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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
(Photographs: Cynthia DeGrand.)