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Feb 192016

Any of you who follow me on Instagram know that throughout most of January I was wrestling with my first coat project.  It’s been finished for a few weeks now, and I finally got pictures last week, so get ready for an epic post because I have SO much to say about this project!

I wasn’t really interested in any of the coat patterns I’d seen, so I began looking at RTW coats to find something I could try to copy.  Here’s my inspiration coat, which is from Nordstrom.  This coat cost $150, which is probably almost what I spent to make my coat, so to answer that age-old question about whether sewing saves you money – if you want quality materials, no.  But if you have trouble finding clothes that fit you well, it’s worth every penny.  I always have such a difficult time finding coats that fit well because they have to fit the top and bottom of me, which are two different sizes.  I also always have tons of excess fabric on the back of coats, even on “petite” sized coats.

Screenshot 2016-01-10 14.59.45 Screenshot 2016-01-10 14.59.55

I’ve been seeing coats with this sort of flounce on the bottom for a while, and I always love them.  In addition to the flounce, which was my main attraction to this coat, I also liked the double princess seaming on this coat.  I set to work trying to find a suitable pattern, and it was really difficult.  I resigned myself to drafting the flounce and looked for a pattern with double princess seams.  I found precisely one, McCall’s 6800, and I began the wait for a Joann’s sale.


Initially I thought I’d use the neckline from views C/D because it looked exactly like the neckline on my inspiration coat.  But I eventually decided against it because my neck is super sensitive to scratchy fabrics, so I knew a funnel neck like that would bother me.  I also didn’t like the lapel neckline because I don’t like huge open v-necks like that for winter.  Some of them can button up nicely for warmth, but this looked like the style that wouldn’t button up and still leave the upper part of the lapel laying flat, if that makes sense.  So I decided to put a regular collar on it.  I dug some other coat pattern out of my stash that had a regular collar and just slapped it on there.  Oddly, it fit perfectly and no alterations were necessary.  Another thing I changed was to use Grainline’s tutorial for drafting a lining because this pattern didn’t have separate lining pattern pieces.

It took a lot of trial and error, but I managed to take out all the excess drape below the waist so my coat wouldn’t flare before the flounce.  And then it was more trial and error to draft the flounce.  It’s really just a circle skirt, but it took a lot of testing to find the right level of fullness for it.  I started out with a quarter circle skirt, which was too little.  Then I moved to a half, which was still too little.  Then I tried a full circle, and it was a bit too full.  So I went through slashing and overlapping until I got the right amount of fullness.  When it came time to put everything together, the flounce somehow ended up two inches longer than it needed to be, and I have no idea why.

Before I say more about the coat, let me say that I can’t offer much of a review of the pattern because I changed it so much, and I didn’t use the instructions at all.  I referred to my tailoring book, which is this one: Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket (that’s not an affiliate link because I’m a big nobody and have no affiliates, lol).

I machine tailored the collar with hair canvas, which I guess I didn’t get a picture of until it was on the ham, so you can’t quite see everything, but here it is:


I did the machine tailoring a little differently than my book recommended.  Instead of doing all the stitching with the collar laying flat, I stitched the lines on the part of the collar that attaches to the neckline (which you can’t see here), then I draped the collar how it appears above when it’s folded on the ham and pin basted the hair canvas in place, then I did the zig zag stitching you can see in the picture above.  I hoped this method would make the results a little more like hand padstitching which has you shape the fabric as you stitch the canvas on.  I consider this method a great success – how you see the collar shaped above on the ham is pretty much how it naturally wanted to lay; it hardly needed pressing at all.  Everything else that required tailoring (facings and hemlines) was done with the medium weft fusible interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply.

The fabric is this Oscar de la Renta double-faced wool coating from Mood.  I bought three yards, and it look a lot of very careful tetrising to get the coat out of that much fabric.  The flounce was a fabric hog because I wanted it cut on the bias so it would drape properly (spoiler alert: my fabric is much thicker than what I believe was used on the inspiration coat, so it still doesn’t drape quite as well, but I like it anyway).  If I’d been an inch taller, I probably couldn’t have done it with three yards.  I lined it with flannel-backed satin, which I probably wouldn’t do again.  Combined with the very thick double-faced wool, this coat is VERY warm.  Over the course of purchasing materials for this coat, I realized that I am now a person who runs hot.  I used to be cold all the time, but since getting properly treated for my thyroid condition, I run very hot and I’m always overheating.  It’s taken me literally years to realize this – I’ve been wondering for the longest time WHY everyone was all of the sudden keeping indoor temperatures so hot!  I realized this fall that I am no longer cold.  It’s not the temperature; it’s me.

I was forced to do bound buttonholes because my thick textured fabric just wouldn’t get along with my buttonhole foot.  The whole buttonhole-making process was anguish-inducing.  See, I don’t really like bound buttonholes.  I know I’m in the minority here, but I just don’t travel in the sorts of circles where this “couture” finish shows up on RTW.  The only times I’ve ever seen them are in the home sewing world, so to me, they scream Becky Homecky.  I know this is sewing heresy, but there it is.  Throughout the harrowing process, I kept exclaiming “I don’t even like bound buttonholes!”  I wasn’t initially worried about the buttonholes because back in the day I used to make tons of bags with zippered pockets, and the zipper window is basically the same concept with a slightly different construction.  My two sample buttonholes went pretty well.  One was ever so slightly off, but it was hardly noticeable so I went for it.  Of course, the minute I started working on the real buttonholes, everything started going wrong.  I’m glad I decided to start with the lowest buttonhole because it’s wonky AF.  Things got slightly better as I headed up the coat, and overall, I guess they’re okay.  I do wish I could have had regular old buttonholes though.  I thought about trying to do handworked buttonholes, but my wool was a fraying disaster, so I thought that was best avoided.

Speaking of fraying disasters, I was having a difficult time with the little triangle from the bound buttonhole window.  After my traumatic first buttonhole, I decided to take a break and read some more about bound buttonholes to build up my confidence.  One of my vintage sewing books, The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, had a great section on bound buttonholes, and they suggested that for fraying fabrics, instead of cutting a little triangle at either end, you start the point of each triangle in the middle of the window, if that makes sense.  So instead of a tiny triangle like this:


You end up with much bigger triangle like this:


I was so much more comfortable with the big triangles, so I’m really glad I remembered to check out my vintage sewing books for once!

For my bound buttonholes, I actually separated the two sides of the double-faced wool I used for the lips to reduce bulk.  I’m nervous about how well this will hold up because the weave on the right side of the fabric is kind of loose, but I did interface the lips.  The test buttonholes I made were so bulky, though, that I felt I had to do something.  It was fun to separate the two faces, but you can see how loose the weave is:


Here’s a shot of one of my finished buttonholes and its corresponding button:


Buttons are from Soutache, as usual.  I think I paid $3.50 per button, but it was totally worth it.  I looked at Vogue and Joann and couldn’t find any buttons of the proper size and heft to really match the thick double-faced wool I was using.  I’m super happy with the buttons.  Soutache is the BEST.


Final guts shot before the big reveal:


I love coat guts!  Ok, one more guts shot because I also love this part of the lining process:


Don’t mind the cardboard scraps from Desdemona’s scratcher all over the floor, and don’t mind my iPad with the Grainline bagging a lining tutorial, which I need every single time I do this.

One final construction note:  I’ve always been irritated by the bit of hand sewing that’s necessary at the end when you bag at jacket lining, so when I stumbled across this tutorial for dealing with that last little bit by machine, I saved it to Pinterest.  The tutorial is based on one from Kathleen Fasanella, which is here.  I found both of them a bit hard to follow because I deal with videos better than photo tutorials, and this one includes a bit of fabric origami to get everything to work.  I had to flip back and forth between the two until I could get them to make sense in my head.  I actually couldn’t quite get it to work for me because of the way I used a hem facing rather than a regular hem (which I had to do because the bottom of the coat is basically a circle skirt), but I did finally understand it and plan to use it from now on.  If I’d planned ahead I could have made it work with the facing, but because I couldn’t understand what the tutorial was asking me to do until I actually got into the middle of it, it was too late for me to have the seam allowance I needed to sew up the lining hole by machine.  I ended up having to do a tiny bit of hand sewing.  Here’s how it turned out, which is similar to how it would look if I’d done it properly:


At long last, here it is:


Last week, Ben and I went to the Art Institute because it was free for Chicago (maybe Illinois?) residents and I thought it would be a great chance to get pictures in the gardens on either side of the museum building.  Even though nothing would be blooming, I thought they’d still be a nice backdrop.

Unfortunately, they’re closed in the winter.  Here I am gazing wistfully at them:


While pitying me for lost photo opportunities, look at the amazing fit of that thing in the back!  No pooling!  No wrinkles!  No swayback issues!  I’ve never had a wool coat without those problems because my back torso length is so much shorter than my front torso length.  On that note, some fitting info: in addition to doing an FBA (I can’t remember how many inches – maybe 2.5?), this pattern had shorten lines for petite sizes and I used those, but that’s pretty much it.  I was shocked at how good the fit was at the shoulders and at the small of my back.  Such a rarity!

As you can see below, there are pockets set into the outer set of front princess seams


Here’s a better view of the collar that I snatched from another pattern.


I was very skeptical that any of these photos were turning out right, so I made sure that they didn’t by making stupid faces!

Here’s a better view of my hat and cowl, which I also made.


The hat is Hermione’s Cable Eyelet Hat and the cowl is this Burberry Inspired Cowl. They’re made out of 2 skeins of Malabrigo worsted in the hollyhock colorway. I have about 85 yards left and I wish I could get a pair of mittens out of it, but I don’t think it’s enough. I loooooove Malabrigo so much. So gorgeous and so soft. The cowl was my first project with cables, which are super easy. Seriously, so much easier than the lace I was always attempting when I first started knitting.  They required a bit of wrangling because the cables crossed eight stitches, but the technique for cables is not at all hard to wrap your head around.  You can see the cables better in the picture below; they just kind of scrunch up when I’m wearing it (but the color of the yarn in the outdoor pictures is more accurate).

burberry-inspired-cowlThe cowl used a provisional cast-on so it could be knit to a suitable length and then closed up with kitchener stitch, so I also got to learn how to do that. I’m very proud of my first kitchener stitching – I can’t find it anymore because it blends in perfectly!  I had read that kitchener stitch is scary, but maybe it’s not as much for those of us who sew?

The hat also has cables. I really like the hat but I messed the cable and eyelet pattern up somehow. See how the spacing between the cable and eyelet repeats is off?


I only fully realized this after I was already done, and I thought about ripping it back, but I was done with the coat by that time and just wanted to wear it my ensemble together.  I also forgot a few yarn overs in there so I’m missing a few eyelets.  No one who sees me in it knows how it’s supposed to look, though, so it doesn’t really matter!

I usually take my own pictures with my tripod, but since I wanted to take these outside, I asked Ben to help. He wanted to try to capture how cold it was that day, so he told me to blow into my hands like I was trying to keep them warm, but I just ended up laughing!


I’ve been wearing my coat for a few weeks now, and I’ve developed some opinions about it.  I knew it would be heavy, but it is SO heavy that I overheat much more easily and it never wants to stay where I put it.  It’s too long to hang on the back of a chair like you usually would because it drags on the ground, so I usually just fold it in half lengthwise and lay it over the back of the chair.  But half the time, I don’t get the weight distributed evenly and the weight drags it off the chair and it falls on the ground.  Grrr.  Drives me nuts.  I’m also afraid it’s going to break the heavy duty suit hanger I have it hanging on in the closet!  Also, I figured I’d have some pilling with this wool because wool always seems to pill for me, especially in this sort of textured weave, but this is kinda nuts:


It’s the part under my arms which gets the most friction, but I guess I hoped for better luck with such an expensive fabric.  I’d be pretty irritated with this fabric if I’d bought a garment at Oscar de la Renta prices!

Overall, I’m really proud of this coat.  It took me a long time because I needed a lot of rest between steps to gather my courage and figure out my plan of action for the next part, haha!  It also took longer than usual because I did a lot of hand sewing to keep things in place.  I hand tacked every single one of those double princess seam allowances (and all the others!) so they would lay flat and smooth.  I didn’t do any hand tailoring because I just don’t get excited by that sort of stuff and I could achieve similar results by using fusibles in some spots and machine tailoring in other spots.  But I did feel like I was doing a ton of hand sewing!  I also decided that I would pick out stitches and re-sew as many times as necessary to get everything sewn perfectly.  I was struck by how Gail did this in her blazer sewalong.  Her instructions, more than once, were to sew, check, and re-sew something until it turns out how you want it.  It’s one of those things that seems obvious – if something didn’t turn out how you wanted it to, redo it!  But for some reason I always thought of having to rip out stitching to redo something as failure.  So I’d end up with stuff I wasn’t happy with in my garments – how silly!  I definitely re-did a few things, but honestly, the wool was really easy to work with, so usually difficult tasks like setting in the sleeves went quite easily.  I didn’t have to re-sew one stitch in that armscye!

I’ll leave you with a little gif I made of a bunch of pictures Ben took of me twirling to try to show how the bottom of the coat flares out.