It was that time of year again - coat making time. This is the second coat I have made but far from my second project. I did my best to employ couture-level hand sewing techniques with modern style and flattering fit. The result is an impeccable, unique coat that will get many seasons of wear. Let's get started!
Step 1: Picking Your Pattern
The beauty of sewing is the ability to make absolutely anything you want. However, the process is generally easier with a sewing pattern. I chose McCall's 7478, a retro style coat with two different collar options.
One of the difficulty of finding patterns is that the samples shown on the covers are not always made in attractive fabrics. To get around that, flip over the pattern and look at the drawings on the back. This is called the line art. As you look at the line art, ask yourself this question: If that was made in a pretty fabric and it fit me, would I like it? By asking this question, it is generally much easier to imagine what your future garment can look like than if you rely only on the pattern pictures.
At this point, read the back of your envelope to determine what other supplies (or notions) that you will need.
Some common coat-making supplies include:
Lining - polyester or silk is a good choice for lining
Coating fabric - thick, warm fabric generally made of wool or wool blend
Shoulder pads - can make or purchase at the fabric store
Interfacing - fusible interfacing can work for small pieces
Snaps or buttons
Step 2: Make Your Muslin and Evaluate Fit
When making any garment, muslins (quick, unfinished test pieces made out of an inexpensive fabric called muslin) allow you to test the fit of the garment before cutting in to your expensive fashion fabric.
Do not cut out all the pattern pieces when you make your muslin. You only need to cut out the outer pieces of the coat. For this coat, I cut out the sleeves, the back pieces, the front pieces, and the pockets. Sew your muslin together using a long stitch on your sewing machine - this will make the stitches easier to rip out if you make an error.
Now try your muslin on! Make sure you wear the clothes you would normally wear underneath your muslin so that you can accurately assess the fit. Mark your closure locations (for buttons or snaps) and pin your muslin closed at those points. You are now ready to evaluate your fit.
When looking at fit issues, there are a few key places to check.
1. Gaping at the bust - check the placement of the buttons in relation to the fullest point of your bust. If necessary, move the closures so you have one directly at your bust line. This will prevent gaping and ensure a stable fit across the chest.
2. Underarms - lift your arms up. In any structured garment, your range of movement will be more limited than normal. However, you should be able to raise your arms to shoulder level without strain. If the garment lifts up too much, the arm scye (part of the garment near the underarm) may be too low. Raise it by redrawing a higher point on your front and back underarm pattern pieces.
3. Upper back - cross your arms in front of you. If you feel the back is too tight, let out the seam a little and check the movement again.
4. Length - assess where the garment ends and raise or lower as desired.
For all other fit issues, pinch and let out various parts of the garment until the desired fit is reached. Once your fitting is complete, transfer all changes to your pattern pieces. NOTE: Make sure that any changes to the shape of the body pieces are also transferred to the lining pieces.
Step 3: Cut Out Your Fabric
If you are happy with the fit of your muslin, you are ready to cut out your coat! Make sure to align the directional grain arrows on your pattern pieces with the grain of your fabric.
If you're not sure, the grain runs in the same direction as the selvage (factory edge) of your fabric and perpendicular to the cut edge.
This coat has three layers - the outer shell made of wool, the underlining made of muslin (this layer is for warmth), and the lining made of a cotton silk blend. Everything you cut out of wool will also need to be cut out of muslin. Otherwise check your pattern pieces to see which ones are cut from the main fabric and which are cut from the lining.
After you have cut all your pieces, use sewing chalk to transfer all notches and location marks to your pattern pieces.
Step 4: Underlining
Underlining is a technique used to change the structure of a fabric, add warmth, or both. In this case, I used basic muslin fabric as an underlining material.
Place your muslin piece on top of your wool piece of the same shape. Using a brightly colored thread, stitch around the perimeter of the piece 1-2" away from the edge. Use large even stitches so the thread can be easily removed later.
Note: Silk thread tangles very little and can save you some frustration while hand sewing. Otherwise, running your thread through beeswax can also help reduce tangles.
Step 5: Assemble the Coat
Every sewing pattern will come with instructions. After you have finished underlining, assemble your coat according to the instructions. Always start with any darts and reinforcement stitching before moving on to seaming. Press your seams in the closed position first to set the thread path, then press them open using steam and a press cloth.
Tip: Periodically try your garment on, even if only two pieces are sewn together. This will make sure you have assembled the pieces correctly and the garment is fitting how you like.
Step 6: Catch Stitching
After you have sewn your outer shell together, take the time to catch stitch down your seam allowances. This not only increased the luxury couture feeling of your coat but also helps the seam allowances lie flat against the body, resulting in a clean and streamlined look in the final garment.
To catch stitch a seam, start on top of the right seam allowance. Thread your needle and knot the end so the thread is held double. Make your first stitch from under the seam allowance so the knot is hidden. Cross over the edge of the seam allowance and down approximately one inch. Make a tiny upward stitch through the underlining fabric but do not catch the wool fabric. Cross back over the edge of the seam allowance and down one inch and make another tiny upward stitch. This time, catch the top layer of wool and the underlining underneath. Repeat to the end of the seam.
Tip: Again, silk thread will greatly reduce your frustration with this step.
Step 7: Check Your Work
After you have finished catch stitching your shell, try on and carefully inspect your garment. Make sure your seams are all strong. Make sure your pieces are assembled correctly. Reassess the fit. This is the time to make any final adjustments in your garment.
Step 8: Assemble the Lining and Finishing
Assemble your lining pieces according to the instructions. The lining does not need to be catch stitched. Once the lining is complete, attach it to the coat per the pattern directions. When you are ready to turn your lining inside out, again press your stitching line first to set the stitches. Then turn your work. Carefully press your coat.
Turn up your hem on your wool coating to the desired length, press, and stitch to the underlining by hand. Then turn your lining the opposite direction, press, and sew invisibly to the wool coating. Take your time on this step. There is no right or wrong way to make the stitch as long as it is secure and invisible.
Step 9: Attaching Closures and Final Review
After your lining is sewn in and your hem is complete, take a final close look at your work. Remove all the thread pieces used to sew in the underlining. Attach your closures (I used snaps so they were sewn in at the very end). Give your garment a good press and steaming with your iron.
Step 10: Enjoy
The only thing that separates couture from ready to wear is time. Using a basic pattern, pattern instructions, and some careful attention, you can make a beautiful one-of-a-kind coat that will last for years.