Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Wearable Muslin - McCalls 5816 Trench Coat

Okay this muslin was always going to be wearable. So I made it in black and I lined it in black and I used bias tape to finish the seam in So it is hard to photograph. I don't love this muslin but I learned a lot and I figure that has to be worth my next trench coat - the real deal - will be in a great stretch cotton-poly blend with rayon lining. Oh, and it will also be a different pattern - Vogue 8884 - with the trench coat features added. I've just got the next season of Call the Midwife, so I will be sewing and watching this weekend.

 McCall's 5816

Monday, March 24, 2014

A little about Trench Coats

So I am in the midst of making a trench coat. Actually, I am pretty much finished making my muslin, which I will finish and use as a wearable, unlined, short trench for the real deal, my brain is leaning toward a solid colour but my heart keeps throwing up prints. In the meantime, I've been reading up on trench coats:

Did you know that trench coats became popular when Thomas Burberry wanted a raincoat that looked professional and did its job (keeping the rain out)? 

Raincoat Rivalry in 1914Both Acquascutum and Burberry claim to have invented the tan cotton trench. Raincoat rivalries aside, we do know that this garment was originally bred for war. In fact many of its most distinctive features were created with the military man of WW1 in mind. Shoulder straps allowed epaulets to be attached; pockets were deep so that maps or letters from home could be hastily stuffed away, and D-rings on the belt allowed accoutrements like swords to be attached and retrieved at a moment’s notice. When the war was over the trench coat stayed behind, becoming a fashion perennial.

He invented the long coat design, with epaulets, in a new fabric he invented called 'gaberdine". (Actually, there is some dispute whether the design of the modern trench coat was originated by Burberry or Aquascutum, another company that also furnished trench coats during WWI. But there is no doubt, that Burberry's fabric made the trench coat popular and utilitarian.) 

In 1879, gaberdine was a new tight-weave, water resistant fabric that was perfect form Burberry's intent. Burberry used this fabric in his new long rain coat. Soon after, the British Army made an order and sent its army men off to war wearing them. Indeed the trench coat gets its name from trench warfare of the First World War. 

Many of the design features of the trench were to serve the military. The storm flap (or gun flap) provide an extra barrier again rain getting in.  After all, if you are out in the driving rain for an extended period, you need a barrier to keep rain from getting in through zippers and buttonholes. There is some suggestion that it also helped to keep the coat from showing early wear due tot he firing of the weapon (hence, the name "gun flap").  Another feature is the cape. It acts as a second layer around the shoulders where water falls and sits. Remember, the original trench coats weren't completely waterproof, they were simply made of the tight-weave gabardine, so it would be more resistant to water but the water would eventually soak through. 

After the war, the British army gave its surplus coats to civilians in need and a trend was born. Soon detectives and gangsters were wearing them on movie screens and they became a symbol of masculinity. Indeed, Humphrey Bogart's character, Sam Spade in Casablanca, wore a trench that appealed to many. Trench coats became an essential part of men's wardrobes.

Audrey Hepburn's character, Holly Golightly, wore a trench in Breakfast at Tiffany's and suddenly, trenches were accessible to women. 

Components of Traditional Trench Coats:

1. Collar and lapel

2. Button closure

3. Raglan Sleeves - a standard trench coat has raglan sleeves. Many today do not.

4. Storm or Gun Flap - This is the extra piece of fabric on the right shoulder which protects the jacket from rain - or the kickback of a military rifle.

5. Belt - it must have a belt to be a trench coat

6. Sleeve Tab (called loop in the pic below): should be closed with a button


Trench Coats in Movies:
Bogart, Davis, Hepburn, Ford, Reeves and Kate Middleton all in trenches...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

St Patrick's Day Jacket - Vogue 7975

This is my fourth jacket for the Fearless February/March Challenge. And I cheated a little. I used snaps instead of buttons.  It is an easy pattern but I had some difficulty with fitting it (and I still have to tweak it a little...)

Line Art
I chose view B but I added snaps (I need jackets to close) and I use grosgrain ribbon instead of fold over braid. Maybe next time.     

I made this in green corduroy from my stash. I bought the lining after I choose the fabric.
This is a classic Chanel jacket pattern from Vogue. I used grosgrain ribbon and snaps - in the interest of finishing this for St. Patrick's day...

My cat who always gets in the way when I am sewing. Happy St Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Do Women's Clothes have Buttons on the Left?

Last week, while finishing up my Albion jacket, I had a few moments of confusion. I was putting buttons on the coat - a departure from the pattern - and I couldn't remember which way the buttons vs. button placket goes on women's coat. Well, since the Albion is a men's pattern, I doubt it mattered. Still I went to the internet to check.

Then I began wondering where this came from. Why make difference where there isn't any? So I Googled my question; Why do women's clothes have buttons on the left?
File:Mamie Eisenhower color photo portrait, White House, May 1954.jpg
This is from Wiki-commons. Mamie Eisenhower's shirt is buttoned from the left.

Buttons have been used since biblical times to fasten or decorate clothing. Archaeologists have unearthed buttons dating back to times earlier than written history. Buttons are the simple (yet brilliant) way to attach two parts of a garment together by pushing a large glass/metal/plastic round object that is sewn onto one side into a hole that is reinforced by thread on the other. Its a simple operation and I doubt archaeologists have found that women buttoned clothing differently than men. So with no physical reason to button on different sides I decided to investigate why the design feature may exist. I learned three or four oft-believed stories that make little sense.

File:Ambassador to Czechoslovakia Shirley Temple 19901025 crop.jpg
Shirley Temple Black talks with a uniformed officer in in Germany in the 1990s. Notice the officer's uniform closing. (Picture from Wiki-commons)

Theory #1 - Men carried swords on the right and therefore the buttons switched to the right to accommodate their quick retrieval.

 In the1200s, buttons became popular as more fitted clothing became popular. At that time, both men and women had buttons sewn on the left side of their garments, the same side as women do today. During the Middle Ages as war became more commonplace, men needed to unbutton their coats quickly to draw their swords, which were on their left side. Since the right hand was used to draw the sword, it took a great deal of time for that same right hand to first undo the buttons. Men's shirt buttons were moved to the right as a result.

This would be a good reason to invent zippers! Or simply to change the fit of the garment to make the drawing of swords easier. Switching the button side could actually have held things up for men used to using the other side.

Theory #2 Women's shirts button on the left-hand side because at the time in which shirts with buttons for women became popular, rich women didn't dress themselves. 

Women were usually dressed by a maid and that included doing up the buttons. Right-handed maids found it faster to do up clothing when the buttons faced them, so the garment construction was changed to reflect this. Men buttoned their own shirts so they didn't have this problem.  Remember that women’s clothing was usually far more elaborate too. For quite awhile, women wore corsets, girdles, bustles, petticoats, bloomers and gowns  and all would would have required the assistance of a maid when dressing. Additionally, women who could afford decorated and embellished dresses that came with lots of buttons usually had plenty of servants to dress them anyway. 

 This theory assumes that more women had maids than was actually true. Also, inherent in it is that designs were curtailed to the likes and dislikes of the maids, who were given an uncharacteristic voice in the making of their employer's clothes. And finally that the women across the countryside who were largely responsible for making their family's clothes, and who likely made them on an as-needed basis, somehow customized them based on palace fashions.

Theory #3 Woman's buttoning on the left was a signal of  her inferiority.

I suppose there could be some bite to this theory but then, I think it would have been challenged somehow and obliterated. After all, we challenged many of the other laws and customs that speak to an inherent belief that women are inferior. Why would this one go unchallenged?

Theory #4 It is a custom that has come about as a result of women wearing men's fashions.

This is the one that I think holds water. Women began wearing men's fashions around 1920. (Women wore men's clothes before that but it wasn't necessarily marketed to women as fashion).  When women began wearing pants and shirts that were influenced by menswear, it makes sense that to reclaim some part of the wardrobe as definitively feminine, manufacturers made this design feature unique to women's button closures.

File:StateLibQld 1 179911 Mother and daughter of the Leonard family.jpg
This picture is from Wiki-commons archive, a mother and daughter posing for a photograph. There shirts are definitely following the left-button rule.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fearless February/March Challenge #3: The Albion Coat

Victoria's challenges always spur me onto bigger and better projects. Last year, I conquered pants and now they hold no power over me. I like sewing pants. This year, I am doing jackets. I hate buttonholes. But I have made three jackets now and buttonholes are becoming common place for me. 

I have been working on my Albion coat  for about three weeks. I found that on the first sitting, I got a good deal through the pattern. I only needed some fitting fixes and attaching the lining and doing the buttonholes. I put the coat down for a few days and that turned into a few weeks. I was so afraid this would become an unfinished project. The Albion sew-along (there are some amazing sewists with unbelievable style on the Facebook page) and the recent milder temperatures, spurred me to return to this project.  (When I started this project it was -19'C but it felt like -30'C with the wind it is a tropical 4'C.)

I didn't finish in time to enter it in the sew-along contest. I don't care. I feel so good about finishing this coat and having a spring/fall coat that I can actually wear, that I think that is better than any prize in the sew-along. Good luck to all the entrants who finished on time. 

Now the details of my coat: 

Faux Suede outer fabric - which is a bit stiff but will loosen with repeated washings - and recycled cotton bedsheets. This is a fall/spring jacket - not a winter jacket or I would have chosen heavier lining fabric.

I choose predictable buttons because I just couldn't find the bright red ones I had envisioned.

I need to add Velcro to the pocket flaps, I don't like the way they flap up. I considered buttons but I think they would get in the way of me actually using the pockets.

I aslo put in side seam pockets. The pockets for this pattern have huge square pockets that I wanted to cut down. Then I figured "why not?" and I am so glad I kept the large pockets. They just make this jacket more useful.

Added a pocket in the lining that you may not be able to tell here - I just wanted the secret inner pocket in case I ever need one.
It is 4'C today and I know spring is coming - despite the forecast for 15 cm tomorrow - because I have the frizzies again. All winter, I am cold but my hair is relatively straight and then spring comes and it widens over night and I can't get a comb through it....Still, I happy in my new coat.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thoughts on My Wardrobe with Help from Colette's Wardrobe Architect

After spending weeks reading the Colette Wardrobe Architect posts, I realized that I am in dire need of this series. So I have been slowly working through what I have, what I need and what I want to wear.

  • My biggest problem is that I generally have one outfit style I wear everyday to work. But hey, many times I spend 15 minutes a day outside in below 0'C weather - I have to wear pants and boots to work.
  •  I also buy a lot of prints and then have few things for them to go with and so they go unworn.
  •  With some fore-thought I can pull together nice outfits that reflect who I am. 
  •  One big benefit to this, is because I sew, I have a lot of wiggle room. I can tweak things I own as I make myself a new wardrobe.

Here are some style boards I found online that I like.

With the exception of the flats, this is pretty much
what I wear all the time. I made the jeans this past week and look at that bag, does it just say Colette Cooper to you?  (Source)
This would be a slightly different silhouette that I could do almost immediately.

Here is one I aspire to, and I have the patterns to get going on them. Do you see a Hollyburn skirt or a Ginger skirt in there? (Source:

Summer dress, slightly lengthened to knee length, and in warmer colours. (Source)

Source: Colette Style Architect
Source: Colette Style Architect

So I am thinking: 4 dresses, 2 -4 skirts, 2 jeans, 2 nicer pants, 6 tops and blouses, a cape and the Albion jacket. That is a lot of sewing ahead of me.  (Actually one pair of jeans is finished and the ALbion is about half-way finished.)

Butterick 5982 and 5747
Burda Jeans Feb/2014 and the Lindsey Cape 6065and the Peasant Top and Ruffle Top, both March/ 2014

Thurlow Trousers
Renfrew top (Cowl and long-sleeved t-shirts)
Albion - mine is the longer version with a hood but it is for spring.
Ginger skirt and the Hawthorn and Crepe dresses below

But as I said, I currently have only one style and I should have three or four. I am aiming for two right now. I can only do so much sewing! These are the patterns I am thinking of making. Things change and some of these patterns may be changed out for others. But I love the idea of sewing the wardrobe I want.

Tonight: Cut out my Burda jeans pattern and rest. It has been a long day!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Completed Project: Angela Kane's Authentic Jeans

Okay, I finished my first ever pair of jeans. I used Angela Kane's patterns and sewing tutorials and I think they turned out pretty well. I made a few mistakes but these jeans are a good fit, and are very wearable. When I started this project, I thought jeans were a bit beyond my sewing comfort level. This being February, and me being enrolled in Victoria's Fearless February Challenge, I decided to go for it. So after two jackets and putting aside my third - the Albion - for a week or so, I jumped into this jeans project. And boy am I glad I did!

First, presently I take photos in the bathroom. Because, whatever else you have heard about this horrific and never-ending winter in Ontario, it is also a very dark winter and I live in a very dark house too.

I wanted these jeans to be a bit roomy, so when I fell between sizes I went with the larger size. I didn't take into account the stretchiness of the denim fabric though. I should have went down a size.

They are comfy and fit well. And for my first pair, I am thrilled.

I had chalked out a more elaborate design for the back pockets and then decided to go with something much simpler.

A satisfied sewist, proud of her new skills. (And I've worked on this with a week-long migraine...I figure if I give up when I get a migraine, I would never finish any project.)

Now a bit more about the pattern:
Angela Kane sews right along with you in her videos. She is really determined to stay true to authentic jeans, so this pattern includes bar tacks and flat fell seams. She has her video tutorial split into several segments so you can watch as you need help or watch them all if you choose. She also has a jeans instruction e-book. I paid 15 British pounds for access to all her patterns, tutorials and e-books last year and 5 British pounds for each added year. She has patterns for dresses, coats, t-shirts, jeans, skirts and more. Recently she has started included sloper patterns - which are something I can really benefit from.

You'll see her logo proudly displayed to your left. And here is a link to her free dress pattern and some video tutorials available on Youtube. I'll be making this dress over the March break in two weeks.


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