January is always a time for reflection, isn’t it? Last year was a bit of a rollercoaster, emotionally, and I didn’t really get much personal sewing done – just samples of patterns that were (and/or are!) in development.
As we went into winter 2021 and the Omicron variant of Covid-19 reared its ugly head, I feel like I mentally just snuggled into a duvet and hunkered down to wait for spring. But in the midst of all that, I realised that I was really missing my sewing machine. I wanted a nice, straightforward palette cleanser… so naturally I decided to make another coat.
“A coat?!” you say? … hear me out though!
The thing I’ve come to realise about coats, at least the styles I like, is that as long as I can get the fit right at the shoulders and sleeve, I don’t usually have to do a whole load of fitting below them. Plus, unlike some of the more fitted separates I sew, there’s room for a bit of weight fluctuation too.
So there I was, milling around, waiting for inspiration to strike on exactly what type of coat to sew… when my good friend Dibs (of Selvedge and Bolts, a lovely fabric store!) told me about some gorgeous coating she had seen over at Sister Mintaka. So what does a girl who has four coatings in her stash waiting to be sewn go and do? You guessed it, I went and fell in love with this deep pine green, double faced wool and cashmere, ex-LVMH fabric. It was expensive (£48/m) but I was minded to treat myself because (a) as I said, I hadn’t sewn much last year, (b) we’d cancelled a family holiday which coincided with the emergence and initial spread of Omicron and (c) having returned to work after an extended period of leave, I wanted a nice me-made thing to wear back the office to boost my confidence.
Anyway, that’s probably enough background context, let’s get on with the details you came for!
Pine green double faced wool and cashmere felt coating, £48/m, from Sister Mintaka.
Side note: the thread colour recommendation on Sister Mintaka’s website was spot on!
Double faced fabrics are essentially made from two layers of fabric, joined together – in this case two layers of the same wool/cashmere blend, joined by threads running between the two layers which act almost like glue holding the two layers together, but which can’t be seen from the two outward facing ‘faces’ of the fabric.
Double faced wools like this are great for simple coats because the double layer is flexible, warm and supple, and as there’s no wrong side, the coat doesn’t need to be lined. I knew I had a pattern for a waterfall coat that I had repeatedly overlooked precisely because it was unlined – I just had to find it in my stash. One look at B6244 and I knew it was exactly how I wanted to use this beautiful fabric.
The pattern (and fit adjustments)
The envelope description reads: “Butterick B6244 Misses & Womens Coat And Dress: Semi-fitted, unlined coat (wrong side shows) has front extending into collar, flat-fell seams, narrow hem, and shaped front hemline longer than back.”
I have had this pattern for years, because I love a waterfall jacket. For many years one of my favourite coats was a hip-length Ted Baker with a large shawl collar and I have had it on the back of my mind to sew a similar full length version. So I set about assessing the pattern to decide on my approach to sizing and alterations.
SIZING AND ALTERATIONS / HACKS
1. Sizing: I made size 10, based on my upper bust measurement (i.e. treating my upper bust as the bust measurement when consulting the size chart) and graded to a 12 to match my hip measurement. I did a tissue fitting rather than making a toile, and just focused on the fit through the shoulders – you really can’t get a sense of the waterfall drape at the front edge in tissue paper so that much was a bit of a leap of faith based on how the fabric handled! Luckily the tissue fitting didn’t identify any unfamiliar or unexpected fit issues.
2. Narrow shoulder adjustment: I nearly always have to do one, even with my own (Michelle Sews) patterns! Based on the tissue fit I decided on a 3/4” narrow shoulder adjustment. It’s normal for me take between 3/8” and 3/4” off the shoulders, especially with a big 4 pattern, but I was mindful of the fact that jackets and coats usually incorporate a little extra length at the shoulder to allow room for the things you might be wearing underneath them, as well as extra room for any shoulder pads. I considered making some covered shoulder pads to sew into this coat but in the end I settled on doing the narrow shoulder adjustment and seeing how I felt about the fit once sewn. What really convinced me that this might be ok, is that I have an RTW unlined faux-suede trenchcoat that I love to wear in spring, and when I checked it, it didn’t have any shoulder pads either.
3. Coat length adjustments: I lengthened the body by 4” (inserting 2” just below the curved part of the centre front seam – i.e. where the waterfall tapers out into a straight front edge – and 2” just above the hem). On the pattern illustration it looks like the coat is hemmed immediately below where the front edge straightens out from the “waterfall” – I wanted to avoid lengthening the waterfall and have more of a straight centre front edge below it at the hem, if that makes sense. This might go without saying, but you don’t always have to use the lengthen/shorten marks on the pattern – think about where you actually want the length to be added/removed and draw your own adjustment lines accordingly.
4. Sleeve adjustments: I added an elbow dart to the sleeve because I personally prefer one in a one piece coat or jacket sleeve. The extra shaping you get with an elbow dart, or two-piece sleeves (in some cases, three piece, even!) is subtle but mighty! It makes for a more comfortable sleeve that naturally bends to mimic the way our arms actually hang against our bodies. It’s magic! I also lengthened the sleeve by 2” – again, I’m used to having to do this for my apparently long arms. Lastly, I also drafted a lining for the sleeve – almost the same as the main sleeve pattern, but 1” shorter and tweaked at the armscye. I’ll most likely be wearing this over lightweight jumpers or long sleeved tops and I just think a sleeve lining will make it much easier to get the coat on!
5. Pockets. Readers, I tried to imagine wearing a coat with no pockets, I really did. I told myself I could just get used to putting my phone and cards in my handbag instead, when I pop out for lunch… but the dealbreaker was the fear of cold hands. I just can’t. So I drafted some in seam pockets. This had some implications for the seam finishing inside, which was supposed to be flat felled. More on this later.
I pre-treated the fabric with lots of steam from my iron, cut out the pattern pieces and was ready to roll.
This is meant to be an easy coat pattern, suitable for beginners, and I actually think it is. There are only three pattern pieces as drafted (front with grown on collar, back and sleeve), and there is literally no faffing about with interfacing, lining, shoulder pads, sleeve heads, canvas, welt-pockets, etc. None of that. You do have to be comfortable sewing flat fell seams (the instructions explain how and helpfully always tell you in which direction to cut and overlap the seam allowance when doing so. However, I made some judgment calls myself around how best to reduce bulk in the corners of the front edge – do think consciously about this when you are finishing the outer edge as you want the corners to be nice and flat.
The only niggle is that they seem to recommend just leaving raw edges around the armscye once sewn. Because I had the in-seam pockets to consider, I serged the side seams, pockets and the armscye seams. I initially wanted to bind them but I didn’t have a suitable matching fabric to make bias binding from and I really didn’t want to have to try to match it online or wait till I could visit a fabric store. Nor could I find an exactly matching serger thread, but I liked the look of a navy/deep teal which picked up some of the deeper tones in the coating fabric, so I went with that. The shoulder seams and collar seam were flat felled, but because of the length and narrowness of the sleeve I opted to flat fell the seam allowances by hand (just sewing the seam allowance to one layer of the sleeve fabric, not through both) as I couldn’t quite get to the full length with the machine. It might have been manageable with the original length of the sleeve, but it wasn’t with my lengthened one!
The front opening edge of the coat, the outer edge of the collar, and the hem of the coat were all finished with a double-turned narrow hem. This made me reaaaally nervous – I was worried about losing the beautiful drape at the front – and I toyed with hemming the coat but leaving the collar/front edge raw. I also experimented with a clean-edge technique specifically for double faced fabrics: on a “single” layer edge such as the front edge of this coat, you would carefully use a seam ripper or small snips to cut the threads which joined the two layers of wool into one double faced fabric. You would do this, working your way approximately 3cm in from the raw edge (for a 1.5cm hem), then turn each layer’s edge under by 1.5cm, and stitch by hand to close the edge.
I tested this on a small swatch, and while the method made sense and was workable, I was worried about (a) doing this all long a bias edge and whether I would end up stretching out the waterfall edge and ruining the drape, (b) managing to accidentally cut through the fabric itself while trying to separate the layers (c) my hands, which have been giving me RSI warnings of late (aches, pains and pins and needles) and which I didn’t think would enjoy working on this delicate task all the way round the outer edge of my coat, and (d) whether I would be able to do it neatly enough all the way round to do justice to the expensive fabric, bearing in mind this is my first time trying the technique! You will perhaps be unsurprised to read that I didn’t use this technique. I opted to go with the double-turned narrow hem, which I painstakingly pinned, then thread basted, then pressed (cutting out the bulk at all the intersections and then using liberal amounts of steam with a wooden clapper to get the edges as flat as possible).
This took 2-3 long sewing sessions (for me, a few hours is a long sewing session). You could make it in a weekend – possibly in a day – there are only 3 pattern pieces, after all. But I did take my time with all the basting and pressing to sew the flat fell seams and the hemmed outer edge as neatly as possible.
This coat actually exceeded my expectations. You know when you decide on a pattern + fabric combo, and you have a vision in your head of what the final result will look like, but then as you actually get on with construction you get more and more nervous and start to doubt yourself… no? Just me, then? Anyways, my doubts and fears were proven utterly baseless – and I am one happy sewist!
I knocked off half a star for the dartless one-piece sleeves and the unfinished armscye seams. But those are easily improved and I do think it’s a lovely pattern. I recommend it!
Until next time… happy sewing!