I’m often surprised by the quality of items you can find in charity shops. This black cotton coat winked at me in a St Peter’s Hospice shop. It was the multitude of seams on the front and back that really caught my eye. The upper body pattern pieces have been cut in a fan shape, radiating up from the waist. It’s quite unusual for a mass produced garment to contain this much detail, due to there being such an emphasis, on a factory production line, of the number of minutes each process takes.
I noticed that there were some buttons missing, but, bought it anyway. At £4.99 I knew I could give it some love and attention, then enjoy getting a lot of wear out of it.
I always wash any garments I buy second hand, for me it’s part of the process of making it my own. Although it didn’t have a strong smell to it, I soaked it for about an hour in a plant based detergent, washed it on a quick and cool wash and then hung it outside to dry in the fresh air.
When it was dry I set about scrutinising it and getting to know all the details. I knew I didn’t want to keep the black plastic buttons, and, there were some missing anyway so I cut those off. I stitched them to card as they may be just what someone else is looking for. They’ll be given back to charity when I next drop some items off.
I removed ten buttons and counted up how many I would need. Fourteen in total! Two on the collar, four on the front edge, two on each pocket, one on each sleeve tab and two on the back waist tab.
Inspiration often comes from unexpected sources. I was fortunate to have a conversation with a lady recently, who described in beautiful detail, what her sewing room was like when she was younger and she told me of a coat she had made which had fabric covered buttons on it.
In my first few years as a dressmaker I covered hundreds of buttons, usually for the back of evening or wedding dresses, accompanied by a row of rouleau loops. They were about 11mm in diameter and satisfying to make.
The buttons that I removed varied in size. It’s conventional for the buttons on the front edge of a coat or jacket to be larger than those on the sleeve. What I found interesting though was that all the buttonholes on the coat measured the same. I like the simplicity of this so I bought 14 of the 29mm diameter metal button parts from Fabricland. I smiled when I came to pay. £4.99 for the coat and £6.16 for the button parts. I still think it was money well spent.
I like the idea of having buttons on the coat which weren’t all the same but looked like they were part of the same collection. That’s where the Kaffe Fassett charm pack pieces came in. I selected three of my favourites, from which I cut circles. I was able to cut four from each square and then I made two more buttons with a collage of the scraps.
I added black, woven, iron on interfacing to each piece. I did this not only to reinforce the fabric but I’ve also found from experience that some lighter weights of cotton allow the shiny metal of the button front to show through and I knew I didn’t want that to happen.
To link them even more, from a design point of view, I machine embroidered spirals and curved lines across each circle of interfaced fabric. This added strength, texture and also, to some extent, made the two that were constructed from collaged scraps look less like odd ones out and more part of the collection.
If you ever need to turn a lined jacket or coat inside out, to get to each layer individually, you’ll find the last seam to have been closed during manufacture is the left sleeve seam in the lining. I unpicked this and was able to give the coat a good press from the wrong side as well as admiring all those beautiful curved seams at the back.
It was at this point I realised the back waist tab had been topstitched to the coat. This reminded me a bit of fake pockets. If I’m going to have a pocket, I’ll have a proper useable pocket please! So, I decided to unpick the back waist tab, remove it, embellish it with machine and hand stitches, before sewing in back on at the the button and buttonhole positions. I then sewed two of the covered buttons in place.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this coat makeover. It didn’t need to involve major changes in fit. What a difference the buttons make! I feel I’ve certainly got value for money from my charm pack. I’ll add some images to a slide show at the bottom here, showing some of the other items I’ve made using the fabrics in the packs. I still have some left too!