Winter coat deadline

Yikes! I have been gently stitching away, really enjoying learning some tailoring techniques, since the autumn, without much sense of urgency. Now there is a race on to finish before it gets too darn warm to wear it.

It’s been a balmy 9C on the Isle of Wight so far this January. Yes, it’s been raining pretty much since the end of October, but it has not been that chilly. Why so much weather info on a sewing blog?

I went to Hamburg for work mid month, where it was sooo cold my face actually hurt. I’m off to Louisville, Kentucky, at the end of February and I’ve yet to finish my winter coat.

Yikes! I have been gently stitching away, really enjoying learning some tailoring techniques, since the autumn, without much sense of urgency. Now there is a race on to finish before it gets too darn warm to wear it.

I am making Vogue 8346. I chose the mid-length shawl collar version for the vintage feel of its fitted bodice and full skirt. The grey wool-mix boucle fabric is an eBay bargain. The orange-red Valentino lining is an indulgent souvenir from our holiday in Verona in Italy last September. I have also interlined the top fabric with cotton domette. This will give the boucle more stability and me a little more warmth. (Have you guessed yet that I really feel the cold?).

Fitting adjustments

Calico muslin of coat

The final muslin with the quick and dirty waist seam to save fabric

I started by making a muslin in a straight size 14 to check the fit and subsequent adjustments. I had to do a sway back adjustment to remove the bagginess in my lumbar region. I also moved the bust point on the centre front down by an inch. I decided not to do a FBA as there was already sufficient ease in the bodice. This pattern simply eats up fabric. Rather than waste money on another muslin, I just recut the top half of the centre front pieces. I seamed them onto the existing muslin skirt at the waist for a final check.

So far the coat, has been a straightforward, if protracted sew. I chalked the pattern markings onto the interlining. Next, I hand sewed the interlining to the top fabric and tailor tacked over each chalk mark.

The main body of the garment was easy to sew up. I’m a neat-freak, so I zig-zagged all the seams before steaming and clapping. A tailor’s clapper is expensive, but a hefty, well-seasoned chunk of wood is a fantastic, free alternative. I positioned each seam over my sleeve roll then steamed. It’s best to steam, lift the iron up and steam the next bit. Moving the iron around may distort the fabric. After the shot of steam, I put the piece of wood on top and waited a few seconds. Hey presto! A beautifully flat finish.

My DIY tailor’s clapper

Coat construction details - seams and back stay

Under construction: back stay, seams and underlining

To ensure the seams stay flat throughout the life of my coat, I stitched the seam allowance onto the interlining. I think you are starting to see why this coat has turned into a marathon effort.

To prevent the back bodice stretching out of shape with wear, I cut a back stay out of tailoring canvas. I made a pattern, using the centre and side back pattern pieces as a guide.

I hand stitched the back stay to the interlining. Once I had attached canvas to the front panels, I stay stitched the neck and lapel line. Over the Christmas hols I made up the sleeves. I also found time to sew 150mm deep bias-cut strips of cotton bump along both the coat and sleeve hemline. I positioned the bottom of these strips about 10mm below the hem line. I used one strip for each coat panel, so I can easily make seam adjustments at a later date. The bump strips will create a lovely, luxurious roll to the finished hem, rather than a harsh, flat line.

The shawl collar took two days of non-stop sewing. I turned on Radio 4 and just gave myself over to the pure zen-like pleasure of hand sewing. First, I over-laid the centre back seam allowances of the under-collar canvas. I simply zigzagged them together and trimmed away the excess. I also trimmed off the full seam allowance from the outside edges of the canvas.

Hand-stitching the collar

Rear view of coat

Back detail featuring shawl collar

Next, I pinned the canvas to the under collar fabric. I basted the collar to the coat so that I could mark the roll line on the canvas. Then I unpicked the collar from the coat. I used pad stitching to attach the canvas to the under collar along the roll line. A day’s worth of stitching later, my canvas and under collar were as one. I lightly steamed everything to melt the stitches into the fabric. Then I folded the collar around my tailor’s ham and used plenty of steam to encourage it into its final shape. After an hour or so it had dried into a soft roll.

I have two go-to reference books to help me with the tailoring techniques. I bought Simplicity’s Simple Tailoring 30 years ago. Vintage Couture Tailoring, by Thomas von Nordhein, is a recent Amazon purchase. This book has really helped me improve my skills.

Coat on dressmaker's dummy

Voila! Like a great grey poodle lurking in the corner, my coat is slowly taking shape

I followed the instructions in Vintage Couture Tailoring to create a hollow edge to the finished collar. I want the seam line to roll just under the outside edge and not be seen. After I had machine-sewn the top collar onto the under collar, I pressed open the seam and trimmed the under-collar allowance to 3mm and the top collar allowance to 10mm. Then I folded the larger seam allowance over the smaller one and hand stitched it to the canvas all the way round. After turning the collar right side out, I basted the edge firmly in place before steaming and clapping.

I joined the collar to the coat body by hand. Next, front facings and bound button holes, here I come!

Winter coat sample board

Fabrics, patterns and notions for the winter coat

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