Month: October 2020

Kitty Makes a Winter Coat – the saga continues

Part 2: pattern-making and testing

Previously on the Kitty Winter Coat Saga, I sketched out a design and put together a wish list for my perfect coat.  That’s always the fun and easy part.  Now comes the slog!

Making a pattern

The next step is to turn my drawing into a sewing pattern.  While I could have tried to find an existing pattern that I could modify for my design, I decided to make one from scratch, for a couple of reasons.

  1. Even if I could find something close enough to what I had I mind, I would need to make so, so, SO many pattern alterations to force it to conform to my weird proportions that I’d probably start barking before it was done.
  2. I already have a personal sloper, which was made by having Felix wrap me in duct tape (that’s a whole separate story).  A sloper is essentially a basic fitting pattern which, if I sewed it up as-is, should fit me like a second skin. 

So I chose to create my coat pattern from scratch using my sloper, tracing it off, cutting it apart along my design seam lines, adding wearing and design ease (that’s extra room for moving and to make it look the way I intended, respectively), and so forth — all the fun details that turn something into a working sewing pattern.  This looked like an awful lot of pattern pieces for someone who prefers instant-gratification projects, but I soldiered on regardless.

I drafted a tab for the back, which is purely decorative, and big pockets and storm flaps, which are anything but.  I almost made the pocket piece too small because I measured around my hand to get the approximate size as usual.  Luckily, I remembered in time that winter pockets need to accommodate hands encased in thick gloves or mittens!  The final pocket pattern piece look big enough to carry a corgi, but it’s based on the measurement of my hand while wearing my favourite insulated glove. 

Initial testing

Whenever you make a pattern from scratch, you test the heck out of it before you cut into your nice fabric.  More than once I’ve had a nasty surprise when things didn’t fit or look anything like I intended once things were translated into 3D.

Maybe this doesn’t happen to the kind of people who measure 1/8 teaspoon of something for a recipe, but I’m a fairly slapdash person in pattern-making, as in cooking.  So I cut out the basic pieces (just the body and sleeves, no collar, pockets, or other details) from some black cotton for a quick initial test.

Those of you who have read my previous blogs will notice that these photos aren’t taken on Amelia, my usual female-shaped dress form.   She’s about five sizes too small for me, and has a pronounced waist and hips, which I really don’t.

This one is Rory, my technically male dress form.  At some point, I realized that if I slapped one of my bras on him and stuffed it with some fabric scraps, he makes a decent enough approximation of my figure for me to do some rudimentary fitting. 

Rory in My Bra, With Amelia by His Side

My utter lack of hips and super-broad shoulders actually works better with the traditionally male mannequin shape, and Rory’s hip measurement is pretty close to mine.  Plus I’ll do anything to avoid pin-fitting a garment while I’m wearing it!

The good news: the first test shows that the pattern pieces all fit together, and that the length, girth, and cup size are roughly correct.  Which meant that I could proceed onto the next step.

The “wearable muslin” (aka the second test)

A test garment is sometimes called a “muslin” in sewing circles because an unbleached cotton fabric, sometimes called muslin in North America, is often used for the purpose.  Where I grew up, “muslin” referred to a very fine, delicate cotton fabric used for summer tea dresses, so this is a bit strange to me.  But I digress.

A “wearable muslin” is when you make up a pattern in a fabric that isn’t your final material, but will be good enough to wear if the fit turns out okay.  In my case, I chose a mid-weight sweater fabric, because I’m NOT about to launch into a full-out coat construction project without some further testing. 

After all, I’m planning to fully line my coat, as well as interline it with insulating fleece, meaning I’ll be cutting out each main pattern piece at least three times (four times for the pieces that will need interfacing).  Plus the tab, flaps, and so forth, which are many more details than my normal projects contain.  Hence, I made this coat-cardigan-cross thingie:

I tried it out in the unseasonably early snow, along with my daft-looking (but warm!) pink brain hat.  One can always use some extra brains, especially when testing new patterns. 

The verdict: I like the length, which I had worried might be too long, and I need to change the collar shape a bit so it will overlap more against the wind.  But overall, it feels pretty darn good.  And I have full arm mobility, which I’ve never had in an off-the-rack coat or jacket:

Actual Arm Mobility

I made the pockets and the collar for this test version, but didn’t line it.  The lack of lining AND interlining made the whole thing far too loose, which was just as it should be; I’ll need that extra room in the final coat for all that toasty padding. 

To make this “coatigan” wearable, I tucked up the excess circumference (over 4 inches!) into mock front plackets, which actually created a nice vertical detail next to the front zipper AND made it quite fitted:

Close-Up of Front Tuck Detail

Next time, the actual coat!

The fit was good enough that I feel confident moving right into sewing the fully lined and detailed version.  I’ll need to hustle my behind; as you saw in the photos, we’ve got snow in October.  That’s quite abnormal for us here in (relatively) southern British Columbia, so the winter promises to be cold.

So expect the next instalment quite soon.  No excuses for procrastinating when one is racing against the weather!

Kitty Makes a Winter Coat

Part 1: The reason why, followed by a bit of design

Kitty’s Perfect Winter Coat

We had our first frost of the year last night! 

When the weather shifts toward winter, a Kitty’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of coats.  Lovely warm insulated coats in fun prints and bright colours, which fit perfectly and lets me move all I want.  So off I went to a shop, all ready to give the nice people money for my fantasy winter coat. 

Then I ran smack into a cartload of reality.  To summarize:

Reality 1: My upper and lower body belong to different people

I am over-abundantly gifted in the breast department, and failed to show up the day they were handing out bums.  If something fits me in the hips, it hasn’t a hope of going around my upper body.  If it fits me at chest level, it’s huge everywhere else.

By all accounts, this happens to loads of other folks, though more often it’s the other way around, since the majority of women have hips that are larger around than their bust.  In any case, I could not find anything that remotely fit — at least not both halves of me at the same time.

Reality 2: I am a statistically normal-sized woman (which is a problem…?!)

More or less normal, anyway.  My measurements (though not my proportions) are pretty darn close to the average North American woman’s, though I’m a couple of inches taller.  To the fashion industry, that apparently means I am a bison-like behemoth who should only wear shapeless sacks, preferably in black.  My selection in ready-to-wear is, to put it kindly, limited.   

I hadn’t tried to buy clothes from a shop in about twelve years until this point, so I had forgotten just how out of touch with reality fashion sizing can be.  For reference, I scale the sizing of all my own designs so the size “Medium” is a STATISTICAL medium.  Meaning that the most common size for my customers tended to be, well, Medium, followed by small and large. 

That does actually make sense, right?  Medium should reflect something like the average size in a given community of humans.  I never could see why people who fell into a Small or X-Small in our size range kept claiming they usually took size XXL or something. 

At least now I have a better understanding, if not a coat I’m willing to buy.

Reality 3: Some parts of me are NOT statistically normal

I have proportionally wide biceps, and the intense weight-lifting regimen I’ve been on during the stay-at-home period hasn’t exactly made them more delicate and sylphlike.  All the extra muscle mass also only adds to the linebacker shoulders I always had (I was a competitive swimmer in my wasted youth). 

Though I’m probably bulkier in the shoulders and back than normal, I’m sure I’m not the only person to find coats or jackets really binding when reaching forward or raising the arms.  Or, for that matter, to feel like every piece of clothing always has sleeves that are just a bit too tight.

Why I’m making a winter coat

I have never bought a winter coat that fit me.  Anything that can close around my bountiful bosoms and wide back ends up being a flapping tent around the waist and hips.  My raggedy old coat is massively baggy everywhere EXCEPT at bust level.  And of course, black, because that’s all there was in that size range when I bought it.  Yes, this is before I started sewing.

That kind of boxy fit makes anyone look huge.  Now, I’m a substantial person and I happen to be just fine with the amount of space I take up in the world.  But that doesn’t mean I want to look like I’m smuggling a troop of badgers under my coat. 

More importantly, all that excess space makes a coat awfully draughty, which is a real problem for someone who likes to go for daily five-mile walks come rain or snow.  If that makes me a madwoman, I’d prefer to be a snuggly warm madwoman.

Funnily, in spite of being way too big, the old coat feels super-restrictive whenever I take it into my head to do something fun, like climb a tree or pelt Felix with snowballs.  Something about the cut of the shoulders and back doesn’t play nicely with my shape, and it’s the same story for every ready-to-wear coat I tried on.  If I want this fixed, I’ll have to do it myself.

What makes a perfect coat?

Perfect for me, anyway.  I imagine you have your own ideas.

My perfect coat needs some kind of shaping that builds in curves over the bust and upper back, either with seam lines or darts.  The alternative is to go right back to huge and boxy, which kind of defeats my purpose. 

The sleeves need to be roomy enough for both my generous biceps and multiple layers of clothing.   The line of the shoulder and upper back has to follow and move with my body well enough so I can do cartwheels if I feel like it.

I also want it to look at least somewhat stylish, since it’s the only thing anyone is likely to see me wearing all winter.  Most importantly, of course, it has to be warm enough for the local winter, which can see -25°C on occasion (I realize that’s not much to a born Canadian, but I plead weakness due to a tropical upbringing).

The design, Mark 1

The sketch at the beginning is my starting point.  I chose princess seams both front and back, because I think this is the easiest way to accommodate my chest and my muscular upper back while keeping things fitted at the waist.  The high closed collar should keep my neck warm, and the storm flaps are 1) cute and 2) extra protection against weather. 

Raglan sleeves (the kind that go all the way up to the neckline and doesn’t have a shoulder/sleeve seam) are great for mobility and for making enough arm room without resorting to gathered sleeves.  Mind you, I love me a gathered sleeve, but it’s probably a bit much for a winter coat I’ll most likely wear while shovelling alpaca poo. 

Add some big patch pockets for warming my paws and an ever-so-slightly flared skirt so I can pretend I have hips, and we’re golden.

Closing reflections

For someone who designs and sews clothes for a living, I don’t often make everyday items for myself.  I’ve just been too busy trying to make enough items for sale.  The pandemic changed all that, basically pushing pause on the business.

But in all that chaos, I suddenly found myself with time.  It’s been ten years since I last had any of that to spare.  So for the next few days or weeks, I intend to indulge in some slow sewing, and document the process. 

If you’ve ever wondered how one of my designs go from random idea to finished product, this is pretty much the process — except that this time, I’m only trying to please myself instead of obsessing about what everyone else might want.

At this moment, this project is just that pencil drawing.  Next time, I’ll be turning  the sketch into a pattern and a test garment.  If it works out, I’ll make the final version; otherwise, for all I know, I’ll scrap the design and start over again.  

There are quite a few more steps to go, hopefully before the snow arrives, so I will be back at it again quite soon.  The forecast says it may snow before Halloween.   Eeep.  Pray for me.

Until then, stay safe and toasty!