Hello Readers! Coat-sewing season is upon those of us in the northern hemisphere. The thought of sewing a coat can be a little intimidating. You’re investing a lot of time and possibly money into your coat project, so how can you ensure that you’ll end up with a coat that you love? Today, we have a guest post from Brenda who has been working with a private instructor to help her on her coat-making journey. She’ll be sharing with us the things that she’s learned about pattern selection and modifications when making a coat for a curvy figure–things that aren’t always obvious from patterns and their instructions.
A Little Background…
My love affair with fabric probably started when I was around 5, and I saw my mom sewing a dress. I needed scraps from her table to make a dress for my Dolly. Mom wouldn’t share until her dress was hemmed and finished, but I believe those scraps began my near-obsession with fabric and making clothes. (And I think Dolly was charming in the stapled and taped together dress!)
In choosing my next project, one question has stuck with me: What is not in your closet that you reach for? What’s missing? For me, that is a challenging sewing project that I will likely use only a few days a year since I live in Oregon’s wet Willamette Valley. I want a warm coat for the sunny and cold days we get; for me, that’s under 32F with a wind chill. Usually my outerwear is a rain coat with layers underneath. For the cold and dry days, that doesn’t begin to help me out.
I turned to my trusty sewing teacher, Marla Kazell, for assistance. Usually, I bring her fitting projects, and then I go home and sew. She had taught me enough couture tips over the four years that we’ve been working together that I am confident in sewing most projects. However, the idea of this coat overwhelmed me. I know that most of my jackets are unstructured, almost like cardigans, and I know some vague information like you’re supposed to tape a line somewhere in the collar of a “real” coat. Obviously, this was not enough to achieve a great result that I’d be proud to wear. While I usually turn to Maria for fitting, I wanted hand-holding throughout the process of making my coat.
Selecting a Pattern
My rain coats are made from OOP Vogue 8626. I like the pattern, but the pleats in the back can stick out or wrinkle when I’m driving to work. My winter coat pattern and fabric requirements include being able to sit (with a seatbelt on) for a 45 minute drive to work and have the potential for me to look decent when I arrive. In rain coat fabric, V8626 works, but I had my doubts about a medium weave wool. So, I looked for a coat pattern with shoulder princess seams (I wear a 38DDD bra) that mimics the silhouette of most of my dresses. For me, the shoulder seams are a little easier to fit and press nicely for my cup size. I found Butterick 5966, which seemed to tick all of the boxes and had an interesting side back “saddle” panel. I prepped the pattern for fitting, which includes ironing and then cutting out to size 18 above the bust and 22 below (with the DDD cup). We use a tissue fitting process, such as described in Fit for Real People (Palmer & Alto).
B5966 was well-drafted, unlike some other projects that I’ve made. (I used to think I was doing something wrong until I had a sewing teacher.) However, it was far too snug to wear over a jacket. I needed at least 3” of additional ease in the bust to fit around, aside from wearing ease. The tipping point, however, was the sleeve which was extremely high and way too tight.
Jacket vs. Coat Ease
Marla looked closely at the pattern and saw that this pattern is described as a jacket or a coat. In our world, a coat goes over a jacket, so how can a pattern be both? In this case, the “coat” is a long jacket that almost fit as if it were a coatdress. The design ease in the pattern is difficult to determine since there are no finished measurements. The McVogerick ease chart (http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/ease-chart-pages-347.php) indicates that a fitted jacket has 3.75-4.25 inches of ease while a coat has 5.25-6.75 inches of ease. My tissue fitting clearly indicated that the pattern was going to need a lot of work to fit. (Had I been working on this project alone, I would have had serious self-doubts, but the problem was the pattern, not me.)
Selecting a Pattern, Take 2
At this point, we considered the time and effort needed to make this pattern work, and I searched for another pattern. I found the discontinued, but still available, Burda 7169. (Burda 7004 was also a contender, but I much prefer a set-in sleeve line to give me some visual structure.)
I procured Burda7169 and took it to our next appointment. I know that Marla likes Burda since there are many fitting points and those are used to cut out the pattern (http://www.burdastyle.com/downloads/SizeChart_Regular_inches.pdf), reducing the number of adjustments needed. Because this was such an important project with several “moving parts”, I had Marla measure me for today’s numbers instead of using past measurements. These measurements are circled on the chart, and then the pattern is cut, grading between each area. When we cut the pattern, the tissue fit was very good. The biggest question mark was the sleeve, and we decided to cut a muslin sleeve to test before I cut my fashion fabric.
I had a short list of adjustments to do at home:
- Shorten the hem 4” and the sleeve hem 2.5”
- Adjust the armscye based on Marla’s markings
- Add to the shoulder to accommodate my square shoulder and a shoulder pad
- Add .25” to the front princess seam on both sides of the seam. With the last adjustment, I also measured the length of each seam to make sure they were close enough for the side panel seam to be eased in, if necessary.
- Finally, I need to off-grain the center front (CF) part of the pattern.
Off-graining the CF is a technique that helps the front edges of a garment appear to hang straight when the garment is buttoned or closed. (See details in Couture: The art of fine sewing by Roberta Carr.) Fabric naturally wants to hang away from the body, and the rule of thumb is to of- grain jackets (and coats) .5” at the waist.
For this coat, the off-graining steps are:
- Cut the collar away from the front (leaving a .25” hinge)
- Cut up the center front line (leaving a hinge at the top seam allowance)
- Put tissue beneath the pattern and make a mark .5”, adding to the center front (away from the waist)
- Draw a line starting at the top of the neck edge seam allowance, through the .5” mark and to the hemline
- Tape the pattern back to the new CF line
- Tape the collar back to the coat front, and fill tissue into the little gap that is left.
After I shortened the hem 4”, the bottom front width was increased by about 4”.
For me, the fabric often precedes the pattern. In my stash, I had enough wool gabardine in a deep plum color to make nearly any coat I’d want. I brought this to Marla to make sure that it would be a good choice for the project. We discussed ways to make the coat warmer, such as whole-piece interfacing (which sometimes pulls away from twill, Marla says), or underlining with a wool stretch broadcloth, also from stash, (which didn’t have a good hand with the twill because the twill does not stretch), or flannel (which I’ve had bad luck with in the past) or a loosely woven, soft, fuzzy wool. We’ve settled on the latter. The lining can also add warmth, and I prefer working with silk. (Bemberg makes me crazy with how slippery it is to sew.) We chose crepe back satin in a contrasting peacock green, which should also add some warmth.
I have a list of questions for my next visit with Marla: Is there enough ease in the tissue-fitted pattern to accommodate the lining and the soft wooly underlayer? What’s the easiest way to deal with the lining and facing pieces: make the same adjustments or trace from the pattern pieces we’ve already adjusted? What about the fold line for the collar: when is it stabilized? I’ll keep you posted as progress continues!
Note: I have approximately 5 yards of green wool gabardine to give away. It’s very close to Pantone 19-5920. I’ll mail for free to a US address or for a postage-contribution to an international address.
To enter this giveaway, comment on this post with your answer to the following questions: “Have you ever made a coat before? If so, what went well with your coat project?”
Edited to Add: You have until 11:59 PM (EST) to post your comment to enter the giveaway. Any comments entered after that date/time will not be considered for the giveaway. Thanks!