By SUSAN KHALJE
It was Coco Chanel who first popularized the use of a length of chain, as a weight, along the back hemlines of her jackets. It was placed there to counteract the pull of the heavy decorative buttons that she had helped popularize. It's still a wonderful idea, and has a marvelous effect on the silhouette of a fitted jacket.
Whenever I'm shopping in New York I stop in at one of my favorite resources, Toho Shoji, located on 6th Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets. In addition to beads and findings, they stock an enormous variety of chains in all kinds of weights and styles and in both gold and silver. The average price is a couple of dollars per foot, though I did see a particularly stunning chain the other day (it would have looked awfully nice as a necklace) for about $16 a foot.
Some sewers like to cover up the chain, sewing it underneath the little jump pleat that is typically used in a jacket hem; I prefer to leave the chain exposed.
Easy to do
It's easy to cut the chain to the correct length with bolt cutters or a pair of pliers; some of the links are even soft enough to be spread open with your fingers.
When attaching the chain to the bottom of the jacket I always sew it in place with two rows of stitches -- one along the top edge and one along the base. There are tiny spaces in the links, of course, and I find that if my stitches are too few, or too loose, and the chain has any movement to it at all, the threads will work their way through the tiny openings in the links, leaving parts of the chain hanging below the lower edge of the jacket.
When attaching the chain, I'm always careful that I've sewn it on neither too tight nor too loose against the fabric of the jacket. Either way, the hem of the jacket will be distorted. If it's pulled too tight as I sew it on, then the hemline of the jacket will bunch up; if it's sewn on too loose, the jacket will develop an unnatural flare. The presence of the chain should be felt by the wearer rather than detected by an observer.
Because it's an important finishing touch I remove the chain and reapply it until I am happy with the way to jacket's bottom hangs.
In addition to counteracting heavy decorative buttons, the weight of the chain will help the jacket stay close to the body of the wearer. It's a lovely touch -- subtle yet effective -- and like all the best sewing techniques, a clever combination of form and function.