When Portia announced the #suitsyou theme for the #refashioners2017, my stomach flipped in anxiety – how? Suits? Really? Me? Ok. Then I remembered how I had stored away a little idea to make a country jacket after seeing Hila share her beautiful make on her blog Saturday Night Stitch. So now all I needed to do was find a sad suit to repurpose, preferably in a tweed or check appropriate to countryside persuits.
The Emmaus charity shop in Portslade came up trumps. I found a green check ladies pleated skirt suit in size 16, originally from Edinburgh Wollen Mill and actually made of 100% wool – don’t get me started on EWM & polyester or anything-but-wool. Then I found a whole rail of mens suits. A good rummage revealed a beautiful charcoal suit with bold white pinstripes, also wool, and an unusually green suit without any labels, and both in good sizes. My entire haul cost only £12.50. Now I had to make more plans & stick to them & not waste these suits that actually weren’t that sad but rather quite wearable as they were.
Pinterest gave me loads of ideas & I sketched a bit to refine my plans for a country jacket with a high-low peplum for the green check suit. I also started to form a picture of a moto jacket made from the charcoal pinstripe suit. I trawled through my pattern stash & then my Burda magazines to find patterns to start with that I’d be able to hack into my vision. I found both a blazer & a moto jacket pattern in a couple of Burdas.
I traced the blazer pieces. I hacked princess seamlines into the front & back. I chopped it off at the waist. I toiled, adjusted, toiled again. The sleeves took three iterations until I was satisfied. I drafted & added the peplum to the toile & only took a little fullness out of the peplum in the pattern.
I deconstructed my suit on the sofa, while watching tv. Most of the pieces pressed out nicely but not the skirt pleats. They must have been pressed in by some industrial process that my steaming wasn’t going to undo. I tried soaking the piece in vinegar & then washing it, laying it flat to dry in the garden. This was a risky strategy as I thought the fabric may shrink. Luckily, it didn’t shrink a lot. Sadly the pleats were still there. Too bad.
Now I played pattern-cutting tetris & cut my pieces in single layers & matched up the checks as best I could. I confirmed my hunch that my pattern wouldn’t fit onto the checked suit fabric. There are just too many fiddly bits in a jacket to get large usable pieces. I was pretty sad about this situation & when Portia pointed out that I could use a contrasting fabric in an Instagram comment, I took it as a helpful nudge that I could get over myself & do just that. It’s obviously why I bought that other unusually green suit. I had planned to give it to my work as the colour is not easy to find when you need it.
So I planned out how to mix my fabrics & took apart the green trousers from the suit. I dug through the fabric scraps at work & found a beautiful silk velvet that complemented the check really nicely. The velvet has a purple base & grey nap so it seems to change colour. The piece was kind of scrunched up so I gently steamed it to try to keep the crushed texture but also be able to cut my pieces. I supported the soft velvet with a silk taffeta in the collar & with the trouser fabric in the cuffs.
I had planned the inset velvet cuffs from the start to show off the velvet, but it was later as the jacket was coming together that I had the idea to add the bias cut trim to the peplum to tie the two suit fabrics together. The silk lining was given to me a couple of years ago & I didn’t think I would ever use it, it’s even spent time in the donations bag. But when I offered it up to the greens & purples of my jacket, it seemed made for it. I was worried it may be too light for the sleeves though. I got lucky & found a purple silk wrap skirt in another charity shop for only £1.99, the silk felt thicker & tougher than the floral lining fabric. I drafted the lining from my pattern, adding a little here & there for movement.
I used tailoring canvas, cotton tape, a cotton back stay & tailoring techniques to shape & support the structure of the jacket. I also used the already interfaced jacket fabric to my advantage as much as possible, for instance, at the centre front facings & the hem. I reused the sleeve head batting from the jacket to support my new sleeveheads.
In one of my tryings-on during construction, I found that the sleeves were a little snug on my forearms. So I let the seams out a little in both jacket & lining.
The order of construction took some brainpower as I wanted to machine sew as much as possible. In the end I only hand sewed the sleeve linings at the armhole, and the jacket lining at the waist.
Once the jacket was complete, I chose buttons from my stash & spent a long time considering buttonhole options, while wearing the jacket daily. I wanted keyhole buttonholes & don’t have access to a machine that will do that. My work colleagues talked about handworked buttonholes & I thought yeah right. But I did some research & then actually needed to add a handworked buttonhole to a suit jacket at work. I ordered gimp & heavy thread & made a practise & then the real buttonhole. And it looked great. So in my social sewing club I handworked my buttonholes in my jacket. Someone had brought in fabrics & notions to pass along for small donations. I had a rummage & made my donation. But a little later I went back for a second look, and sitting on the top of the button bot was a card of three beautiful green buttons. Like they were waiting for me. Luckily they fit the buttonhole that I’d already started.
The moto jacket was a similar story of trace, hack & toile. The pattern had an interesting but dastardly raglan sleeve, and of course I added seams to enable the showing off of the striped suit fabric. The process via three toiles nearly did me in. I cut up my previous jacket’s toile to reuse the fabric & I drew stripes on the fabric so that I could see instead of imagine how they would play off each other. I’m very glad I did as it was much easier & seeing how this jacket could turn out proved a source of perseverance when the going got tough later.
I dismantled my suit & found that it wasn’t quite as pristine as I had thought – finding moth holes, a food stain & even creases in the backs of the knees. I did find a Made in South Africa label though – like me. I saved the posh labels to add back into my jacket later.
One of the key aspects of my plans was to use reflective fabric in my jacket, in the form of chevrons on the back of the jacket & on the bicep of the sleeves. I ordered a metre on Ebay & used such a small amount that I shall have to add it to a lot more projects. Of course a moto jacket needs zips & I found a donor jacket on the sale rail in another charity shop, priced only £2.25 which is an awesome bargain for three zips. The rest of the jacket I have donated to work as the furry fabric will be useful one day.
I am sensitive to wool fibres & didn’t want any wool in this jacket to touch my skin, so had another rummage for a suitable remnant at work. I took a few pieces home to audition them & chose a black crepe back satin. I used this in the front facings, back neck facing, collar & waistband. I used every last scrap of the piece I found, which is a shame as it would have been nice to cut the pocket welts from it too. But I had to piece the back neck facing from scrappy bits. I supported all the crepe pieces, either with some slubby silk that was originally a dress made by a friend & passed on to me for reuse, or with more of the suit fabric. I didn’t want to use iron on interfacing in this jacket to keep a softness & suppleness in the final piece. I hand tacked all the interfacing pieces to their fashion pieces.
The lining started out as a piece of turquoise silk from the same gift as the purple lining. I dyed it in the washing machine with black dye & a bit of yellow as I’ve read that it helps the black look blacker. It came out beautifully. I cut the lining using the jacket pieces, taping together seamlines to eliminate where necessary. I also moved the line of the facing over towards the side seam so that the seams wouldn’t become too bulky when placed together.
I had cut all my pieces as carefully as I could, cutting one layer & matching the stripes, piece by piece. Cutting out all those pieces took a long time, but it was worth it to see the stripes lining up as I sewed the jacket together. I didn’t have any suit pieces large enough to cut the large sleeve sections, so I sewed together pieces of the trousers to make fabric large enough. There is only one seam line that I misjudged, & I’m not going to point it out to you! The reflective chevrons all lined up pretty well too, again they aren’t perfect but that doesn’t bother me. I’m so impressed at everything I did achieve in these makes that perfection isn’t part of my goal. The jigsaw sleeves were a serious headache although easier to handle in the wool than my stiffer toile fabric, and I guess by the fourth go around I had instincts to follow for how to make them work, even if lines don’t match up quite as they ought to.
I did use iron on interfacing to help the zips go in smoothly. I turned & pressed the seam allowance under & topstitched the zips in. Thankfully they didn’t give me any trouble. I did have to make a quick trip to B&Q to buy some cutters to shorten all my zips by snipping off some teeth.
When the jacket was together enough to try it on, I found that the back was catching on my hips, so I let out the side seams & centre back seams which did the trick. It was at this point that I thought about how the shoulders could be supported with raglan shoulder pads. I researched & learned that I could also have added shoulder stays to the tops of the sleeve pieces before sewing them up. I made a simple pair of raglan shoulder pads from lambswool & stitched them in.
I had to get really brave to add welt pockets to my nearly finished jacket. But I love how they turned out. The pocket bags are a layer of the black silk with a layer of the red rayon lining from the original jacket, which was a nice way to bring a little of that fabric in & ideal to strengthen the silk for the pockets.
I had auditioned topstitching at the beginning of construction, but I just wasn’t liking how it looked. So I challenged myself instead to use as little visible topstitching as possible. Other than the zip insertion, I found other ways to secure parts of the construction instead. I’m particularly proud of the pockets which are completely machine sewn but a lot of it is in the inner layers rather than the outer, and the waistband I hand stitched the seam allowances together by stitching in the ditch. I used my new Tulip needle for this & it’s such a dream – so thin it just glides through all the layers, and I haven’t broken it yet.
So hats the verdict? I’ve been wearing the green jacket for a few weeks, although mostly without buttons & buttonholes, and the moto jacket for a few days & I love them both. Each one challenged me in different ways – the green I had to accept the limitation of my fabric and I struggled to accept the solution until I saw it all coming together. I dared myself to make handworked buttonholes. The design lines of the sleeves on the moto jacket were so complicated to sew together & the fit adjustments seemed I was just feeling in the dark. I’m so so glad that I put so much effort into these & now I have a pair of really useful jackets for autumn & spring weather. Reflecting on my original concern that I would do justice to suits which were still useable, I feel like I have remade them into good garments. My darling husband agreed to a photo shoot, the beach was bright & breezy on Sunday, and we had a lovely time together. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you for the next #therefashioners