Greetings again, pelicans. I’m back. So let’s get down to business… I had included a coat in my original plan for the Spring Palette Challenge. I wanted something nice and lightweight – good for fall and spring, and long enough to wear with a  dress without looking like I got dressed in the dark. I found some lovely wool on sale for 50% off at Hancock. The Hancocks ‘round these parts have a pretty wide selection of wool and this stuff was a nice mottled grey, lightweight and nicely impervious to basset hound fur. I dubbed it the Sound of Music coat the first time I modeled it.

Hmm. Perhaps a bit too classic?


I used a heavily altered version of the Classic Tailored Jacket from the book Sew Serendipity. Here’s a picture from the book – the yellow and grey on the right. Isn’t that fabric awesome? Now I sort of wish I’d worn a slightly shorter skirt for today’s photoshoot – I love the look of a coat that’s a bit longer than the dress.

[image Serendipity Studio]

So for anyone not familiar with this book, the designs are all pretty cute and very geared towards mixing patterns and making small changes to basic garments. There’s only three basic patterns – a skirt, a tunic/dress and the jacket. But there’s multiple variations on each pattern for a lot of different finished looks. The style is a bit more shabby chic than I like to wear, but I really was drawn to the collar, the length, the buttons and the slightly raised waistline – a perfect compliment to most of my dresses!

Pattern alterations

Mid-day update…. I just posted my review on Pattern Review for the coat with more detailed notes on the alterations that I made!

Of course, there were some serious issues with the pattern. You can’t really see from the photo, but the bodice only has horizontal darts, coupled with a lot of gathers in the skirt part of the coat. The gathers are evenly distributed around the whole waistline. While this is a super cute look on the model, if someone, say, like me made a coat that veered out to encase my bustline, then just went straight down to a very gathered waist – well the results wouldn’t quite have that cute vintage vibe! And it’d probably require six yards of fabric!

So I made some changes. I’m not sure I did the right ones and I didn’t jot things down, so I can’t remember the exact measurements, but I started with the size XXL (B/W/H 44/36/46) and did about a 2” FBA. My reasoning at the time was that I am an EXTREME overfitter, and since this is to be a fall/winter jacket, I needed to allow room for layers under the coat. I think I ended up going overboard as I can overlap the center front edges by a good 10”!

[here I use my patented superhero pose to demonstrate the roominess of the coat]

Ah well. Back to the changes. I did the 2” FBA and added vertical darts to the bodice for shaping, leaving some extra width at the waistline (I didn’t bury the whole FBA width back into the vertical darts, if that makes sense.)

After I added to the bodice, the front bodice and the front skirt part of the coat were the same width – so no more gathers! I have to say that now that I’m done I sort of wish I’d left a few gathers, but the line between cute and swingy and maternity is pretty fine and I didn’t want to go there.

In the back I pulled all the gathers to the center back, rather than distributing evenly and I added the little back fake-belt (is there a name for that fake belt thing?) I also added a center back seam and a bit of a flare to the center back. The pattern has the back skirt piece cut on the fold with a bit of an a-line shape. Since my booty’s so big, this caused a sort of cupping to the center back hem. There was plenty of width, it just didn’t hang well.

I think I also added about an inch to the collar – as I’ve said before, I find that the collars are never drafted up enough to retain their drama at my size! I think I may have added an inch or so to the bicep as well, and I drafted my cuffs an inch longer than suggested. And I think that was it – I’ll write a review for Pattern Review tomorrow and actually pull my pattern pieces out and will update if I missed anything!

All buttoned up

My favorite detail on the coat was most certainly the buttons. I am a button freak!

As I said, I added the little fake-belt so that the center back gathers would  make more sense – what a cute little fake belt it is! I almost made it functional – as in, utilizing buttonholes – but decided that if it wasn’t completely functional and adding some cinching/shaping, then I wasn’t going to bother making it halfway functional…

I was particularly fond of the (again, non functional) buttons on the cuff!

I used two sizes of buttons – the four on the center front are one and a half inch buttons and the cuff and fake belt buttons are one and an eighth inch buttons. I tried to find an object to provide a sense of scale for all y’all, and finally decided on a penny. Based on all the Canadian coins lurking in my wallet, this should at least be a common unit of measure for at least two countries. Sorry to leave the rest of yall out – is Gutterman thread a common thing? I thought of using a spool of that as well!

I covered the buttons and rings using Casey’s fine tutorial (sorry folks, the website’s gone now!) and the Claire Schaeffer couture book. I used 30 weight silk buttonhole twist. I do so love silk thread! I even cut little circles to cover the backs of the buttons and whip stitched those suckers on. Making and fastening the buttons (and buttonholes) took just as long as altering the pattern and making the rest of the coat. Le sigh.

A note on sizes for this type of covered button and ring combo. Casey suggests (as does the book) using a 5/8 inch covered button with a 1 inch plastic upholstery ring. I wanted my buttons BIGGER!! After lurking around Joann’s a Hancock, I finally found some one and a half inch metal rings (smooth, no joints) in the handbag making supplies. These worked well with the one and an eighth inch (size 45) inch covered buttons. I found that when shopping for rings the sizes sometimes referred to the diameter on the inside of the ring and sometimes referred to the diameter of the outside edges. The metal rings I got were one and a half inches from outside edge to outside edge, so the inside part was a bit smaller and closer to the size 45 button. Also, the larger the button the more wiggle room you have for matching button to ring – they don’t have to fit perfectly and a looser fit is a bit easier to work with than a tight fit and makes for a flatter button. For my smaller buttons I used one and an eight inch plastic rings from the home decorating section – I think they’re meant for curtains – with 3/4 inch (size 30) covered buttons. Other ring options I considered were metal belt buckles and grommets.

The only other comment I have to add is that I found my curved upholstery needle to be super duper useful for the whole process – it works well to catch the metal shank through those backings I whip stitched on and am so proud of!

Since I used such giant (shall we say clown-like?) buttons, my home machine’s one-step buttonhole function wasn’t up to the task of making buttonholes. I could’ve used the machines at work that have a four step buttonhole function, but I thought it was time to tackle handworked buttonholes. I used the Claire Schaeffer book to get the process down. Again, I don’t really have anything add, although I will reiterate that the heavier buttonhole twist is necessary, beeswax helps and other than that, practice, practice, practice. I did a TON of practice buttonholes before I started in on the coat. Oh! And also – try to avoid taking super close-up photos of your buttonholes, as this type of photography is not kind to handworked buttonholes!

As an interesting side note – most sources suggest using fray check to keep your buttonhole edges under control, while Claire Schaeffer suggests using beeswax to stabilize the raw edges of the buttonholes. I tried both ways (dude, you apply the wax by getting a knife hot on the iron, then melting the wax on the hot knife and smearing that on the cut edges! hardcore!) I liked both ways, but since I was using cream silk, I felt like the beeswax got the sample buttonholes more grimy. For the final version, I used fray check, treating the front and back of the buttonhole before I clipped it open.

Oh! One more tip – the shorter the buttonhole stitches, the easier it is to keep everything looking tidy. And by short I mean the distance from the edge of the buttonhole to the other end of the buttonhole stitch – my stitches are a bit longer than 1/16 of an inch, and they could have been shorter.

[front of buttonhole]

Since I was (obviously) looking at the front of the buttonhole while stitching, the backside is more messy. Also the little knots are on the front, which fills in the space between stitches nicely.

[back of butthonhole]

Alright – the photo below is a bit odd, I admit. Since the backs of my buttons are completely covered, I had to make my own shanks. I used a technique from the Claire Schaeffer book to make a braided shank. It’s not actually braided at all. First, secure the thread, then make a few loops attaching the button to the coat, leaving some wiggle room/space so the button can slide through the buttonhole and sit nicely without puckering the fabric. I used a double length of silk and made three loops for six strands of thread. I used my curved needle and tried to catch the metal shank on the back of the covered button (covered by my button backing piece of wool!) Then separate your thread loops into two groups (mine were 3 strands each) and sew little buttonhole stitches, starting on the coat side and ending by the button. Alternate which ‘group’ of strands you are working the buttonhole stitch on, working one buttonhole stitch on each side, back and forth. Orient the stitch so that the knot is in the middle between the two groups of strands. This yields a very sturdy thread shank that is firm enough to keep the button from flopping around.

[a braided thread shank]

Since my wool is fairly lightweight and my buttons are on the heavy side, I opted to use backer buttons. I believe for a true couture finish one attaches buttons so that nothing is visible on the facing, but I was afraid it would tear the wool.


Topstitchin’ Queen

Now that I’m seeing the photos, I realize what a study in subtlety this coat is! Apart from the exaggerated peter pan collar and the clown buttons, of course… One of the best parts of the coat is the topstitching. This designer uses topstitching and edge stitching a lot in her patterns – both in the book and with the single patterns I’ve seen. Since she designs garments meant to be made from quilt-weight cottons, all that stitching is a great way to whip the slightly stiff cotton into shape!

For my coat I used a cream heavy duty Coats thread. There’s a double line of top stitching at all the seams, the cuffs, the collar the hem… everywhere. And (again) I neglected to use my twin needle… I probably COULD have used it to great effect. I think I feel like it’s cheating!

[note how much nicer the buttonholes look when not under magnification!]

I’m recycling this backer button photo to show the decorative topstitching that I did on the inner edge of the facing. I love the look of piping at the edge of a lining and thought this was a more subtle sort of piping. Plus you all know how much I love this vine stitch that my sewing machine does!

Adding that decorative stitching on the facing led to a slight headache later in the project. The photo below is of the center front at the bottom of the coat. see how the topstitching along the bottom hem is spaced quite wide – I think the two lines of stitching are 1.75 inches apart (per the pattern instructions.) I realized just as I was about to head up the center front that if I continued with the pattern suggested topstitching, I’d be running a line of stitches straight through the middle of the decorative stitching on the facing. Of course, it wouldn’t be visible from the outside, but it would drive me batty! Instead I went with the same spacing on the center front that I used on the collar – 3/8 of an inch, if I remember correctly.

Every coat has a silk lining

Alright pelican-friends… now we get to my favorite part of the coat. The lining. Sigh. When I first chose this pattern for the Spring Palette Challenge, part of the reason I liked it was that it was intended to be an unlined coat. I figured that would be best with time constraints. Once I got around to making it, I realized that not only did the coat not have a lining, it didn’t have pockets. And pockets are a necessity for a busy snug bug – slash – hound wrangler. I mean, I need a place to stash plastic doggie bags and all the garbage I pry out of her jaws of steel when we’re out on walks, amaright?

I hate the look of patch pockets – at least for this coat – and decided that side seam pockets would be the easiest option. But I didn’t want the pocket bags to show – the horror! I pawed through my stash and came across a lovely piece of green silk I bought last year. It was one of those no-project-in-mind purchases that was sort of silly. The silk is heavy – almost like a dupioni – and I honestly had nearly made pillows for our living room from it. The colors were perfect for my spring wardrobe, though and I had about 2 yards – enough to line the body of the coat for sure! While the silk was too heavy for a shirt and too light for a skirt, it pairs very well with the weight of the wool. I drafted pattern pieces for the lining, adding a bit of extra width for some wiggle room.

Whoa! The lining looks super green in that photo for some reason! It’s actually more grey than green. It almost wasn’t, though… the pattern is reversed from one side to the other. I have the grey predominant side showing. The other side of the fabric is more green with a grey pattern. I’d never considered using the grey side and only realized it would work because the fabrics were sitting heaped next to each other in my mad stash groping. I also had a yard or two of light grey china silk that coordinated well enough for the arms. I had enough of the green and grey silk in my scrap pile to eek out a lining for the cuffs as well. Here is a sad photo showing the insides of the coat…

The cuffs were supposed to be cut from the wool for the inside and outside, but I didn’t have enough of the wool left. And this wool is a bit itchy – I don’t think I’d like that much of it against my skin. Note the vines on the inside of the cuffs! And  you can see my little slipstitches attaching the grey silk lining to the rest of the sleeve lining. I inserted the lining by assembling the wool shell, facings, arms and collar then assembling the lining without the cuff lining. I attached the lining to the facings by machine, then attached the cuff lining to the cuffs by machine and then turned to the inside and slipstitched the cuff lining to the sleeve lining by hand.

I had every intention of leaving the lining hem to hang free, as I think it helps the coat to lie a little bit nicer. When it came to the point, though, I couldn’t bear it. There’s something so unfinished feeling with the lining hem flapping about! I did a nice jump pleat, though. There’s about an inch of fabric in that fold that you can see, so the hem doesn’t get hiked anywhere. I think.

So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodby…

Next up, I’ll be making dresses out of the curtains for all you crazy pelicans.

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