Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

10/04/99- I suppose it's time to take a more structured approach to this article instead of bouncing around. (Besides, the coat's finished now and I've already got my babe pictures in.) We'll pick up from the discussion of patterns:

PATTERN SEAMLINES & CUTLINES: It's important to make both sets of lines when creating your pattern. The seamline is where the fabric will be sewn (but realistically, don't expect a perfect match when sewing two pieces of fabric, since fabrics aren't rigid). The cutline will help you match up two pieces of fabric along the edge for sewing (since you can't see through fabric to match the sewlines). That's why it's a very good idea to trace identical cutlines for matching parts of your pattern. If you freehand approximate them, the fabric's sewlines probably won't line up very well since the pieces are aligned by the cutline.

TRANSFERRING THE PATTERN TO FABRIC: Once the pattern is created, it's transferred to the fabric using a "sandwich" of fabric (on the bottom), colored chalk transfer paper (chalk side facing down) and your pattern. A "Pounce Wheel" (a spiked wheel which rotates at the end of a handle) is used to trace the pattern as a dotted chalk line onto the fabric. (Of course, use a transfer paper which contrasts with the fabric's color!) Additionally, you can buy chalk pencils and vanishing ink pens which can be used to temporarily mark fabric as needed during the assembly process.

Consider the direction of the fabric's grain before transferring your pattern, as the grain direction obviously affects appearance, but also has different strength and stretch characteristics. Fabric is most stretchy when pulled diagonal to the grain. Usually, the lengthwise grain goes top to bottom on a coat. If you're unsure, you can check an article of clothing that you own.

CUTTING THE FABRIC: Use sharp scissors or a cutting wheel and mat. The cutting wheel is great for clean straight edges and broad curves. This makes the job go very quickly; you can trim tight areas and inside curves with a pair of scissors later.

SEWING: This is the real nitty-gritty, and I'm not experienced enough to tell you how it's done. Everything I've ever done has either used a simple straight stitch or a stretch stitch, with the straight stitch set for a fairly short length. As I've mentioned, there are areas which are harder than others, but I don't have any magical tricks for making them easier, other than practice (and glue).

You may need to iron/press certain parts (like hems) to assist with the assembly. Of course, the fabric pattern pieces should be wrinkle-free before you even begin to sew.

I've already mentioned the difficulties in sewing the arm-shoulder seam. Good luck! Another area that's difficult, but not quite as difficult, is the collar. Again, use the same aids-- notch the fabric so that it can be matched to the collar's shape, and use glue to position it. That will make it much easier to sew in place.

The front facing is easy to sew if you've glue-hemmed it and the front panel, and glued them together. That way, you only need a single stitchline up the front (close to the edge) to secure the two sets of hems and the two parts together, all the way up to and including the lapels.

Once you've got all the main parts sewn, you can finally do a true test-fit on your figure. It's a moment of great anticipation, because that's when you truly discover whether you've been working hard to create a monstrosity or not. There may be things that don't look right, but which you can fix. But there may be some things that can't be fixed except by adjusting your pattern and starting over. If this is the case, be very observant and notice exactly what you did wrong. Then think of what you need to do to fix it.

TRIM & DETAILS: As I'm not very experienced, I usually put the pockets on last. This lets me position them with the figure wearing the outfit, just in case things don't work out quite as I'd envisioned them during the pattern creation. For some things, construction is an integral part of an assembly step, unless you want to rip seams later. For this project, since I'm not very confident, I was willing to rip seams to insert the back belt and side slits . I wanted to be certain that they were positioned to look okay with the figure dressed (Yeah, the belt probably should be above the slits, but the position felt "right"...). Planning on doing seam-ripping is probably not a good idea: Seam ripped areas are obvious and ugly if they're left exposed, especially if you use a short stitch length.

SNAPS & BUTTONS: These are the last step of assembly. Snaps are tedious work compared to the other parts because they need to be hand-sewn (unless you've got a machine that can do this). Fortunately for this project, I've decided that the coat will be worn open and I don't want funky-looking unused snap halves showing. Because of this, I'm placing the faux buttons on the right side, and faux buttonholes on the left. Normally, I'd glue the faux buttons on (or use the iron-on type available at Sue's Sparklers). For this project though, I'm sewing castings of the minibuttons from the "Working Woman Barbie". These are really incredible because they're so tiny, yet have two holes for sewing (although they're slightly large to be in-scale for shirt buttons). Naturally, the thought of making them as functional buttons has occurred to me, but I think reinforcing the buttonholes adequately might be a problem. Besides, who'd want to wrestle with fastening the suckers?

FINAL THOUGHTS: Someone who's mastered this stuff deserves your respect-- even the simple stuff is pretty tricky stuff! Once you get proficient at this simple stuff, you can try your hand at some of the more difficult construction issues, like liners, elasticized waists, gathers... As I write this, I think of Francis Tavares' incredible reversible wintercoat, and his German motorcycle coat with the tricky patternwork... Wow, there's a lot beyond the basic shirt & coat!


"Always aim for the stars... but practice on the toilet bowl first."


POSTSCRIPT: If I were to speculate, I'd say it's a tool to crack open the case of Dr. Ben Wa's Macintosh 512KE computer when the video conks out and he needs to resolder the cold solder joints. This is probably the first time such a tool has ever been rendered in 1:6th scale. It's made out of aluminum tubing and has screws, so it actually operates. Wow, huh?

Why, huh?

10/18/99- Here's another one. This was difficult to make and I'm not satisfied with the shape of it. I may redo it: The leather was too supple, so it doesn't hold the shape well. It's also somewhat smaller than I'd planned. Anyway, the closure frame was made with two paperclips, bent with screw hinges. To shape the leather, I stretched it over a polyclay form-- unfortunately, all the stresses of putting it together spoiled the shape (Maybe you shape it after you construct it?). I managed to get the halves sewn together, but glued the bottom on. The handles are leather sewn around plastic piping and I squared off some gold jump rings for the connectors. The lock assembly was fashioned out of brass; the cylinder is a half-sherical indentation, cut with a slit in the center and flattened down across the top. The area above is cut with a slit, and the strap's metal piece has a tab which interlocks to keep the bag closed.

I'd originally intended to do more stitching, but it's damned hard to manipulate things in the sewing machine's miniscule "hot spot". And doing it in leather (even the supple stuff) by hand is painful. If I weren't so lazy, I'd force myself to sew more and rely less on glue: Doing it with thread is the classy thing to do.