Social Sewing

The “Go Chanel or Go Home” blog promises to inspire me to start working on a classic jacket. Chanel jackets are sewn slowly with lots of basting and handstitching. I’ve been reading some books about Chanel and how influential she has been, far beyond the wool suit trimmed in braid that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy made famous. She designed jersey dresses and cardigan suits, tiered evening gowns, and tweed jackets with notched collars, among many other garments and accessories.  I think she wore a hat with everything (except maybe her pajamas). Sewing can be a solitary occupation, and it’s great to have a group sew-along to make it more social. And when you finish and upload a photo of the completed project, you get to have that “look what I made” thrill.

Picked zippers

I attended Susan Khalje’s day-long couture sewing workshop during the American Sewing Guild conference that just concluded in Albuquerque. Susan is a gifted sewer and teacher and I learned a lot. Two women sitting at my table helped me with a couple of confusing things and were just delightful as they told me they’d known each other since high school and consider themselves not just sewing buddies and best friends but, truly, sisters.

My favorite thing from the workshop was the hand-picked zipper, sewn in by hand using the pick stitch. Susan explained that couture sewing gives the sewer more control over the result. That became obvious with the picked zipper. We each installed one for practice. When I started sewing 40 or so years ago, I followed the pattern instructions for the lapped zipper. It was more precise and pretty than the modified lapped zipper today’s pattern instructions feature, but of course there were more steps involved. And it always looked a little home-sewn, with all the I’m-too-poor-to-shop-at-department-stores stigma that suggests. I’ve also installed centered zippers, which almost always look bad, mostly because the center fold shows the marks, holes, and distortion from the basting stitches that are ripped out at the end. And I’ve recently been playing with invisible zippers, which present the challenge of keeping a little pucker or bubble from forming at the bottom between the end of the zipper stitches and the beginning of the seam stitches.

The picked zipper, which is sewn into the seam by hand, sounds slow. But it’s so straightforward and simple and offers so much control throughout the process that it winds up being more efficient–not to mention more elegant–than machine installation. I declared to my two new workshop friends that I’d never put another zipper in any other way.  But then I went to a fashion show the next night featuring local young designers and saw some cute shorts with no waistband and a conventional metal (looked like metal from where I was) centered zipper machine-installed up the front and some wonderful dresses with zippers centered and sewn by machine on the outside of the center back seam. Might have to rethink the zipper in context. Does it make sense to put in a picked zipper on the front of hot-pink short-shorts? Given the wear and tear and the extreme casual styling and the youth of the wearer, probably not.  But I’m grateful to Susan for teaching me another slow sewing technique to use when I’m constructing a garment with a sophisticated oh-yes-I’ve-been-to-Paris sensibility.

Susan’s illustrated instructions for installing a zipper by hand are at