Intro: Warm Winter Wool
A wool coat is the perfect garment to keep warm during the winter months. Underlined with cotton flannel, this coat is heavy duty and incredibly cozy! Well, it certainly does the trick for a Bay Area winter - if I lived in the Dakotas or Wyoming, I think I would have to hibernate all winter long because I am not a fan of cold weather (read: anything below 40 degrees is considered frigid in my world).
Step 1: Inspiration
For some projects, I start with a length of fabric, then find the perfect pattern. For others, the perfect pattern is found, but the right fabric eludes me for years.
This particular pattern was purchased back in 2006. I first was inspired to create a coat dress in a light-weight green damask fabric. Well, I dreamed up a fabric that did not exist, or at least, one I could not find, and since that time, I have pulled the pattern out each winter season, determined to make something out of it!
This winter I found the perfect wool coating material. It has an interesting weave, and some white cross patterns running through it - enough added interest to make the coat special, but not enough to make matching plaids or stripes a real pain the in the behind.
Step 2: Making a Garment That Will Last a Lifetime.
From the outset, I decided that I was going to make this coat the right way. After all, I waited years for the right fabric, and it deserved the extra time to make a coat that will last a lifetime.
There were a few moments at the sewing machine when I was unhappy with the thickness of my wool, but I am extremely pleased with finished product. It may not be the most practical garment I have ever made, but I have a feeling I am going to get a lot of wear out of it, despite the fact that my winter coat has a wide open neckline. Scarf time!
Step 3: Under-Lining and Catch-Stitching
I underlined the wool coating with cotton flannel. In other words, before I began sewing, I placed my wool pieces on top of a length of cotton flannel, and hand-stitched the two pieces together. (This process can obviously be done by machine for a quick project, but because they two layers are different in weight and content, they may shift while you are sewing with a machine, so I prefer to stitch them by hand.) These two layers are then treated as one during the construction process.
Because of the added bulk, once the seams were pressed open, I catch-stitched them to the flannel underlining. Turns out, this makes it so much easier to match seams! The collar and facing pieces were underlined with plain black cotton to save on bulk where the need for extra warmth was not necessary. (And, to be honest, the thought of getting three wool layers, plus three flannel layers under the sewing machine foot was too much for me to handle!)
The most tedious part of the construction was catch-stitching all those seam edges to the flannel underlining. But I got into a rhythm and ended up enjoying the process.
Where it was necessary to press both seams in the same direction I made sure to trim and graduate the covered seam, and then catch-stitch the top seam to my flannel. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a bit of bulk there, but it is much more manageable.
Step 4: Lining
Thankfully, the edges of the wool did not fray terribly.
My choice of lining was a different story. The pale pink rayon satin was living in my immense fabric stash and was the perfect contrast to the black wool. However, the edges started to fray as soon as they were cut. I was concerned that the seams that get more stress than others might continue to fray with wear, so I covered them with Hug Snug rayon seam binding.
I trimmed the armhole seams down and covered them, along with the horizontal seams above and below the waistline. The seam binding also came in handy for my sleeve facing – instead of having to fold the wool and adding thickness, I just bound the raw edge.
Step 5: Shoulder Pads
The coat instructions suggest purchased shoulder pads. I prefer to make my own, and thanks to my collection of Vintage Vogue reproductions, I have plenty of pattern pieces to choose from!
I ended up borrowing the shoulder pad pattern pieces from this dress. But it is easy enough to make your own. Use half-circles of cotton batting, each cut smaller than the last, until you build up the pad enough to support the garment. The half circles get stitched to a full circle, which is folded in half. I recommend covering the cotton with a lining fabric of some kind before inserting it between your fashion fabric and lining, to ensure that no fluff from the batting escapes!
Step 6: Gathering Super Thick Layers
I realized early on that gathering wool coating underlined with cotton flannel was going to be almost impossible – silk thread or not, this fabric is thick! Of course, I could have gone with another pattern entirely, but I can be a bit stubborn that way. So I decided that I would make it work!
To avoid tears and frustration, I used a technique that I came across many years ago. I believe I first saw the tip in a pattern instruction sheet. They suggested using dental floss!? to gather thick or unruly material. Well, the dental floss freaked me out a bit, but I always have crochet thread on hand and I thought it would make an excellent substitute, and it does! The trick is to zig-zag over the crochet thread/floss without catching it. The crochet thread is then pulled up and, unlike sewing thread, will not break under pressure. It works beautifully! (And I will let you in on a little secret – if you happen to catch your crochet thread up in the zig-zag stiches, just use a seam ripper to remove the offending stitch – unless you have to remove quite a few bits of the stitching in a concentrated area it will not affect the gathering at all.)
Step 7: Closures
This coat uses snaps as a fastening. And while it is somewhat thrilling to start a project that requires no buttonholes or zippers of any kind, I was not convinced that snaps could close such a heavy coat. Off to my local JoAnn Fabrics I went, and purchased some size 10 snaps which are just a skosh under 1” in diameter. I am happy to report that three of these babies easily keep the coat shut. I ended up covering my snaps with some bemberg scraps that I had on hand using this Threads tutorial because the black paint on the snaps was already chipping away. The rayon is probably too delicate for this task, but for now, it works just fine.
The buttons have a bit of a shank, and I probably should have used something that was a bit more flat because they are sitting on top of the coat instead of sliding through a buttonhole and holding fabric in place. Live and learn, right? And I can always swap them out for something different if I find something that will work better!
Step 8: Finishing Touches
I ended up adding cuffs to my coat. Because the cuffs were drafted with the three-quarter length in mind, I had to take about 1” out of the width of the pattern piece. I underlined the cuffs with cotton to substitute as interfacing. As it was, the two layers of wool, plus flannel, plus cotton, plus lining, plus a small wrist circumference was a bit of a bother to get under the sewing machine, but I prevailed. Hand basting works wonders!
Step 9: Wear and Enjoy!
A successful finished project makes me want to twirl!