Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tutorial: Caped Crusader

We’ve been in our flat since the beginning of December but until Tuesday had been keeping all our clothes in a suitcase on the floor, not very convenient. Having finally got a wardrobe up to our second floor flat I had a mini purge of my clothes before putting them away, and culled a few plaid skirts for fabric and filled a bag for Oxfam. Amongst my soon to be shredded skirts was this wool blend half-circle (dreams of Mad Men office chic but just too frumpy).

 My initial plan was to hack a bit off to make myself a muff, but having opened the side seam I thought the shape leant itself very well to a little cape-coat. So, I am going to share with you how I made a dowdy skirt into a swish little cover up!
 First up, I removed the zip and the waistband (both worth keeping, never throw anything away!) When you lay the skirt out flat you can see how the shape would work for a cape. In an ideal world I’d have used a full circle skirt, lots of extra volume for swooshing and more room for arm movement, a half circle works just fine though.
 I folded the skirt down the centre and marked the middle on the waist edge, then pinned the skirt onto my mannequin with that centre point lined up at the centre back of the neck. If you’re doing this yourself and don’t have a mannequin I’d advise using yourself instead and having a reliable friend there to help.

 Then, I brought the edge I unpicked round to the front, keeping the grain running straight across (made easier by the check pattern) and pinned to the centre front. Doing this with both edges, lining up the squares, gave me an overlap that was equal on both sides (but a hem that was not, ho hum).

Once this was all pinned in place I had extra fullness around the neck area, easily fixed by putting a dart in each shoulder.

Because I matched the squares, which left me with an uneven hem, I also had an uneven neckline at the front so I copied the curve from the left side and trimmed the right side down to match. I also cut across the line of the darts leaving a 1.5cm allowance.

Next, I unpinned the cape from the mannequin, leaving marker pins in to show CF’s and CB. I used this as a pattern piece to cut my lining. Because the skirt is already hemmed I cut the lining to the same length, so that once the lining is hemmed it will sit shorter than the outer.
These two helped.

Next up, I hemmed the lining then stitched my shoulder darts in lining and outer. In the picture they are sewn straight across, but I later altered this to a slight downward curve at the shoulder end to stop it being too pointy. If you fancy you could hand tack some shoulder pads in too.
 At this point it might be an idea to interface the centre front edges of the outer cape, just so far as they overlap, to give a crisper shape and a bit more stability for whatever fastenings you use. I didn’t have any interfacing so I didn’t bother.

The front edges I sewed right sides together, then to stop the lining rolling to the outside I understitched the seams to the lining edge (fold the seams over to the lining side and stitch through all three layers close to the edge from the right side).

Back on the mannequin I pinned the CF and CB back in place and measured the neckline circumference. I could have drawn up my own collar pattern, or just seamed the neck edge and left it collarless. Piping or some other sort of trim would have made a nice finish too, but I had a collar I’d removed from another jacket (also cannibalised for fabric) and luckily it was the exact right size so I sewed that straight in, matching the CB of the cape to the centre of the collar, and understitching the lining as with the front edges.

 I decided to just put a fastening at the top of the opening, and used two press studs with a couple of big vintage buttons on top for detail.  At this point you could stop and you’d have a very nice cape, but I wanted to belt mine in for shape so I used the leftover waistband (you see!) and made a simple belt loop for the centre back, using the mannequin to find the right level for the waist.

The next step is possibly the trickiest, but it makes all the difference. To get that cape-coat effect you need to belt around the front and back but leave the ‘arms’ free, so I made little faced windows, two on the front waist, and two at the back, to thread my belt through.  The method I used is a shortened version of the Bound Buttonhole Tutorial on the Coletterie blog (full of incredibly useful dressmaking tips and techniques, as well as the wonderful patterns they produce). 

I won’t try explaining it here as they do a wonderful job, so I will just say that for my outer fabric template I used  a 1.7 x 7cm piece of card, and for the lining I used a 2.5 x 7.5cm piece, and cut my fabric pieces 7 x 11cm. Then I just followed the steps through on the outer fabric to the point where the fabric piece is turned to the wrong side, pressed the opening, and top stitched 5mm from the edge of the window. 

 On the lining I followed the steps to the same point, turning the interfacing through and ironing it into place. Then it was just a case of hand stitching the lining window over the inside of the outer window to keep it all in place.

 And there you have a finished cape-coat! I love the diagonal check and drapey look of the sleeves in contrast with the smart nipped in waist. The big blue buttons and contrast collar turn a rather dowdy plaid into something rather lovely I think!

Fancy having a go yourself? I got my skirt at a vintage fair for £10 or so, and this style is easily found in second hand shops, vintage stores, Ebay…. You could easily change up the style to by bringing the front edges further round to make it double breasted, or fold back the neck opening to make lapels. Fur trim, military details like epaulettes, pockets, zippers, stand collars, there’s a hundred different ways of making it your own!

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