As a young sewist, I was fearless. I didn’t hesitate. I dove right in. Throughout my teens and twenties, I attempted Vogue designer patterns well above my skill level turning out complicated party dresses with princess seams and boned bodices in yards of velvet, chiffon and taffeta. Looking back, it honestly never occurred to me to question whether I could do it.
But over the next thirty-or-so years, life intervened. My sewing machine sat gathering dust while I devoted all my energy to raising a family and pursuing a career. Then about five years ago with retirement looming, I had a sudden desire to return to my former passion.
I delighted in the discovery of this brave new sewing world filled with indie patterns, online classes, sewing blogs, videos and podcasts. I signed up for courses at my local college. And of course, I sewed. But sewing was different. While before it had been all about the bright and shiny end product, now it was the process of sewing that interested me most. I wanted to perfect my technique and build my skill set. But I also found that I was more hesitant. I worried more about making mistakes. I didn’t dive into projects. Instead, I cautiously waded into the shallow end.
One project that had always interested me was the construction of a couture “little French jacket”. Three years ago I found (on sale) what I thought was the perfect fabric. I bought a few patterns, watched the charming Craftsy class by Lorna Knight, reviewed sewing techniques in Claire Shaeffer’s book Couture Sewing Techniques and at one point, I even “started” the jacket; but I couldn’t get past the muslin stage.
So the fabric sat in my stash… staring at me.
When I saw the post about the Sew Brave challenge, I decided in that moment that it was time to dive in. I was going to make Clare Shaeffer’s jacket – Vogue 8804.
The first thing I learned is that there is a lot of hand sewing in couture technique. For example, I understand that the “correct” couture method to finish seams is to overcast the raw edge of a seam allowance by hand. However, I quickly realised as I cut into my precious fabric that this technique would not work for my project. My fabric, once cut, had the consistency of dandelion fluff. A soft breeze would cause it to fray. So instead, I cut wide, 1-inch seam allowances and applied strips of light weight fusible interfacing to the seam allowances. This helped keep the edges stable so they could withstand all the handling that a largely hand sewn jacket demands.
I also decided to use silk dupioni as a lining fabric rather than the recommended softer silk lining options. Given my fabric’s very light, loose weave, I thought the jacket needed more body. Other changes: I eliminated the upper pockets and decided to forego the trim around the neck, front, and sleeves.
I progressed through the jacket, using a lot of hand stitching and other techniques recommended by the pattern. However, rather than follow all 94 steps of the pattern in order, I grouped them into smaller segments. This way I was able to complete several segments before I had to tackle the dreaded hand-bound buttonholes.
I’d like to say everything went smoothly. It didn’t. My fabric’s tendency to dissolve not only posed sewing challenges, it also meant that fluff from my fabric was everywhere, even sticking to my iron despite using a press cloth. I also realised as I was cutting out my lining that the fabric was narrower than I’d originally thought resulting in me just barely having enough fabric. And finally, I totally underestimated just how many hours it would take me to complete this project. Getting the muslin to fit seemed to take forever and the numerous construction steps slowed the sewing process considerably.
But in the end, I had a jacket.
I’m happy with my jacket and my fabric no longer taunts me. That said, while this was a challenging project, it was also a little tedious at times. I think that without the motivation of the Sew Brave challenge, it would have been easy for me to just put this aside during the boring bits, promising myself that ‘I’d pick it up later’.
The final verdict? Well, while my next few projects will likely be faster and easier summer patterns, I think I’m going to continue to try to “sew brave” and tackle a winter coat this Fall.
Lori is a sewist, mother, fashion arts student, lawyer, and world-traveller. Rediscovering her love for sewing and creating while embracing life long learning, she can be found on Instagram at @playsnicewithscissors.
Editor’s note: The featured image at the top is Lori as a little girl, diving into the pool in 1971.
Sewcialists is a hyper-inclusive editorial site. We recognize that all of us make up an amazing and varied community. We ask that you take each challenge as you see it fitting in your life, and express your involvement how you like, at the given time. Our challenges are for the pure enjoyment of participation and the love of community.
I would also have found this to be a daunting challenge. Congratulations on completing your beautiful jacket!
This is amazing – I love your finished jacket, it’s definitely got the Chanel vibe. My jaw dropped open when you mentioned that there were 94 steps in the pattern though! That’s astounding, and a winter coat will seem like a breeze in comparison.
Thanks! Yes the particular pattern had a lot of specific steps and techniques. I hope you’re right about the winter coat.
I identified with your story in many respects. I’m 71, sewed as a teen and very little when a mom and teacher, and recently took it up again after retiring. It’s been very challenging but fun. Thank you! I haven’t tried a jacket yet but I want to make a coat sometime.
Your jacket is fabulous!
Thanks Nancy. I hope you try out the coat. I’d love to hear how it goes.
Way to approach your fears and make something beautiful – and so wearable (with jeans, dresses, dress pants etc.)
Your “SewBrave” resonates with me LOL. I have a piece of fabric sitting in my stash that is the brown rust version of yours and I have 2 fears of working with it, one was your challenge which your post has helped me resolve and given me the ideas I need to tackle the technical side of sewing it. The second is having “rounded out my personality and expanded my horizons” such that I now have to go to the plus size world to sew and I’ve never sewed for myself since I’ve become plus sized. With your post and all the inspiration from other sewists I’m getting closer to my stash. Thank you!
I’m so happy to hear that. As sewists we are so lucky to have the “super power” to make flattering clothes that fit our real bodies. Good luck with sewing your stash.
I really identified with your story. As a young woman and teacher I made most of my clothes. I don’t remember there were easy patterns. I made whatever I liked. I am now 75 and trying to get back to sewing and finding it’s not going as smoothly as I would like. I am going to keep at it until I can, at least, make something that’s wearable!
I love that you used a photo that might have been overlooked as a stock photo but was related to the writer for this story! Congrats on your achievement!
Yep, me too Lori. fearless in my 20s and now in my 50s the fear of failure is paralysing! I just get decision fatigue thinking about my projects – and I fail to blog too. Fabulous jacket on you, really lovely. Don’t you find that knowing how long it took that perhaps you’re reluctant to do it again? Go for the coat, a much easier project. But I did enjoy Lorna’s soothing tones in the Craftsy class.
Thanks so much for all of your kind comments.
That is fantastic. The fit around the neckline is sublime. Amazing work.