Monday, March 7, 2011

Creating a Steampunk WorkCoat

Greetings, good people.

Help yourself to the tea and spirits, and have a seat.   I have another "how I made it" experience to share.

Today, I would like to share with you my adventure in constructing a steampunk coat.  My original thoughts were of a sort of durable lab coat, in a nice practical colour (brown), to wear with various outfits, but particularly over the steam wench ensemble as mentioned in the Bloomer Business post.  I wanted a long coat with full length sleeves and preferably cuffs, with a centre-front opening rather than the more in-vogue mad scientist chef-coat-style side opening.  After much desperate hunting, this was the only pattern that struck me as being close to what I wanted (and I checked men's and women's coat patterns, chef coats, everything):
Now, I will remind you, I have no sewing training, and no experience with patterns.  The bloomers mentioned in previously were my first foray into garment via pattern since grade school.  I embarked on this coat while working on the bloomers (in fact, I started on the coat as a break, when the bloomers went badly).  Because, of course, coats are simple.  Yeah.  Right.

I selected a superb brown cotton duck (I think it's duck) for the coat.  I elected not to line the coat (too much work) but did decide to finish all seams with contrasting (brick) double fold, extra wide seam binding (lots of work).  What can I say, I can be a bit of an obsessive perfectionist, and I did NOT want fraying seams to ruin the look of the garment.  I wanted the inside to be pretty.  I had at hand some lovely leather, and I decide to do the cuffs and the outer part of the standup collar in leather.  I figured my old sewing machine could handle it.  (Cuz that's easy, right?  Cutting and sewing with leather?) 

Please note the pattern is for a man.  I am a woman.  I am also short, with narrow shoulders, substantial bust, and moderately trim otherwise.  So.  Alteration city, before cutting, since there didn't seem lots of room for error after.  Fortunately, the pattern had lines to show where you should shorten and lengthen.  However, there was no indication of whether I was to fold up or down from this magical line.  And of course I had no idea what I was doing, having never done this before.  However, I took my measurements, compared them to the measurements on the package, and, well, guestimated how much to shorten the coat torso and sleeves.  I also knew I didn't want the coat to be floor length, so I conservatively shortened it from the bottom by an additional 14 inches.   

A bigger issue was how to fit the torso around my proportions.  This required extensive modifications to the bodice of the pattern.  Since the pattern was for 3 sizes, I elected to use the middle size for the waist-hip region (I didn't need it snug), the largest size for hips to hem (so I'd have maximum fullness and flare), the smallest size across the neck and top of the shoulders, the armhole on the back pattern pieces, and from shoulder to partway down the armhole on the front pieces, and then I used the largest size the pattern had to offer in the bust region, which included the lower part of the front armholes, and for about an inch or two down below the underarm.  For the sleeves, since they seemed very full when I wrapped the paper around my arm, I opted for the smallest size.

This was all the hardest part, along with getting all the pieces to fit on my limited amount of fabric (bought fabric, then bought pattern - whoops - of course much smarter to do that the other way around).  Then I cut it all out, prayed a lot to the sewing gods, and fit the bodice together.  The nice thing about the coat, was it was all long pieces (2 front, 2 side-back, 2 back pieces), with no waistband crap, so the body gratifyingly went together fast.  I did have to attach the collar at this point, so got to do the leather collar right up front.  By the way, cutting out leather for a fabric pattern - it does NOT act the same as fabric.  (Plus, you try pinning an effing thing paper pattern to leather.  Yeah.) 
Oh, did I mention the back has PLEATS?  Yeah.  Pleats.  I didn't have a clue what I was doing.  Luckily, I managed to figure it out.  Oh, if you are going to sew with patterns, buy washable fabric marking pencils, one white, one dark.  Seriously.  And BEFORE you remove the pattern pieces from cut-out fabric, mark EVERYTHING you think might be relevant.  I ended up doing a LOT of pulling out the pattern piece and marking stuff after the fact.  I know about notches and stuff ... not all the complicated stuff for centre this, pleat marking that ... Sigh.  Live and learn.

I was pretty happy with how this looked, and hurrah, when I tried it on, it seemed a decent prelim fit.  So ... since it looked fine, time to hide those ugly fraying inside seams:
Inside-out, with most seams finished in brick-coloured double-fold, extra wide seam binding
Then it was time for the sleeves.  I cut out and sewed the cuffs first, leather lined with the cotton duck.  Then sewed sleeves together, sewed cuffs to sleeves, and sleeves to coat.  
Both cuffs, leather, lined in duck, sewn together
Frankly - insetting sleeves is a bitch.  Don't let anyone tell you anything different.  "Easing" in a sleeve is a pain in the hiney.  I did lots of online googling to figure out a decent method.  I elected to do what is apparently called "pin-easing".   With lots of swearing and hoping. 
The shoulder edge ended up coming a bit further out than I wanted them to, so I ended up redoing the shoulder-arm seam for a better fit (easier said than done - as I decided this AFTER trimming the interior seams).  
First setting in of sleeve
These 2 pics above are the arm seam detail after taking them in more.
After this, it was finishing the front seam and doing fancy shmancy stitching where the back pleats were.
I had to finishing ALL the internal seams, and hem it.  I bought Dress-Sew entirely out of brick seam-binding, and still ran out, so I had to use black narrow seambinding I had lying around, for the inside of the sleeves, and a different hemming finish than I planned.

Then, it was how to close it.  I saw and bought these clasps at Tandy, intended for leather.  I pinned them to the jacket, and yes, this was the look I was wanting.
I wanted pockets, and I cannibalized leather pockets (same leather as cuffs and collar) from a previous steampunk workapron that I hadn't been entirely happy with.
The original apron, made from an oversize tunic dress found at a thrift shop
However, when pinned on they looked crap (see below).  I very much want pockets on this ... but I think I need to resize these smaller, and perhaps select a different placement (thoughts, anyone?)
Once the coat was finished, I realized this does not have a "lab coat" look, as I had originally intended, but instead looks more like a general, durable worker's coat (and I think very steampunky).  It did prove to be very practical and handy, especially as its debut was at Steamcon II, in November, where there was much running between two hotels in freezing temperatures.

Alas, I have no photo yet of me wearing yet, but here is the finished product:
Again, as usual, folks, feedback is welcome.  Especially if anyone has suggestions for the pockets!  I really, really want to add pockets. 


  1. It does look very lovely from the inside view. You could almost wear it inside out. Great job on the finishing! And the right side view is equally lovely. Have you thought about doing fabric pockets trimmed in leather rather than fully leather pockets? I think the big leather pockets are a little overwhelming. To my eye at least. Also, don't these things often have a breast pocket? Perhaps moving a pocket up to the chest area so that you don't have them all grouped up around your hips?

    By the way, believe it or not, by setting in sleeves gets easier with practice. The first few times are **** but eventually you will be able to just sit down and plop that sleeve in and sew. It is a tremendous feeling!

    Thank you for posting your project. I do so enjoy your blog posts!

  2. Comments from the crossposting at Steamfashion Livejournal Community can be found here:

  3. I've got a suggestion for pockets for you. Have you considered welted pockets? If your red leather is thin you could use it for the welts, then all you would see from the outside would be two thin rectangles of the red leather and you can make the pocket what ever size you need to be with out it showing on the outside of the coat.

    It's worth making a welted pocket out of scrap fabric before you start messing around with your final project. They are a little bit finicky but if you take your time the final result is amazing.