How to sew woolen coat fabrics
Topic: The Kreative Kat
Today's main blog entry, see two others below for weirdness.
Yesterday I laid out and cut the teal wool for my full length coat. I was very picky and fussy about the layout, trying to be sure everything was on grain. I didn't do my usual thing of trying to fit the pieces together as tightly as possible, I wanted the cut to be perfect so I spaced the pieces better so nothing was off in the least. I pinned and pinned until my finger tips were red and raw, then cut and cut until my hand cramped! It took me close to two hours to cut out everything. There are four sleeve parts, four back sections, three front parts, and three pieces for the collar and facings. There were also pockets and pocket welts. That's a lot of precision cutting for one coat!
Coat woolens are actually quite easy to work with. They are time consuming, but felted and fulled wools sew up with little trouble and careful pressing and steaming can cover up all but the most glaring of sewing errors. Although the fabric is thick, it has a nice heavy drape and can take seaming details quite well. Indeed, a the more seams the better, especially for fit. A rectangle of fabric with little or no fitting details looks like a shapeless box, so pick a pattern with darts, princess seaming, anything that allows you to sculpture the fabric to your shape.
In this article I'm talking about full length, below the knee classic dress coats. They are warm and elegant. Every woman's winter wardrobe should include one long wool coat. It can be dressy, sporty, casual, depending on the accessories. It's well worth the time and effort to make one, you get the colour, fit and style that is perfect for you.
Loden is the heaviest of coat wools. It is boiled, fulled and felted, making it somewhat stiff, thick, and naturally warm, wind and water resistant. It won't unravel at the edges, so lapped seams can be used. The raw edges can be overcast with fancy crewel wools in blanket stitch or other embroidery stitches. Loden takes to wool embroidery, felt appliqu?s, and other surface decorations. Use a pattern shape that's simple, with some fitting details, otherwise the stiffness will turn the wearer into a big felt box.
Melton is British in origin, at one time considered a "fustian" cloth; that is rough and lower class. Luckily, the fabric's many merits soon outweighed the fustian label. Melton is fulled and felted, naturally water and wind resistant, lighter than loden, warm, drapes nicely, and is surprisingly easy to sew. Melton is the fabric we most associate with woolen winter coats. It can be interlined with thin fleece or the classic chamois down to the waist for extra shape and extra warmth.
Velours, (not velour, the velvety knit for sweats and hoodies) is a subspecies of melton, with a velvet like brushed finish on the good side. Velours is french in origin and was considered a bit more luxurious than the British melton. Velour is a bit softer and drapes better, occasionally ravels, but can be sewn and handled the same as melton.
Melton can be shaped with seams and darts and steamed and pressed into shape. It can be made into fitted coats or looser shaped coats. choose patterns that don't have a lot of sharp, fine pointy details, larger collars and lapels are easier to turn.
Pilot and duffle cloth are softer, fulled but not felted, and not as windproof as melton. These need some seam finishing and they will need an interlining. True "thinsulate" is the best choice, it's rated for very low temperatures and adds little bulk to the coat. The fleece sold for making shoulder pads or placemats is a good choice for those on a budget. Interline down to the hip line, as low as below the butt, but never any lower than that as the bottom of the coat needs to drape and this would make the coat too stiff to drape.
Interlinings and linings are important and make the difference between a warm comfortable coat and coat that looks nice but doesn't keep you warm. Loden is often left unlined as it's difficult to turn the cloth. If facings and linings are needed, sew them to the main coat wrong sides together and leave the raw edges visible. Overcast with embroidery wool or leave plain. Melton should be lined with a good quality Kasha lining. Kasha is a double-faced fabric; with satin on one side and flannel on the other. The flannel goes inside and the satin is the visible side. The flannel helps trap warm air and gives a layer of insulation while the satin adds a look of luxury. Don't use bemberg rayon, it adds nothing to your coat. Also, don't use suit weight polyesters, they don't add any insulation or warmth. IF you want polyester lining, use the types that were made specifically for outerwear. Quilted linings can be used as far down as the hip to bottom of the butt area, then attach a Kasha lining to whatever is lower than that. Quilted linings are a bit stiffer and add bulk to the coat, but they are quite warm.
Use good quilted linings on pilot and duffle cloth, they need a bit of extra help in the insulation area. Again, don't go below the butt with quilted lining unless you want the coat to stand away from the body. Matching Kasha can be used in areas where you don't want the extra bulk, such as hoods and sometimes sleeves.
The following instructions refers mainly to coats made of melton or velours.
Use sew-in interfacings, rather than fusibles. Machine baste on the seam lines and then treat as a single layer of fabric. On large pieces, such as front facings, use a large diagonal tacking stitch along the length and remove once the buttons and buttonholes are worked into the garment. Sew-ins don't defeat that wind and water resistance the same way fusibles can. EDIT! Low melt point fusibles are a good choice for wollen outerwear and they take less heat, less steam and won't defeat water/wind resistance. Thanks to commenter!
Lay out you pattern carefully. You won't have enough room to lay out the entire length, so lay out in sections, roll and unroll the fabric from both ends and don't let fabric hang over the edge of your surface. This distorts the fabric and can put a twist where you don't want it. Lay according to grain lines, don't tilt or tip the pieces. Use a "with nap" layout. Velours nap should run down the garment. Cut carefully around the pieces, curves should be smooth, corners sharp. Proper cutting is time well spent, many sewing problems are avoided if a garment is cut properly in the beginning. Use a very sharp pair of proper bent handle dressmaker's shears, don't lift the lower blade off the table to ensure smooth cutting on long edges. Transfer all markings; roll lines, C.front, C. back, match points, dots, notches, everything! Use chalk on the wrong side. For very important markings, use old fashioned tailor thread tacks. Use cotton embroidery floss, it's slippery and comes out easily. Don't make up your coat by guesswork, mark and be sure!
Practice sewing and pressing on scraps of fabric. Use good long staple polyester thread for sewing. If you can't match the thread, use a shade darker, it will blend in better. Don't use poly-wrapped cotton, and don't use pure cotton thread. Don't use nylon thread as it can cut the woolen fibers.
For sewing, use a sharp needle made for medium/heavy fabrics. Don't use a cutting point denim or leather needle, in spite of what you might have read elsewhere. Loosen the top and bottom tension or you will have a V in you fabric. Don't back stitch, start with a very short stitch to lock the stitches, then increase the length to 3.5 for long seams, 3 for shorter detail seams. Don't sew too fine a seam!
The seam can be pressed open for a classic tailored look. Or, for extra wind resistance and warmth, trim one seam allowance down to 3/8, press the wider allowance over, and stitch down. This means there's nowhere for the wind to enter.
To press, use a steam iron set to wool, and a press cloth. Press on a scrap of the melton, this will keep the ironing board surface from flattening the pile. To prevent ridges from showing, don't use scarps of paper under the seam allowances, it's not adequate, use scraps of the fabric under the seam allowances to prevent ridges. Use an up and down motion, don't glide the iron. Always use a press cloth, don't let the surface of the iron touch the surface of the fabric or the nap will be crushed and you will get shine on the fabric. In places where shaping is needed, use a damp cloth, plenty of steam from the iron, press the area and then hold in the steam in with (tada!) a press mitt made from a scrap of the fabric. Carefully trim and mitre corners. Eased curves can be steamed into place without cutting into the seam allowance. The curve at the waist seam, where it flares, will need to have the allowance clipped into carefully, then pressed open. Press all curves and shaped seams over a pressing roll, tailor's ham, or even a rolled up towel. Never press curves, eased shapes or sharp corners flat! Ever! Never sew over an unpressed seam.
Don't use gathering or ease stitches in the sleeve head. Use plenty of pins, place the longer edge, the sleeve, next to the feed dogs. Let the feed dogs ease the sleeve into place. Press carefully over a sleeve roll, steaming the shape into the sleeve head. Press the seam flat, this gives the nicest shape, or with the allowances towards the shoulder. Don't press the allowances into the sleeve head. It doesn't look good, doesn't negate the need for a sleeve head. Add a sleeve head to the sleeve at this point, it should be quite small, the melton usually can hold it's own shape with little support. Often it's not needed.
The upper collar is slightly larger than the under collar. Don't change this. The collar, collar band, any seams dealing with the collar area, should be carefully trimmed and pressed flat. Corners and curves should trimmed and mitered. Interface the upper collar and upper collar band. If you want to interface the under collar, use a lighter weight interfacing.
Make the outer coat as one unit, including the under collar; then the facings, upper collar and linings together as a second unit. Sew the interlining if there is one as a separate unit. Place the shoulder pads, if desired, into place before sewing the units together. Slip the interlining unit onto the outer coat unit. Then attach the two units along the outer edges, wrong sides together. Start at notch of the lapel and sew down to the lower edge of the front facing. Next, sew from the center back of the collar to the lapel notch. Do this on both sides. The facing/lining unit should be next to the feed dogs as these seams are a bit longer to accommodate the turn of the cloth. The feed dogs will ease the longer lengths into place without ripples or gathers. This leaves a little "bubble" at the intersection point of the lapel seams. This is needed to allow the fabric to turn. Some tailors leave several bubbles" in the collar lapel area and then hand stitch after turning. This is far to picky, even for a perfectionist like me. Carefully trim the corners, miter them, and then press. Have your iron upright and stick a pressing aid, such as a piece of wood, a dowel or rolled up fabric into the collar and lapels and press the seam so it's flat. I occasionally use just the tip of my finger, sometimes I get a cooked fingertip! This will make turning easier. Place a point turner on the point and turn, keeping the point tool in place. If there seems to be problems, then there is too much fabric in the point, trim away more. Press and try again. The point will turn easier this time. Remove the point tool after another pressing. Don't try to make sharp, pointed corners on coat fabrics, it doesn't work. Make slightly rounded corners, they look better because they turn better and press better. A lopsided point never looks good. Do each point individually, take your time and the results will be worth the extra effort. Turn the entire coat right-sides out.
To keep the lining in place stitch in the ditch on the shoulder seams and the collar seams. Hand tack lining to the sleeve at the match points, and the under arm seam. Hand tack at the waistline at all the seam lines and let the lining hang loose from there on down. Hem the lining an inch and a half shorter than the coat. Attach the lining to the bottom of the sleeve with hand stitches. Top stitch the outer edge of the lapels and collar if you want. The lining should be loose inside the coat.
Other points as I think of them; Coat wools, especially loden, Melton, and velours need little in the way of seam finishes. Melton and loden don't ravel at all and need nothing. Velours, pilot and duffle might need some finishing, usually just a line of wide zig zag along the raw edge is enough. Finer duffle cloth and anything made with cashmere, mohair or the luxury wools should have all the seam allowances bound with bias binding. The luxury fabrics demand high quality, luxury finishes, even if no one sees the seam allowances! After cutting it should be obvious if your fabric needs any type of finish to the raw edge. Pressing is far more important than the actual sewing, sewing is quite straight forward. Oh yes, fit the coat, not the lining! In spite of what you might have been told in school, never fit the lining, always fit the garment;even if this means making a muslin mock up rather than using the fashion fabric. A lining serves little purpose other than a bit of insulation, or to keep the inner structure from being visible. Never use a lining to test a fit. This is old advice and very out of date.
Speaking of fitting, don't make a coat that's far too large and sloppy. The arm crease seams should not extend beyond where they are on your body. The back shouldn't be wider than you natural measurements. The coat hangs from the shoulders, so the parts around the shoulder and armhole should fit well. Pay extra attention to that area. Pad the shoulders out until the coat hangs well from the shoulders. Shoulder pads are never out of fashion in good fitting classic full length coats.
Use your regular body measurements to pick your coat pattern. Ease is built into the pattern so you don't need to buy a larger pattern. That is the number one common mistake made when selecting a coat pattern. Don't buy a pattern according to ready to wear sizes in stores. They don't compare. Measure yourself and buy the size according to your measurements. Try the coat on with a sweater or extra layer, then adjust if needed. Usually you'll not need to add more than a half an inch at any one point, that's the beauty of princess seams, more places to adjust the fit. Most coats have a generous amount of ease and often you'll need to take in seams than let them out.
That's all I can think of for now! I've got some sewing to do!
Posted by lincatz
at 10:50 AM EST
Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005 10:28 AM EST