How I conquered the coat (and S1254 pattern review)

So this project was an apogee of my not-so-long sewing career! I now can say that it ended up being beautiful and apparently very warm coat – when we made some of the below photos, it was terribly windy and cold, but I felt cozy and comfortable in it. So all is very well in the end!

However, let me make things straight from the very beginning – I would NOT recommend anyone to make this particular coat or to use Simplicity S1254 pattern. The pattern is not well thought through, it is probably not well tested, and in general it may make your life very miserable, if you tried regardless. Unless you are prepared to accept an unflattering and awkward coat. This project did make my life rather miserable, it’s just that I am famous for never giving up. Hence the title for this post – I did conquer this coat! Now, it may be a long post – and this coat deserves a long post, – so buckle up, make yourselves a cup of tea and enjoy my misery up to the happy ever after! 🙂

I planned to make the coat ever since I started planning my autumn wardrobe. I purchased few different coating fabrics, I mentally prepared, I even made the Cozy light coatigan and thought that thus I was preparing myself for coats. Well, not quite! Few revelations that this coat has provided me with – never underestimate the challenge of fitting the coat, never underestimate the messy lining installation process, and never think that commercial patterns are perfect and work at all times.

Few months back, while at my local fabric store, together with the lovely teal wool fabric that I used for my Fancy teal dress, I bought 3 meters of heavy and thick grey-sky blue wool fabric and matching lining. Back then I already had a specific pattern in mind and knew exactly what I was buying and for which particular coat. After bringing home my new purchases, I actually cut a small piece of the coat fabric and tried to sew it on my sewing machine – was testing if the machine would not break, or something. My sewing machine did not break, and I put the fabric on to the shelf. Then I went on to procrastinate and was staying away from this project for two months. When the Fancy teal dress was finished and I was thinking of my next project, my husband said – “enough is enough, you gotta stop sewing dresses and instead should go ahead and make that coat after all”. He usually knows what he’s talking about, so I basically did not have any other choice.

This coat was supposed to be really pretty. It features in-seam front pockets, flattering princess seams, zipper closure and a grandiose collar which also works as a hood. I fell in love with this pattern right when I saw it. And since it did not have a difficult-to-sew pointed collar, which is normal for coats, I decided to choose this style for my first coat project.

I had my paper pattern pieces cut a long time ago – while procrastinating, I at least did something. At first I intended to make a muslin. But then figured that since muslin would be made of light fabric, it would provide me with little clue as to how the real coat would fit, especially putting it on on other clothes. And so I was like ‘come what may’ and went straight ahead to cut my pattern pieces off the main fabric. I chose to cut size 8 for the top of the coat and then merged to size 12 for the waist – that is what I usually do and also what the pattern suggested as per body measurements.

This coat features princess seams, so instead of only two side seams like in any simple garment you have 6 seams in total – two side seams, two front seams and two back seams. This makes measuring of the pattern pieces on the dress form essentially impossible. You can only see the fit when all of the seams have been stitched.

So I cut the interfacing, interfaced the entire front, top and bottom of the back pieces. It took a long while. I made the pockets, again, few hours for that. Then I stitched one front seam. And then I stopped. After putting this one front piece on to the dress form I realized that my size merging might have been inaccurate and the coat would end up being tight around hips. With that sinking thought I anxiously finished the first day of this journey.

Next morning I checked more carefully – recalculated where the middle of the front should be, and suddenly it became clear, that actually the coat will be too wide instead of being too tight. Along the way I had installed one side of separating zipper, then calculated that the other part would probably show on the outside if I followed the instructions, so ended up unpicking that seam. To avoid having to unpick other seams, I decided to first of all baste all 7 main pieces of the coat together.

When I did that I was like – OMG, this makes no sense at all! Top part looked quite ok, however waist and down was like a full circle skirt. That moment was depressing to say the least, as I simply did not know where to start fixing the situation. Side seams were not staying on the side, instead they were being pushed to the back, back was badly too wide and out of any shape whatsoever.

When the initial shock subsided, I started calculating which piece I should reduce and by how much. If I wrote that my Fancy teal dress was math contest, then this coat was math doctorate! I started taking pictures of my seam allowances as they became different, and taking notes of seam allowance measurements on my instructions sheet. I realized that I would not be able to take any break in this project, because if I did, I would forget all of the logic as to how I have deviated from the original pattern.

The same seam would have to get basted three, four times. I would then try the coat on after each basting attempt, and would proceed to the next basting stage. The top of the mess was the seam where one seam allowance was 4.5 cm wide and another – 2.5 cm wide. And that’s instead of declared in the instructions and usual 1.5 cm seam allowances. Below are some of my working pictures so that I wouldn’t forget where I made which seam allowances. I truly hope that I will never ever need to go through this ever again!

Good news though was that the top of the coat was sitting well – I did not need to make any adjustments to the upper part of the garment. All of this struggle was happening below the waist. I spent an entire day for this fitting. One day = 6 seams. At that stage I was almost giving up. Am thankful for my husband and my sewing friend Laura, who were saying – don’t give up, from there on things should become easier. And it was indeed the case. When I finally managed to put the main body of the coat together and trimmed my paper pattern pieces thus preparing them for the lining to be cut out, I reached the breakthrough. When all of this ordeal was over I calculated that I had reduced hips circumference by approximately 20 cm! I do not understand for which body shape this pattern has been made!

One more thing that I need to stress – if anyone is still daring enough to try this pattern out – sleeves are also messed up. The cap of the sleeve actually works rather well – I did not have any problems while installing the sleeves. But the sleeves are badly too short! I never ever measure sleeves. My hands are shorter than standard, which means that normally I have to shorten all the sleeves. And in this case, while cutting the sleeves out of the main fabric I shortened them by approximately 1.5 cm, and thought that most likely I will need to shorten them even more. So no – sleeves ended up being too short by some 4 cm! Even if I had not shortened them initially, they still would have been too short. The pattern stated that 4 cm seam allowance was included, so it was not. I did not have enough fabric to cut sleeves once again, so instead ended up making the narrowest hem that I possibly could. And this indeed is one of visible defects of this coat – instead of proper 3 cm hem, sleeves are finished with minuscule 1 cm hem, and still are a tiny bit too short for me.

Anyhow, moving further, since I had trimmed all of my paper pattern pieces, cutting and sewing the lining was easier – I only had to follow a regular 1.5 cm seam allowance. Where the instructions and the pattern were about to screw me once more, was the installation of the collar. Instructions called to machine stitch the undercollar and slip stitch the upper collar. There was no place for a hanger loop, nor the upper lining piece was somehow reinforced around the collar. So instead of following that, I redid everything as I saw fit. I cut a small piece of the main fabric which I stitched to the upper portion of the back lining and attached the loop to it. By doing that I also added an additional pleat in the back lining to secure enough of ease while wearing the coat. This was also not part of the instructions. All in all, instructions on the lining construction were very poor indeed.

I machine stitched the collar while leaving the opening in the hem instead of the collar to be able to turn the entire coat right side out. Left picture shows how I made the top of the back lining and the right picture shows how coats look very close to the completion – when the collar is already attached and right before turning almost finished garment to the right side.

Installing the collar meant sewing at times through 4 layers of the fabric. And for my sewing machine benefit I have to say that it did not have any challenge with all of that thickness. I used #100 needle and thicker thread than normal, and it worked very well. I also used walking foot to sew the lining, which this time was extremely slippery, and it worked very well too! Enjoy using my walking foot quite often actually – for linings, viscose, tencel and other difficult to handle fabrics.

When the collar was in and for the first time I turned the coat from the mess pictured above right side out, I finally saw the garment, and it was only then that I felt a relief and some sort of joy that I might actually have been able to make it work. I hemmed my too short sleeves and slip stitched the opening in the hem of the coat. And the last remaining bit was to add a large snap onto the collar to hold it closed and in place.

Finally, the very last bit of work was to give all of the seams and the entire garment a really good press. I have been reading everywhere how important it is to press every seam while sewing the coat, and followed this advice very carefully. This is a crucial step in making a professionally looking coat instead of it shouting out loud about being home made.

For this coat I needed 3 meters of 100 pct wool fabric and 2 meters of medium weight shiny viscose lining. I made view A of Simplicity pattern S1254, which I am never going to use, ever again. Additional notions were 80 cm separating zipper, 2 shoulder pads, one large snap for the collar, loads of interfacing (I ended up interfacing all the pieces of the coat, including the sleeves) and thick matching thread. This coat cost me 102 Eur and is the most expensive of all of my projects so far. It was finished in early December, and I even found some snow to take wintery pictures of my new coat!

It was an enlightening project indeed. Support of the family and my sewing friend helped me to stay cool and not abandon the project. In the middle of the process I thought that I will never make coat ever again, even if I ever finish this one. But I will, I now know that I will certainly make more coats!

Coats are large makes, they have weight, they provide warmth and they are very rewarding. If I can give the last advice to myself or anyone else – choose coat patterns very carefully. And then coat making will be a real joy!

Let’s all stay healthy!

~Giedre~

2 thoughts on “How I conquered the coat (and S1254 pattern review)”

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