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