November 17, 2009

A coat in the making - sewing secrets everyone should know

Today, I have been able to do a lot of work on my new coat. I loved it, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it finished and wearing it. I just hope I can find the right buttons on the market tomorrow.

Working on it got me thinking: is there anything I do in coat construction which could be considered a 'sewing secret', something I could share here?

Earlier, someone asked me for tips on sewing heavy wool fabrics. Honestly, I don't think I have any. In my experience, midweight and heavier woolen make the most lovely fabrics for sewing. The stretch of the fibre itself makes it very forgiving and it allows itself to be molded into shape by sewing and pressing. Handling the sheer bulk of a thick wool coat under the sewing machine arm can be tricky, but, once again, the fabric is very forgiving. Even if your stitches get uneven because the fabric got snagged somewhere, it won't show through the texture of the fabric.

That is a bit of a sewing trick by the way, one I assume most of you are very well aware of already: always press your seams. It may sound fussy, but believe me it's worth it. Having all your seams pressed can turn your creation from housework to personal couture. And it will make things like creating welt pockets and inserting gussets a lot easier.

The real 'sewing secret' I wanted to share in post, however, is another one: know your fusibles. Choosing the right kind of interfacing for the job at hand can be almost as important as choosing the right fabric. And you can forget about vlieseline straight away, there's a whole world of woven and knit fusible interfacings out there which work a lot better for most jobs. Vlieseline is made from fibres which have been pressed together. This means that in one direction, you can easily pull it apart and it can get quite stiff and 'paper-y' when ironed on. I only use it to back the fabric where I want to make something like a welt pocket. Because it is made of pressed fibres, it can't fray. Usually, I use a light woven fusible for shirt collars and button bands and a heavier kind for skirt and trouser waistbands or facings.
Elaborate wool garments like coats and jackets get a special treatment. M taught me this when I made my first coat and jacket, under her guidance. You can buy a special kind of fusible interfacing for wool fabrics. It resembles thin, soft, loosely woven webbing and should be applied all over the inside of the garment (excluding seam allowance). When pressing it on (you can use steam with this stuff), you have to use a pressing cloth, otherwise it will stick to your iron.
'Interfacing' (yes, I know it's technically cheating to use that term here) like this will prevent unraveling and add weight and 'body' to the fabric, allowing you to create a garment like soft sculpture.


  1. I've made several coats and I love it. I'd love to "talk shop" with you a bit. I'm making two coats now. I plan on underlining them, which likely does a similar treatment as the fusible interfacing you describe.

    Do you finish your raw edges of the wool? I'm lining my coats with a silk twill and I serge the edges, just to keep the fraying down. But I'm thinking I can skip the finishing for the wool and its underlining (another wool blend).

  2. Hi Kelly, I should really change the blog settings to alert me to comments. I only read yours now. I'd love to 'talk shop' about coat making, of course I would. Making this coat, and reading about coat making on other people's blogs has made one thing very clear to me: sew a coat for the climate you're in. We may be having two cold weeks here at the moment, but really, the Netherlands rarely experience really serious winter weather. If you are in a place that does, you may need interlinings, sewn as a separate layer of some super-isolating fabric, and things like that. This fusible treatment does add some warmth to the fabric, but it's mostly a shape thing. When I use this fusible interfacing (and am going to make a full lining), I usually skip the finishing. The fabric is already 'glued' to itself so serging the edges would only be extra work. In this case, it can be good to apply the fusible also on the seam allowence, if you've got a very fray-y fabric.

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  5. I am really interested in sewing coats. Do I need to use an industrial or heavy duty sewing machine?

    1. Sorry for the late reply (I tried to find an email address to reply to, but it's not in your Google profile).
      You don't need a special sewing machine unless you want to make an extremely thick coat. I have made a couple of coats using my 'starter' sewing machine, which was a rather plastic little Toyota. Just make sure you use the right needles (usually 'universal' 90 or 100 for wool coating, depending on how thick the fabric is)

  6. I am making a vintage vest from a Laughing Mood pattern. It calls for hair canvas interfacing, which I purchased, but I'm second-guessing. It seems as if it will make the vest way too stiff. Any suggestions?