Quart Coat Part Two: Completion

Have you ever worked on a project that seems to take forever to prepare that you swear it will take you weeks to finish and then all of a sudden you have a finished item? My Quart Coat is one of those projects. 

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As with any big project, it takes a long time to prepare the fabric, cut out the pieces, transfer your markings before you even get to your machine. Add in a large PDF pattern to assemble and I think I spent about five-six hours just preparing to sew. I chose the immediacy of the PDF pattern just in case winter planned to leave early and therefore not giving me much time to enjoy the finished item. I shouldn't have worried - winter is still definitely here! The pattern lines up beautifully when you're taping it together. It is actually perfect and that's really important when a pattern checks in at a whopping 50 pages! 

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Size wise, this coat fits very well. Other than my standard grading out for the waist and back in at the hips, I didn't make any alterations. There is enough ease in the sleeves to have a 40 minute phone call without your blood circulation being cut off. The collar is perhaps a little high and would sit better if I shaved off about a centimetre but that's a very minor detail. I wasn't sure about the length as my other winter coats are longer. It fine though - my legs don't get that cold and my skirts are no longer getting caught on the lining. 

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This pattern calls for a lot detailed and precise sewing. I chose to make bound button holes which are my preferred button hole on jackets and coats. I needed some guiding through this part as I was a little rusty on the technique. I followed Karen's ebook and it is absolutely fantastic. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to make these for the first time - I ended up with four perfect button holes. I would recommend creating the facing side of the button holes before you stitch the facing to the coat as indicated in the directions. This will save you pushing a large amount of fabric through the machine and the constant fear that the weight of the fabric might stretch it. Other areas that need precision include the zipped sleeves and the epaulettes. Marking my seam lines really helped with creating a neat finish. 

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Perhaps the most pleasing detail of the Quart is the side pleats. They are very easy to create and I left my hand basting in place until the coat was finished to ensure a clean finish. Creating in them in silk was harder though, for all of the reasons you would expect. A note on the amount of fabric you need for the lining - I got everything out of 3m with 80cm width. I didn't use the silk for the zipped sleeves or under the epaulettes but I would have had enough to. The colour contrast was just too strong and I used some black poly lining scraps.  

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Hand stitching makes several appearances. You need to stitch the lining to the zips on the sleeves and, of course, to add the buttons. Pauline provides two options for attaching the lining to the exterior. You can either bag it or hand stitch in place. I chose to hand stitch using the fell stitch as it gives you much more control. I found this part very satisfying as my stitches are almost invisible.  

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So the verdict after wearing it for a week? Without doubt, I love it! It is super toasty on frosty mornings and this alone justifies the price of the boiled wool. While I would rather have sunshine and bright days, I'm now okay if winter decides to stick around for longer! 

Quart Coat Part One: Fabric

I'll open today's post with a question. Do you like seeing a project split over posts? I certainly hope so, as that's what I'm doing for this project. I recently decided that I desperately needed a new winter coat and was planning to buy one. However the retail world has conspired against me this year and I couldn't find a coat that had any shaping and didn't cost an absolute fortune. I prefer a bit of definition around my waist but it is a straight style that seems to be in vogue at the moment. Not even charity shops could help - the beautiful £8 black coat was a size too small (goes to cry in the corner).

Buoyed on by a few Twitter friends, I hatched a plan to create my own. It was the only option open to me, right? I chose the beautiful Quart Coat by Pauline Alice. Now, I'm going to make you wait to the next post to see the finished item. Detailing the fabrics, construction, and final thoughts about the coat would have made one epic post and as I'm sure you would get bored, today I'm focussing on the fabrics and my tips for working with them. I'll break it up by adding photos of the construction.

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I knew immediately that this coat would be made from boiled wool, as long as the pleats would hold. I wanted to lose some of the fabric regret I've been carrying for a year since I passed up a gorgeous purple boiled wool at John Lewis, but the main reasons were practical. 

First, I was making a coat at the wrong end of winter. I wanted it to be a reasonably quick make (well, as quick as a coat can be) and therefore chose boiled wool because it doesn't need finishing nor does it require any interlining - it is that warm. I ordered samples from Stone Fabrics and Dragonfly Fabrics and they taught me that not all boiled wool is made even. There was an evident difference in the quality and thickness of the wool, made all the more noticeable by similar price tags. After extensive consulting, including the boyfriend test (watching Adam's face as he flips through the option), I chose the plum wool from Dragonfly Fabrics. It's absolutely gorgeous and well worth the £30 per meter price tag.

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This was my first time working with boiled wool so I did some research. Here's what I found out and what I discovered while working with it:

  • Boiled wool is both stable and dense. While it is at its best in an item with few pattern pieces and simple lines, it can work with slightly more involved designs 
  • It has residual shrinkage and it is wise to pre treat it. Like Jane, I stood for a long time at the ironing board steaming the piece ensuring that the iron didn't touch the fabric. Allow the area to cool before moving to the next piece as this avoids stretching the wool. Claire Shaffeur recommends buying an extra 1/4 yard to allow for the shrinkage
  • Be careful of the heat. Boiled wool doesn't like the iron, especially at high temperatures. I pressed with a low heat and then finger pressed the seams. I also found that it can take a mediumish temperature when protected by a silk organza press cloth (a lifesaver for attaching the interfacing)
  • Boiled wool is a double faced fabric meaning it looks very similar on both sides. Make sure you mark the wrong side (I chalked a "W" onto each piece)
  • Use a slightly longer stitch (2.5-3mm). After a few tests, I settled on 2.8mm. I also used a ballpoint needle following the advice over at Handmade Jane.
  • I managed to get three layers of the wool through my machine without a walking foot. Any more than this and I would have wanted extra help

Lining: silk

I've learnt the hard way that a lining can make or break a project. After splashing out on the wool, I knew that the lining needed to be of good quality. I came across this light green silk in Darn It and Stitch, priced at £8 per meter in their sale. I love silk and am becoming more and more confident working with it. Given that I will be dry cleaning this coat in future, pre washing wasn't strictly necessary but instinct told me to hand wash it. I'm glad I did as the water turned a bright blue in a matter of minutes and it did shrink slightly. 

Silk has a well earned reputation for being difficult, it slips a lot, requires a lot of pins and requires tonnes of patience. Turns out this piece of silk wanted to surprise me - it was fairly easy to work with. It only slipped when cutting out and making the pleats, otherwise it was behaved itself. 

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My tips for working with silk:

  • Test the heat of your iron on a swatch. Pure silk can take a higher heat than your iron would indicate. This took a medium-high setting, without a press cloth, very well
  • Remember to pin in the seam allowance to avoid seeing holes. This is especially important if, like me, you're too lazy to switch to silk pins
  • Don't be afraid to hand baste seams together. I appreciate this takes a little more time but it ensures the curves of princess seams or arm holes go through the machine smoothly first time. It also prevents your hands suffering the long, slow torture that lots of pins are famed for. Silk or embroidery thread are good options
  • While French Seams are beautiful and work perfectly for silk, they aren't your only option. Try putting a scrap through your overlocker - it worked well for this project and didn't damage the fabric (told you I was aiming for a quick make)
  • If you're cutting on a table, put weights on the pattern piece and gently lift the excess fabric as you cut it. This prevents the fabric moving too much and while you might get the odd wobbly line, it generally works. I like this method as it saves back ache from cutting on the floor
  • Be careful when transferring your markings and always test on a scrap first. My chalk pen (pink) stained the silk so I used tailor tacks and small snips in the seam allowance
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PS. You'll have gathered that I'm now on Instagram - you can find me at iwanttobeaturtle. I'm still new to this platform and figuring out how to use it effectively, so please bear with me. For some reason my iPad photos wouldn't work for this post so I had to embed them from Instagram - not my favourite way to share photos but better than none at all!

Completed: Calamity Cami

Crikey, I've just realised that this post marks my first blogiversary! I can't believe how quickly the year has gone. When I first started out, I decided to trial it for a while and see what happens. I didn't expect it to become the constant in my life that it has. I have learnt so much over the last year as I've pushed myself to try new techniques, look at different patterns and try out new fabrics. I'm not sure how much of that would have happened if I wasn't sharing my experiences with the world. One thing is for sure, I wouldn't have met all of you, either virtually or in real life. I've said it before, sewing people are some of the best people ever. I love that I have reignited friendships and made new ones. I love, and appreciate, that you come back week after week and that you give your time to comment. I feel privileged to be part of a community that is so supportive of each other, keen to help where they can and are just so damn nice.

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Anyway, enough gushing! I have a dress to share with you today. I raved a lot about my first Cami dress and it has been in constant rotation since I completed it. I don't think a week has gone by when I haven't worn it. It makes me happy and I feel good in it. This could only mean one thing, I had to make to another! Looking back, it is unusual for me to use a pattern more than once, this is probably down to the fact that I spent last year trying to clock up many different patterns for the challenge. But now I'm a free spirit there's nothing stopping me working out my TNT patterns or making the same one again.

However, there was a hiccough in this love affair. This is the dress that nearly wasn't. Almost everything that could have gone wrong with the construction, did. As you'll see, it was all because of me, not the pattern. I used the black cotton with small flowers that I picked up at Mood last November. I've been using cotton a lot recently. I've been struggling to get my sewing output up this year and have leant towards cotton because it is easy to work with - there are no surprises with this fabric. 

After checking my measurements, I cut out using the pattern that I altered last time. The problems started early when I was working with the darts. I stitched three out of four of them incorrectly, totally missing the stitching lines on one side. In my defence, I was distracted. There were cute baby orang-utans on the TV and I had one eye on them and one on the darts. Lesson learned - don't watch cute animals when sewing!

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The collar is my second attempt. Somehow I managed to sew it so it wasn't symmetrical. It was completely off. By the time I realised I had clipped and pressed it into place, although luckily not stitched it to the bodice. It was probably salvageable but I had enough fabric left over to try again so I just recut. When stitching the skirt to the bodice, I missed the correct number of folds on the right placket. Not once, but three times! After correcting it, I realised I was testing my patience so walked away from the dress for a week. 

After cooling off and determined to become friends again, I came back and inserted the zip. I tried the dress on to check the fit and buttonhole placement only to find that it didn't fit. I was completely stumped. I knew that I had cut it out properly and remeasured myself to check that I hadn't suddenly gained an inch. For the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. The dress went back on the UFO pile for another week. I figured out the problem on my second fitting. As I was adjusting the waist I came across this.

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How did I miss a giant accidental tuck?! More unpicking ensued and from here, thankfully, the rest of the construction went according to plan. I had no problem with buttonholes. I've discovered that if I reset my machine between each one, they come out perfectly. It seems I'm not the only one to notice this, Marie recently spoke of a similar problem when she had a Janome. It is a little tedious but at least I'm no longer facing the prospect of unpicking buttonholes.  

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The skirt on this version isn't as full as the fabric was reasonably narrow. I like the difference though, it feels a little more fitted and I like the cleaner silhouette it makes. This dress is perfect for day to night. Again, it is unlined and this is something I need to start thinking about for future dresses. While it won't be a problem in the summer, this dress has stuck to my tights and my coat and ridden up a little when walking. I need to find a good slip pattern. Any suggestions?

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The colours of the flowers means I can mix it up with accessories and my beloved cardigans and jackets. I suspect that this one will be worn a lot too. Despite all of the hassles in making this one, the Cami is still one of my favourite patterns and I hope this won't be the last one. Have you had major problems in constructing one of your favourite patterns?

Completed: Beating the Winter Blues Cami dress

I'm so excited to share this make with you. I'm hoping you have all seen the Cami dress by Pauline Alice. As soon as I saw this pattern I knew it wouldn't be long before I made it but I just needed to find the right fabric. I debated about using a solid purple that is in my stash but then I went to the Knitting and Stitching Show with Kelly and Vairë Gwîr and found this wonderful fabric. I knew immediately it would be right for the Cami.

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I made a quick toile of the bodice to check the fit after grading out a size from the bust to waist. I was worried about the fit as I've never been able to wear a rtw shirt without experiencing gaping. It fit reasonably well but I noticed that the front was higher than the back and decided to try my first full bust adjustment. Like many of my sewing experiences recently, I'm not sure why I hadn't done one before. It made the world of difference. I do wonder if I made it a little too big but as I won't wear the dress buttoned all the way up I didn't bother to tweak it. I'll spend a little more time perfecting the fit for my bodice though. As I had to add quite a lot I added extra darts at the bust. 

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I was desperately hoping that the construction of this would be easier than my skirt. To my immense relief it was. Partly because the cotton was a dream to work with but mostly because the construction is logical and the steps are easy to follow. I whipped up this dress in two evenings. I thought the collar would be the hardest part but it was quite simple. I did turn to Pauline's sewalong here to make sure I did right. I have to show you my top stitching. It is the best top stitching I've done. Ever. I was starting to believe that accurate, neat top stitching was beyond me but something clicked last night. 

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The pattern is designed with a reasonably full skirt made from two rectangles. It calls for the rectangles to be 39.4" wide. I decided to make it even fuller and went with the whole width of my fabric, about 44". I love the skirt so much, as demonstrated by my cheesy grin below! 

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To make the dress a little more winter friendly I chose the long sleeve version. The button holes were made without a hitch and I chose some interesting buttons from my red button pot (yes, I have coloured coded my button collection). The left side closes with a regular zip.   

The colours are reasonably accurately in the photos. The blue is rather bright and the flowers are red, pale pink and burgundy. I wore this to work today as I just couldn't resist showing off the colour. I got a couple of really lovely comments and I felt happy in it all day which bodes well for the dark winter days ahead.