Tag Archives: Fabric

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.


MY chaotic studio; in response to’ I’ll show you mine’ by Pattern Pandemonium

I dream of a warehouse space with lofty ceilings and huge cutting tables, bins for fabric sorted by colour, type…….


What I have is less space than the house I sold several years ago;  the back of the garage.  Skirt in progress is on the near chair.  Pieces for a vest are on the big sewing machine table and possible blouse fabrics on the far chair in sight so I can think of them, subliminally.

Yet another view of the surfaces, disappeared under fabric.  I admit I have a fabric addiction.  I could sew for years without ever buying another yard…… except that there is always another interesting design or texture that suggests something wonderful.

It’s hard to tell, but I recently did a re-sort of my attic storage area.  This is just what can be seen from the door.  Visible floor is an improvement.  One of my interior lights is broken so I will have to get an electrician here soon……

So, back to the machine and the gypsy/steampunk  skirt I’m working on.  Then I will dare to cut fabric; always the hardest part.

A change agent lamenting change….

From: saflters.com

Change, oddly enough may be the one constant in life as we know it.  Many people resist change, hang on to what they know, sometimes when what they are clinging to has long ago lost its usefulness.  The familiar has a degree of comfort and requires less active participation.

I’ve always embraced change, different experiences, places to see or live, new foods to try and things to learn.  There are often ways to improve how things are or how they are done.  I go places and change comes with.  I push for the new experience whatever that may be.  Change is challenging and requires paying attention and some effort.  I tweak and tinker and fix and am most at home when there is movement.  I’m from Earth,  where many places can feel like home and I yearn for the stars.

With all that, I am here to report, with sadness, the end of an era.  My first fabric store, the one all others must be compared with, is closing and with its closing a fabric mecca is gone.

Saflter’s in Whitman, Massachusetts, was a family-run fabric store that came into being in 1919.  It was housed in a large building on one corner of a major intersection, across the street from the famous Toll House Restaurant (home of the original Toll House cookie.)  Saftler’s was dedicated to all things fabric and as such had no space for the aisles of crappy craft stuff you see dominating so-called fabric stores these days.  They did have a wonderful corner of yarn with knitting and crochet pattern books but the bulk of the store was fabric and notions and trims.

My first memories of Saftler’s, in the 1950’s, was accompanying my mother as she wandered around the store fingering the fabrics or leafing through the pattern books.   When I was really young, I was bored, hanging around, but the Saftler men, likely the second generation, were jovial and entertaining and most helpful in all things related to sewing.  Most of my clothes were hand-made, an economy for the times, and one I secretly lamented at the time because my clothes were always different from the clothes of my classmates.

I bought yarn for my first sweater at Saftler’s.  I was eleven and the yarn was a beautiful dark brown heather acrylic.  I knitted a plain stockinette pullover that I still wear sometimes in the fall when I’m working outside stacking wood for the winter.

By the time I was entering junior high, I began to learn to sew for myself and discovered the pleasure of walking down aisle after aisle of fabrics, attracted by colour and moved to touch, to feel the texture, then test the drape.  Only then do you check the price.  It’s all about the feel.

The summer after I graduated from high school, grounded for the summer and told I must have constant adult supervision, I went to Saftler’s with my godmother and purchased an array of embroidery floss and for the first time began to embellish my clothes, something to do in my captivity.  My canvas was my bellbottom jeans.  I stitched a snake wrapping up one leg and the Cheshire Cat in a tree on the other ( I still have those too.  It’s a Leo, hang on to things trait, I’m told.)

Through my twenties it was my go to place for fabric and so much  more than that.  A fabric store is  a store of potential, a place of dreams.  You wander the aisles, deep in thought with hand out-stretched, touching the bolts and imagining what could be made from the fabric at hand.  Consider a place where creative thought dominated the energy of the place for more than ninety years.  Everyone who came through that store had a project or an idea, to make something where nothing had been before. All that creative energy permeates the walls.  As I think about that I realize, no wonder they were always so jovial.  What a lovely atmosphere.

This past week I was passing through the South Shore on my way back to Maine from Martha’s Vineyard and for a change decided to spend a night or two enroute.   I moved to the west coast in the early eighties and only four years ago came back to New England and I wondered how my old stomping grounds had fared.

My friend and I headed to Saftler’s in the evening.  Even in the dark and rain I remembered the way but my mouth dropped open when I saw the sign that said, ‘Closing, 25-50% off.  Everything must go.’

Saftler’s is open for one more month and there’s not much left, alas.  We arrived with less than an hour to check it all out but that was not too hard because much of the space was empty, little yarn, no fabulous silks, hardly any cottons other than quilting cotton, some wool, notions, trims.  I bought a few things I needed like elastic and twill tape and we left.

The next morning I decided to go back, make a big loop through my old stomping grounds, even though I really don’t need any more fabric.  There were more people there in the morning and with the reduced inventory it was easier to see.  We are the same tribe, the sewing tribe, wandering slowly through the fabrics, fingering the textures, checking the drape, imagining the potential.

I spent close to two hours imagining what I could do with the fabrics there.  Last chance to buy fabric from Saftler’s and great deals to be had.  I bought a 3¾ yard piece of black melton wool with a soft, smooth feel for less than $5 a yard; all that was on a bolt of heavy woven cotton, 12 yards of indigo with tiny dots of white, a dollar a yard; ten yards of  a finely woven indigo and white rayon; some linen and a piece of rayon for a shirt maybe; a couple of yards of blaze orange fabric that oddly enough is hard to find in Maine; and  not enough of an amazing black wool, heavy coating with one face having a vague herringbone pattern.   There were bins of buttons by the pound  to sift through like big, colourful grains of sand, so I bought  enough for two double-breasted long coats and an assortment of others that caught my eye.

I could have purchased more, canvas or soft denim or velvet but I have lots of fabric already that wants to be something and being there that morning wasn’t so much about buying fabric for a project as it was adding a last bit of creative energy to the mix and paying homage to the end of an era.  Good fabric stores are hard to find these days.  In Maine where I live the pickings are slim and the one big chain nearest to me (40 minutes drive) has me fuming more times than not with the lack of quality fabrics and the junk wasting half the square footage.

I know where there are good places to buy fabric in Vancouver and Victoria and even in Ontario but I know for sure there will be one less,most fabulous place for imagining wonderful garments into the world.  Saftler’s  will be gone at the end of June and will live on only in the memories of those who like me were raised in that creative environment.  That’s a change I lament.