Chic & Simple Sewing

As soon as I flipped through Chic & Simple Sewing by Christine Haynes, I knew I had to buy it. I immediately wanted to make many of the clothes in this book. There are great color photos of the clothes – always a plus. Sometimes a sketch just doesn’t quite do it. So it’s nice to see what the designs look like on a human body. And the attractive models are photographed is a variety of locations – on the street at night, near the beach, window walking down a path, sitting on a piano bench inside, and so on. The author’s fabric choices are excellent and one of the reasons the clothes look so lovely. Full-size patterns are included with the book (sizes: S, M, L).

The subtitle says, “Skirts, Dresses, Tops, and Jackets for the Modern Seamstress.” And that’s essentially what’s inside. Remarkably, none of the lovely designs have zippers or buttonholes! As a result, it’s a good book for a beginning seamstress. But not everything is necessarily easy to make so it’s probably best to at least know your way around a sewing machine and sew a straight seam before making some of these stylish clothes. Christine rates the difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 5 for each piece. For example, the more complicated wrap dress gets a 5 rating and the trench coat gets a 3.

Tie Jacket (w/o the tie)

WHAT’S INSIDE

Christine introduces each pattern, giving her take on the design and describing the fabric she recommends and the fabric on the version that the model’s wearing. She also dispenses advice on what to consider when buying fabric to make a particular piece of clothing. For example, for “The A-line Skirt,” she says: “What’s important is that you choose lightweight or medium weight fabric. If you pick something too heavy and thick, the skirt will stick out from the waist, which might be unflattering.” (Her polite way of saying, it really won’t look good with heavy fabric so don’t try it.)

The book is organized into five chapters, with the first one devoted to the usual sewing basics (tools, sewing machine, measurements, etc.)  and then a few pages covering fabric, colors, and notions as well as some sewing techniques (basic stitching, pressing, and finishing details). Each of the remaining chapters covers a season, beginning with Spring (Chapter 2) and ending with Winter (Chapter 5). So you can pick out designs according to the season in which you expect to wear them. It’s an interesting way to organize the book. There’s a range of clothes within each chapter. For example, Spring has instructions for three dresses, a baby doll top, a circle skirt, and a “trench” coat. I put quotes around that because that’s what Christine Haynes calls it in the book “The Trench.” But it’s not a traditional trench coat with a collar, lapels, shoulder straps, and long sleeves.

My version of "The Trench"

This is a coat with no collar, 3/4 length sleeves, and nice big patch pockets that can hold any number of things (gloves, pens, cell phones, small books). I love the design.

WHAT I’VE MADE SO FAR

Here’s my version of the coat (see photo at right). I used some dark grey wool fabric for the coat and some lightweight wool herringbone for the bias tape trim. However, the main fabric I chose was a little lighter weight than it should have been because it just flopped open at the top, which didn’t look so good. So I added a covered button and made a loop out of some corded elastic to hook it closed. To read about my experience making this coat and for detailed photos of the results (and how I solved my bias tape problem), see “The Trench.”

From the Summer chapter, I made “The Wrap Top,” which is like the top half of a wrap-around dress. The top has little cap sleeves and wide ties that  wrap around you. A simple design but I picked a fabric that didn’t quite work with the design. It kinda gapes open in front where the front bodice pieces overlap. My bosom is (a-hem) not exactly well endowed so a crisper fabric would have been a better choice. So when I wear it, I just pin the pieces together with a sterling silver leaf pin I have to keep it from sagging.

The Tie Jacket

I also made “The Tie Jacket,” from the Fall chapter. It uses the same pattern as “The Trench Coat,” but it’s shorter – the hem is hip length rather than mid-thigh and there are no pockets. I found a couple yards of this black-and-white corduroy fabric with teeny herringbone at the East Bay Creative Reuse Depot and thought it would be perfect for this jacket. I had never seen such a print on corduroy before (see detail photo below, a quarter is about an inch, which will give you an idea of just how small the herringbone is). I think I like it better on me without the tie though. (See the photos above and left.)

I’d also like to make some of the skirts in the book. Christine’s got a nice A-line skirt with a wide ruffle at the bottom and a cool wrap skirt. The next time I’m in a skirt-making mood, I’ll definitely make one or both of them.

I think the only (minor) quibble is that women who are larger than size 10-12 won’t be able to wear these clothes. There is no extra large size to cut out. This is one of my favorite books with sewing patterns. You can order a signed copy of the book on Christine’s Etsy page or get a copy from your local bookstore (support your indie stores!) or on Amazon.

Detail: Herringbone corduroy of the Tie Jacket I made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trench

The Trench

This coat is the first thing I made from Christine Haynes‘s book, Chic & Simple Sewing. It has only has five pattern pieces: jacket front, jacket back, sleeve, pocket, and bias tape. And the last two items are optional as you can make the coat without the pockets and you can buy bias tape rather than making your own. It’s pretty easy to make and looks great.

I had a few yards of this rich dark grey wool fabric that I got at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, a cool nonprofit organization in Oakland which sells all kinds of things that people donate (art supplies, fabric, furniture, beads, yarn, baskets, small appliances, you name it). I only paid $2/yard for this fabric! I also found a yard of lightweight herringbone tweed wool fabric at the Depot. So when I was looking at my fabric stash, I thought those two fabrics would make a good combination – the dark grey for the coat and the herringbone for contrasting bias tape. (For more info, check out this post “Fabric at the East Bay Depot” by yours truly.)

This was the first time I made my own bias tape. Before I bought Christine’s book, I had been reading about bias tape in Anna Maria Horner‘s beautiful book Seams to Me. Her instructions and diagram on making bias tape were very clear and easy to follow. (For an online tutorial, see Coletterie’s “How to make Bias Tape”.) I hadn’t thought about making my own bias tape before and Anna Marie’s book used bias tape tohttps://csews.com/clothes/the-trench such lovely effect, I was hooked. I went out and bought a couple different sizes of bias tape makers. I really wanted to make something with my own bias tape. And then I saw this coat in Christine’s book and realized this would be the perfect thing.

Like the title of Christine’s book, this coat is simple to sew. After you cut out the pieces, you sew each front piece to a sleeve piece and then the back edge of the sleeve to the back piece. It has raglan sleeves as you can see from this photo below.

The Trench has raglan sleeves.

It only became slightly tricky when I wasn’t quite sure which side was the “right” side because the fabric I was using was the same on both sides.

Once I sewed the main coat pieces, it was on to the bias tape along the front opening of the coat and then around the collar. At this point in my sewing life, I had not used things like Steam-a-Seam or other fusible webs, which make it easier to get nice looking seams. So I blithely sewed the bias tape to the front edge and soon realized that the lightweight herringbone I was using for my bias tape didn’t look so good. The seam didn’t quite lay flat and was a little puckered in some areas (darn it). My solution? Rick rack to the rescue! I bought some black rick rack that I sewed right over the seam, which made a nice transition between the herringbone bias tape and the dark grey of the main fabric.

Then I had another problem. The coat flopped open instead of staying upright like the one in the book. It was the fault of the fabric I choose plus the bias tape and rick rack added a little more weight that made it “flop.” So I decided that I needed a covered button to keep it together at the top. I put the button on one side and made a loop out of black corded elastic for the other. Click on the photos below to see larger versions of the rick rack and button. (Christine chose a medium-weight cotton fabric for her coat. I’ll be making another version of the coat using a heavier weight purple cotton fabric and striped bias tape.)

Bias tape, rick rack detail
Covered button detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last step was to hem the bottom and sew on the patch pockets, which are really useful. I love big pockets. The Trench has pockets large enough to stow your cell phone, a paperback book, wallet, and keys. I wear this coat a lot in the Bay Area. It’s perfect for cool weather here. But when it gets a little chillier, your arms will get cold because the sleeves are 3/4 length. So heave some arm warmers ready or wear a sweater underneath.

If you make this coat, you’ll be sure to get compliments on it. Thanks for a great pattern, Christine!