What Works, What Doesn’t: Five Versions of the McCall “Mannish Jacket” from 1941

Readers,

Remember this jacket pattern? Of course you do.

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From 1941, McCall pattern 4065, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

In 2015 I used it for a project following Kenneth King’s “Old School” instructions on his Smart Tailoring DVD.

From 2003 to 2015 I made up this jacket five times.

Don’t ask me why, but I always loved the jaunty pattern illustration.

The actual jackets? I didn’t love them, exactly, although I was proud of the quality of work I did on parts of them.  Only recently (like five minutes ago) did I make this crucial distinction.dark_tweed_jacket_1712-247x460

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If I had seen well-lighted, full-length photos of this first version of the jacket on me I could have perfected the fit.

I made the dark tweed one first, starting it in a Palmer-Pletsch sewing camp in Portland, Oregon in 2003 and finishing it at home with guidance from my sewing teacher, Edith.dark_tweed_jacket_1721-460x363dark_tweed_jacket_1722-460x403

In 2006, in a stunt of sewing bravado, I sewed burgundy plaid, green heather, and red plaid versions. purple_plaid_jacket_1732-244x460

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The only jacket I’ve ever interfaced with fusible canvas. I know Kenneth King isn’t a fan of fusible canvas, but it turned out to work well in this garment.

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I need a little posture-correcting here!

Defiantly shaking my fist at the sewing gods, and with Edith’s encouragement and coaching, I cut the pieces for all three jackets (two requiring meticulous matching) over that Labor Day weekend.  Relaxing, right?

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I have always liked this plaid for its colors and scale.

I just didn’t want to be intimidated by tailoring anymore, so I cut and sewed the three jackets, with different pockets, over the course of several months.

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It’s fun to cut some plaid pieces on the bias. I cut out a hole the shape of the finished flap from stiff paper, and moved the “preview window” around on the yardage. Then I cut the flap pieces.

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It’s nice when you can find the right buttons in the right sizes. These are a souvenir of a visit to Edinburgh.

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Bound buttonholes are not my forte.

 

I had a few tutorials with Edith and also used Jackets for Real People by Patti Palmer and Marta Alto extensively.heather_jacket_1780-460x331

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The bound buttonhole is coming apart. But–I love the subtle coloring of this fabric! I picked it up as a remnant for about $3.00 at the Minnesota Textile Center’s fabulous annual fabric garage sale.

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I’m happy with the shoulders and notched collar job I did. This wool was a breeze to work with.

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Holes in the lining created from carrying tote bags of books to and from the libraries I used to work at. Of all the jackets, I’ve worn this one the most.

I did learn a lot, and achieved a lot, and am still impressed by the ambition of the goal as well as the results.red_plaid_jacket_1808-460x357

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I settled for this style of button but think there are better choices out there. Something subtle and matte.

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Shoulders are okay, but I keep wanting to subtract a little roominess from the upper bodice.

But if the point of sewing clothes is to wear the clothes, then I didn’t succeed as much as I assumed I would.  I didn’t follow through with planning outfits around these jackets, let alone making the jackets the pivotal pieces they deserved to be.

Even though my now four “Misses’ Mannish Jackets” were underemployed in my wardrobe, yet again I turned to this pattern when I wanted to try Kenneth King’s brand new Smart Tailoring DVD last year.blue_tweed_jacket_1818-252x460

I wanted to try all of Kenneth’s techniques–for a notched collar, felt undercollar, mitered sleeves, and a vent–and the Mannish Jacket met all those specs. blue_tweed_jacket_1856-460x384

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This is Kenneth King’s “hidden pocket”: a nice addition to the lining.

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The patch pockets on this 1941 jacket are slightly asymmetrical, which I like.

I did consider many other patterns I’d been dying to try for years–but the prospect of going through the whole muslin, fitting, and pattern-altering rigamarole before getting to the tailoring was just too much. I wanted to finish my jacket before attending Kenneth’s weekend workshop in Cleveland a few months later. (And I did.)

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This fabric, which I bought at a Textile Center of Minnesota sale, may well date to the 1950s. It likely came from somebody’s stash. The button dates to the 1940s, according to the owner of Taylors Buttons in London.

So that’s how Mannish Jacket 5 came to be: I sewed it as a learning exercise. And the fabric?  I chose that only because I was willing to sacrifice it, if the jacket was a dud. So, looking back, I see just how much learning technique took precedence over making myself something I wanted to wear.

In fact, just now I’m realizing that each of these Mannish Jackets may have been taken on a little too self-consciously as An Exercise in Sewing Self-Improvement.

I suspect this because, when I see these jackets hanging in my closet I hear myself saying:

  • “I put a lot of work into that.”
  • “I did a good job [matching the plaid/sewing the pockets/choosing the buttons].”
  • “I learned a lot.”
  • “I wish I hadn’t padded the shoulders so much.”
  • “Are they too long for me?”
  • “My bound buttonholes are too flimsy!”
  • “I do love the fabric.”
  • “If I just sew the right coordinates, I’ll wear them.”

In other words, I still see them as projects more than as garments.

I don’t notice myself saying:

  • “I love these jackets!”
  • “When can I wear them again?”
  • “What can I sew now to make new outfits?”

Don’t get me wrong: the Mannish Jacket series wasn’t a waste of time. I did learn a lot–and not just how to sew a notched collar without flinching.  But there will be no Mannish Jacket number 6.

What I had only vaguely felt–a sense that, however hard I had worked on these garments, they still fell short, without my knowing precisely why–became clear to me when I saw the stark reality in properly lighted photos.

These jackets were wearing me more than I was wearing them.  The shoulders? Wider than I’d realized before, and not in a flattering way.

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I am very dissatisfied with the prominent sleeve caps; they interrupt a clean, straight shoulder line. It doesn’t help that the shoulders are too extended for me. This is the same pattern I used for the preceding four jackets, yet this one turned out so different.

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This is too big! So exasperating. Also, I wonder whether I made the best interfacing choices. They are so hard to get right.

The length?  Disproportionate on me. The back? Too roomy.  This is the 1941 version of–yes, a boyfriend jacket! Of course!

I could alter the pattern pieces for future jackets, narrowing the back and shoulder and taking three or four inches from the 26 1/2″ finished length.  I could make a better-fitting Mannish Jacket. However, I think I’d be removing much of what makes the 1941 design distinctive. I also think my appetite for this style has been satisfied.

Instead, I’ll reassign Jacket 5 from bench-sitting as a garment to active duty as a tailoring resource.  And jackets 1 through 4 can serve occasionally as light coats flung over sweaters or flannel shirts and jeans to wear on crisp, dry, fall days.

There are critical points on the way to getting things sewn, where, if I do make the extra effort to identify the lessons, I can reap the full benefit.

As I look back at what my Mannish Jackets could teach me, some lessons are:

  • Photos of myself in muslins and garments give me much better data to work with than squinting in a mirror or getting feedback from well-intentioned helpers.
  • If the point of sewing most garments is to wear them in outfits, I should pay a lot more attention to the outfit level of planning.
  • Planning outfits is a skill in itself. If I plan outfits before I sew the garments, I’m more likely to enjoy really successful outcomes.  If I sew the garment and then only hope I can incorporate it into an outfit, then I’m more likely to be disappointed.
  • It’s okay to sew something as a rehearsal for the next iteration–as long as I’m aware that what I’m producing is just a practice piece. If it does become part of my wardrobe, that’s a bonus.

Lessons learned.  Now to incorporate them into new practices and put myself on an even more rewarding path.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for all photos.)

 

More Than What Meets the Eye

Readers,

One morning late last week I piled five jackets, a blouse, and my mannequin Ginger into my nifty red folding utility wagon.  After a two-minute commute I arrived at my sister Cynthia’s studio for our photo shoot.

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Trying to look “natural”.

Almost as an afterthought I brought my latest creation: mint-green flannel pajamas.

I wasn’t sure at first that I’d even write about these pajamas.  They were so ordinary.  What could I possibly say about them?

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Butterick describes this as “Misses’ top, shorts, and pants.” The word “pajamas” is not used.

I could always write a standard review.

Yawn.

I won’t keep you in suspense. My review is: They’re just fine. Thanks, Butterick.

And the alterations?  I shortened and/or narrowed:

  • the top front and back pieces
  • the facing
  • the pocket pieces
  • the sleeve and sleeve band pieces
  • the pants leg and pants leg band pieces
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Flat piping inserted between the pocket and the pocket band. Next time I’ll plan a contrast piping.

The pattern shows optional piping.  My flannel was so luxuriously thick, self-fabric piping with a filler cord was out of the question.  I tried using the flannel in a flat piping for the pocket and sleeve band.

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The flat piping inserted between the sleeve and the band added bulk to the seam, so I skipped piping the front edge and collar. But a lighter, more flexible contrast piping would look nice.

That was still pretty thick and stiff inserted into the seam.  So I skipped piping altogether for the front opening, collar, and pants leg bands.

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The ripply collar: a mistake, or a design feature? You choose.

I don’t know how I did it, but I bungled sewing the collar smoothly onto the neckline.  I was in too much of a hurry to get this project done to see whether the problem was at the pattern-drafting stage (Butterick’s fault) or at the pattern piece-cutting stage (my fault).

If I sew these pajamas again I’ll find the source of the rippling problem and fix it before I cut any pieces. This time, though, I’m calling the rippling a “design feature.”

Wow, what a boring review.

But wait! There was something interesting thing about this pajama-sewing project. It really brought home to me that the things I sew are collections of associations I make and stories I tell myself.

Examples:

The fabric. What others see is a nice cotton flannel.  But what I remember is how I found this beefy flannel, in a color I’d never imagined myself in before, priced at $3.00 a yard on the clearance shelf at Sew to Speak‘s new home.  The amount left on the bolt was just what I needed.

I was in a hurry to just choose something and get on with sewing up these pajamas for an upcoming trip, so I took a chance on mint green.

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An ordinary button and an ordinary buttonhole? Hardly.

The buttons.  What others see are ordinary buttons. But what I remember is where I was, and why, when I bought those buttons.

I was at Persiflage, a dealer (no longer there) that sold vintage clothing and trims at Alfie’s Antique Market in London. And I came to Persiflage to deliver a copy of the current Threads magazine (June-July 2012), which contained my article, “Shopping Destination: London, England,” to the shop owner. Only the shop assistant was there, I remember. She received the copy with enthusiastic thanks and assured me the shop owner would be delighted that Persiflage had been included.

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These buttons and fabric were meant for each other!

While in the shop, naturally I had to inspect the jumble of vintage buttons spilling out of a couple dozen little drawers.  I found nothing spectacular. But something drew me to four homely little buttons in a deep mint shade, and they returned to the States with me.

To be honest, later I asked myself why I ever bought them:  I’ve never worn mint green! When would I ever use them? Two and a half years ago, when I was packing up my sewing room for our move to Ohio, I put them with a pile of other buttons to give away–if I could find a taker.

Then I got preoccupied with, oh, about ten thousand other tasks, and forgot about finding foster homes for my orphan buttons.

Then it turned out that those homely, mint-green buttons were exactly what this pajama top called for.pajamas_1900-220x460

The buttonholes.  You could be forgiven for thinking these buttonholes are as ordinary as they come.  But what I see is the Magic Key Buttonhole Worker attachment for my family’s trusty old sewing machine.  And I had always viewed this gadget with suspicion and fear even though it had a reputation for turning out a good result.

But when my sewing machine’s reverse mechanism finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t make buttonholes.  Then I remembered: a block away, at Cynthia’s, was the sewing machine we grew up with and this Magic Key  contraption.  If I was going to finish this pajama top in time I’d have to learn how to use this thing.

And under Cynthia’s tutelage, I did–at least well enough to produce four decent buttonholes!  Having overcome my initial fear with this modest success, now I’m curious to see whether I’d like the keyhole buttonholes this gadget produces.

It was thirty years ago last month that I bought my sewing machine. Certainly the things I’ve sewn on it, including muslins, must number in the many hundreds now. Wearing clothes I’ve made stopped being a novelty long ago (although I always count the bigger successes as minor miracles).

Elasticized waist, capacious pockets--pretty standard.

Elasticized waist, capacious pockets–pretty standard.

But it was these everyday (or everynight?) pajamas that got me thinking how much just one ordinary sewing project can foster a rich network of happy associations.  Think, then, of what a lifetime of sewing projects can yield.

The other day I was flipping through the latest Lands’ End catalogue that had arrived in the day’s mail. When I saw the prices for their pajamas I gloated that mine had cost only a fifth as much.  But then, mine had cost lots more in time to produce. I admit it: I’m a slowpoke.

But in the end, I feel richer making my own clothes, and I don’t mean only, or primarily, in monetary terms, because maybe in that regard I’m only breaking even.

Even when my collar turns out ripply,  I’ve almost certainly enriched my fund of associations, as well as my fund of knowledge, in ways I am still discovering, and benefiting from, thirty years on.

I call that a net gain.

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Mint green may be my new favorite color!

What Problem Does That Solve?

Readers,

Blame my background as a librarian for calling a new form that I’m experimenting with an “Acquisitions Record.”

Out of my 22 years working in libraries I spent four and a half in my system’s Collection Management department, in Acquisitions, selecting adult fiction, large print, and audiobooks. (I also pestered advised my colleague who ordered the cookbooks and sewing books.)

Since my time as a selector I’ve thought about where it might make sense to apply library principles and practices to getting things sewn.  I haven’t actually drawn up a collection management policy, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea. (That’s a topic for another time.)img_0934-460x307

What I did do, on the spur of the moment about a month ago, was record a few facts, reasons, and plans concerning a book I’d bought.  Why did I buy another sewing book, why now, and how was I planning to actually use it? I did have a plan for it–right?

It’s way too easy to acquire sewing stuff, with the best of intentions, and then not to use it to its full potential. And that bothers me.

The Sewing Bible: Curtains--not to be confused with Katrin Cargill's Curtain Bible, of course!

The Sewing Bible: Curtains–not to be confused with Katrin Cargill’s Curtain Bible, of course!

I threw together a table in OneNote and started making columns to collect facts.

  • Date: Aug. 21
  • Type: Book
  • Description: The Sewing Bible: Curtains
  • Price: $4.29; originally $24.99
  • Where purchased: Half Price Booksimg_0936-460x288

Then I created a couple of columns to collect explanations.

  • Reason/What problems this solves: Looks like good instructions and designs for curtains and draperies, different from what I already have.
  • Why now? Kitchen curtain and dining room drapery projects by mid-Oct. before our next houseguest arrives.img_0935-460x361

Then I pushed myself to move to the planning stage:

  • Plans to use it: Read about sheers, tab-top curtains, design, construction.
  • Projects scheduled: Visit Fabric Farms 8/29. See list [of supplies to look for] in Outlook.
  • Projects completed: Aim for mid-Oct.img_0936-2-460x439

That was my first entry.  I was being ambitious: the heat of August persuaded me that October was a long ways off. Nevertheless, asking myself what problems this purchase was meant to solve, and why I was buying now made me think longer, more creatively, and more concretely.

My next sewing-related purchase turned out to be the very next day:

  • Date: Aug. 22
  • Type: Class
  • Description: “Fast-Track Fitting with Joi Mahon” plus Vogue fitting pattern for the class
  • Price: $21.14 (incl. shipping the pattern), usually $44.99
  • Where purchased: Craftsy

And my explanations:

  • Reason/What problems this solves: Different approach from Kenneth King’s in “Smart Fitting” DVDs, and complementary. I don’t want to wait to get help from my old sewing teachers. Also, I can ask Joi questions online as part of the class, and I can’t ask Kenneth.
  • Why now? Sale was one day only. This was on my wish list. I’ve read her fitting book, very impressed with her clear, organized explanations. Returning to sewing in earnest after blog sabbatical; want to crank out garments I love. Fitting is my biggest Achilles’ heel.

Fitting and pattern alteration have always seemed beyond my abilities. Could this Craftsy class change my attitude?

On to the ambitious planning:

  • Plans to use it: Aggressively use to fit my patterns, then try fitting a blouse for Cynthia.
  • Projects scheduled: E-mail Cynthia to set date to measure me per Joi’s class. Possible blog series. 1959 Vogue belted jacket pattern: read instructions Aug. 23.
  • Projects completed: [left blank]

Even though my simple little acquisitions record was barely 24 hours old, it had already begun to work some magic. I wasn’t just recording a past expenditure. I was thinking more systematically and strategically before my purchase.

That’s especially important for me when I buy Craftsy classes. They don’t occupy physical space, and it’s easy for me to forget that they’re resources like my books and tools–and maybe better, because Craftsy instructors respond to students’ questions.

In the last month I’ve made six entries in my acquisitions record: for a book, two online classes, a fabric remnant, and two patterns.  I have found that’s it’s been fun to track what things are coming into this sewing room and what potential they offer:

  • methods I can understand for fitting patterns better even before I sew the muslin
  • methods for altering ready-to-wear to perfect the fit
  • curtains to grace our new kitchen and dining room
  • flannel pajamas with flair
  • a steady supply of custom-fit aprons

    Got the cotton duck, got the apron pattern--now on to getting those aprons sewn for our new kitchen.

    Got the cotton duck, got the apron pattern–now on to getting those aprons sewn for our new kitchen.

That tantalizing potential is there, for sure.  And, I know, it certainly is easy to get over-ambitious creating projects and deadlines without the necessary follow-through: call me Exhibit A.

But I think this simple form is going to help move me in the right direction to get things sewn.  It’s a good starting point.

And when I get a better idea–I’ll just create another form.

The Ripple Effect

Readers,

A few days ago I learned:

  • Kenneth King’s pattern adaptation for notched-collar jackets doesn’t work for peaked lapels.IMG_9104 (370x460)
  • I had picked a jacket pattern with a peaked lapel.IMG_9200 (334x460)
  • I was mistaken to think all peaked lapels look the same. They definitely don’t.

I so wanted to stop thinking about fusing jacket front and under collar pattern pieces into one piece.

Is this easy for an intermediate sewer like me?

Is this easy for an intermediate sewer like me?

I wanted to get down to the business of making a “new school” tailored jacket to pair with the “old school” one I’d made using Smart Tailoring.

Here's a jacket made with "old school" tailoring methods. I was planning to sew a "new method" companion to take to Kenneth King's class.

Here’s a jacket made with “old school” tailoring methods. I was planning to sew a “new method” companion to take to Kenneth King’s class.

But making the jacket any other way would not be “new school,” and I wouldn’t learn what I had set out to learn.

If I gave myself one more chance to learn this technique and succeeded, I’d still have four weeks to produce a “new school” jacket to bring to Kenneth’s class in Cleveland.

So I dug out yet another jacket pattern, one that I was pretty sure had a notched–not a peaked–lapel.  It’s McCall 7379. From 1933, the eBay vendor said.IMG_9224 (358x460)

Since only the pieces for View B were left, she listed the pattern for 99 cents. I snapped it up.IMG_9225 (303x460)

Yesterday I laid out the front and under collar pattern pieces.

The original pattern pieces, with the seam allowances.

The original pattern pieces, with the seam allowances.

The photocopied pattern pieces, with seam allowances cut off.

The pattern pieces photocopied onto tracing paper, with seam allowances cut off.

I sewed a muslin of the back, front, and under collar. It went together easily.IMG_9221 (460x345)I trimmed the seam allowances off the photocopied under collar piece and laid it on the muslin.

The under collar piece fits back onto the muslin, which is laid over a tailor's ham.

The under collar piece fits back onto the muslin, which is laid over a tailor’s ham.

As was expected, the under collar fit just fine, as it should.

Then I ripped out the back piece and laid out the front-under collar combo as flat as I could.

That didn’t mean it laid out perfectly flat, though. There was a ripple, which I could transfer from one place to another but couldn’t remove.

The ripple is between the shoulder seam and the dart.

The ripple is between the shoulder seam and the dart.

Now the rippled is between the dart and the lapel.

Now the ripple is between the dart and the lapel.

And this is where, once more, I found myself lost in a dark wood. I could not fathom what the rippled muslin pieces were telling me.

So a single, flat pattern piece, eliminating a bulky seam leading to a superior notched collar, remains beyond my grasp for a few more weeks.

In the meantime, I think I’ll sew up something from a tried and true pattern. I could use a change.

In Action is Better Than Inaction

Readers,

After I wrote my previous post, about how my plan to make a tailored jacket came to a grinding halt, I rallied. I posed my question in the PatternReview.com forum, Pattern Modifications, Design Changes & Pattern Drafting section:

I composed what I hoped would be a catchy title for my thread, “Success Using Kenneth King’s Notched Collar Adaptation?” Translation:

  • “Success.” We all want to know which instructions really, really work.
  • “Kenneth King.” He teaches online classes through Pattern Review and has an enthusiastic following.
  • “Notched Collar.” A thorn in the side of many sewers.
  • “Adaptation.” You mean there could be a better way? Tell me about it!

Then I wrote my question:

I am getting ready to make a jacket following Kenneth King’s “new school” method step by step on his Smart Tailoring DVD set. (I have only buttonholes left to do on a jacket that faithfully followed his “old school” method, which was quite successful. See my blog for the blow-by-blow.)
Here’s where I’m stuck–right at the beginning of my project. In this “new school” method you eliminate a seam and bulk from the notched collar by combining the front jacket pattern piece with the under collar piece. Kenneth illustrates this (briefly) in his April/May 2006 Threads article “A Notch Above,” which is also bonus material on the DVD. He also mentions this method on his Tailoring CD. I am NOT a natural at pattern-drafting, so I just could not fathom what to do and how to check my work.
Has anybody experienced success with Kenneth’s method? Any tricky parts to be aware of?
I will be taking Kenneth’s tailoring class in Cleveland in July so eventually I will get an answer with the amount of detail I need (which is a lot). However, I was hoping to produce another jacket before the class so I could test all the “new school” instructions and be ready with questions. Thanks for any help.

I hit Post Topic and then waited for replies to roll in.

Pretty soon a Pattern Review member answered. She was curious about this pattern-drafting trick, too.

Then another member wrote in. She scoured the Internet to help me, and found this photo, which she posted in the thread:

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Look familiar?

It’s a little strange to have a photo of a project from your own blog cited as the answer to your problem. But the intention was so very nice.

Even though I didn’t get a tidy little answer to my question, the tone of solicitude and interest from fellow sewers made me resolve to give this patternmaking method another try. I owed it to myself, and to my correspondents who were taking pains to ease me back onto the sewing road.

Sunday morning found me rifling through my patterns for another notched-collar jacket. I chose McCall 6425, a bolero jacket from 1946. I’ve been wanting to make this for years.IMG_9200 (334x460)

I traced off the front, back, and under collar and examined how the paper pieces fit together.IMG_9167 (297x460)

Then I made a muslin, and saw how the fabric pieces fit together.IMG_9177 (460x345)

Looking at my muslin through my light box--my homemade x-ray machine.

Looking at my muslin through my light box–my homemade x-ray machine.

I saw where the under collar intersected with the shoulder seam and transferred the marking to the pattern piece.

Matching the circle and the shoulder seam, I noticed that the seamline on the under collar was barely curved, while the front neckline was much more curved. The distance stitched was the same, though.

When I match the undercollar at the  circle and the shoulder seam, the stitching lines don't match.

When I match the undercollar at the circle and the shoulder seam, the stitching lines don’t match.

So, back to what I wanted to accomplish: combining the under collar and front. If the stitching lines don’t match, do I alter the under collar to compensate in some way? Transfer the difference to another edge? Does this make sense?

I was observing; I was reasoning, but I didn’t know the patternmaking principle to apply to this situation, so I was not solving the problem.

But something I had read on Kenneth King’s “Tailored Jacket” CD book came back to me. He describes eliminating the seam by combining the two pattern pieces, and then says,

An aside: This doesn’t work for peaked lapels, as the edges of the collar are too close together.

Then he shows a photo of a peaked lapel and a line drawing of the pattern pieces of a peaked lapel fitted together.

Peaked lapel. I traced this from Kenneth King's "Tailored Jacket" CD book and flipped it over.

Peaked lapel. I traced this from Kenneth King’s “Tailored Jacket” CD book and flipped it over.

I returned to my muslin and compared it with the drawing.

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The peak of chic.

Does my jacket have a peaked lapel? I’m thinking it does. At least, the pattern pieces are behaving like a peaked lapel.

After I’ve given my brain a good rest I may further investigate this matter of notched lapels, excluding those of the peaked kind.

Or I may wait a month. I will probably get all the information I need in a five- or ten-minute explanation and demo from Kenneth.

At least, Pattern Review correspondents, thanks to you, I made a good faith effort.

Take a peek at la belle in the swell peaked lapel.

Sneak a peek at la belle in the swell peaked lapel.