Starting in the New Year of 2012, I resolved that I would challenge myself to experiment with how closely knitted fabric could resemble the kind of woven textiles used by design houses such as Chanel. Through this knitting exploration, I created two Chanel-style jackets, the green one you see above, and the white one below:
Now I’m currently working on a V-neck pullover inspired by the Chanel Fall/Winter 2012 couture fashion show. Here are the sleeves, which are finally finished and getting blocked together now, except that I have run through 3 entire boxes of pins and need to buy more before I can finish blocking the second sleeve:
After my little experiment with the processes of textile creation, garment construction and lining of a Chanel-style jacket, I have gained a few insights:
1. Textile creation, for me, is by far the most fun part of the whole process. It is really an exciting experience combining subtle colors to create a “woven” effect and the yarn selection and stitch pattern sampling really sparks my creativity. The only challenge is the patience required to laboriously complete all of the garment pieces. This, for me, can take 2 months if I am using fine yarns and a stitch pattern that truly emulates woven fabric. Truly, there have been moments when the 7 different yarns I used for my V neck sweater tangled together and I wanted to throw the whole thing on the fire and dance while it burned into a crisp.
I had one such moment this week when I discovered that the front piece, which I had laboriously slip stitched with my kaleidoscope of yarns for 2 weeks and then blocked with hundreds of tiny pins did not quite match the back piece and would have to be unraveled back down to the waist. Yes, there was some hair pulling and muttering, but now that I have unraveled half of the piece I am taking advantage of the opportunity to raise the V neck to a more modest point. Upon trying the whole thing on it was looking a bit risqué, and I am determined the wear this sweater a lot so the neckline has risen several inches.
2. Lining. Once you have lined one knitted jacket it is not really that hard to line another. The only tricky thing about lining is that you have to prepare for it in advance by allowing 4 inches of extra ease in your knitted garment. There is also a lot of stretch and give lost, so I also recommend if you are wear more than a B cup to use bust darts while knitting to create extra ease so that the front edges of your jacket are not pulled apart. Like textile art, lining is simply a slow process that requires patience, as all of your work is done by hand. That can make it a contemplative activity for me especially when I am working with a fine needle over a luminous silk.
3. Garment Construction: Recently I was teased about being “La Reine des Cardigans” (The cardigan queen) because, before I entered my Chanel phase, my knitting obsession for several years had centered on cardigans. This turned out to be a hindrance for me, as, pleased with my past success in this area, I attacked the construction of my two Chanel-style jackets with naïve assurance. I jumped right into the Jean Frost pattern, “Emerald Blocks” and created my own pattern, “Coco”, without spending a lot of time planning the measurements of the different parts of the jacket. True, I calculated each jacket’s length, arm and shoulder fit and waist shaping, but it turns out that was not enough. The height and shape of the collar and the fit in the bust area are also extremely important aspects of a successful Chanel style jacket but that is something that I discovered after the fact.
The neckline of the emerald blocks jacket turned out to be several inches too low, not at all like the pattern photo which I found quite misleading. In the pattern photo it actually looks like a stand-up collar because of the way it is folded up, but it knitted up to a simple crew-neck jacket which somehow ended 3 inches below the collar bone. I had relied on the accuracy of the pattern without double checking the measurements as I knitted it up, so, since it was already lined, I had to create a “collar” to fill in the gap. I also found that I had not allowed enough ease for the bust, but since it is a button up jacket I can deal with that by leaving the top 2 buttons undone. Having learned my lesson, I carefully measured Coco as I knitted it up to make sure the collar matched the height and shape of another garment that looked good on me, and I added in 2 extra inches of ease for the bust. That was still not enough. The front edges of Coco pull away right at the bust area still, and I now believe only bust darts knitted into the fabric combined with 4-5 inches of negative ease will really resolve this issue.
I now understand that if you are going to devote two months or more to creating the fabric of the jacket and lining it by hand, the cut of that jacket had better live up to all of that effort.
It occurs to me that if I am wanting this level of accuracy perhaps I should turn to the world of sewing for help. To my delight, Claire Shaeffer has come to the rescue. Claire Shaeffer, herself obsessed with Chanel jackets, has published several books, including Couture Sewing Techniques and the CDROM: Behind the Seams: Chanel
She has also recently created Vogue Pattern V8804 for sewing a Chanel-style jacket:
Based on my experiences now, I think the next time I try to make a Couture-inspired jacket, I am going to start by reading about construction techniques and maybe even go so far as to create a muslin template for my knitted fabric before I dedicate two months of my life to laboring over constructing pieces and lining them by hand. Or I may just go a different direction altogether and knit a Chanel-style cardigan simple enough that I can use my standard knitting techniques to get the effect I want. In the meantime, I am continuing to toil over the front piece of my V-neck sweater, which I have unraveled down to the waist. So close and yet still so far from being finished!