No knitting task is more intricate and challenging than to reproduce a Chanel-style jacket. Many of us want all the glamour of a Chanel-style piece without all the fuss. Of course, I always want a Chanel jacket, but I don’t necessarily want to spend three months getting there. So I have been experimenting with easier approaches that are accessible to most knitters.
Chanel has always designed simple sweaters and cardigans alongside their jackets, and why not start with one in stockinette? The classic elements of a Chanel style cardigan are the simple color scheme, metallic buttons and contrast/matching trim stripe sequence:
Chanel Resort, 2010
Jean Frost has a pattern, Grey Flannel, which explains exactly how to achieve this effect in the 2005 magazine, “Knitters” K81. In fact, there is a whole “Crazy for Coco” theme in the magazine.
I discovered the Grey Flannel pattern when Jean Frost wore it to one of the workshops I attended at Stitches West. Her garment was much better fitted to her figure than the one above is fitted to the model! Frost had also knitted her cardigan in a gorgeous black and white tweed that was a thousand times more sophisticated than the yarn used in the magazine photo, which is probably why that design has languished into obscurity. Always, with a Chanel inspired knit, success is determined by the use of a “luxe” yarn, whether that is a silk or cashmere bend, angora or mohair. The reverse straight stitch (all purl) fabric of the pattern really shows off the sheen and beauty of the tweed. Since I was lucky enough to meet Frost in person, she told me the yarn she used, which is still in production today. It is Peruvian Tweed, 100% alpaca, and you can find it at Yarn Barn.
Jean Frost edged the black and white tweed with navy and red Shetland yarn and used lion head brass buttons to close the jacket. Lion head buttons are a wonderful choice for Chanel jackets as the designer has used them often in the past. You can even find authentic Chanel logo buttons if you search hard enough online or at trade shows. I found some 1950s-era real Chanel buttons at a Vintage button seller at Stitches West one year, and used one as a faux pin on my Enchanted Emerald jacket.
The button is simply attached to the jacket by means of a safety pin on the underside so I can remove it if I want. It certainly adds to the luxe look of the jacket. I wore the jacket once when I hosted a home I was selling on broker’s tour in a snobby neighborhood, and a successful French realtor zeroed right in on my pin, gave my jacket a once-over, and gushed, “I love your Chanel…uh ahem, your jacket.” Heh heh heh.
I am using the same buttons on the Chanel-style pullover which I am knitting right now--I have finished the body, I just need to make sleeves:
Many ebay and etsy sellers have modern-era Chanel buttons for sale too, but they can be outrageously expensive. I looked the other day, and some buttons were selling for $250 in a lot of four! On the other hand, the really cheap Chanel logo buttons sold by obscure ebay retailers are likely fakes. Although it is always tempting to buy imitation designer goods, beware that many sales of counterfeit designer goods subsidize terrorist and criminal organizations. There has been a large spate of articles recently on this subject in both the mainstream and fashion media.
Chanel often didn’t use CC logo buttons for jackets and cardigans anyway, instead using a simple lions head or brass ornate design, and that style is readily available. I hope to knit Grey Flannel sometime this year although I would want to add much more waist-shaping to make the cardigan more figure-flattering. Another cardigan pattern with great Chanel style is called Gloucester, and it is availablein Jean Frost’s Jackets book:
Or if you prefer a more retro look, Dusty by Marie Wallin has a wonderful flair. You can find it in Rowan Studio 32
Going up several levels of difficulty, another successful approach to Chanel-style knits I am enamoured with is to make a pullover that incorporates elements of Chanel-style jacket. This mirrors a current trend in Chanel that is moving away somewhat from the standard cardigan jacket. Lagerfeld’s runway designs now feature coat-like dresses, extra-long overcoat styles and even jacket-style pullovers, like the one that inspired my Gabrielle.
What is fabulous about this top is that it is not a sweater. It is a jacket in sweater form. Here is another 1013 Jacket-like sweater:
What a fabulous innovation this is! And the increased confidence you gain from knitting a well-known structure like a pullover gives you more freedom to craft an intricate, Chanel-inspired fabric. I rediscovered the magic of the pullover form recently with my Dinky Pull from Anny Blatt, which mirrors the fabulousness of houndstooth designs on the designer runways:
The Dinky Pull proved to me that by attempting less I could actually do more. My Chanel-inspired pullovers like The Dinky Pull and Gabrielle are twice as polished as my Chanel jackets could ever hope to be because I didn’t venture beyond my current level of skill. Although the fabric itself was difficult to make, the pullover form is one I know very well! The pullover I am working on now is The Charm Pull by Anny Blatt:
I am really in love with this design. Yes, The Charm Pull is one of my major heirloom knits for 2014. The tweed-like fabric and buttoned pockets pay homage to the classic Chanel jacket but the garment is a relatively simple shape. The key to creating a luxurious fabric is to combine several different expensive-looking yarns together in a similar yet slightly different color range to create depth of color. Here are the three yarns I chose to use for my radically reworked version of this design:
The Rowan kidsilk haze and Rowan angora haze are held together, while the Anny Blatt Victoria ribbon yarn stands on its own. After much swatching, I constructed an interesting stitch pattern that shows off the three yarns, in my case a double garter slip stitch pattern. The knitting pattern itself did not explain how to create the textural effect in the photos and I'm glad of this enormous omission, because I like my fabric even better. The slip stitch pattern I am using gives depth of color, sheen and texture, the three essential ingredients to a Chanel-inspired knit. For more information on how to create a designer-inspired knit fabric, see these posts:
Because the pockets are the signature detail which makes the pullover akin to a Chanel jacket, I have labored over them for weeks. Part of my heirloom approach to knitting is dedicating significant time to the details, and in this case it is really warranted. When a key detail like a pocket is what makes the piece look like a designer-inspired knit, that what everyone looks at first, so it has to be perfect. If I had followed the lame instructions in the Anny Blatt knitting pattern I would have ended up with a shiny tacked-on-looking design element which would have made the entire sweater look tacky and inexpensive. If you can believe it, the pattern asks that you cast on and rib 22 stitches in the ribbon yarn, cast off and sew the strip onto the body of the sweater, feigning a pocket top. Have you ever seen the cast on row of a ribbed piece? In ribbon yarn it is even more bulky. Imagine how it would stick out of the body of the sweater, in striking contrast to the dark angora/KSH fabric. How cheap and ill-made the garment would have looked! I did cast on and off some ribbing in the ribbon yarn to test the look, and I discarded it immediately:
Instead, I took many additional steps, such as surrounding my ribbon ribbing in intarsia with a KSH/angora edge all the way around except for the top so that it could melt into the body of the fuzzy slip-stitch fabric.
A long tail was left which was used to slip stitch this ribbing to the garment. I also crafted ribbed pocket linings using a two-row repeat of the stockinette and double garter slip stitch pattern in all three yarns. These pocket linings were essential for a number of reasons. First of all, ribbon yarn is very floppy and the pocket tops had no body at all. They needed interfacing, and the ribbed pocket linings worked perfectly for this.
Second of all, my vintage Chanel buttons are solid metal, and therefore extremely heavy. I needed a second layer of fabric to secure the buttons so that they would not cause the whole pocket to droop forward.
So I sewed the buttons on two times--once to the ribbon pocket layer and then once to the pocket lining for extra stability.
Here is the double-layer pocket top, before it is sewn onto the fabric. Notice the fuzzy fabric of the pocket lining, which is exposed at the top, creates a shadow effect so that the ribbon ribbing will pop out against the body of the slip stitch fabric.
Chanel is using a lot of double-trims nowadays for pocket tops and edgings so I thought the double effect of the two fabrics in contrast to each other worked quite nicely.
I am still working out a pattern for the sleeves, as the fuzzy angora sleeves in the original pattern remind me too much of a fuzzy Wookie, and the ribbon embellishment is too much for my taste. Probably I will just make simple sleeves in kidsilk haze with cuffs that are embellished with ribbon ribbing. I have to admit that this project has taken me several months, but that is because the pattern was not useful in many respects and I had to spend a long time swatching and playing around with different effects in order to figure out the fabric texture and pocket details. I would imagine a pre-written pattern such as the ones by Jean Frost would be much faster to execute. On the other hand, as I have learned the hard way, you should never count on a pattern in order to finish your knits so that they are worthy of their designer-inspiration. Finishing is everything, and most designers do not give detailed enough instructions for us to follow in this area. That is really why I have been writing blogs on my experiences in the hopes that others will not have to go through the same struggle to knit their own Chanel-inspired garments.
What techniques do you use to give your garments that extra finished look? We can learn so much from each other!