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Couture, The Art of Fine Sewing

I’ve invited the couture seamstress and teacher Marla Kazell to be our guest blogger this week. Marla, who studied under the renowned couture dressmaker Roberta Carr, served as technical adviser to us as we published Bobbie Carr’s book, Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing (you’ll find sample pages at the bottom of this post). Trust Marla to guide you as you learn couture techniques! ~ Pati

Marla Kazell with Pati Palmer at Josephine's Dry Goods
Marla Kazell with Pati Palmer at Josephine’s Dry Goods, Portland, OR @josephinesdrygoods


Thanks, Pati! I’m delighted to be a guest blogger.

Pati and I go way back. A mutual friend introduced us in the mid-1980s. Pati hired me to sew a blouse for her, and I was soon assisting at Fit and other Palmer/Pletsch workshops. I met Roberta (Bobbie) Carr in the late ’80s and studied couture sewing with her for more than 13 years. She was an incredible mentor and friend. It was a privilege to serve as technical adviser when Pati published Bobbie’s book, Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing. I went on to teach the Palmer/Pletsch Couture Workshop for many years. Since 2009 I have offered my own 4- and 5-day workshops in Lake Oswego, Oregon, teaching students the art of fine sewing. Check out my 2020 workshop schedule at marlakazell.com/classschedule.htm


Don’t you love two-sided fabrics? They give us instant coordinating fabrics! When my client Anna Brannen brought this wonderful piece of cotton/wool to me, we knew we had to incorporate both sides into the garment. We decided on a jacket, McCalls M7665. (This pattern is now out of print, but still available on the McCall’s website.) Any jacket with a lapel and collar would work. Anna chose the green side for the jacket. The brown side became accent “mystery binding” trim and triangle buttonholes.

After tissue-fitting the pattern and making adjustments, I cut out the jacket and made interfacing tests. I chose Palmer/Pletsch PerfectFuse Medium interfacing for the collar pieces, front facing, yoke and small patches behind the buttonholes for support.


A sample buttonhole was made to check the size. I marked the buttonhole stitching line on my interfacing patch with a Frixion pen (which work well for this application, but are not recommended as a general fabric marker). Following the instructions in Bobbie’s Couture book, I stitched, cut, turned and pressed the buttonhole. A single row of stitching across the base of the triangle holds all the layers together and voila!—a perfect triangle buttonhole.

couture buttonhole steps

I decided to make the final buttonholes a little bigger so more of the great buttonholes would show when the buttons are buttoned. Making the test sample first gave me the opportunity to see the buttonhole in fabric and make a judgment. This jacket has 7/8” buttons with 11/2”-long buttonholes. You can make these triangular buttonholes any size and dimension. Here’s your chance to get creative! Stripes and plaids will automatically chevron in the center of the buttonhole and the technique is really easy.


For the mystery binding trim on this jacket I followed the instructions in the Couture book to make pattern pieces and to apply the trim to the upper collar and front facing. (See pages from the book, below. You’ll see that “mystery binding” was Bobbie’s term for this Chanel technique.)

make pattern pieces

For the lapel piece, I ended the trim at the notched collar corner and about an inch below the bottom of the lapel. The ends of the trim pieces on the lapel were turned under and hand-stitched in place.

apply trim

After stitching and pressing, the trim was hand-basted in place along the stitching line so there is a stitching guide when the collar and facings are stitched onto the jacket. Accuracy counts here so the trim is nice and even.

hand basting

Before closing up the lining, I made triangle openings in the right front facing to finish the backs of the buttonholes. Use silk organza to face the openings—it’s thin and stable and presses flat to give a clean finished edge.

triangle openings

Slipstitch in place to the buttonhole back. (See pages from the Couture book, below.)

slipstitch in place

There—a few couture touches added to make a notched collar jacket unique!

finished buttonhole plus collar close-up

Then, to give Anna an even more distinctive jacket, we selected a very unexpected lining!

the jacket lining

Don’t let the word couture scare you. It simply means using fine sewing techniques and paying attention to details. When I sew a garment, Bobbie Carr’s “Rules of Couture” guide me.

1. Sew with your head.
2. Maintain accuracy.
3. Let grain be paramount in all decisions.
4. Talk to the fabric and listen to the fabric talk to you.
5. Reduce bulk wherever possible.
6. Understand that couture requires judgment.
7. Know that your hands are your best sewing tools.
8. Accept the fact that pressing and sewing are synonymous.
9. Anticipate that the final garment will show “evidence of effort.”
10. Enjoy the process as well as the result.

from Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing

Think through the steps, answer questions, and anticipate problems. Make judgments based on your knowledge and testing. Be accurate, especially in the small details. Pay attention to grain and the characteristics of the fabric. Reduce bulk with thoughtful grading and trimming. Use your hands—your best sewing tools—and press, press, press. Your garments will show “evidence of effort.” And of course rule number 10: Enjoy the process as well as the results!

In my classes and workshops, I emphasize slowing down and learning to sew with your head. My 4- and 5-day workshops have a maximum of six students so everyone gets plenty of individual help with fitting and sewing. If you are ready to put a little couture attitude into your sewing, a great place to start is with my Practical Couture Workshop. We’ll slow down, learn how to apply the “rules,” make samples of some great techniques, practice some basic hand stitches, and work on a project of your choice to use all your new skills.

The details and registration form for all my 2020 workshops can be found on the Classes and Workshops page of my website: marlakazell.com

Marla Kazell
Happy sewing!


the art of fine sewing

book: Couture, The Art of Fine Sewing

Here are some sample pages from Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing covering the topics of buttonholes and mystery binding.

couture book page 189

couture book page 190

couture book page 192

couture book page 89

couture book page 90

couture book page 91

And here’s some buttonhole inspiration from the book:

couture buttonhole examples

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Jean Morgan

    I think that this book is the answer to any questions I may have had about adding interesting details to my sewing projects. I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my skill set while making my clothing look more professional, without being over the top on details.
    I am definitely going to be buying it!

    1. Marla Kazell

      You will love this book! So many great tips and techniques – a great addition to anyone’s sewing library.

  2. Carolyn Deverin

    Thank you for the buttonhole tutorial! It was wonderful with details!

  3. Laurel Wright

    I am always thankful for inspiration that challenges me to take my sewing from “making a garment” to art! These techniques produce beautiful results. Thank you.

  4. Liz Haywood

    I have a sudden urge to go and make a triangular bound button hole! Thank you for an interesting and well-illustrated post.

  5. Carol Lavery

    Terrific tutorial. And great to see Anna, a marvelous seamstress in her own right.

  6. Patricia Enterkin

    I love the buttonhole and binding. What happened to women wearing nice suits and looking great? Today, you turn on your TV and you see the news ladies dressed in sun dresses, sleeveless shifts, etc and most don’t look professional. It is the same with most of the women you see, but especially women in the spot light. We have gotten so casual in our dress and I am guilty as anyone. I can’t find anything to fit and have settled for looking “thrown together”. When I sew, I don’t make the nice things I used to, so I think we have fallen into a kind of “attitude” toward our clothes. It’s difficult to find fabric stores that carry fashion garment fabric so just getting our materials is also more difficult. I need an “attitude” adjustment and seeing your article made me aware of it. Thanks.

    1. Pati Palmer

      I wonder who is pushing the sheath look on women in the media? Interesting. You might also enjoy our book Looking Good Every Day. The “every day” emphasis addresses lifestyle. The author Nancy Nix-Rice is a seasoned image consultant and has done a great job inspiring you to put the effort into putting your best look forward in all kinds of situations and clothing. Thanks for reading our blogs.

  7. Joan

    Thank you for the wonderful tutorial that highlights the relevance of Bobbie’s book. I also was a student of hers, but in her fairly early days around 1980-1982 while I was in college, and she owned the Fabric Carr in Los Altos, CA. She was a kind and dedicated teacher! I’m glad to have her book and many old videos, as well (that I need to get converted to a more modern format…).

  8. Pati Palmer

    Thank you on behalf of Palmer/Pletsch and Marla Kazell for your nice comments. I almost gave up on blogging because it takes a lot of time if you want it to be good, well designed and informative. Sometimes it even takes so long that a pattern we are using in the blog gets discontinued just before we post. But, this is such a classic jacket front, it shouldn’t be a problem to find a similar pattern. Also thanks in memoriam for the talented Bobbie Carr. We used to teach Palmer/Pletsch seminars in her store that was mentioned by Joan!

  9. Marla Kazell

    Patricia makes a great point. It’s very easy to fall into the “casual” trap with our clothing. I always remind myself that it’s OK to be the best dressed person in the room. Keep sewing beautiful clothes!

    1. Patty O'Connor-Flynn

      I recently wore a colorful light polyester top that went over a sleeveless blouse. It was an attention getter that I designed myself and I got three compliments in one hour. I had forgotten how proud I felt when I said “ I made it myself.” And the little gasp of admiration when people would say “You did?” Well made clothes stand out. Wear it with pride!

  10. Kathy King

    Thank you Pati for taking the time to blog – as it certainly does take time. I have this book, but have not taken a lot of time(!!) to absorb it. Having this section on bound buttonholes highlighted via your blog has brought me back in to the book and I can’t wait to incorporate more couture elements in my sewing. Thanks!

  11. Carol

    After reading this blog post, I looked for the Couture book in my local library. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it. I was at a used book sale over the weekend and there was the book. It is now in my library. Thank you for writing and organizing the blog post. I always learn something so it is most appreciated.

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