Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Penelope coat!

Once upon a time, a girl saw a movie called Penelope. It was like a modern day fairy tale, and she was smitten with everything about it. The story, music, morals...but especially the clothes. And of all the clothes, a certain purple coat and scarf in particular.

It feels like my coat was a long time in the making, but I guess it really wasn't. When I first saw Penelope years ago, I decided I wanted a purple coat. Two years ago, I bought some purple corduroy and a pattern and cut out the fabric. And that's as far as I got. When thinking about my fall sewing, I decided that this year, I was finally going to sew that coat. :) I started over with the pattern and new fabric.

Let me start off by saying that my coat is obviously not a replica of the one from the film. Honestly, the only things they have in common are the color, princess seams, and the fact that purple and green seem Penelopesque to me. The real coat (shown below...the best pictures I could find, though they were taken on set but are not screencaps. Penelope would never wear boots like those :) is made of a drapey fabric (probably wool), has red/orange bias tape accents along most of the seams and edges, has a light grey/white lining, and features lots of different buttons (though I think they're just decorative and not the actual closures because they're so close together and I've never seen any button holes). It's a beautiful coat but a bit more costumey that I could possibly pull off. :)

This is the first coat I've ever sewn, and it was a very interesting experience. It was time-consuming, though not as much so as I expected it to be. It took a couple of hours for the muslin, and then as for the real coat: more than a whole morning to cut out the fabric, lining, interlining, and interfacing, about the same amount of time to overcast over all raw edges and baste the interlining to the lining pieces, and nearly two complete days' worth of sewing to actually construct the coat. That second day shouldn't have too nearly so long, but I hit a snag (more on that later).

It turns out that making a coat muslin is really weird. I was making it out of old sheet fabric, and it's hard to judge how something will fit when it's three layers (one of them quite thick) compared to one thin muslin layer. Anyway, I ended up deciding that the coat fit fine as it was, except that the sleeves needed to be longer. That's one of my pet peeves: apparently I have long arms, and I hate it when coat sleeves are too short. I hate it when they come halfway up to your elbow when you stretch your arm out, and when you can see two inches of your long shirt sleeves peeking out of your coat sleeves when your arms are at your side. Drives me crazy. I wanted the sleeves on this coat to be the length I prefer, so I added three inches. {By the way, this isn't an alteration, but when reading the finished measurements for the size I was supposed to cut out, I realized there would be much more ease than I needed. So right from the start I cut the pattern one size smaller. I'm so glad I did or it would have been much too big!}

The coat came together a lot easier than I thought it would! I just took my time and enjoyed the process. Princess seams mean a few extra seams, but the fit is much more flattering. Also, the sleeves on this pattern or raglan sleeves, which are so much easier to sew in than normal set-in sleeves. I love raglan sleeves! The coat came together quickly, and that first day of sewing was a breeze. I was feeling so confident about everything. Then...*cue scary music*

The second day, I was left with the two tasks I was most nervous about: finishing attaching the lining to the shell at the hem (and in the process, finishing the hem) and making the buttonholes. The instructions for the hem had me completely confused...I just kept reading them and staring at the picture, trying to figure out how it was going to work but coming up blank. So I just went ahead and tried to follow the instructions.

To be honest, this part was a disaster. I sewed across the bottom once. When I turned everything right side out, the hem was bulky and the lining was dropping below the coat hem. Ripped it out. Sewed it again, catchstitched up the hem and the slipstitched the lining to it. This was the worst part- the hem looked awful. It was super-bulky and pointy and looked uneven. Ripped it out. Did a bit of online research and finally came across the bit of information that I had never read, in all of my research about interlining: trim the interlining at the hemline, so it won't add bulk. Common sense, but it never crossed my mind. So I trimmed up the interlining and basted the bottom seam. It was less bulky, but the lining was still dropping past the hem. Ripped out the (basted) seam again. Reread the pattern instructions and I finally realized what might be the problem with the too-long lining.

On the front page of the pattern, in small print, it's mentioned to press up 1" at the bottom of all linings. I had done that, but it was never shown or mentioned again, so my 1" had dropped back down. But when I pressed it up again, and used that edge to sew with a .5" seam at the hem, ta-da! The lining is a bit shorter than the coat hem. I don't know if that's what the solution was supposed to be, but it worked for me.

I am not one of those ever-patient seamstresses who can say, "Oh, I had to rip out this seam and redo it 27 times. But that's okay because I finally got it right and it looks perfect now!" I absolutely hate having to redo something in sewing. I despise ripping out seams, having to start over with work I've already done. I guess you can tell that because I just spent three paragraphs ranting about it. Just being honest here. :)

{I know the bottom of the lining looks weird here. The lining is so thick with the interlining that it doesn't exactly drop like it's supposed to. It looks better now, several days later.}

With that finally finished, all I had left was the buttonholes. That was the part that I had been most nervous about to begin with. I've only made buttonholes in one garment before- a shirt I made a few years ago when I had just started sewing. After measuring and remeasuring to make sure they were even, I finally started on them. And they went in surprisingly easily, thank goodness. :) The only thing was that the fabric was so thick in that area (two layers of corduroy and one of interlining) that it wasn't feeding through the machine right, so I had to move the fabric around myself. Also, I had to go over each buttonhole twice because I felt like they just weren't strong enough. Then I was sewing on buttons at 9:00 that night while watching Wallace and Gromit: The Cure of the Were-Rabbit. :) And then it was finished!

I used Simplicity 2508. The main fabric is dark purple corduroy, the lining is a green and white printed cotton (sleeves are lined with green lining fabric), and I interlined it with Thermolam Plus. It's very warm. Winters usually don't get extremely cold here in Virginia (last winter was ridiculously mild), but obviously I'm expecting cold and snow soon. :)

I'm happy with the fit overall. It's sort of fitted but plenty loose enough to wear several layers underneath. The back is a bit shapeless (see below).  If I make this coat again, I'll probably take in the princess seams in the back a bit, at least to the waist. And I would probably make the pockets slightly bigger.

I also couldn't resist giving you guys a little preview of my completed Penelope scarf. :) I'll have a more detailed knitting post about it up soon.

And why do I need this scarf?
I've never shown you guys this before, but... 

{Behold my awesome Microsoft Paint skills! I couldn't resist. I had way too much fun putting a pig snout on myself.}

I'm not trying to brag, but I am so pleased with how my coat turned out. I love it and can't wait to be able to wear it! I haven't even put it in my closet yet- it's hanging on my dresser so I can see it easily. :) This is one of those projects that I sort of doubted I would ever get brave enough to complete. But when I just jumped in and got started, it wasn't nearly as difficult as I expected (except for the Hem of Horror).

I don't think you could really see the collar good in the previous pictures, but it's a sweet, rounded, Peter Pan sort of collar.

Also, the buttons are green, though sometimes they look a bit brownish.

The sleeves are interlined, too, but they're lined with slippery lining fabric instead of cotton so it's easier to slide your arms in. It's really a pretty green that matches the lining, though it looks dull here.

And I even managed to get over my fear of handsewing a bit with this coat. I learned the catchstitch, and this was the first time I had ever hemmed anything by hand (the bottom of the coat and the sleeves). The corduroy really hides the stitches on the right side, even better than a smoother fabric would.

So, that's the story of my first coat. I know this post was really long, so thanks for bearing with me.

Thanks to Mom for putting up with my awkward non-poses long enough to take these pictures. By the way, if you spy any cats in the pictures, they're my brother and sister-in-law's two cats who kept sneaking about. :)

Until next time,


  1. Beautiful!! You did a fantastic job! I wish I was brave enough to sew a coat. Maybe some day :)

  2. I ADORE your coat AND how you PIGGED OUT! *Snort* Teehee! :)

  3. Your coat turned out lovely!! In fact, I like it better than the movie one. Love the lining details, too!

  4. Cute! I love Penelope too and always thought how fun it would be to make a modern-Penelope-inspired coat... You did an amazing job!! I'm really inspired to sew a coat now. Fabulous scarf, too;D

  5. Looks great, and I love the scarf too!

  6. So pretty! I'd love to get the scarf pattern too- both coat and scarf are lovely! :)

  7. I love the beautiful coat and scarf. I watched as you worked hard on these projects. You have so many talents. We are so thankful to have such a sweet, loving daughter. God has truly blessed us !! Can't wait to see what's next!! Love You! Mom P.S. I don't remember seeing the pig nose when I snapped that picture. Ha Ha!!

  8. Congratulations on finishing this coat! I love the purple and green together. What a great way to get ready for winter!

  9. My fiancĂ© and I watched that movie at the cinemas. It was a good movie, and yes, Penelope’s coat and scarf made a mark. All you need to make yours look similar to hers are the boots. May I just add, the inner lining of that coat is pretty. I like the details!

    Joel Salmon


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