Despite the fact that I’ve been sewing garments for myself for more than 5 years, I had never sewn a real wool coat. Something about it seemed just too advanced, too fiddly and time consuming for my slapdash style of sewing. But finally, I have rallied and actually completed my first real coat, the Grainline Cascade Duffle. I feel like I’ve achieved a real sewing milestone!
I’d had it in mind to make this coat since its release last winter, but was spurred into action while visiting Fancy Tiger Crafts in October, where I saw the printed pattern for sale. Because I was sure I didn’t want to print and assemble a pdf coat pattern, I snagged it. And because my mother is a terrible enabler (don’t worry, I’m hers too), she prodded me to buy fabric for it then and there. Of course, Fancy Tiger has a nice selection of gorgeous wools, and I fell for this off-white and gray plaid. It was mom’s brilliant idea to pair it with yellow – there was a bolt of mustard jersey nearby, and she pulled it over and said, “the toggles should be this color”, and I was sold.
I then embarked on an epic quest to find the rest of my supplies. Luckily, I was working in LA in November, so I was able to make two treks to the Fashion District. I could not get mom’s suggestion of yellow toggles out of my head, so I headed to a tiny leather shop I found a while ago (X Trims & Leather, on Maple between 8th and 9th, for those in the area), where I found a scrap of a sort of pale yellow leather that looked good with my wool and was only $5. (I have a fair bit left, of course, I’ll have to explore other trimming uses for it in the future.) Unfortunately I could not find leather (or any other) cord that matched it anywhere, so I decided to use gray leather cord instead, and try to source yellow toggle buttons. That was a whole other ordeal, but I finally found some likely candidates online at Benno’s Buttons. They’re a bit smaller than I’d have liked, but they work. The lining was also a bear. Leather swatch in hand, I scoured the Fashion District for matching lining and came up empty. I found the perfect mustard color in a rayon challis with a very soft hand, and though I worried it would be too drapey and also too annoyingly sticky for the sleeve lining, I bought it anyway to use as a last resort. I ordered a mustard lining fabric from fabric.com, but of course it was entirely the wrong color when it arrived, too dark. Then on a whim I went into an old-school local fabric store in the town where I used to work (an hour away), and in a disused corner of the store found maybe 5 bolts of lining fabric, one of which was a perfect match for the leather. Go figure. And after all that, I totally forgot to buy a zipper. D’oh! I ordered two zippers online, neither of which matched my fabric when they arrived, so I said screw it and decided to omit the zipper. I live in Southern California, after all, this wool coat will be plenty warm even without closing all the way.
Then the holidays happened, and the coat didn’t. I set it aside for a variety of other projects, as I have for every other coat or complicated project I’ve ever planned on making (supplies for all of which are still languishing in stash). This coat would likely have met the same fate, except that my enabler, who pushed me to buy the fabric in the first place, actually held me accountable. Every week when my mom called me and asked “are you working on your coat?” I was actually motivated to get on it. Also helping were the dual motivations of Indie Sew Coat Month and the Fancy Tiger coat sewalong, which seemed appropriate since I bought my fabric there, after all. (I almost wish I lived in Denver so I could hang out on Fridays and sew with them in person! But the snow…)
I finally started it in the second week of January. It took me three solid nights to cut it out, with the plaid matching, the lining and all the interfacing. I matched the plaid line across the front and back pretty well, using, as I generally do, the lengthen/shorten line as a guide. I did the same with the sleeve pieces, but I should have used the notches instead because one of my sleeve seams match but not the other one (does that mean one of the sleeve pieces should have been cut slightly off grain?). Of course, the unmatching seam is the front one. Ah, well. I also failed to consider the directionality of the light gray squares, which are made up of small gray and white stripes that are fairly obvious up close. When I cut the pieces on the bias (the yokes, pockets, and front bands), I didn’t realize that cutting them doubled with the fabric folded as usual meant the stripes would be going vertically on one piece and horizontally on the other. As a result, one whole side of the coat has the stripes going perpendicular to the stripes on the other side. I’m going to assume no one would notice unless I point it out, since I didn’t even notice until I had assembled most of the coat shell.
Of note: I bought only the recommended amount for View A (the fabric was 55″ wide), despite the fact that I was using a plaid and it occurred to me after I’d gotten back from Denver that I wanted to cut a fair number of pieces on the bias, and yet I had exactly the right amount of fabric, with only the most minor puzzling of pieces. (I even had enough scraps left to make a ham and a sleeve roll for pressing, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while also.)
I cut a size 8 in the shoulders/bust, based on my 36″ bust measurement, and graded out to a 10 at the hips. My measurements actually put me in a 12 for the waist/hips on Grainline’s chart, but I usually only grade up one size, and with the a-line boxy shape of the pattern I wasn’t worried that it wouldn’t be big enough. My instincts were right, the fit is spot on. When the coat is open, you can see the swing shape, but when it’s closed it’s closer fitting in back.
As a side note, I think I found an error in the pattern when I was adding the interfacing (I used tricot fusible at Jen’s suggestion, mine from Fashion Sewing Supply). The front and back armhole interfacing pieces are labeled wrong. I puzzled over why the front armhole interfacing piece was such a bad fit for the front armholes for a while before I tried it on the back instead, where it was perfect, and then found that the piece labeled “back” fit exactly on the front. Not a big deal, but I hadn’t seen anyone else mention it.
Once I had everything cut out and fused, which took forever, the actual construction went pretty fast. The toggles took a good amount of time (probably an hour and change) to attach, because I taped them in place as suggested in the sewalong and then it took forever to pull off all the little tape bits once it’d been sewn through. My leather is not suede, but it’s still a bit softer than regular toggle leather, and the tape stuck pretty good. After sewing a couple test toggles with various feet, including a teflon foot, I settled on the zipper foot, so I could keep a closer eye on the edge of the toggle in a (somewhat vain) attempt to maintain an even topstitching allowance. I went super slow around the curve, stopping after most every stitch and lifting the foot to adjust the angle slightly.
I was delightfully surprised by how easy the wool was to sew. This will come as no shock to people who’ve sewn with wool coating before, I suppose, but it was nice and squishy and so easy to ease, it fed through my machine amazingly well, even when there were tons of layers, and it was easy to manipulate and press into submission. Everything matched up pretty perfectly, which doesn’t usually happen with me, and I credit the flexibility of the wool.
Also, my only real screw-up was sewing the hem facing on upside down, due to brain-dumbness. I would have appreciated some notches on that piece and the sleeve facings for that reason, so I wouldn’t have had to reason it out. Sometimes curved pieces are just too brain-twisty for me. Of course, I only realized my error after I had graded the seam and understitched, I unpicked it all and attached it correctly, and then I had to eyeball a slightly more than 1/4 inch seam allowance when I attached the lining to the hem facing because it had been trimmed on that side. I also stitched in the ditch up from the hem on the side seams and sleeve seams, and hand stitched the hem facing to the body in two other places to make sure the hem facings don’t fall down at all. The back hem does swoop out a bit, I probably should press and steam it some more.
I had never bagged a lining before, but I’d read a million tutorials for it, and while they didn’t make a ton of sense out of context, as soon as I had the actual coat before me, the method became very clear. In general I found the Grainline sewalong posts useful, not because the pattern instructions were sparse, but because I found it helpful to see the details rendered in real fabric, particularly when it came to knowing what to trim when grading seams.
I appreciate that this pattern seems much more accessible than a traditional Big 5 tailored coat pattern, and it doesn’t seem to require all the complicated hair interfacing and padstitching and rolled lapels etc that I’ve read about and been intimidated by all over the internet for the last several years. I think this coat is a perfect intro to wool coat sewing. The collar was straightforward, it doesn’t require sleeve heads or shoulder pads, and no buttonholes, bound or otherwise. For me, I don’t know that it’ll lead to more complicated coats, just because as a Californian I have little need for wool coats, and I already have like 4 RTW ones, but I could see the Cascade being a gateway coat for others more inclined to wool-wearing. I could, however, see myself making another version in a lighter, more casual fabric, if the duffle coat trend continues. But… probably not anytime soon. I’m just gonna savor my victory for a little bit.