Monday, September 5, 2016

A Red Suit for a Sewalong

Way back in April I joined a Vintage Suit Sewalong group on Facebook.  The idea was to sew a vintage style suit from any era, work at approximately the same pace as one another as per the guidelines, and share our experiences.  I thought it sounded like a fun idea, but was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it on time since I didn't have anywhere to sew at that point!

I found my inspiration care of the Instagram account of a friend of mine:

Killer shoulders - tick!
Killer sleeves - tick!
Killer neckline - tick!

Then I found a pattern to use as a starting point:

Yep, you're right.  It looks nothing like it!

Then I found the perfect fabric - some grossly expensive 100% wool crepe, and some novelty print rayon lining:

 There's lady beetles!

I started out redrawing the pattern, resizing it as I went and adjusting the front so it crossed over, and turning the sleeves into full length one piece really full bishop sleeves.  The sleeves were probably the most daunting part really, not having ever played with sleeve shapes before.  But I've never let a thing like no experience stop me!

Since my fabric was so expensive (it really was!) I decided I should make a muslin and check that the adjustments I had made would work.

And besides the top half of the sleeve being a fraction too tight around my bicep, I was very happy with how I'd done!  That left me with the chore of cutting out my wool crepe, rayon lining, inter-lining and hair canvas.  Which would seem like a bit of a chore if the fabric wasn't so beautiful to work with.  100% wool really is worth spending the money on just once if you can.  Its an experience!

I then set about sewing the fronts together and putting in the hair canvas, which I did by hand.  It will never be seen, but there is something satisfying about putting the time in and doing it by hand.  I tacked the seam allowances down as well, but I didn't do any pad stitching, as the hair canvas is only there for support not shaping.

I also use fun coloured bias tape because I can!

The back of the jacket didn't need any hair canvas, but I didn't want to leave the crepe unsupported, so instead I used some organza as an inter-lining, but only down to the waist.  This was put in the same way as the hair canvas.

The only parts that didn't get supported was the collar, and the sleeves.  I wanted those sleeves to be as flowy as possible.

A lovely detail was created in inserting the sleeve.  To make the sleeve wider for my bicep, I added 2 inches straight down the centre.  To offset that and make the sleeve cap easier to fit, I made 3 half inch stitched pleats in the cap.  This left only a small amount of gathering to be done to make the sleeve fit the jacket.  It fitted beautifully, and I was over the moon with the result.

The centre pleat ALMOST lined up with the shoulder seam...

I tried it on and it fitted beautifully, but I realised I was going to have to make some pretty epic shoulder pads to hold this suit up in true Joan Crawford fashion!

Shoulder pad goals.

I had a bit of a google and all I could find were a tutorial for shoulder pads more designed for rayon dresses, and my shoulder pad tutorial - hahaha!  And I knew that neither of them were going to cut it for this suit.  So I mulled over it for a few days and eventually came up with the solution at about 2am one morning.

Is everyone's best thinking done at 2am when they should be sleeping?  Or is that just me?

I realised that what I needed was a shaped 'pocket' filled firmly with something like wadding to help create the shape, with a cotton batting layer on each side of that, and a steam-shaped piece of collar canvas over the top of that for the suit to sit on.

I started out by using the suit pattern pieces to cut an appropriate sized semi circle with a shaped outer edge to match the suit.  I then cut out 2 in hair canvas, 2 in cotton batting, and 1 in collar canvas for each shoulder.  I copiously steamed the collar canvas pieces and wrapped them around my sausage shaped tailor's ham and pinned them to cool into shape.  I then set about making my padded pockets.

I pinned the pairs of hair canvas pieces so that there would be a decent sized space to fill when the pieces were curved on the shoulder.  Then I sewed them around the semi circle edge.

Then I put all the sandwich layers together on the shoulders of my mannequin, and stuffed the pockets full of fibre filling until they were firm.

Once I was happy with them, I cut another piece of cotton batting and hand sewed it to the open edge to close up the pocket.  Then I put them in the jacket and sewed in the lining.

Because this jacket is made to stay closed (and not be worn open) no-one will see the lining or my bias detail, but I'll know its there.

Here is a really interesting comparison between shoulder pads and no shoulder pads:

The picture on the left has no shoulder pads.  The picture on the right has shoulder pads!  The jacket sits so much better with them than without them.  See the folded floppy bit between the bust and the shoulder along the sleeve edge on the picture on the left?  Well its gone in the picture with shoulder pads.  Thats because this jacket NEEDS those big shoulder pads to sit properly.

And with that, the jacket was finished!

I ummed and ahhed about the skirt.  I didn't want to make the straight skirt from the pattern I used for the jacket, so I pulled out a few other 1940s suit patterns to see what options I had.

I thought about it some more, and I ended up going with the 6-gored skirt on the right.  It sewed together so easily that I didn't take a photo of it during construction at all - I just totally forgot about it!

A few days later I travelled to Sydney to see an exhibition (that I will talk about in my next post) so OF COURSE I wore my brand new suit!

I teamed it with an amazing hat from High Hat Couture on Etsy, a bakelite and celluloid necklace and bakelite "Macarthur Heart" brooch from Brighter Bakelite on Etsy, and shoes from Miss L Fire.

I'm really happy with the final outcome.  I was comfortable all day and I got plenty of compliments!  Sewing this suit really cemented in my mind how much I love sewing with wool, and how much I enjoy making tailored garments, so expect more of this kind of thing from me even when it gets too warm to wear them!

So tell me, have you ever sewn a suit?



  1. The construction was a delight to read and it looks sooo good on - congratulations on putting a great look together. I look forward to your next posting :) Sam the Aussie

  2. Wow! I just love how you fearlessly solve "problems" and come up with a brilliant result. Those sleeve pleats are genius. I'm sure plenty of people said "l love what your wearing!" I would have.

  3. Wowza! That is amazing! Good job, girlie!! I'm glad you are back blogging again--I hope this means you are starting to feel a bit better!!

  4. I really enjoy sewing suits, but I'm still working on my fitting skills. My last suit was very frustrating in that department, so I've taken a suit break.... But this post reminds me how awesome suits are and that it's worth another shot!

  5. I have never made a suit.(although I have been sewing for 42 yrs) I can't seem to find jackets off the racks that fit me, but the jackets from the 40's fit me like they were made for me. :)
    I know many people who don't like shoulder pads thinking they make their shoulders look too big. I tell them that the jacket is cut for having shoulder pads, you can't have nothing there. Make a smaller shoulder pad, but you have to have something.The picture of your jacket with and w/out the shoulder pads is a great example.
    You must make more clothing the color of the suit. It looks striking on you.

  6. That color is stunning on you and the suit and hat are so charming. I love how you solved the sleeve issue, it adds a beautiful detail to the jacket.

  7. Yep. I do a lot of my planning, thinking and designing in the early hours too! Your suit looks fabulous. I've made two suits now and have learnt a lot in making them which is always a pleasure.

  8. It's those sleeves!!! They're so awesome. And the colour, and the shoulder um, puffs? It all looks so fabulous, and so do you in it.

    Haha have I ever sewn a suit? Weeeelllll I have four hems and 5 buttonholes and buttons to do then I can say I will have :-D
    Actually that doesn't sound too bad. I should just get on with it and finish it right? Right....!

  9. So stunning! Killer.

    Sewing a suit sounds terrifying to me, but I am so with you on the good quality wool. It's worth using fabrics that make you happy just to hold them! Also with you on the solutions at 2am.

  10. This is seriously sewing goals level for me... I am waiting for the day I feel brave enough to tackle tailoring a suit, let alone one with such magnificent sleeves such as these!! I can't say how utterly fabulous I think you look in this ensemble, but wow, it seems couture in the best way. ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

  11. Beautiful, as always. Not to mention it is constructed in my favorite colour. As we are moving a bit north perhaps I may incorporate wool/wool blends for suits.

    It was a joy reading this post and seeing your creation (it's been a while).