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.)

Project: Du Barry 5913 (1944), Trench Coat, Part 2

Readers,

I had time before my next coat-making class session to make a muslin of my next project, this 1944 trench coat by Du Barry.

Even in this early stage this coat looks promising. (I'd fire the stylist for that flopped-over lapel, but the stylist was guess who.)

Even in this early stage this coat looks promising. (I’d fire the stylist for that flopped-over lapel, but the stylist was guess who.)

Normally I find making muslins  a tedious business, but I’ve changed my tune with this one. It’s been exciting to reconstitute a little piece of mid-’40s fashion. Look at those lapels! And those shoulders! So period!

The prominent shoulders bring the eye up, and the center pleat creates verticality.

The prominent shoulders bring the eye up, and the center pleat creates verticality.

Some pattern alterations are in order:

  • Shortening the sleeves
  • Taking some ease out of the sleeve cap to solve the puckering problem

    Reducing the ease in the sleeve cap will make a smooth, handsome shoulder line.

    Reducing the ease in the sleeve cap will make a smooth, handsome shoulder line.

  • Taking some width out of the back above the waist.
  • Possibly reducing the space allowed for the shoulder pads

    Before reducing the back pattern piece, I will experiment with different thicknesses of shoulder pads.

    Before reducing the back pattern piece, I will experiment with different thicknesses of shoulder pads.

I will try on this muslin in class and get feedback from teacher Michele and my classmates.

Now to rifle through the stash for a wearable test fabric.

Bringing back a taste of 1944.

Bringing back a taste of 1944.

A Trench in the Works: Du Barry 5913 coat, (1944), part 1

Readers,

I’m all caught up with the wearable test of my leopard collar jacket project, and my next Coat Craze class at Treadle Yard Goods isn’t for another five days.  What to do till then?

Start another coat project, of course!

Maybe this isn't a trench coat by the strictest definition, but it's close enough for me.

Maybe this isn’t a trench coat by the strictest definition, but it’s close enough for me.

This coat-making class I’m taking consists of five two-hour meetings spaced one or sometimes two weeks apart. When I registered for the class, I thought I would see how much I could maximize the value I could get. I asked myself where I needed the most help. Easy: fitting and pattern alteration are my top bugaboos. So I’d bring my fitting and pattern alteration problems to class.

Typical of the early to mid '40s: a strong shoulder line. I might deemphasize that line a little.

Typical of the early to mid ’40s: a strong shoulder line. I might de-emphasize that line a little.

My next challenge is usually the pattern instructions. Vintage patterns often call for construction techniques that are fussy by today’s standards. So I could get Michele, the teacher’s, advice on easier techniques that work at least as well.

If I could get fitting, pattern alteration, and construction advice during those precious contact hours, I would have solved 90 percent of my sewing problems.

The buttons aren't functional, only decorative. And that's fine by me!

The buttons aren’t functional, only decorative. And that’s fine by me!

Having figured out how best to use my time in class, I thought about what I could do outside class before and after each meeting.

If I applied just a little strategic planning, I could square away three coat patterns for sure, and probably more, in five meetings spaced out over seven weeks. Not that I’d finish all the coats, of course, but I would have defined and gotten help with the actual challenges of each pattern, which have real solutions, rather than getting bogged down in countless imaginary challenges, for which the solutions are equally vague.

This fabric has been waiting for over 10 years!

This fabric has been waiting for over 10 years!

Wow!

Why didn’t I realize before how I could easily double or triple the results and the value of a class with just a little more planning? Working within the structure of a conventional class and making no unusual demands on the teacher, I am customizing my learning. More stuff is going to get sewn! Yay to that!

It's been so interesting to see what color card has the best match for the fabric. Very often it's a color with yellow in it.

It’s been so interesting to see what color card has the best match for the fabric. Very often it’s a color with yellow in it.

Okay, moving on to the particulars.

Out of my couple dozen coat patterns, the short, belted version of this 1944 trench coat, Du Barry 5913,  beckoned most powerfully. Like the leopard collar jacket, it’s been waiting patiently to be sewn for over a decade.

Another fabric waiting to be sewn.

Another fabric waiting to be sewn.

On a fine day in May 2003 in New York’s garment district I bought two raincoat fabrics for the short version of this coat that have languished in my stash ever since, surviving periodic purges.

It’s time to see whether this pattern and these fabrics belong together.

Purple is great! Why don't I use it more often? Note to self: "Sew purple!"

Purple is great! Why don’t I use it more often? Note to self: “Sew purple!”

You may have noticed my weakness, readers, for prominent lapels, a strong shoulder line, and waist definition. So it’s no surprise that a coat having those features would date from 1944.

The coat calls for four buttons–an opportunity to comb my vintage stash. And a bonus: the short coat has no buttonholes! The buttons are merely decorative.

Purple with black in it is just more interesting than black by itself.

Purple with black in it is just more interesting than black by itself.

This morning I pulled the fragile, unprinted pattern pieces and instructions from the envelope. Yup, all present.

The next steps are, as usual, pressing the pattern pieces with a dry iron, tracing them onto sturdy paper, and cutting and sewing a muslin before my next coat class this Saturday.

I’ve always seen the muslin stage as drudgery. But the reward of getting help with fitting, alteration and construction, and a deadline five days away will keep me on task.

Coming soon!

Coming soon!

 

Project: Vogue 9820 (1959) Jacket, Part 4

Readers,

The orange wool wearable test I’m doing before I make my leopard collar jacket has continued to come together nicely.

Taking shape nicely.

Taking shape nicely.

I made the upper collar-lining unit yesterday.  Then I pinned it to the under collar-jacket unit, and stitched the units together in one long seam.

The upper collar-lining unit is pinned to the under collar-jacket unit, ready for stitching.

The upper collar-lining unit is pinned to the under collar-jacket unit, ready for stitching.

Pinning and stitching this long seam is always exciting and a little suspenseful for me. I’ve done a lot of work up to this point. Then I stitch, press, and grade the long seam. There’s the moment when I turn my project right side out and see it transforming into a garment. Boy, do I need that moment!

On me, the jacket is shifting and looks rumpled because I haven't yet anchored all the parts.

On me, the jacket is shifting and looks rumpled because I haven’t yet anchored all the parts.

This practice run has gone so well that I just might finish it and wear it for real.

This jacket is as soft and rumpled as a shar pei puppy.

This jacket is as soft and rumpled as a shar pei puppy.

I’m going to take this just as it is to my next Coat Craze class at Treadle Yard Goods Nov. 2. I’m wondering about interfacing the sleeve and jacket hems, anchoring the two units so they don’t shift, and finishing attaching the lining.

I think the rumpling problems will be solved with additional interfacing, hemming topstitching for body and support and handstitching the neck seams together to stop the shifting.

I think the rumpling problems will be solved with additional interfacing, hemming topstitching for body and support and handstitching the neck seams together to stop the shifting.

While I wait for the next class, I can choose my next coat pattern to tackle.

Yes-more coats are coming!

Project: Vogue 9820 (1959) jacket, part 3

So far, so good.

So far, so good.

Readers,

I’m sewing a wearable test from stash fabrics before I cut into the leopard print velveteen and the wool-cashmere blend for the final version. I bought the orange fabric, which I’m guessing is a wool blend, at the Textile Center’s annual World’s Largest Fabric Garage Sale a few years back for two or three dollars. It has a nap and is soft and malleable like my final fabric but a little thinner.

The wearable test so far. Muslin interfacing in the front and hair canvas in the under collar.

The wearable test so far. Muslin interfacing in the front and hair canvas in the under collar.

This lined jacket is sewn in two units: the jacket-under collar unit and the lining-upper collar unit.

The back and under collar.

The back and under collar.

I finished the first unit at 5 pm and raced to my very makeshift photo space in our little sunroom to take advantage of the last remnants of natural light on this cloudy day.

Inside out, to show the muslin back stay I added to support this rather loosely woven fabric.

Inside out, to show the muslin back stay I added to support this rather loosely woven fabric.

This wearable test is going together swimmingly. I’ve never had an easier time with a vintage pattern. I’ve gotten so used to the mysterious directions in older patterns that my easy sewing day came as a welcome surprise.

Inside out, to show the muslin front interfacings. The pattern included a pattern for this interfacing, which was a time saver.

Inside out, to show the muslin front interfacings. The pattern included a pattern for this interfacing, which was a time saver.

I’m always puzzled about what interfacings to use and where. The right choices can help ensure the success of a garment while the wrong ones can make your garment too floppy or stiff. One of the advantages of taking the time to make a wearable test is trying interfacings without losing sleep over them.

I tested a fusible interfacing on a big scrap of the orange wool. The steam and pressure from the iron crushed the pile that was visible to me but too difficult to capture in a photo. I’m using all sew-in interfacings in this test and in the final version.

Inside out, with the under collar pretending to be the upper collar. I couldn't resist previewing the big, orange collar.

Inside out, with the under collar pretending to be the upper collar. I couldn’t resist previewing the big, orange collar.

Well, the photos speak for themselves. Even though this is far from done, it’s still gives a sense of the result.  I like where this is going.