Hi folks! OK, I just got back from a well-deserved holiday, so I hope you are ready for a trillion posts with a gazillion pictures telling you all about it. Sorry, not sorry.
My trip to New England this autumn started with a visit to New Haven, home of Yale University. I was extremely excited to visit this great ivy league institution. But what does one wear around campus, bearing in mind one’s wish to remain stylish while including a nod to one’s academic surroundings?
Of course, I studied all the available cultural references.
Yes, I know Elle Woods went to Harvard, but it’s realising the reason behind a newly engaged Vanderbilt is ‘first year, Yale law’ that made me think to include her here.
Both Blair and Elle have picked up on the wearing a tie thing, but I’m more enamoured with Serena’s incredible blazer. I believe this is the ‘Goodman’ crested blazer from Ralph Lauren, which I found out courtesy of the lovely Devra over at Puu’s Door of Time. Devra made a beautiful blazer based on this a while back, which I’d encourage you to check out here and here.
Anyway, I’m going to follow Ms Van Der Woodsen’s lead with a blazer, but combine it with a tie as a twist on the Blair/Elle look.
Here are the blazer and tie I picked up on a trip to Orpington. The blazer was £7.99 from Oxfam while the tie was around £1 from Save the Children, if I remember correctly (ties were half price). The tie is 100% silk and not covered in food stains, which I counted as a win. The blazer was in reasonable condition although it didn’t fit at all.
On closer inspection, the blazer sleeves had clearly had their length altered at some point, though it’s unclear whether they were lengthened or shortened.
To resize the jacket, I started by removing the sleeves, which meant disassembling the sleeve heads.
I drew around the shape of the armhole to use as a template later.
Then I pinned out the excess around the body while wearing the blazer (my dressform is modelling it here, obviously).
The blazer has a side panel which intersects the welt pocket at the side front. I took in 2cm from the side front, tapering to zero before the pocket, and 3cm tapering to 2cm from the side back on both sides.
The blazer already looked better. Based on the length of my own shoulder, I marked roughly where the sleeve head should be on the jacket, about 4cm from where it was.
I then pinned on my template, positioning it based on the bottom of the existing curve and the marked shoulder point.
I sewed big stitches (basically tailor’s tacks) along the lines.
When I cut the stitches to remove the template, I was left with a cutting guide for my new armhole.
Of course, I did the same on the back.
I took a deep breath before cutting, but the result looked good.
Rather than repeat the process on the other side, I pinned on the section from the other sleeve and used that as a guide for how much to cut off.
Then came the pain of resetting the sleeves. I use the traditional gathered stitch and 100,000 pins method.
Despite my worries, the sleeves went in well, which I am attributing wholly to getting the armscye curve accurate in the first place.
I then had to reattach the shoulder pads and sleeve cap padding. I had to cut the shoulder pads down a bit because they were now too long for the shoulder!
It was coming along nicely!
The lining I actually draped on the stand and sewed by hand. It was a totally different shape than the shell and I didn’t want to go through the whole process again.
The result is reasonable but not perfect.
Once the blazer had been refitted, I tackled the tie.
Ever wondered what’s inside a tie? A tie is basically a bias-cut piece of silk, with some padding and some small pieces of lining at each end.
Here’s the small end.
The padding is actually really thick. The seam up the middle of the tie is sewn by hand through two layers of silk, catching the padding. Note that the top layer of silk isn’t caught, so the stitch is invisible.
There’s usually a loop sewn in towards the big end as well. This is the only part cut on-grain.
Here’s the big end, which has a layer of bias cut (I think) poly organza to help the silk keep its bounce.
The corners are sewn as mitres, but it was a bit beyond me to figure out exactly how this is worked and in what order.
Anyway, once the tie was completely deconstructed, I cut some strips for my binding. I wanted to bind all around the front opening and lapels, plus the hem, so I measured the jacket to work out how much I’d need. I then measured the length of the tie to figure out that the strips would have to be rather thin. Of course, since the tie is already cut on the bias, I cut strips down the length of it for my binding.
I cut the stitches holding the lapel points together so I could bind around them!
My process for this was a little unorthodox. I pinned the binding to the jacket right sides together, then sewed it on. Then I turned the binding to the wrong side and stitched-in-the-ditch to secure it. The raw edge was left open on the wrong side, because the strips weren’t wide enough to be turned under again. I figured the edges wouldn’t fray so everything would be peachy. Of course, I had forgotten that halfway down the front opening, at the break point of the collar, the right side changes to the wrong side. This made it very difficult to attach the front strips in one go. In the end, I fudged it, but I don’t think you can tell if you don’t know that’s what happened.
I pivoted the corners the same way you would for quilt binding.
For the lapel points, I couldn’t get a good result with a continuous piece, so I cut them off and restarted with the end turned under.
For the interior corners, I cut two triangles from the offcuts and sewed them on by hand to cover the join in the binding.
After a mammoth task applying all that binding, including restitching the hem binding numerous times, my thoughts turned to adding a badge. A blazer isn’t a blazer without a badge, and Serena’s Ralph Lauren design has a very large crest surrounded by what looks like quite a lot of silver goldwork. Goldwork is the art of embroidery using metal threads, typically used for ecclesiastical robes and military insignias on uniforms. I’m not a goldwork expert but I have taken the goldwork course at Mastered.com (actually, I am the student that was filmed learning the techniques at Hand & Lock in London for the online course).
Anyway, the design of the badge took a little thought. After briefly considering the coat of arms of my alma mater (very impressive but four complete lion shapes in goldwork was probably too complex for a first project, I thought), I decided on the coat of arms of my home town. Whitby’s coat of arms is based on three coiled serpents representing the story of St Hilda casting the snakes into the sea, where they became ammonites. The full crest has an anchor and other nautical paraphernalia honouring the town’s link with the sea, as well as the white rose of Yorkshire x3.
So I decided to go with a simplified version, as seen on the town council’s crest as well as the badge for Whitby Town FC. The design is blue and white stripes representing the sea, with the three coiled serpents. I was particularly happy about the blue and white stripes as that matched the tie.
For the goldwork serpents, I used Japanese thread, which is commonly used in goldwork. It’s normal thread with gold foil wrapped around it. You apply it using couching, which is basically sewing it to the background with small stitches. Goldwork designs are typically worked on felt as a form of padding.
I started to experiment to see if I could make a spiral by ‘plunging’ the end of the thread (poking it through to the wrong side) then gently wrapping the thread around, securing it with the stitches.
This was only intended to be an experiment, but I liked it so much I cut it out and applied it to my badge.
The badge is cut from pieces of leftover tie. I used the final rounds of the Japanese thread to cover the edge of the felt, giving the circles a slight 3D look.
The end of the gold thread is then ‘plunged’ to the wrong side of the badge.
The two other spirals soon followed.
Here’s how the final badge looks, applied to the blazer. Looking at it now, I realise that some are anti-clockwise and some are clockwise, and the plunged ends should be all at the top of the spirals, but overall I’m really happy with it as a first goldwork project.
And the moment you have been waiting for… here is me wearing my blazer on my trip to Yale. Overall I was a bit worried that the look was more ‘Grange Hill Chic’ than the rowing blazer look I was going for, but I loved wearing it all the same. You can see that I am wearing the sleeves rolled up because they turned out far too short as a side effect of shortening the shoulder line. An unintended consequence, but truthfully I’d probably be wearing it like that anyway.l
This brick building, Connecticut Hall, is the oldest part of Yale.
You can see that I’m inspired by Serena’s jeans, black boots and white blouse combo.
Here’s me with the famous American spy from the Revolutionary War, Nathan Hale. He is the state hero of Connecticut!
Here’s a better close up of the blazer with it done up.
Ooops, my bad, that’s Elle Woods again. I did sit around in the Quad to see if Luke Wilson would show up, sadly no dice.
This last one is my favourite picture from the whole day. The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is a truly stunning piece of modern architecture, well worth a visit.
Stay tuned for more US adventures coming soon!