Named Isla Trench Coat: Part 1

I have a long-running ‘wardrobe wishlist’ of core, classic pieces I want to make for my wardrobe. Many of the items feature on the usual ‘capsule wardrobe’ lists – you know: a pencil skirt, cigarette pants, a smart wool coat, the perfect white shirt, and so on. In fact, my search for a classic pencil skirt sewing pattern with all my ideal features led me to draft the first version of my Agnes Skirt sewing pattern.

Last summer, given the restrictions imposed in response to the Covid pandemic, like so many other people I spent a lot more time than usual at home. I started to think about working through that list again, and I found my eye drawn repeatedly to one item in particular: the trench coat. And so began a project that took almost six months to complete, but that I FINALLY finished in the last days of 2020! To be fair, I had to set the project aside for long periods within that six months, so in real terms this was probably more of a two-week kind of project. But, here we are!

In this post, I’ll take you through my thoughts on the preparation and assembly of the coat, and in the next post I’ll share pictures of the finished garment and my thoughts on the fit and tweaks for next time.

The Pattern

Named have rated the difficulty of this pattern as 5/5 (advanced, or as they label it ‘master’). I do agree with this rating. There are a lot of pieces, it takes a long time to make (!) and it requires fairly intricate and accurate sewing as well as extensive use of interfacing, shoulder pads etc for support.

I was using an old paper copy of the pattern, which I must say I really didn’t enjoy using AT ALL in terms of how you had to trace and reconnect the pattern pieces. It literally gave me a thumping headache. However, I’m not going to dwell on that because I see that the pattern was updated in 2020 and the paper version no longer has the overlapping layout and now includes seam allowances. That sounds like a major improvement, and I hope one that makes the pattern more user friendly going forward!

I really liked the drafting itself – the shaping of the cape, collar, collar belt and pocket pieces especially.

Alterations

This is a meaty project, and I would recommend making a toile before you get started. I made mine from cotton calico (cut to about a knee length so as not to waste fabric).

I shortened the pattern by 4”/10cm- I felt unsure about the length as drafted, which is really quite long, but I knew I wanted it to be longer than my toile, and more of a midi length. I’m about 5’6 for reference.

Named Clothing patterns are drafted for a height of 5’8 and they seem to have been drafted for longer arms than usual as a result. I have proportionally longer arms (for my height) and always need to lengthen full length sleeves, but I found the sleeve length and the pocket placement just right for my arms.

I toyed with the idea of doing a small narrow shoulder adjustment but in the end decided not to, as this coat may need to fit over thicker under-layers such as jumpers and/or lightweight jackets, which I wasn’t wearing when I tried on my toile. Jackets and coats are usually drafted with an extended shoulder width for this reason, and the overhang wasn’t excessive on my toile – I just needed to curb my tendency to overfit things!

Fabric and notions

Main fabric: a showerproof cotton-blend twill from Minerva (£8.99/m)
Lining: Viscose twill lining from The Lining Company (£13.99/m) for the sleeves, the cape and the pocket flaps, and a gorgeous viscose from John Lewis (sold out, £12/m) for the body lining.
Underlining: Lightweight cotton calico from Amazon.
Shoulder pads: made from cotton wadding and felt from my stash.
Buttons: Gold buttons from Minerva (£19.99 for a pack of 15)

Approximate cost of materials: £120. (Note that this cost doesn’t account for any of the many, many, hours it took to make the trench coat!).

The printed pattern is currently 26 Euros on Named’s website and the PDF is 18 Euros.

Structure & Support

My fabric felt a little on the lightweight side, so I tested a few different interfacings and eventually settled on underlining it with a lightweight cotton calico. This gave it a nice bit of support without changing the way the fabric handled – perhaps because it was also cotton. I referred back to this Threads Magazine article on how to account for turn of cloth when underlining large pieces, and I was really pleased with the result – no pulling, bubbling or straining between the layers of main fabric and underlining. (Note that you’ll need a subscription to access the article.)

I made my own shoulder pads using this free pattern from Closet Core Patterns. They are just made from wadding and felt, and I love that they are only about 1cm thick and not too bulky.

Assembly

The outer shell

The shell came together quickly and without incident. The garment requires a lot of top stitching, but that gives it a nice professional finish.

I have a couple of tips regarding the topstitching:

  1. Test different combinations of thread (e.g. contrast or matching, topstitching or regular construction thread), stitch length and distance between the rows, on scraps of your main fabric. Bear in mind that you’ll need to topstitch around curves in some places, such as on the collars and the cape. I used a stitch length setting of 2.6. On my machine the needle drop position can be set on a scale from 0 on the leftmost edge to 9 on the rightmost side, moving the needle from its central position to either side as desired. I had my needle set at positions 5.5 and 7 for the two passes of topstitching, and I lined up the fabric’s seam edge with the side of my presser foot. This is how I normally do topstitching or edge stitching, but if you have a specific edge stitching foot, do use that. I just used the same all-purpose Guttermann thread I used for construction of the coat.
  2. You’ll probably be doing topstitching in more than one sewing session, as this is quite a lengthy project, so once you’ve decided on the above settings, make sure to note them down for reference. That way you achieve a consistent look across all the pieces regardless of how much time has passed in between sessions. I was so glad to be able to refer to my note on my pattern booklet each time!

I decided to use some of the body lining fabric to underline for under collar, just because it’s just a beautiful print. In fact, initially this was going to be the only place this viscose would be used, but I later decided to use it for the body lining pieces too. I interfaced the viscose and also stitched some diagonal lines across the under collar for further light support.

When I assembled the facing, I added a strip of bias binding along the edge that would be sewn to the lining – this creates a flat piping effect that you may have noticed I add to most of my jackets/coats. It’s a great way to highlight one of the colours in a patterned lining, or add a pop of contrast if your lining matches the main fabric.

The lining

Next up came the lining. This was mostly smooth, and I followed the instructions up to the point where the lining is machine stitched to the facing’s edge. Then I read through the rest of the lining instructions, but decided to hand stitch the remainder instead. I could not see from the instructions how the lining would attach cleanly to the vent (and particularly the short edge of the vent) – and I didn’t want to risk any issues/frustration so I reverted to my preferred method of just hand-stitching the hem and vent edges. This was complicated by the fact that the lining is not drafted to follow the shape of the vent, presumably because the method in the instructions didn’t involve securing it around the top corners of the vent (at the short edge) the way my usual method does. So I ended up cutting and clipping the lining in an ad-hoc way, but when I make this again I will draft the lining to match the vent shapes (a bit like the lining of the Agnes Skirt’s vent) and this hand stitching should be much easier. I recorded a little video of my approach to the lining:

Belt, buttons and buttonholes

The belt and belt loops were easily assembled. I toyed with the idea of doing something other than double topstitching around the edges of the belt – such as sewing parallel rows of stitching along the length of the belt, or adding a buckle and eyelets – but in the end I decided to keep it simple as a plain tie belt for now. The length is a bit long for a buckled belt, but I do have some scraps of the main fabric length so if I find a nice buckle I can still make a shorter, buckled belt.

The instructions have you then try on the coat to determine where you want the belt to sit. I just marked the right position for the belt loops with chalk and then sewed them on. Unfortunately the belt ended up right on top of one set of button/buttonhole markings – probably because Named draft for a 5’9″ body and I didn’t do any kind of proportional shortening above the waist. I just had to re-jig the spacing of the buttons to avoid the belt at the waistline.

Disaster strikes…

Now, there was a bit of drama about the buttonholes… and I think there were two contributing factors to what happened. First, when I transferred the markings from the pattern to my underlining, I should have used different markings for button holes versus buttons.

My second mistake was in the timing of doing the buttonholes. You see, on Saturday 19th December, our Prime Minister announced that London would be going into Tier 4 lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus. This meant that the Christmas reunion I had been planning to host at my house for my mum and siblings (and my sister’s husband and baby) had just been rendered illegal. Our three households had been self-isolating even more strictly than usual, in preparation for being allowed to spend Christmas together and this news was devastating (although I completely understood the reasons for the decision).

So what did I do to cheer myself up? I decided bad news wasn’t going to stop me from the evening of sewing I had planned. And so, dear readers, I tackled buttonholes and buttons in what I now realise was a complete fog of sadness and confusion. And this was the result:

Yep. I stitched and cut TWO rows of buttonholes on one side of the coat (which should only have had one row of buttonholes because there’s only one functional set of buttons on a double breasted coat like this). And then I proceeded to mark and sew buttons for each of those buttonholes. And there was a little niggly voice saying ‘something feels weird about this’ but another voice saying ‘yaaasss my buttonholes came out perfectly!’. So it wasn’t until I tried it on at the end that I was like… ‘Why, Michelle, whyyyy?!?! ’.

Cue more wailing and a panicked call to my nearest and dearest sewing friends. This trench coat, up to this point, had been looking like the most beautiful thing I have ever made. My best work to date. Le sigh. I went straight to bed, and it’s possible that a few tears were shed. However, the next morning, I put my big girl pants on and decided to Make. This. Work.

So I hand-stitched the extra buttonholes closed, carefully removed the buttons I had sewn on the wrong side (they were pleasingly securely attached!), and sewed them over the now-closed buttonholes. The extra buttonholes are still a little bit visible BUT I don’t think they’re really noticeable and I am still able to enjoy the overall look of the coat. I will still love it and wear it with pride. (And I have learned my lesson – don’t sew when emotional!).

This post is really quite lengthy already so I will give you the big reveal in the next post! Thanks for reading so far, and I hope it has been helpful if you’re considering making this pattern!

x Michelle

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