Thursday, October 14, 2010

The photo shoot

Followers, here are pics from the photo shoot, a beautiful fall day on Portland Maine's Eastern Promenade.  Thanks to huzbears Brian and Martin for being my photographers.  The sewing machine is going to be put away temporarily while I work on insulating the attic here at "this old house".  When I return I may work on a short trench jacket in olive green stretch denim.  In the meantime enjoy your sewing adventures.  

Putting it all together

I really worked at a fever pitch to wrap this project up.  My goal was to wear it to the Met Opera simulcast of Das Rheingold on Oct. 9th.  Huzbear Brian was planning on wearing his black opera cape, and although I couldn't compete with THAT, something long and purple would be better than the LL Bean barn coat that's pretty much de rigueur in this neck of the woods.  The diagrams for completion of this coat were completely baffling, most notably how the lining was secured to the back vent and how the collar was finished off.  Even my gal Edna Bishop was of little use.  In the end I just winged it.  I hand stitched the inner and outer collar stands together at the nape of the neck.  The diagram showed some kind of topstitching somewhere, but that just seemed like a recipe for disaster.  I'd much rather spend the time putting in some invisible stitches by hand than to add some topstitching that screams "homemade".  The sleeves and bottom hem were reinforced with hair canvas / muslin just as I did on the duffle coat.  I saved the back vent till last by attaching the lining to the hem at both fronts and working my way around to the back.  With the coat on a hanger I trimmed the lining and improvised until I could make it look like the diagrams.  Maybe some day I'll learn the correct technique (some instructions in English couldn't hurt!).  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finally, something on a hanger!

I really get a surge of excitement when all the bits and pieces come together and I actually have something that can go on a hanger.  The interfaced under collar is attached.  The plaid outer collar assembly is complete and will be attached to the lining.  I will actually end up making the coat twice and then sewing the two together.  On to the lining.  

Confessions of a hand baster

Here are some construction detail pics.  The layout diagrams for this coat showed something (interfacing?) along the seamlines between the front and backs where they join the raglan sleeves.  An expert sewist from Pattern Review advised me that this is a product called Wigan.  It's purpose is to reinforce the seam and to help it retain its shape since both the sleeve unit and front / back end up on the bias where they connect.  Also the weight of the garment hangs off this seam and it can cause the coat to sag.  Needless to say, this isn't a product I was going to find at JoAnn Fabrics.  I improvised by fusing a lightweight interfacing over the seamline.  The twill fabric that I'm using can be easily stretched, it's also way out of alignment as you'll recall;  so I've pinned and then hand basted every seam.  The small amount of extra time that this step takes has been well worth it.  Plus, I've come to actually enjoy the process.  I'm using red and orange thread run through a block of beeswax, so I have a delightful aroma to enhance the zen of hand sewing.  The improvised technique worked, with the stitching running through the strips of interfacing.  

God? Devil? in the details

I forget which.  I've completed the inside chest pocket.  Once again I deferred to Edna Bishop who provided very clear instructions on how to finesse this tricky bit with just 3 pieces.  My Japanese version featured 4 pieces that in no way resembled what I ended up using.  The area was first reinforced with a strip of lightweight fusible interfacing.  Then the whole contraption was pinned and hand basted into place.  The fabric eventually ends up getting slashed which I find completely terrifying.  Amazingly, once everything is twisted and flipped through the hole...Voila you have a pocket.  I won't confess how long all this took.  I'm just glad that all the pockets are finished.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saying NO to Japanese pockets

Against all your wise advice, I've cut out the coat and started construction.  BTW here's a photo of the design.  Black flannel... Yawn.  Maybe now you can see why a contrasting collar might bring this severe design a little life.  One of the photos shows the wool glen plaid fabric that I'll be using for the upper collar.  It's shot through with rust and purple, so it coordinates nicely.  The first step in construction is the welt/flap pockets.  Thank goodness I did a dry run on the muslin.  These have to be the most over complicated pockets in the world, and I immediately went running to my Bishop Method book for advice and a more reasonable alternative.  According to Edna only 3 pieces are required, an upper and lower pocket and the welt.  The Japanese nightmare consists of 5 pieces, one of which is a piece of the fashion fabric sewn inside the pocket that will never be seen.  Sorry, that step is out.  I did keep an interfaced piece of my fabric placed above the pocket and held in place with top stitching.  Because this is a Fall coat, and I love warm hands, I used flannel for the lower pocket and a piece of lining material for the upper pocket.  I'm glad this step is over.  The next challenge will be an inside chest pocket, but I will need to cut out part of the lining before attempting it.  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The agony of grain perfection defeat

Getting this project off the ground has been a challenge.  It should have been cut out and half sewn by now.  Hmmm.  wasn't this supposed to be my Fall coat?  The sticking point has been that, try as I might, I can't align the grain of this fabric.  Nothing so far has been easy.  The weft fibers on this brushed twill are very fine and fragile, so I was unable to pull a thread across the width of the cloth.  Instead I had to tear the fabric.  But what I assumed would be a little 1/2" strip turned into a whopping triangular hunk about 8" wide.  With the ends basted together a la Edna Bishop the fabric skews off on an impossible angle.  Hopefully the pictures give you the idea.  I immediately ran to the Pattern Review message board and received a variety of responses on how to remedy this problem.  The most common suggestion was to dampen the whole mess and try to stretch / coax it back into shape.  Using the London Shrink method I rewet the cloth and struggled with it for over an hour.  All the pulling, smoothing and swearing was to no avail.  Then I attempted to subdue the beast with the iron.  I surrender!  There is just no way to turn this giant twill parallelogram into a neat perfectly aligned rectangle.  Sorry Edna!  I've folded the cloth down the center, aligned the selvedges and will cut out the imperfect coat.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm just here to draw your blood

I've finished the muslin for coat #2.  It has all the charms of a phlebotomist's lab coat.  I hope you're not squeamish at the thought of blood!  I was actually able to incorporate the adjustments that I made to the duffle coat "on the fly" so to speak.  I added 1/2" to the shoulder width, and an additional 4" around.  The fit may be a bit snug with a sweater and flannel shirt, but the raglan sleeves have me totally intimidated, and I have that "quit while you're ahead" feeling.  The sleeves ended up about 1" too long, an easy fix.  Even though this seems like a lot of work, I've really come to see the value in making a fitting muslin.  In the case of this coat, it's helped me figure out the whole placket front.  (How do the buttons get hidden???) I also know that the collar is going to be major challenge.  Speaking of the collar, I'm going to be shopping for a contrasting fabric for the upper collar.  Corduroy or maybe wool in a contrasting color.  Plaid? This coat is screaming for a little "zing".  

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The hottest day of the Summer, so why not model the finished coat!

OK readers.  TA DA! Here's the finished duffle coat.  Of course it had to be one of the hottest days of the year.  I think it was 86 degrees heading up to about 93 so it was a very short photo shoot.  I DID NOT wear a flannel shirt and sweater under it, but I've tried it and it fits like a glove.  Brian was my fashion photographer, encouraging me to get into the spirit of Mary Tyler Moore.  Are you getting that?? Oy! 
While on vacation in Asbury Park I picked up the Sept issue of GQ.  Toggle coats EVERYWHERE!  From Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo to Hilfiger.  Plus there was a spread from Saks featuring, you guessed it, purple outerwear.  This middle aged man in Maine has his finger on the pulse point of men's style!  
I've completed the patterns for the new purple overcoat, and once I have a new camera I'll update you on my progress.  Oh, I should add that I've decided that I will continue this blog until I've made all the coats in the book.  Still to come will be both a long and short trench coat and a double breasted pea coat.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

F&%* I've lost my camera!

I know I promised to post pictures of the finished coat, but after a fantastic 3 day hike in the Maine wilderness I've lost my camera.  I'm secretly hoping that my California daughter will magically discover it in her backpack now that she's back home.  Keep your fingers crossed.  
After the hike I had the good fortune to meet up with Peter of Male Pattern Boldness fame.  Most of you have found my pathetic blog through his amazingly entertaining sewing adventures.  In case you don't know of him, please follow the link and you will be hopelessly addicted, as I am.  We (partner Brian and my two young adult children) met him in NYC outside of the FIT museum (closed on Mondays) and he graciously  took us to some of his so called "fabric dives".   This man knows more about sewing and fabrics than I ever will.  I was on the hunt for lining fabric and buttons for my next coat project.  I know, not very exciting stuff.  There was a shocking chartreuse satin at store #1, but sadly not enough of it.  Too many stores later I eventually decided on an iridescent poly acetate, sort of a copper/blue at  a whopping $2 / yd.  I love the color combination with the eggplant but I'm already thinking it's going to be a bitch to sew.  I found buttons at C&C Button.  They looked better in the store than they do to me now, so I wouldn't be surprised if I decide not to use them.  But who am I kidding!  I'm months away from sewing on any buttons.  

I've started working on the patterns for coat #2.  Since this coat will also be worn over a sweater I'm going to attempt to add the same alterations that were used on the duffle coat while I trace the patterns.  This is sure to be a mind bender.  Wish me luck.  

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just for comparison

No pic for this post.  The coat is finally finished and I'm waiting for huzbear Brian to come back from vacation to take some pictures of me modeling it.  So while I wait, I thought it would be interesting to pull out my receipts and see how much the project has cost.  Adding a generous $20 for thread and considering that I have enough hair canvas and flannel lining for another coat, the total is $165.  Just for the heck of it I suggest you check out the Ralph Lauren flannel toggle coat currently available at Bergdorf Goodman's website.  It will ship to you in October for a mere $1895.  The picture is quite murky but it appears to have ( Gasp!) wooden toggles.  Can we say cheap?  And does the model have a huge wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek?  You decide.  
I'm feeling slightly adrift now that this project is over, so I'm planning to start a fall coat.  I know I previously said I'd start a trench coat, but I'd much rather have something that I can wear in the upcoming season.  My next project will be a deep eggplant brushed cotton twill balmacaan.  Totally yummy.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Some final construction details

I'm just "saying NO" to all the topstitching on my coat.  If I'd made the unlined version it would be necessary to hold things in place, but I think it looks more professional without it.  Plus nothing looks worse than a garment with bad topstitching, and I don't want to run that risk.  To hem the sleeves I inserted a 2" wide bias strip of my hair canvas.  The hem is folded up over the strip and the two are sewn together.  The actual hemming is between the hair canvas and the coat fabric.  The same technique is used on the bottom hem except the bias strip is muslin which I hit with some spray starch.  In one of the pictures you can see how the hem and strip are sewn together.  I wonder if the $2000 Burberry version has this kind of attention to detail?  You'll also see that I hand basted the strip into place.  I've become a HUGE believer in hand basting while working on this project.  This should make my daughter, the monster making / hand sewing queen, proud of the old man.   Hard to believe, but all that remains is sewing the bottom hem of the lining into place.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hell NO, I haven't been slacking!

I need to get caught up with all the progress that I've made.  I actually have a coat that I can put on, not that I exactly want to wear a wool coat in the middle of summer.  The major pieces went together easily and I used my Bishop Method book which emphasizes sewing in the proper direction.  Shoulder seams are sewn outward, vertical seams are sewn bottom to top.  I don't ask why, I just do what Edna says.  After setting in the sleeves I beefed up the shoulders by hand sewing a 6" and 4" bias strip of wool over the sleeve cap.  This really helped smooth out the sleeve cap.  The coat, as designed, is unlined so I had to develop patterns for a lining.  I used the sleeve patterns as is.  The back was cut on the fold allowing for a 1" center back pleat.  The front lining required some calculating, but again the Bishop Method book was a big help.  Because I want the lining to be free moving I needed to attach the leather toggles and tabs before attaching the lining to the coat.  Each leather tab took well over 1/2 hour to sew on.  4+ hours of hand sewing later I'm just about ready to put the whole thing together.  I just want to tweek some of the seam binding in the hood, and rip out and re-do a front seam where the lining and front facing connect.  I sense being in the home stretch of this project.  I've found a trench coat sew-along blog, and even though I'd be way behind everyone, I may jump in with my bargain olive green stretch denim.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

obsessing a little

Thanks to everyone on the Pattern Review message boards who advised me on the patch pockets.  It was unanimous that I interface the entire pocket even though the instructions (just pictures) don't show it. I think they would have been very disappointing if I had merely lined them.  I'm getting a lot of mileage out of my hair canvas.  In addition to the pockets I also interfaced the reinforcement patches that the toggles will be stitched to.  I spent quite a bit of time positioning the patches because they really need to line up.  I lined everything up with masking tape and then topstitched the patches in place using the tape as a guide.  Voila!  I've also attached the pockets and their flaps.  Marji from the Great Coat Sew-along blog has a great tutorial on patch pockets.  She topstitches the pocket first and then sews it by hand onto the coat.  It's time consuming, yes, but it looks SO much better and eliminates that look of the pockets just being tacked onto the coat.  The coat fronts are now complete and I've laid them out with a toggle to get a sense of what it will look like.  Things should start moving ahead quickly from this point. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rainy day progress

I was really hoping today would rain so I could make some headway on this project.  I managed to get several of the design details finished.  I made the pocket flaps which are lined with black satin and interfaced with the hair canvas.  Then I moved on to the yoke which is lined with black flannel.  It will be topstitched directly onto the coat once the fronts and back are connected.  The real challenge of the day was to make the tabs at the sleeve cuffs.  Because my sewing machine makes cheesy looking buttonholes I decided to make bound buttonholes per Edna Bishop.  I'm not going to bore you with all the details, I'm sure there are plenty of instructions on the internet.  If anything, I hope I can encourage you to try them.  Hey, if I can do it..... While I was working on them I realized that details like this are why I'm taking on this project in the first place.  It's all about having something unique, with an attention to detail that I would never be able to afford.  The next step will be to construct the pockets, but I have a question out to the Pattern Review message board that I'd like to have answered before I launch out on my own.  I really don't want to screw them up.  

Getting out of a bind

Ok.  This pattern, as published, is for an unlined coat.  All the seams call for bias tape to cover the raw edges.  I really can't imagine wearing an unlined wool coat, so I guess it must be something Japanese.  Anyway, I plan on lining the coat with the exception of the hood.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone wearing this style of coat who would be caught dead with the hood up.  Maybe in a blizzard when you're trying to dig the car out of a ditch.  I see the hood as more of a built in scarf / big floppy collar.  I have decided to leave it unlined.  Thankfully this will be the ONLY unlined part of the coat.  I have never worked with bias tape before and found it moderately difficult to sew well.  Because my fabric is fairly thick it just barely covered the raw edges.  I did try a wider width, but it made the seams too stiff and inflexible.  I ended up hand basting the seam binding to the edges and then stitching with the machine.  The seam allowances were then pressed to one side and topstitched down.  Time consuming, but in the end worth it.  I'm just very glad I don't have to do every seam of the entire coat.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The pieces are finally cut out

I was up early this morning.  3 cups of coffee later I was ready to cut out my coat.  I decided to review Edna Bishop one last time.  I wonder how many sewists she's scared / discouraged over the years with her constant harping on PERFECTION.  I have to admit I was just about paralyzed into inaction, constantly questioning if I had achieved true Grain Perfection.  I put all my self doubts aside, took a deep breath, pinned on my pattern pieces according to the diagrams and cut the coat out.  Hooray!  Today I'm going to shop for thread and some new bobbins.  I also need to preshrink the lining and cotton flannel that I'm using.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Saving the worst 'til last

Just in case you've forgotten, here's what I'm trying to make.  The only remaining pattern piece to make has been the yoke, and it's turned out to be a 2 day mind bending experience.  It didn't affect the muslin version so I could ignore it, but it's a major design element of the coat which I needed to resolve.  It's one piece, cut on the fold, which will drape over the shoulders both front and back.  It's a crazy shaped piece which takes up a big chunk of my fabric "real estate", so I can't afford to screw it up.  Of course it doesn't help that I've changed the shoulder line and slashed and taped the front and  back pattern pieces multiple times.  The whole yoke pattern needed to be redrawn to fit. I had a stiff mojito before attempting to work on it last night which was a huge mistake.  I kept shuffling between the original pattern and my enlarged pattern, laying one over the other until I was completely befuddled and decided I should just go to bed.  I decided to tackle it again today sans alcohol, but I've still spent a huge amount of time trying to figure it out.  Hopefully it's right because I will be cutting it out tomorrow morning.