Monday, March 28, 2011

Making a Sweater Coat Part 2 Muslin Sample and Alterations

I'm going to check the pattern by making a sample from inexpensive cotton fabric.  Unbleached cotton muslin is the classic type of fabric people use for this purpose, but since I have drawers full of left over scraps of cotton quilting fabric, I use those instead of the unbleached stuff.  It’s essentially the same material and weave, so it’s a fine and dandy substitute with a lot more color.   I picked some of my medium sized pieces, and with loud prints and overly bright colors and declare that today is they day they will be liberated and make themselves useful.  I didn't pay any attention to the colors of the fabrics I used, so I know already that the color combination of the finished muslin is going to be pretty awful.  I'm okay with that as I'll just have too consider form and fit.   I smooth out the doubled fabric, pin the pattern pieces to it and cut out all of my pieces.  I copy marks onto the cotton with a colored pencil. Below is a photo of the front and front side pieces.
For a few of the final pieces, I have to patch some fabric together to get pieces that are large enough to use, like I did here for the back panel.
When all of my pieces were cut, I skimmed through the pattern to find all of the places where two freshly cut pieces are sewn together, and I start with those.  When sewing the muslin together, you can skip a lot of the details of the pattern including stay stitching, interfacing, pockets, and lining. 

In the first round of pinning, sewing and pressing, I completed 11 seams. These seams are two front to side front, two center back seams on coat and hood, two sleeve uppers to sleeve lowers, back neck facing to front facing left, two sleeve cuffs, and two sleeve facings.  I pin all 11 seams together, then I sew 11 seams, then I press them all.  By pinning as many pieces as possible in the first step, you get somewhere between a third and a half of all of the seams completed in the first round.  It is very satisfying to finish this first round and know you’re close to a third done, not counting hemming, of course.  This is the complete back.  The center slit is kind of cool, but I probably won't use it in the final coat since it will be a lot harder to execute neatly with patchworked sweaters.
 Here are the cuffs pinned to the bottom of the sleeves.
Here are the sleeve facing pinned to the bottom of the sleeves.  On the right is the front facing and back neck facing (in blue).
Here are the cuffs finished.  The left one is sewn but inside out.  The right one is finished, except the facing is not hemmed to the inside of the cuff, but I don't need to do that part on the sample.
In my second round of seams, I don’t get anywhere close to 11, but I pin, sew and press until the I have the main body of the coat in one piece, two sleeves, and a hood.  Then, I sew the sleeves and hood to the main body.  It turns out I didn’t need the front facing and back neck facing to hold the coat together for a fitting.  Some of my other coat patterns require the facing to get the coat to hang properly, but apparently, this one doesn’t. 

Here is what my unaltered sample looks like. 

Oh yes, the colors are nice, no? Hehe.

The coat is a little too big and the armholes are way too low. Since I’ll be using sweaters with a bit of stretch, I want the coat to be more fitted than what I might make with other material, like faux fur.  I take in all three of the back seams so it fits better around the torso. 
To raise the armhole, I have to add extra fabric under the armpit.  What’s so annoying about this is I have to alter 4 pieces: side front, side back and both the upper and under sleeve.  I redraft the sleeve entirely, removing about 4 inches from the width, only to find it’s too much, so I have to add more fabric back in again.  
 I don’t test out my third sleeve with the muslin.  I’m just going to assume it’s close enough and move on.  At this point, I also decide that the cuffs and sleeve facings are more complicated than what I want for my patchwork coat, so I ditch them and add a 2 inch hem to the bottom of the sleeve pattern.

Below you can see my altered sample. The right sleeve is altered (in the left side of the first photo).  Notice the right sleeve is narrower and the armpit is raised by a good inch.

The next step is to transfer all of my alterations to my paper pattern pieces.  Before doing this, I mark the seam lines on all of the alter pieces of fabric with a pencil so I can see them when I take apart the muslin sample.  Then I take it apart, (but I really only need to take apart half of it).  Some of the pieces I press, but others I just copy the alterations to the paper pattern pieces if I can alter them with folds, but most of them I redraft the entire pattern piece.  To redraft the piece, I trace the old pattern piece.  Copy the piece name and markings.  Then lay the flat muslin piece over the tracing and mark new sewing lines.  Be sure to add 5/8 inches seam allowance.  Cut out pattern piece.  Repeat with all of the pattern pieces that need to be altered, which is most of them.

Okay, so now I have a coat pattern that fits, and I’m ready to go… almost.  I still need to design the coat.  You see, I can’t just go and use my pattern with my recycled sweaters because my pattern pieces are MUCH larger than my sweater fabric pieces.  Therefore, I MUST find a way to make a patchwork design for all of my pattern pieces.  So, until next time… happy sewing.

See Part 3 in which I design the patchwork and make my pattern pieces

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