Tag Archives: Claire Shaeffer

Couture Sewing: The Couture Skirt by Claire Shaeffer

Claire Shaeffer’s method of making a couture skirt is one of those projects that has you wondering what you got yourself into, and then it all comes together and all is right in the world. I don’t mind spending a lot on time on one project, as I have enough clothes to do me for a while, and I sew to try and do something useful with all the piles of fabric around here.  In this case I saw an opportunity to use two pieces of great material – a silk and cashmere blend plaid, and a silk print in a similar colorway.

All of the books in Claire’s couture series come with a dvd that shows the how-to step by step.  I’m a very visual learner, and so the dvds are essential for me.  It helps actually seeing her work through the steps.

She suggests that the maker of this skirt start with any straight skirt pattern.  I actually had a vintage pattern that has a front wrap.  She gives the directions on how to add the wrap, but this saved me a step.  In this skirt, there are no side seams, so I had to place the front and back pieces together at the side to make one large combination piece.  The only two actual seams in the skirt are the center back and the waist band.

Straight skirts have  darts at the waist to allow for the proper fit, but in this skirt the fullness is steamed out rather than darted.  I did have to end up doing a dart at each side as there was just too much fullness to steam out.

Here you can see where I eased in the fullness at the waist.  The diagonal basting is to secure where the quilting lines went.  Yes, the lining and the fabric are quilted, just as in a Chanel jacket.  You can’t tell in my photograph, but I had to overcast the edges to cut down on fraying.

Because of the easing, the plaid lines don’t match up on the waistband.  I’m not so picky that this bothers me, and I don’t like tops to be tucked into a waistband, so it will never show.

The waistband is interfaced with petersham.  After sewing the band to the skirt, it is lined with the silk.

Here you can see the inside of the waistband.  You can also see the top of the zipper closure.  The zipper is put in by hand, and then the lining is slip-stitched to the zipper tape.  The band closes with two hook and eyes.  Even though this looks like a wrap skirt, it is actually a faux wrap, with the overlapping fronts both being attached to the same section of waistband.

To reduce bulk over the stomach, the wool plaid is actually cut away on the under-wrap.  To me, this was the hardest thing, because I was terrified I’d cut too much.  But it is an excellent technique, and really does remove fabric where most women don’t want that extra layer.  I finished the edges where the plaid was cut using a blanket stitch.

You also get a good look at the quilting which is seen on the lining, but is masked by the lines of the plaid of the fashion fabric.

This is the lower edge of the skirt, showing the wrap at the hem.  All the edges of the skirt were slip-stitched.  It you do not like hand stitching, this is not the project for you.

And finally, after more than a month of slip-stitching, the skirt was completed.  I’m sorry that the model is missing her head, but that is the fault of the photographer.



Filed under Vintage Clothing

Sewing Project – Vogue 8804

Almost two months after starting work, I’m happy to say that my “French Couture” jacket is finished.  Well, almost anyway.  I wore it today for the first time, and there is a bit of tweaking I want to do.   First, I’m going to put a large hook at the collar so I can fasten it.  Also, I’m going to do another dart of shaping on the front.  And the fringe needs a bit more cleaning up.

Of all the dozens of tasks associated with this jacket, by far the most time consuming was the making of the fringe.  I love the way it looks, but I’m really glad I did not know how long it was going to take to make so much of it.  And I thought I had it trimmed nicely, but you can see how shaggy it is after I wore it.  I probably need to take a wide-tooth comb to get all the yarns straight before another trimming.

I decided on two pockets, which are perfect for a cell phone and a twenty dollar bill.

I’m glad I added the collar.  I think it gives the jacket a more casual look.

That silk is so beautiful, but so slippery.  I know that if I were to ever have to work in a couture atelier, I’d be in the tailleur rather than the flou – working with wools rather than silks.

I’ve read so much about how light and comfortable this style jacket is, and I’ve got to agree.  This is a very easy to wear garment.  There is no constriction at all in the arms and across the back.  It is light-weight, yet warm, and the silk feels simply luxurious against the skin.

This jacket is one of the popular sewing projects of the moment.  I have a word – or two – of warning to anyone considering this undertaking.  First, you absolutely have to be confident about your hand sewing skills.  You may have years of experience on the machine, but unless you have a neat slip stitch, forget it.  Also, patience is definitely a virtue.  All that hand stitching takes time, so this is not immediate gratification sewing.

If you insist on continuing on, then I highly recommend Claire Shaeffer’s book and dvd, Couture Sewing: The Couture Cardigan Jacket.  You might also want to get the pattern, Vogue 8804, if for no other reason than to have Claire’s step-by-step directions.  I referred to both the pattern directions and to the book.  Or better yet, attend Claire’s Sewfari  if you are on the west coast, or Susan Khalje’s class which is in Baltimore.   I’ve heard that both are excellent.

I’ve been sewing for close to 50 years, but this project proved that I have so much still to learn.  Some of the things are so simple that I’m crying that it took so long to find out about them.  Probably the biggest revelation was the marking of the top of a pattern piece on the right – as opposed to the wrong – side.  How did I not know to do this?  Claire uses a little stitched X to show the top of the piece and the right side.  This is invaluable when the fabric looks the same on both sides.

I know that many people whine about all the basting that Claire suggests, but basting really is the sewer’s friend.  The one time I skipped the basting, I ended up having to rip and restitch.  Also, thread tracing the seam lines was a huge help in matching corners.  I’ll always thread trace corners from now on.

A big thanks to all of you for being so encouraging and interested.  It helped keep me going when I was all stitched out!



Filed under Sewing

Currently Reading and Viewing: The Couture Cardigan Jacket by Claire Shaeffer

You might remember that when I last visited New York, I bought fabric with which to make a Chanel-type jacket.  Any really serious sewer would have the jacket finished by now, and to tell the truth, I’ve not even started.  Part of the reason I put this project off was because I was waiting for the publication of Claire Shaeffer’s latest project, The Couture Cardigan Jacket: Sewing secrets from a Chanel collector.

Claire has spent years examining Chanel garments, figuring out the special techniques that make the work of the house so distinctive.  Many of these techniques have been shared in her earlier work, Couture Sewing Techniques.  This latest book is more about the special assembly of the Chanel jacket.  Also included are an in depth chronology of the House of Chanel and a close look at the jackets in Claire’s collection.

When I got the book this week, I sat down and read it all the way through.  I wanted to know exactly what I’d gotten myself into.  Then, today I watched the video.  It is a great accompaniment to the book, as watching the sewing being done cleared up any questions I had after the reading.  I suggest that anyone who gets the book take it chapter by chapter, so as not to be overwhelmed as I was.

As with all of Claire’s books, you do not have to be a sewer to find the contents valuable.  But in this case, you do have to really want to know more about how the Chanel jacket is constructed.  Any lover of couture who has a special interest in construction needs to add this to his or her library.

What is it that makes couture so appealing and special?  This 1960s Chanel jacket is an example of the attention to detail that goes into couture.  The collar, cuffs and lower edge of the jacket appear to have been made from solid red fabric, but upon examination you find that the red areas were formed by stitching tucks  to conceal the beige stripe.  Even in the close-up photos it was hard to see where the tucks had been taken.  It would have been much easier to have cut these areas out of red fabric.



Filed under Currently Reading, Currently Viewing, Sewing

Currently Reading: Couture Sewing Techniques

I don’t often just sit around reading sewing instructional books for fun, but this book is just so much more than just a sewing manual.  I first encountered Claire Shaeffer several years ago at the Costume Society of America Symposium.  She gave a presentation on the topic of identifying Chanel couture, even if the label was missing.  I was just blown away at her research on the topic, and her study extends far beyond Chanel.

I’ve long lamented the way online sellers sling around the C word – Couture.  But I honestly think that most of these people do not know the difference between couture and designer ready-to-wear.   Those sellers need this book.  Claire has a great chart that compares and contrasts couture and RTW.  It’s all spelled out, and made perfectly clear.

I’m not going to go into a true review here because I’m writing one for the Vintage Fashion Guild.  It will be in the public newsletter next month, which can be accessed through the VFG homepage.  The book I’m showing is the recently published up-dated and revised edition.  You can also buy the original. 

While Claire shows the reader how to do each technique, she also explains how couture houses apply the technique in the construction of a garment.  A few examples from a late 1960s Chanel dress:

A Chanel buttonhole:  hand-worked on the outside…

bound in the lining, and then sewn to the hand-worked hole.

Zipper is inserted by hand, and notice that the actual closure extend to the shoulder seam:

Even the backs of pocket flaps are beautifully finished and lined in silk:


Filed under Currently Reading

Behind the Seams: A Look at Chanel Couture

When Claire Shaeffer was told she could not visit and observe the Chanel couture workrooms, that just made her even more determined to learn about the techniques used at that house.  So she began collecting Chanel – not just couture, but also ready-to-wear, and Chanel copyists and imitators.   She has used her own collection to study the techniques that make Chanel couture special, what sets it apart from ready-to-wear and how to spot a fake Chanel.

Now she is sharing this hard-won knowledge with all of us.  She has just released a CD book titled Behind the Seams:  Chanel. The 800 plus photographs on the CD show clearly  the inner workings of a Chanel couture suit, and also Chanel Ready-to-wear.  For each item in her collection, she shows multiple photos, sometimes several photos of the same detail.  For example, she  shows the hand embroidered buttonhole, and the bound buttonhole of the lining that faces it.  You can enlarge the photos, and for most items she has interesting and informative commentary.

The CD is interactive and very easy to use.  It’s in the form of a pdf file so the user can adjust the size of the print and photos.  It’s beautifully produced and honestly, makes one want to start on a quest for their own Chanel stash!

Claire is known for her sewing books and for her sewing workshops, but this CD book is not just for those who sew.  It’s for anyone who has an interest in vintage couture and in what makes it special.  It’s for fashion historians and collectors, and yes, for sewers.  It’s even for those who don’t want to be cheated by falling for Chanel fakes.

To see some pages from the CD and to purchase your own copy, visit the Shaeffer on Chanel blog by David Page Coffin, who worked with Claire on this project.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this CD for review purposes.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

Couture, by Way of the Circus

It’s really a good idea to let people know what you collect.  I get emails from on-line buddies all the time telling me about a cute scottie something they saw on etsy, or a great travel booklet on eBay.  And I have even gotten some wonderful things for my collection from people who were cleaning the closets, and thought, “Hey, Lizzie loves old exercise wear…”  and instead of putting their little piece of history in the garbage, it finds its way to me where I make it feel right at home with the other gymsuits and workout ensembles.

My latest case is this helanca (a very soft and stretchy nylon) leotard, and pair of cotton  shorts.  These items were sent to me by Claire Shaeffer.  If you are a sewer, you may know of Claire’s books on sewing techniques.    Couture Sewing Techniques is a personal favorite.

But before Claire was a sewing expert, she was a member of the Florida State University Circus Actually, I didn’t realize FSU had their very own circus, but it’s a long-standing tradition, being started in the late 1940s.  And in the 1950s, Claire was a member.  The items she sent to me date from her circus days.  Claire included some information about the items, and some priceless photos:

I got them (the shorts) when I went to Florida State in 1957. I was there two years. FSU has a collegiate circus. Generally, freshmen have a routine with 3 guys and a girl. It’s not terribly difficult to thrown around a bit if you have any athletic ability at all.

My sophomore year I had a routine with a guy that was based on a professional act at the time–sorry I have no idea their names. It was much more complex to showcase my flexibility and skills.

Claire never did make a career of the circus, but she has made a name for herself in the vintage fashion and sewing worlds.  She continues to study and write about couture techniques, and she teaches sewing workshops in Palm Springs, CA.  And she was recently featured in Palm Springs Lifemagazine.  Here she is today with some items from her collection of vintage couture.


photos courtesy of Claire Shaeffer.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear