Monday 27 February 2017

winter sewing: the trials of coat making

I have had the same coat for several years. It's light grey, with an asymmetric zip, a tie belt, and a faux fur collar. I still love it to death and have no intention of getting rid of it, despite the fact that it has literally NEVER fit me properly. I loved it so much that I bought the last size they had; one size too small for me at the time, two sizes too small for me now. The coat does not do up. So when I was thinking about winter sewing, the one thing I knew I needed more than anything else was a functional coat that will close when I need it to do so.

Finding a coat pattern was the biggest pain in the arse. I thought I'd found it in Leanne Marshall for Simplicity 1254 before I looked it up and realised it looks terrible in real life. Then I thought I'd try the Waffle Patterns Pepernoot coat, but that wasn't really what I wanted either. I also considered the Closet Case Patterns Clare (mostly because I already own it), but nice as that looks on most people, I don't want an A line coat. What I wanted was a knee-length zip-up coat with waist shaping, a tie belt and a hood, but as far as I can tell this pattern literally does not exist. Eventually I bought McCalls 6442, which still isn't quite right because it's not a zip coat and it's not long enough, but was closer than anything else I'd found and I'd already decided I wasn't comfortable spending silly money on five or six metres of wool for my first ever coat. I bought some dark blue boiled wool to make it with and was all ready to get started... until I tried laying everything out, when I discovered that the boiled wool was narrower than expected and the pattern didn't fit on it. ARGH. Finally I bought some purple melton wool in a normal width and got started.

Here is my coat, and I'm actually quite glad that illness forced me to postpone writing about this one. My original draft of this post said "eh, it's fine, it was a good practice coat", but after wearing it for a week I've decided it's actually a pretty great coat. My initial view of it was clouded by two things: first, that I had a extremely specific vision in my head when I was planning this, and second, there were several issues with the pattern. Now that I've been able to step back a bit, I can appreciate this coat as its own thing rather a subpar rendering of a picture in my head. I really like the overall silhouette of this coat; I would hate this shape in a skirt but for outerwear it really works for me. The fitted waist and the length work well with the kind of things I'm wearing at the moment (the main reason I decided against making the Clare was that I thought it would look weird with the short tulip skirts I wear most of the time), so it's a very practical addition to my wardrobe that I will get a lot of wear out of. People have actually stopped me on the street and asked where I got this coat. HOWEVER, there are several points about the pattern itself that I think warrant addressing.

The biggest problem, from my perspective, is that this coat is designed to have no closures at all. The belt is the only thing you're supposed to use to keep this coat closed, and yet the pattern does not come with belt loops. I think that's ridiculous. Even if we set aside the fact that I am constantly losing things and would drop the belt on the street somewhere within minutes of wearing it outside for the first time, it just doesn't make any sense to have a belt without belt loops. I made and added some belt loops based on the Thurlow instructions, and I really don't think it would have taken much to include that in the pattern. I also added a press stud at centre front because for me, a coat that doesn't actually close up is just silly. I will probably add another press stud nearer the neck for when it's cold and I want to wear the coat fully closed. Also for when I need the hood. When the coat is open at the neck and the hood is up, it looks weird. It's neither drapey nor shapey enough to work.

The construction of the coat is not quite what I was expecting. I was expecting to make a coat, make a lining, sew together, bag it out. This pattern has you attach the lining to the bodice, lower section, and sleeves separately and then handstitch all three parts of the lining together when the coat is constructed. This is obviously a valid way of doing it, but I would personally prefer not to have a load of amateur handstitching on something as hard-wearing as a coat. The shoulder pads are covered with lining fabric and hand-sewn in too, and it turns out I am REALLY bad at that. I've had to redo one of them already (I don't want to say I'll practise, because I can't imagine I'll be putting covered shoulder pads into a lot of things). Curiously, the lining pattern pieces don't fit on normal width lining fabric and the instructions tell you to piece it together. Which, you know, is not a big deal to do, but I do find it confusing that a pattern would tell you to buy 45" lining fabric while knowing the pieces won't fit on it.

I made the lining all green and shiny, though, because why not.

Also, in quibbles: the pockets are too small and I don't like that. They seem to be a similar size to the tulip skirt pocket that I use on most skirts and dresses, and that is not what I want in a coat. If I can't put a pair of gloves in my coat pockets and then forget they're there until it's cold enough to need gloves, then I might as well not have coat pockets. Also the pocket opening is at the waist, and while I understand why that is, it's also slightly too high and makes walking along with hands in pockets quite awkward. Which I wouldn't need to do if the pockets were big enough to accommodate gloves. You see my problem.

Overall, though, I'm really pleased with this coat. The colour and shape both work well for me, and aside from the whole shoulder pad thing, I think my construction is pretty competent. Assuming we don't get any blizzards or below freezing temperatures, it'll probably see me through most of the year in London. It's not a big protective layer, but it's warm enough and versatile enough for at least three of the four seasons we tend to get (those three seasons being "drizzle", "it's a bit nippy out", and "").

Apart from anything else, this was a good confidence builder. I was pretty sure that the last purple coat I tried to make went wrong because of the pattern, but there's always a small voice saying maybe it was you being a dumbass, and this seems to me to be fairly solid proof that it wasn't me being a dumbass. This was a lot more involved than the things I usually make, but I wouldn't say it was that much harder to do. The wool was much easier to work with than a lot of fabrics, everything went together in a fairly logical order (lining aside), and there wasn't a lot in terms of new techniques I had to deal with. Instead of thinking oh, I've never made outerwear before, this is a big new scary thing, I found myself thinking of course I can make a coat, I CAN SEW. 

And that's a good feeling.

This marks the end of my winter sewing, minus the black dress which went a bit weird and is going to take me a while to salvage. On Thursday we move onto spring sewing, which will be... well, very similar, if I'm honest. Dammit, London. 


  1. This is rather fabulous, like a nicer version of Colette's Lady Grey. I totally agree on the necessity of fasteners. And what kind of pattern instructs you to *piece* a lining?

    1. Hah, I remember being CONVINCED that one day I would make a Lady Grey, and being very confused when I couldn't find any of the positive reviews I was expecting...

  2. Gorgeous! My favourite coat is a Vogue pattern which has a similar belt but there's an option to attach it to the back of the coat along the waist seam so you can't lose it. It's hard to make the belt with a sticking out bit that gets caught in the seam. Anyway it worked surprisingly well and I think it's less fuss than belt loops. Seeing your coat makes me want to revisit that pattern now...

    1. What a great idea! I wonder how that would be to reverse engineer?

  3. Looks sensational! I love the colour and the green lining is so gorgeous. What a great job. It looks so good on you.

  4. I'm so impressed! Your gorgeous purple coat looks amazing, and amazing ON you. Great job!