I have a number of photo-shoot projects that require a cloak. Someone told me that surplus military blankets make an ideal and cheap material to make cloaks, so I popped down to a surplus store and bought 5 blankets. Two are a cream colour and silk lined at the edges, two are brown/green and edged with over-locked red twine which looks nice, and the fifth was a brown fleece material edged in a lighter brown trim. I paid very little for all that fabric.
Now please bear in mind that I am no seam master, in fact I can just about manage the sewing machine (badly), so I was looking for a simple pattern with as little sewing as possible. That turned out to be a pipe dream.
What follows is a method of making a 'reasonable' cloak from a good sized single blanket. This one has no hood, but adding one would be easy enough. I was looking for either a 'Game of Thrones' sort of style, or a 'LOTR' Strider style cloak.
Here's my first attempt at making anything like this and my experiences.
Step 1: Finding a Pattern ....
First a word about blankets. There is no 'standard size', lots of sites quote that there are, but the reality is they all vary a bit. To make this cloak successfully you are looking for a blanket that is a MINIMUM size of 78" (200 cms) wide by 78" (200 cms) long. You MIGHT get away with 66" wide but you would need some additional fabric for the cowl or liner. My blanket turned out to be 78" wide by 95" (240 cms) long. More than ample for a cloak but not according to conventional patterns.
There are LOADS of cloak patterns on the net, most call for a semi-circular pattern 120" (305 cms) along the straight edge with a radius of 60" (150 cms). Not one of my 5 blankets was big enough for this, I'm going to have to seam and join the two sets of two blankets together to use one of these patterns, and my lonely single blanket just wouldn't make the cut. So I came up with a slightly novel idea. If I divide up the blanket carefully, and make a cowl to hang the main body of the cloak from, then there would be plenty of material to make the entire cloak.
First you need to work out the drop needed. Measure from between your shoulder blades to 2" (5 cms) from the ground. That is your drop. Mine came out at 48", but since my blanket was exactly 95 inches long, dividing it in half gave me a drop of 47.5" - I can live with that! I took the plunge and cut the blanket exactly in half. I retained one half for the body, exactly 47.5" long and 78" wide.
You will now need some tailor's chalk, some good dressmakers scissors and a steady hand.
Next, using the other piece of the blanket CAREFULLY measure and cut out two circles of fabric (it is VERY important that you mark the centre lines of both circles). Cut one with a 12" (30 cms) radius, and the other with a 13" (33 cms) radius. On the smaller circle, also mark a 10" radius circle inside the first.
If you want to hem the top cowl then add 1/2" or 1 cm allowance making 13.5" in total.
Step 2: Cutting the Cowl
Now you have two circles of material marked with their centre lines, the smaller circle also has a 10" radius circle marked inside the first. You also have a piece of material for the cloak body. From this point on in this 'ible I'm going to use three very different fabrics so you can see what's going on. You will need access to some long dressmakers pins, a sewing machine and some scissors.
Start with the smaller circle, this is the cowl liner. Here I am using a piece of red satin just so you can see what's going on. CAREFULLY mark an 8" (20 cms) diameter circle tangential to the centre line and perpendicular to the other centre line. Inside that circle mark a second circle 7" (18 cms) in diameter. Now carefully cut out the 7" circle and the seam line out to the edge. This is the collar opening.
For the outer cowl I am using some faux fur so you can see what's going on. Do exactly the same on the larger circle, marking an 8" and 7" circle at the tangent and again cut the smaller hole and the seam to the edge. This is the outer cowl.
You should end up with two different sized circles but with identical holes cut for the collar.
Step 3: Sewing the Cowl
Next you need to hem the cowl liner (smaller circle). Place the liner right side down and turn the outer edge in till it meets the 10" circle you marked earlier. This will give you a 1" hem line.If you are using heavy blanket material you may need to make some 'dart' cuts in the hem so that it lays flat enough to sew. Pin the hem as you go starting at the back centre line.
Next sew the hem all the way around as near to the 10" mark as is practical - mine was about 1/4" or 6mm from the inner edge of the hem. Once you reach the ends sew them shut too. This hem is important since you will hang the body of the cloak from it.
Lay the outer cowl and the liner down, right sides together. Pin them carefully around the collar and the seam opening. Then sew around the 8" diameter marked seam. Also sew down the seam line but DO NOT sew the 1" hem down! Only go as far as the hem and then stop.
Turn the cowl and the liner inside out so that the insides are together. Now you can test fit the cowl for size. The outer cowl should just drape over the shoulder and the inner liner should sit on the edge of the shoulder.
Step 4: Preparing the Body
Go back to the piece of blanket we cut for the main body. My blanket had lined and seamed edges that I wanted to keep because it would save me a lot of work later. We need to make the top part of the body fit the 1" hem we made on the cowl liner. The first job is to accurately measure this distance, we could try and calculate it using mathematics but it's far easier to use a ready reckoning - so get some string. Carefully lay the string along the seam of the 1" hem all the way around. Mine came out exactly to 63"
The main body of my blanket is exactly 78" across, so some how I need to shorten this distance by 15" to fit the liner. To do this I used a set of cut outs similar to 'darts' in sewing parlance. I don't know much about contours in dressmaking, so I took what seemed the easy option and went for three darts 5" wide. I was also unsure of the length the darts should be. I made mine 18" each, but if I were doing this project over I would have made them 24" each instead.
I drew up a card pattern by marking the 5" x 18" triangle then reducing that by 1/2" (1 cm) each side for a seam allowance. The resulting pattern triangle is 4" x 16", this was pinned at the top centre line of the body and cut out. By calculating the total width of the cloth (78") and dividing by 4 I got the spacing at 19.5" for each dart. If I knew what I was actually doing these dart spacing may have been different, but hey I'm teaching myself here :-)
Once all three darts are cut, fold the material at the centre line and pin the first dart closed making sure the two sides of the dart are perfectly aligned, then sew all the way along the seam on the inside. Let the stitching actually go just over the edge of the fabric when you reach the end. Repeat this operation for the other two darts.
You now have a piece of material that is 78" wide at the bottom and 63" wide at the top with all the original hem linings still intact :-)
Step 5: Joining the Body to the Cowl
This is the trickiest step.
Using the dart we made at the centre of the body, line it up with the centre line at the back of the inner cowl. The body material goes BETWEENthe inner liner and the outer cowl. Line it up with the inner edge of the 1" cowl hem, so about 3/4" inch of overlap. Continue to pin it all the way around. The very ends of the hem are the most difficult which is why we didn't sew them down earlier.
Now sew the two pieces together, there's a lot of fabric to be manoeuvred about so take your time, this seam is the important one. You should easily gain access to most of the hem line because it's not fixed to the outer cowl but as you get to each end it's more difficult. Again the ends will be awkward to sew, that's one reason that we made the joining hem so wide. Another reason is that if you feel this seam is a little bit 'light' you can add a second seam to ensure a very strong joint. Now try your cloak on - The outer cowl is mostly there to hide the join between the cowl liner and the body of the cloak.
Step 6: Making the Clasp
I wanted a bit of a fancy clasp to round off my cloak. This meant acquiring a few bits and pieces, I already had an off-cut of faux black leather. I bought some black chain, two black 1" diameter key rings, a black mini carabiner and two large metal shank buttons.
I began by making a rough card template that fit the collar in the position that I wanted. I marked up the leather and also allowed for two strips 1/2" wide. All these were cut out and two 'rip-stop' holes were punched at the position of the loop inserts. I then glued the strips into loops using impact adhesive taking care to leave the centre sections free of glue. These were made into the loops. They were then passed through the slots I had cut in the leather and glued into position, again using the barge cement. Once that had cured I ran a stitched seam around the loop strips to make sure they wouldn't come loose. I then assembled everything to check for looks and again against the fabric of the collar. I then dis-assembled everything and stitched the leather panels into place on the collar.
Once re-assembled the clasp is operated via the mini carabiner. I cut the chain length down to size, we only need minor finishing up operations now.
Step 7: Finishing Up
With the leather panels sewn on, I assembled the key rings through the loops then added the mini carabiner to one of the key rings and the chain to the other. Finally I stitched the large buttons on by hand covering the leather loops and part of the key rings for a better looking finish. Job done.
Step 8: The Finished Cloak
Here's the finished cloak. It's lovely to wear, very soft and warm. I like the way it falls too - all in all I'm very pleased with it as a first ever attempt at anything like this. Also it was made using half the fabric required by other patterns.
Have fun :-)