When I started planning this coat, I could not then have known the many reasons why I am now so happy to have made it.
The journey – and yes, it has been a journey – started with the fabric, offered for sale to me by a reader several years ago. Simply the provenance of the fabric – a piece of stamped Ernest Einiger wool, from one of the great mid-century American wool manufacturers, now sadly long gone – was reason enough to give it some extra thought. I knew I had to wait for the right time to put pattern and scissors to it. When the Pantone Color of 2018 – “Ultraviolet” – an orchid shade of purple – was announced, I knew the time had arrived!
In the meantime, I had given it much thought and the more I looked at it, the more I thought I would be wise to get some construction advice on it. Happily I was able to go to Baltimore in mid-April for one of Susan Khalje’s week-long Couture Sewing Schools, during which everyone works on their own project. Usually one is expected to arrive with a pattern selected, and a marked muslin (toile) of her project ready for fitting. This time was no different, which meant that all my thinking about the best pattern to use for this coat was ready to come to fruition.
Because the fabric is a very heavy coat-weight boucle, I originally looked for a pattern which either did not include buttons and buttonholes (traditionally more difficult to do well on a fabric of this weight), or had slot-seam buttonholes. I thought I had the perfect pattern in this Vogue from 1962. However, when I actually opened out the pattern pieces, I realized it was not going to work. The kimono sleeves would surely produce drag lines in this heavy fabric, and a double layer of the wool in the shawl collar could be quite bulky.
Then I pulled out two more patterns which I thought were possibilities:
The single slot-seam buttonhole in the Mattli pattern was ideal, but all the intersecting seams could be a problem to do well, so I eliminated that one. The simple lines of the Christian Dior design were lovely, but then there were more buttons, in addition to my evolving thought that this fabric would work well with a pattern which did not have such a narrow silhouette. It was then that I went to a pattern which I had already used:
I love the simple lines of this coat and its well-turned collar, and I especially love my addition of a half belt to the silk coat I made. I still wasn’t sure what I would/could do about buttons and buttonholes. Advice from Susan would be very valuable! As it turned out, she helped me determine that I could do bound buttonholes even on this very substantial wool. Another fortuitous finding was that this pattern lent itself to showing off the interesting windowpane weave of the boucle, which became much more apparent the further away from it we got.
Other of Susan’s recommendations included:
1) Making the coat dress length rather than coat length. The intensity of the color, used with this pattern, looks better in a shorter length.
2) Cutting the belt on the bias. This was brilliant and gives a nice subtle focus to the back of the coat. She also recommended that I line the belt with the silk charmeuse lining fabric rather than using the boucle . It reduces bulk and makes the belt lay much more nicely. I sewed one side of the belt by machine and then hand-stitched the other side, making for a nice crisp turn of the charmeuse to the underside.
3) Underlining the collar with charmeuse (again to reduce bulk) and then under-stitching the underside, to make it turn beautifully.
4) Clipping the long back center seam, even though it is on the straight of grain. Clipping it reduces strain on that seam and allows a much more fluid movement of the back of the coat. (I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, but it is certainly not rocket science, just common sense.)
5) Tips for matching the woven windowpane design in the wool, the weave of which was difficult to see close-up. Forked pins and a walking foot helped to keep the layers – even basted ones – from shifting.
Other procedures I used to help “tame” this fabric were: lots of judicious trimming of seams and corners; clipping, clipping and more clipping; lots of steam and pressing; lots of basting of seams.
By the time I returned home from my class, I had the coat about half finished, but I felt completely confident in my ability to finish it competently. Here are a few more details:
It is always rewarding to get to the point in the construction of a coat when you are ready to put the lining in. And to make it just a little more fun, I added flat silk piping on the inside front facings – which will match one of the dresses (still to be made) I intend to wear with this coat:
So my “coat for many reasons” allowed me 1) to use treasured fabric which had been in my collection for a few years; 2) to take advantage of the focus of this beautiful purple color during the year of “Ultraviolet;” 3) to use a coat pattern which I really wanted to use again after making it once; and 4) to have experience in working – successfully – with such a heavyweight wool.
But the most important reason? I need another coat. I always need another coat.