THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

November 18, 2006

Stalking the Ghost of Coco Chanel – Part II

Filed under: Couture Techniques,Designer Inspirations,Fashion — phyllisc @ 10:00 am

by Diva Phyllis

Boy, it feels good to finish a UFO! Divas Ann and Georgene should recognize this jacket – I started it around the time the three of us went to the Chanel exhibit at the Met in the spring of 2005.

In my Chanel technique research, several authors mention the “poverty de luxe” and the “luxe cache” of Chanel haute couture – basically, the hidden luxury. I had no clue what that meant until I wore this jacket for the first time yesterday. It has a soft sweater like quality, and it’s sooo comfortable! In fact, I don’t store on a hanger – it’s folded up with my sweaters.

Chanel jackets have this special feature because their construction is not at all like traditional jacket sewing. In a regular, completely machine-sewn jacket, essentially two garments, lining and jacket, are constructed separately and sewn together. Chanel jackets are constructed as a single unit from the inside out, and each seam is enclosed in a logical manner out to the jacket edges, which are done last. So what does all of this hand sewing achieve? You get a jacket that feels like a sweater; soft, comfortable and pliable.

Commonly, in Chanel jackets, there are none of the facings, interfacings, or layers of pad stitched hair canvas commonly used in bespoke and couture tailoring. Rather, you create the jacket from the inside out with just fabric and lining. The jacket lining is quilted directly to the fashion fabric as the first stage of construction.

First, you create blocks of fabric and lining with the wrong sides basted together. The block is thread traced again to outlines the shape of the pattern piece (no seam allowance.) The lining is then quilted to the fabric. The bodice of this jacket is hand quilted, and the sleeves are machine quilted. I can’t remember why I decided to hand quilt the lining – maybe I thought the stitching would show to the front? Well, I ended up doing it by machine for the sleeves, and it’s not noticeable at all. Chanel jackets are machine quilted.

In the traditional Chanel method, each quilted jacket/lining piece is cut out as one. When the seams are sewn, the lining is folded back, the fashion fabric seams are machine stitched and then the lining seams are closed with hand fell stitches. The princess seams were sewn this way.

This photo shows the inside of the jacket at this stage. The quilted lining has been folded back so I could machine stitch the vertical seams. Then the lining seams were folded back over and stitched closed by hand with a fell stitch.

For the side and shoulder seams I decided to treat the two fabric layers as one, and according to my research, Chanel also did this occasionally. The princess seam edges were catch stitched down and then covered on the inside of the jacket with a non-bias strip of lining fabric hand fell stitched in place, sort of like a Hong Kong finish.

Another distinctive Chanel construction feature involves the famous braided trim. In the traditional method, these are also attached before the edges of the jacket are closed. This assures that none of the machine stitching for the braid shows on the lining of the jacket. After the trim is attached the jacket edges are turned under and basted. The lining is then turned under and basted. Then the lining is hand fell stitched around the jacket edges, as you can see in this photo (the color is off due to the flash – the rest of thephotos show a truer color fabric color.) The pockets are done the same way.

I had to figure out a way to do the pockets myself because none of my sources had much detail about them. So I adapted Cheri Dowd’s method used for the sleeves (details are below) The top edge of the pocket and lining are sewn, then I thread traced the pattern piece (no SA), fold the lining back down, and machine quilted it. Then I cut out the pocket and folded under the seam allowances and fell stitched the seams. Here are photos of a pocket partially complete:

You can also see the braid has been pulled apart. I’ve discovered this is a good way to reduce bulk. Just cut the chain stitching that holds the braid together, pull the pieces apart, stitch them together and trim the ends. This makes it easy to turn under the end of the braid. The braid on the jackets is done this way too, and the edges can just be butted together instead of lapping one end over the other.

This ended up being a UFO because, at the time I started this project, I found no information in my original sources as to how to construct and install the sleeves. Fortunately, Threads came to my rescue, and I used the sleeve method in Cheri Dowd’s article “Shortcuts to a Designer Jacket” in the new Dec‘06/Jan ’07 issue. A complete list of technque sources is on Pattern Review.

Cheri’s technique is ingenious and easy to understand, but I discovered what appear to be three omissions in the article: (1) for best results on a 2 piece sleeve, start quilting from the front underarm seam on the main sleeve piece to keep the quilting aligned with curve of the sleeve, (2) her article is silent on how to manage closing the 2nd underarm seam all the way to the sleeve edge – the quilted lining gets in the way. I ended up sewing the last few inches of this seam by hand, and the braid will cover this stitching. Lastly, (3) Cheri she doesn’t say whether she attaches the braid by machine or by hand, and also doesn’t state at what point in construction this should happen.

If you don’t want the braid stitching to show to the edge to edge lining them you have to sew on the trim as I did for the pockets, before you bag out the jacket. I didn’t realize this until it was too late for the sleeves, and so the braid stitching on the sleeves is sew on by hand because I didn’t want any stitching to show on the inside of the sleeve.

The final steps include attaching the pockets with hand fell stitches, and adding the distinctive curbed chain hem weight – which, incidentally, needs to taken out and sewn back in, by hand naturally, when the jacket is cleaned.

As my mother likes to say, “Sometimes we must sacrifice for fashion.”

Keep on Sewin’!



  1. Wow Phyllis, that was so worth the wait! I can’t wait to see the finished jacket on you. It is stunning in the pictures!

    Comment by Gorgeous Things — November 18, 2006 @ 8:23 am

  2. Phyllis, I am in awe! The work you put into this jacket is so detailed and inspiring … I am speechless.

    Comment by Lorna — November 18, 2006 @ 10:10 am

  3. Lovely post and lovely jacket, Phyllis. I’m smiling.

    Comment by Mary Beth — November 18, 2006 @ 11:25 am

  4. Lovely jacket! Do tell, though: for those of us who simply don’t have the time, could we get a similar effect by underlining a jacket rather than dealing with hand sewing all over the place?


    Comment by LornaJay — November 18, 2006 @ 1:58 pm

  5. Yum! I am so glad you put your finishing touches on this at last. Love the lining!

    Comment by Georgene — November 18, 2006 @ 5:18 pm

  6. Phyllis,
    What an inspiration. Your jacket is stunning and your work is awesome. Thanks for sharing.
    Linda (I changed over to beta and I can’t sign in and use my blogger account so I had to leave this under anonymous.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 18, 2006 @ 7:58 pm

  7. Wow, excellent job. Really is a nice quality looking Chanel type jacket.

    Comment by Linda — November 19, 2006 @ 4:42 am

  8. Wow! this is just fabulous. How many hours do you estimate this jacket took to make? I wondered what she did on the sleeves myself. The pictures of current jackets show that there is a real vent at the sleeve end, Dowd’s jacket doesn’t look like it does.

    Comment by Nancy — November 19, 2006 @ 7:47 am

  9. That’s hard to say Nancy – I started it so long ago I’ve forgotten! But I’d estimate the hand quilting took at least 10 hours. My jacket doesn’t have sleeve vents. I was going to add them, but nixed that idea in order to get the thing finished. Also, as you point out, Cheri Dowd’s method as shown in Threads doesn’t have a vented sleeve either. With a bit of fiddling I suspect it could be done though.

    Comment by Phyllis — November 19, 2006 @ 8:16 am

  10. Stunning Phyllis. What excellent research, technique and patience! Brava!

    Comment by Kelly — November 19, 2006 @ 9:54 am

  11. Did you look at the original article by Claire Schaeffer in Threads on Chanel?

    Comment by Nancy — November 19, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

  12. You can be proud that you finished this “Chanel” jacket Phyllis and now enjoy wearing it. Great detail pictures and post of all the different sewing steps you went thru to make this jacket. I love the lining fabric you used.

    Comment by Els — November 19, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  13. I stand in awe!

    Comment by vespabelle — November 21, 2006 @ 10:15 am

  14. Spectacular! and perfectly timed! i am going to do a “quicky” chanel and was wondering what you thought of the Threads article. I love the lining!

    Comment by Lisette — November 22, 2006 @ 8:47 am

  15. LOvely work . I am also doing a Chanel jacket and it has been ” resting ” in a bag in my sewing room . I made my own braid by unravelling the tweed fabric and am very glad I can use your pocket inspiration as I seem to think that mystification and exhaustion had set in around the time it went into the bag.Have you seen Claire S pattern in the latest Vogue collection? It gives very good instructions and also includes a three piece sleeve? Regards Mem

    Comment by Anonymous — November 22, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

  16. Phyllis, I got the base of my jacket done and need to do the trim. I was always going to do it by hand so I just finished the jacket up. I have a picture on my blog and would love your advice. I made my own braid but am not sure if it is too much, or worse, not enough?

    Comment by Lisette — December 4, 2006 @ 6:34 am

  17. Well, I am a sewing nut and i have been visiting Chanel boutique lots of times. Your tips and methods is great, keep it up. Often, I find people neglect the Chanel shoulders, that’s where the secrets is. If you look closely, the chanel shoulders are rounded fron the front view and the check pattern matches at the armhole and visually the same pattern piece. There is a lot of poeple who can match check patterns at the armhole (I can too!), but often the check pattern on bodice and sleeve travels different angle, if you look at chanel ad in magazine, you’ll notice what i am talking about, I do sewing by trade and I have been looking at this for a loooong time!! It’s sad no one seem to care, but I know the whole secret is in the shoulder rather than the other places that other experts all talks about. I also know sometimes chanel use a bra padding like foam as the shoulder pad, I could see it through the jacket linning in Chanel boutique. cheers!

    Comment by George Wu — December 30, 2006 @ 12:26 am

  18. Greetings–I, too, am infected with Chanel jackets and am on my second one. Clare Shafer’s Vogue patterns and books have been immensely helpful for construction technique, but don’t mention the famous Chanel trim. So I investigated the subject and found that a lot of the trim is braided boucle yarn handsewn to grosgrain ribbon. On my first attempt I used the first black boucle yarn I could find (el cheapo at Michael’s): big mistake. Looks cheap, so found a great black alpaca boucle online and what a difference!

    The buttons are matte black, but I notice that Chanels nearly always have gold embossed buttons, so may change the buttons if I find any good ones at the G Street sale (starts today!). I quite honestly think that inexpensive gimp, which I used on another jacket, does not have the feel of a real Chanel. Plus, unless it’s made of silk or wool, it downgrades the luxuriousness. After going to all the trouble of quilting and handsewing, etc., it’s not a good idea to skimp on the trim.

    One more thing: Chanel jackets have rather tight-fitting sleeves, so adjust patterns accordingly. And, by the way, after going through my closet, I found a few out-of-style blazers just perfect for Chanelizing! I shall be Queen of the Homemade Chanels! Thanks for this fabulous website (my first time here).

    Catherine B.

    Comment by Catherine — June 13, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

  19. Thanks to you all for your fine tuning of the details of the finely made Chanel jacket. I have never taken the time to hand sew any item but, now I prefer a more tailored look and will invest more time and care into the things I sew. Thanks again for sharing.

    Comment by Lavern T — November 19, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

  20. Hi, just found your website and I am in awe of your Chanel jacket. Please explain what you mean by “quilting” the fabric and lining together”

    Thanks so much,


    Comment by Jill Morgenstein — December 18, 2008 @ 4:59 pm

  21. Hi Jill – as improbable as it sounds, all this mean is that the pattern pieces are cut out and placed with the wrong sides of the lining and fashion fabric are layered together and then machine quilted, usually with parallel rows of stitching. The spongy wool tweeds that Chanel uses disguise the stitching from the right side. After quilting the lining is folded back and the jacket side seams are machine sewn. The lining side seams are then sewn closed by hand. Then the shoulder seams are machine sewn and the lining hand sewn at the shoulders. The sleeves are done in a similar manner and attached to the jacket by hand. I’ve simplified the process a bit in this explanation, but this is essentially how Chanel couture Jackets are made.

    Comment by phyllisc — December 19, 2008 @ 6:35 am

  22. Thank you Phyllis.
    I am just starting to research the Chanel jacket (just ordered one the LAST 12 copies left, of back issue, Threads November 2005 today!). I am going to start in spring and it will take a while,I want to do this right! Do you have any book recommendations,etc to give? I also like the CS Couture Sewing Techniques and may purchase this.I have also been in touch with the Chanel mill in the UK (Linten I think) for some fabric samples,price being a consideration.My goal is to start my entry as a blog with my Chanel experience. No more lurking! It is time to get in! Let me know if there are any other book recs you have or what other advice you may have as I start this journey from research, to finished product.
    Thank you-and your jacket is pure inspiration. How lovely!

    Comment by Joanne — December 30, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  23. where is the video and pictures

    Comment by rial jun — October 1, 2010 @ 8:01 am

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