February 10, 2014

Top tips for sewing your first coat!


Well, this was definitely my biggest learning experience to date. I researched and thought about this project constantly since December (not *so* great for my grad school work… oops), and I learned a lot along the way. There is tons of amazingly useful information out there in the blogosphere. Only thing is, it’s really spread around. Therefore I thought I’d compile together the sources I found most useful, together with a few special tips from me, in case you’re thinking of making a coat too! I’m clearly a first-time-coater so I may get some things wrong, but I hope you find it helpful. Prepare for a long post…

Top Tips for Sewing Your First Coat / Cashmerette

Fabric

  • Fashion Fabric. I had a very specific idea of what wool I wanted to make my coat in… and ended up going in a totally different direction! That’s because I found this amazing Marc Jacobs boucle in Mood and it took my heart. However, there are also really great designer fabrics available through my favourite on-line retailer Emma One Sock – in fact, she even has my Marc Jacobs in right now! In my extremely limited experience I think it’s worth shelling out on good fabric – I think it’s a big driver for why my coat looks reasonably ready-to-wear.
  • Interfacing. My research showed me that this is CRITICAL. I didn’t make a fully tailored coat, but took the “fusibles” approach instead. I used ProWeft Supreme Medium-Weight interfacing to interface ALL my pieces. Then in the collar, I used Sew-in Hair Cloth; the hems were finished with a band of the Fusible Hair Cloth. I got everything from Fashion Sewing Supply online.
  • Insulation. After some research I bought Thinsulate and Kasha fleece-backed lining from B&J in NYC. It’s great – the coat is warm even in the freezing New England weather. Couple of key tips here:
    • DO NOT IRON THINSULATE OR GO ANYWHERE NEAR IT WITH AN IRON. My Thinsulate has lots and lots of melty areas… oops! Don’t even iron adjacent to it. Just don’t.
    • It should be sewn to the *lining* of your coat (basically underlining the lining). I researched different approaches and ended up cutting the seam allowance off the Thinsulate and stitching it to my lining using a zig zag stitch – but I don’t recommend doing this. It was too difficult to do it precisely accurately, and as a result you can see my stitching on my finished lining. Next time, I’ll underline the whole thing and just cut the Thinsulate out of the seam allowance
  • Buttons. I bought my lovely horn beauties from LouLou Button in NYC. I went bold, in line with the oversized collar, and I think they look excellent! So my advice is: dare yourself 🙂
  • Fusing. I went the block fusing route and now I’ve done it, I’m never looking back! This involves interfacing all your uncut material in one go – and only then cutting the pieces out. It makes for much more accurately cut and stable pieces, and minimises getting fusible goo on your iron (if you don’t use a press cloth… naughty!)
  • Seam finishing. After I cut my pieces I serged all the edges before I sewed them together. Even though there’s a lining, I’m hoping that this will help the coat last longer.
 
Equipment
I decided to “treat” myself to some new bits and bobs for my sewing room, but I don’t think you *need* any of them to make a good coat.
  • Singer Press. This proved invaluable when I decided to do block fusing. It’s a bit bulky to store, but if you’re going to be pressing and/or fusing large bits of cloth I highly recommend it.
  
  • Silver Star Gravity Feed Iron. I read about this on Lauren’s Lladybird blog and eagerly bought it. I have had a mixed experience… On the other hand: super hot and continual steam: YEAH! On the other hand: you have to somehow hang the water bottle 5 feet above the ironing board… ( mine only managed 3.5 due to a low ceiling), and, after about 5 hours of use, it suddenly spilled brown water all over my coat. NOT GOOD. They’ve sent me another one, but I’m a bit wary of it. So advice is: gravity irons good; this one, so-so.
  • Sleeve board. Why didn’t I have one before?! Madness, I tell you.
Tutorials
  • Bound Buttonholes. I realised there was no way my machine was going to manage to make buttonholes through all those layers, so I decided to tackle bound buttonholes instead. I highly recommend buying Karen’s Bound Buttonhole e-book – it’s only $3, and it’s incredibly good. The only thing I’d add, is that I used Threads Magazine‘s approach to making the welts which I found a little easier.
  • Back Stay. I used Gertie’s tutorial– very straightforward.
  • Shoulder guards. I used the fusibles approach from my Singer Tailoring book (see more below) – again, very easy.
  • Easing in sleeves. Based on various recommendations I decided to take the approach of using bias cut fleece fabric to ease in the sleeves, using this Lolita Patterns tutorial. The first sleeve: perfect! The second: eh. A lot of unstitching ensued. I then discovered Gertie’s video tutorial and realized that the “start in the middle and work out” approach works best, together with pulling the bias strip hard and pushing the fabric under the needle simultaneously. Worked very well. Incidentally, I *also* added sleeve heading, and I think that the doubling-up (of the bias material and the sleeve heads) worked well.
  • Bagging a lining. This one had me scratching my head for a long time! My advice: just do it, and it will make sense. I used Grainline’s tutorial. However, if you’re making a bulky coat leave a BIG hole in your lining to turn it inside out – mine was so tight I ended up standing on one of my coat and yanking it through…
  • Creating a neat finish on the bottom corners of the bagged lining. I used Fashion Incubator’s professional method, although I found Behind the Seams’ photo tutorial a little easier to follow. Note: when you sew the first line on the facing it needs to be slightly *below* the hemline (like 1/8 inch) to allow for the turn of cloth when you fold the hem up into it. You’ll realise what I mean when you do it…
  • Doing bound buttonholes *and* bagging a lining. For the life of me I couldn’t find a tutorial for this! So here’s what I did:
    • Made the bound buttonholes front side (on front of fabric). Sewed up lining and facing pieces. Started bagging the lining by sewing *just* the buttonhole facing side to the coat. Then, I completed the back of the bound buttonholes – you need to do it like this because you need access to the back of the facing, and once the lining’s in, no can do. I sewed up the buttonhole facings to the front buttonholes *except* for the top buttonhole, because otherwise you can’t complete the bagging process. Then I finished the final button when the lining was in. Phew!

Other materials
  • Tailoring: Singer Sewing Reference Library. This is a FAB book. Seriously, buy it. It’s super cheap on Amazon second hand. It’s entirely illustrated with photos and even though there’s some serious 80s fashion it made everything seem easy.
  • Kenneth D. King’s The Carefree Fly Front Coat class. Sad to say, I didn’t love this.  Perhaps it’s just because my pattern was different to his, but the techniques weren’t that great – apart from the advice on favouring (i.e. making the facing piece slightly smaller than the main piece so the seam pulls around onto the inside), which I used throughout my coat making.
General tips
  • Go really slowly… and stop when you’re tired. I deliberately made myself pause on this project over, and over, and over again. There’s nothing worse than sewing when you’re tired and accidentally cutting through your material! I also find that if I mess something up – for instance, when I really badly set in one of my sleeves – it’s 100% easier to unpick and redo it if you do it the next day rather than the same evening when you’re frustrated.
  • Do not trim seam allowances until you’re 100% happy with the seam. Why do I still do this?! And yet I do. Don’t. Otherwise you’ll have to re-set your sleeve with a 1/8 SA… ouch.
  • Press, press, press – and follow the right pressing etiquette! Another effort towards patience, but I tried to be a Very Good Girl and press correctly. So: only press up and down! Always use a press cloth! Leave things to cool COMPLETELY before moving on to the next seam! (Top tip: this is very boring, so find another task to do while it cools off – I managed to reorganize my sewing room).
  • Always test your stitching first on a scrap. This was a particular problem of mine with topstitching – sometimes it just didn’t work. I switched to a topstitching needle for all my construction which worked well, but I saved myself a few headaches by going slowly
  • Accept it can’t be perfect! I got so, so, so far with perfection… and then no. Because I forgot about seam allowance when using my button hole guide. And then my walking foot snagged my fabric several times when I didn’t test my stitching first. And then I forgot to put the hanging loop in. But I have now made zen peace with the fact my first coat isn’t perfect, and that’s OK. Let’s face it, non-sewists will NEVER notice these flaws, and it just means you can get even better next time!
How about you, dear Cashmerette readers – do you have any more tips for me before I attempt my next coating project? What are your super secret methods? Did I get anything wrong? Do tell!

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32 thoughts on “Top tips for sewing your first coat!

  1. oonaballoona says:

    ermahgerd. if i ever attempt a coat as glorious as yours, i’m coming back to this post.

    1. Jenny says:

      I expect to see a technicolour dreamcoat ASAP from you Oona! Fab pink dress btw…

  2. Gail says:

    Excellent resource. Pinned it!

    1. Jenny says:

      Super! Let me know when you make your next coat 🙂

  3. Mercer.nat says:

    Awesome! What crazy timing. I am about to start my first coat for spring. This was super helpful man! Thank you!

    1. Jenny says:

      You’re welcome, I’m thrilled that it will be useful to someone 🙂

  4. Katy Laney says:

    I second oona, I’m coming back to this post for coat tips

    1. Jenny says:

      Coats for the win!

  5. gingermakes says:

    These are fantastic tips! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Jenny says:

    Thanks Sonja! Hope it’s helpful 🙂

  7. Meigan says:

    Thank you for putting this together, I plan on making my second tailored coat this fall and having all of these tips in one place will be very helpful.

  8. I found this post through the curvy sewing collective. I’m currently making my first hand tailored coat, and I find all of this information so useful. It’s nice to have it all in one location. Thank you!

  9. I haven’t made a coat in many years. You did a wonderful job on your first and have inspired me to start thinking about it.

  10. Francesca a says:

    Wow! This post deserves to be linked on the top a la the Wrap Dress Central! What a gorgeous make – and that binding, love…. and wow it must be cosy!
    I grew up with a sleeve board – picky mother and quasi tailor aunt – and when I moved countries bought one along with the ironing board and iron. Can’t imagine ironing sleeves without it, let alone pressing.
    I made a coat years back and never made another one – cutting it aggravated my carpal tunnel – but do make jackets. I stand in awe of all the dedication that goes into something like this!
    Re aids, I made myself a ham a while back, then got some silk organza for pressing, and I wouldn’t live without them. Then I invested in a clapper, which is amazing, I totally recommend – and even more recently a wooden seam roll with a sock cover – also highly reommend:;)

  11. jumawan generoso says:

    i am coat maker who wants to learn more on what are latest in coat and suits.

  12. Geri says:

    Thanks for this post Jenny, I have a feeling it will come in very handy when I tackle my first coat this winter.

  13. Nathan says:

    It’s unbelievably kind of you to post all this awesome info. I was having a really hard time finding youtube and blog things on the specific questions I had as well. Thanks!!

  14. Teri says:

    Great post!!!! So jealous you have Mood and the other NYC stores at your fingertips. I’ve been to Mood once and was in heaven. I shop occasionally online at Mood, but, so difficult to commit to a fabric if I can’t touch it. I’ve made a couple of coats and have a nice piece of wool awaiting me in my stash. Anxious to get started.

  15. Barb Nicoll says:

    Your coat looks great!! I am making my first wool coat and I was wondering if you pre-shrunk your wool? Sorry if I repeated this question. I do not see it in your blog or in the comments. Thanks so much!

  16. Shelly moon says:

    Beautiful coat! You saved us a lot of searching. I live in Texas so I don’t need a big heavy coat but I would like to make my own trench coat some time.

  17. Sandra says:

    so great coat i like it so much

  18. Hi Jenny,

    What a great post! Thank you for these tips, and those from the commenters as well. After reading this, I feel like I could avoid a few beginner mistakes right off the bat when I make my coat.

    Regards,
    Barbara Harris

  19. Thank you so much for compiling all of these links and tutorials!! I am getting ready to sew my first winter coat and am feeling so daunted. I am 6 ft 2 and no one really make nice tailored coats for tall women! Hence this adventure… your coat is absolutely beautiful as are you!

    Olivia
    Seamedstockingsandlace.blogspot.com

  20. Unbelievably helpful. I’ve been sewing for years but getting ready to make first time coats for my three little ones. Your post had me cracking up more than once. I have made so many first mistakes. You standing on the coat to flip the liner made me literally laugh out loud. Soooo something that would happen to me had you not written this. My funniest mistake was when I made my husband some golfing shorts. I was so proud!! Then he put them on and put his hands in his pockets and was holding his derriere! I had sewn the pockets in backwards! To this day I do not know how I managed to do that without catching my mistake. We had a hearty laugh and he wore them for love! You gave tips that can be utilized for other garments as well. I never ever thought of fusing interfacing before cutting out your pieces. THAT saves so much time. Can’t wait to try all your tips. I typed in Tips for sewing a coat and up you popped. You probably have sewn a few more and hope it gets easier each time. My kids are allergic to wool so using fleece, but I want it to look classy and be super warm so I am interfacing and want an inner layer for extra warmth behind the liner. Your tips for that are awesome. I’m going on and on, but I am so excited to do this now. I have seven children so sewing time is precious and limited. Your tips will help. Also your humor is very refreshing! I look forward to reading more from you. I have never read an educational and funny article on sewing like this. Great job…seriously. 🙂 I can’t wait to get started.

    1. Glad I could help, Elizabeth!

  21. Judi Kendall says:

    I have a question! It doesn’t appear as though you stitched the Thinsulate except at the seam and then cut away the Thinsulate from the seam allowance. I am assuming that it is not necessary to semi-quilt the Thinsulate to the lining?

    1. I didn’t, and it was fine!

  22. LRKimo says:

    This post is awesome! Thank you so much. I am intrigued by the block fusing method.
    My question: if you block fuse before cutting pattern pieces, how do you trim the interfacing out of your seam allowances?

    1. If you’re using a heavyweight wool fabric and a fairly lightweight weft interfacing like I was in this case, there’s no need to remove the interfacing from the seam allowances.

  23. Elizabeth says:

    It figures! I go looking for help planning to sew a coat, and there is the awesome Cashmerette, there to help me yet again. Awesome coat, awesome post, awesome advice, as usual. Hope my coat looks half as great as yours.

  24. Samantha says:

    I’m in the middle of my first coat, I’ve used kilt straps instead of buttons and an inside popper at the neck to keep the shape. I bought shoulder pads too small but covered them in the thick coat fabric to bulk them up and it worked a treat.

Let me know what you think!