Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Thelma Boiler Suit


I have mentioned it before, and I'll say it again, it seems that my personal style has headed firmly into the realm of 'Art teacher'. This boiler suit feels like some kind of logical conclusion to this trend! When I went to university (in 1999!) my department was in the same building as most of the other Art & Design courses. A lot of the Fine Art students would hang out at the front of the building having a fag (did I mention this was the 90s?!) and a coffee from the nasty coffee machine whilst wearing paint-splattered coveralls, with the sleeves tied round their waists if it was warm. Coming from my department (Fashion) where everyone was constantly scrutinising what what everyone else was wearing, these baggy-boiler-suit-and-paint-clad Fine Art students seemed so refreshingly unconcerned with their own appearance, and therefore really sexy! I feel I have digressed.... 

Anyway, I probably look like the tutor at an evening class for pottery, and I'm here for it.   


Pattern:

I'd long been drawn to Ready to Sew's Jean-Paul coverall pattern, for living out my coverall/boiler suit fantasies. But then Merchant & Mills released the Thelma boiler suit pattern with all manner of bells and whistles (including concealed front button fastening) in paper form rather than PDF only, and I was fully sold. I bought it but then I got scared and the pattern sat on my shelf for a lonngggg time. Even once I'd bought the fabric for it, I waited months for the right time to start this project. It just seemed like such an undertaking. For one thing, if memory serves, there are about 24 separate pattern pieces! Eek. This was going to be a commitment. 


Cutting out the paper pattern pieces alone took a whole evening, and I poured over the finished garment measurements on the pattern trying to decide which size to cut out. Ultimately, I made the decision to pick one size smaller (10) than the body measurements on their website's sizing chart would have had me make (12). Because it had so many pieces and required a lot of fabric, I knew I wasn't going to make a toile(/muslin) for this project so sizing down on spec felt risky, but with the 1.5 cm seam allowance, I felt confident that I could claw back some width should a mid-way fitting deem it necessary. The annoying thing is that I could easily saved myself the stress because just before I started this project, I was in the M&M store in Rye and I could have just tried on the size 10 Thelma sample that they had in the shop! But I was feeling too cold to get undressed, and a bit tight on time, so I didn't. 


What to say about the making of this pattern? Unsurprisingly, there are A LOT of steps in the construction process, and it very much earns its description as an experienced-level pattern. The different pattern pieces for the left and right fronts resulted in a lot of head scratching, for example. The only things I changed about the pattern or construction, however, were to raise the position of the breast pocket by about 5 cm, and leave off the flaps from the rear pockets. Even if I'd felt the need or desire to to go off-piste with this project (as I so often do), I think I would have felt too far out on a limb to try!


Fabric and buttons:

For the main fabric for this boiler suit, perhaps unimaginatively, I bought the exact fabric from Merchant & Mills that they'd used for one of the pattern samples in their photographs. It's a rich, brick red, sanded twill: thick but soft, with a dense twill weave. I'm such a fan of rusty colours at the moment, plus I wanted to avoid navy or black that I otherwise would probably have gravitated towards, as I feared the result of those would look too much like I was about to fix your car. 

Both my sewing machine and overlocker HATED this fabric. There were many sections, particularly around the side seams at the front hip pockets, and around the concealed fastenings and facings, where you are sewing through many layers of dense, thick fabric plus interfacing, and my machines were not into it one little bit. But we made it through, just about, although I suspect it may have contributed to the recent demise of my elderly overlocker. 


For the back neck facing, I chose a scrap of black and white gingham from my stash. I didn't have enough for the pocket bags as well, so I just used some navy poly/taffeta from my stash for those. And for those to whom such things are important, these pockets are deep. Like, man-pocket-dimensions deep. 

The right buttons for this project alluded me for a long time. The pattern called for 16 of the blighters, and I found a couple of styles in another shop that I liked, but there wasn't enough in stock. In the end I found the perfect buttons for this boiler suit when I wasn't even looking for them. My friend Paula and I were in a lovely yarn shop in Brighton called Yak (we've both recently been dipping our toes into knitting, but that's a whole other blog post) and I found these gorgeous black and speckled-effect ones at the counter. At £1 a pop, it seemed like an extravagance when most of the buttons are concealed anyhow and I'd already spent way more than I usually do on the main fabric, but the speckled effect on these buttons is the exact same shade of rust/brick red and I knew I had to have them. I think they are actually made of clay, because I broke one almost immediately and had to reconfigure the button situation on the cuffs as a result so that I'd still have enough, but after four wears of the boiler suit at time of writing, including multiple trips to the loo, no more have broken at thus far. 


Thoughts:

This project was truly major for me. I'd say that it was at least as much work as a coat project: and although I enjoyed the sewing, I frequently wondered if I would ever come to the end and actually get to wear the thing! I also spent most of the project terrified that it wouldn't fit very well. I have a naturally high natural waistline, but I also usually have to scoop out the crotch (!) of my trouser projects, so I wagered that those adjustments would cancel each other out in this garment, and decided to leave the pattern be. I (figuratively) held my breath til the end to see if everything felt and looked ok. 

Aside from time and effort, as I mentioned above, I also invested a lot more financially than I usually do in my sewing projects. It's so rare that I buy a paper sewing pattern as PDFs are cheaper, but there was no way I was taping together so many pages for this project. Also, if I do buy new fabric, I almost always get it from Fabric Godmother where I'm lucky enough to get a staff discount. So buying 3.3m of full-priced fabric from M&M definitely made me feel a little faint and promise to myself that I'd do a good job with it! Oh, and those buttons that cost me more than I usually spend in total on my sewing projects...


So the pressure on the resultant garment was high, but I'm so relieved to announce that I love it and it feels like all the elements of the garment have ended up where they should on my body. Because I so often wear knit tops, the thick twill does feel a bit heavy and inflexible on my upper body, but I expect that I'll get used to it over time, and also that the fabric will soften a bit with wear and laundering. The two other minor issues I have are A), there's some weird excess fabric issue that sometimes appears either side of the concealed fastening/fly front area, you can see it most noticeably in the pic above. I'm not entirely sure what causes it, but I've noticed it in some photos on their website plus other peoples' Thelmas on IG, so it seems an issue with the pattern rather than solely with mine/my body. And B), that I must not wait til I'm desperate to go to the loo!!! I probably made the second issue worse by sizing down, but I'm so glad I did as I think the 12 would have swamped me (or I'd be constantly asked by people if I could unblock their drains). This boiler suit and I are in it for the long haul. I hope it will have a very long life and see a squillion wears. 

But the best thing of all? I get to twin with my little girl!!!!! I snapped up this amazing child's red Dickies boiler suit for £1 (they were asking 50p) at her school's nearly-new clothes sale and it's sooooo good. She is always creating things from cardboard boxes and trying to invent excessively-ambitious contraptions, so this is EXACTLY the garment she should be wearing at all times!


11 comments:

Jo said...

Whoa that is a project and a half. I have a boiler suit for farm jobs but it is not made! My girls also have Dickies Boiler suits too but I have NEVER bought one for £1 so I am very jealous. We keep passing them on to others but the next size never seems to emerge... Jo xx

Judy T said...

Beautifully made! I am no where near that poin of expertise yet. Congratulations on tackling this project and doing such a great job.

Didge T said...

I have the pattern and the fabric ready but I have not cut out the fabric yet (since December). Yours looks amazing and the colour really suits you and has inspired me to get moving.

Charlotte (English Girl at Home) said...

Absolutely love it Zoe. I’m just making some coveralls, not as involved as this, but they still felt like a big undertaking so took me some time to start!

Fabric Tragic said...

Love it but love even more that you and your girl match! Glad your investment paid off! Xx

Catherine said...

Great colour and very flattering! I have Simplicity 8447 1940s 'Rosie the Riveter' style overalls sitting in an online shopping basket right now, differing over whether this is a ridiculous thing to be making in lockdown. Also just made blue dungarees for my toddler so high chance we'd end up with matching outfits!

Catherine said...

Great colour and very flattering! I have Simplicity 8447 1940s 'Rosie the Riveter' style overalls sitting in an online shopping basket right now, differing over whether this is a ridiculous thing to be making in lockdown. Also just made blue dungarees for my toddler so high chance we'd end up with matching outfits!

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Anastasia @CleanCutPatterns said...

I admire your sense of colour!

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