A Tale of Two Coats

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We’ll be talking for the next several weeks about sewing coats. Much of the “Suburban Stockade” project is focused on making do with what you have, with not going into debt, and with finding ways to protect yourself against unexpected downturns, whether it be losing your job, the bursting of the housing bubble, or worldwide economic crisis (something I hope we never experience).

It may appear from our stories that it’s all gloom-and-doom hunkerin’ in the bunker waiting for the zombies to come. But it’s not. Considering the way you want to live your life and taking measures to get there can be liberating. Knowing that you’re prepared for the worst can silence the doubts in the back of your mind and free you to do things that you find satisfying. It can be anything: gardening, sewing, cooking, reading, spending time with your family and friends.

For me, it’s sewing. Yes, it’s a chore. It’s not much fun to sew up a hole someone else created. You don’t even get to experience whatever fun they had in making it! But if I see a beautiful piece of fabric, when I see a pretty piece of clothing that I would love to wear, it’s fun to be make to wave my magic wand ? aka my Baby Lock ? and in the words of an immortal Capt. Picard, “Make it so!”

So I want to tell you the story of my beautiful ivory coat, and also talk about our business (Peschel Press), and why you should dress to advertise your business. I have several posts on clothes in the pipeline, with photos, and through them, you’ll see how the principles behind “Suburban Stockade” work for us in the real world.

As always, YMMV. If you hate to sew, that’s all right! Buy the beautiful clothes you want. The point is not to live your life like mine, but the way that you choose to live.

In my essay on why you should sew, at least a little, I talked about the beautiful new coats I saw in my head. I’ve since made two of them and this essay will discuss the first one.

sewing coatsI wanted some beautiful coats, as that is what most people see around here in central PA. We wear coats from September until May, and sometimes, in June if we get a cold snap. You can’t count on overnight temperatures staying above freezing until after Mother’s Day. This is the traditional date on which you set out your tomatoes and peppers and other cold-vulnerable vegetables. Before that, you’ll certainly get a hard freeze or two. After Mother’s Day, you won’t get a frost but temperatures in the forties still demand a coat. First Frost in the fall can come as early as mid-September. It’s very unlikely, but as the temperatures sink towards the forties and the sun sets earlier and earlier, the coats and jackets reappear.

So we wear a lot of coats around here. Coats are what people see and if I want to advertise my sewing skills, a good coat or a stylin’ jacket is the way to go.

So I made my first coat. Naturally, I needed to minimize the cost. If I’m going to spend 15 bucks a yard for the fashion fabric, plus the lining, plus the closures, trim, thread, and anything else and I need 3 yards of fabric (times two, have to include the lining) then I’ve spent 15 times 6 or $90! And I still haven’t covered the cost of the pattern, closures, trim, matching thread, interfacing, etc. So this is what I did.

I went through my pattern cabinet, looking for a pattern I’d bought on spec back when I still did those things. I used to go to JoAnn’s when they ran patterns on sale for 99 cents and buy what struck my fancy. I’ve acquired a lot of patterns this way, as well as inherited them from relatives and friends. I don’t get rid of them, even if they’re dated or the wrong size for me, as I don’t always sew for me. Plus, using an older pattern with modern fabric can result in a really interesting look. Also, patterns can be combined with each other, and patterns can be upgraded or downgraded in size, if you’ve the time, patience, rulers, and paper.

8693In the pattern cabinet, I found Vogue 8693, a Marcy Tilton design. But it had two problems. I didn’t think it would fit, as I’m a size 24 with Vogue and this pattern only goes up to a 22. I didn’t want to spend the time to grade it up, as I’ve never done this before. The bigger issue was the fashion fabric. Did I have enough of it?

A few years ago, I had found at the Goodwill Bargain Bin in Lancaster the most beautiful ivory brocade of squares within squares. It looked like gorgeous coat fabric, but it started out in life as a fabric shower curtain. It had a couple of very small, almost invisible, stains, but it was otherwise pristine. It looked like it had never been used and it was 75 cents.

Simplicity-4051-1Unfortunately, it was not enough to work with Vogue 8693. It needed too much fabric (2 and 3/4 yards of 60-inch-wide fabric). So back to the pattern cabinet. I settled on Simplicity 4051, view C, from the Khaliah Ali collection. This needed 2 and 3/8 yards of 60-inch-wide fabric. That 3/8 of a yard difference doesn’t sound like much, but it can make the difference between having sleeves or not. I ripped out every seam in the shower curtain, ironed it flat, and ended up with a piece of cloth about 72 inches by 75 inches.

That’s when problem number three arose. This was a pattern that needed to be matched. It had a definite top and bottom direction as well. I couldn’t get too far off from lining up the squares as then my coat would have the dreaded home-made look. Or worse, it would start looking like the cheapest of ready-to-wear, the kind made by Chinese prison labor, where no one spends the time and fabric to line up the pattern on the cloth. The whole point of making your own garments is to do better than that!

So I measured everything out, traced out ALL the pattern pieces so I had a complete set; i.e., I had two front sides, two front centers, two backs, two collars and two sleeves all so I wouldn’t have to double the fabric when I cut it. This vest pattern is very fitted, with a seam over each bust, to follow the line of the body, and a center-shaped back seam. Having two of everything makes it easier to line up the fabric design and you can get a closer layout of the pieces.

I could not make it work. I was shy about four inches in the width of fabric. This did not mean I didn’t have scrap fabric! No matter what I did, I would have to piece fabric together to make big enough pieces to cut the four main sections, front, front, back, and back. This would be time-consuming and wasteful, and I wouldn’t be able to match the design of the fabric.

Back to the drawing board. Next week, I’ll tell you how I made it work, but it wasn’t easy!

Next week: Part Two of a Tale of Two Coats