Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tailored Highwayman's Carrick

One day, I decided to sew a Carrick for my husband. He has wanted one for some time, and I needed another excuse to learn more tailoring, fitting, and sewing techniques.

I decided to go for a measure of historical accuracy, and to engage John in the process, so created a Pinterest board on Gentlemen's Carrick. I think of it as a highwayman's coat. So, if John starts robbing coaches on lonely stretches of the moor, it isn't his fault, it was the coat. There were quite a few details we discussed, the height of the collar (staves off the wind whipping over the moors), whether the cape should have one layer or three (one, unless you are a fop), the length (long enough to sweep dramatically), the kick pleat in back (easier for wearing while horseback riding), and how many pocketses it should have (several).

This is the final product, and what follows is a description of the process and learnings.

Here is my handsome man, looking good. Sadly for him, I finished it during late Spring 2016, so he had exactly two chances to wear it, (the office, and the mall) but he enjoyed it tremendously, so I hear.

Once I understood what I was making, I found a pattern that could act as a good baseline coat. This Simplicity 4083 did the trick. I also added cuffs from Simplicity 4923.
Simplicity 4083

Simplicity 4923

Having something fit beautifully is a revelation, and I wanted John to experience that, so I spent a fair amount of time with the muslin. We purchased a medium-heavy, black cotton woven denim for the finished garment. Rather than trying to make this super-tailored, I decided that I wanted to do some moderate tailoring, i.e. learn some techniques, but not worry too much about making tailor-level workmanship. Even so, I added quite a bit of heavy canvas to the jacket interior, along with horsehair canvas. The shoulders were built up to create that smooth, armor-like structure to the front, shoulders, and back. 

Shoulder padding layered and graded for a smooth effect, and to even out a slight slope to the right.

Stay tape along the lapel edges, and roll line.
Showing canvas, interlining, built-up shoulder pads, and sleeve heads. There's some canvas under there somewhere. 

Pirate cuffs. The buttons add a slight military feel. The false button holes are a narrow leather cording. A bit of hand-stitching at the cuff. 

A single-welt pocket on the inside, along with cool labels hubby bought me for Xmas. The lining is actually a navy blue. 

Handsome man, also showing the stiffened, extended collar.

I end up altering the pattern significantly to match the style of coat my husband wanted, my own design decisions, and executed some tailoring techniques. 

a) Extended the height of the collar, added a stiff interfacing to keep the height and shape
b) narrowed the lapels
c) borrowed sleeve cuffs from Simplicity 4923 
d) fully lined with a navy, paisley, jacquard
e) added pocket flaps to the back (historical detail)
f) added pleats on either side of the back kick pleat, with a button at the top (historical detail)
g) added double-welt + flap pockets on front
d) added a single welt pocket to interior
e) used tailoring techniques for shoulder pads, lapels, and body canvas including interlining, horsehair canvas, stay tape, and cotton batting
f) fully tailored to my husband
g) extended the length by about 8 inches
h) added a hanging loop at neck

In the end, it became so heavy that hauling it between sewing table, and dress form became a task. 

John and I shopped for the lining together. He picked out a few things he liked, and I steered him toward fabric weight and weave that would suit. He picked a beautiful navy blue jacquard, and it turned out great. 


Sewing order is important. There were a few design details, like the button holes, that I didn't want to add until the garment was complete and I could really look at the hang of the jacket. However, with the weight of the assembled coat, it became difficult to sew them.  In hindsight, I would determine the button, buttonhole position at the muslin stage, and sew the button holes before attaching jacket top to bottom panels. 

Again, because the muslin wasn't a similar weight as the fashion fabric, and I left off a few design details on the muslin, I ended up fussing with the fashion fabric more than I wanted to. 

I hadn't bought the Alison Smith Tailoring class until I was well into building up the canvas, so that part is a little free-form, and the roll of the lapel isn't Savile-Row-Ready.  However, the canvas, interlining, horsehair, and cotton batting all worked together to create a very smooth chest to shoulder. 

Welt pockets are worth practicing. There are several techniques you can use, and I ended up liking this guy's the best. [YoutubeVideo] I must have done half a dozen before committing to the fashion fabric, but they are really beautiful, and actually kind of fun.

Tailoring References: 

  1. Essential Guide to Tailoring: Structure and Shape, Alison Smith,
  2. Haute Couture Techniques, Angelina di Bello
  3. The Fitting Book, Angelina di Bello
  4. Couture Sewing: Tailoring Techniques, Claire Shaeffer
  5. The Dressmaker's Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques, Linda Maynard

General References: 

  1. Couture Dressmaking Details, Alison Smith,
  2. Designing Details: Pockets, Kenneth King,
  3. The Couture Dress, Susan Khalje,

I hadn't really planned to write a sewing blog, as this is such a hobby and blogging can become a chore, not a joy. I have enough chores in my life right now, thank you. But, after posting the project on, kollabora, and Craftsy, I found the most satisfaction with the pattern review crowd. Going forward, I'll probably blog it, review the pattern on pattern review, the maybe link to the blog from a couple of places. I still think Craftsy is a good place for sharing and discussion, but the tools aren't quite there yet. 

I hope you enjoy, and check back for more as I go. Slowly, very slowly.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Next Time I Go a-Spyin' Trench Coat

I recently completed this tailored, wool trench made of a dusty blue-green felted wool, and lined with a paisley silk print.

I worked on it for over six months as time and inclination allowed. Some weeks it would sit on the form and I'd just move a pin as I walked past it.  Sometimes I'd get stumped on, say, learning what a sleeve head is and why it is a beautiful thing. 

But its done, and I love it. I put a lot into this garment so here is a little about the process.

Some time in 2010 I saw this 2011 Gucci Pre-Fall jacket and I thought it looked just splendid. Needing a real challenge to learn more about tailoring and construction, I started pulling together the pieces. 

Here's a mood board I created for the Gucci look using McCall's 5525 for the jacket, a vintage Vogue Paris Original by Givenchy 2391 for the pants, and Butterick 5084 for a top.  So far, I've only made the tailored jacket, but I figure that I'll whip up some brown velveteen pants at some point.  Mom (the bargain hunter) just happens to have a length of beautiful, dusty blue-green, felted wool, so I was on my way.

I chose this McCall's Pattern 5525 because it was closest to what I was going for. After making several modifications to make it slimmer and more tailored, I am pleased with the results. 

Making the Muslin

I knew I was going to modify the pattern and try some tailoring techniques, so I made a muslin first. Good thing, too. Even so, I ended up pinning and basting the fashion fabric version several times. I learned that if my fashion fabric is heavier than the muslin, its even more important to fit the muslin perfectly. 

There are several places in this pattern where you are expected to sew through multiple layers of fabric, which is impractical with a heavier fabric. With the sleeve and waist belt loops, I turned the fabric under at the edges and stitched on top. In the collar, I used iron-on interfacing and trimmed it to the very edge of the seam so that it wasn't included in the fold when turned inside out, keeping the edges from being unwieldy. Also, I had to make 2 or 3 versions of the shoulder and collar epaulettes before getting them perfectly symmetrical. 


This pattern is a little bulky and I wanted a more tailored fit, so I ended up adding a half an inch in the bust area at the front/side seam, and taking away up to half an inch on the three back seams. When fitting the sleeves, I shrunk the fabric at the ease on top, then fitted the sleeves, leaving about half an inch of fabric at the top of the sleeve. I have broad shoulders, so didn't need padding. The thickness of the multiple layers at the top of the shoulder provided enough thickness to set off the top of the sleeve. 

Once the sleeve was sewn in, it became evident that the sleeve cap needed to be crafted, so I departed from the pattern again and referred to a couple of tailoring books. I can't recall if the collar points and lapels were meant to be interfaced, but they should be if you want it to be crisp. Also, I thought the tied belt looked a little sloppy, so opted for a belt buckle instead. 

This is the first garment I've sewn using my new pressing clapper and I credit it with the crisp, flat edges and corners, esp. on seams with 2 or more layers. I'm a total convert to the pressing clapper. 
I certainly recommend using the marks for where buttons and buttonholes go as a starting point before trying it on and placing them 

Much of this is an excerpt out of my review of the pattern and garment on  I also wrote about it on, but now realize that platform is really more for people who are making and selling their own patterns, and who pose for pictures looking down.

I hope you enjoy this trench. Next time I will be sure to take pictures during the process, esp. when I get stuck and end up learning something new. 

From There to Here

From There to Here

I started sewing again a few years ago. I needed a release, something that would make me use my hands, and be mentally engaging without pressure. Happily, it has been just that - extremely satisfying. Nevertheless, at some point I realized that despite doing what I thought were all the right things, the results were mixed at best. The garments didn't fit very well, they didn't look as good as they did in my mind's eye, or they had areas that were noticeably badly done. Given the amount of time I was putting in, I wanted better results, and greater mastery.

Learning What to Learn

A few years ago, I returned to school for an advanced degree in my profession. The experience taught me that pretty much anything can be learned if you break it down, figure out what you don't know, then go about adding new knowledge and skills. With sewing, I had learned a simple approach at home. Buy a pattern, buy some fabric, cut it out, sew it up. But, clearly, something was missing because the results were just not good. So, I went about re-educating myself.  As an artist and designer, I appreciate the value of copying master work, and of looking very, very closely to figure out what makes a thing good. I know that a distinctive design is a unique assemblage of a hundred minute details. Luckily, once you start looking, there is a small but potent wealth of information about sewing technique. 

Thanks to my mother, an avid book collector/bargain hunter, a copy of Claire Shaeffer's High Fashion Sewing Secrets landed on my bookshelf.  I sort of gritted my teeth and started paying real attention to the level of detail Claire teaches and eventually realized what a treasure this book is. Sewing well, is like any other skill, and can be learned. I had simply not seen or cared about the super fine details that make a garment really special. Now, ironically, I enjoy these details the most out of the entire process. Picking the pattern and fabric, and cutting all seem like easy things to do quickly. It is the fitting, tailoring and hand sewing that I enjoy the most.  

Time passes. I collect more sewing books, discover what couture really means (thanks Claire Shaeffer for your instructive videos), 
discover what tailoring really means, (thank you, cutterandtailor.compractice hand sewing, and gradually become more confident in what I can take on.  The elements of good technique as I understand them now are, in no particular order, 
  • use of high quality fabric, and the right fabric for the design
  • techniques to structure the garment 
    • ex., such as sleeve caps and horsehair interfacing
  • techniques to reinforce, structure and support the fashion fabric 
    • ex., such as interlining and stay stitching
  • techniques to fit the garment to your body 
    • ex., such as fitting a muslin 
  • use of good materials 
    • ex., such as cotton or silk threads
  • use of good tools 
    • ex., fine, sharp pins, excellent scissors and pressing tools
  • special techniques associated with couture sewing 
    • ex., hand-bound button holes

Studying the Masters

I don't remember where or how I first saw this look from 2010, but I thank Donna Karan for introducing me to looking closely at runway looks.  I fell in love with the jacket - the loose, but stylish ease of it. I would still like to copy it. This was enough to catch me and eventually I found the app and started trolling runway shows.

At first, I started collecting looks to help me understand or define my own style. Eventually I realized that my next step in learning to sew was to flat out copy them. By doing this, I would learn what I don't know now. It has turned out to be a much, much better starting point. 

By analyzing runway looks, I also realized that most of the fabric is quite subdued. Mind you, it is an extremely expensive, sumptuous silk, rayon, cotton, wool or linen, but the fabric itself doesn't not scream at you. What makes it designer is the quality and palette of the fabric, the detailing of design, construction, and embellishment. I also begin to realize that designer clothing is made with fabric that I never, ever see at Joann's or Hancock Fabric.

Take this design for example.  If you break it down, there are three garments made of 5 coordinating fabrics. 

  • The wrap blouse is made of a sheer brown silk organza edged in olive silk
  • The skirt is a tweedy brown wool, piped with light brown
  • The cape looks like felted wool in a slightly plummy brown, lined with a medium brown silk charmeuse
The stitching, detailing and design choices are impeccable, but none are revolutionary - the fabric wouldn't fly off the shelves if considered on its own, but the outfit overall is just stunning. Granted, I wish to dress my age. I can imagine what the Project Runway judges would say about it not being young enough. 

I love the fact that the pieces coordinate but don't match. It is age appropriate, has a great silhouette and will fit a woman's body. It looks exceptionally well crafted, seems to reference other styles and time periods without mimicking any of them, and it is flexible enough to wear on several occasions. 

Reconstructing Looks

While analyzing the runway looks, I decided to start collecting patterns to use to reconstruct looks. I would no longer walk into a fabric store and see what inspired me. For the time being, I would not actually trust my own taste. I would copy designer's looks as closely as possible. Luckily, Joann's and Hancock continually put patterns on sale, so over the period of a few years, I assembled am impressive variety of patterns. Now of course I realize that if I knew how to draft patterns and drape, it would eliminate the need for 95% of those patterns, but whatever. At the time, the idea of draping, or drafting my own patterns was so far-fetched it didn't occur to me that it is an accessible skill.

Tools to Create

So, at this point, I had design inspiration for final looks, I had multiple patterns that I could use to reconstruct a look, I had an idea of what garment construction techniques I would need and a trove of other books, Web sites and other resources at hand. It was time to start concepting. 

The Moodboard iPad app allows me to create collages of the looks I wish to copy. Starting with the designer look, I add pictures of similar pattern pieces, and identify a palette if not fabric. 

So, here again is the moodboard I created for the Gucci trench jacket I talk about in another posting. I have dozens of these mood boards and entertain myself by trying to capture how I'd copy new designs off the runway.  

Here are a few more. 

Each piece would need some alteration to mirror the runway look, but that's not a problem. 
It is important to capture color chips to really appreciate the subtlety of the colors, textures and combinations. Most fashion fabrics that are easy to find look great in a row of bolts, but are generally too boldly colored for these looks. 

I still use Moodboard, especially for keeping track of my fabric stash, but adding runway inspiration images to my computer has become cumbersome, so these days, I save runway looks to a Pinterest board.

So, my journey continues. I'll keep copying runway looks for the time being, and keep increasing my construction skills. Wish me luck!

If you have cool ways of coming up with your next project, I'd love to hear it.