Sew Brave: Diving In

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.

A mood board of some grey tweed fabric with rolls of trimmings, thread and a sewing pattern for a Chanel-style jacket.
A mood board of some grey tweed fabric with rolls of trimmings, thread and a sewing pattern for a Chanel-style jacket.

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.

Several grey tweed bodice pieces on a cutting board. The bodice pieces have strips of interfacing around the seam allowances.
Fabric with interfaced seam allowances

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.

practice buttonholes
Practice button holes

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.

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