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Making outdoor clothing: Sources and Resources

Now, after I posted the last bit about what I’d do next, I realized that I didn’t have the proper zippers to do the demonstration, so I ordered them (I use Wawak because they have the largest collection and selection of zippers that I’ve ever seen and their service is really fab) and while I’m waiting for those to arrive, I’ll cover a couple of other issues and items that I think you might find useful.

First – if you have never worked with waterproof or water resistant or DWR (which stands for durable water resistant) fabrics before, this is totally new. I remember the first time I did this, all I could think of was that everything I ever knew about sewing in terms of pressing, laying out and so on was utterly useless with these fabrics. Why? Well, first of all, they are made of manmade fibers – polyester or nylon usually and they have a very low melting point which means that ironing the seams down except for when you are doing ‘seam sealing’ (which you WILL want to do), is a no-no. Secondly, there are a couple of different ways that fabrics are made water resistant/waterproof: coatings on the top (which usually makes them shiny, like laminated cottons) or coatings/waterproof membrane layers on the inside, which depending on the fabrics, can also require that you use a lining on the inside to protect them from abrasion from what the person is wearing inside the coat. There are 2-layer systems (which usually require some sort of inside lining of nylon taffeta or mesh), 3-layer systems (which may or may not require some sort of inside lining). There is even something referred to as 2.5 layer (which does not require a lining). I’m still trying to figure out what half a layer is.

Second – Picking the right sort of pattern is really importantin terms of how waterproof the jacket or coat ends up – the more seams there are, there more holes you are making in the waterproofing. The more holes, the less waterproof it is. If you can find a jacket or coat pattern without shoulder seams (or you know how to fiddle with the pattern so that it doesn’t – this would be fairly simple with a pattern with raglan sleeves, for example), you are that much ahead since the shoulder seams are usually the area that is the ‘point of failure’ in terms of the item actually providing the level of waterproofing that you’d like. There are several specialty ranges of outdoor clothing and equipment patterns which you can find at the specialty fabric vendors.

Third – Sealing the seams. Any place where you are making a hole – whether it’s a seam, or sewing on patch pockets, attaching a hood, adding decorative items and so on – will reduce the waterproofing capability of the jacket or coat. To add back the waterproofing at those points, you will want to apply some sort of seam sealing. There are liquid seam sealers that come in bottles or tubes that you brush on. There are also various sorts of seam sealing tapes which you have to iron on the completed seam or put on the stitching on the back side of the item. Ah, I can hear you saying to yourselves (because Aunt Toby knows how you think), but she just said that ironing is verboten? True, true..you’ve caught me there. But the other thing you will want to get along with your seam sealing tape is a Teflon™ ironing shield.

Fourth – Resources and References
It is not as if you can’t find fabrics at ‘the usual suspects’ on the internet. Many internet fabric retailers will sometimes have raincoat fabrics. I emphasize ‘sometimes’. And they will not necessarily have them in the colors YOU want. The places you will want to investigate are internet sources which specialize in ‘outdoor fabrics’ (search using that phrase unless you know that what you want, for example, is “400 denier Cordura nylon” or something like that).
Here are a few of the folks that I have purchased from; I use them because they not only have exactly what I’m looking for, they also carry all the ‘bits and bobs’ that you’ll want in terms of making a coat or jacket: cord locks, zippers, seam sealers, specialty elastics, fabrics such as wind-blocking fabrics, the aforementioned waterproof and water resistant fabrics, specialty wicking fabrics, fabrics for everything from outdoor furniture to boat covers, grommets, all sorts of hardware that can be used for everything from making a backpack to snaphook closures on jackets. And so on.
Seattle Fabrics
Fabricline
Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics
Rockywoods Fabrics
The Rain Shed(these folks also carry all sorts of outdoor clothing and equipment patterns)
the Green Pepper(these folks carry their own line of outdoor clothing and equipment patterns)

These are just the folks that I have used; there are others all over the country and all over the world. I’ve seen resources in the UK and Europe as well, so go to it.

Fifth: How to do it sites. There are all sorts of folks out there doing all sorts of neat stuff with outdoor fabrics. There are sites likeSpecialty Outdoors, which concentrate on outdoor clothing (and repairs and upgrades, which is a very good resource to have around) — she also has a great resource page which includes sources in Canada and so on. There are others which only demo and discuss such items as making camping equipment or super lightweight backpacking equipment.
making gear, Near Perfect Tent

The best way to find the information you’d like is to search on the phrase ‘how to make xxx’ where ‘xxx’ is the item you want to make. Trust me, there is undoubtedly someone out there making it (including such esoteric items as ‘maternity inserts for fleece jackets’) and he or she is blogging about it.

Sixth: Basic textbook resources. As much as I love the internet, there are times when I just want to immerse myself into a book and have that as a resource. For outdoor clothing, I think the Holy Grail (and I also think it’s the only grail) is Rochelle Harper’s “Making Outdoor Gear”. You can order it from the usual places over the internet, or go direct to her site Cascade Layers, where you can also order other supplies for making outdoor clothing including what to me is the best, easiest seam sealing tape (and the Teflon ironing sheet you’ll need to go with it) there is.

Other book resources for making outdoor can be found at Seattle Fabrics, which are heavily weighted toward boat-related sewing and working with canvas.

Seventh: The customer service staff at the aforementioned specialty fabric sources. When you go on these internet sites, it is very very easy to become overwhelmed, especially if you don’t really know what you want to get. If you know what you want to do and what is important to you (for example, you want water resistance, breathability AND lightweight, or durability is more important than breathability), then contacting the customer service folks at these sites is very very useful. Dealing with this sort of business is a completely different experience than for example, dealing with your local ‘extremely large fabric and crafts chain store’, where by and large the staff is made up of people who are just willing to work there and are not sewers. People tend to be attracted to these specialty fabric stores because they are sewers, outdoors people or both. They might have started as an outdoors person who just wanted to get the employee discount, but they ended up falling in love with the fabric (don’t we all?) and learning to make things. They also know just what they have in stock, what it’s good for, how to work with it, and any funky details. So, one of the best ways to get what you truly want is to contact them and ask for help. They will know what questions to ask you (what do you want to make? Where are you going to use it? How are you going to use it? ) and will make the best suggestions. It’s also very helpful if you already have a pattern at hand so that you will know how much of what fabrics to get (many items require more than one fabric for example) AND you’ll have a shopping list for all the other hardware, trims, and so on, which makes getting everything much easier. There is nothing worse than getting started and finding out that you forgot to get shock cord or zippers for the pockets and so on.

Final notes: Someone is bound to ask this question, so I’ll cover it here. Do you need an industrial machine to work with these fabrics? Up the point where you’d be working with fabrics heavy enough for tarps, dufflebags, sails, or boat and car upholstery, I’d say no. If your home sewing machine can, with the proper needle, handle regular upholstery fabrics or heavy denim, then your sewing machine will handle anything for hiking pants, backpacks, ski pants, waterproof jackets and coats with no more issues than changing out the machine needs to something like a microtex/sharp or a leather or upholstery needle. One hundred percent polyester thread is the recommended thread.

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