What better way to start the year than with a sewing challenge? After recovering from the sewing hangover from Halloween, I was ready to try something new. I had two options: a coat or a Victorian corset. Since corsets are not season-specific, the coat seemed like the most logical conclusion. I also had three yards of a beautiful wool blend that I bought a couple years ago at The Fabric Store. With the right pattern, the fabric would make the perfect winter coat.
I had never tried to sew a coat before because I never felt I had the skills necessary for such a difficult project. I felt intimidated by the task and put off by the fact that a coat is not an instant gratification project. But I know that the only way to grow is to push just a little farther than where my skills can take me. After going through my pattern collection, I decided to go with Simplicity 1197.
Pattern and Fabric
Simplicity 1197 is a re-issue of a 1960s dress and coat. The coat has a loose fit, raglan sleeves, and a lining. Because of the loose fit, there is not a lot of adjusting the pattern. The pattern pieces are big and easy to work with. And there is only one dart to sew! The raglan sleeves were the reason why I chose it—no fussing with adjusting the fit of the sleeves or setting them in. The pattern is a good introduction to coat making, and it can be dialed up or down according to one’s skill level.
I had a wool blend from The Fabric Store LA in my stash for quite some time. It is black and gray with silver threads woven into the wool. Because the fabric was so thick, I could not imagine any other use for it than a coat. I used the dryer method found on the Colette blog to pre-shrink my wool, and it worked nicely. I actually used a small square before I put the whole fabric in the dryer as I was terribly afraid of destroying it. Nothing horrible happened.
Much like every Simplicity pattern, this coat runs large. I made a first muslin in a size 18. It looked like a beige monster had swallowed me. I figured I needed to size down, so I made a second muslin in a size 16. As soon as I tried on the muslin, the back ripped like I was the Incredible Hulk. So I went back to the size 18 coat and started to shave inches off. Even after adjusting the pattern after the muslin, I had to make adjustments again once the main pieces of the coat were sewn together. Here are all the adjustments:
• Sleeves: I took one whole inch from each sleeve piece preserving the original seam at the top of the shoulder seam and tapering in about two inches from the top. I also added about 4 inches of length to create full sleeves.
• Side seams: I took half an inch from each pattern piece at the bust line and 1 ½ inches from the hem, then redrew the side seams by connecting these two new points.
• Hem: I found the original coat too long, so I took 3 inches off the length.
Alexandra Bruce and The Craftsy Pinup have great video reviews of Simplicity 1197. For the welt pockets, I used this Mimi G’s tutorial. For the more complicated aspects of coat making, I referred to Steffani Lincecum’s classes Inside Vogue Patterns: Coatmaking Techniques V9040 and Classic Tailoring: The Blazer. I had never heard of French chains, so I used this great tutorial by Profession Pincushion. And when my machine could not handle making buttons because of the thickness of the layers, I found help in Alison Smith’s quick video and Megan Nielsen’s photo tutorial.
I knew that this project was going to be time-consuming. There was so much to do! I wrote down a plan to chunk the project into logical batches: pre-shrinking the wool and pre-washing the lining; sewing a muslin (or two); transferring adjustments to the paper pattern; cutting the wool; cutting the lining; interfacing; sewing the welt pockets; sewing the coat; sewing the lining; sewing lining to coat; hemming the coat and the lining; making buttonholes; sewing buttons; finishing the coat. I knew that this was going to be a lot to handle and that I would be frustrated often, so I made sure to stop every time I felt overwhelmed. Breaks are good.
My ideal plan got derailed by life. As a teacher librarian, I am part of the Los Angeles teachers’ union, and the union went on strike for seven days. These were tough days of picketing in the rain and spending hours on my feet. Once getting home wet, cold, and tired, all I wanted was to curl up on the couch. There was little to no sewing during this time.
I used two types of interfacing: weft and woven. I struggled with the decision of interfacing the whole coat. After reading a number of blogs on coat making (Cashmerette’s Top Tips for Sewing Your First Coat; Closet Case Patterns’ Clare Sewalong; SewDaily’s Top Ten Tips for Sewing Coats), I decided to interface the body of the coat with weft interfacing and all the facings and the collar with woven interfacing. Here is a detailed list of how that was done:
• Coat front and back: the whole pieces were interfaced with weft interfacing
• Sleeves: a piece of weft interfacing was placed from the shoulder to about halfway down the upper arm
• Sleeve hem: a three-inch piece of weft interfacing cut on the bias was placed on the hem
• Neck and front facings and collar: the whole pieces were interfaced with woven interfacing
• Pocket welts: woven interfacing
The pieces interfaced with weft became more structured but kept some of the drape. The fabric felt almost spongy. For a while there, I thought I had made a huge mistake by interfacing every piece, but I think that without it, the fabric would have been a nightmare to press. It was also much easier to mark the fabric since I could use a pen to draw directly on the weft interfacing.
For the welt pocket, I used Mimi G’s video tutorial for her Simplicity 8451. I practiced four times, and they all came out okay. So why, oh why, when I made my first real welt pocket, it turned out a failure? I tried so hard to match everything, but in the end, the right pocket looked awful. The saving grace is that the awfulness is on the inside of the pocket, so no one will ever know my shame. The welt hides all imperfections. The left pocket turned out a lot better. My left hand fits perfectly inside the pocket. The right one needs to close into a fist to get in there. But you only know because I told you, so don’t go telling the world about it. Next time, I will use Professor Pincushion’s tutorial on how to sew a welt pocket.
There is only one dart for the whole project. My fabric was thick, and the addition of the weft interfacing made it even thicker, so after I sewed the dart, I cut the excess fabric following this tutorial. Even though the weft caused the fabric to become bulkier, it made pressing much easier.
Sewing the body of the coat and the lining was uneventful. Some of the pieces (upper collar and front facings) stretched due to handling, so I had to recut them according to the paper pattern.
Problems started when it was time to put it all together. Because of the stay-stitching, the neckline of the lining did not match the one of the coat. I had to cut into the stay-stitching to make them match. There was a lot of pinning to get the upper collar to match the under collar.
There were even more pins to get the front coat to match the front facing. I got a ridiculous amount of excess fabric for one of the front facing pieces. In order to make it work, I had to sew both facings with the interfaced side up. It was not fun, and I had to unpick too many seams, but in the end, everything matched—every seam, every notch, every hem. Call it a sewing miracle.
For some reason, the hem of the lining was narrower than that of the hem. I had to undo the seam of the lining, match the width of the sleeve hem to that of the sleeve, and sew the seam back together. Then, I attached the lining to the sleeve by hand.
I decided to hand sew all the hems. I used a blind stitch for the hem of the lining and a catch stitch for the hem of the coat.
My buttonhole attachment could not handle the many layers of fabric and interfacing. I considered hand sewing the buttonholes, but to be honest, I was done with hand sewing. I used the method suggested by Alison Smith in this short video. It took forever to get the buttonholes done—marking the fabric alone took a couple of hours (maybe because I am slightly obsessed with everything being perfect and all).
So, I made a coat. I took my time and experimented with new materials and techniques. I got frustrated, and I had to walk away from it a few times. There were moments when I thought this coat was never going to get done. I finished this beast, though, and just in time for one of the coldest winters in Los Angeles (it SNOWED in LA!). I do not wish any more cold weather, but if it happens, I will be nice and warm in my brand new me-made coat.