Regular readers of this blog will know I enjoy testing patterns for Jennifer: the instructions are always superb; I always learn something new and, most importantly, end up with a very wearable garment. When I saw her Instagram tease back in July (wow – was it that long ago??) that she was releasing her first coat pattern this autumn, I was interested for the above reasons – and also because of the gorgeous looking tease pic! Luckily, I managed to get a test spot for the size 18 (Jennifer is very fair and allocates tests as they are applied for on a first come, first served basis). It was such an enjoyable project and there’s a ton to say about it, so settle in for the details*…
*or skip through the pictures. I won’t be offended.
Pattern and sizing
Firstly – what a beauty of a coat it turned out to be when I got the full pattern through to test. The Willa Coat is officially described as: “Semi-fitted through the back and shoulders for a sleek silhouette when viewed from behind” and “deceptively easy to fit around the front due to the easy wrap-style, darted front princess seams and multiple bust cups (Willa comes with A to F cup sizes).”
I would say that’s a very fair description – and the standout feature is obviously that wide collar, which adds a fair helping of drama. You can wear it open where it really makes a statement, or buttoned up (buttons are optional) for a more covered style. Funnily enough, although I thought I’d prefer the open wide-collar look, in practice, I like the funnel neck arrangement better. They’re both lovely, but it’s interesting how reality doesn’t always match up to your preconceptions. There’s a full lining and facing and lovely little details like a coat hook, patch pockets and a belt with belt loops.
As I mentioned above, I made the 18, and I used the C + D cup piece. Jennifer has introduced a second sizing range: her original sizing goes from 6 to 24 (which was quite extensive anyway) and the new range goes from 16 to 34. She also produces the patterns in an A to F cup, which must make her one of the more inclusive indie designers. It did, however, make it a little tricky for me to choose a size as I had so many options. I’d recommend checking the size guide here and see how the numbers shape up for you, but in the end I took Jennifer’s advice that if you’d already had a pretty good fit with the Original block, to stick with it.
Alright, so the first thing I want to say is that I gave myself a massive headache with this one because of my fabric choice. Don’t get me wrong – I am very, VERY happy with the way it turned out, so I’m sort of glad I didn’t think it through in a weird way, but… I didn’t think it through. From the very beginning I had this piece of wool envisaged for the coat in that way that often happens. It popped into my head and I was like, “Deal done. That’s the cheeky bugger for the job.”
However, at that point I hadn’t looked at the pattern too closely and when I did, I realised that matching plaid across princess seams might not be the best idea in the world. I duly went and did some internet research and realised it was actually possible with a bit of effort. But THEN just as I was laying out and planning the cutting, I realised there was a dart as well as the princess seams, which would totally throw off my careful plans. Argh. At this point, I had few alternative fabric options and a looming deadline, so I put my thinking cap back on and decided I would go for a mixed bias/straight-grain cutting approach and hope the darts looked okay.
Laying out and cutting
I started with my centre front pieces, and made sure they were mirror images of each other, by lining up at the same horizontal plaid points. Here I found another issue, which was that the plaid wasn’t at all symmetrical, but was in fact directional. Eurgh. This was just too much of a headache for me, so I concentrated on lining up the horizontal marks and figured I would do my best to keep everything else mirrored, but wasn’t going to go crazy. I also found it tricky to visualise everything, so decided I could always recut some smaller pieces if I made a big error at the end (I expected to have a little extra fabric).
Anyway, after the centre fronts, I then cut the front side pieces. These were on the bias, so I wasn’t matching any straight lines, but I still wanted them to be roughly mirrored to keep a cohesive look. Then I concentrated on the back sides. Since the two sets of side pieces were meeting at the side seams, I tried to keep the diagonal lines in a good place, accounting for seam allowances, but these seams were slightly less important. I also decided to put the pockets on the bias for some interest on centre front and if you look closely, you can see I managed to match some of the diagonals all the way through the two sides and the pocket (see below). Woohoo!
For the back pieces, I checked there was a decent placement for the side back pieces to the centre back pieces, but, more importantly, made sure the two centre back pieces matched on the horizontal, as these are the most obvious focal points.
Finally, I decided to have a go at matching the sleeves. Life was made slightly easier here as only the upper sleevehead had to match. The lower half of the sleevehead would be sewn to the bias side piece and that wouldn’t match anyway. Happy days. Here’s how I did it:
I first drew in the 5/8″ seamlines on the sleeve pattern piece and the half of the armhole that was on the centre front and centre back body pieces.
I decided at which point I wanted to match up the pattern and drew a horizontal line across the body piece. I then walked the sleevehead around the body piece and marked the same point on the sleevehead pattern piece with a pin.
I drew a corresponding horizontal on the sleeve pattern piece and now knew where I needed to match both pieces on the fabric. I had already cut my centre front piece, so made sure to match the sleeve piece to that, using the horizontal lines. I then repeated the process for the back piece, which in the end was more successful, I think.
It’s a little hard to see it effectively, but I think you can see in the picture above that my horizontals are reasonably consistent across the back and sleeves. Overall, I was really chuffed with my first attempt at matching plaids. It worked out and, even though only a sewist would recognise the effort, I’m pleased with the result.
As I mentioned at the top, one of the parts I was most excited about was making the coat using Jennifer’s instructions, and these meet her usual standard. I absolutely sailed through this construction until I got right to the end, where it took me a little time to get the hem and sleeves right. I’ve seen the final version of the instructions though and she’s added more detail, so I think I would be fine now.
A couple of notes I made:
- I slightly changed the order of construction as written and made the outer shell and then the lining, which was really an effort to save me switching needles and thread the whole time. I’m lazy that way.
- The set-in sleeves instructions were brilliant. I’ve set in quite a few, but this was my best ever attempt (certainly on outerwear) and it went perfectly first time. Bravo!
- I had a slight problem with the sleeves because I forgot to shorten the lining after I shortened the outer fabric sleeves. Don’t do this!
- I actually basted some of the parts as well as the sleeves before I made the final stitches in the sleevehead. This was partly because I wanted to help the plaid match as much as I could, but also because it was in the instructions and when I test, I like to do everything properly. I can’t lie – I’m a bit of a basting convert now. It is so, so fast to do and it really makes a difference in some garments, although not all. I’m not a basting addict. Never! But I will definitely consider it as a good option going forwards.
Fit and summation
Okay, I’ve been droning on for long enough now. I think you get the idea that I really like this coat and I would recommend, nay, urge you, to check out some of the other tester versions. I hadn’t seen them myself before, but they’ve been popping up today on Instagram and they are beautiful. We’ve all used different fabrics (funnily enough, I’m the only fool who used plaid – ahem -) and they look amazing on everyone. I think the design is very clever; somehow structured and most certainly coat-like, but it has so much flexibility because of the wrap aspect and proportions.
As far as fit goes, I really can’t complain. I thought it was perhaps just a touch wide at the shoulders, but it looks perfectly fine in the photos and I want to be able to layer underneath anyway. I forgot to mention my buttons, which were two vintage brass buttons I had in my stash from a car boot sale or similar eons ago. I think they’re perfect and just love the little extra glimmer they add.
The bust dart is excellent – about 1/4 inch off perfect and that’s much closer than many D cup patterns I’ve tried in the past. The dart length is also great – I think they look really cute just peeking out from the side seams. (I also think if you’re not obsessed by sewing, calling darts cute might sound a bit worrying). The length is also perfect – I’m 5’6″ and it covers my bum nicely. The plaid really worked in my favour here and I love the effect from the back of the bias-cut pieces contrasting with the back.
All in all, one of the best pieces I’ve made this year and definitely one I’m proud of. Recommended!