a muslin of the body only (no sleeves and no collar)

·         Wait until Christmas holidays when she was coming to visit for fitting J

·         Try on and make adjustments to pattern body

·         Make changes to muslin and pattern

·         Draft, make muslin and drape the sleeve.

·         Mark and make all changes to sleeve and armscye on muslin

·         Make changes to pattern

·         Baste on collar

·         Make any changes as necessary for collar

·         Have her pick out buttons from my collection. I had several good options and she picked a set of vintage Czech glass button.

During the fitting of the muslin I had her put on the original jacket to compare and the issues that I saw in the muslin were also in that jacket. Nice confirmation that it wasn’t me that screwed things up! LOL!!  (of course I did not take any full pictures of her in the jacket, we were excited about getting to the muslin!)

After the holidays it came time to start all the hard work! The cutting out of the velvet, the different underlinings, stabilizers and the lining pieces. Then all of the testing.
Cutting out the batiste underlining. When using my rotary cutter I like to weight down the pattern pieces with lengths of chain and large nuts covered in ribbon.

Fussy cutting of the lining to line up the medallion motif.

Looks quite pretty laid out on the floor!

Cutting out and working with silk velvet is MESSY! there are silk fibers covering everything. I was constantly swiffering the floor and wiping down the work table. As I trim and grade seams I have been keeping a damp rag nearby to capture as much of the pile as I can.
Time wise it took me 2 days to cut everything out. The velvet needed to be cut single layer to avoid slippage. The Lining needed to be cut single layer to line up motif’s. plus, all the other pieces of underlining and interfacing.
All the pieces cut out and ready for sewing.

I spent a full day doing testing. I wanted to test everything. Regular seams in the velvet and make sure of the stitch and do something long enough to make sure that I worked on slippage issues. The most time consuming of the testing was getting the thread color matched for the buttonholes! Thankfully JoAnn’s near me was having a sale on thread. After trying 6 colors, I found the one that I liked best! During the testing I took copious amounts of notes in my sewing notebook so that I could refer to them as needed. These included all the final stitch settings and pressing settings that I tested.
Test pieces on the left- made in the same way as the actual pieces with the underlining hand basted on and any interfacing fused to the underlining pieces. On the right is the pile of testing that I did.
Part of my testing also included test pressing. Very important to do when using napped fabrics. This is a length of velvet that I tested, half presses on the needle board and half without the needle board you can really see the difference.

After all the testing the sewing started! Woo Hoo!

Belt loops and belt pinned to the batiste and ready for hand basting.
First I spent 2 days’ hand basting the imperial batiste to the velvet with silk thread and on some pieces, the collar and cuffs, I used cotton flannel as the underlining. Before the hand basting I made sure to apply any fusible interfacing that I wanted to use to the underling and not to the velvet.

Next I headed to the machine- sewing the velvet to the velvet using lots of fine silk pins and the digital feed foot on my machine. No problems sewing velvet to velvet!
Partial construction. No sleeves, collar or belt loops.
Sleeves and collar constructed and ready to be attached.
The sleeve cuff is technically a band and interlined with the cotton flannel and here you see how it gives it a lux cushy feel.

Sewing the silk charmeuse to silk charmeuse was just fine as well.

The hard part has been on the few pieces where I had to sew silk charmeuse to the silk velvet… talk about one slippery bugger! The straight part of the seams was fine as long as I went slow and carefully. The big issues came on the curved areas. Sewing the side front silk charmeuse to the silk velvet front facing. One went in okay with me only having to redo it once. The other side I ended up having to hand baste with silk thread in cross hatches to keep everything lined up and even with that plus pins there was a smidge of slippage. Not enough to re-do but seriously! 
Interior pocket pinned on and ready for hand sewing to the right front facing.

The belt loops and the interior pocket were added prior to the lining. The interior pocket was another slippery bugger and I ended up hand sewing the entire thing together and then onto the interior facing piece. I added a fun piece of ribbon to the top of the pocket both for fun and to stabilize the top of the pocket. In order to get the ribbon sewn on nicely I actually used a glue stick on it to hold it to the velvet and then edge stitched it using the Digital Feed Foot on my machine.  This pocket is far from perfect… but, then again, so am I! this quirky fun pocket will stay in to represent the un-perfectness of life.

The needle board from Bias Bespoke in NYC.
When pressing on the needle board you have to be careful to only use the tip of the iron and be careful not to press off the side of the board or you will get marks. The indentations from the needle board brush out quite easily.
For all the pressing of the velvet I used a needle board that I purchased from Bias Bespoke in NYC.  I hemmed and hawed about buying the needle board. I did an exhaustive search for needle boards and in the end I decided on this one. It is pretty much the size of a sleeve board and long enough to easily press the seams. It is also flexible enough to ‘drape’ over my tailor’s ham to press the curved bust area. I am really happy with this specialty piece of equipment!

The sleeves were installed and then the collar was basted on and the whole thing is starting to look like a finished project!  Taking photos of this velvet is quite a challenge due to the nap and the color.

Jacket awaiting finishing. Below the brightness has been adjusted to better see some of the details.

Jacket in progress with no belt

Close up of the asymmetrical collar. The drape of the silk velvet with the cotton flannel underlining is just delicious!

I still have quite a bit to do on the project. Sew on the facings and lining and cut bias flannel strips to pad out the hem and then of course all the grading and under stitching, hemming and buttonholes and maybe a couple of small snaps. Most of what is left is all hand work and hopefully I can get it done in another week or two!

Happy Sewing!!
My sister and I


  1. Beautiful jacket!. The detailing in every step and finished garment is certainly work of the heart.

  2. Thank you for a beautifully illustrated and inspiring master class -- not only in haute couture but also in family love!

  3. This is just luscious. You are doing a beautiful job. Seeing you sister's coloring in the final picture, I know she is going to look gorgeous in it at her show and talk, and will feel every inch the confident artist/professor. This is such a special gift of love!

    My husband and I recently shopped for a bed among several small PA. furniture makers. I commented to him that while all of the craftsmen offered almost identical furniture, one stood out. His furniture just had a certain gracefulness of proportion and simple elegance. It reflected not only fine craftsmanship but an artist's eye. That's what I see in this jacket. Your sister is not the only artist in the family.

    1. Kay, your comments are so very much appreciated!! Thank you!!

  4. This is insanely amazing and awesome. WOW. Talk about luxury!!

    I can't wait to see it finished and modeled. She will have this jacket forever <3

  5. Thank you!! We all converge at the show in 2 weeks and am looking forward to it!


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