DIPPING MY TOES INTO TAILORING: the Francine Jacket

FOREWORD

I have a terrible, terrible backlog. 

And I use the word terrible with utmost intent, as my backlog is (and I’m quoting the Thesaurus) 1. distressing and severe; 2. horrible and/or extremely bad; 3. exciting terror and, lastly, 4. formidably great. 

I realised now some time ago that I have many, many more completed and undocumented projects than the ones that have seen the light of day on this blog and I cannot deny that the whole thing has annoyed me for the longest time. I always have the best intentions when I start a project, believe me! I have half a phone stuffed with poorly-lit, and poorly-framed process pictures that are supposed to provide me content to write about – only to always get really deflated at the prospect of putting them online.

The other issue is also, unfortunately, that of a lot of these project go now so far back that even with the best photographic evidence I genuinely don’t have much to say about them. 

Has it happened to you? I hardly believe I am the only disorganised blogger around. Are there any blogging management tips or tools I’m unaware of? 

In the last six months or so, I  started to take copious notes every time I work on something, and I hope it will help me write more timely, and more accurately, about what I make. In the meantime, please enjoy this gallery of pictures! 

THE PATTERN

I think I remember when about four years ago I had started to sew and was dribbling all over the Sew Over It website, which at the time still mainly focussed on the classes and fabric sold at the shop. 

The Francine Jacket class had just been released and I was daydreaming of the time where I had enough skills (and £££) to register for this class and come out of it with a handmade tailored blazer. I think I had just finished my first circle skirt at the time, and the damn waistband almost made me give up needle and thread. 

Thank goodness I didn’t! Fast forward approximately 4 years and here we are: a closet stocked with much-loved handmade garments, a passion that is now spilling almost in a profession, a monthly sewing meetup (the London Stitchers Meetup, find us on IG and Facebook!) I co-host with a pearl of a woman (which I am only lucky enough to know because of sewing itself), and finally enough funds to register to the class of my dreams.

I took this class in November 2018 (no jokes – I did say I’m behind, didn’t I?) and I am not even sure if it’s still running as a face to face class. I do believe Sew Over It now has some sort of digital course to complement the instructions, but I haven’t used it and can’t vouch for it. This is a real pickle my dear readers, because the teacher of this class is one not to miss! 

Julie, tailor & couturier with decades of experience, is a cheerful, pragmatic teacher full of energy and passion. She shared with the small group of sewists (amongst which my sewing fairy @tiniestitcher!) her own notes on how to put the jacket together, fit us all one by one and encouraged us to take videos of all the hand stitching so that we could refer to it when doing our homework. She explained it all extremely clearly and helped anyone who got stuck with care and heaps of patience. 

I am a 34in bust (on a 5.5” pear-ish frame) and in terms of my own version, I am a pretty straight size 8. At the start of the class we tried a couple of samples sewn up in calico to evaluate our size and I didn’t need to make any adjustment to the pattern. 

The only amend I ended up making was to take out the bicep a little bit (about 2cm overall) using the seam allowance in the two seams of the sleeve. It didn’t feel like it when trying on the sample, but it felt a little constricting when I had it sewn up in lining (which notoriously has no give whatsoever).

THE NOTIONS

The fabric for this jacket is a 100% wool in a berry shade of burgundy purchased at Misan West in Shepherd’s Bush – which is apparently an “outlet” of the fancy Misan in Soho. It wasn’t a steal but at £20 a meter I call it an honest deal. I believe I bought a metre and a half and still had a tiny bit left over (which you will see soon I have put to very good use!). 

The lining is a deep blue viscose twill, which I was told by the shop staff to be the go-to for blazer and coat linings. I was ready to splash out on silk, but was advised against it as silk ends up being too delicate for the kind of stress the lining of a blazer is subject to when putting it on and off – and often tears in the back and is rubbed thin in the armpits.

Viscose twill, instead, is very durable and the twill weave makes it soft and plump; delightful on the skin. When it comes to the sustainability issue (see this blog post), I would say in this case the cons are evened out by the pros of durability and suitability for purpose. 

Shoulder pads and interfacing were bought straight at Sew Over It, as Julie sources directly the materials that work best for the pattern. We used pre-made shoulder pads from William Gee, however Julie did give us directions on how to make it ourselves should we want to. What we did do ourselves ws putting together the sleeve head using what was called “ice wool”, some sort of thin and fluffy batting (also a William Gee purchase, apparently).

MAKING IT UP:

Since the jacket has no vents, nor pockets, and we used fusible interfacing instead of the traditional sew on ones it’s only fair to say that this course is only a brief toe dipping into the ocean that is tailoring.

Still, it provided some valuable insight on the wonders that can be achieved with steam, needle and thread and what a wonderful thing it is to work on a more complex pattern puzzle than your usual dress.

Unfortunately, as I said at the beginning for this post, it’s been so long I have very foggy memories. Thankfully Julie let us film her sewing the key steps, so I know I have that as a reference should I wish to sew it up again. However, amongst the techniques I remember learning and that I would generally recommend adding to your sewing arsenal are:

  • Balancing darts: the piece of tailoring wizardry that, using a thin strip of fabric cut on the bias, makes a very bulky dart pretty much invisible.
  • Inserting shoulder pads and sleeve heads – oh the magic of seeing that shoulder come together with just a little hand stitching!
  • Bagging out the lining (I know I must have done this because my lining is in fact sitting on the inside of my jacket, but I wouldn’t be able to replicate it to save my life. This lesson needs to be reviewed!)
  • Several hand stitching techniques

Other tips that we picked up and that I would write home about are:

  • always, always, press wool from the reverse only and with a pressing cloth (to avoid shine);
  • there is such a thing as overpressing. I well pressed seam sits flat and neat, an overpressed seam looks “stressed out” (highly technical term);
  • have your buttonholes professionally done.

This last point was an utter surprise to me. Of course, in the high end tailoring business buttonholes are hand stitched, but to get the right result you will want to get your hands on thread of the appropriate thickness/colour and thread wax, not to mention a considerable amount of patience.

However, there is such a thing as a professional buttonholer. In London DM Buttons & Buttonholes, tucked away in a little lane in the very middle of Soho, focuses almost entirely on sewing buttonholes on and covering buttons. The service is very cheap and, if you’re lucky and ask really politely, extremely quick: I brought my Francine in and a handsome gentleman did the three buttonholes in a couple of minutes.

OUT IN THE WILD

As you can see from the pictures, I love throwing my Francine on a pair of jeans. This spotty top is an ancient purchase from Zara (I think it dates 2010 or thereabouts) which I find goes really well with black jeans, but a simple tank top does also does the job. In 100% wool is a warm blazer, equivalent to a mid-weight jumper I’d say, and it’s not too structured as becoming uncomfortable throughout the day.

What I am particularly happy about is that it sits well under a coat, despite the shoulder pads, but is also an excellent standalone jacket for the in-between seasons. I haven’t had a chance yet but I can’t wait to wear it with a big scarf and a hat, with the sleeves tucked in at 3/4 length, on top of a ballerina-length skirt – the call of the 80s is strong in this one!

In the meantime though, probably my very favourite outfit is when worn as part of a suit. A little spoiler below and more details in the next post!

6 thoughts on “DIPPING MY TOES INTO TAILORING: the Francine Jacket

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  1. Love this, it’s perfect on you. I have the pattern , but wondered if the patch pockets are a little strangely situated on it? In other people’s versions they look too close to centre front and consequently a little awkward. Did you leave them off yours?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. So glad you enjoyed the course and got to the finishing post! Your jacket looks beautiful and thanks for the shout out. X

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