Twelve years ago I bought an ankle-length, black, Calvin Klein down coat at my favourite store, Winners. It was a good price, $100, but it was a bit of a splurge since I didn’t really need it most of the time where I lived on Vancouver Island. I got it mostly because I was doing a winter rail trip from Toronto to Vancouver and I thought it would be a perfect, light-weight coat for those times when you want to get off the train in the middle of the night on some lonesome, frozen prairie siding, just to experience the cold. A few years later I moved to Maine and it became my coat of choice for the morning walks with the dog in winter.
I had two choices: replace the coat with a new one or make a new fashion fabric outer shell. llbean makes a good substitution, a calf-length coat for $200. I would recommend to a client that option since renovation is labour-intensive. A new coat would have a removable hood, not a feature I really require, but would not have the extra tall collar that makes my coat perfect for wind-chill times. I can pull it right up over my nose. With a hat I’m toasty-warm. And my coat is longer with zippers at the bottom of the side seams for walking ease. I bought some dark brown polyester rain coating and started.
I opened both side seams from sleeve cuff to the zippers. I have made vests from down jackets and re-covered vests as well so the optimum would have been to be able to remove the original fashion fabric, make a pattern from it and replace with the new fabric. Alas, the fabric was sewn to the down casing making the channels so removal was not an option. I made paper pattern pieces for fronts, centre back, side backs, side fronts and sleeves and assembled the pieces attached at the shoulders and draped on my form to see how the fit was. I had to adjust a bit at the armhole, then I pinned the new outer shell to the coat at the collar and at all the channel stitching.
The colours vary from taupe and dull purple to tan and pale green. I started with a sleeve, then quilted the adjacent front, then the other sleeve, it’s front and lastly the back. I embroidered a decorative stitch around the pocket openings to strengthen that stress point.
It’s hard to tell from some of the pictures but the new improved coat is a dark chocolate brown. The hand quilting allows plenty of loft for the down. I embroidered geometric lines and arrows down the front placket to obscure the places that covered the snaps. I was going to heavily embroider around the lower zippers but decided they look fine without the extra embellishment. Besides, I was ready to be done and my fingers were sore from all the hand-sewing, even using my thimbles.
Writing about this makes it all sound so easy, but making a pattern from a garment so loosely shaped is not easy. Cutting out is always the worst part and I had a moment of wondering if I had enough fabric. Usually I buy too much but this time I had just the right amount. The bit of stretch in the new fabric worked well to help the new outer shell conform to the garment. Overall I am really happy with the result. Now if only the temperature would plummet again so I can wear my new brown down coat. Looking good, because in my world, brown is the new black.