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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!