Rarrrrr! I’m back from Spring Break and it’s time to catch up on some blog posts. As you may or may not have been following, I’ve been sewing in the annual Pattern Review Sewing Bee. I entered for the first time this year and as of the time of writing this, have just submitted my entry for the final round – Round 4. We find out who wins this week I think but I am 99.99% sure it won’t be me. I think my final round outfit was pretty cool, but there are some truly amazing creations in the gallery. Check them out here if you have time and are interested. Also, here are my entries for Round 1: Pyjamas and Round 2: Denim Repurposing that got me this far.
Buttttt, before that, I need to write up my entry for Round 3 that got me to the final! As you can see it’s a raincoat for when you want to stand out in a crowd! Haha. The challenge for Round 3 was “pattern-matching”. The rules stipulated that to qualify you only had to match across one seam or area in a “seamless” way, but of course, we all knew that we’d need to match across more than one seam to have any chance of getting through the round. Where my biggest challenge in Round 2 was really about the fit of my dress, this was at the other end of the spectrum. Fit was not so much the issue as cutting and precision work.
I like pattern-matching normally. It can be frustrating sometimes, but I like the mental workout. However, it’s a whole different ballgame when the pattern-matching is the focal point of your garment! I knew right away that my preference was to do something pictorial, rather than stripes or plaid. I love them both, but recently made my Willa plaid coat and I’ve made plenty of stripy garments, so wanted to do something a little different. One of the big challenges about the Sewing Bee, as I’ve discovered, is that you have to make pattern and fabric decisions pretty quickly and stick to them.
I allowed myself the leisure of an entire day to consider my options and I’m glad I did, because it gave me time to properly assess what would work. I had what I thought was a brilliant plan, but realised after some thought that the scale of the pattern was just too big to be effective. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there were probably quite a small number of patterns that would actually work. Too big and you wouldn’t really see the matching. Too small and the detail would also be lost in the pattern. Ideally, you’d also want a pattern that was fairly regular if you were going to attempt any kind of tricky matching.
I went round in circles for a while and the suitability issue became apparent as I scrolled through pages of fabric from local stores without finding much at all that wasn’t quilting cotton and not even much of that. Then I remembered a project that I’d had on my list for ages. I’d initially dismissed it, thinking a raincoat might not be a very Sewing Bee-ish garment. Another factor was that it was an Ottobre Magazine pattern, so I knew it would be a challenge for me, given the limited instructions and time, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it might just do the trick. I even had the fabric for it already. That was it. Decision made and the Ruth Raincoat from Ottobre 05/20 it was!
I had purchased this leopard soft shell fabric a long time ago from Jumping June textiles because I didn’t have a long(ish) raincoat. My family loves to go geocaching in our spare time and we live in a beautiful part of the world to do it in. However, I don’t have a waterproof coat that goes past my bum and my plan was to use this one.
There were some challenges with the fabric with reference to the challenge:
1. Texture: this is a good quality soft shell by Elvelyckan Designs from Sweden and it has a brushed inside, which is lovely to wear. However, this also makes it pretty spongy and I was fighting thickness the whole way through the sew as there were some points where several seams intersected. To deal with it, I used a very thin ripstop fabric for the facings and graded all seams. I also forewent the double hem since this fabric doesn’t fray and just folded once instead of the regular twice.
2. Marking: I employed the hammer at a couple of junctures, but not too crazily as the soft shell was prone to marking. It was also prone to marking from needles, so I had to be really, really careful when I was sewing. Unfortunately I did make a couple of errors, but I think the punctures are fairly hidden to all but the keenest of eyes.
3. I thought I was onto a winner as the leopards are a good size to match, as previously discussed. Unfortunately, as I cut my first piece I realised the leopards were not as regular as I had first thought. In fact, they were placed in groups of three. Argh! Which brings me to:
4. Yardage: I only had three yards of the soft shell, although it was pretty wide. I thought this would be fine, but given the leopard irregularity problem, I was nervous. I managed to eke it out with careful cutting and the aforementioned ripstop facings. I tried to piece some scraps at one point, but the seams were just too thick to make it a viable option, so this was the better option.
Ottobre Magazine patterns are similar to Burda or other European magazines with the crazy schematic you have to trace from and no seam allowance included. Normally I find adding the seam allowance slightly burdensome, but in this case it actually slightly played to my advantage. I knew I was going to have to play my ultimate game of Pattern Tetris for the Sewing Bee competition, so the best way to do so was with pattern pieces with the seam allowances removed, or, in this case, never added.
The Ruth raincoat is a great little design. It’s unlined and designed to be fairly loose fitting and it has dropped shoulders and a protective hood. The coat closes with snaps and there’s a cool fish tail opening at the back, which can be cinched with one of two drawstrings. The other drawstring is at the waist so you can shape it there too, should you desire. The sleeves are finished with elasticated cuffs and there are two large patch pockets with flaps. Lots of details and I was particularly attracted by the fishtails and casings as I think they’re really nice, professional touches.
Ottobre’s patterns come in European sizes 34-52, or approx. US 4-22 UK 8-26, which is not a bad range. I did not intend to make a muslin with this project as there wasn’t much time and I wanted to save time for cutting and pattern-matching. This might seem like a risky approach, but because there is significant ease, I was fairly confident it wouldn’t be too small. Where I sometimes have a problem with a dropped sleeve garment is at the shoulder and sleeve as they can be very long on me. For my shoulders I would normally cut a 46 and grade out to the 50 at the bust, waist and hips but since I didn’t want to start grading, I decided to go for the middle ground and cut the 48, allowing for the fact I might have to adjust the sleeves.
Pattern Matching and Construction
Even though a dropped shoulder is not my absolute favourite shoulder, I thought it was a good match for the project because it gave me the opportunity to match across the sleeve (although honestly I was a little dubious as to whether I could make it work). Since I used a fabric with a real-life subject, it becomes very obvious when that object – the leopard – is flipped or doesn’t look right, because of course we all know how a leopard is supposed to look. I decided, therefore, that I wanted to try and make the front and back of the garment as “natural-looking” as possible and match across those areas as much as I could. Therefore, I decided to match down the front of the coat and of course the pockets, with the flaps.
I also decided, maybe somewhat unusually, to try and match across the dropped shoulders both in front and back. There is a curve, but it’s fairly gradual. To achieve this, I cut the sleeve in two along the shoulder line and cut each piece separately, to match the relevant side of the coat. The top line obviously wouldn’t match, so I decided to pipe any areas that were not going to match at all. This included the sleeve, sides of the hood and the seam where the hood joins the neckline. I think it worked out well and provides a nice detail to the overall big cat attack. The sleeves were definitely the trickiest pieces to match though, even though you probably wouldn’t think so by looking at the jacket.
The last part of the front I matched was the front hood piece to match the centre front of the body.
On the back I matched the centre back seam, and the sleeves as mentioned and you can see those matches in the pics through this post.
In order to match as well as I could, I traced the design of the piece I was matching actually onto the pattern piece. Then I could lay it over the remaining fabric and find the exact match. It meant cutting out more than one pattern piece sometimes, but it was totally worth it.
I cut all the pieces on one layer and it took me about 2 days of the 6 to do so. Painstaking!
The pocket flaps were really hard to figure out because of the extra step of sewing it on backwards and folding down but I got there in the end. The thickness of the fabric added complications – as mentioned it’s very spongey, so doesn’t press well at all. This meant that getting it to lay flat to figure out the exactness of the matching was quite painstaking and involved a lot of pins. Undesirable because of the nature of the fabric, but luckily the pin marks didn’t show as much as they would have in more of a polyester or leather finish. I used bar tacks to anchor the flaps down and then topstitched as best I could.
The style of Ottobre instructions is that they are rather brief and they have a certain way of doing things. However, they do have all the necessary information and they even have a few tutorials on their website, but it really took me a while to work out a few bits. Adding the seam allowance was something of a headache – it seems really straightforward at first, but I was very unsure what to do with some parts. For example, there were two hems with different length markings (because of the split back and no directions as to what the actual allowance was for either). I know that with familiarity I will be able to rattle these things off and I worked it out in the end, but there were some head-scratching moments! If I hadn’t already a little experience with facings and coat-making, I think I would have been flummoxed. I’m still not very convinced I sewed the casings in correctly to be honest!
Because of the fact I was taking a small punt with the sizing and to give myself a little insurance, I made all the seam allowances 5/8″ instead of 3/8″. I was very glad of that later, but in all honesty, the construction was straightforward and without all the matching business, I think the coat would be a pretty quick sew. All the notches and pieces matched perfectly and it’s a well-drafted and thought-out design. The facings give a neat finish on the inside and i really love the hood. It’s the perfect shape and it feels like an actual practical rainproof jacket, as well as being pretty to look at.
As far as changes went, the only change I made was to shorten the sleeves by 1.5 inches, based on the measurements given in the magazine. I’m not sure I really needed to in the finished garment and the shoulders were fine too, which is slightly surprising as I have something of a T-tex-arms issue normally. Probably half an inch would have done it, so if you have long arms, you may want to check accordingly.
Other construction points worth mentioning:
– I bound the most noticeable seams inside on the coat and the hood. The jacket features both a waist drawstring and a hem drawstring and the casings for these, with the bound seam, provided some visual interest.
– I had a mini freakout right near the end when I realised I had slightly mis-calculated somewhere and the front wasn’t going to match. It was a super awkward match and I had no choice but to rip the entire facing out and take the seam allowance down to a 1/4″. This gave me just enough wiggle room to match it properly. WHEW! I was never so glad I increased the seam allowance to 5/8″ for this project. I ended up submitting the project with just 4 minutes to spare! Sweaty moments!
I was really pleased with how my raincoat ended up. It was a tough challenge and I needed every one of the six days to complete it. As far as the contest went, I was a little disappointed that I had the mistake I had to remedy at the end, as it meant I didn’t have enough time to write a “proper” review the way I wanted to, but…ahhh… you can’t have everything can you? I would thoroughly recommend this pattern and I love the sample version in Ottobre as well. It’s amazing how different the jacket looks in another fabric. Definitely a recommended pattern!