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Making Home Sewing Pay: Choosing the Right Pattern

One way to save money with sewing your own clothing is to pick something that costs a whole lot in a store. Now, while some things, like bridal gowns and men’s suits, take skill levels that require training and years to perfect, there are others that are well within the realm of an advanced beginner sewer. One of them is a wool jacket or coat.

Why do I say that? Well, part of it is that there are all styles of coats, from form fitting, tailored with lapels and so on, to frankly ones that under different circumstances could be misconstrued as bathrobes. So, finding a simple pattern that an advanced beginner can handle is a possibility. The other part is what it is made of: WOOL. Nice, spongy wool coating is one of the easiest fabrics to work with. Heavy – yes. Requires steam pressing and lots of moisture – definitely. Requires interfacings, shoulder pads, and perhaps some specialty notions – absolutely.

But with a good pressing cloth, an iron that will produce plenty of steam, and a willingness to take one’s time, you can produce something that will a) keep you warm as toast this winter, b) be dressy enough to wear for any dressy occasion up to and perhaps including something like an evening out in a floor length gown, and c) look terrific.

But the ‘looks terrific’ part can be tricky if you choose the wrong pattern. Sewers really need to be fairly conscious of what they require in a pattern to make something that looks good on them – not fall in love with patterns just on the look. I am making a coat this fall and the original pattern I chose and the pattern I will ultimate use are two good examples to go through for this exercise.

The pattern on the right hand side of the picture at the top is a re-issue of one of Butterick’s patterns from the 1950s. Butterick 4928 As interest in vintage clothing styles has grown, several of “The Big Four” sewing pattern companies have dipped into their archives. One of the reasons for the re-issue and resizing is that the actual “printed at the time’ patterns that are on sale at vintage pattern sites are many times NOT in a size that a lot of people are now wearing. Grading them up and so on is a chore than many sewists don’t want to have to tackle. Taking one of their archived patterns and rethinking it for year 2009 bodies is a very clever way for these companies to put vintage style into the hands of sewists in a grading and sizing structure that contemporary people understand and with which they will have a much better chance of succeeding. So, looking at the description, here is what we see:

“Lined, loose-fitting jacket, below hip length, has kimono sleeves, funnel neckline and no closures.”

Now, Aunt Toby actually bought the pattern and wool for this jacket a couple of years ago and has been procrastinating ever since. I was beating myself up about the head about this for a long time until I realized that my procrastination was a symptom of something..something about the pattern that bothered me and made me afraid.

(cue scary music) The Kimono Sleeve.

The problem with a kimono sleeve, especially made in a fabric like woven wool coating is this: There are no ‘fitting spots’, no places where you can look and say to yourself, “Oh, here is where the shoulder IS; here is where the neck is and the distance between them should be thus and so.” I realize that on the face of it, readers will be saying to themselves, “So what? As long as the length between where the neck hits and the bottom of the sleeve is the length of your arm between the two points, you should be good to go, right?” Let’s look at the diagram of the Butterick coat pattern.

Mmmmm, no. See, the problem is that the side seam of the coat SHOULD be hitting directly below where your actual shoulder is located. If you are someone, as Aunt Toby is, who has what is coyly referred to in the sewing biz as ‘fitting issues’, then this might not be the case. Being short, busty, and rather small between the shoulders, with actually much shorter arms than would be usually found on a person of my size (think of T-Rex), if I made this pattern to fit my bust size, the side seam would be about 6” out, leaving me with a huge amount of coat where I definitely do not need it and ending up with a sleeve about 10” too long. And making adjustments to a muslin with a kimono sleeve on it is a nightmare. Trust me on that one.

So, the pattern and the beautiful brown basket weave coating sat in their plastic bag, taunting me until I saw that Petite Plus Patterns Petite Plus has a brand new swing coat pattern out. When I looked at the diagram of the pattern (which you can see in the photo at the top), I realized that this was ‘the answer to a maiden’s prayer’ in terms of my actually completing this project.

It’s got seams. Seams, seams and more seams. And raglan sleeves, pockets, and buttons as well (always good if you live in a place where winter starts at ‘cold’ and goes down from there). This is the pattern I am going to use. Like Snoopy’s chocolate chip cookies, this pattern called out from the screen and yelled, “Eureka!!”

When you have “fitting issues” (and people who are tall and slender have just as many fitting issues as people who are short and not), seams are your friend. The more seams a pattern has for the sewist to work with, the more ‘fitting spots’ you’ve got..places to take things in, let things out, add in a bit of extra fabric if you need to and so on.

Seams like a great idea, hunh?

On the other hand, the Petite Patterns coat is missing two things that I absolutely LOVE on the Butterick coat: a shawl collar that can be flipped up or down and cuffs (Aunt Toby just LOVES cuffs). The cuffs are an add-on – I can transfer that with some adjustments to the Petite Patterns coat. The shawl collar will take a bit more work and I plan to compare the two patterns at that spot and ‘morph’ them (mwa-ha-ha – you did not realize that Aunt Toby was actually Dr. Frankenstein and was capable of creating a whole new monster from odd parts, did you? It’s a great way to get exactly what you want when no one has produced the pattern with everything you want).

So, the assignment for the weekend is this: Make the muslin for the coat and start fitting it so that it looks exactly the way I want, which is nice and snug at the armpit and shoulders level and nice, loose and flared down below.

(To Be Continued)

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  1. lsaspacey says:

    Cool, looking forward to your future posts on this coat. I love your sewing posts!

  2. Linda says:

    Just read several of your sewing posts and really liked them.

    The striped shirt for DH really impressed me. I like the lovely symmetry of the stripes, and your attention to detail.

    You’ve brought me to the point of wondering….should I actually get out some of that 25 year old (how embarassing) fabric and try to make something, or….
    should I send it your way and KNOW something good will come of it.

    Thanks for all you do, Aunt Toby. 😉

  3. htwollin says:

    Linda – heh…I inherited all of my Mom’s fabric stash when she passed on so I’d advise you to hold on to yours! 🙂 For me, generally, it’s a question of ‘Can I find exactly what I’m looking for at retail at a price I’m willing to pay?” Many times, because I have fitting issues, I can’t find what I want at retail no matter how much I’d like to pay. The wool winter coat is one of them which is why I’m going to the trouble to do it. Since I walk to work several times a week, this is going to be more ‘constructed’ than actually sewn, in that I have to include an interlining as well as a lining to keep me warm on the walk in the winter time. So, this will be definitely a project.

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