Tuesday, February 23, 2021

...And a Paletot


Having a whole bevy of historical dresses/separates (of varying quality!) is all fine and good . . . so long as you only plan to wear them indoors, or outdoors in warm weather. If you--that is, I--want to wear them in cold or even cool weather, some outer wear is needed. (Oh, should I note that a paletot is a Victorian jacket? It is.)

Coats are more than a little intimidating. To do them, er, properly, you're really meant to interline and pad stitch and all kinds of things that are probably not as difficult as they seem to be but are still, as I said, intimidating. I mean, people like Bernadette Banner can do it, and while she's much more experienced than I am, I, too, am a person who sews and has two hands, so theoretically I could do it, too.

But did I? No.

Might I have ended up with an even nicer product had I done so? Perhaps.

Do I regret not doing it? Nope.

Am I entirely satisfied with the final product? No. I'm about 85% satisfied, but that's not bad.

In any case, I like to start out by showing you all the final product. On a cool, though not particularly cold, day, with highs in the low 40s, I decided to get dressed up and drive up to Gettysburg to walk around a bit and give my new(ish) paletot a spin:

Abe's bench is pushing my hoops forward here,
so the skirts look bigger than they are.

Here you get a better idea of the proportions of the skirts
to the rest of me, which I think are just about right. The skirt of 
the paletot is blown open, though; hence the big gap.

The specs:

Fabric: wool (possibly wool-cotton blend), a little under 2 yards on the "remnants" table at a fabric store, for $9.99/yard.
Lining: navy-blue cotton, gotten at JoAnn's for around $4/yard.
Trim: Two different types/widths of cotton fringe (because I didn't have enough of the wider fringe); bought online from someone de-stashing; white velvet ribbon bought on Amazon.
Pattern: self-drafted

Getting started

As noted above, I self-drafted this pattern. I did this for a few reasons: I didn't want to pay for a pattern since I'm trying to trim costs as much as possible, and I would have to heavily alter the pattern anyway (patterns are always pretty far off for me). I also happened to come across the following diagram via The Lady's Treasury:


I thought the finished look was pretty (here it what it looks like) and I realized I could most likely start with a pattern I had already fitted to myself. In fact, it's the pattern for the lining of the dress I'm wearing underneath the paletot in the picture above. (Long story short: the lining fit well, but I wasn't satisfied with the dress as a whole, so I am currently taking it apart and putting it back together, but that's a blog for another day.)

I actually started working on this ages ago--last summer, I think, when I had notions of going to the Remembrance Day celebrations in Gettysburg in November. Because of pandemic reasons, that was cancelled anyway, but it's just as well, because that attempt was a total failure. At that point, I didn't have the diagram above, and I was just going to kind of . . . wing it. I used the old mock-up and didn't do a new mockup, and I pulled out some wool blend polka-dotted fabric left over from a skirt (that may or may not end up in the back of my costume closet forevermore). The fabric was all wrong, using the old mock-up was a failure, and even though I put hours (and hours) of work into it, it was a failure. I tossed it aside.

And then I moved.

Almost as soon as I had unpacked my everyday clothes, I was itching to sew again. I had had a really rough month of it, with the massive stress of finding and buying a home for the first time and with health issues on top of that. It wasn't pretty, but once I had moved, an enormous weight was off of me, and I felt almost normal again. Because of the move, I hadn't done any sewing in probably a month and a half, and I just needed a creative outlet, so I dove right into the paletot.

I knew I had to start essentially from scratch because my previous effort wasn't salvageable. I believe this is when I found the diagram above. In any case, because I'd confused myself with the previous mock-up, I decided to go back to the under-bodice pattern for the blue dress. My plan was to start with that and use the diagram above to get the general shape of the pattern pieces. In order to turn the under-bodice pattern into a paletot, I would need to add the skirt, convert two darts (per side) into one and extend that dart into the skirt portion of the paletot, and draft the pagoda sleeves and cape.

And . . . it was not an immediate success. It fit okay in the shoulders and chest but not around the waist, and the skirt was way off. It folded over itself at the side but didn't reach all the way to the front. It was also quite long, though that wasn't much of a problem. It's easy enough to hack off a few inches at the bottom edge.

After much fiddling and pinning and repinning, I was able to get a shape that I was happy with, or at least happy enough to be getting on with. As for the sleeves, those were fairly easy. Some time ago, I found a good resource on how to draft sleeves, and it served me well here. As for the cape, it wasn't too difficult. As per the diagram, I just extended the lines of the bodice pattern outwards from the shoulder, decided how far down the front I wanted it to come, and drew in the shape I wanted. I had to modify the mockup a little bit to make the front angle deeper, but that was no problem.

Once I was satisfied that I was pretty close to where I wanted to be with the shapes, I cut out a second mock-up, this time from a navy blue cotton I'd bought for the lining. My plan was to save some fabric and time by making the mock-up out of lining fabric. As long as it wasn't too far off, I would simply take apart the blue cotton mockup and use it as lining.

Here are the pieces cut out of the blue fabric:

Going clockwise from the top left, we have the back, the front, the front cape piece, the sleeve, the second front cape piece, and then both the back cape pieces.  Notice the dart cut out of the front piece.

Here, I'm trying to figure out how to get the whole paletot out of less than two yards of the black wool fabric I bought for the project. The wool here folded in half lengthwise. I ended up having to piece the top of the front pieces at the shoulder, but since that is covered with the cape, it doesn't show.

Worth noting: I often use newspaper when drafting patterns. I have a ton of it, it's big, and I don't mind tossing it out if the pattern doesn't work out. More recently, I was turned on to the idea of using wrapping paper with a grid on the back. I got several rolls on steep discount after Christmas. The grid helps SO MUCH in drafting. Ten out of ten, would recommend.

Here in all her glory is the mock-up over my hoops. No, the fit still isn't awesome, but it fits better on me and I figured it would do.

I made a few adjustments to the blue mock-up, particularly adding more width to the center front so the skirts came together. Here, the measuring tapes continues the line of the center front a few inches, since I decided not to recut the front in blue and just make the adjustment when cutting out the wool. You also see here where the front piece doesn't quite fit onto the black wool; that's the bit I pieced.

I went ahead and cut out the wool. The next step was to assemble all of this. Looking at the paletot in the image, I had no idea how it closed. I saw it had buttons down the front of the cape. Were these decorative or functional? If they were functional, how did they manage to traverse all the layers of fabric there? Because the edge of the bodice and of the cape are both turned under there, there are a lot of layers of fabric. I considered having the cape layers wrap around the bodice layers and have it all button as one, but that seemed like it would be too bulky. So I worked out a somewhat complicated system of closure that is probably not historically accurate at all. The cape is only attached to the bodice at the neckline (though not all the way around). The bodice is closed by hooks and eyes down to the waist. On one side, the cape is attached to the bodice at the neckline all the way to the center front edge. The other side is unattached for the last few inches so that it can reach overtop the layers on the other side and attach to the other edge of the cape (by means of a hook-and-eye). Essentially, the separated cape and bodice layers on one side end up sandwiching the stitched-together cape and bodice layers of the other side. 

With the top edge of the cape thusly secured, it lays closed pretty happily on its own, but I added one hook and eye to the bottom edge to secure it. All of this required massive amounts of cogitation and a lot of fiddling to make the angles meet up neatly.

My suspicion is that the Victorians simply managed to make the buttons functional.

Above, we have the body of the paletot in black, all assembled. And a bonus cat.

The next thing to tackle was the decoration. I hadn't attached the sleeves yet because I wanted to do the Greek key design from the image, and I knew that I would have to do that while the sleeves were still flat.

I had to redo this design several times. I painstakingly mitered the corners and pinned it all down, only to realize that my 1" velvet ribbon was too wide. Luckily, the ribbon was backed with something synthetic, so I trimmed it down to 3/4" and melted the edge, and it worked great. I also realized that the velvet ribbon was just too white compared to the fringe. It was glaringly WHITE. So I dyed it with tea (the plush part of the ribbon must be cotton, because it dyed quickly and easily). I pinned on the narrower, less-glaring ribbon only to realize that the ribbon wasn't totally opaque and the mitered corners showed different shades of white where the ribbon folded over itself. Like with the WHITE ribbon that was too white, this didn't look good. If I was going to all this trouble, mitering the trim and all, then I decided I ought to take the extra time to fix this problem. So I unpinned bits of it at a time and slipped some 1/2" white satin ribbon underneath. I started stitching it all down. Then I realized that that didn't totally solve the issue, either, because at the corners I'd folded over the satin ribbon instead of mitering it like the velvet ribbon overtop, and that was visible. So I undid it again and did it properly, mitering the satin ribbon as well as the velvet ribbon. This time, it turned out looking great. Finally.

The next step was to finalize my trim plan for the body. Above, I'm trying out some different configurations. I went with an edge of wider fringe around the bottom of the cape with a line of the velvet ribbon (dyed but not trimmed down) above it, a line of narrower fringe around the sleeves, a double line of the narrower fringe edging the skirts (to match the width of the trim around the cape), a line of velvet ribbon at the neckline (trimmed down to 1/2"), and some buttons. It was difficult to get the velvet ribbons to follow the curves of the cape and especially the curves of the neckline. I had to make little pleats in it to make it work, but it does work.

Work in progress:

And with that, we had a completed paletot:

I'm really pleased with the result. Unfortunately, I really didn't have anywhere to wear it, given the pandemic. But I finally got the courage to get dressed up a few weeks ago and go up to Gettysburg. In addition to the paletot, I wore tall socks, an extra petticoat against my legs, and gloves (which go with a Victorian outfit anyway). I did get a bit chilled walking around in the 40-degree weather, but honestly it wasn't too bad. I did discover a few things. I should add another hook-and-eye to the middle of the cape, because when moving, it sometimes gaps open. I also might add some kind of closure to the skirts, because they kept blowing open. It wouldn't be an issue if the lining were black, but the blue, while fun and colorful, is really evident when the thing blows open.

Overall, though, this is one of the projects I'm most satisfied with.

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