Five cosy coat patterns for a/w 2016

The horse chestnut trees are just beginning to go golden here in leafy Malvern, and my thoughts are meandering in the direction of coats.

If you’re thinking of making a coat for the first time, I’d encourage you to go for it. Yes, you’ll spend a fortune on fabric. Yes it’ll take a lot longer than a skirt. But you’ll end up with something you could potentially wear every day of the winter for years and years. Plus people are always amazed that you made something as difficult as a coat. I’ve made four so far – one for me (unblogged), and three versions of the same Oliver + S Schooldays Jacket pattern for my son.

Here’s my edit of the five coat patterns I’d love to try this year. (OK, realistically I’ll probably only manage one…)

Top to bottom, left to right, they are:

  1. V8875, a vintage Vogue dress coat pattern. This fit and flare design has a detachable shawl collar and a tie belt. If I had a wedding to go to over the winter, this would be my go-to pattern. It also formed part of this year’s Great British Vintage Sewalong. I know some sewists have made the dress, but I’ve yet to see anyone make the matching coat. If you’ve seen one in the wild, let me know – I’d love to see how it turned out.
  2. Lisette for Butterick B6169. I need a moto jacket in my life, definitely. It goes with jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses, and gives you that nonchalant I-haven’t-tried-too-hard vibe that’s the perfect urban antidote to a dress. The recommended fabrics for this are linen and twill, so this pattern would be a good introduction to this style before working up to a full-on leather version.
  3. Another Liesl Gibson/Butterick collaboration, B6385 is the kind of wool coat I used to wear every day when I had an office job. Wouldn’t this look fabulous in claret or burgundy? Or pretty much any colour that’s named after a wine…? With three different collar options, and four cup sizes included in the pattern, there’s a coat for you here.
  4. Burda 6772 would take you from early autumn into winter. A slimmed-down version of the classic trenchcoat, this would sew up well in gabardine if you’re going for a Burberry copycat. Or you could use a heavyweight poplin or a jacquard to create a coat-dress. Critically, this pattern is single-breasted, so those of us above a C-cup can avoid the ‘matronly’ effect that a double-breasted trench can create.
  5. Lastly, I’m still in love with the gorgeous vintage yellow coat that Tamara made in series two of the Great British Sewing Bee. I’ve never managed to find out which vintage pattern she used, but it’s been reproduced in the book that accompanied the second series. There are some fantastic 1960s details in this pattern, like the shoulder and elbow darts – features that just aren’t found in most modern patterns. It’s not a simple project, but it would be a terrific addition to any winter wardrobe. Whether you choose to make it in yellow or not is up to you.

Are you planning to stitch a coat or a cape this autumn? And which patterns are you eyeing up?

Another School Days Jacket – now officially a tried and tested pattern

 

This week I completed my third Oliver + S School Days Jacket (kids will keep growing, won’t they?). I’ve written a fair amount about this pattern before when I made versions one and two, so I’ll stick to what’s new this time.

  1. I added reflective piping to the yoke and hood seams. The little beastie is pretty fast on his feet these days and I thought this might be a useful safety feature if it lasts him into next winter.
  2. Instead of a quilting cotton for the lining, this time I copied some of the RTW children’s jackets I’ve seen and used single jersey.
  3. I switched to an acetate lining fabric for the sleeves, again copying some of the RTW jackets and hoodies I’ve seen for toddlers.
  4. I added an inch to the length between the armscye and the waist – not that toddlers exactly have a waist –  as he’s very tall for his age.
  5. Learning from experience, I used a coordinating fabric for the patch pocket linings, rather than a contrasting fabric. So if the lining does peek out at the sides, it’s not so obvious.

I really like the lining in a knit – you get the stretch you need from the fabric rather than from putting a pleat in the centre back, so I adjusted the pattern piece to remove this. Keeping a slippery fabric for the sleeves makes it easier to get the jacket on and off over a bulky jumper. I’d worried about joining a knit to a woven but my walking foot coped OK.

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He requested the same outer fabric as last time, so it’s another charcoal polyester coating from Croft Mill. Cheaper than wool, but harder to press into shape. I used the same Thinsulate interlining as last time, from Pennine Outdoor, but I fancy trying something a bit thinner and less fluffy next time – any recommendations?

The lining is a bicycle print organic cotton jersey from Fabric Godmother (which looks now to be sold out). Love the print, love that it’s organic, but it’s a real shame that it’s printed slightly off-grain. I splashed out and bought three metres with the idea of making the rest into pyjamas for him, but pattern matching is going to be a problem.It also pilled slightly when I pre-washed it, which is disappointing at £18 a metre.

The sleeve lining is a bog-standard acetate in cream which came from my Grannie’s stash. It’s a huge piece and has a label still attached saying ’50p’. Bargain!

The toggle buttons are from Weaver Dee. Not real leather, unfortunately, (I can’t find real leather ones or leather laces anywhere round here) but they were inexpensive compared to others I’ve seen and they come with pre-made holes so you don’t need a leather needle.

I made size 3T, which is the largest size in this bundle of the pattern. So if he wants another one next year I’ll have to invest in the larger size version of the pattern – well worth it, I reckon. I’m adding this to my list of TNT (tried and tested) patterns.

Yes, you can buy cheaper duffle coats in chainstores, but I’ve really enjoyed crafting something unique and personal. Would you make this, or would you rather buy a ready-made one?

Sewing thick fabrics

On Saturday night, I spent the evening at home – wrestling with a monster seam. IMG_1202 (1)

This is the toughest seam I’ve ever sewn, and I thought I’d share some tips for dealing with these, without breaking too many needles.

When you make a coat, there’s usually a point when you ‘bag’ the lining. You start by assembling the outer coat and the lining separately. Then you stitch them together along three sides, turn the whole thing inside out through the fourth side and hey presto, you (almost) have yourself a beautiful lined coat.

In this seam, because there was also a lined hood, I had six layers altogether: two layers of polyester coating, two of cotton jersey lining, plus two of fluffy Thinsulate interlining. And when I got to the point where the shoulder and hood seams aligned, it was briefly doubled to 12 layers.

So, how can you get all this under the needles smoothly?

Use the right kit

Being realistic, a portable lightweight machine is probably going to curl up and die if you ask it to sew a seam like this. So if you’re lucky enough to have more than one machine, thread up the stronger of the two. My new Janome DKS30 and my old Singer 201k have both sewn this seam successfully – although only the 201k actually enjoyed it.

Pick the right needle and thread. If you’re making a coat, you’re probably using a size 100/16 needle. If you can’t remember what needle you put in, or you changed it to sew the lining, now is the moment to double-check. A strong sew-all polyester thread, or potentially even a topstitching or buttonhole thread is a good idea too.

If you’ve been using your walking foot for your coat so far, you might need to change back to your ordinary foot just to get the fabric under the needle. But if you can stick with your walking foot, that will give you a better result when seaming all these different fabrics together.

You could also try a Jean-a-ma-jig (also called a ‘hump jumper’) to help you over the seam allowances. It helps the presser foot lift and stay level over the hump when the fabric suddenly gets thicker.

Extra tips and tricks

Fish out your sewing machine manual again and look for any advice on sewing thick fabrics. I found that mine has an extra lever position that lifts the presser foot even higher to help you get all the layers into position.

Set your presser foot pressure and needle thread tension according to the advice in the manual. (On my Janome DKS30 I set the presser foot pressure at 6 and the needle thread tension at 3.)

If your fabric stops moving through the machine you might have to help it along the way. You can try gently pulling and pushing it through with one hand on each side. Or you can switch to using the hand wheel instead of the motor – sometimes a few stitches done like that will get you through the hardest part.

A cup of tea or a stiff G&T can also make all the difference…

If it does go a bit wonky, try not to panic. Unless you’ve dropped a layer or created a pucker you probably don’t need to unpick. And because this seam will never lie flat on the body, if it’s not 100% perfect you mightn’t even notice.

Sourcing children’s duffel coat supplies in the UK

It’s happened. He’s grown. Again. So I’m starting my third Oliver + S School Days Jacket ahead of some of the other things in my queue that I’m itching to get stuck into.

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Most of the versions of this pattern (including the official sew-along) I’ve seen have been from US-based stitchers like Cashmerette, so I thought it might help to compile some links and tips to help UK sewists find everything they’ll need.

The pattern

I’ve used the Oliver + S School Days Jacket. I love this pattern – it’s cute, it’s adaptable, it’s unisex. The instructions are spot on and you don’t need any special tailoring skills or tools.

Loads of lovely sewing shops in the UK now stock Oliver + S but they rarely have this particular pattern, preferring to stick to simpler stuff like T-shirts and summer dresses. So you’ll probably need to get it from Backstitch. I’d recommend the PDF version because kids are a different size each time and I find it easier to re-print than trace it off each time.

One minor grumble – the pattern comes in sizes 6m-18m up to 3T and then for 4T and up you have to re-buy it in the larger size bundle. I read Todd’s post explaining why this is the case, and I do appreciate the reasons. But it still grates a bit, especially as there’s no overlap for grading between 3T and 4T.

Fabrics

Main fabric

Tons of options here. For a proper duffel coat, you’ll want to use a fairly heavy coating fabric. Obviously you can get wool, tweed, or even cashmere (!) but for a coat that’s only going to fit for one year and that you’re likely to want to wash or at least scrub regularly, that’s probably not a great idea. So I’ve used a polyester melton from Croft Mill. It washes well, doesn’t fray much and sews up well. The downsides are that it’s tough on your hands to cut out and you can’t press it into shape as easily as wool. Small price to pay, I think. (And actually it really is a small price at £10.50/m rather than upwards of £20/m). I also think it would look amazing in needlecord but my boy is determined to stick with what he knows.

Lining fabric

I made the first two versions with quilting cotton – it was on the list of fabric suggestions and there are so many brilliant patterns and colours to choose from.

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For the third version, I’m going to try something I see in lots of my son’s RTW clothes – a cotton jersey knit fabric for the body lining and an acetate (slippery nylon type) fabric for the sleeves. The theory is that this should make it easier to take on and off over winter jumpers but I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve bought this slightly extravagant bicycle-print organic cotton jersey from Fabric Godmother and I’ll use some plain acetate lining from my stash for the sleeves.

For the pockets, although a contrast lining is really tempting, I’d strongly recommend something that closely matches the outer fabric. They’re patch pockets, and try/understitch as I might, I can’t get them on without a tiny peek of the lining showing through at the sides. So this time I’ll use a black acetate lining fabric.

Interlining

I embraced Liesl’s suggestion to interline the coat for a really cosy look and feel (toddlers don’t do layering, after all). It’s a lot simpler than making the optional quilted vest that comes with the pattern. I am definitely not a quilter so this is much quicker.

Pennine Outdoor sell a Thinsulate lining which works well here. It’s a bit like sewing with snow at roughly 1cm thick, but it squashes while it’s under the presser foot, it’s held up well and I’m pleased with the way it looks. You don’t need as much of this as the lining fabric because there’s no straight grain so you can arrange the pieces any old how for your cutting layout.

Notions

Don’t go with the Velcro option if you’re using a wool-type fabric – it sticks to everything and damages your outer fabric. Choose the snaps/press studs option instead. Nice chunky ones will help the coat sit better.

I’ve seen a few versions of this pattern with the button tabs, but for a proper duffel coat you can’t beat toggles. Myfabrics and Weaver Dee both sell ready-made leather-look toggle fastenings in a range of colours. I’d really love to make my own (using Jen’s instructions for the Grainline Cascade duffel coat) with real leather pieces but I haven’t found anywhere near me or online in the UK that sells leather cord or leather laces. Can you recommend anywhere?

For my third version, I’ve also decided to add some reflective piping to the hood and yoke seams. Pennine Outdoor sell this ready made and you’ll need between 1 and 2m to do the same seams as me, depending on the size you’re making.

Tools

Leather needles for the toggle fastenings – I sew mine by hand

Sticky tape or fabric glue to hold the toggles in place while you sew them

Size 90 or 100 regular machine needles for stitching the coating fabric

Nice long pins to hold all those layers together

Piping or regular zip foot for adding any piping

A walking foot for joining the lining to the coat and stitching together the interlining

Possibly a hump jumper, depending on your machine and your fabric.

 

That’s it. Not so hard when you list it all out – plus you get all the fun of ticking off the list, right?

School Days Jacket version two – with added elephants

My little boy is growing fast – so fast, in fact, that he grew out of his first School Days Jacket just before Christmas. As it’s pretty cold in Worcestershire at this time of year, I thought he’d better have another one.

The rolled-up cuffs are just a temporary feature - until his arms grow a bit longer.
The rolled-up cuffs are just a temporary feature – until his arms grow a bit longer.

Second time around this project felt much easier. And I got to tick off one of my 2015 resolutions – to make the same pattern more than once. I used a polyester mix grey wool coating this time, from Truro Fabrics and cut out a size T2, but enlarged the hood to a size T3. It was harder to press than the wool fabric I used for version one, but it was cheaper and I’m hoping it’ll be easier to clean! The lining is a fun elephant print from Ditto Fabrics – I’ve seen this fabric in a few places, and the sharp-eyed among you might recognise it from this sunhat I made back in 2013. I used an interlining again – the same Thinsulate as the first version. It is a bit like sewing through snow, but it gives a lovely cosy feel to the jacket.

I learnt from my mistakes the first time – for this version I used ready-made toggle fasteners. I love the way they look but I wasn’t confident attaching these using my machine (and I didn’t have any leather machine needles) so I hand-stitched them. It nearly killed my fingers so I think I must have had the wrong size leather needle. But hey-ho, they’re on and they work.

I also solved the hem-facing-lining join issue I had with the first version – I’d missed a note in the instructions about stopping short of the bottom when stitching the front facing to the front lining. Ahem.

I really like this pattern, and I feel I’ve got to grips with how to sew it. But if I’m ever persuaded to make a third version there are a few fit issues I need to work on. The interlining makes the coat smaller on the inside, and the sizing is on the small side anyway, so I’d recommend sizing up if you’re in any doubt. For my son, this then meant that the shoulders were too wide, and that made the sleeves too long for him. It would be pretty easy to shorten the sleeves, but I think I need to research whether I can do anything about the shoulders. And as he’s relatively tall, I’d also add around an inch to the length.

If you’ve made a children’s coat, I’d love to see it, and if anyone can solve the fitting issue at the shoulder for me I’d be really grateful.

School Days Jacket Version 2: nearly there

I was hoping to have the finished article to show you by now, but it’s not quite there yet. Instead, I thought I’d show you how I’m getting on and maybe get a little help with the finishing stages.

Here it was yesterday – I’d just stitched the lining and the jacket together and turned it right-side out for the first time.

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Last night I blind-stitched the sleeve lining to the inside of the outer sleeve. And next I need to unpick the bottom two inches of the seam that joins the facing to the front lining – I think this is the same mistake I made with the previous version – I got so carried away with my success in joining a concave and convex curve that I didn’t notice I was supposed to stop sewing before I got to the bottom!

Then I should be ready to press up the outer and lining hems, topstitch the front placket and bottom hem, and stitch the bottom of the lining to to the hem.

Fingers crossed…

Oliver + S School Days Jacket pattern review

As promised, here are my thoughts on what it was like to make this children’s duffel coat. In my first post about this project, I explained the materials I used, so this post is more like a pattern review.

A small boy wearing a grey wool coat and red wells
Taking his new coat for a test run.

Fit and sizing

I measured my son in August, and I wanted him to be able to wear the coat until next spring. The Oliver + S size chart makes it easy to work out what size you need – provided your child will keep still to be measured. (My strategy was to get my toddler to stand at a low table and put a favourite book in front of him.) He measured up as a size 6-12m around the chest and waist, so I made a size 12-18m.

But he’s also quite tall. So I did my best to lengthen the sleeves and hem of the coat to accommodate his longer arms and body. I wish that the pattern included a lengthen/shorten line to make this easier, but Oliver + S do provide a tutorial on how to do this on their website – which I only found after I’d finished the coat. I succeeded in lengthening the arms, but I don’t think I’ve made the hem long enough – I ran into some problems finishing this part and had to trim more off the length than I wanted to.

Instructions

The instructions are clear and easy to follow. I liked the way they explain that topstitching and edge stitching are pretty much the same, and that it’s just up to you how far from the seam or the fold you do them. There are lots of steps, but then it’s a lined coat, you’d expect that.

Two things are missing though. There’s no mention of adding a hanging loop, so I forgot to put one in. I’m loathe to pick it apart just to add one, so this coat is going to be hung up by the hood, which is a shame. And I had trouble with the Velcro. I could swear I followed the pattern correctly, but my Velcro pieces didn’t match up. They also got stuck to the toggle cords so I’d definitely recommend the poppers/press studs option instead. Also, is the front placket supposed to be the same width as the front facing? Mine definitely didn’t end up the same, and this caused some problems when I came to finish the coat.

Things I messed up

I chose a contrast fabric for the lining, which I used for the pocket lining too. I don’t think I manipulated the seam where the pocket pieces join the pocket lining very well, because you can just see a tiny white line where the pocket lining is visible at the side of each pocket. So you might want choose a fabric for the pocket lining pieces that’s the same colour as the outer coat fabric.

The toggle buttons I bought didn’t have holes so I wrapped the cords around them and then stitched through the cords to prevent them coming loose. But I didn’t think to account for the way this uses up some of the cords’ length. So they’re possibly each 1cm or so too short.

The hem! I struggled with this for ages. It sounded so simple in the instructions but I just could not get the front facing, front lining, back lining, front jacket, back jacket pieces and my Thinsulate interlining all lined up and hemmed neatly in place. So I’m looking forward to getting some help with this from the sew-along and finding out where I went wrong.

Overall, I really love the design, and it’s a very doable coat for anyone without that much sewing experience. If I can find the time, I’d love to try making another one next year and applying some of the lessons I’ve learnt.

Oliver + S School Days Jacket

No, not for me!

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Well, this one has taken some time – it’s the only thing I’ve been sewing for the past six weeks. But it’s been completely worth it. My little boy is 15 months old now, and I wanted to have a go at making him a winter coat now that he’s getting a bit grown up for all-in-ones.

I used Oliver + S’s School Days Jacket pattern, which I bought as a download from Backstitch. I wanted to try a digital pattern because I thought I might make it in several sizes over the coming years, and to be frank, I’m too lazy to trace off a paper pattern each time. With the digital version, I can just re-print it and cut straight in again.

The grey wool is actually re-hashed from an attempt to make a coat for my husband a couple of years ago that didn’t work out. (That’s a whole other story.) And the winter forest cotton lining fabric came from Fabric Rehab.

To keep the little man nice and cosy, I also included an interlining. I got the idea from reading Liesl Gibson’s post on the Oliver + S blog. I bought Thinsulate from Pennine Outdoor.

I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. Toddlers grow so quickly so that I was terrified he’d already have grown out of it by the time I’d finished. I made a size larger than he was when I measured him, and luckily it fits for now. But I’m not sure if he’ll still fit in it come March.

I’ve got some thoughts on how I’d do things differently next time, and some comments on the pattern too, but I’ll save those for another post. Meantime, if you’re thinking of running up a coat before the winter sets in, then Oliver + S are going to be doing a sew-along on this very pattern shortly.

The weather’s not quite cold enough yet for him to wear it, but when it is, I’ll try to get some pictures of the coat out and about.