Let me guide you as I sew my new blazer.
Helen Bartley, author of Fit and Sew Custom Jeans, decided we should both sew the new Palmer/Pletsch blazer Butterick B6862 and photograph our masterpieces for a blog post. Now that I am designing for Butterick, I was surprised that my first two patterns made the catalog cover. Over my 40 years designing for McCall’s, I was so lucky to have many covers…always an honor.
A challenge to writing a blog is taking good photos. During the journey of the jeans book, I learned Helen has a real talent as a photographer. With her newer iPhone, she was able to capture most of the close-ups as she sewed and wrote her book, and the quality was amazing. Below you’ll see her, phone in hand, ready to take photos of me for the blog. Her daughter Molly filled in to photograph Helen and me together and the solo shots of Helen. Molly has her mother’s gift! (She also has a great apartment she shares with her sister Ava. We used it as the set for some of these pictures. You can meet Ava and Molly, our younger models, in the jeans book.)
We decided to wear black turtlenecks and boots for winter. I sewed the view with the slanted coat pockets and Helen the view with our favorite super-duper-double-welt pocket with flap. Use the instructions in our book Jackets for Real People. They are foolproof. The day was very fun for us. Think Mary Tyler Moore, but in downtown Vancouver, Washington.
We found both of our wool fabrics at Josephine’s Dry Goods in Portland, a favorite haunt of our workshop attendees. Josephinesdrygoods.com.
We are so lucky to have so many fabric stores in Portland. Many of our students bring an empty suitcase to fill while shopping!
WHAT TO WEAR WITH YOUR BLAZER
Next step, what to wear with your blazer? How about jeans? We love what a blazer does for jeans and jeans for a blazer.
Don’t forget, Helen can teach you to fit and sew jeans. Join her and Pamela Leggett at upcoming jeans workshops in Portland and Connecticut. Also coming soon in Michigan. LEARN MORE ABOUT WORKSHOPS HERE.
For a top, wear your blazer over a shirt, even an oversized man’s shirt, or a very new, modern way such as a graphic T-shirt.
See more jacket ideas for what to wear with a blazer at the end of this blog, courtesy of watsonellis.com
Photo courtesy of WatsonEllis.com, custom suits
My favorite blazer top has always been a tank because it eliminates any bulk inside, making it very comfortable. I had a purple silk tank in my closet. But I tried out several more options.
I also had a coral silk tank in my closet. I thought it might work with my wool plaid. I love it! Nancy Nix-Rice, the author of our book Looking Good Every Day, would agree with this color combo.
I prefer to wear my jacket buttoned and the tank tucked in.
My next try-out from my closet is a lightweight cotton pique shirt from Palmer/Pletsch Butterick 6852.
I recommend a collar with a neckband rather than a convertible collar. I tucked in the shirt for wearing with the jacket open, but Views A and B are short in length and look good untucked as well. If you prefer the band-only look, the View D shirt can be shortened.
Time for a latte with Helen and Molly at one of the many downtown Vancouver bistros. Read on for blazer sewing tips.
Tips for Sewing My Blazer B6862
What can feel more sophisticated, classy and put together than a terrific jacket that fits? I wanted to have a new blazer to wear with all my custom-fit jeans I sewed while editing our new jeans book.
My daughter Melissa Watson’s custom suits business in NYC (watsonellis.com) is back in business. She is making blazers for the office and weddings. Her clients pay up to $2,500 for a beautiful Italian wool custom-fit tailored jacket. Melissa does the fitting, and with her client selects the fabric, lining, and details for her one-off factory in China to create.
Melissa helped me with this new Butterick design. It has a collar construction she uses in her custom blazers, with a bias stand sewn to the upper collar, unlike the one in our tailoring book, and it works very well. She devised the coat-style single-welt pockets for View A, angled perfectly for your hands.
The design of this jacket is easy to fit. With a side panel instead of a single side seam, it has many seams for subtle shaping to YOUR figure. It also has side-back vents.
The front has a low “V neckline” to frame your face. The high peaked lapels are uplifting. Think Nora O’Donnell, anchor of the CBS Evening News. (I love seeing her in her beautiful jackets.)
No matter how many hours or days it takes you to create your masterpiece, think of how many hours of wear it will give you. Choose a no-fail fabric: natural fibers, looser weaves, body, texture (tweeds, linen, silk suiting, wool flannel or crepe), and a medium color. White and pale colors have see-through issues, and black is harder to sew at night for many of us. Avoid plaids if your time is limited.
Melissa supplied this wool plaid from one of her European suppliers. Our Butterick team sewed it beautifully.
The line art on the envelope back shows you the details, which are interchangeable.
Keep all your pattern pieces out until done. Your accuracy will improve when it is easy to grab a pattern piece to double-check the pattern markings to your cut pieces. Keep the front, front facing, and collar pieces out until the very end. Mark collar, lapel, and jacket front neck seamlines on the tissue and fabric of these pieces for accuracy.
Be sure to tissue-fit BEFORE you cut out your fabric. Our jacket book and the guidesheet are great references. Then fit-as-you-sew to tweak the fit in the fabric. Try on the jacket many times to catch issues before you go too far, when it may be impossible to fix.
When I refer to our book Jackets for Real People for more information, the reference will appear as “See JFRP page__.” This will save you time if you are following along in the book.
Because this is a Palmer/Pletsch pattern, the tissue has alteration lines printed on it. Our guidesheet includes some of the important alteration how-tos. I staple it together so I can follow it like a book.
Do what the guide says and in the order it is written. Don’t jump ahead and sew pieces together, because something like reinforcing a corner is simply easier to do before the pieces are attached.
I did these alterations: forward/square shoulder, sway back, high round back, and more waist/hip width.
On the pieces shown here, you can see how to add waist/hip width. You would make the same alteration on the front, back and side panel.
Jacket shoulders are made wider to allow ease for wearing over other garments. My neck to armhole at the shoulder measures 4 1/2”. The shoulder in B6862, size 12, measures 5 1/2”. For tops I always narrow my shoulders 1/4”, but for jackets I wait until I set in the sleeve to decide the amount to narrow, if any.
PLAIDS TAKE TIME
When I was teaching at Meier & Frank department store in the 1970s, I sewed a lot of plaid outfits like the navy and white seersucker skirt-suit at right.
I sewed the YSL wool shirtjacket pantsuit below in 1972. I asked Helen Bartley to model it a few years ago just before I donated it to the University of Rhode Island pattern archive and design collection.
I’ve never again tackled a project like this. I am glad to have photos so I can admire the details. (The shirtjacket would be right in style today, but I would pair it with a solid pant.)
After Melissa was born, I traveled to Australia to teach and I needed a wardrobe to show. I hired Marla Kazell to help me sew, and I gave her the plaids because I needed to handle the quick projects. Marla is a sewing expert and teaches couture sewing in Portland (marlakazell.com). Plaids are fun to sew, but it has been years since I sewed a plaid, so I took my time on my new plaid blazer.
Sew in “chunks” of time to reduce pressure. One chunk a day or a week may be the time you have to enjoy the process. The biggests chunks of time are tissue-fitting and altering; cutting to match plaids; fabric-fitting; setting in the sleeves to fit you and adding a shoulder pad; and lining and finishing. Go through the guidesheet and circle the chunks you want to complete each time you sew. Enjoy the process. “Unstitch” and re-stitch if you have to.
TIPS FOR MATCHING PLAIDS
Place the upper notches on the front, side, and back as well as the front facing on the same plaid line. Choose the plaid position for the center front and center back. Place the armhole notches on sleeve front and jacket front on the same horizontal plaid line.
You can see where the plaids match on both jackets. Butterick 6862 has peaked lapels. McCall’s 7818 is sewn in a simple windowpane plaid, the easiest plaid to match.
ANOTHER TIP FOR CUTTING PLAIDS
Cut the top layer first. Move away the excess top layer so you can adjust the plaid lines to match for cutting the under layer. Here they do not match.
Scoot fabric piece until the plaid matches, pin to anchor the layers, and cut around upper layer.
Return pattern piece into position for snip-marking notches, squares, and circles.
You may have heard about my sewing room challenges in previous blogs. I showed where I sewed Melissa’s blazer in a condo we rented in 2018 after we downsized and I lost my mega sewing room. In 2019, we bought a condo right across the street. Again, I adapted to not having a real sewing room, just like many others!
I have a new temporary lighting challenge. We have two amazing skylights on the second floor and floor-to-ceiling windows on one wall. It has been very bright most of the time. The skylights have been covered during a re-roofing project. It’s very dark. I now appreciate the light they provided.
To cut my dark wool plaid and match the plaids, I needed more light. I added a second 3-way lamp from the bedroom and the “ring” light I bought for virtual meetings. Looks a bit strange, but it helped. The good news is that this desk is large and has a motor to raise the surface to cutting table height.
INTERFACING TIPS FOR JACKETS
I use PerfectFuse, our line of weft fusible interfacing. Most of my jackets have PerfectFuse TailorUltra on the front and under collar. If there is a side front, I often fuse it there too, especially if a welt pocket crosses the seam. I use PerfectFuse Light on the back, facing, and upper collar.
My jacket has a side panel and no side seam. I could have used either interfacing on it, but chose Light. Use Medium in place of Tailor if your fabric is heavy. Even with the rayon content, I don’t preshrink TailorUltra if I am using wool and plan to dryclean. I do preshrink Medium, however, because it has a higher shrinkage rate. Instructions for preshrinking are in the package. These interfacings are all 60” wide and come in one- and three-yard packs in natural and black.
This interfacing tip from our Jacket book is important. You don’t want to fuse off-grain. The more bias in the piece, the more it will wiggle and become off-grain when you move it.
After you cut out your fabric and interfacing, lay each piece of fashion fabric wrong right side up. Place the pattern piece on top. If they don’t match, wiggle the fabric to fit the pattern. Then place your interfacing on top and fuse. The grain will stay in place during sewing.
I don’t fuse to the entire sleeve because the lining will prevent wrinkling. But if the fabric is soft, after I’ve sewn the sleeve seams and fitted them for length, I press up and crease the hem fold. From the inside I slip a bias piece of PerfectFuse Light under the seams and over the fold and fuse a little bit at a time over a seam roll. Then I remove the roll and fuse wider areas flat with a press cloth for 10 seconds to make sure it adheres well. Having the interfacing in the fold makes a soft fold and increases wear.
After fusing, transfer darts, lapel fold line, center front, and pocket markings onto the interfacing. Staystitch all neckline seams. Pin the pieces together and slip on to see if it fits. If not, re-pin.
TIP FOR PINNING SIDE BACK SEAMS IN PATTERN AND FABRIC
The armhole area of this side back seam can seem confusing because the top edges don’t match. To help, mark the seamlines on the tissue. Match notches and pin the seams to the top.
Open the seam and from the right side, the armhole edge should be even.
Pin the seam in fabric and look at the right side to see if the armhole edge is even.
Then do the same when you are pinning the lining seams together. If you press lining seams toward the back, the armhole edge should be even.
(NOTE: My pattern guidesheet is close by!)
Since I am straight in my upper back, I needed to remove some of the curve. I straightened the center back seam using a ruler and a chalk wheel.
I checked the fit of the front and lowered the points of the vertical darts by 3/4”.
This pattern doesn’t include a back stay. I prefer using one if I use shoulder pads because I can anchor the shoulder pads to the stay.
Since I removed the curve from the upper back, I eliminated the center back seam in the stay. I used lightweight cotton I had in my stash because I didn’t have muslin. I placed the CB on the fold and lapped the seamlines on the back and side tissue so my stay would go to the side front. (It could stop at the side back seam.) Cut the neck, shoulder, and armhole all the way to the side front. I removed the patterns and drew a line 5” from the top at center back, leaving 2” in width around the lower armhole area. After cutting, I basted the stay to the upper back.
Sewing the Blazer
TIPS FOR SLANTED SINGLE-WELT POCKETS VIEW A
Using the pattern, draw the welt box on regular Featherweight Pellon and pin over pocket placement on wrong side. Note that the lower line is longer than the upper. The lower circles in red match the circles on the welt. When the welt is flipped up it covers the shorter line.
After cutting the welts, re-place the pattern into position and make sure the grain is square and the welt perfectly accurate. Trim welt to fit the pattern.
Stitch welt to lower welt line.
I read the guide and still got the pieces wrong. The fashion fabric pocket (6) should be near the side and the lining (5) toward the center front. Mine are switched. It is fine. They are done!
The pocket bag edges rarely match perfectly. They don’t need to as long as the layers are flat when you pin them together. Sew the bags and trim the edges even.
VIEW B POCKETS
Butterick used its traditional menswear method for these pockets. This was only my second pattern designed for Butterick, and I didn’t make clear that we have developed special and easier Palmer/Pletsch instructions for many techniques. Going forward, I will communicate about those techniques.
“When I sewed the blazer I used the “No-Fail Double-Welt Pocket” from the book Jackets for Real People. It is sew easy. Lots of steps, but not hard and truly will not fail.”Helen Bartley
EASING ELBOW FOR TWO-PIECE SLEEVES
The guide shows running an ease stitch in the elbow area of the upper sleeve. When you first sew the seam, you’ll see puckers.
In a wool or other fabric that eases well, simply ease the puckers away with a steam iron.
The puckers are gone.
SLEEVE CAP — METHOD I
In a custom-tailored jacket we use a sleeve head to fill the cap to keep it from puckering. We have a great tip for using the bias strip of sleeve head fabric to also ease the cap. You can use the interfacing from a man’s tie. It is already cut bias. Center it over the seam so two layers will be included in the cap. Sew it to the upper two-thirds of the sleeve cap. Sew a few stitches and then gently pull on the bias while sewing to gather up the cap.
SLEEVE — METHOD II
I didn’t use Method I on this jacket because of the plaid. I would have lost some control over matching. Instead, I set in the sleeve, easing as normal. After finishing and trimming the underarm seam, I used a bias strip of self-fabric, which was softer than the tie interfacing. I liked it better.
Pin the bias strip inside the sleeve. No need to stretch it since the sleeve is already eased in. The trick is to sew it in from the GARMENT SIDE and sew exactly on top of the sleeve seam.
I usually play with sleeve fit after I baste the sleeve in. My right shoulder is different than it used to be and requires more fiddling during fit. It is narrower than the left. I couldn’t go narrower because I didn’t add extra “just in case” cap height to the sleeve. Plus, this is a plaid. To compromise, I just pushed the raglan shoulder pad out into the sleeve an extra 1/4” or so.
See JFRP pages 89-90 for choosing, fitting, and sewing shoulder pads.
When sewing a jacket, take your time pressing. Use your ham, seam roll, and point presser/pounding block. Watch Marta Alto’s Learn to Sew a Jacket video to see how she presses at every step. (Now streaming from palmerpletschdigital.com.)
I have sewn dozens of jackets. I invested in a June Tailor board (search online). It has shapes that fit every curve on a jacket. The little curve is great for pressing open the lower front curved seam. The longer curve is for the front and lapel seams as well as the neck seam. The skinny point presser is used to press the collar and lapel seams and points open before turning. And if you need to get parts of the jacket up off the pressing board, you have the flat table.
The point on the narrow peaked lapel is too narrow for the point presser so I used a wood chalk pencil as my point presser.
On this jacket the upper collar is cut with a separate collar stand that is cut on the bias. Sew the seam, trim, and press the seam open over the long edge of the tailor board. Or use a seam roll or press on your point presser.
FAVORITE OUTSIDE SEAM TIPS
Start sewing the outside seam from the circles where collar meets lapel. Sew AWAY from the circle. Leave a little space. It will disappear when pressed and you won’t have a pucker.
JFRP CHAPTER 13 is all about the finishing of the jacket from sewing the outside edge seams to lining. These tips are on page 96.
Notch the front curve so it will press flat from the outside. I notched with my pinking shears, pressed the seam open, then turned to right side and pressed it flat, making sure to press the facing seam 1/16” toward the wrong side so it won’t show.
See JFRP page 96-97.
TIP FOR PEAKED LAPEL
For the style of this peaked lapel, there is to be no space between collar and lapel.
See the tip upper left page 96 in the Jackets for Real People book. I didn’t use it, but I drew the exact seamlines on the collar and lapel. Even though I did this, I still got that little curve on the top of the lapel. Since I’d already trimmed close, I couldn’t re-stitch. Next time I’d arch the lapel seam up. I could always straighten it out if needed.
You can slipstitch the lapel edges together loosely. From the wrong side sew a loose ladder slipstitch. Then pull the thread to close the gorge line.
Finish the Blazer
I like to use a couture method for lining the sleeve because then the lining is caught to the armhole. The shoulder pad took up room, so I took in the lining shoulder seam from the armhole to the shoulder so it would fit the jacket. Then I loosely basted the lining to the armhole.
I eased the sleeve lining using two rows of basting over the cap and staystitched the underarm on the seamline so it would turn under more easily. I pinned and then slipstitched the sleeve lining in place.
See JFRP page 100.
I hung the jacket in the kitchen at a level from which I could turn up the sleeve and attach the lining. I turned under 5/8”, matching hem edges. After slipstitching the hem fold of the lining to the hem of the jacket, a “jump hem” is created.
I sewed the buttons on the sleeve like Melissa showed me, with several buttons lapping slightly. There is no vent, but I like the look.
Before stitching the lining hem, position the collar seams one on top of the other. Make sure they are pressed open first. Pin the layers in place, then stabstitch the two seams together.
To get ready for a very long hand-finishing session, pin the lining around the vent. Hanging the jacket beforehand lets the lining fall naturally so you can anchor the lining above the vent. Pin above the vent, aligning jacket and lining seams.
Take your time to turn under seams around the vent per the guidesheet.
Pin the lining hem in place at a distance away from the hem fold as shown. You won’t be slipstitching at the fold itself because you want the hem to have give. Instead slipstitch just below the pin line, creating a “jump hem.”
To finish the facing raw edge near the hem, I trimmed it even but left it flat and sewed a catchstitch over the edge to the hem.
NOTE: We show you how to “bag a lining” in the jacket book, which eliminates most of this handwork and makes a perfect finish for this edge. But, with back vents, bagging gets tricky. Hand hemming is easier to manage.
BUTTONHOLE AND BUTTON
For the buttonhole, I tested three thread colors, each of which occurs in the fabric. I zigzagged three rows on a sample to see which I liked best. I felt the bright rust jumped out too much. I sewed test buttonholes with the other two threads.
Either would work, but when I pinned the sample to the front of the jacket and stood four feet away, I liked the black better. It blended with both the fabric and the button.
MAKING A PEEPER
“Peeper” is my new term for this decorative couture touch between jacket facing and lining. I used a 1”-wide bias strip of cotton print. I pressed it wrong sides together and sewed it to the right side of the front facing with 1/4” lapping past the seamline. When you sew the front lining to the facing, your peeper will “peep” out.
Below right is the peeper I sewed in the jacket I made from Melissa’s pattern McCall’s M7818. I added an inside welt pocket in the same print.
I skipped the double-welt pockets on the outside and instead sewed this pocket idea that I saw on an Akris jacket. The pocket bags were sewn into the side front seams, and a flap was sewn above it for the look of a welt pocket, as shown. I love it!
My first-ever pattern for McCall’s was the 8-hour blazer, in 1980. Its timing happened to coincide with John Molloy’s Dress for Success books. He wrote that to succeed in business, women needed to wear suits like men. That sent my 8-hour blazer pattern to record sales. It sold 20,000 units the second week it was out and more each following week.
I have been teaching tailoring since the 1970s and WOW, have things changed. The main change is in the interfacings. Today’s weft fusibles outperform just about anything from the past. In the 1970s you would never put a machine buttonhole in a tailored jacket, but today they are a perfectly acceptable choice.
A jacket is a wardrobe basic that gives a pulled-together look to everything from jeans to dresses. If you make your blazer in a quality fabric and have a custom fit, it compares with a $1,500–$2,500 designer jacket that you will enjoy for years to come.
More Jacket Idea from Melissa Watson and Watson Ellis
My daughter, Melissa Watson, specializes in custom suits. Her business, Watson Ellis, makes custom jackets, coats, and more for an impressive array of clients. Here are just a few of her masterpieces.