Monday, 3 February 2020

Buffalo Check Coat: The Last Coat I'll Ever Make?

Well, let's be honest, it's probably not the last coat I will ever make, but right now that's how I feel. As I was starting this project, Pat (Mr SoZo) questioned, 'Didn't you say you were never going to make another coat again?', and he was right because I said exactly that during the construction of each of the five-ish fully lined coats and jackets I'd made before this one. Dreaming and planning them is fun, but I find the actually making process such a slog. However, I am relieved to be able to say that I LOVE this finished garment! Let me tell you about this coat and shower your screen with many photos of it....


This project was one of my #makenine2019 sewing plans, having had this lovely, soft, buffalo check coat fabric hanging out in my stash for far too long. I started this coat project towards the end of last year, but I knew it was going to be a beast of a project, so I allowed myself to take my time. It probably took close to six weeks in total. 

The fabric was originally from Fabric Godmother, bought about three years ago. It's long since out of stock, so I can't check, but I'm pretty sure it's polyester or some such synthetic fibre. I try to avoid synthetic fibres where possible these days, but because I already had it, plus a coat is less likely to get washed and therefore less likely to release micro plastics into the water system, I went ahead. This fabric is super soft, slightly fuzzy, and the perfect, bold, buffalo check. 

As you can imagine, cutting out the pieces for this project took an age. Not least because I only had about 2m of it, originally intending it for a jacket. But I was determined to make something that covered my bum because I just want to feel warm at this point. I googled 'Buffalo check coat' for advise on check placement, and found the awesome Comme des Garcons coat that is pictured below. Pattern matching at the side seams and top seams on the sleeves was pretty tricky because the fabric's fuzziness made the edges of the checks unclear, however I think the final look is pretty much spot on. I managed to get the hem and sleeve hems to finish on a check too. Oh, and there was one really hairy moment when I realised that I was missing one of my back sleeve pieces! I still don't know if I lost it, or failed to cut it out in the first place (I was cutting this out on the flat, not the fold because of the check and tight lay plan), but I managed to *just* squeeze another from the remainder of my fabric. Phew!

(image source: Comme des Garcons)

My intention for this coat was to make it warm enough to withstand the worst an English winter can throw at you at best, and warmer than my grey cocoon coat at the least. My first step to achieving this was to get the same fusible coat interfacing from the English Couture Company that I used for the cocoon coat. I've been so impressed by this stuff: the extra thickness and smoothness that it gives a coat fabric, and I recommend it to all my sewing students who are thinking of working on a coat project. I feel I should definitely mention that fusing this interfacing to this particular coat fabric did make my pieces shrink a bit. It didn't cause me any problems because the pattern was a little large for me anyway, but to avoid the risk of that happening, I'd advise block fusing the interfacing on BEFORE you cut your coat pieces out if you choose to use this stuff yourself. 

Having started construction, I swiftly found that this fabric didn't press very well. So I ended up slip-stitching every damn seam allowance down inside so that all my seams would lie nice and flat. Having used the fusible interfacing really helped with this, because I was able to slip stitch the seam allowances to the fusing rather than to the outer fabric so I didn't disturb the smoothness of the fabric from the right side. 

My second step on the path to snuggliness was to quilt the lining. I considered buying pre-quilted fabric to line it, but I already had this gorgeous, deep rust, viscose twill lining in my stash (also from Fabric Godmother, also out of stock, soz) so I decided to have a go at quilting it myself. I bought some fairly lightweight cotton batting from Little Miss Sew N Sew in Eastbourne, borrowed some spray adhesive stuff that quilters apparently use, and drew on some diagonal lines the width of a metre ruler. I was only quilting two layers, the lining and the batting, so I used a walking foot in my machine, with the batting side up. I quilted the full 1.5m before cutting out my pieces this time, and quilting that big section took what felt like most of my life. Also, note to self: do NOT use a sharpie pen to draw lines on fabric, because it's liable to bleed and will not wash off. Glad I learned that lesson on the lining! 


This amazing vintage pattern has been in my stash for at least seven years (most likely from eBay) and it was published in 1959! It was for a 37" bust, although I never know if vintage dress patterns refer to your full or high bust. Either way, 37" is a bit bigger than I am, but I thought I could bring it in at the side seams if necessary. As I mentioned above, the fusing shrunk the pieces slightly and the result was just the kind of fit I would look for in a coat of this type. 

As with many mid-century sewing patterns, this assumed a greater base level of sewing knowledge than patterns created today tend to. Which seems so unfair considering this was published way before YouTube. I don't know if it was me, the scant instructions or the combination of bulky outer fabric with lightweight pocket linings, but the welt pockets construction in particular was a real headache. It annoys me that there are some raw edges inside at the bottom of the welt, but from the outside they look fine. 

With a flash of maverick flair, I ended up ignoring the instructions on how to insert the lining. The pattern had you basically finish the whole outer coat (buttons, button holes, hemming and all) and then attach the lining. This seemed pretty bonkers to me, so I used the same method as my cocoon coat and the finish looks fine. 

I ummed and ahhed about using this project as an opportunity to finally get to grips with bound buttonholes. But ultimately, I felt that, with the pattern matching considerations and my bulky, fused outer fabric, I'd wimp out about go for the chunky press-stud option instead. The chunky press studs have worked so well with my cocoon coat. They make the coat so easy to put on and take off, plus after a year of heavy use, I have yet to have to restitch them (unlike the buttons of every other coat or jacket I've made), so I went on eBay and found the exact same type that I used before. 


I really do love this coat. I think the fabric makes such a fantastic impact. The colours mean it goes with everything I'm likely to wear it with, however it's a bit more lively and fun than a solid black, white or grey coat would be IMO. I'm also really happy with how the buffalo check and the giant press studs give the vintage pattern a modern twist, so that it doesn't really look like a vintage garment at all. The interfacing and quilted lining have done the trick, and it is definitely warmer than my cocoon coat. I have clear 'winter' and 'spring/autumn' options now, which I'm grateful for. 

What I don't like, is that the under collar peeks out a bit, especially at the back. Oh, and that raw edge inside the pocket, but I'm trying to redefine those in my mind as the 'quirks' of a handmade garment over something made in a factory. So, on balance, I am thrilled with this garment, not least because it's finished!  


Anonymous said...

Beautiful! I didn’t realise this was a vintage pattern, it looks fresh and modern.

Fabric Tragic said...

Omg Zoe this is so gorgeous! You’ve done a beautiful job. It looks amazing from the photos. (And it sounds like coat making produces process amnesia, a little like childbirth...) ;)

Zoƫ said...

This is so great Zoe, I love the check, it looks amazing on you!

KS_Sews (Dressmakingbacles) said...

It's perfect! So fun!!!

M-C said...

I totally understand the burnout from a project of this magnitude, but hopefully it will fade soon and all that will be left is the sheer fabulousness of the result! Love that modern retro vibe, that bold pattern but workable color scheme, how it makes winter more interesting..

But you know, if you started with wool you'd get two important qualities without having to lift a finger: more warmth (especially if a fulled variety like a melton) and easier construction. And more durability to boot, my wool coays have lasted 15 years of hard wear on average. More expensive, you really have to hunt down a bargain, but so worthwhile.

Cherie said...

Zoe, I have to say several adjectives about your outstanding coat: brave (you), perfect lines for such a coat, stupendous lining, perfect fit, even the length, and, you said it - goes with everything. And any weather. You made a masterpiece! I predict you’ll wear it for life or toss it because do boredom in 30 years!

Anonymous said...

I love this coat!
It‘s perfekt!

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