Don't tell anyone I told you this, but I applied for the current series of The Great British Sewing Bee.
The mustard coat that Tamara made (Series 2) had totally inspired me - I craved the opportunity to sew something really challenging like that, and, that I would have loved to own and wear. And so, with a bit of egging on from Mark, I sent in an application.
Surprisingly, I got called for an audition in London. Cue a couple of days of me fantasising about being let loose on the haberdashery section they have on the programme, before heading to meet the producers. Unluckily for me, I wasn't what they were looking for that day.
When I got turned down, I resolved to make myself a coat, by way of compensation to myself at missing out being on the Bee. As well as the fabrics, I was also drawn to the post make cake eating sessions they always show the contestants enjoying together. (Readers who know me in real life know that I never let myself go short on the cake front. In fact, a mild panic breaks out in our house if we ever look like we might run out.)
A coat isn't something to be made overnight and there were many times during the making of this one that I felt genuinely grateful to be sewing this thing at home where I could take my time, and not in front of TV cameras like the contestants on the Bee. It has taken me until now to come good on the promise I made myself.
I am so glad I did.
This has been my best ever sewing project. It has taken me ages to make, there are flaws throughout, but, I don't care. I made a coat. And I love it.
Want to know how the sewing went? Then grab yourselves a cuppa, and read on. This is gonna be a looooonng post.
The pattern and gathering supplies
With a catch up and fabric shopping trip to Berwick Street planned with a handful of other sewing blogger friends, I decided it was time to crack on and make that coat I'd been dreaming of. I scoured the web for patterns, and plumped for Burda 7020. I liked the style as soon as I saw it, and could picture myself wearing the coat a lot. Out of character, I arrived half an hour early, and so I popped into the first outlet of Misan Fabrics I came across (unbeknown to me until later that day, they have about three other shops on that street). I saw an end of roll piece of green cashmere wool blend in the basement that was £74 for the 2.4 metre piece. About thirty seconds later, I saw some beautiful Liberty silk that gave me another love at first sight fabric moment. I held it up against the wool, and knew that they both needed to come home with me and be turned into a coat. There was only a metre of the silk left, but the lady in the shop (wanting to assist me in parting with £27 for it) helpfully pointed out that when it comes to coats, the sleeves are often lined with a plain (cheaper) fabric compared to the main body. I held it up against my body and decided it would probably be enough.
These fabrics will sound expensive. They are. But, my philosophy in making this coat has been that it will take me ages to make, and so, if I am going to do it, I want to make it something that I will love, and couldn't have afforded or found in the shops.
Having bought the fabrics, and met the girls for some shopping, there was an awkward moment when we popped into a boutique selling vintage clothing, and spotted a gorgeous handmade green coat in a decidedly similar style to the one I was planning to make. The lining was plain, but even so, the relief on my face when it didn't remotely fit me made everyone else laugh.
About the same time, I read a great post, on the very same coat, that provided me with helpful information about using sleeve head rolls and where to buy them. Don't you just love the sewing blogging community? I also ordered my shoulder pads and coat interfacing from here, too, and was really pleased with them.
I used cotton bamboo batting (ordered from evil Amazon, due to the fact nowhere near me sells the stuff - Bedford sewing shops, please take note!) for quilting the lining.
The other thing I went ahead and got ready specifically for my coat making adventures was my very own homemade sausage and ham. I did this using a tutorial on Tilly and the Buttons. Easy to do, and they both turned out to be really useful (and not to mention make me feel like a proper tailor!).
I had a piece of luck when it came to this dummy - my school mum friend Helen happened to mention on Facebook one day that her mum was having a loft clearout, and would anyone like a tailor's dummy. Er, yes please, and thank you!
Preparing to sew the coat
I bought myself a copy of Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. This was a mixed read of being really insightful on the one hand, and so full of references to design gods that it almost intimidated me too much and put me off starting, for fear that my own handmade coat would turn out to be laughable by comparison.
The internet was my best friend, in learning about how to pre treat my fabric. I decided to opt for the easiest technique, which was to bung the expensive wool into the tumble dryer with some damp towels and hope for the best. Phew. All went well.
The coat interfacing from The English Couture Company was a nice combination of being thick and soft - conscious of wanting the coat to be warm throughout, and testing a patch to check the wool would remain drapey with the interfacing on it, I decided to interface the entire piece, prior to doing any cutting. This took me a couple of hours!
Still unsure of whether the coat would be warm enough for my liking, I read up on quilting the lining, and decided this was going to be what I would attempt to do for the main body of the coat. Having read that this is normally done with straight vertical lines a couple of inches apart, I decided to ignore that information, and go with a wiggly quilting pattern, that followed the shapes of the flowers and leaves on the silk.
The bits that went wrong and were a drag to sew
I've already mentioned in a previous post that quilting the lining took me about 6 hours or so (over several sessions). It seemed like the half finished lining spent most of January hanging over the dining room door, and, because charity notebook orders were going crazy at the same time, I wondered whether I'd ever finish the coat. On top of that, it was a gamble, as I wasn't sure until the coat was finished whether the quilted lining idea would work and look good. The tension randomly started playing up on some bits of the quilting, but being lazy, I didn't bother unpicking it. You'd have to look closely to spot it! Besides, the silk is so delicate, I thought I would do more harm than good with unpicking.
My Mum was up one Sunday, conveniently just after I had cut out my fabric. In a shameless manouvre on my part, with everyone feeling contented after enormous amounts of roast lamb followed by double helpings of lemon meringue pie, I suggested the girls might like to play puzzles with Grandad, whilst me and Mum did some sewing. Afterall, it would have been silly not to make use of the opportunity for a one to one tailoring lesson, wouldn't it?! In that time, we worked together on the somewhat laborious task of applying tailor tacks all over the place; I got a great refresher on how to make bound button holes; and, we attached the sleeves onto the main body of the coat. Had the Sewing Bee cameras been there to notice it took us about half an hour to work out which way round the sleeves were meant to go, I think we'd have both been laughing at ourselves on TV.
Annoyingly, it wasn't until after Mum had gone, and I returned to complete the task of applying the sleeve/shoulder padding that I noticed the sleeves weren't matching. Grr. I think it happened because we each did a sleeve, and must have gathered them and hand tacked them slightly differently. Both were fine on their own, but the mismatch stood out too badly to ignore, and so out came the unpicker.
My other bit of significant unpicking was over a howling error I made on the pockets. I opted to stray from the pattern and make welt pockets. This coat was going to be all about producing the best sewing I could, and trying new techniques, and so in seam pockets just weren't going to do it for me. Mum's words in my head, I did a practise version. I had both of the pockets lined up on the actual coat, sewed the first one, cut the slit, and... realised it was upside down. Either I'd invented a new fashion statement in the form of this less convenient to use pocket, or, I needed to attempt to unpick the tiny welt hold stitching without damaging the fabric. It is just as well this bit of the sewing happened last week, during my day of coat sewing that happened, thanks to Mark being on half term and taking the girlies out for the day. At least I was feeling calm enough to respond by just rolling my eyes and getting out the unpicker.
A few of my favourite things
Okay, so now for my favourite bits about the process and the finished coat.
The afternoon Mum and me sewed was wonderful. With our busy lives, we don't often get time to ourselves. It was brilliant to be able to share our love of sewing together (even if, as Mum readily points out, when recalling my unimpressed face upon receiving a sewing machne for my 21st, this hasn't always been the case) and it is a memory I will treasure forever.
I am chuffed with the buttonholes. Incidentally, if you'd like to learn how to do them without the help of your mum, Karen's little ebook is excellent. I'd recommend buying it and having a go at bound buttonholes even if you have no coat plans in the pipeline, as (without sounding like too much of a geek) it was quite thrilling to realise the secret behind those beauties. The contrast on mine was inspired by the Tamara coat. It took me a whole morning to practise them, but I am delighted with the results. In fact, when Mark and the girls returned home that day, he said in disbelief `Is that (4 buttonholes and 2 welt pockets) really all you've done?!'. Ha, ha. He was pretty surprised at the amount of time it takes to make a coat, even if I think he is secretly impressed with it now it's finished.
The collar was a satisfying learning process, too. Even if I did initially sew both pieces of collar stand together as one piece onto the main collar before realising my error, resulting in needing to cut a third so the wrong side wasn't left showing on the finished coat. Still, we don't need to point out every mistake, do we - and, once I'd understood how the construction was meant to work, it ended up giving me the idea for the Liberty silk as a hidden contrast, which I like a lot and hadn't planned.
Finally, the lining. I love love love it. It is decadent to hide such expensive fabric inside a garment, but I think the finished coat is glorious for it. It gives me a little burst of joy each time I get a flash of it, and that is what this coat is all about.
Now, feel free to have a laugh at my expense over the photos of me looking daft in the playground at pick up this afternoon. My friend Lisa is nifty with a camera, and a great sport in agreeing to snap these pictures for me. Even her skills at making me laugh and relax didn't manage to cover the fact I make a decidedly awkward model.
Look up at the sky, she said.
Hmm, did you get my best side, I wondered.
Ready for some flashing?
And walk towards me, Janet. That'll look natural. Ahem.
Well, you can't accuse me of taking myself too seriously, now, can you?
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I absolutely loved making myself a coat. I don't think it takes a talented person to do it to the standard I managed - it was just a case of me wanting to do it enough to persevere through all the mishaps. If you've been dreaming of making a coat... go for it!