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


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


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



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.




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?


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.


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.



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


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


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.


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


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



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


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


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


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.)


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.


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.


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.)


Beau Ideal




The only thing that’s short about my husband, Jack’s, figure analysis is this post.

After standing him against a big piece of paper taped to the wall and tracing his outline as accurately as possible, I can now reliably report:

Jack is tall.

Surprising, I know. But, there you are.

I’d  had my suspicions, of course. But I wanted to be sure, so I collected the data and analyzed it.

A few months ago, using “Analyzing Your Figure” in the Singer Sewing Reference Library’s book The Perfect Fit, I’d learned a few things about myself that you can read about here.

Marta Alto and Pati Palmer describe making a "body graph" in their book.

Marta Alto and Pati Palmer describe making a “body graph” in their book.

It was only later that I discovered “Make a Body Graph” in Marta Alto and Pati Palmer’s book Fit for Real People, and right away I wanted to do one. Marta and Pati’s methods come from having taught and fitted thousands of people and having answered recurring sewing questions for decades.

So it was Fit for Real People that I turned to when I drew Jack’s outline on the paper.  Basically, this exercise, like the ones I did for myself, tells you about proportions. It doesn’t address back curvature or posture.

You trace around the person’s body, then fold the paper into eighths to form creases, and then open out the paper again. The creases help you see where the “ideally” proportioned figure’s  shoulders, waist, hips and knees would be located. They provide a basis of comparison for a real person’s body locations. So you can see if he or she is long-waisted, or short-legged, and so forth. This can help not only with fitting but with finding the most flattering proportions in clothes to emphasize or deemphasize figure characteristics.

The outline, creased into eight segments for comparing "ideal" proportions with your own.

The outline, creased into eight segments for comparing “ideal” proportions with your own.

I said “he,” but so far in my figure analysis research–which has been a lot though not exhaustive–I have not seen references to any “he”s.  It seems to me–the ancient Greeks would agree–that men have proportions, too. I proceeded on the fairly safe assumption that men’s head lengths are ideally one-eighth of their body lengths as well as other assumptions about the positioning of the waist and so forth.

So Jack stood as still as he could while I painstakingly traced a wavering pencil line around him. Drawing accurate lines around somebody was more difficult than I’d imagined. But we’re looking more at length than width in this exercise.

I tied a length of elastic around Jack’s middle and he put it at his waist. With Jack, the definition of “waist” is rather vague. “What is a waist?” he asked. “I think of a waist as where I wear my pants,” he concluded.  (How did ancient Greek men, without the aid of pants, determine their waists, I wonder.)

At long last, I finished the outline. I had marked top and bottom of head, shoulders, underarm, waist, hip joints, crotch, and knees. I wouldn’t swear to the accuracy of the waist and hip joint markings.

I assumed that "ideal" proportions for women apply to men, too.

I assumed that “ideal” proportions for women apply to men, too.

This is where I wish Marta and Pati had magically appeared to help. Because if you’ve mismarked the waist or hip joint locations, you’ll draw the wrong conclusions about proportions.

Imagine a figure divided into eight vertical segments. In an “ideal” figure the waist is on crease at the bottom of the third segment. Jack’s waist, as he defines it, is three inches below that crease, which is a lot. But is that right?

And Jack’s hip joint: did we properly locate where it hinges? In an “ideal” figure  it’s at the bottom of the fourth segment. But we located Jack’s hip joints 2 1/2 inches up from the fourth segment on one side and 3 1/2 inches on the other side. Hmm.

And on it went. I was doubtful about half the markings I made, and so unwilling to draw conclusions.

I did learn that the major pattern companies’ male fitting model is 5’10”. Jack is 6’2″. And I’ve had to lengthen his shirt patterns in the body and sleeves by about 3 inches.

In short, though, all I can confidently conclude is,

Jack is tall.

It Figures: Figure Analysis, part 2

Me with my good buddy, my figure outline

Me with my good buddy, my figure outline


In my previous post I described how my helper (sister and photographer Cynthia), and I created an outline of my figure so I could stand back and view it with some objectivity.  We followed instructions in the book  The Perfect Fit in the Singer Sewing Reference Library.

I hoped this exercise could show where my outline proportions match pattern company standards and ancient Greek ideals, and where they varied.  I thought that knowing this could help me determine the best proportions and garment styles for me.

Well…I’ll start with the firm-ish conclusions.

Note that in these illustrations:

  • The black horizontal lines are drawn through the reference points of the base of my neck, shoulders, underarms, waist, fullest part of the hip, and knees.
    • The red broken lines are where I creased the paper. They represent  the “ideal” proportions the Greeks and today’s pattern companies divide the body into.

    Long-waisted. Equal shoulder and hip width.

    I’m a little long-waisted.  See how the broken red line is above the black underarm line?  That’s extra space that shows I’m longer-waisted than the standard.

  • See the parallel red lines drawn through the shoulder points to hip points?  The outline shows my shoulders and hips are equal width.  I was surprised.  If I loosen up my exercise and eating regimen the least little bit, a pear-shaped figure is my reward. I’d anticipated lines slanting wider toward the floor.
  • I’m short-legged.  (Not surprising.)  In The Perfect Fit the black line marking the fullest part of the hip is much lower than the red broken line.  In the standard figure the black line would be up there with the red line.

    Short legs.

    Short legs.

I may be short (barely 5’2″) but I’m not a true petite.  True petites, say Pati Palmer and Marta Alto in their book Fit for Real People, are proportionately shorter all over, not just in the legs like I am.  And as I said earlier, I’m long-waisted.  (As a short person, the thought that I’m long in anything comes as a surprise.)

I have average shoulders, not sloping or square.  The distance between my base of neck line and shoulder line is 2″, which is the standard in commercial patterns.

Average shoulders

Average shoulders


But, readers, enough about me.

The truth is, I wouldn’t draw firm conclusions based only on this outline.

Cynthia and I wondered where exactly to mark most body points.  The top of head and waist were easy.  But where exactly to mark the base of the neck, the “ends of shoulders” (I chose those bony bumps), the underarms, hips and even knees?

I also don’t get why the fullest part of the hip would be marked but not the hip sockets.  Where people carry their fullness relative to the hip sockets can vary greatly.

So marking reference points differently would yield different results and conclusions. How reliable would they be? Not very.

"What info does this foldline give me?"

“What info does this foldline give me?”

So, am I recommending skipping the outline exercise and quitting this whole figure analysis thing? Nope.

In his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) Seth Godin writes, “…the opposite of quitting is rededication.  The opposite of quitting is an invigorated new strategy designed to break the problem apart.

So here are three more approaches.

If you enjoy calculating ratios, see “The Golden Rule of Proportions: Use an age-old ratio to look your best” in Threads magazine Feb./Mar. 2009 by Sandra Ericson.  She writes, “A wonder of nature is that the height of the average person’s head, from top to chin, divides into the height of their body seven and a half to eight times.”

Ericson directs you to have a helper trace your outline on a sheet of paper.  Then you calculate using your head length to draw the “ideal grid” onto the outline, and observe the variances.  She shows examples of outlines of real women overlaid with their ideal grids, with clothing choices showing their best silhouettes.

I admit I found this article daunting at first glance, and my casual summary doesn’t do it justice.  It deserves a separate post.  I’ll try all of Sandra Ericson’s instructions and report back in the next few months.

Pati Palmer and Marta Alto describe making a “body graph,” which looks like a much-improved version of the outline I did, in their book Fit for Real People.  They give detailed instructions with lots of informative photos and drawings.  They also supply a drawing of so-called “perfect” proportions, a worksheet to collect all your data, and Marta’s filled-out worksheet showing her figure variances.  I’ll also try the Body Graph myself and will write about this.

Finally, Brenda Kinsel’s chapter entitled “Stand Up and Be Measured, ” in her book In the Dressing Room with Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great, uses the very minimum of math and no outlines.  You pair up with a partner and determine proportions using a cloth measuring tape and a pair of dowels.  This sounds like a social, fun, and informative way to train your eye and appreciate your assets.  Kinsel is so positive but grounded in practicality, too.  I must give her exercises a whirl, too and report back.

I’m curious to know what fund of knowledge I may amass from spending a few hours trying out all these figure analysis methods.  Whatever I learn, I’ll pass on to you, readers.  These are all tools that, together, I hope, will lead to more confident pattern and ready-to-wear selection.

So, readers, have you tried any figure analysis methods from sewing or fashion books?  Did they help?

It Figures: Doing a Figure Analysis, part 1


Up against the wall.

Up against the wall.


I’ve asked myself time and again how I could hang back from sewing certain patterns, for years, even, when I am so crazy about them.   I think the reason is I’m not a jump-in-and-try-it sewer.  I like to think things through. And through.  And through!

I want information!  I want answers! Preferably before I sew one or more muslins and cut into my irreplaceable fabrics.

Much of what stops me from sewing certain patterns is being unsure whether they flatter my figure.  Some design aspects might work for me and some might not. How can I distinguish the good from the not-so-good?

I’ve read plenty of articles over the years about figure types, and I bet you have, too.  But I still wonder:

  •  What skirt lengths are best for me?
  • What skirt styles are best?
  • Why do some raglan sleeves look okay on me and others look terrible?
  • Are my legs short, or am I just a short person that’s proportionate?
  • I’m small.  But am I a “true” petite?  And what difference does that make, anyway?

Would a figure analysis help?  It was time to find out.

A librarian to the core, I gathered my sources:

  • The Perfect Fit, Singer Sewing Reference Library, pp. 22-35, “Analyzing Your Figure”
  • Threads magazine, February/March 2009, “The Golden Rule of Proportions: Use an Age-Old Ratio to Look Your Best” by Sandra Ericson, pp. 37-41
  • In the Dressing Room with Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great, by Brenda Kinsel, “Stand Up and Be Measured,” pp. 74-85

I chose the procedure in the Perfect Fit book, where a helper outlines your body on a big piece of paper.  My helper was my sister and photographer Cynthia DeGrand, and the location was her studio in Columbus, Ohio (only 764 miles from my home in Minneapolis).

The directions in the The Perfect Fit are easy to follow. I tied a piece of elastic around my waist for a reference point.  The book also directs you to wear a short chain necklace around your neck.  I skipped that.

I stood right up against the paper on the wall, and Cynthia traced my outline with a pencil as accurately as she could.

Then she marked these locations on the outline:

  • top of head
  • base of neck (The location was to be determined by the chain necklace.  Cynthia just estimated.)
  • ends of shoulders (Confusing.  We decided on the boney bumps as reference points.)
  • underarms at creases
  • waist where the elastic rested
  • fullest part of hips
  • knees

In the book the outline is smooth and symmetrical.  Despite Cynthia’s steady hand, my outline had a lot of wiggly little lines and was not symmetrical.

Smoothing out the wiggly pencil lines with a French curve, then tracing with a felt-tip marker

Smoothing out the wiggly pencil lines with a French curve, then tracing with a felt-tip marker

I smoothed out the wiggles with a French curve.  Then I drew a visible outline with a wide black felt-tip pen.

Drawing in lines of the shoulder points

Drawing in lines of the shoulder points

The next step was to draw horizontal lines through all the reference points  listed above.

Then I took the paper off the wall.  I folded the paper in half, matching the top of the head with the point where the paper (and my feet) touched the floor, and creased it.  Then I folded the paper in half again, making a good crease.

Folding the outline into fourths.

Folding the outline into fourths.

I opened out the paper and drew in vertical lines connecting the shoulder and hip reference points.

Connecting shoulder and hip reference points.

Connecting shoulder and hip reference points.

One more step, not in the Perfect Fit book:  I drew broken red lines tracing the three creases I created.  Then I could easily compare the black lines of my figure with the “perfect” proportions of the red lines, seeing how much and where I was at variance with the norm.

Next time:  Did I learn anything from my outline?

So readers, have you ever done this type of figure analysis?  Did it help you recognize something you hadn’t noticed just by looking in the mirror?