My first foray as a pattern tester
When I saw the call out for Gretchen Hirch’s new pattern, (AKA Gertie of Charm patterns), I thought that I’d put myself forward as a tester, without much hope of being chosen. In the application I mentioned that it would be nice to have someone over 50 represented & I may have slipped in that I won a competition with the the Butterick B6412 dress, which is from her line of ‘Patterns by Gertie’. I was gobsmacked to be chosen.
The Princess coat pattern is based on the Lilli Ann style of coats of the 1950’s, with Princess seams, to give a great fit, a fabulous shawl collar, with the option of a notch detail, 3 interchangeable sleeve options & either a cropped jacket, full skirted coat or a jacket with a peplum. It is described as a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ pattern – in that there are 24 different combinations & the dressmaker gets to pick, I doubt that you will see 2 of these coats alike. And double bonus is the size range of 30.5″ – 52″ bust, 24″ – 42″ waist with cup sizes A to H.
The timeline for the first muslin was tight, as it was just a couple of weeks before Christmas & I was in full present making mode. However, to make the muslin only required making the shorter length jacket & the regular tailored sleeve, no linings or interfacings etc, we then had until mid January to make up our coats, which made the experience less stressful, as I had a long break from work over the Christmas period to crack on!
What is crucial is that you read the instructions on fitting thoroughly, obviously I did this anyway as a tester but I would definitely not advise skipping this, even if you are a seasoned dressmaker, as there are some great tips on fitting included. For example, how to grade for a Princess seam, I really struggled how to fathom out how to do this for the B6412 but these instructions really hold your hand & I found that with making the adjustments to the pattern first the muslin only needed a few slight tweaks before I could cut into the good stuff.
It starts with getting you to measure your HIGH bust, that is the measurement underneath your armpits above the apex of the bust, the pattern is graded for cup sizes, so you then choose your cup size according to your measurement around the apex of the bust according to the chart. You need to pay attention to this & cut the pattern according to these measurements as opposed to the waist.
My measurements are: 35″ upper bust & 37″ full bust with a 31″ waist, which put me at a size 8 for the bust, grading out to the waist as instructed. My key learning point here was how to grade to the waist, previously I have tried to grade all the seams to the SIZE category that my waist falls into but you only grade the side seams by calculating the difference between your own waist & the measurement given on the chart correlating to your bust size, deduct one from the other & divide it by 4 & add that amount on to the back & front side seam, it’s much less faff.
The Cropped Version
As testers we had already seen a couple of the versions from the photo shoot & they were all absolutely stunning but I knew that I wanted to make full length version in red with a polka dot lining, to give it a 50s vibe but keep it wearable for everyday by keeping the party on the inside! It just so happened that the same week Minerva sent out their latest call out to their list of makers & there was a red washable wool fabric available – it was fate! I felt a bit cheeky asking for 5.5 metres of it but they were very obliging once I’d explained. There was no way of telling whether I’d need this amount as the layout & yardage requirements just said between 5 – 6 yards but I couldn’t risk under buying. (The published pattern will have all that information on).
Gertie advises against making a wearable muslin, so my first fit muslin was made from some leftover curtain lining. Although I’m not a complete novice at tailoring techniques, as I’d made the Jasika blazer last year, I really wanted to nail the bound buttonholes & get my head around the pattern before cutting into the lovely red fabric. I decided to err on the safe side & make the shorter jacket version from some wool that I’d picked up off the market for £2 a yard to practice all the techniques on. The wool was very narrow, (1m wide) & I only had 1.7 metres of it, so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get all the pieces out of it, those bodice/collar pieces are quite big, so some lateral thinking was required, which I love!.
I was inspired by one of the publicity photos which had a fur collar so I went on the hunt for some faux fur at Fabworks, my local fabric shop & lo & behold they had this loveliness, a long pile Ocelot, which was exactly what I was looking for. I bought the lining from there too. My initial thoughts were to make a 3/4 length sleeve but I had enough to make the full length, which pleased me, as I’m not a fan of 3/4 length sleeves in a coat as I’m always cold.
Rather scarily, after interfacing & prepping your fabric, you start with the bound buttonholes – eek! But there are only 3 so not so bad & the instructions are really clear, so don’t let them put you off. You can, of course, do buttonholes on your machine if your fabric isn’t too thick but I think it’s a technique really worth learning as the result elevates the coat in my opinion.
I’ve worked with faux fur previously, so didn’t find it too difficult to deal with, just messy & there are instructions within the pattern of how to deal with a contrast collar. The only thing that I didn’t think of is nap – I turned one piece upside down in an effort to conserve fabric, as it was relatively expensive, (£15 a metre but I only bought 1/2 a metre), so the nap of one of my collars lays differently to the other. I really don’t think that you can tell but you can feel it. Not an issue really, just something to be aware of if you give it a go.
The rest of the jacket came together really easily, the lining was a bit shifty but nothing I couldn’t handle. I had the brainwave to put my initials & date onto the backstay for any future refashioner to discover but I did it in pen, as this was only meant to be a practice piece. I auditioned quite a few buttons but in the end I went with some gorgeous vintage ones in my button tin, that had come from my mother-in-law. I’m guessing they came off an existing coat, as one of them had a little bit of fabric still attached, so this is a lovely little reminder of her.
Overall, I’m really pleased with the cropped jacket, the collar makes it really snuggly & it’s in my favourite colour – blue. I spotted a couple of errors/omissions within the instructions, which I’m sure have been corrected now but overall the instructions are really clear & the pieces come together perfectly.
When I first imagined this jacket with the fur collar I thought that I’d make myself a fur headband & hand warmer, (I daren’t give it it’s proper name, for fear of unwelcome visitors!) to give it a real glamour puss effect. For anyone who knows me, they will know that that’s not the lifestyle I lead but I had some spare time & fur so I thought I’d just go for it. I vaguely followed the instructions on the Mood website but without downloading the pattern. It was a stroke of genius as it turned out as the jacket doesn’t include pockets, so not only does it keep my hands nice & warm & I think I’ve found a new way to transport my knitting!
The headband was made by measuring my head, adding a seam allowance & deciding how wide I wanted it to be, doubling it & sewing together, ( I winged it basically – what could go wrong!). Really simple but a great way to keep your ears warm. I’m going to Switzerland later in the year & may take the whole ensemble with me. I also made a dress from a vintage Simplicity pattern no:3397 that I had given, with fabric that I also found on the Minerva website, which I thought was a perfect match – more on that later, but the fabric is here & here’s a picture of the jacket & dress together. I may wear this for Valentines day, if he’s lucky.
The Full Length Version
So on to the full length red coat. I’m usually a stickler for pre-washing but when I received the parcel from Minerva I thought there was no way I was putting this lot in the washing machine to pre-wash, it was just too big & bulky & how often do you wash a coat really? However, should you wish to wash it, the description on the website states that it’s called a washable wool because it has the look, feel & characteristics of wool but is made from polyester & viscose & is therefore easy care. I cannot vouch for that but what I can confirm is that the fabric was really lovely & soft as it has a brushed side, is lovely & warm & very easy to work with.
I tried a few places for the lining & by chance found the polka dot lining locally at the Cloth Quarter in Dewsbury. It was being sold as a peachskin rather than a lining fabric. It’s not as heavy as the peachskin that I’d used previously but it was perfect for what I needed. I think I bought 5 metres, which proved to be way too much but I managed to get myself a dress out of what was left, to match my coat, because who doesn’t want their dress to match their coat! This was also the vintage Simplicity 3397 pattern, view 1. I even made myself a cheeky little petticoat to give the dress a bit of a lift without it being too frou-frou – oh & a headband too.
I thought for this iteration I would try the lantern sleeves & notched collar. The sleeves were a little bit out of my comfort zone to be honest but interfacing them was optional, so I decided against that in order to lessen the drama. The fabric has enough body to support them & I thought if they were too stiff I’d end up knocking everyones pint off the table every time I moved! The notched collar was really simple to do, as were the sleeves. I added my initials & date to the back stay, this time in embroidery, this isn’t something I’ve done a lot of, as you can tell but I love this touch, that only I, (& whoever reads this), knows about.
The facing pieces for the full skirted version are ginormous & due to my ineptitude, I cut the wrong size, (I cut the size 8 for my bust, instead of the size I’d graded to at the waist), & there was no way I was going to cut it all out again, so I pieced it in. I also had a bit of mare with the lining. The advise in the pattern is to hem the lining before attaching it to the coat, after hanging both the coat & lining for 24 hours, to allow for any stretch on the bias, which I did. I felt it was risking it a bit to go straight on to hemming the lining before attaching it to the coat though, so ignored this advice. I think it turned out to be the right decision in the end as I managed to get an even hem & I feel sure that it would have been too long if I’d gone ahead & hemmed it first. One small niggle is that the interfacing that I used for the outer collar has crinkled slightly. It looked fine initially but can be seen on close inspection, this is entirely my fault, I should have known better!
There are some great tips within the pattern to add optional tailoring details, such as easing in the sleeve method using the bias strip method, which I didn’t try, due to time pressure but love that this kind of information is included, which I will use some other time. There’s handstitching around the bound buttonholes, the buttons, the hem of which there is a lot and the sleeves, plus the swing tacks between the skirt & the lining, so a fair amount but I actually don’t mind that, to get a good finish. I used some buttons that my daughter-in-law had given me, which I think gives the coat a really luxurious touch.
So, I now have 2 very different coats from one pattern & I think I will get a lot of wear from them. I do love the vintage style but it’s not my every day style. I can mostly be found in jeans, when at home but I do like to get dressed up when I go out. I’ve worn the blue jacket with black jeans & I think you could wear either of these with whatever you like & they will make you feel instantly glamorous.
I’ve had great fun making both the coats & the dresses, (which I have made for the #sewavintagedressamonth challenge on instagram) along with all the accessories to go with them. I even knit the beret, which was a complete fluke, as I’d started knitting it around November time, it just happened to match. The pattern is the Paris beret by Alice Hammer & is a simple make.
If I’m being completely honest, if I’d seen the price of this pattern I may have balked a bit, I’m not called Frugalisama for nothing! But having seen the quality of the pattern & the information within the instructions & all the options available I can honestly say that this is really good value, especially as the result will give you something unique. Shipping from the US can also be pricey ($23 for 7-21 day delivery to the UK) but I believe that we will be having suppliers in the UK & the pattern is available to download. Again, I’ll be honest & say that I wouldn’t want to be sticking all the pieces together in PDF format, I paid for mine printing A0 style from Netprinter, which cost me £22, including postage (not including the instructions, I printed those at home), so a similar price but you get hold of the pattern more quickly but without the beautiful packaging. I love her patterns so much that I’ve even bought the latest book – Gertie Sews Jiffy Dresses & If I can find a UK retailer I would definitely buy the Night & Day dress which has 72 variations, (I will never need to buy a pattern again – lol), so look out for more vintage inspired makes in the future.
Ironically, I had bought 2 coat patterns just prior to getting to know about the pattern test, the Closet Case Patterns Sienna Maker Coat, which I’d bought fabric & lining for & the Stylearc Parker coat, after seeing Alex Judges version, @alexjudgesews on Instagram & Youtube. Both coats are completely different to the Princess coat but I love them too. But I’ll maybe give coat making a rest for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, now I’ve got a bit of head space after the run up to Christmas & the furious coat/dress/accessory making, immediately after, I can concentrate on some future planning!
Check out the other tester versions too, as they are all so beautiful, @sewcial.dee made detachable faux fur collar & cuffs for hers, which I thought was genius! Let me know if you’ve made a coat before & what you think of this one, are you tempted to give it a go?Be nice though, I’m only human!
The Princess Coat pattern is released for general sale on the 27th of January. I was given the pattern to test by Charm Patterns & the fabric for the red coat by Minerva in exchange for a blog post but all opinions are my own. Just to be clear I was only required to make one coat of my any of the variations, it was my entirely choice to make 2.