Category Archives: transformation

Renovating a down coat

Finished!  Even though it's not really cold I'm determined to wear my renovated down coat.

Finished! Even though it’s not really cold I’m determined to wear my renovated down coat.

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.

Drool stains the lower part of the original waterproof/breathable fashion fabric.

Drool stains the lower part of the original waterproof/breathable fashion fabric.

Fast forward to this year.  The coat still keeps me warm and is like walking around in a big sleeping bag but the outer fashion fabric was worn at the cuffs and

 no amount of washing seemed to be able to remove the dog drool on the sleeves where I get playfully grabbed or from the waist down where leaning occurs.  

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.

matching the new front placket with the old

matching the new front placket with the old

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.

Pinning the new dark chocolate brown fabric on the partially deconstructed garment

Pinning the new dark chocolate brown fabric on the partially deconstructed garment

I decided to quilt the coat by hand for more control and so that I wouldn’t lose any loft with additional seaming.  I used some variegated silk thread warp ends that I got from the Sanderson Weaving Studio  on Granville Island.

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.

While it was apart I replaced the walking ease zippers.  The originals never opened easily.  The main two-way separating zipper I replaced several years ago with a bigger sleeping bag-like zipper.  I also added reinforcement at the hems in the form of iridescent drapery fabric.  Hopefully that will contribute to longevity at the stress points.

Even using two thimbles my fingers are sore from all the hand sewing.  Except for the front zipper (which was basted then sewn by machine) and , the side seams, the new fabric was attached by hand for control and to maintain down loft.

Even using two thimbles my fingers are sore from all the hand sewing. Except for the front zipper (which was basted then sewn by machine) and the side seams, the new fabric was attached by hand for control and to maintain down loft.

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.

Hand pocket detaIl.  I wanted to reinforce around the pockets because there is so much wear there.

Hand pocket detaIl. I wanted to reinforce around the pockets because there is so much wear there.

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.

Styling in my renovated Calvin Klein coat.

Styling in my renovated Calvin Klein coat.

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Altering, transforming, and thoughts on ease and self-image

Poaching Coat transformed into Mandarin Swing Jacket

Note to self: Remember to take before pictures prior to beginning any major alteration/transformation project.  Really, you’d think I’d have that down, but, noooooooo.  I’m usually well into the deconstruction part of the process with an increasingly good idea of how a transformation will take place and only then do I think that I would benefit from a before picture.

Ten or twelve years ago I made what I thought was a really cool jacket: reversible, kimono-style, one side a lovely, soft, heavily pre-washed, purple linen, and the other a slub-weave cotton upholstery fabric with big cabbage roses, hydrangeas, soft green leaves and ripe fruit on an ivory background, reminiscent of a 1950’s slipcovered, over-upholstered chair suitable for a slouched reading demeanour.  The shawl collar front overlapped with bound buttonholes. The sleeves were open under the arm, kimono-style and tapered to the wrist, long enough to fold back and show the reverse side.  Side panels had pockets on both views in addition to the capacious pockets in the fronts.  Those side panel pockets could hold litre bottles of water.  It was a perfect weight for Victoria, my home at the time, because of the nearly perpetual spring and fall climate there. I wore it that spring on tour in The Rockies and one of my British peeps called it my Poaching Coat because the pockets were big enough to hold a couple of brace of rabbits, at least.  I liked it because when I was out and about in Vancouver I was wearing my shopping bag.  I could put bags of coffee beans and kilos of produce in my pockets.  Really, I think the pockets in the original version equalled two shopping totes.  Also, it was fabulous for the long dog walks; good for holding treats, leash and other needful items.  What can I say?  I have a penchant for pockets and I detest carrying bags.

My problem with the jacket centres around my self-image.  I’m not saying that I have a bad self-image, just an erroneous one.  Despite the fact that I was always the smallest in my classes in school ( my bus driver called me Little Lynn even when I was in high school, much to my chagrin) I have always felt normally sized and it’s only been in the last third of my life that it’s come to my attention that I am on the petite side of the body-type scale.  Coupled to that is that I only recently realized that commercial garment patterns are all sized for women four inches taller than I.

Ease is the difference between the garment size and the body it’s meant to fit.  Most garments have some ease, so we aren’t splitting our seams every time we move (wearing ease) and some garments are really form-fitting (bathing suits and leotards have negative ease).  Then, there is design ease, which can be four to six or even more inches extra built in to the design to create a particular effect.  I really started making most of my clothes in the 80’s when I needed a decent wardrobe for the road and everything was a bit over-sized then anyway; think David Byrne’s line, ‘Why the big suit?’ an exaggeration of 80’s style.  I was attracted to design ease as a concept and occasionally overdid the idea.

As a short person, and newly realized one, I know that jackets that look best on me have a length just at my hip or higher, definitely not below. The original version of the jacket came to below my butt and had a pleat in the back.  The pockets on the purple side were oversized and gathered and were big enough to each hold two pounds of coffee.   (Or the brace of rabbits each.)  Several years ago I removed the pleat and sewed a tuck in the bag pockets so they didn’t hang down below the hem of the jacket.  Even so, I was not wearing it as much, in spite of its good for dog walking aspect. Recently I hauled it out of my coat closet and considered it again.

What was I thinking?!  Way too long, I thought, and immediately cut four inches off the length, figuring I could just hem it and it would be good to go again.  But I put it on and realized there was more to do.   The shoulders dropped to half-way between my actual shoulders and elbows, then the four inch side panels added to that meant that I had sixteen inches of design ease.  I could have worn that jacket if I was three hundred pounds heavier.  A major alteration was in order.

Originally only sashimo quilted, I emphasized the design with fabric crayons

I first removed the sleeves, sewn on by hand like a proper kimono.  I really liked that I could carry duelling litre bottles of water but realized that width had to go, so I opened the side seams and removed the side panels all together.  Then I lay the body of the jacket on my cutting pad surface and considered.  I wanted to retain the open underarm and  I decided to move the shoulder seam closer to my actual shoulder but if I cut the fronts and back even with my new shoulder seam I would lose ALL of my design ease and probably the wearing ease as well (and half of the front pockets).  With no side panels I was down eight inches in circumference and if I just made healthy side seams the resulting ease would be a more rational six inches, perfect for an outer kimono-esque jacket.

I measured four inches in at the shoulder and drew a line down the fronts and back, then an angle from the base of the intended sleeve seams to the side seams for the new opening on the jacket body.  Meanwhile, the tuck in the bag pockets no longer worked with the new length so I removed the pockets at the bottom, cut four inches off them and re-stitched to allow for a 1.5 inch bagged hem.  I turned the jacket so that I could sew the hems together through a sleeve opening then considered the sleeves.

Now the sleeves in their original form would be too short and were a bit worn at the edge anyway so I used the pieces cut from the shoulders for bands and the material from the side panels for deep, interfaced cuffs that can be folded back or worn down, over-long, like a wealthy Chinese mandarin who has no need for access to hands.  It’s still a bit long but now it’s a fusion, Mandarin Swing Jacket and has a whole new life.  I think I don’t take before pictures because it’s a bit embarrassing but I must remember, the next time I do a major transformation, because the difference is really something to be seen.

Victorian Sitting Room camouflage