We’re so pleased to bring you Lucinda Hamilton from Sew Wrong. Avid sewist, knitter and runner she’s a regular contributor to Indiesew and has been featured on Sew Mama Sew, Craft Gossip and Broke-Ass Bride. We found her tips on sewing coats to be super helpful and absolutely delighted that she is sharing her knowledge with you, our fans and readers. Since we’re in the thick of making coats and cozy outer wear there is no time like now to take these tips and techniques and get set to sewing your own cold-weather coat!
When it comes to coats, the only way I can describe myself is as a “fanatic.” Living in New England, where it seems like we only have the seasons of winter and summer with a couple weeks of spring and fall in-between, jackets and coats are a necessity, and wearing the same one for months on end would be nothing but boring. Needless to say, I’ve acquired a wardrobe of coats over the years that only grew when I took my first stab at coat sewing and discovered a love for tailoring.
After making quite a few coats, and realizing how limited pattern instructions are with going into the finer details of coat construction, I’m sharing my top 10 tips of methods that I’ve found useful when tackling a new coat project.
1. Make a “coat plan” before you start sewing
Coats are a bit complicated due to all of the elements you need to consider before starting the actual sewing: the different kinds of tailoring methods to choose from and where to apply them, what kind of interfacing to use and where you should use it, if you should interline for extra warmth or underline instead for support…the list goes on! I’ve found that when I start planning out the fabrics I want to use for a new coat, it’s helpful to write a detailed plan of all of the above to organize my thoughts and provide a road map as I go through the construction process. Coats aren’t hard to make, but a lot of thought and consideration for the materials and methods you’ll use needs to happen for a successful end result.
2. Wool is awesome and warm
It’s true with any sewing project that the fabric you choose can make-or-break your garment, and when sewing a coat, it’s easily one of the most important elements to get right (no pressure!). After all, this is a garment you’re wearing to keep you warm and protect you from the elements – the functionality of the coat fabric is critical. But with a lot of different options available at our fingertips, thanks to so many great fabric retailers online stocking oodles of fabric, how the heck do you go about selecting a fabric that works for your pattern, your lifestyle, your climate, and know if it’s going to give you good results?
I can’t stress enough the importance of selecting a wool-based coat fabric. It’s the easiest to work with and will give you the best results for making a first-time coat. Most wools will have some kind of nylon or synthetic fiber blended into it to give it more strength (which prevents the fabric from bagging out in areas like the butt and elbows) but avoid anything that has a high polyester content, it will be hard to shape and mold with steam in the tailoring process.
A trick I use to see if a coat fabric will be warm enough is to do a “wind test” with my fabric: I hold it up to my face a few inches away, hold my hand a bit behind it, and blow on the fabric to simulate wind and see if the air passes through the fabric to my hand on the other side. If it does, it’s out; if it doesn’t, it’s a contender! You can see an example of how I do this here: https://youtu.be/4su37nXm_IY
3. Don’t forget about ease!
Ease is can be tricky when it comes to coats. If you’re sewing with a Butterick/McCall’s/Vogue coat pattern, his chart is handy to decipher what BMV means by “semi-fitted” versus “loose-fitted” when you’re selecting a coat pattern:
With coats, ease is important because we’re wearing our coats over another garment, sometimes several bulky layers. In a nutshell, check the finished measurements of the coat you intend to make to ensure that you’re selecting a pattern and a size that will allow you to wear the clothes you normally wear. You don’t want to wear a fitted coat over a loose, baggy sweater. You also need to be able to sit comfortably and bend over in your coat without any unnecessary strain.
True story: I had a near-disaster last year with a coat I was working on because I added a lambswool interlining for warmth and didn’t think it would take out that much ease because it was thin. Boy, was I wrong! I had to let out all of my side seams to get the coat to close correctly.
4. Test out interfacing, and where to interface
Patterns will always tell you the obvious areas where interfacing is needed in a coat, like the collar and facings, but after reading various books and articles about tailoring, and my own experience, there are even more areas that should be interfaced to get a professional-looking result:
• Front, including side fronts if applicable – this needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis because you run the risk of making your coat too stiff across the front and affecting the drape, but sometimes a partial front interfacing is a good solution
• Upper back – a back stay cut out of muslin provides support across the back of the coat and allows the upper back to hang nicely without collapsing
• Sleeve cap – this will prevent droopy sleeve caps that sag and allow the sleeve to hang smoothly from the shoulder seam
• Armholes – because body heat can make wool stretch out of shape, it’s smart to apply interfacing around the armholes to keep the coat’s shape
• Patch and welt pockets – I like to apply interfacing on the wrong side of the coat front, behind where a patch or welt pocket will be applied, to allow for better and stronger long-term wear. I always have my hands in my coat pockets and want them to last!
• Bottom hem and sleeve hems – a piece of fusible weft interfacing cut on the bias is great for hem applications and provides a nice crisp structure to the bottom of a coat or sleeve and prevents stretching
5. Invest in tailoring tools
Just as important as the fabric you choose to make your coat are the tools you use to shape and mold the finished garment. In addition to a tailoring ham and good steam iron, the most important tools I have for tailoring is my tailoring board and clapper. Not only do I use both regularly for sewing, but it’s the perfect surface for pressing a collar seam or pocket welt and makes nice, crisp edges to a coat front and hem. Using a clapper is pretty fun, too, and helpful for allowing the steam from the iron to set the seam or pounding thick woolen seam open.
6. Consider the potential weight of your finished coat
I learned a lot from the first coat I made a few years ago, and one of the most obvious lessons for me (among many) was that everything you put into your coat – lining, interlining/underlining, interfacing, and of course, the main fabric – really adds up! My cashmere coat, that was only mid-thigh length but slightly oversized, ended up being bulky and weighing a ton because of the heavy-duty coat lining I used in addition to flannel interlining for warmth and hair canvas for interfacing. This brings me to my next tip…
7. Try out your materials together
I like to buy swatches of all of the materials I want to use before I commit to a coating fabric or interfacing, and swatches are great for testing out how all of the materials will work together. By making a fabric sandwich of all of the layers, you can determine what the final drape will be like for your coat. Is the result too bulky? Will you have enough support for your main fabric if you don’t interface an area? Fabric sandwiches like this are also great for testing out different kinds of buttonholes or seeing if a fusible interfacing will be a better alternative than pad-stitching a traditional hair canvas interfacing.
8. Pick a lining that will last and keep you warm
One of the most annoying things about RTW coats are the flimsy linings that always wear out after a few seasons and need to be replaced. If you’ve experienced this, you’ll notice that they eventually ripe and tear at high stress areas like the sleeves and center back seam, because the lining fabric is thin and cheap! The lesson from this is that your coat lining needs to not only be strong enough to withstand the abrasion of clothes and frequency of wear, but smooth and slippery enough to make it easy to take the coat on and off. On top of that, your lining should be an extra barrier to the cold. Sounds like a tough bill to fill!
My favorite type of lining to work with for coats is called Sunback, or Kasha lining. This is a heavy weight satin lining fabric that has a flanneled back for extra warmth. It does add a bit of weight to your coat (more so than a traditional poly lining but not enough to be too heavy) and comes in a few different colors. This lining helps to cut down on needing an interlining, but if you live in very cold climate, you could try using an interlining with this fabric as well.
9. Tailor tacks are your BFF
When working with wool and another coating materials, it’s easy for traditional chalk marks used in garment sewing to rub off. Sometimes, chalk won’t even show up if you’re using a textured fabric. That’s where tailor tacks come in – I like using bright silk thread to mark pocket placements, buttonholes, and dart points.
10. The cherry on top: topstitching
The final step to a coat that will really elevate it to a professional level is to topstitch around the collar, lapels, and down the center front edges. Even if your pattern doesn’t call for it, give it a try – in addition to being looking decorative, topstitching allows the collar and coat facings to lay flat. When you’re done, apply lots of steam to the topstitched areas and use a clapper to flatten the edges as much a possible. It’s a two-for-one deal when it comes to topstitching!
Let us know in the comments section below if you like sewing coats, have any tips of your own, or what you think makes a great coat!