Category Archives: Winter Coat Sewing

A Whole Lotta Coat

The Amazing Coat of Doooooom

In a way, this is the garment that started it all. More than a year ago, now, I was facing down another Canadian winter realizing, sadly, that my erstwhile-winter-coat (really more of a fall weight) was not going to get me through more than one more brutal season. And the kinds of winter coats I like—long and elegant and warm—are hard to find, dastardly expensive, and never have long enough sleeves.

So a kernel was planted in my brain.

It took a long time to germinate. I had candidacy exams last fall, which constitutes the most intensive and brutal academic hazing I’ve yet encountered. I couldn’t really contemplate anything that fall; I woke up, got the kids off to school, and sat in bed and read, researched, and wrote. All day. For months. Finally in early December the final (oral) part of the exams was finished, and I had just enough time to inhale, explain to my kids’ teachers why they were both acting out in school (can we say stress at home?), and get ready for Christmas.

Around the same time as the coat-kernel was planted, the idea of making the girls some coats had also been sown, as I had some burlap-weight curtain material that I couldn’t imagine actually wearing myself. So after Christmas, I took myself off to Fabricland, in search of little girls’ coat patterns, and found this one. Keeping in mind at this point, the only lined garment I’d ever made was a vest.

The girls’ coats became the ones blogged here and here and I moved on to other things, but the dream of a winter coat percolated ever in the background. I was absolutely delighted when Elizabeth decided to revive the Trench Coat Sew-Along in a more relaxed format. Just what I needed, I thought.

A whole lotta skirt!

I won’t bore you with too much more blathering. It’s pretty much all documented here already, probably in triplicate, right up to my button crisis the other week. And there’s the trials of the flipping-out-facings, which haven’t been totally tamed, as I’m sure you can see.

Anyway, last night I finally tackled the dreaded buttonholes of doom. Er, tackled might be a little too strong a word. At present they are hand-finished, but the thread I had (buttonhole thread, but not hand-buttonhole thread) didn’t give good coverage; I may try just zig-zagging over the cut edges. All my sewing incompetence comes roaring to the fore in the face of buttonholes (at least buttonholes I can’t accomplish with my buttonhole function on my sewing machine, anyway. Which is pretty much anything that isn’t a light blouse). Probably I should’ve gone for bound buttonholes, but the chances of me getting (eight! of) them even and matching… well, anyway. I didn’t.

But here it is. Perfect? Not hardly. Well fitting? Well, the sleeves are long enough and it creates

A nice back view, except for the closed eyes.

the illusion that I have a curvaceous figure, which is exciting in a coat. How warm it is remains to be seen—it’s certainly more than adequate for a crisp fall morning like today, but will it get me through -30, -40, -50? There isn’t much ease for stuffing extra sweater layers underneath it (the idea was to render those 2 or 3 extra layers unnecessary, of course. I’m still not sure I’m absolutely in love with the stand collar, especially in grey—not a great colour for me—but it’s interesting and different. Maybe I’ll try the regular lapel version sometime. I like it best with the red accessories—I have a red winter hat, too, that goes well with the scarf, but I couldn’t find it just rooting around this morning.

Obligatory twirly shot

Front shot

Front, no scarf

And here’s a link to the slideshow on Flickr with a few more photos.

Whew! That was exhausting!

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Like I need a hole in the head…

Victorian Lady's jacket with awesome pleated detail

… I need another project to obsess over. I’ve said I don’t much care for vintage fashions. This is not strictly true… I just generally can’t see myself wearing (or looking good) in most of them (without serious corsetry, which I’m not into. Not that I can’t rock a boned bodice, I have several, but I’m not thrilled with the feel of tight-lacing when I have tried it, and my broad ribcage and short waist don’t  reduce particularly well anyway), and the whole point of this current push is to get me sewing STUFF I WILL WEAR as opposed to my usual costume indulgences.

But I certainly like *looking* at the older patterns, especially the really old. And yesterday I stumbled upon this jacket. Now, I’m not really interested in the pattern itself (see remarks about corsetry above), but look at at: round, stand-up collar, princess-seam jacket with narrow sleeves and just a bit of puff at the top. Where have we seen that before, folks? HERE of course! Now wouldn’t this hip-length version of the coat be awesome with that kind of bottom pleat-detailing added? I still can’t really see myself actually wearing this fabric, but it would be perfect for trying out the look. Things I love about the bottom of this jacket:

  • the dropped-waist detail
  • the pleats/visual interest
  • the angle of the dropped waist (higher at the back, lower at the front)
  • the larger pleats in the back

So… I would need to figure out:

  • the line of the dropped waist on my pattern
  • draft a pattern for the pleated insert
  • figure out a way to inset the centre-back pleat, since my coat doesn’t have a centre-back seam EDIT: it does too have a back seam… obviously I’m an idiot.
  • draft pattern for the “belt” detail (on the diagonal, maybe? or of a contrast fabric that could also be used for the collar?)
  • how the lining should reflect the detailing. I’m thinking of treating the lining of the pleated part almost like underlining… hmm. Probably there’s guidelines out there on how you’re supposed to line pleats.  My oldest daughter’s jacket basically had the same pleat detailing on the inside as the outside in the back, but not in the front where it appears the lining is just more angled so the hem is the same width). I can think of lots of possibilities, but which one would be best?

Probably this kind of pleating would be better in a lighter fabric (like a canvas or suiting) rather than my wool, but whatever. I can topstitch the pleats if necessary (assuming I even have enough fabric left over for the pleated section). Anyway, what fun. 🙂 (On a side note, on re-trying my coat muslin, I think I want to shorten the bodice above the bust (so in the armscye) about an inch. This will raise that droopy bust-line, put the waist in a better spot (I really am short-waisted, aren’t I?), and reduce the droopy armpit the pattern has. All in all, I like).

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Coat “Muslin”

So I made (finally) a hip-length muslin from that Value Village wool. Nice fabric (except for the colour). Really nice. I was hoping the muslin might turn out nice enough to make into a coat for my mom, but at this point I’m thinking not. At least, not without a crapload of re-sewing. Maybe.

Winter coat muslin

I decided to cut a size 12 (the largest size in my pattern packet). According to the measurements on the pattern, I’m in between a size 10 and 12. (Technically speaking, I’m a 12 in the bust, a 14 at the waist, and a 10 in the hips, but anyway).

The 12 was huge. I mean, I know it’s a coat, it’s supposed to fit OVER clothes (I’m wearing my sweater under it in the pictures because that’s what I pretty much ALWAYS wear in the winter. I made it through the last 3 winters with a fall-weight jacket (Canadian winters, mind you… REAL winters) just by increasing the numbers of layers under the coat. At times I did look like a stuffed sausage, but you look like that in a parka, too ;). So I took the muslin in by a 1/2 inch at each side seam (so a total of 2 inches less around). This improved it a lot; it might be a trifle too snug at the waist (I tend to underestimate things like overlap, as we discovered from the “Anna top” disaster). Anyway, I think I will cut the 10, and go with that.

Sleeve caps:

The other thing I did was shorten the sleeve cap (basically I blended the sleeve cap from the 12 width to the 6 cap height). I did that to both sleeves. However, when I went to sew them on, I was in a quandary, since by taking in the side-seam I had made the armscye a full inch smaller. (In hindsight, perhaps I should just have taken it in along the princess seam. Ah, hindsight.) So I had two alternatives—sew the sleeve narrower by the same amount, or sew it with a normal seam allowance and see how much extra puff that generated. Since I was planning to sew the 10 next time (but with the same 6 sleeve cap), I figured this would at least show me the range of puff I was going to be dealing with. So the left sleeve has the normal seam allowance (more puff) and the right sleeve has the increased seam allowance (less puff). I think I might actually want even less puff than either, but they’re both tolerable. (I shudder to think how pouffy the original ones are)

Right sleeve---less pouffy

Left sleeve---pouffy

Sleeve length:

I had measured the sleeve pattern and was pleasantly surprised at how long it was. In the photos it’s very long, but I hadn’t folded them up to the hem length; even folded in an inch for the sleeve hem, they’re not bad. I could probably increase the length by half an inch, but not much more than that, and even at their current length I think they’d be better than any other coat I’ve ever owned… and with an inch of fold-over to play with, I could probably just lengthen them a bit out of the hem allowance (cuff allowance?) if I decided they really weren’t quite long enough. Decisions, decisions…

Shoulder Pads:

The pattern calls for 1/2 inch shoulder pads. Now, I have broad shoulders to begin with… 1/2 shoulder pads is getting me into 80s territory, which is not really where I want to go. In the muslin, I don’t have anything in. I looked at the shoulderpads in my current coat (which was a pretty awesome coat, as I may have mentioned, before I wore it to death) and the “pads” in there are really just a thin, thin layer of foam sandwiched between some iron-on interfacing… enough to smooth the lines but not really adding much bulk.  I think a double-layer of thinsulate or something would be plenty (plus I am planning on doing a sleeve-header, if I can get the sleeve cap nice and smooth). I do want the coat to look like it has some structure, but I still think, for me, 1/2 inch pads would be overkill.

Other issues:

The skirt widens really abruptly below the waist, which I’m not sure I like, but hopefully with a full length to pull on it that pouffiness will be toned down, as well. I don’t think I’m going to try and mess with it at this point (though it would be really fun to draft a pattern that was fitted down to the hips and then flared from there… maybe some time in the future when I am better at this.

I have a small issue with the bust of the princess-seam as well; it seams really low. Like, droopy low. It doesn’t stand out to me as badly in the pictures as it did in real life, so maybe it would be fine to leave it, but… I think I’d like it if I lift it up a bid. I wouldn’t need to move the curve really, just cut off the lower portion of it, I think.

But, in general, I think it’s looking promising. I had cut the variation for the round standing collar, but I’m still thinking for the final I might go with the traditional fold-back lapels. Although that would look nicer with a black wool or something for the facing… I think lapels in my patterned grey might be too busy (or just fade in with the rest of the jacket). Have to think about that, too.

Still, progress, however halting. Next things to do: find lining and interlining. The lining won’t be too hard, though it will be pricy unless I can catch it on sale (If I end up paying more per metre for my lining than my coating, I might have to kill myself). There’s apparently an outdoor textiles store downtown that I want to check out for insulation options, although their website appears to be non-functional. I hope they’re still there… otherwise I’m stuck with what I can find at Fabricland :P.

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Fabric!

Apparently tenacity pays off. Today was my fifth (or something like) trip to a Fabricland within the last month. And I would’ve sworn I’d looked over every coat-weight bolt in the store. Apparently not, because today I discovered this:

Tucked on a bottom shelf under a bunch of other stuff. Description: “Coating”; fibre: unknown. Regular price: $20.00, 50% off. Yes, I got the entire bolt for $10/m. It’s thick, warm, soft, doesn’t seem to ravelly. It’s not wool (no scratchy) but it’s nice, and the price was awesome. Only problem, as far as I can see, is that there were only 4.5 m left on the bolt, and the pattern suggests almost 5 1/2 yards… According to google, 4.5 m equals just under 5 yards. The cutter also usually gives a teeny bit extra every yard… so maybe there’ll be enough to make up for that last 3/8 of a yard. So we’ll see. Worst case scenario, I can only make the knee-length version.

In any case, it’s not quite was I was envisioning, but I think it will be just fine. A real wool would’ve been extra nice, but I’m not going to complain.

So I guess I should quit procrastinating on that test version…

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Baby steps

This is going to be a slow process.

Went home over Easter and took the opportunity to visit a couple of fabric shops with my mom (who knows a lot more about this kind of thing than I do). There’s a fabric and lining at Fabricland that would work… and they’re on sale… and there’s no WAY I have money for it this month. /sigh. Maybe next. The plus side is that every Fabricland I’ve been to has had that same fabric, plenty of it. It’s not exactly what I want—it’s a purple boucle, for one, and the more I look the more I realize I really want a dark charcoal grey/black with some kind of texture or fleck of lighter colour (basically the fabric of the coat I have right now, that’s on its very last legs. But the purple would be nice, and I haven’t found a black or grey that really sings to me. And I really don’t know my fabrics well enough to order online.

So that was informative but basically frustrating. I’m also still up in the air about an interlining… Thinsulate (assuming I can figure out where to get it) appears to be the default, but I read somewhere about a stuff called microfleece they make for active gear that is warm and thinner… I’m just not sure if it’s warm enough (or where to get it, either). My mother also suggested a layer of chamois in the bodice to break the wind, which seems like a really good idea too. I’m not too worried about a *bit* of bulk—I want a winter coat, warmer than my current one, which is really a fall weight (I’m in Canada, remember) that I end up stuffing two or three sweaters under to make it work. But I also want a nice drapy skirt, so while I can interline the crap out of the bodice I don’t want to stiffen up the skirt.

But I did mention baby steps, right? At Value Village (the VV in my hometown is SO much more satisfying to shop at than the one here. Possibly because it serves the whole city, while this one just serves our little patch of suburbia) I scored three yards of a 60″ wide jacket-weight wool for five bucks, that I can use for a test version of my coat bodice. The colour’s not me, so I told my mom if it works out I’ll make one up for her. There’s not enough to make a full skirt, but I should be able to manage something hip-length, get a sense for the fit, the sleeve cap (which I’m shortening to remove the visible gathering) and whether I will actually need to lengthen the sleeve. I was thinking I would need to lengthen it, as all my ready-to-wear jacket sleeves are always too short, but having measured the sleeve length on the pattern (yes, minus the seam and hem allowances) it’s at least an inch or two longer than the sleeves I’m complaining about, so maybe I won’t. We’ll see how the test goes :).

So I have the outer portions of the pattern traced out, and the test fabric washed. It’s probably still not as heavy as I’d like (and it will be quite a bit different if I do go with the boucle) but it’s a start. It really is a nice fabric, except for the colours. With any luck I’ll get a test shell sewn up this weekend. Now, I’m off to think about shoulderpads. I’ve been reading up on sleeve headers and how Armani finishes their jacket shoulders… lots of fun… 🙂

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Some Goals

I guess I’ll get started with a list of what I WANT to do right now.

1) At Christmas I purchased a coat pattern, Butterick 5425. It’s a full-length, princess-seamed coat with collar variations (a classic lapel and a closed, round-neck), both of which I like. It’s fitted in the body and has a lovely full skirt. Just for background, I’ve been wearing full-length, wool coats since I first stole my mom’s old Hudson’s Bay coat back in highschool. And they all have two problems—they’re not quite warm enough (I live in Canada) and the sleeves are too short. Also, my current incarnation is on its last legs; the lining is giving way, as is the fashion fabric around the buttons.

The coat I WANT to make

In preparation for this, I just finished making coats for my two daughters (I’ll blog that next, I promise)… my first experiments with coats, collars, lining, underlining, and buttonholes. (Ok, I’ve lined dance vests before, but that was a rather different process than lining a coat). Next step is to start collecting my finished materials (the yardage for the full-length version is grotesque… over 8 meters of 45″ cloth (it occurs to me that measuring my cloth “yardage” in meters but my width in inches is probably a uniquely Canadian messed up sort of thing to do).) So no way am I going to be able to eke that out of old curtains or thrift-store finds. Also, I want this to be an AWESOME coat. This will require AWESOME fabric. Which I have very little guarantee of finding around here, especially at a price I can afford. It will also need and AWESOME lining, quite possibly underlining, and some kind of super-warm interfacing as well. Well…

Ok, I am getting a little ahead of myself. While I would ultimately like to make the uber-winter version of this coat, there are a lot of steps to go first. A muslin, for one, to gauge the fit. Then probably a light-weight but fully-lined version, before I attempt to stuff one up with quilting batten for warmth. The pattern I bought only goes up to size 12, which is my size, but may be a bit snug depending on how much batten I stuff inside it. Also the sleeves have a bit of gather at the shoulder, which I’m not thrilled by; it shouldn’t be TOO complicated to shorten the sleeve cap to take it out, but I’ve never done it before. No doubt it will require a sleeve-length alteration (I have monkey arms), and possibly some tweaking around the midsection, although I’m hoping to avoid that. Which brings me to my big recurring fitting issues: the long arms are matched by long legs; (I know, I know, shut up already); although I’m 5’7″, my torso-length measurements are actually petite. On top of that I have a “boyish figure” (no breasts and hips, a wide waist), which means that my bust and hip measurements fall under the size-12 range, but my waist is firmly in the 14 zone. I’m hoping that won’t be an issue with a coat pattern, but it’s possible I’ll have to grade the outer shell up for my final version, especially if I want to put a heavy interlining in.

Anyway, that is the long-term goal (I would like to have it to wear by next winter, but if not I’m sure I can get another winter’s wear out of my current coat). In the meantime a couple of other projects have suggested themselves:

2) personal sloper: I’ve been reading a lot about how constructing your personal sloper can speed up making alterations, not to mention facilitating drafting your own patterns (something I’d REALLY like to do). This is something I really should move forward on before anything else… it could help me figure out at least some of my potential pitfalls for fitting (like sleeve length)  BEFORE cutting out the muslin, which would be nice.

3)McCall’s 2324 This is an 80s dress-suit pattern I acquired in a mess of old patterns I inherited (in a rather roundabout way) from my mother-in-law.  The picture above is the best I could find on the internet… the pattern itself came to me as a scatter of still-uncut tissue leaves, missing both envelope and instructions. I love little tailored jackets like these, but I can never find them as the sleeves are always too short. Perfect for a trial-run of my full coat, right? Er, not. This is easily the most complicated pattern I’ve ever looked at (keeping in mind that my pattern experience is pretty rudimentary). It has separate pattern pieces for both the interfacing and the lining. It has 2-part sleeves! Add to that a lack of instructions of any kind? Um, well… You know, I probably will try it eventually. well, maybe just a muslin… well…

4)I also picked up a nice, U-necked, princess-seamed dress pattern at Value Village back at Christmas. I don’t have any fabric that’s crying out to me to make it, but it’s a lovely pattern (I had a dress very similar I used to love, except that… wait for it… the sleeves were too short). So that’s a possibility too, although the amount of fabric necessary for a dress seems unlikely to materialize for me in the near future.

5)Tops. It would be nice to find/buy/draft a nice top pattern or two, something I could really use in my daily wardrobe. And it wouldn’t take up as much fabric as dresses or long coats. I’ve looked at a bunch of patterns online, but most of my favourites are for knits only and knits scare me. I have a serger, but it’s in need of some TLC. Also finding nice knits is HARD.

Ok, that’s enough blathering about plans… how about a little action?

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