The Coat that Didn’t Want to Be

Oh, how the temptation of beautiful yet inexpensive fabric can be the start of a bad idea.  In the past few months I’ve gotten a major lesson on how not to make a coat.  The impulse idea started on a trip to Jomar, where I saw a really large bolt of lovely basket-weave wool coating in a light teal – Megan’s favorite color.  When I say “large”, I mean that it was 30″ in diameter.  That should have been the first clue but the little devil in my head said “buy it, Megan will love it”.  After all she lives in Minneapolis where you need a really warm winter outer garment.  I hadn’t sewed a coat in years and was eager to give it a go.

On a nearby table I found a bolt of burgundy Asian-design satin which would make the perfect lining.  The deal was sealed.  I walked out of the store with a massive yellow bag of fabric and less than a $50 drain on my wallet.  Not bad.

Before I whine too much, here’s a photo of the finished coat.  Megan was absolutely thrilled which of course, made it a worthwhile project.  In fact, today I received a thank you note in the mail with something like “I loooooooooove my new coat”.

Q. What went wrong?

A. Everything.

1. Underlining with haircloth.  Because the wool didn’t have much structure (truthfully because I wanted to try haircloth) I hand-stitched haircloth to each piece of the garment, minus the seam lines.  Doesn’t it feel good to brainlessly hand-stitch while watching a movie or two? Later when the sleeves looked like Hulk Hogan’s arms, I removed the underlining from the sleeves.  What was I thinking?

2. Underlining with haircloth. That stuff is itchy beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.  It provides structure but those little fibers are mean-spirited.   Fearful that the hair would poke through the lining and drive Megan crazy, I underlined the lining with a layer of a densely woven lightweight silk from my stash.  That seemed to work well but it was an unexpected additional step.

3. Buttonholes: With this thick fabric, choosing a buttonhole style was quite a feat.  After failing with bound and machine sewed buttonholes, I sought advice from my fellow sewists on I might add that the sample bound buttonholes were a most ridiculous looking specimen with big bulges because of the volume of fabric.  In the end, I used a technique called Spanish Snap Buttonholes.  The Sewing Lawyer has a terrific tutorial which was very easy to follow.  Instead of using wool, I used the lining to back the buttonholes, which provided a nice design element.  Honestly, it might have been the only suitable option.

Buttonhole or a weak smile?

4. Buttons with irregular edges and shapes: Because the chosen buttons had uneven edges, I worried about the buttons shredding the satin lining around the buttonholes.  To mitigate this, I dyed a piece of silk organza to match the lining, and added the organza as an additional layer over the satin lining pieces.  In addition I sanded the bottom of the buttons, which were composed of some type of recycled material.  Also, one button was about twice as thick as the others and wouldn’t go through the buttonhole.  Lucky that six were purchased and five were needed.

5. Sizing: For some reason the coat came out much larger than the lining, even though both were cut from the same pattern pieces.  I think the wool stretched even though it was underlined.  This threw me over the edge.  I quit working on the coat and spent about 2 weeks making leggings and other clothing for my 2 GD.  At least I knew what I was doing.  After I was over my huff, I made the needed alterations, again sewing through those thick seams. In the end the coat sizing matched the lining.  Whew!

6. The Collar: As I mentioned previously, the fabric was too thick for either of my sewing machines.  In addition there was gathering in the collar which made it even thicker.  I ended up hand sewing the lining to the collar.  It looks good – hope it wears well.

All worked out in the end.  What advice can you offer me?

Salt and Oil Massage: Treatment for Dry Hands

This past week we experienced our first winter cold snap of the year; I was quickly reminded of how dry my hands get and how awful it is to sew when your hands are like sand paper?  With an upcoming trip to Wisconsin, this condition is surely to get worse.  Ugh!

Then I remembered a recipe I found a few years ago which is for a salt based hand massage oil.  It’s the best thing I found – somewhat like fine sandpaper for hands that feel like sandpaper!

Since the ingredients are mostly kitchen staples like salt and olive oil, I spent a few minutes putting this together tonight and snapped a photo.


I’ll give you the proportions but believe me, it’s not like baking a cake.  A little more or less of any of the ingredients won’t make a difference at all.

  • 1/4 cup Kosher or Sea Salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil – cheap is fine.  Your hands won’t know the difference.
  • 1 Tbsp Vitamin E oil (available at your neighborhood drug store)
  • sprigs of rosemary or some scented oil (this is optional – just helps your hands not small like a Greek salad)
  • 1-2 teaspoons Dawn or other dishwashing detergent (this makes it easier to wash off the oil after you have massaged your hands).  After all, if it works to clean oil covered birds from an oil spill, it should work on your hands).

Mix the above and place it in a jar, and it’s ready to use.

Directions for Use:

Take about 1 Tbsp of the mixture and place in the palm of your hand (or it’s a great foot massage too).  Rub your hands together for a minute or two, which seems like forever.  Then wash under warm water and dry.   You may want to follow up with your favorite hand cream.  It feels great and except during the deep cold of winter, those little snags are gone from your hands when you’re done.

Last Minute Gift Idea

Now, here’s the best part.  If your hand-made gift items are still on the sewing table unfinished, just make some massage oil for gifts.   Place it in a nice jar and tie a bow around it.  15 minutes at most and you’re done.   Your family and friends will love it.

Why not Mosquito Netting?

Several weeks ago after she posted a comment on my blog, Dhilma and I shared a few sewing related email messages.  She is a physician working in Sri Lanka as a lecturer and like many of us, has a passion for sewing.   She was very interested in making a crinoline for her niece.  So before I posted a child’s crinoline pattern, several weeks ago, I sent the pattern to her.

A few days ago I received a very kind email from Dhilma – I could feel the excitement in her message.  With her permission, here is an excerpt:

“I really enjoyed making it [crinoline] and then admiring the end result! In our country (Sri Lanka) tuille is very expensive and so I used cheap mosquitoe netting which I bought at SLR110 (less than $1.00) per yard (60 inch width)I used the whole yard that I bought and some poplin (cotton material) for the short lining and the band at the waist. I am sure my niece is going to strut around in this petticoat alone so I plan to embelish it with some shiny sequins.”

Now isn’t that an absolutely brilliant idea?  Why not use mosquito netting instead of tulle?  For some of us it might be as difficult to obtain mosquito netting as it is for Dhilma to get tulle.  Oh, and never mind that for those of us in the North, mosquito netting is the last thing on our mind right now – maybe thick wool or a fleece throw for those of us in the deep freeze?

The real point is that sometimes we need to improvise and if we allow our creativity to rule, it will work out just fine. Thank you Dhilma for reaching out and for sharing your beautiful creation.  It is absolutely adorable and I am sure your niece will love it.

Japanese Sewing Book Heaven

Yesterday I blogged about my day-trip to NYC.  After a visit to the Fashion District and Times Square, I circled around to Rockefeller Square (and by chance, ran into two friends from Philly).  A holiday visit to NYC wasn’t complete without seeing the Christmas tree and skating rink at Rockefeller Center.


One of my favorite things to do when vacationing is to photograph a bride and groom.  This was hardly what one could call a vacation but seeing a couple who had just said their vows captured my interest;  I nudged in and snapped a photo.  To the GI, thank you for serving our country.

As the darkness of a winter evening set in, I walked to Bryant Park, the location of yet another skating rink and Christmas Village.  This is such a lovely setting.  Across the street from the park is Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore.  While it’s not possible for me to read most of the books in the store, I can look at the photos.  They have a coffee shop which overlooks Bryant Park and a  huge stock of Japanese sewing books.  What a joy it was to page through the beautifully designed patterns.


On the way out, I noticed the window and needed to share it with you.  This bookstore has twice as many models as most fabric stores.

What a great day it was.  For those of you who live or work in NYC, this is old hat. For those who don’t regularly experience  this incredible city, it is great fun to visit and equally as pleasurable to leave the fast pace, the mobs of people and the temptation to return home with an empty wallet.

NY Fabric District Visit

This week I made a last-minute decision to take a vacation day in the NY Fashion District.  Early this morning (well it wasn’t really earlier than the time I’d go to work) I put on my best walking shoes and hopped on a bus from Philly to NY.  Fashion was being created for hours before the bus dropped us off on the edge of the Fashion District, so I jumped right in.

Most fascinating for me was how different this area is on a weekday compared to a weekend day.  My previous visits have all been on Saturdays.  During the week there are visible signs of what is occurring in this area of Manhattan; men were walking the streets, shuttling plastic wrapped fabric bolts from one location to another.  One man was rolling an industrial sewing machine and table.  Pattern templates and a rolling manikin were some of the other items I saw being moved on foot.

Not surprisingly, one of the other big differences from a Saturday visit was the sheer number of stores open on a weekday.  For the most part, I’m only talking about the ones you can see from the street – I can’t imagine how many are tucked away on the 8th or 9th floor of those tall buildings.

As a fabric lover, it’s difficult for me to be overwhelmed by fabric and notion stores, but by 3pm I was DONE shopping for fabric.  Walking out of the district, this bar caught my attention.  How appropriate.

You may ask, “How did I fare?”;  after all I don’t visit NY that often.  Admittedly I came home with more fabric than usual,  I tend to not count, but about 10 pieces of fabric.  None of this is for the stash – there’s a plan for each piece of fabric.  Maybe not time to sew (for now), but the plan does exist.  Checking out at Mood, I chuckled at the sign for NYC taxes.

I’m not sure who wrote this legislation but that’s the craziest system I’ve ever heard of.  On the positive side, NYC is no longer the USA city with the highest city sales tax (honestly I’m not sure it was the highest in the country but it surely felt that way, especially compared to a state that doesn’t tax clothing).  Yes for the purchases I made the taxes fell into the 8.875% category.

I Heart NYC

Having a few hours before my bus, I planned to go walk through Times Square, Rockefeller Square and Bryant Park.   When I turned the corner to Times Square, I honestly thought I’d entered another city.  The square was filled with tourists, entertainers from the Broadway shows, street vendors and advertisers.

The dichotomy of this city hit me  – on the streets of Manhattan you can buy a $2.00 T-shirt, only blocks from stores where you can buy a pair of boots for $1850 or more.

What a city.  It was a great day but I will post a few more photos tomorrow night as I need to go to bed because my body is tired from carrying all of those bags all over the city.