Even people who have been sewing for years – making cushions, bags and things to wear – shy away from sewing jackets and coats. This may be because they are wary of working with tailoring fabrics and the interfacings that go inside or they are frightened that the finished jacket might look ‘home made’.
Here are some tips and suggestions on how to create jackets that look great and no one would guess you’d made yourself.
1. Choosing a Pattern
Choose a pattern to suit your body shape and your sewing ability. It isn’t difficult to make a smart-looking tailored jacket with a perfectly symmetrical collar and lapels if you work accurately but if you’d prefer to make a collarless jacket choose a chic Chanel style, which she famously stated made older women look younger and young women more sophisticated.
Check the difficulty rating of a pattern before you buy it and if you choose a Vogue or Simplicity design you’ll find detailed and well-structured instructions and diagrams to help you through the construction process.
For your first jacket, a simple, easy-fit style will allow you to concentrate on techniques and less on fitting. One with fewer pieces or panels might be easier to sew together enabling you to gain skills more quickly.
2. Fabric Selection
If you are planning your first jacket, choose a plain fabric made with natural fibres like wool or a wool mix. A polyester fabric may be less expensive but is likely to be more difficult to work with and less forgiving if you make some minor errors along the way. Natural fibres can be moulded into place more easily.
Choose a medium weight cloth so that you do not need to fight with thick layers when making sharp, neat collar points and lapels. Seam ridges and hand sewn hems may show on the outside of a jacket if you use a fabric that is too thin or light weight.
If you’d like to make a Chanel-style jacket you’ll need a chunky-woven tweed so that the stitches disappear between the threads when you sew in the lining. There are some beautiful fabrics available with wool, silk and metallic threads in the weave – Linton Tweeds fabrics are gorgeous!
For the more confident amongst you, experiment with checks and stripes and make jackets with interesting seams and pockets.
3. What about the Inside? Interfacings
For tailored jackets we traditionally used hair canvas, linens and stay tapes with lots of hand stitches to sew them in place to create shape and structure. Today, we have the advantage of some fabulous fusible interfacings that not only make tailoring quicker but also allow us to recreate the type of jackets sold by top manufactured brands.
These wonderful modern interfacings are woven (not made with bonded fibres) and fuse to the wrong side of fabric adding body to our finished jackets. They do the job they are required to do without making a jacket too stiff. Use a soft, light interfacing for top collars and facings and a medium weight for inside the front and upper back for support then additional layers to produce lovely smooth shoulders and hems. As they have a woven structure, once these interfacings are in place they move with the fabric and don’t bubble away and separate as other products do.
When you buy a jacket pattern you may not find instructions for where and how to place your interfacings so here is a quick guide:
Although each pattern will require thought about precisely where to put the interfacing, it should basically be in the centre front (to support the buttons and buttonholes), the shoulders and upper back to hold the shape. Take time to handle the fabric and interfacings and examine the paper pattern before deciding how to use them.
4. What about a Chanel-style Jacket?
The method Chanel used to construct her stylish cardigan-style jacket is quite different to traditional tailoring. Rather than using interfacings on the inside to create structure, the lining is quilted directly to the wrong side of the fabric to provide support. This gives a softer, more flexible finish which can be more comfortable to wear.
The trick to success when making a Chanel-style jacket is to choose an appropriate pattern and materials:
- The pattern should be close fitting, short and boxy with narrow, wrist-length sleeves. It is often collarless, edge-to-edge and trimmed with braid. However, the most iconic feature is the chain sewn to the base of the hem on the inside to help the jacket hang perfectly level.
- The fabric needs to be a loosely woven textured tweed, as a smooth-surfaced cloth will not hide the quilt stitches that hold the lining to it.
- Finally, the lining should be a sumptuous shiny satin or luxurious silk in a bright contrasting colour to make it look particularly special.
5. Fastenings and Finishings
The little details make all the difference to the finish of a tailored jacket.
Pockets should be perfectly placed, symmetrical, straight and even. If they are top stitched, the thread should be a good colour blend and without any wiggles!
Buttonholes must be regularly spaced and identical in size.
If you are adding hand-sewn braids and trims or simply sewing the hem in place, use a silk thread and a small needle. Silk thread is less likely to get tangled and a small needle encourages tiny, less obvious, stitches.
Summary of Top Tips
- Choose your pattern wisely – you don’t want to spend hours creating a jacket that doesn’t fit well or suit you.
- Make a toile before you start so that you can forget about fitting when constructing your jacket and concentrate on the process itself.
- Work with natural fibres where possible – it will be much easier to handle.
- Use top quality, woven, iron-on interfacings and cut and apply them carefully.
- Transfer dots and notches from the pattern to the fabric carefully.
- Use your iron at every stage and have a tailor’s ham and pressing cloth to hand.
- Make use of fabric off-cuts to practice on before you start – test different weights of interfacing with your chosen fabric and check how it responds to the heat of the iron.
- For hand sewing use silk thread.
- Work accurately and make sure the collar, lapels, shoulders and pockets are symmetrical.
- And finally, take your time and enjoy the process so you can appreciate wearing your finished jacket.
The Iconic Tweed Jacket