I have a confession to make: certain projects scare me. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like me at all. I’m usually a stitch-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of girl. I’m a risk taker, relying on my smarts and creativity to see me through unfamiliar territory and (usually) the results are in my favor. If I make a small mistake, I either fix it or turn it into a style opportunity. If I make a big mistake, I upcycle it into a different project altogether, which fits with my glass half full outlook on life and my rather modest income. When you’re a single gal and have just enough cash to get through month to month, you don’t go tossing out a project that you invested time and money into. I’m sure there are many sewists out there who can relate to that! For many of us, sewing is our way to have the glamorous wardrobe with those gorgeous handmade designer clothes that we crave, but find the price tags quite a bit out of reach. Enter a strategy to help combat that wasted time and ruined fabric: risk management.
When I think of risk management, the image that springs to mind is a boardroom of suited individuals looking attentively at graphs and numbers. It’s a strategy used in businesses to do some damage control before things go sideways by asking “what can go wrong?”
As a sewist, I can tell you lots about the things can go wrong. Just read my blog posts and you’ll find accidental holes, pieces cut the wrong size, fabric that frayed all to heck, the wrong type of fabric used for a project, and a host of other mishaps. I consider myself falling in the skill level spectrum as either an advanced beginner or an intermediate because all those horrible things that went wrong have taught me a great deal. In light of that experience, I decided it was time to attempt a coat.
I’ve been sitting on this project for a while. Perusing my wardrobe, I felt the need for a nice medium weight coat. I have a lightweight hoodie for balmy days and nights when I need a little warmth, and a heavier squall jacket with a fleece lining for chilly days with inclement early spring weather. I didn’t have an in-between coat to see me through sunny but cool days in spring or occasions where I might dress up a tad. When you live in northeast Ohio, an assortment of coats and jackets is a must. We joke about experiencing 3 or 4 seasons in a week…but it’s not really a joke. A typical week in spring or fall can begin with a 63 degree Monday and end with a 27 degree Friday, complete with light snow. Mother Nature likes to torment us.
In 2013, I bought a lovely blue coating flecked with mauve and lavender, the very essence of my spring garden colors distilled into fabric. I fell in love with the peter pan collared, double breasted Anise pattern by Colette Patterns (which I’m sure by now you have figured out is one of my favorite pattern companies since I’ve made many of their designs.) I bought weft interfacing, shoulder pads, buttons, muslin, and I found some nifty poplin in a golden wheat with pink embroidery that looked perfect for an eye-catching lining. And then…nothing happened for two years. I was intimidated. There were so many pieces! There were shoulder pads! Lining, interfacing, interlining! This was not a quick and easy project. Yikes! I wasn’t ready for this. I threw the materials in a bin in my sewing room and ran away like it was a bomb.
This year, I felt I was finally ready to begin work on the coat. I read a post on the Coletterie blog about risk management, and it got me thinking about how I could apply that strategy to my coat project. The first step is to ask “What could go wrong?” Thinking of all the things that can go wrong isn’t my usual approach. I tend to think that whatever I’m going to do will turn out wonderfully and examining the ways I can fail tends to strike me as a negative thinking pattern. However, the point of the exercise is to take a look at what could go wrong as a tool for making yourself mindful of where the trouble might be, rather than to convince yourself not to do it.
This is the list I came up with:
- I might cut the wrong size
- I might forget to account for my long torso
- My coating might fray all to heck
- MI may misread directions and/or sew the wrong parts together
- Goofed up seams + ripping out seams= damage
- I might attach the interfacing on wrong sides or have it melted onto the iron (again)
- My coat may not fit when done
- Evil, evil buttonholes that don’t align, or thread tangles, or the machine won’t produce them correctly on the thick fabric.
The second step is to apply yourself to solving what could go wrong. While I did the initial work, like cutting the pieces, I kept in mind my fears about the coat being too small and too short for my long torso. I held the pattern against my body, looking to see where the wait and shoulders lined up on me. When I went to cut, I cut everything two sizes larger, added another inch and a half at the tops of the shoulders, and cut the length another two inches longer. I made sure the waist was longer, too. I feel a comfortable coat is a bit larger to allow for layers of clothing, and the inevitable gaining of weight as we get older. I need this coat to last a decade or two, preferably longer. If it winds up being a little too large, I can adjust during the fittings, but better too large than too small! My adjustments should compensate for the differences in my figure from the pattern as well as give me some room so I can slip on a cardigan and still wear the coat without popping a shoulder seam.
The next issue would be the misreading directions and sewing the wrong parts together. That’s trickier to correct. I’m naturally error prone in my sewing and I’m not sure if it’s because I try to work too fast, get distracted, or perhaps I’m just unlucky. I decided a slower, more methodical pace would be best for this project might be more productive. It’s hard for me to do that, I get so excited about my projects that I want to get to the good parts, like finishing it and wearing it! The advantage, though, to working more slowly and double checking is that so far, I only made one mistake when I installed the interlining- I stitched one of my side panels to the interlining on the incorrect side. There was little seam ripping to be done, carefully, but I flipped it over and reattached it where it should have gone.
I also very carefully applied my weft interfacing, cutting and fusing just one piece at a time so there was no confusion. Weft interfacing is a woven type of interfacing, it looks a lot like gauze, except it has a fusible side. I had never heard of it before this project and I had never used it until now. I found it very pleasant to work with, and sturdier than other interfacing, which has a tendency to tear. I really liked the fact there was no doubt which side had the glue. Other fusible interfacings have a light texture on both sides which inevitably makes it hard for me to tell which side has the glue..and I end up cleaning my iron with some vinegar and a non-abrasive sponge. Yuck.
At this point in the process, I have put together seven sets of pieces. I have a lining, unattached lining sleeves, I have the coat shell with the interlining attached, the unattached shell sleeves, and I have the coat facings with the weft interfacing. I followed the directions very carefully and so far, so good. What almost tripped me up was that the upper collar attaches to the facings, and the under collar attaches to the shell. It didn’t quite make sense until I put both sets on my dress form saw how they fit together.
Now what I’m seeing when I look at the pieces is that my coat material likes to fray. I did stabilize it with zigzag, but I’m not sure if it is enough. I am debating with myself the merits of adding a second row of zigzags after I grade my seams to hold the fraying back, versus bias tape, which I fear will add bulk at the seams, when the coating is already bulky…. I will likely just reinforce with more zigzag.
I am not at a point yet where I’m playing with the fit or trying the bound buttonholes (cringe) but I’m proud of what I have accomplished so far. Fear has no hold over me now. I am sewing a coat that I love already. That’s the thrill of sewing- doing what once seemed impossibly challenging.