Cut to the Chase, let the assembly begin

Yeah yeah, it’s been a long time since the last post. But there’s good reasons for that…the coat is complete! And delivered! So now I get to play catch up with you on how it all came together. So in the true spirit of Dr. Who, let’s travel back in time and see how that Tennant coat is progressing!

Having finished the muslin and determining that I really didn’t need to make any changes to the pattern I re-drafted, I needed to get brave and cut the actual fabric and double check I made all the appropriate changes to the lining. But in addition to the fabric, I also knew I was going to need some horsehair canvas (special thanks to Janet at JM designs for giving me a short course in shaping suit coats), interfacing, and something as an underlining for the wool to give it just a tad more body and reinforce it for shaping and wear. But this had to happen without killing the drape, as the coat needs to be very fluid for running into trouble and away from Daleks.


Or looking good while insulting Daleks, even better.

It just so happens that Hancock Fabrics by the “casa del catos” was having a spring “spot the bolt” sale, and I was able to pick up a nice soft weave of (I am not sure but it is nice) in a poly/cotton blend, with great drape but a stable finish. And at $2/yd, hey – winnning! But the horsehair canvas is a very special item, and I didn’t necessarily want to buy that online without knowing how it was going to play with the wool. So that required a trip to Elfriede’s in Boulder, aww gee darn, I have to spend an afternoon in a sportscar with the top down to go play with expensive fabric. The horror.

While all this was going on another one of my best friends, Adam, had to go and get engaged. We all knew it was coming, but this added another layer of “get on it” to the Tennant coat, since now I also needed to make myself a tux to stand on the grooms side of the wedding. Since the wool of the Tennant coat is much more forgiving than the lightly napped “mystery fabric” I found for the Tux, it was urgent I get some of the tailoring aspects sorted out so that I could apply the techniques to the Tux without any errors. Postings on the tux will follow after finishing the tale of the coat, don’t fret.

So with all of the materials now acquired, all I needed to do was find a whole day to just work on cutting out all the pieces and double checking the modifications. You wouldn’t think that would be a tall order, but working three jobs seven days a week tends to make scheduling difficult (and wreaks havoc on a social life.) Memorial day weekend rolled around, and that allowed me the time I needed to get cutting!


Inventing the horsehair structure pieces


Slow going, as a lot of the pieces are rather large


Pieces, pieces, and more pieces


Prepping everything that needs interfacing


interfacing & prepping the welts for the 12 buttonholes


Prepping the underlining to be basted to the backs

After cutting and cutting and cutting, then applying interfacing, basting the underlining to the wool was up next, followed by tackling the 12 welted buttonholes. I have a few welted things, mostly pockets, in my sewing experiences. But the buttonholes were a bit daunting, partly because of their size, partly because they needed to be PERFECT. And additionally, I needed to determine at what point I was adding the horsehair to the project, how to treat the seam allowances due to bulk, and if there was going to be a certain order of progression in the project so I didn’t sew myself into a corner (both literally and figuratively speaking). So though the fabric was prepared, I didn’t feel I was informed enough to begin. Time for a trip to the bookshelf!

The internet is outstanding for finding information, however it also can provide a lot of FALSE information or shortcuts to old school techniques that really shouldn’t be cut short. Because this wasn’t just going to be a costume coat, it was going to be a full on, old world tailored coat, I needed old world tailoring information. One of the blogs I subscribe to and read regularly is Male Pattern Boldness, because Peter is a great writer and it’s a hoot to read his blog, but also because he seems to be similar in his approach to tackling challenging projects as I do. One winter he worked on a Peacoat with proper tailoring techniques. You can read about it HERE, it was a really great series. Having seen this technique, I searched my archives and found exactly what I needed in my 1968 Singer Sewing book. If you don’t have a copy, I highly recommend you pick one up. Excellent pictures, excellent descriptions, and suggestions in materials. This was a lifesaver for many of the trickier pocket applications and my pesky buttonholes.

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After several practice rounds and feeling pretty good about the outcome, I held my breath and started the buttonhole process. Twelve successful welted buttonholes later, I am not sure if I would ever make a regular old bound buttonhole on a jacket ever again. The finish and the look is just so amazing, and really once you get the hang of the process they are very forgiving and easy to modify BEFORE YOU CUT THE HOLE. Just double check everything before you cut!!


turning the welts from wrong to right


Maaahhhhvelous, dahling. Back placket buttonholes complete.

Now that I am feeling pretty smug that I conquered the buttonholes, it’s time for adding all the darts and sorting out the sexy venting in the back. While darts are nothing new or challenging, putting the darts in with the underlining in place AND not adding bulk AND making sure they are evenly spaced perfectly AND topstitching it all was kind of like having a last supper with a Slavine.


Just like an enjoyable dinner, with all the attempts on your life and such

While it was a process, I deftly avoided the pitfalls of this seemingly innocuous exercise and the  darts are DOPE. Seriously, these are a work of art. I could just look at this all day.

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That’s a whole lot of coat for one day. So stay tuned for next time, with pockets and fronts galore, plus Better Living Through Endless Hours of Handstitching.

Baby got Back

Having conquered the collar, front, and facings, I now had enough courage to take on the back of this amazing coat. Since I had spent the time moving the front shoulder, I needed to apply the same change in REVERSE to the back (since it was an overlapping yoke) and also remove the yoke and making the back a single unit. A the same time, the sides needed the same modification of the front, removing the panel and converting it to a side seam. While all this was going on, I also needed to identify the venting and buttons down the lower third of the full length vent. Oh, and don’t forget the darts, either.


Again, you can’t see the buttonholes, but hey, at least I have a better view of the buttons. This is the version I liked best, so I mocked mine closely to this version.


The button placket is overlapped, but looks to be completely non-functional from what I can tell.


Two darts, and not much shaping, but a good reference of the venting


Note that you can’t tell what is going on with the vent, and there’s only 1 dart per side. I hate the front buttons on this, I am not sure if it is the placement, poor pressing or what. Just looks sloppy.

The hardest part of deciphering the back, was that I couldn’t find two pictures showing the back that matched each other. One had 3 darts, one had two, sometimes the button placket overlapped, sometimes it was centered, and NOWHERE did I find an image of the buttonholes on the lower vent placket for direction. So I decided I had some creative license, and as long as it closely resembled the coat and fit correctly, I should be fine. But more importantly, if Joe liked it, I was golden.


Drawing out what I think I want the back vent to do, so I can figure out the folds and adding the facing to the back of the placket.

One of the concerns I had was whether the button placket should be overlapped, or should it just button together, as you already have the vent hiding a lot of what is going on. You really are only going to see flashes of the button when sitting or moving, otherwise the drape should cover the placket when just standing. Additionally, would Joe EVER close that placket up? I was going with a solid NO, as having the open vent makes the coat move beautifully and also gives a lot of room for motion. So functional but not over engineered was a better plan, so the style of the coat shines through.


I also had to add a placket facing piece to support the buttons, but here’s the extension on the bottom for the buttoned vent.

I also waffled back and forth on three back darts or two, and settled on 3. I could attain more detail in the shaping, and also more panache in the coat with three, and I think two were used in commercial replicas in order to fit a wider array of customers with less shaping. I want the coat to hug Joe’s back and look bespoke, because it is.


Marking out the back darts, and also extending the back center for the added venting. Figuring out the positioning of the triangles where the vent starts and stops was tricky without Joe there to measure.


Folded back shoulder to move it from lapped to centered on the shoulder seam, side panel added and folded back to get the side seam moved, prepping for tracing the back itself.

Once I got the back finished, it was time for a break. Total time modifying, measuring, remodifying, and getting final pieces? 4 hours. Granted, I was doing this with a crazy bad respiratory cold, and had to take several breaks due to coughing fits and other miserable conditions. But it was done. All that was left was adding the extra length where necessary (a WHOPPING 20″ from the original pattern) and stitch up a mockup.

If you have never sewn a “muslin” before, the critical thing is to have really really great markings so you know how much you have deviated from the original, and decide if you need to make a second mockup, or if you can go with your minor changes and run. I recommend watching this short video on Threads, which will give you a nice primer. Also, Jamie of Denver Sews did a nice piece on making a muslin for a jacket, which you can read about here.

I cheated a bit, and only threadmarked the darts, because I figured those would need tweaking and was very concerned the coat might not have enough ease, as Joe has wide shoulders and is kind of a big guy. (This is still a concept for me, as I still see him as the scrawny geek from freshman year somewhere in the back of my mind.) The side seams, shoulders, etc and event the length I wasn’t too worried about, as I had taken really good measurements and stuck to them, checking frequently during the pattern revamp.


Stitching over my marks so I had “permanent” markings to go by


darts thread marked for assembly

I did go to the trouble to actually put the pockets in the front, as I really wanted to check size, shape, and positioning, though I did not add the bag, just the flaps. In the process, I did determine I have my “spread” too far and will adjust from 1/2″ to 1/4″ for the welting process.

Here’s a slideshow of the completed mockup on a hanger, which made me very excited because it looked like something! And looked close to what I had intended! Yay!


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On our usual Monday night “race nights” that occur this time of year to watch Formula 1, the rest of our merry band of geeks (sans Joe, kid responsibilities) comes over to my house to indulge in racing commentary and snacks. The snacks vary, the commentary does as well, unless you count “smartass” as a genre, in which case we rarely venture out of that genre. The guys took turns trying on the coat, Thomas didn’t want to take it off, and claimed the mock up as his. That was funny. Here’s Joe trying on his new mockup the following evening, very pleased and somewhat shocked that “It’s actually real! I’m getting a coat!” Yeah, well, we’re quite a ways out from a final product, but both Joe and I are very excited about the progress thus far.



Image Business in the front…(never mind the off kilter collar, he had to run around his living room and play with it a bunch before pics)…Party in the back. I LOVE the back. Manly yet chic. Even in the muslin it drapes great.

Much ado about Welting

Now that I have the collar where I *think* it will be a good match, I need to address the inside welted pocket, while I am messing with the facing edge. Many many coat patterns have an inside welt pocket that crosses over both the facing and the lining, which makes for some acrobatics when assembling the coat. Not to mention, if you have spent a ton of time and energy getting the coat to be perfect, only to have a snafu at the welt pocket, it’s just a tragedy. I looked over several versions of the Tennant Coat, and several have the cross-over welt, but many versions have this “Solid state” welt which seems more stable and sturdy for repeated sonic screwdriver removal.

ImageNot only does it supply a nice base for the welted pocket, in an area where having a bit thicker material for support is not a bad thing, it also allows you to assemble the welt pocket BEFORE you attach the facing, so if you have difficulty or make a mistake, you are only recutting the facing piece, not starting nearly from scratch. This seemed like the best option so modifying my current “cross over” welt was necessary.


Image Aligning the position and length of the “solid state” flap for the welt (above), and the new extension for the welt applied to the modified facing.

With the front facing now complete of modifications, I can move onto applying the new shape of the collar to the front of the coat, and also modify the front to be a side seam instead of a 3-piece front/side/back. Additionally, I need to start pondering how to get the venting and shaping on the back, but conquering the front first will give me a feel for the back.


Lining up the front with the side, note the side panel has been folded to move the side seam.


Getting the shape on the collar to match the shaping, taking care not to have any extra bits where they shouldn’t be


Original front, original side, and new facing placed for moving side seam and restructuring collar shape

You’ll notice how it is important to keep everything aligned and pinned to itself to prevent slippage and deforming of the pieces, and to keep everything on grain. It is wayyyyyyy to easy to slide things around and end up with something that came from Chernobyl if you skip out on properly pinning down the pieces to each other.

I was lax in how I lined up the side panel to the front in order to get a new side seam. Part of this was so I could “fake” my seam allowance and not redraw it on the side, as my folding was stick straight and therefore my grainline was intact. The other part of this madness was to remove the shaping in this part of the coat just a bit, so I could put it BACK IN with some darting details over the pocket. So I wanted a bit wider waist than the initial shape I started with, as the shaping came from the extra panel. Make sense?

Yes, there are a LOT of moving parts going on at this particular moment, and depending on your method of modification, you may not want to make all the adjustments I am making all at the same time. You might want to redraw the collar, then address the side, then move onto shaping in several steps, using different colored pencils or markers in order to keep your changes straight. I did everything in one pass, because I like seeing the outline laid out all at once, even if it is with multiple pieces.

Even with being careful, I still forgot that I needed to move the shoulder seam as well, as the back shoulder wrapped over to the front of the coat in my original, and I wanted a top shoulder seam instead of a “yoked” version. This change required using both the front, the back, and the facing in order to determine the exact point of the new seam, how I wanted the shoulder slope, and also to make sure I didn’t forget the seam allowance. Note the new, extra piece attached to the front.



The revised seam, note the overlap between the front and the back, indicating the shoulder seam. (yes, the seam allowance is off in this pic)  Also the neckline has remained the same.


Determining the new centered shoulder seam with original front and back, and new front and back and facing

With the shoulder now correct, I can turn my attention to the outer pockets which are originally set in the seam of the front and side front. I need my pockets to be horizontal flapped, and with a bit of angle to them, as indicated in the pics I found….

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The pockets are just a bit below the waistline, by only about an inch or so, and the angle is not that dramatic. The pocket flap stops JUST BEFORE the side seam by an inch or so, and the flaps have a rounded “nose” with a pointed tail. So redesigning the pocket flaps is necessary as well.

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I have added small darts into the side for shaping, but may have to revisit this based on the hang and armhole fit later. I did double check the sleeve to armhole measurement and it should work.

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Note the shape of the pocket flap matches our Tennant coat, and I had to create the bag, since our previous pocket had a side seam entry and bag.

The long “almond” dart that is vertically placed was a snap to figure, as it is right under the buttons, and runs the length of the button rail. I determined the amount of width in the dart by finding the difference between my side and front when I added the back, and applying it to the dart to be “removed” to regain the shaping from the straight side seam.

A lot of this I applied on the fly, as I am intending to make a mockup and have Joe wear it to iron out any wrinkles in time (wow, triple play? At least a double pun there!). So at this point, I think I have the front knocked out. The back…well, will be a bit more interesting, as I have to add the venting up the ENTIRE back of the coat, along with buttons and facings to match.

Stay tuned sportsfans!


Doctor, Doctor, give me the Who

So, this is the first blog entry for HISS studio, and just up front, the postings will be SPORADIC at best, but hopefully highly entertaining, so come back and see what’s new when you can.

I have a friend named Joe, who I’ve known since high school. Actually, I think Joe and I met in junior high, but we started hanging out in high school when we were in the Chess Club together. Yes, you read that correctly….CHESS CLUB. We actually weren’t too bad at it either, took a few trophies, won some state championships, stuff like that. In fact, our whole little circle of long time friends comes from this band of merry chess geeks, and though some of us are a little fatter, greyer, with kids, or in lame careers nothing else has really changed. And that includes our core, fully steeped geekery. We read Ender’s Game before it was a lame movie (and still is an awesome book), were riding invisible horses before it was cool, and were mythbusting when it was still called physics II lab.

ImageJoe and I get together every couple of weeks and geek out on stuff, one of which is Doctor Who. I have Joe beat on this by a good 20 years (I started watching on PBS at 10 or so) but he’s got me beat on the recent ones (I’ve only seen a handful and need to catch up). One night while sampling a new whiskey Joe mentioned how he’d like a coat like David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, which I have to admit is a really striking and sexy piece. Even you non-geeks out there have to admit, this is a NICE great coat.

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So we discussed it a bit, and looking at the pictures, it didn’t look TOO complicated, so I offered to make him one for a Christmas/birthday celebratory goodie. In exchange, Joe is working on some killer wooden tops that convert ironing boards into tables for cutting fabric, which will be a great space saver and tool for the studio. At first blush, both of us figured our projects were pretty simple with some minor modifications and panache, but as both of us have gotten farther into each undertaking, both have their interesting challenges.

What is not very clear from the images here is that this amazing coat has a hidden vent that runs up the entire length of the back, with buttons at the bottom and pinnings at the center shoulder and waist detail. There are no such patterns available on the market, so my goal was to basically get as close as I could with a commercial pattern, then redesign the elements needed to get to the final Tennant coat. I had read in several other postings of Whovians undertaking this challenge suggesting to start with Vogue 7988, which is a discontinued Steampunk style coat.

ImageWhile this is sort of ok, it is missing a bunch of stuff….double breasted front, collar is off, back is plain, pockets are good, lacks side shaping, needs length. Changing the front to double breasted was not what I wanted to do, I would rather start with that and work my way around, so I chose this Vogue 8940….

ImageThe collar is WAYYYY off, and the pockets need to be moved, along with the shoulder seam (front overlap as opposed to top seam) but the drape and feel seemed closer to me than the 7988. Plus I could get it on sale right now, instead of finding one on Rusty Zipper or Ebay.

So I got the pattern, got some fabric on super duper killer sale at Colorado Fabrics, (which now I am hoping I got enough fabric! EEK!) and proceeded to shelve the project for two (ok, three) months while I had work stuff and other things to hash out. While straightening up the Room of Requirement where my sewing/painting/computer/library stuff is, I came across the wonderfully drapey wool I acquired for Joe’s coat and said “Oh shit, moth season is coming!”

So you can thank the Moths for this blog on the coat. And my sister who said it was a good idea to write all the steps down for my students out there.

I thought about the pattern and the final goal of the Tennant coat, and finally had some sort of plan on how to attack getting the pattern into shape. So let’s begin.

Since this seamed like the easiest and quickest way to get into the mood for taking on this challenge, I started with the shaping. Here’s the two side by side for referenceCameraAwesomePhoto

GREAT collar view

GREAT collar view

Note the shape of the lapels, droopy and rounded on the starting pattern, clean and sharp (ish) on the Tennant coat. So the first thing I did was redraw the edges and get rid of the rounds.

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I started by making copies with tracing paper and tissue so I could work with the pattern without being distracted by the lines made by the manufacturer, and also so I could modify without fear of destroying my original. I made a copy of both the upper collar and the facing, as that is what you see in the picture, and planned on applying the changes to the undercollar and front after I got the collar shape where I think it should be.

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I then added points to the round edges, and pinned the collar and facing together in a mock seamline, so I could determine the angle of the dangle on the shaping. You’ll note that the facing piece (lower section) has the seam allowance tucked under, where the upper section does not. I initially started with the SA tucked under, but to get the spaing accurate had to let out the SA and make a note to add it back in later. So this is now my “sloper” (though I would not use that term, but it may help some of you out there understand the goal) or base pattern to apply to my new front.

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Here is the new drawn collar, and you can see where it resembles the Tennant coat accurately. Now it’s time to apply this to the printed pattern and make yet ANOTHER copy.

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Okay, so here we have two new versions of our upper collar and facing in process. The important thing to note here is my nifty seam allowance tool (the teardrop/airplane wing thing in the upper collar picture). Since I took OUT the SA to get the shaping accurate, it have to put it back IN, and this little gadget makes it easy. **A big shout out to Jamie of Denver Sews (DSC) who gave a great presentation involving this tool.** The collar is a finished copy with SA added, the facing shows the layering/pinning required to get the new shape in place and graded into the original design. See the dots? HUGELY important to keep the placement accurate.

Ok, that’s enough for today. Next time, I’ll get into how I modified the internal welt pocket design, and tackling the under collar and front modifications to match the upper collar and facing.

Sew long, and thanks for all the fish.