What Works/What Doesn’t: McCall 7842, Coat (1934)

Readers,

My coat-making fever this fall has prompted me to take a fresh look at a project I did about five years ago. I was disappointed in the result, but had not really clarified my dissatisfaction until I had myself photographed wearing the coat and could analyze the fit and the look against the pattern drawing. A couple of sewing friends also looked at the pictures and gave me their opinions. It turned out we agreed about the problems and possible solutions.

This was a simple but eye-opening exercise.  I’ve got a much clearer idea of the kinds of problems this pattern poses and the solutions I’d try. Not only that, but I think I’ll make better pattern, fabric, and ready-to-wear choices in the future. Very worthwhile, fun, and interesting.

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that's just as great?

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that’s just as great?

This McCall coat pattern from 1934 enchanted me with its casual air, generous lapels, and relatively easy construction. I’ve looked at hundreds of coat patterns, and this one remains a favorite. It’s a classic.

So how come my coat doesn’t look all that great on me?

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

What works? It’s warm and cuddly. It got me through many a winter bus stop wait between library work assignments around Hennepin County.

What doesn’t work?

This is too BIG!

This is too BIG!

I think part of the problem is in the fabric I chose. I used a bulky wool coating, which was a great choice for warmth but not for drape. I was going to say that my fabric is stiffer than what’s suggested in the illustration, but my fabric falls in gentle folds, too. Nevertheless, I think that because I’m only 5′ 1 1/2″ I really have to be careful with bulk in full-length coats.

Wide, wide, wide.

Wide, wide, wide.

Another big problem is proportion. I recall shortening the coat about 8 inches, which threw off the proportion. The illustration shows a classic proportion of one third above the belt and two thirds below.  Measuring the drawing with a hem gauge, I noticed that the one-third proportion–2 inches–was achieved by turning up the collar. All three renderings show the turned-up collar (which I like, by the way). On me the division is closer to half and half, which isn’t flattering.

Looks great on her...

Looks great on her…

And then, those lapels! They just drag the eye down. How could I have missed this in the muslins?

For one thing, the upper collar comes down too far. And then the lapel is positioned too low. It looks quite different from the pattern illustration.

What I missed in the illustration was the fact that the lapel, or front facing, continues below the tied belt. This also brings the eye down, which I don’t need.

...but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

…but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

Also, the belt is a little wider than ideal, and it divides me into two unflattering halves.

So I have these vertical challenges going on.

I also have width challenges. The bulky fabric adds width. When I wrap the coat around myself, the overlap completely covers one of the patch pockets. That’s obviously wrong.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

Where width would be welcome–in the shoulders–raglan sleeves are not as good a choice as set-in sleeves, but they can work with the right shoulder pads and the right overall design.

My question is, could I change this pattern enough, while retaining its distinctiveness, to make a coat that functions, fits, and flatters?

Here's another McCall coat, from 1936.

Here’s another McCall coat, from 1936.

Working with a patternmaker, I could change the collar and lapels to bring the eye up, take out the excess overlap to correct the width, and narrow the belt.

For the wearable test I would try a thinner fabric that drapes, for the most dramatic contrast with the previous version.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This would be such an interesting experiment, sometime I might try it. But the improvements must lead to a wonderful pattern, not one that’s a little better. It might be that a wrap coat, in the end, is simply not a good style for me.

If that’s the case, some other coat patterns are waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

(Photographs: Cynthia DeGrand.)

Temperamental Journey

Readers,

It’s late August, the Minnesota State Fair is underway, and tomorrow’s forecast is for the upper 90s. But my mind has turned to sewing for fall.

Tomorrow I’ll leave on a ten-day trip to Ohio and New York. By the time I get back to the sewing domain, it will be after Labor Day. I’ll ride out any remaining summer-like weather with my present wardrobe.

Onward to the many months of cool and cold weather where I live, where it’s worth building tailoring skills to turn out wonderful jackets, trousers and coats in wool.

My fabric table at the annual Textile Center fabric garage sale, wearing a coat I made.

Wearing a coat I made, at my favorite table at the annual Textile Center fabric garage sale.

I love woolens. Horse blanket plaids, Harris tweeds, cashmere blends, crepes, flannels, houndstooths, herringbones and pinstripes–all inspire me. I have the wool stash to prove it, too.  I have pieces from sewing expo vendors; Textile Center fabric garage sales; travels to Chicago, Washington, New York and San Francisco; and local stores. In fact, my wools comprise the bulk of my fabric stash in more ways than one.

One might conclude that so much wool would afford me a lot of freedom in pattern-selecting and -sewing, but to tell the truth, I’ve become overly possessive of my precious yardage. Like the wine connoisseur who never finds just the right occasion to open that special vintage, I loathe cutting into particular fabrics even though I long to wear them!

A souvenir from my travels that's waiting to be transformed into a jacket.

A souvenir from my travels that’s waiting to be transformed into a jacket.

A ridiculous and self-defeating attitude, I know, which I’m determined to conquer.

Actually, conquering is the wrong approach.  Working with my temperament–not browbeating it into submission, which will only make it rebel–is the way to go.

This is waiting in the wings to be a jacket or coat.

This is waiting in the wings to be a jacket or coat.

It occurred to me that once again, the battery of tests I took at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation almost three years ago offers an invaluable insight that will form the basis of the solution.

My scores in divergent thinking were high. I have a rapid flow of ideas (nobody said they were good ideas, by the way) and a fair amount of foresight. My favorite way of starting a sentence is with the words “I could…”  I like possibilities and alternatives. I am what author Barbara Sher calls a “scanner:” someone who wants to do many, many things.

On the other hand, my scores in convergent thinking were very low. And I do find it difficult to draw conclusions or commit to plans of action without a lot of deliberation.

Will I EVER make up my mind?

Will I EVER make up my mind?

Hence, in spite of quite a few finished projects, the nagging stashes of unused fabrics, patterns and buttons that alternately tempt and taunt me.

So, what’s the solution?

I have an idea. How about leveraging someone else’s convergent thinking? Such thinking must acknowledge my liking for possibilities and alternatives but move me toward producing results.

I came across such thinking a couple of years ago in a book by image consultant Brenda Kinsel called In the Dressing Room With Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great. In that book she describes having a great wardrobe through planning outfits, or “capsules.” Individual garments and accessories can be combined in various ways to create capsules to suit every occasion and need. Kinsel then gives several examples including the Jean Capsule, the Traditional Work Capsule, the Accessory Capsule, and more.

A jacket I made that needs more coordinates.  (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

A jacket I made that needs more coordinates. (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

A simple concept, granted, and yet rarely put into practice. I myself have labored over numerous tailored jackets only to relegate them to the closet most of the time. I didn’t make the most of my efforts by planning capsules around them.

Well, that’s going to change. Brenda Kinsel’s idea of capsules is a gift to this divergent thinker, offering a balance of creative limits and creative possibilities.

I’m going to test this capsule concept, along with my chart, in the coming months. It’s not enough to produce individual garments. The next step is to make wonderful, functional combinations with them–and then take those combinations out for a spin.

After all, getting things sewn is just the prelude to getting things worn.

Project: Vogue 7711 (1952), Waistcoat

Readers,

This 1952 pattern has a contemporary feel.

This 1952 pattern has a contemporary feel.

Yesterday I finished a really nifty pattern I’ve wanted to make for years, and it is living up to my expectations. This is a new favorite pattern that seems destined to become an old favorite pattern. Here’s the description from the back of the envelope:

Double-breasted waistcoat with or without lower sections and patch pockets. Buttoning beneath deep shaped front neckline.

I would add that the waistcoat is lined (but not the lower sections).

This dates from 1952, but there’s nothing dated about it.

Worn with a skirt made from the same yardage, the waistcoat forms a two-piece dress.

Worn with a skirt made from the same yardage, the waistcoat forms a two-piece dress.

This pattern was about one size too large for me. I made a muslin and took it to a Treadle Yard Goods salon, where Michele inspected the fit, took out some length and width, and showed me where to alter the front and back pieces. The changes were easy.

(A reminder: when you change a pattern piece be sure to make any needed changes in adjoining pattern pieces! I forgot to take width out of the lower section and pocket pieces to reflect the width subtracted from the front. Luckily, I had enough fabric to re-cut new pieces.)

The one-inch buttons date probably to the 1930s.

The one-inch buttons date probably to the 1930s.

For this wearable test I used some black linen from my stash and buttons bought at a vintage fashion fair in London in 2012 from Su Mason of Blue Linen Cupboard. The angularity of the buttons’ design suggests the 1930s, and the one-inch diameter looks just right, proportionately. Six buttons provide a lot of design impact, too, which I like.

In all my vintage pattern-browsing over the years I’ve seen a lot of waistcoats, weskits and vests (what’s the difference?), but I don’t recall ever seeing another pattern with this pocket variation. This pattern has always struck me as a wonderful combination of function and fashion. Isn’t it nice when you can have both?

The waistcoat just covers the waist. I'll want to pair this with a skirt or pants with waist coverage to avoid a distracting gap.

The waistcoat just covers the waist. I’ll want to pair this with a skirt or pants with waist coverage to avoid a distracting gap.

Yes–and when such a pattern is also easy to sew, timeless, and can be dressed up or down, I call that a winner.

In my previous post I was ruminating over what qualities make a garment feel right. At a certain point analysis breaks down and you just go with your gut feeling. This waistcoat feels right. Period.

After finishing this wearable test I rummaged around for clothes to wear with it. I came up with a black linen skirt that–surprise!–I had made from the same yardage. (Honest, I’d forgotten I’d made this.) I also had a creamy white, fitted, cap-sleeve angora top, which completed a basic outfit with black pumps. Now I had a kind of two-piece dress.

And that ensemble felt right, too. Apparently my colleagues at the Goldstein Museum of Design agreed, as did my hairdresser and the receptionist at the salon later in the day. I garnered many compliments.

Back home, I tried the waistcoat with pants in a contrast color so you could see the waistcoat better. This outfit worked, too.

Pairing with pants works well, too.

Pairing with pants works well, too.

I don’t necessarily put stock into people’s reactions, but when I feel right about a garment, I seem to radiate a happiness that gets reflected back. And that’s worth noting. In fact, these feelings of rightness and happiness strike me as my gold standard for what to have in my wardrobe and what to sew.

Elongating lines in front, short in back.

Elongating lines in front, short in back.

Doing a figure analysis a few months ago was a somewhat useful tool I’d recommend to others, but that feeling of rightness is tops.

I’d like to try this waistcoat with other vintage buttons from my stash, in wool solids and patterns, in light-colored linen, and with fancy linings. How about pockets with zipper closures for security and style? Bound buttonholes (as prescribed in the original pattern)?

I have enough buttons of each of these styles for more waistcoats.

I have enough buttons of each of these styles for more waistcoats.

And how about coordinates? Will this waistcoat inspire me to learn at last how to use my serger?  I’m seeing beautiful knit yardage that would pair effortlessly with this pattern.

I’m not telling.

A lot of style and function for a modest investment in materials and time. A winner!

A lot of style and function for a modest investment in materials and time. A winner!

What Works/What Doesn’t

Readers,

The infamous green scarf.

The infamous green scarf.

Maybe you remember a post titled Anatomy of a Dud: The Green Scarf, in which I modeled a regrettable purchase.

I’ve rethought that post.

Oh, I still think the scarf is a dud for me. And I was imposing a look on myself, and that doesn’t work.

One thing the scarf has going for it: a great color. It matches a green sweater I wear frequently.

One thing the scarf has going for it: a great color. It matches a green sweater I wear frequently.

So, what does work?

If I want to do more than just avoid duds, but to find and make things to create a wonderful wardrobe, I need to distinguish what works and what doesn’t.

Obviously.

What I’ve realized since the green scarf post is that no item in my wardrobe is all good or all bad.  That almost everything has features that work for me and features that don’t. And that it’s extremely useful–even entertaining–to take one item and sort out what works and what doesn’t.

I tested this idea on the green scarf using the chart I sketched out.  For each category in the Individual and Context columns I asked myself, “What works? What doesn’t?”

Individual

  • Color: Does this color work for me?   It matches a shade on the Chartreuse card of the 3 in 1 Color Tool. Those yellow-green shades go great with my eye color. Yes.
  • Personality: Does this work with my personality? When I wear this scarf I feel upstaged. I feel like it’s getting the attention, not me. So, that’s a no.
  • Silhouette: Does this create a silhouette that works for me? It does bring the eye up, which is good, but because it overwhelms me, this gets a no.

    The scarf matches a shade on the Chartreuse card. The complementary colors of Red-Violet are also wonderful. But the great color can't overcome the other problems.

    The scarf matches a shade on the Chartreuse card. The complementary colors of Red-Violet are also wonderful. But the great color can’t overcome the other problems.

  • Style: Does this work with my sense of style? I like texture, and that’s part of what attracted me to this scarf. But actually, it doesn’t have a whole lot of texture. What it has a lot of is bulk.  I hadn’t made that distinction before. Aha!
  • Fit: Does the way this fits work for me? I thought this was a funny question to ask about a scarf. Then I thought, no–it doesn‘t fit. It’s the wrong scale for me. Too much scarf is crowded into too small a space.
  • Physical characteristics: Does this work with whatever physical characteristics apply? I get cold a lot, and I like warmth around my neck. This is wool and silk, so it should be warm.

    Two fabrics from my stash that have texture without the bulk.

    Two fabrics from my stash that have texture without the bulk.

  • What I’m growing into: Does this work with any new ways I’m seeing myself?  I’m certainly not seeing myself as a bulky scarf person. No.

On to Context.

  • Occasions. Does this work with the occasions I attend?  I keep seeing this as the kind of thing you’d expect to see at a gallery opening, or at an event at the Textile Center of Minnesota–places where artsy, handcrafted garments and jewelry are the norm. But I never go to gallery openings or Textile Center events. This is a big no.
    Not practical for my life in the sewing room, kitchen, or dining room.

    Not practical for my life in the sewing room, kitchen, or dining room.


  • Activities. Does this work with activities I do? I wouldn’t sew, or iron, or cut out patterns, or work in the kitchen wearing this scarf–it would get in the way. I wouldn’t wear it sitting at a dinner party or standing with a glass of wine or a plate of appetizers for the same reason. So, no.
  • Roles. Does this work with roles I play in social situations? Right. I can just imagine hosting a tea and getting jam and clotted cream all over this. No.
  • Physical conditions. Does this work with the kinds of weather or indoor conditions I find myself in? Yes-cold weather, and I can see myself wearing this on a plane that’s drafty and chilly.

    This sweater has lots of texture, which I like, and only a little bulk, which is good.

    This sweater has lots of texture, which I like, and only a little bulk, which is good.

  • Mood of the occasion. Does this work with the formal or informal, happy or somber, businesslike or casual moods of the situations I’m in? Good question. I see that I can’t quite figure out where this scarf falls on these continuums. I don’t know what mood it expresses, which is somewhat maddening.
  • Other wardrobe items. Does this work with anything else in my wardrobe now? Does it work with outfits in my wardrobe now? A resounding no. It doesn’t work within my present wardrobe at all. In fact, I can’t think of an ensemble it would be part of. This scarf is a classic wardrobe orphan.
  • Fabric, pattern and button stashes. Does this work with fabrics, patterns, or buttons I own, or inspire clear ideas of fabrics or patterns to find to complete an outfit using this item?  I’m stumped. All I can think of is to make very simple knit pieces as blank canvases for this scarf. And I don’t dress that way.
  • What I’m moving into: occasions, activities, roles, etc. Does this work for occasions, activities or roles in my future? I don’t see myself moving in circles where I’d feel average wearing this scarf. I’d always feel self-conscious. Trying to be something I’m not.

This exercise drove me to the same conclusion as before: this scarf doesn’t work for me. The difference is, I know much better why it doesn’t work.

Not only that, but now I know better what does work for me. Soon I could find myself thinking, “That green scarf: great color, but too bulky and fussy for me. But I have this red-violet, soft, chenille-like fabric in my stash that has texture but not bulk. I could make a simple scarf that would be smashing: warm, easy to wear, great color, and I can see it with some of my coats and jackets.”

Now that works.

IMG_2926 (460x345)

A soft, textured red-violet chenille will make a great scarf with two fabrics I’ve sewn into coats.

Menswear, and the Women and Men Who Love It and Sew It

Readers,

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929. (Photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929. Accession no. 1992.025.018  (Photo: Goldstein Museum of Design)

I am looking forward to writing a thank you letter like this someday (soon, I hope):

Dear Threads editors:

As a long-time subscriber I want to thank you for the single most informative, exciting and life-changing issue of your magazine I’ve ever read: the menswear issue.

For a serious home sewer like me, locating information about fitting and constructing menswear has been like looking for a needle in a haystack. I know it’s out there (I was a librarian for years), but it’s hard to find, and not always easy to understand when I do find it.

I knew I was in for something special when I saw a man on the cover. And it just kept getting better: page after page of topics I realized I’d wished for years someone would address directly and in depth:

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929, detail. (Photo, Goldstein Museum of Design)

Smoking jacket, 1925-1929, detail. (Photo, Goldstein Museum of Design)

  • Analyzing male figures for fit and flattery. Now I understand men’s proportions so I can sew better for Jack.
  • Best menswear patterns, tested and evaluated by your stable of discerning sewers
  • Sewing Destination: New York, menswear edition, listing tools, supplies, classes, and museum collections of interest to menswear lovers. I’m planning my trip.
  • David Page Coffin’s article on trouser styles and construction
  • Kenneth King’s companion article on trouser-fitting and pattern-alteration

    Women have loved menswear styles for years. From 1941: "Misses' Mannish Jacket"

    Women have loved menswear styles for years. From 1941: “Misses’ Mannish Jacket”

  • The article on vintage smoking jackets, with photo details. Gorgeous.
  • That 1920s smoking jacket from the Goldstein Museum of Design on your back cover–I want to make his and her versions for Jack and me!
  • The interview with the owners of The Vintage Showroom, in London, and their book, Vintage Menswear. Menswear for sports and outdoor work has so many practical details to incorporate into clothes for women, too.
  • The workspaces of three menswear-sewers. What beautiful spaces in their functionality, like professional kitchens. And I like how one sewer called his sewing machines his “power tools.”

    My rendition of the "Mannish Jacket." (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

    One of my four renditions of the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket.” (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

  • The interview with the designer of that small independent pattern company devoted to menswear patterns, with his emphasis on writing clear instructions. Much success to him!
  • Sewing for historical reenactment events, which I was barely aware of before–it’s a very big deal. Interesting!
  • The “Closures” article by the plumber who started sewing his own pants was hilarious.

I just wanted to say bravo, editors. Dare I hope the rousing response from us readers will mean that menswear topics are guaranteed a home at Threads?

Sincerely,

Paula DeGrand