Making & Wearing a 1950’s Swing Coat

Usually I start the year off with a wrap up showing the previous years projects and my thoughts on them. But I’m not particularly happy with how 2017 went, and I’d rather move forward with new things than write about my previous work.

So today’s post is going to focus on my first project of 2018: A 1950’s ensemble. This project was inspired by the glorious mid century costumes used in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Crown”.

(both of which are wonderful shows if you are looking for something new to watch!)

Mrs. Maisel featured a lot of very vibrant pieces, with outfit changes between almost every scene. I was especially fond of her oversized coats, and it seemed like an appropriate season to sew one for myself!

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I didn’t have anything in my stash that would work, and most wools I found online were outside of my price range. But I ended up lucking out and finding a 5 yard cut of bright green textured wool from Fabric Warehouse that was $50. Score!

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I did a lot of pinterest browsing prior to draping this, but nothing really sparked my interest. I wanted this to be styled after swing coats, with tons of volume. But I also wanted to have it be functional, with a collar and buttons as opposed to an open front. To make it harder,  most of the wintery “swing coats” I found were lacking the dramatic silhouette I wanted.

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I had a few ideas sketched out but created most of the design elements while draping. Which was also a challenge – I’m not entirely comfortable draping loose garments, since there isn’t as much of a guide to go off of when it comes to fit. It was also difficult to imagine the design made out of the thick wool when I was draping it from flannel.

I ended up with this, which surprisingly turned into a passable mockup. So I transferred it to paper and decided to go for it! I figured worse case scenario the panels would be wide enough I could make changes as I went.

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I focused on the back panel first, since it has the most volume.

It’s made from four pieces – two that meet at the center back, with one gored panel on either side. The pieces were sewn together with one inch seam allowances, then topstitched down. I didn’t worry too much about raw edges since this wool doesn’t fray.

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Then the back panels were pleated. I topstitched the top 12 inches of the pleats down to create a slimmer shape around the torso.

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Another view – the stitching isn’t perfect but this was very difficult to manipulate through the sewing machine, so cut me some slack!

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Then I cut out the sleeves…which were also upper portion of the back panel. The sleeves are raglan style, so these pieces were connected.

I stitched three quarters of an inch away from the bottom edge to create a guide for turning the edge inward.

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And here it is pinned on. I topstitched this in place by machine.

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The front panels are much narrower, and shaped with darts above the bust. I topstitched the upper portion / sleeves onto these pieces as well.

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Even though the edges of the wool don’t fray, the interior of the upper portion was looking pretty messy, so I lined it with a colorful cotton sateen. green coat (16 of 45)

Now it was time for the buttonholes. I chose to do welted buttonholes since I like how professional they look. I was a little worried the material would be too thick to pull them off, but it totally worked!

This was actually my first time using this technique on a garment so I didn’t take many pictures of the process, but there are a lot of tutorials out there if you’re curious.

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I turned the front edges inward and lined them with more cotton sateen. The lining around the buttonholes got a bit messy – I should have marked the cutout placement on the fabric instead of doing it by eye.

But no one will see that since I only photographed the other side!

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The front lining was secured with a cross stitch, and I hand stitched across the center front edge with a running stitch.

Then I sewed on buttons, which are very simple, but MASSIVE. I originally wanted to use vintage buttons on this, but they were all too expensive. So I purchased these from here instead.

I think this was a good call – not only were they cheaper, the more elaborate vintage buttons might have been a bit too much for this design.

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Now the shoulder seams and side seams were done up…only for me to find out the jacket was too big. I cut a good two inches of width out of the underarm, then redid the seams. This looked way better.

At this point I was trying to figure out the cuffs. I originally wanted them to flare out and reveal the lining. But the edges were really bulky and I thought the visible splash of pink made the coat less versatile. So I cut four inches off the sleeves and sewed on rectangular cuffs made from a scrap of green wool instead.

This looked so much better, I’m thrilled I made the change.

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Now for the collar! This was made from a layer of wool and a layer of cotton sateen for lining.

I made a mockup for this at the beginning of  the project, but decided to do another test before cutting it from wool. This was another good call! After a few minor changes to the pattern the proportions of the collar were way better.

I sewed it onto the neckline by hand, then flipped it out and pinned the edges while it was on my dress form. I’m not sure how I came to the idea (because it looked fine before I did this) but I decided to pleat the front of the collar. This added more shape and a really unique detail – so I decided to go with it!

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The collar was tacked in place, and that’s it for the jacket!

I did also make a hat to go with this – I didn’t document the process very well, but I’ll do a pillbox hat tutorial in the future. It was basically a rectangle and oval cut from heavy weight interfacing, with wire in the edges and cotton sateen lining.

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I padded the top and edges heavily, then pinned an oval of coating on the top. Then I pulled a loop of coating over the sides,  and whip stitched around it. The bottom edge of the coating was whip stitched to the lining, and a comb was pinned into it prior to wearing. Easy peasy!

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I did also make a dress to go with this. But at this point I was focusing on filming the process (that video can be seen HERE) so I neglected to photograph most of the steps.

The dress was supposed to be a simple number made from a bright pink cotton suiting which was shown in the material picture at the top of this post. But after washing that fabric it felt like cheap, stiff, thick, bedsheets – not really what I wanted. I also wanted to wear black and white shoes with this ensemble and knew that wouldn’t match.

After another pinterest browsing spree I decided to make a fitted bodice with a sheer pleated overlay and full skirt.

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Here is the mock up – this was intended to be the base layer. The pleated layer would be made from rectangles that were draped, gathered, and trimmed overtop.

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Mockup number one looked okay.

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But when I did some tests with my fabric, I realized the sheer fabric I wanted use crinkled up when it became wet. It’s a cool effect, but not for the structured pleats I wanted. It also ruined the dresses washability…so I decided to use the cotton on its own.

This meant I had to pleat down rectangles then kind of cut them to the shape of the pattern pieces…but not entirely, since then the pleats wouldn’t be straight. It was all less than ideal but looked okay in the end.

The pleats are half inch wide knife pleats which I topstitched down a quarter inch away from the edge.

There is also a facing that flips outward to create a decorative collar detail, which is what you see here.

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My original button plan had to be scrapped since they were ivory and clashed with the white cotton. But this meant I could use these bright vintage ones I bought in PA earlier in the year! I got these for $1 a card which I was pretty happy about.

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Buttons on, buttonholes done. I realize now the buttonholes were too close to the edge because I did my math wrong. So I need to be more careful about that next time..but it still looks okay!

At this point I did a fitting and removed a huge wedge from the side seam. I also shaped the bodice with a dart/pleat instead of the originally planned gathering. Though this was a thin cotton, it looked to bulky when I attempted that.

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The seams were done up with french seams. I also drafted a quick sleeve pattern and got that sewn on. I wasn’t kidding about the lack of progress pictures, this is the next one I took!

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One of my favorite bits about this is a little placket (?) / tab (?) thing that I added. This extends out from the neckline and hooks on to the second button. It looks cute on its own, and even cuter with a bow threaded through it!

This bow was made from a floral fabric I got at jo-anns. The bow was made from triangles, instead of rectangles, which gave it an interesting shape.

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The skirt was made from my remaining fabric – I tore it into two 30″ x 72″ pieces, then sewed them together with a french seam. The front was folded inward several times until the material was thick enough to sew button holes into.

(the bottom 12″ or so of the front skirt panels were topstitched shut as opposed to seamed)

I did a massive 4″ hem on this skirt, then gathered down the top by machine. The pieces were sewn together at the waist, and I bound the edge with bias tape.

And that was pretty much it! A few more buttons were added and its done. Not quite what I originally envisioned, but I like the end result.

It’s slightly long waisted and the buttons are too far over, but for $16 of material and less than two days work I think it is okay!

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And with the coat (which is the real stunner, in my opinion)

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Now for the finished “look”! Modern pieces are so much more fun when it comes to makeup and accessories.

I tried curling my hair outward to get that Mrs. Maisel flip, but it was sort of a fail – I think my hair is too long. Regardless, I like how it looked, and it held up to the crazy winds we had when photographing this piece.

My lip color is Dusty Rose from Besame, and everything else is pretty much identical to what I show in this video (I go through my hair styling process in that, too).

The earrings were my moms and perfectly match the buttons on the dress!

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The belt was vintage from the etsy seller TwinFoxVintage. And the shoes are from Royal Vintage*.

I want to talk about these shoes for a second, because visually they are probably my favorite pair I own. Black and white spectator pumps* are such a classic, and these are beautifully made. They really cup the foot and have sturdy padding in the soles.

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I know sometimes with cheap shoes (of which I own plenty) your foot pops out regardless of size since they aren’t shaped properly. That definitely isn’t a problem here.

I didn’t have any issues with grip when wearing them and the heel height is perfect. They are really flattering on the foot too, and creasing/wear on the leather has been minimal so far. I would definitely order more from the brand in the future with this in mind. (They’ve been teasing spring releases on instagram and I’m already excited).

BUT

They don’t fit me. The site advertises them as running large, so despite being a solid 10 I bought a 9.5. The right shoe actually fits me well, but the left shoe is…evil. It felt okay when I wore it around the house, just a little tight, but I was confident the leather would stretch. I also thought a size up might be too big for my right foot.

I WAS SO NAIVE.

After wearing them…Well, I’d share a picture but it’s not safe for work. It gave me blisters that bled through my sock after 20 minutes of wear. And I was in a situation where I had to wear them for hours. By the end of the day it was pretty horrifying. I refused to wear hard shelled shoes for the following two weeks.

I don’t think this is the shoes fault, just the sizing instructions. If I bought a 10 I would have been fine, but by the time I realized it wasn’t fine, the shoes had marks on their soles and couldn’t be returned.

I’ve been trying to stretch them with crumpled paper and it’s helped a lot, but I think the wearing in process is going to be long and hard for me. It sucks because if these did fit, I think they would probably be my most comfortable pair of heels based on what I mentioned above.

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So next time I’ll order my normal size (or maybe a size up). And do an indoor wear test for a lot longer to ensure they fit before wrecking my ability to return them!

As for foundations, the petticoat is from modcloth (it’s their longer one, but I really don’t like it and wouldn’t recommend it). The stockings have proper seams in them and were purchased from sockdreams, but are by the brand leg avenue. I ordered the plus sized option since I’m tall and they fit great!

This was also worn with a longline bra from the 50’s which I got on ebay.

Now for pictures!

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And that’s it! First project of the new year done. Now onto something new!

Thanks for reading!

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Making a Black Lace Dress, Part One

In a couple weeks my uncle is getting married. That means i’ll being going to a semi-formal event and need to wear a semi-formal dress. I’ve made a few of those before but they all either obnoxious, too formal, or white, which wouldn’t be very appropriate! I could have bought a dress, but for the first time in forever I had the opportunity to make a dress and actually wear it somewhere, and I felt like I owed it to myself to do just that.

I bought the fabrics before I had a design in mind. I had fifty percent off coupons and thought the fabrics looked pretty together so I picked up three yards of black lace and four yards of point d’esprit netting. I also ended up buying shoes to match the lace before actually making the dress, so those are pictured below as well.


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I had some black cotton sateen, ivory shantung (leftover from my Royal Milk Tea costume), and quilters cotton  laying around as well. The material costs on this dress were pretty low so I splurged and ordered four hundred swarovski crystals in the color “jet”.

Now I had my materials, but I didn’t have a design.

I wanted an A-line silhouette with a structured bodice since I think that flatters me best. I sketched up a simple strapless dress with a lace overlay, which was nice but very boring. The shape of it made me think of vintage dresses from the mid 1900s, so I started browsing pinterest in search of inspiration. Eventually I came across something I really, really, liked. It’s the dress Marilyn Monroe wore to the oscars in 1951.

I think it’s beautiful. I wanted to make something really similar to it, as in identical but with a shorter hem and contrasting fabrics. I titled my progress folder “Mairlyn” because of that.

But things really didn’t go as planned. I  made some decisions which took the design in a different direction, and my materials were way stiffer and more opaque which prevented the airy ruched collar. So my dress looks nothing like this one, at all, but I still love this dress and wanted to share it because look at it. It’s so pretty.

Step one was draping the bodice. One of my favorite details about the dress I used for inspiration is the illusion neckline created with flesh toned fabric. I figured I could do something similar, which is why there is a line about an inch away from the edge around the bodice neckline.

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I wanted this bodice to be really structured so I cut it into several different pieces which allows me to add boning into the seams.

I copied all the pieces onto tracing paper and added seam allowances so I could assemble my first mock up.

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Here is the fabric after being removed from the dress form.

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And the pattern it got turned into.

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I made my first mock up and it went really well. So well that I decided not to bother making another mock up. I regret this decision because I think the finished bodice would fit a lot better if I had made a second mockup and did a test run with the boning.

Since my mock up didn’t have boning in the bra cups they slouched down a bit and made the neckline look a lot deeper than it actually was.

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Because the neckline was lower than I expected I decided to remove the illusion neckline aspect of the bodice. It was revealing enough without that, and even though it wouldn’t cause more skin to show it would hint at it, and I didn’t think that was necessary.

So I made some pattern alterations and added more seam allowance. Now I had a pattern that looked like this!

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Like most structured bodices this will be made up of three layers. The top layer is made from the fashion fabrics, the base layer where boning and structure is placed, and the final layer is lining to hide anything ugly on the interior.

I started by making the base layer. Since the top layer will be stiff I didn’t want to add bulk by having a base layer made from heavy materials. So I chose a medium weight quilters cotton. All the boning channels will be backed with canvas and it will be stitched directly to the top layer of fabric so i’m not worried about it stretching or warping overtime, even though it is a lighter fabric than what would usually be used as a base.

I cut all the pieces out and marked the boning channels. Then they were sewn together with three quarter inch seams.

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I clipped the bust seams just below the line where underwire will be added, then I turned the seam allowance inward and pinned them down. Once these are sewn I will have boning channels I can feed plastic boning into. Plastic boning won’t compress the bust, but it will prevent the fabric from turning over or collapsing down, which happens a lot on strapless bodices if you have a small bust.

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Then I created the rest of the boning channels. I used spiral steel boning and bias tape to create underwire beneath the bust. Ribbon backed with canvas was sewn on to create channels for the really thick, stiff, steel bones. Some seams were folded inward to create channels for the flimsier bones, which are either plastic or spiral steel.

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Here the bodice is with all the bones added and the bra cups pinned in. These were bra cups I bought for my Royal Milk Tea costume ages ago – I threw that costume away a long time ago but salvaged the trims, boning, and notions. When I installed these in that costume I had no clue how to draft a bodice to fit them, or how to sew them in. They ended up being really uneven and that bodice gaped horribly at the neckline, you see straight down it.

Those were bad times. But i’ve learned a lot since then, and this time they got sewn in properly!

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Here is how the base layer looked when I tried it on. I was so ridiculously pleased with this fit. There was a bit of warped boning in the back – this is the fault of a spiral steel bone. This was my first time using spiral steel and i’ve decided it’s pretty damn useless, plastic boning holds its shape better, is easier to move in, and a lot easier to install.

Aside from that, I thought this looked pretty great.

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Here it is laid flat. The underwire doesn’t look great here, but it sits smoothly against the body when it’s worn.

There were a couple things I noticed during the fitting. The first was that the neckline was way higher (like, a whole inch higher) than I was expecting. As I said earlier, this is because my mock up didn’t have boning in it so it slouched down. With the boning holding the material up it sits much higher on the body. This is good and bad. It means the neckline is high enough for me to feel comfortable adding the illusion neckline back in (yay!) but I think the neckline is a little bit too high. If I ever use this pattern again I would chop a half inch off.

The other thing is that it’s slightly too long in the waist. By maybe a quarter inch. Which means it digs into my hips a little. But this dress will be worn over petticoats, which should provide a bit of padding and prevent anything from bruising or bleeding (I hope).

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Since the illusion neckline is back I made a quick alteration to the two front panels of my bodice. On the left you can see the original pattern, and on the right you can see the altered version.

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Finally we are onto the top layer of the bodice! I cut everything out from polyester shantung, then pinned two layers of petticoat net overtop. I didn’t like how bright the ivory was beneath the black lace, this helps dull that a bit.

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…And now we skip a few steps! I sewed the netting overtop of the shantung, then basted a layer of lace on top. The only panels that didn’t get an overlay are the top pieces of the front panels. I left this material plain so it would better match my skin tone.

All the pieces got sewn together with three quarter inch seams.

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I didn’t do the smoothest job on those curvy seams at the bust, but that’ll be hidden by the collar so it’s okay.

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I traced around the neckline and measured an inch and a half away from the traced line, this created a facing which got sewn onto the right side of the bodice.

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I turned the facing over and sewed it down to get a finished edge. I tucked the base layer between the facing and top layer of fabric, then stitched it to the facing.  To further secure the base layer in place I sewed the lower edge of the top layer to the base layer and turned them over to get a finished edge.

I hope that paragraph makes at least a little bit of sense.

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I created a paper guide for where topstitching should be around the bust. I used pins as a guideline and carefully stitched across them by hand to secure the two layers together.

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When it came to actually trying on the bodice I ran into a little problem. It wasn’t too small, but it was too small to zip up (there is totally a difference). If I added a lace up back it would have been fine, but I didn’t want to do that. I tried adding extensions onto the back of the bodice but then it was too big and the boning gaped away from my body.

Finally I figured out a solution: Make a little girdle/waistband thing that goes on before the bodice to cinch my waist in, then zip the bodice up.

To do that I quilted a piece of shantung and backed it with cotton. Then I sewed in plastic boning so it wouldn’t scrunch up. Hooks/eyes were stitched into the front with upholstery thread to create a closure.

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It leaves behind some pretty ugly marks, but it worked really well!

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The bodice zips up nicely. Does it kind of painfully dig into my hips? Yup. Will the petticoats help pad that? I really hope so. Even if it doesn’t I should be fine, it doesn’t restrict or alter my breathing in anyway so it isn’t dangerous, it’s just uncomfortable and might leave behind some bruises.

I wish I could change a few things to make it fit better (like go back in time and make another mock up… ) but at this point those would be MAJOR changes, and I only have a few days left to get this project finished. So i’m leaving it this way for now, and i’ll suffer through for the sake of looking pretty.

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I think that’s it for the bodice – the skirt, collar, and other good stuff will be coming up next week. Also I vlogged throughout the whole process. If you would like to hear me ramble on about my thoughts on this project as I make it, you can watch the videos here!

Thanks for reading!