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My Judi Dench Coat

buckle up, these pictures are weird as shit lol

WOOHOO! How y’all doin?? If you follow me on instagram, you know how…special…my experience with CATS the movie was. I’m not here to argue with anyone about whether or not CATS was good. I have been around long enough to know that art doesn’t have to be good to be entertaining, and I was NOTHING if not entertained! One of the strong takeaways from the film (and there were MANY takeaways given my state of mind, lol) was Judi Dench’s Cat/God character wearing this gigantic honey blonde colored coat that seemed to be made out of cat fur. Like, she had her own cat fur…and then she wore a coat on top of her own cat fur made out of what looked like…other cat’s cat fur. At the time I couldn’t stop thinking about Silence Of the Lambs, how this was the equivalent of a human wearing a trench coat made of human skin, and how, since she was a Cat/God, the coat was probably made out of all the furs of her enemies. Which is…so weird. But perfectly suited to the rest of the movie which was also…so weird!

Anyways, when I started making this coat, I realized that it drew a fashionably striking resemblance to Judi Dench’s costume in CATS, which tickles me to no end! I originally got the idea for this coat after trying on a jacket at a store in Vancouver last summer.

You can see these fleecy furry coats everywhere now, but at the time they were brand new to me and I absolutely loved how unique it was. I loved the texture of the sporty, wooly fabric paired with a more traditional cut of coat, and I loved the curved hem at the bottom. I would have been happy to buy this RTW jacket since it was such a special piece but it didn’t fit well (see how long it is in the sleeves?), it was too expensive for the quality, and it was made of 100% polyester. I knew I could do better than that- it didn’t seem like a particularly difficult hack to pull off- no lining or surprising design details or anything.

I found the pattern before I found the fabric. I think I asked the IG hive for any pattern ideas they might have based off this photo, and IG totally came through- the Stacker jacket pattern by Papercut seemed like the closest thing to what I was looking for, and hacking would be super easy- I just needed to lengthen it and curve the hem (I also made it a slightly hi-lo hem). It took longer to find the fabric.

All I could find was 100% polyester fleece or sherpa, and the places that did sell organic cotton fleece tended to not have enough fabric for my project or only have it in colors I didn’t want. Eventually I found a place called Simplifi Fabric based in Canada, which is an online fabric store that specializes in organic and sustainable fabric by the yard. I love them! In addition to all kinds of organic cottons and bamboo and denim and ribbing in their online shop, they had a few different colors of a sherpa fabric that was mostly organic cotton with a little polyester in it, and after being indecisive about which shade I wanted, I went with the earthy-gray toned sherpa (I was initially drawn to the ivory shade but I knew it would probably get dirty pretty quickly).

do not know whats going on here but i think im supposed to be acting like a cat? a florist cat? 

The fabric was super soft, softer than I anticipated, and squishy and cozy. The back of it is flat and non-furry, and seems to be more like a knit- it kind of looks like  the inside of french terry on the back, actually. It has a little bit of stretch but not enough to make any big alterations to the sizing. The pattern was straight forward and construction was easy- I serged my inside seams since I knew I didn’t want to line it and they were too bulky to french seam (wasn’t interested in Hong Kong seaming either). I turned up the bottom hem and used my coverstitch to tack it down, not that you can tell- the texture of this fabric eats up any top stitching which means you don’t get much room for detail, but it also hides away any imperfections. The fabric was super easy to work with- the seams were certainly bulky, but it was stable, not too messy (nothing like velvet or sequins) and my machine needles had no problems working through several layers at a time.

I didn’t run into any issues at all except the normal problem solving that comes with hacking a pattern, haha. I constructed my yoke with two pieces instead of one, because even though the fabric isn’t super heavy, I wanted the shoulder area to feel nice and stable with all that coat length pulling down on it. I had a little bit of confusion about the construction of the pockets at the front of the coat- there are two different versions and I didn’t realize I was following the directions for a specific one til I was halfway through it, haha. Turns out, I wasn’t making the pockets I intended to make! In addition to that, the original placement of the pockets was off on this coat- probably something to do with the new length and the fullness and texture of the fabric, but my original choice of breast pockets looked strabnger and bulky. I scooted them down to hit around hip length (which is where my hands would naturally fall if I was using side pockets. Ultimately I think I would like this coat better with regular in-seam side pockets in addition to the patch pockets on the front, but it’s all good!

I found some beautiful buttons from Michael Levines and I think they work so well with the coat- they elevate it a bit from looking like your average athletic-wear fleece jacket into something a little more refined.

And…I guess that’s it! A super simple garment that has a pretty major impact- I got a compliment on this coat by a salesperson in SAKS recently, who, upon finding out that I made it myself, immediately started scrutinizing it and asking to see the insides, lol. I hate when people do that- just appreciate it and move on! Sometimes people are so shocked when you tell them you’ve made something impressive that they start looking for flaws anywhere they can find them, telling themselves that you can’t be THAT good (it happens with men examining my woodworking ALL the time!). Well guess what- we can and we are!!!

Hoping I can get some more good wear out of this thing before LA heats up to the oven setting that global warming has turned it to. Anybody else so ready to be on the other side of this election with an amazing, exciting and inspiring president in office?? I can’t bear to deal with all the upcoming stress and anxiety of it, but I am SO ready to celebrate some good political news!

Keep on keeping on, y’all! And as always, thanks to Claire for this pics!

 

A Rigel Bomber for Claire

I make Claire stuff all the time- hoodies, binders, approximately 326 pairs of Hudson pants- but not all of it gets catalogued here on my blog. Mostly because getting photos of myself in my makes seems to take forever, so trying to schedule an additional person feels downright preposterous. But every once in a while, I make Claire something so radical that it’s essential to catalogue here, and this Rigel Bomber by Papercut Patterns is a perfect example.

Rigel Bomber

Although I’ve pinned and pined over lots of photos of their patterns, this is the first one I have actually ever made. Hilariously it was gifted to Claire through me (since Claire doesn’t sew), because our friend thought it would be a good style match for her, and she was totally right- this bomber jacket has all the athletic/leisurewear essence of the clothing that Claire is generally drawn to, with a little bit of design flare included.

I have to be honest- I wasn’t a huge fan of this pattern, drafting-wise or construction-wise, but I am not turned off of it enough to not try out another of their patterns in the future, and I do like the outcome of this jacket! Let’s start with the fabric and notions choices, which are probably my favorite part of the whole project, but which definitely took the most time to collect. Last December when Claire and I went down to New Orleans to celebrate our friend Geri’s birthday, we made a stop at Promenade Fabrics because I had heard of what a special store it was. I guess they weren’t quite ready for our crew when we arrived- we were like, 10 people deep, and we barged in on the quiet store with a lot of conversation and squeals of delight (mostly coming from Claire). I got the distinct feeling that the people manning the store didn’t actually think we were going to buy anything. But we did! And this beautiful print is one of them!

Of course Claire is the one who picked this out- it’s got her personality all over it: bold, bright, and totally unique. We had already decided that I would make her the Rigel Bomber but it was taking forever to figure out what fabric she wanted- nothing online caught her interest but she also wasn’t sure what she was looking for. When we walked the aisles of Promenade, she kept asking ‘would this one work?….what about this one?’ and not finding the exact print-to-textile match necessary, but then she found this random little bolt off to the side that caught her eye. We pulled it out and it was stunning! A galaxy print with a bit of embossing on the fabric, lots of silver, gold, yellows and reds. The fabric was expensive but they only had one yard left and although I knew it wasn’t enough to complete the whole jacket, I felt confident that we could supplement the rest of it with something really cool.

Back at home with the pattern pieces cut out I determined that we could get the back and front bodice pieces from the galaxy print and we just needed a different fabric for the sleeves…but what?? I glanced in a corner of my craft room and saw a big box of leather that I had just purchased for a steal from the Brooklyn Shoe Space instagram account. Sticking out of it was a soft, pliable chocolate brown hide that matched the reddish, brownish hues in the galaxy print. “Ever considered leather?” I asked Claire, and her eyes widened.

Once we had the main fabric worked out, I forged ahead. I didn’t muslin (yeah, yeah, I know!) or make any big adjustments, but I did redraft the front neckline to be more rounded- as designed it slants into a V and pulls down kind of low at the front, which I just don’t like very much- I prefer the more classic neckline shape of a letterman’s jacket. Next I re-drafted the facing to match the curve of the neckline of the front bodice, and I liked the look much better, although I could have raised the neckline higher and rounded it out even more. Weirdly, I got pretty stumped by the welt pocket construction…well, not stumped, per se, but dissatisfied. I wasn’t impressed with the techniques they used but I didn’t realize how strange they were til I was already halfway through them and it was too late to change it up. I don’t remember everything I disliked about the method, but I do remember that it lacked a lot of key information, like which direction to press the pocket bags and facings, etc. Pressing properly throughout welt pocket construction is one of the things that makes this design feature look really tidy and professional, so omitting it was a big oversight to me (FYI I really like the technique used in Closet Case’s Sasha Trousers).

I also disliked the size and shape of the pocket- it’s not very deep or long and it was kind of frustrating to sew. Part of it is because the jacket is relatively short and narrow, but I still think it could have a lot more room in the pocket without compromising the design too much. Thankfully the unattractive pocket and welt can’t be seen on the inside of the jacket because I decided to underline it! A regular lining would have been nice but because I used a thick material (leather) for the sleeves, I didn’t want to bulk up that area even more, so I just underlined the back and front bodice pieces with some bright green quilted polyester by basting the lining and outer fabric together and then sewing it as one.

 

Claire had purchased a zipper and a length of binding on etsy once we found her main fabric, but I neglected to tell her not to purchase from any accounts shipping from overseas, since they can take months and months to get here and it’s not the most sustainable way to buy. Spoiler alert: we are still waiting on her zipper from China and it has been THREE MONTHS lol! I ended up having to hunt down ribbing locally once I got to that step in the instructions, and I also picked up a really cool zipper, but lo and behold, when I got back home to use them, they were all wrong. The “ribbing” I bought from Michael Levine’s was actually more of a thin, lightweight, ribbed stretch knit- it was incredibly flimsy when I basted it onto the neckline of the jacket, and the color was also not quite right- a little too bright and orange-y to pair well with the galaxy print. And then! The zipper I got was too long! Which normally wouldn’t matter, but because this is a separating zipper it needs to be exactly the right length for the jacket front.

I took to instagram asking my followers if anyone had any beefy, sturdy ribbing to suggest for me that I could buy online, and Michelle of Stylemaker Fabrics wrote me with a link to the perfect ribbing that she carried in her shop. I bought two packages of waistband ribbing (I used the additional one for the neckband) and matching ribbed cuffs in a color that ended up being the absolute perfect compliment to the jacket- a deep purple-ish wine color that enhanced the purple in the galaxy print and was a nice pairing for the brown leather of the sleeves.


Next I looked on youtube for tutorials on how to shorten a separating zipper, and I found that I could remove some of the teeth with wire cutters and then cut the excess length, but I wasn’t sure how to close off the top of the zipper without an extra pair of zipper stops – apparently you can buy zipper repair kits at a local fabric store, but I wasn’t planning on leaving the house for the rest of the night so I was determined to figure it out with the tools I already had. Somehow, someway, I convinced myself that if I was careful, I could pull the stops off the orginal zipper with pliers and then close them back onto the zipper where I needed them to be, right below where I had cut off the teeth. It took a while and a lot of muscle, but I did it, and it was totally worth it- this zipper is just too cool to not be attached to this jacket.

Because I opted to use leather sleeves for this project, I had to be flexible with a lot of the construction methods- it would have been quick and easy to serge almost the whole jacket, but I can’t run leather through my serger, so I had to sew straight stitches with Nylon thread (which holds up better when sewing leather). I also had to try and reduce bulk in as many places as possible, sometimes skiving the leather down at intersecting seams, sometimes using my mallet to pound the seams flat or open. Using leather took a little bit more time but I adore the look is brings to the jacket.

Another design element I didn’t like so much was the facing, or rather the fact that the facing isn’t instructed to be tacked down inside the jacket around the zipper. On this jacket, the facing constantly wanted to fly open or get scrunched up inside the jacket when it was being put on, and tacking it down was easy since I underlined the outer shell, but on a single layer jacket, depending on the fabric, this might be a difficult thing to do.

This jacket was literally four months in the making but I am glad I kept working on it because it looks really freaking cool and it’s SO CLAIRE! I am hoping that the leather of the sleeves softens up more over time because as of now, even though the leather is soft and pliable, it’s still pretty thick and it needs to be broken in. If I made this again I would probably lengthen it a bit and round out that collar even more (and alter that pocket bag shape!), but I think it fits Claire well and is a beautiful collaborative effort on both our parts. Enjoy, Claire- I love you!