Hello there! Well, I didn’t end up winning a prize in the Pattern Review Sewing Bee, but, without wanting to sound like a cheesy cheeseball, I was really pleased to have made it to the final 12 on my first time. There were some amazing sewists taking part and I was genuinely the most relaxed I’d been in the final week, because I really didn’t think there was any chance of me winning. Nevertheless, I am so happy with the outfit I came up with. I feel like I put 110% in and couldn’t have done any better, and that’s all you can ask for isn’t it?
Since there are three garments in my final outfit, I’m going to split this post in two and concentrate on the pattern that was new-to-me today and that was the Style Arc Casey coat. I’ll probably go into this more in the second post, but, briefly, the theme was an outfit you would wear to a post-pandemic event or activity of your choice. There was no stipulation as to how many garments you needed to make, but… looking back at previous years of the final round it was obvious one garment wasn’t going to cut it. I only had 4 days (!) before we went on our little spring break getaway, which was the first little getaway in a long time and there was no way I could cancel or miss it. So, to cut a long story short, I threw caution to the wind, and decided just to get my head down and go for it, with a planned outfit of three pieces.
Even though I am a sewist who loves to work on new patterns, I knew that three totally new patterns would be ludicrous and crazy and actually probably impossible in four days. So I decided just to go for the one, which was possibly also slightly insane, but there we are. My overarching theme was my country of birth – Scotland – as my post-pandemic event plan would be to roll out of bed, jump on a plane and head to a reunion party with my family at home – the Post-Pandemic MacPherson Family Shindig, as I put it. Unsurprisingly, the theme of reuniting with family came up a lot in the entries from the finalists. In my case, I chose fabrics and colours that I felt represented aspects of my country that meant a lot to me, personally, and an overall outfit that would work both as a comfortable travel get-up and then as a party outfit at my destination.
Pattern and Sizing
I knew from the beginning that I would make a piece of outerwear and I was partly inspired by a couple of ready-to-wear coats that I’d pinned a few months back. I had some boiled wool in my stash and had been looking for ideas on what I could sew with it. The principal coat that had caught my eye was very simple in shape, with a slight cocoon silhouette, raglan sleeves and a full zipper front. It looked streamlined and modern.
I had a good look through my pattern stash, but didn’t really have anything similar and the time factor meant that extensive hacking wasn’t an option. After a bit of a search, I came up with a coat that had a similar shape and definite possibilities – and that was the Casey Coat by Style Arc.
The Casey is designed for wool, including felted and boiled varieties, so it was a good starting point from the get-go. It also had the slight cocoon shape I was after, albeit a bit of a different cocoon, as well as a full length open-ended zipper and the sports collar. Where it differed was in the sleeve type – dropped rather than raglan – and it had a two-piece body and sleeve. Other really nice details included in the Casey design are a full-length zipper fly, which I’ve never sewn on a coat, in-seam pockets and facings for the coat front, sleeves and hem.
The sizing didn’t work out quite as I’d anticipated. Style Arc portrays its patterns as line drawings and stylised illustrations, with one or two “real-life” photos. There was only one photo for this coat and it looked fairly oversized on the model. To be fair, nowhere in the description does it say “oversized”, but I looked at the sample ease given, the photo and the cocoon shape and decided that it probably did have a lot of ease. I normally go down a size or two for my shoulders and armscye and then grade out at the bust downwards to account for the extra weight I carry on my front. I certainly didn’t have time for a muslin, so I decided to do what I did for the last round (Ottobre raincoat) and just cut the whole coat at the smaller size of 14 (two sizes smaller than my 18) assuming that the ease would allow it to fit me, if a little more closely than the designer intended. Usually, I like a slightly more fitted look on my figure anyway.
Now I’ll say at this point that the final coat is not too small and I really like the way it turned out, but it did NOT need to be sized down. I found a couple of reviews (after the event of course), which said that they had also gone down a size unnecessarily. It’s pretty much a true-to-size pattern and I had effectively gone down two sizes. Oh well.
This sort of brings me on to another point about Style Arc. As you probably know, they have a rather strange sizing system. They started off just offering single sizes (in .pdf format anyway; I’m not sure about hard copies). If you picked a size they’d send you both the size below and above it. Then, a few years ago, they started providing multi-sized copies for some of their patterns. So at first I thought, great, I’ll buy the multi-sized copy. However, weirdly, they only offered the multi-sized copy in hard copy on their website, which was no use to me in this situation. Now, I know they sell their multi-sized pdfs on the US Amazon, so I dashed on over there, but… another problem. You can buy either the 04-16 or the 18-30 sizes. I was planning to grade from 14 through 18 – argh! Was I going to buy the two different size ranges for $18.99 plus tax each? Erm, no. No, I wasn’t.
Back to the Style Arc website it was and I figured if I bought the 16 in the single size pdf, I’d get the 14 and 18 as well and could use those instead. Bingo! Except… I’d forgotten that they are all single-size files, so I’d need to print all three and compare them and stick them together, etc, etc. No way. So I’m not going to lie – that was an additional reason for why I just stuck with the straight 14. As I say, I really like my coat and it’s very comfy, but just be aware it is NOT as oversized as it looks in the promo picture.
I decided to make a few design changes to get closer to what I had in mind for the entire outfit. Firstly, I decided that I really did like the raglan sleeve on my inspiration coat, but I knew I certainly didn’t have time to research how to redraft a sleeve. Instead, I decided to add a “fake” raglan detail by adding a diagonal pin tuck to the upper body piece. I did this very simply, by trying it out on some scraps and then slicing the pattern piece where I wanted the tuck to fall. I wanted it about 1/8″ diameter in total, so I split the piece by 1/4″ and then sewed it before giving it a light press.
The other big design change I made was to change the in-seam pockets to single-welt pockets. This was a bit of a risk because of time and inexperience (I haven’t made them too much), but I like the look of them and felt it would elevate the jacket a little. In addition, I thought it was a nice continuity of line from the fake raglan pin tuck, so I angled them at the same angle, which worked well.
To create the welt pockets, I wasted a bit of time trying different approaches from patterns I’d used already, before ultimately scrapping that idea as more trouble than it was worth and looking for something I could do from scratch. I hunted around the internet a bit and came across this YouTube video from designer Diane Deziel, which I thought was very clear and also provided some free pattern pieces. Problem solved and I used her method, which resulted in some pretty nice pockets. The stretchiness of the boiled wool did make it a little tricky to get quite the angles I needed, but with a bit of patience I got there. It looks like she has lots of other useful videos too, so I will need to take a closer look soon.
Finally, and I guess this isn’t exactly a design change per se, but I decided to make a two-tone jacket, as you can see. I really wanted it to reflect the water and the sky of Scotland, and also wanted to create an outfit in lots of different blue tones, so I decided to use a baby blue and petrol boiled wool, both of which I bought from Lillestoff last year (walkloden), although they don’t appear to be carrying it now.
Boiled wool is a good choice for a quick (relatively speaking) jacket or coat. It doesn’t need to be finished and, in fact, you can leave it completely raw-edged if you like, although that wasn’t the look I was going for. But it does mean that you don’t necessarily need a full lining, or even facings, although this pattern did include those.
I’ve never sewn with boiled wool before, but discovered it’s pretty stretchy (I sewed it with a ballpoint needle) and also very springy and bouncy. This is a nice attribute, but it did make the already-thick seams really, really thick and so I realised fairly early on that I would need to do a lot of topstitching in order to get the sleek, clean look I was after. I decided to finish all the finished seams by pressing them open, grading one side right down to almost the seam line, folding the other seam allowance to the side, over the first and then topstitching from the right side. This really gave a lovely finish on both sides and also controlled the lines of the coat very well. I must admit it did give me extra work, as I topstitched each half of the coat in its matching thread, so there was a fair bit of thread and spool-swapping, but it was worth it. Turns out it’s a lot of work making a minimalist-looking coat!
I’ve read that you’re not really supposed to use the iron on boiled wool, or even steam, in case it shrinks or stretches or burns or lots of other evil things. I must admit that I used it a bit, watched it like a hawk and didn’t notice too many adverse effects. It doesn’t press particularly well, but I used a light iron, lots of steam to shape and my clapper – and between those and the topstitching, I got some pretty crisp seams and some nice shaping. It was rather fun actually and the smell of sheep that emerges from the wool when you use steam is also very… interesting!
As I mentioned, I used a ballpoint needle, and I also used a slightly longer 3.5mm stitch and lowered the top tension a touch. I was planning to use my walking foot, but after some experimentation, it seemed that actually the regular foot would work fine, so I just left it on. I don’t have a huge machine and, while I love it, my walking foot diminishes my working space even more, so I don’t use it unless I have to. As you can see, there was quite a lot of bulk to manhandle around the machine by the closing stages, so I needed all the space I could get!
Ohhhh… Style Arc, Style Arc. You will hear people talk a lot about the instructions for Style Arc patterns and here’s the thing. Experienced seamstresses LOVE Style Arc as far as I can tell. I see a lot of sewists I admire cite them as one of their favourite companies and this is because (again, as far as I can tell) they draft extremely well, they’re on trend and the finished article looks as professional as you’re going to get sewing at home. They use the seam allowances and design details that a more advanced sewist appreciates and I must say that the Style Arc garments I’ve made have undoubtedly ended up being some of my most worn and proudest makes – particularly the Stevie jacket, which I wear constantly.
However, I have to say that unfortunately their patterns are not really for beginners and I still struggle a bit as an intermediate sewist. Their instructions are really brief and I spend a lot of time looking up how to do things or figuring out what on earth they’re talking about. I actually like the challenge (although it was slightly more stressful than normal given the time limit), but if you’re someone who likes to follow a thorough set of instructions, be advised that these are not those. To compound matters, the punctuation is non-existent in some areas (I don’t mean that in a pedantic way – it actually makes it hard to understand what they’re asking you to do) and I’ve found mistakes in several of the patterns I’ve made. In this one, they ask you to cut two collars and you only need one, for example.
The thing is, if you’re experienced, then you probably only give the instructions a cursory glance and do your own thing anyway – it’s the drafting you’re after. But if you’re not experienced it can be so frustrating to try and follow these instructions. This jacket should probably only take a few hours to sew together as it’s actually a fairly simple design, but I think it would take a beginner double that just trying to understand what’s going on. Ultimately, it’s up to Style Arc what they produce and perhaps that’s the level of sewist they’re trying to cater to, but as a business I think they’re putting off so many potential customers and all they need to do is add some detail. It’s frustrating for me because I REALLY like their patterns. I can just about handle them now I think, but it seems like such a fixable issue. I know they are probably very busy with running their business, but I honestly think they’re missing out on a ton of sales because of this reputation. If I were them, I’d honestly team up with some Style Arc fans to make Youtube sewalongs of their patterns or similar – heck, I’d do it myself if I thought I was good enough. Anyway, enough of this mini-rant.
All this being said and done, I like their patterns enough to be happy to sew more (I, indeed, have more to sew) – just be forewarned that it’s not a walk in the park if you’re new to sewing.
**Addendum** Someone mentioned to me after I published this post that Style Arc have been including more in-depth instructions in their newer patterns. I happened to have purchased a newer one – the Montana midi dress – and so rushed off to check it out. I’m happy to say that, on the basis of this pattern at least, that is absolutely true. There are at least double the amount of instructions plus a full page of illustrations for the Montana, which is a much simpler garment than the Casey. Great stuff! I haven’t made it yet and I also don’t know how recently Style Arc started providing these new-style instructions, but hopefully they will manage to adjust some retroactively as well at some point.
Is that a zipper in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?
Anyway, as I mentioned, the construction is fairly straightforward (once you know what you’re supposed to be doing) and you sew the body before attaching the pockets. Obviously I did this a little differently with welt pockets, but the order was the same. Then it was time to attach the zipper. I thought I had a long enough zipper (28 inches plus) in my stash, but it turned out I did not have one in an acceptable colour and so a zipper hunt began.
It turned out that my regular long-zipper shop was closed for Covid and so my husband volunteered to go and find one for me at the couple of stores I’d suggested as possibilities. I tell you this mainly because he located one at Tandy Leather, which, if you’re not from the US, is a pretty manly, sort of cowboy-ish leather and stud shop, and it also carries long zippers in a choice of testosterone-laden black or brown. The funny part was when my husband got home with it I realised the proportions on the online photo weren’t too accurate and it was the HUGEST zipper I’d ever seen widthwise. Apparently it was the “perfect size for your chaps”. Hahahahaha! That still makes me laugh. Having said allll that, it actually looked pretty good on my coat and quite contemporary, so I was happy to use it. It is quite manly, though. Hahaha.
After that I tackled the zipper fly and facings, which was the hardest part for me as I hadn’t done some of it before. The zipper fly is super neat, but I had a real struggle with the hem facing. I’ve sewn plenty of facings and plenty of hems, but I just couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. I put it aside for the night and got some good sleep and in the morning it all became clear. If it helps, the part I was missing was that you have to turn the bottom corners of the centre front right sides together first before sewing the short sides of the facing to the bottom of the turned-out front facings with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Then you sew the whole bottom of the hem before flipping everything to the right side, encasing your hem facing inside your front facings. I’m sorry I didn’t take detailed photos (I was on a crunch by this point) but hopefully that helps a little.
I then decided to handsew all the facings down with a blind hem stitch. This wasn’t detailed in the instructions, but the boiled wool was so bouncy that I felt it really needed it for a clean finish inside.
Lastly, I sewed on the sleeves and finished them with the sleeve facings, which were really neat and definitely needed in a woollen coat. A final topstitch round the coat, a light press and I was done!
So, even with that ranty bit in the middle of the post, this is still up there with my favourite makes. I love that I’ve gained the confidence to add some of my own details to a garment, that I battled through the construction and that I took the time to finish everything with care – and all in 2 days! That’s what a competition like the Sewing Bee does for me I suppose – I’ve always been someone who works best under a little pressure. It sort of gets my brain firing on all cylinders and it seems sewing is no different. It’s a great pattern and if you think it won’t faze you, I highly recommend it! If I make another, I may even try and video some of it! (But probably not).
I’ll post the rest of my outfit soon to round out the Sewing Bee experience, but until then, cheerio!