Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tailoring Your Coat Front, Part One

Are you ready to rock out some tailoring, Sew-Alongers? It's time for the exciting stuff! While working on this sample, I remembered just how much I love tailoring by hand. The handstitching can be relaxing and it's fun to pretend you're a bespoke tailor on Saville Row or something. Are you new to tailoring? Welcome! To understand the basic concept, all you really need to know is this: tailoring is the process of applying interfacing, hand stitches, and careful pressing to make your garment retain a certain shape. As you know, fabric doesn't form the beautiful soft folds of a lapel on its own. We're going to coax our fabric into those shapes with a little hair canvas, pad-stitching, twill tape, and basting. Make sense? If it seems like a magical alchemical process, that's because it kind of is. You'll be amazed to see a beautifully rolled lapel form under your fingers as you pad-stitch it!

Today, I want to show you the anatomy of your coat front and how to apply the hair canvas to your side panel. But first, I absolutely must thank my teacher Sharon who has taught me a ton and also helped me figure out how to present all this. There are various levels of tailoring, and different methods for all of them. So what Sharon proposed for our sew-along was a sequence of "light" tailoring done by hand. It's not complicated, but it will make a HUGE difference in the way your coat looks and feels.

Now, on to the anatomy lesson! Here are the key parts of your coat front. First, the lapel, indicated with a purple arrow here. This area is interfaced with hair canvas and pad-stitched by hand (we'll get to that later this week). As you can perhaps see, I've only just started my pad-stitching.

Right below the lapel is the roll line, indicated below with green arrows. This is where your coat folds open into your lapel. Remember when we marked our roll lines? In the tailoring process, twill tape is applied to the roll line, which will help the lapel keep its lovely shape instead of flopping around like a fish out of water.

Remember your handcrafted bound buttonholes? A little window is cut in the hair canvas to allow the button to pass through.

All that's left is the coat side and the portion of the coat front underneath the roll line. These are marked with the red arrows below. These areas are interfaced with hair canvas, which is basted to the fashion fabric with a permanent uneven basting stitch, which I'm going to go over today.

This may seem like a lot to swallow, but have no fear! Today I'm just going to go over the first step: basting hair canvas to your side piece.

Let's begin!

So cut out pattern piece B (side front) in your hair canvas, following the grainlines. (Note: it's advised that you pre-shrink your hair canvas by spritzing it with water and steam-ironing it. I tried this with mine, and it didn't shrink at all so I'm being bold and not pre-shrinking. But best to take the precaution.)

Cut off the hem allowance on your hair canvas; the pattern calls for 2" and that's what I'm doing. This is so the canvas won't be doubled-up in the hem.

Now place the canvas on top of your fabric piece and pin in place.

Next, draw in your basting lines on the canvas. These are straight lines 2" apart from each other. You don't need to go into the seam allowances with your basting. Mine are the pink chalk lines below.

Baste along these lines with an uneven permanent basting stitch (see the video below for instructions). Only grab a thread or two of your outer fabric (you can grab a little more if your fabric is very textured and won't show stitching); you don't want the basting to show on the outside.

Here's a video to help you with your stitching!

That's all for today, Sew-Alongers. Tomorrow I'll show you sewing the two front pieces together, catch-stitching your seam allowances to the canvas, and applying the canvas to your front piece.

Questions and suggestions welcome, as always!

P.S. One thing I should mention is that I've decided against the pattern's method of pressing the princess seams to the side and top-stitching them. My fabric is a bit bulky for that and the top-stitching won't show on the textured tweed anyhow. As you'll see in the next installment, I'm pressing my seams open and catch-stitching them to the hair canvas. Think about whether or not you'll want to do the same!


  1. Very nice tutorial. I am soo looking forward to doing it.

  2. Gertie, can you explain what "hair canvas" is. I live in the UK and have never seen this. Have you any ideas on manufacturers who I could approach to find suppliers near to me?

  3. I'm also looking for an online source for hair canvas (and I'm in the US!). JoAnn's doesn't have it in stores (huge surprise ... not!), and apparently only sells it by the bolt online. I don't need 25 yards for $240! If you have a recommended online source, Gertie, I'm all ears.

    1. B Black & Sons in Los Angeles (http://www.bblackandsons.com/) has tailoring-specific items including hair canvas, wigan, pre-made chest fronts, silk buttonhole thread, tailor's tapes, etc.

  4. I'm getting so excited about this part! Although I'm still behind (working on cutting out the shell fabric right now and plan on tackling the buttonholes too), but the tailoring is what I'm really looking forward to in this sew-along.

    Question for you: did you go ahead and cut out all the lining pieces, or is there anything special we'll be doing with those? I figure I might as well get that out of the way if I can. ;)

    ♥ Casey | blog

  5. Hi Mandy - I am in the UK too. I found hair canvas under that name... though it might be stocked in the 'sew-in interfacing' section in shops I guess. I got it from here - http://www.macculloch-wallis.co.uk/ - if you don't live in London they do a mail order. Otherwise you might try specialist haberdashers. I can't remember which kind I got in the end, but I ended up with two weights (and will be using the less stiff one).

  6. PS - Gertie - should the hair canvas extend into the fabric of the seam allowances?

  7. dooooo... I skipped on the hair canvas, because, well, I'm cheap and making 3 jackets. I went for sew-in regular interfacing. Now I'm sad, sad, sad...

    Gertie did a post a few weeks ago where she went over tailoring suplies and had some resources listed!!

  8. Hair canvas is a sew-in interfacing used in tailoring, usually made of a combo of wool, rayon and goat hair. It is also called hymo. There are lots of online sources, like these two:



    I got mine at Steinlauf and Stoller, you can call them and they'll take your order by phone and send it to you speedily.

    Casey, I haven't cut out my lining fabric yet but only because I was in a rush to get this part up! There's no reason I can see not to cut yours out now.

    Cybergirly, I am extending my canvas into the seam allowances for now, it will be graded and trimmed in coming steps.

    patty, maybe you can do padstitching on your regular sew-in interfacing?

  9. how many pieces are we going to cut out with the hair canvas? i ask because my local source for hair canvas is expensiiiiiive - $28/yard!!! - so i didn't buy the required 2 yards on the pattern since i've noticed that colette patterns tends to way overestimate the amount of fabric needed. i ended up buying 3/4 yard since that was all i needed for those 3 pieces required in the pattern. clearly, i'm going to need to go back to the store and buy more... just wondering how much more i need to measure based on what pieces will need the interfacing.

  10. lladybird, yikes on that price! It's probably the really good stuff though, if that makes you feel any better.

    The minimum I would have is enough to cut out the front and side front pieces. You can also make your back stay with it, but since you're concerned about price, you could just go with muslin for your back stay.

    For facings, we'll use a fusible.

    Is that clear? Sorry, I should have been clearer about this from the start!

  11. sigh.....my coat project is on the back burner while I teach myself to crochet and whip up some baby hats for halloween that in a fit of insanity I promised my sister for her twins....

    I'll have to do some catch up later on!

  12. will we be interfacing the collar with hair as well? don't say no because i already cut out those pattern pieces haha. speaking of which, i did already cut the facing with the hair, so can i use that or do i need to save it for something else and go with fusible?

    and another question: what pattern pieces should i use for my interlining? the lining? will you be offering some instruction for sewing that in?

    sorry for all the questions, sometimes i just need a little hand-holding :)

  13. This is post is crazy and amazing! It's going to take my sewing to a whole new level.


  14. this is great. i am not sewing along right now, but certainly plan on making this soon.

  15. Geeze Gertie, I wasn't going to make this coat but after seeing this post I finally cracked and went after that pattern. I won't be finished when everyone else is, but who cares. You're instructions rock.

  16. Gertie, you may want to double check on those seam allowances with the hair canvas. According to Adele Margolis, the hymo is so springy that if you extend it into the seam allowance you will never get it to press perfectly flat.

    I'm not doing this coat sew-along exactly but I am in the middle of my own tailoring project--and I humbly recommend Margolis' tailoring book as well as Kenneth King's e-book on "The Tailored Jacket."

    Good luck to all!

  17. Thanks, ladies! Glad you enjoyed the post.

    puu, with this method the hymo only extends into the seam allowance on one side of the seam (you'll see more on the next step). I didn't have any trouble getting the seam to lay flat. But if you're concerned, by all means, cut off those seam allowances!

    lladybird, yes, the collar too! Oy, where is my brain today!?

    You can try the hair canvas on the facing, but see how it works with two layers. It might make the facing area too stiff. Hold two layers of the hair canvas in between two layers of your fabric in your hands and test it, see how it feels. That's the best way to tell. If it's too stiff, go with a fusible.

    The lining is whatever lining pattern pieces are included with the pattern. The interlining is attached to your lining pieces, so it will be cut from those pattern pieces as well.

  18. Gertie, this may sound like a totally wacky question, but perhaps you'll be able to help anyway -- can you recommend a good synthetic alternative to using hair canvas? My partner is vegan and tries to avoid using any animal products in food, clothes, etc. I have a coat project for him that's been languishing for a while because I can't figure out what to use instead of the hair canvas. Since I've never worked with it before, I don't really know what kinds of properties I should look for in a synthetic alternative. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  19. You can definitely find hymo with no hair in it. I've bought it at Steinlauf and Stoller in plain black.

  20. Brits, I found hair canvas in my local fabricland, believe it or not! £4.99 a metre, listed as tailor's interlining. They have it on their website (which I grant you is fairly hideous and generally best avoided) under "vilene interfacing" on the snazzily coloured menu down the left hand side. I think you have to ring for mail order, if you haven't got a shop of theirs nearby.

    I'm now trying to work out the interfacing works with my furry collar and therefore how much to buy.

  21. Hair canvas can be had at Vogue fabrics online...I have a video I shot at Vogue Fabrics last night on jacket interfacing. Would tie in with this topic. I'll put it up on Youtube once I figure out how to split it on iMovie.

  22. Oh this is exciting! My favorite source for all things tailoring by mailorder is Atlanta Thread and Supply out of Georgia:
    They have both haircloth and hymo for about $9/yd.

  23. kimbersew, thank you for posting that link! i ordered more hymo, which was 1. cheaper than the stuff i bought locally; and 2. keeps me out of the fabric store, thus saving more money :) i live in nashville, so hopefully it won't take more than a couple days to ship from georgia.

    gertie, i am sorry to be all over these comments in your post haha!

  24. Gertie, this is awesome! I was going to machine stitch (one of the methods from the Tailoring book) because I was to freaked out to try this. But you've made it seem quite user friendly.

  25. Lovely tutorial Gertie! At the risk of sounding frighteningly ignorant, can you explain the benefits of this method as opposed to just using fusible interfacing? I'm guessing it's more traditional, but is there more to it than that? Thank you!

  26. Oh, and just to clarify - you do the interfacing / permanent basting tailoring on the pieces before you stitch them together, right? Even though you can complete the collar padstitching after they're together. Just checking because that's the story the photos seem to be telling.

  27. Hey Katie! I think you'll see what a big difference the hair canvas makes once we get to the lapel. Fusible can't really change the *shape* of fabric, but pad stitching on hair canvas does! It's amazing, trust me.

    K. Line, we're basting the side front piece before it's attached but we'll do the front piece after. You'll see on my post tomorrow. And actually, you want to do the collar padstitching before it's attached. (Maybe you meant to write lapel? Because the lapel will indeed be padstitched after being attached to the side piece.) It will all make more sense tomorrow, I promise!

  28. While I am not making the Lady Grey, it is very informative to follow along. Thanks for all your efforts.

    FWIW, I inherited a huge amount of hair canvas and put it in the washing machine on gentle, warm, and line dried in the sun. Came out great.

  29. I did mean lapel! I'll wait to see the next post...

  30. Ok you've convinced me Gertie, I just went and bought some hair canvas! Thank you, and keep the tutorials coming!! Katie

  31. I had to take a few more days to work on my muslin so I'm about a week behind. Once I took out darts from the lapel and bodice for a small bust, I realized the same amount needed to be taken out of the lining. and facing. Oy, that is 5 pieces, and I am not quick.

    Anyway, so I can think ahead on interfacings... For those who are doing their coats in a lighter fabric like me, and where hair canvas/hymo would completely overwhelm the fabric, do you think we could still padstitch?

    I am using a loosely woven silk tweed and thinking of fusing all pieces as an underlining and also to stabilize it. I'll have to experiment in the next couple of days. Then maybe I could add a second light layer to make some shaping as you are doing. Anyway, just curious about how to add shaping to much lighter fabrics? Anyone experienced with this?

  32. Thanks for all the tutorials! I have a random question... are there varying weights of silk thread? My local fabric shop doesn't have the color I need and my Joann has silk thread but it appears to thicker than an all purpose thread. Is this normal? Thanks again!

  33. Thanks for this wonderful post. This is so interesting and informative. I'll be waiting for your next wonderful post.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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