I’ve just about finished this coat. Well — no I haven’t. But I’ve passed the point of no return on the collar, and I can’t go back and fix that work. It’s a McCall’s pattern, #M7003, and I’ve learned a lot from making it. I’m already eager to try again.
Sometimes a project comes along like this that challenges all of the things that you know about the art-form you practice, and requires you to get smarter. Making clothes is often like that — medieval clothing (whether Japanese, Chinese, European or Islamic) is often all squares and rectangles and triangles, because those shapes are easy to produce on a a loom. Once cloth becomes cheap thanks to the Industrial Revolution (and slavery in the American South to produce huge quantities of raw cotton at low prices), you start seeing curves and rounds in pattern pieces.
Clothes from the Napoleonic era have all sorts of wild curves in them, as men start experimenting with tight-fitting clothes (which require curves) like breeches, and cutaway coats with swallowtails. This coat design, probably from the 1880s or so, is much boxier and blockier. There are some curves, but they’re details added to a garment that’s got a lot of boxiness to it. Most of the curves are in the collar, and that’s where most of the mistakes are — in the most obvious and visible part of the garment. Of course.
The way you make this coat with its lining, though, is to make more-or-less two copies of the coat: one of the shell or outer part of the garment, and one for the lining. Those two pieces are then married or sewn together… along the front seam where the buttons will eventually go, and then along the lines of the collar. As in… the collar is not a separate part of the garment, added to the body of the garment… The collar is integral to the design and assembly process. It would be very difficult to make this coat without the collar, in other words.
I actually went downtown today to talk to a seamstress friend of mine. I paid her to help me figure out this bit of witchery — and it is witchery to make this come out correctly — and finish this garment. She also helped me figure out how to finish the matching pants from the same era. To complete the outfit, I still have to make a cravat and a vest, but that can wait for some other week.
In the meantime, it’s hard not to feel a degree of triumph. I made this coat. My seamstress friend said, “you made this coat? Two years ago you could barely assemble an eye-pillow.” I reminded her that this incident with the eye-pillow was nearly six years ago, but she’s not wrong even so. In this project, I learned to make a coat, make pockets, add a lining, build a collar, assemble multi-part sleeves, ease a sleeve more effectively, and sew into curves. It’s like you can feel yourself getting more intelligent as you do the work.