Who’s Afraid of a Sewing UFO?

Readers,

A couple of days ago I found myself strolling over to my rolling baker’s rack, where I store my sewing projects on full-size baking sheets, and pulling out my oldest, most guilt-ridden UFO (UnFinished Object): my dreaded Sportcoat Project.I was simply curious about what I’d done and what was left to do.

The Sportcoat Project

The vexatious Sportcoat Project

Having spent years avoiding any contact with The Sportcoat Project, this was a surprising change. Let me explain.

I started The Sportcoat Project in early 2004  After sewing a challenging vintage jacket pattern I must have thought I was ready to attempt a modern jacket pattern for Jack for his birthday with guidance once more from my sewing teacher, Edith Gazzuolo.

After finishing this 1936 jacket pattern, was I ready to tackle a sportcoat?

After finishing this 1936 jacket pattern, was I ready to tackle a sportcoat?

I made a muslin, which Edith fitted, and we altered the pattern pieces. I cut wool, lining, and interfacings and set to work.  I recall at some point Edith’s saying that the fabric was a little too light or that the interfacing was the wrong choice…I forget the details. But the upshot was that the mistake wasn’t reversible. I could continue and maybe the jacket would be wearable, or I could cut my losses and start over with another fabric.

I started over.

On a park bench in London, Jack models a Lands' End sportcoat.

On a park bench in London, Jack models a Lands’ End sportcoat.

Darn it, I would see this sportcoat through.

Paging through my copious and meticulous notes, I see sketches, snapshots, homework checklists, rewrites of sections of the Vogue pattern instructions, and comparisons of interfacing philosophies and materials. Phew!

Notes and more notes!

Notes and more notes!

Two years into this project, in the summer of 2006, Jack and I took a trip to England and Scotland. Waiting for a traffic light in York, we chanced to see a button shop across the street, where I bought buttons for The Sportcoat. What a nice souvenir to add to Jack’s now year-and-a-half belated birthday gift.

That was the last time I did anything on The Sportcoat Project.

Buttons from our England trip.

Buttons from our England trip.

My next notes, dated September 2006, were for an ambitious three-jacket project for myself made from the 1941 McCall “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” pattern. I think I wanted to practice more on jackets for myself and return to The Sportcoat Project with more experience.

Over the course of a year and a half I finished those jackets, which can be seen in Reader’s Closet on the Threads website here. They are beautiful!

The Misses' Mannish Jackets were going to be a warmup for The Sportcoat. They weren't.

The Misses’ Mannish Jackets were going to be a warmup for The Sportcoat. They weren’t.

Then I sewed many more garments for myself. And there was a long stretch when I was sewing draperies and cushions for  the living room and dining room that called for lots of hand work, which I gladly did. The draperies and cushions are beautiful!

From one year to the next, I always managed to see some challenging sewing projects through. But not The Sportcoat Project. I came to dread and avoid it–for years.

For one reason, there was still a lot of work to do on it, and any misstep could relegate it to the “wadder”  pile. (Nonsewers: a “wadder” is a project you wad up and throw away in frustration.) The chance of failure remained great. I could wear my own imperfect garments, but I wasn’t going to give Jack a garment that looked amateurish and expect him to wear it.

The fronts.

The fronts.

Another reason was, even with Edith’s guidance, sewing menswear is a very tricky business, and there isn’t a whole lot of help for home sewers.

Other reasons have just occurred to me. The fabric is okay, but not inspiring–and I think it’s only okay on Jack, too. I had wanted to practice on a good enough fabric rather than cut into something special like a Harris tweed. The problem with that approach is I’m never very motivated to see the job through because I never experience the thrill of construction that pulls me forward like a good suspense story.

Behind the scenes: underlining, interfacing, welt pockets.

Behind the scenes: underlining, interfacing, welt pockets.

I am also realizing, just now, that I’ve never had a compelling vision of Jack wearing this sportcoat–not once!  Even if I did finish this sportcoat  it would lack that magic that the best sewing projects have.

I also never worked out with Jack how this sportcoat would work in his wardrobe.

Plus, I planned my first sportcoat for him to be a birthday gift! Talk about expectations I was placing on myself!

One of the chest pieces and the draft.

One of the chest pieces and the draft.

So, let’s do an audit of The Sportcoat Project:

  • Ability level: moderate, but willing to learn
  • Compelling vision: nonexistent.
  • Guilt: high.
  • Frustration: high.
  • Expectations: high and unrealistic

What are the chances this project will ever get finished?

Precisely.

Plus difficile indeed!

Plus difficile indeed!

Nevertheless, all these years I have not countenanced throwing this project away. “All that work–wasted!” I’ve said to myself. It really wasn’t until yesterday afternoon writing this post that I figured out what I really needed to figure out. What work did I fear wasting?

I thought I didn’t want to waste the hours and hours it took to produce those welted pockets with flaps, chest pieces, the canvas-backed cotton lawn I’d basted onto the fronts, the interfaced vent and hems.IMG_4338 (460x380)

Maybe, though, I didn’t want to value my ability so little that I would just–give up. If I were to throw out The Sportcoat Project and feel good about it, it would be because I’d rediscovered the essence of what I wanted, and devised a better way to attain it. Nothing–nothing would have been wasted then.

I think that’s what I sensed–but hadn’t put into words yet–when I pulled The Sportcoat Project from the baker’s rack Sunday. “Next week I start the Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors short course at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London,” I thought. “How about looking at that sportcoat?

No guilt, no frustration. Just simple curiosity.

The back, with more underlining, canvas interfacing, and a back stay.

The back, with more underlining, canvas interfacing, and a back stay.

I looked each piece over with as an objective eye as I’ve ever had.  “Nice work here. Too much bulk in that seam–how could I do that better next time? That pocket material looks too heavy–what do bespoke tailors use? Say–I could bring some of these pieces with me and get my classmates’ and instructors opinions. Shall I budget space in my suitcase? Of course!”

The prospect of being around people who appreciate, aspire to, and practice bespoke tailoring has rekindled my enthusiasm and willingness to learn.

In my mind now, The Sportcoat Project has undergone a transformation. I’m no longer seeing it as a sewing quagmire.

Now I see it as a stepping stone.

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3 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of a Sewing UFO?

  1. This post has come at exactly the right time for me. At present I wonder how you plan to do the front buttonholes? I found some information at the Rake website (http://therakeonline.com/atelier-luxury-designer-brands-artisans/bespoke-suits-handcrafted-luxury/a-stitch-in-time/#!prettyPhoto%5Bslides%5D/7/). How do you plan to do the buttonholes on the jacket for your husband? The problem I’m thinking about is that the buttonhole has to go through two layers of fashion fabric, plus the interfacing, and possibly other layers. Any advice you can give would be most helpful. Thank you!

    • Wow! I just looked at the link you provided, and that Milanese buttonhole is gorgeous! There was a comment after that post asking about durability, and that’s my question as well: how durable would that buttonhole be? I see that the one demonstrated, in the lapel, would get little, if any use, so durability might not be high priority. But anyway, as to what I would/will do with any sportcoats I sew: I will ask in the tailoring class. In the class outline we’re supposed to devote some time to handmade buttonholes. Correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but I think your question is how to manage all of these layers neatly and consistently up front and center for buttonholes that will get the most wear. I wonder that, too! If you have more questions, write back!

      • You asked my question better than I did! My major concern is, as you said, how to manage working through all those layers and making the buttonhole look exactly as it should. I’m looking forward to all of your reports from the tailoring class. Bon voyage!

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