Remember this jacket pattern? Of course you do.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)