Handmade Wardrobe, Musings, Work In Progress
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The Making of a Great Coat: Part 1

Last week I became obsessed with a swing coat that I saw during a season 4 episode of Call The Midwife. I needed to make one! This was not a project that I am going into lightly so I’ve been using a lot of my free time researching this type of coat and planning to make one of my own. I’ve already ordered some swatches, but I can imagine this process taking a good amount of time so I wanted to document my findings.Let’s get started with the coat that inspired this project. The character in question is Marie Amos. She is 9 months pregnant when her husband is arrested for homosexual acts during season 4 episode 3. The coat makes quite a few appearances in the episode, but here is the best picture I was able to get of it. Her coat has a collar and I think it has raglan sleeves based on the shoulder seam that is visible. There is one button for closure at the top and the coat falls to about her mid-thigh. If there are pockets they must be inseam because they are not visible to me anyway.

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Before I even looked for patterns I decided on my must haves. I want my swing coat to have a collar and pockets (preferably welt) and I want it to hit around my mid thigh. I would also prefer an authentic vintage pattern from the 1940’s or 1950’s or even the early 1960’s.

Once those facts were decided I started doing research about what actually makes a swing coat. According to my research a “real” swing coat will have bracelet length sleeves and be fitted at the shoulders and bust. Once you get past the bust the coat swings (hence the name) until you reach the hem. The length can be anywhere from right below the bust (bolero style) down to your ankles.  I’m not sure how I feel about the bracelet length sleeves. The idea of making a glorious winter coat that doesn’t cover my full arm is not an idea I was willing to entertain so worst case scenario I can lengthen my pattern pieces or add a cuff.

One of the best sources I found for information about coats from the 1950’s is Vintage Dancer.  I also found a post about the different types of vintage jackets, not swing specific, but also worth a read!

The swing coat was first introduced after Dior introduced his New Look in the late 1940’s. The new look was a dramatic change from practical wartime styles. After the rationing of fabric during the war women longed to feel feminine again and the new look offered them just that. There seems to be an argument over whether Dior designed the original swing coat or if it was Jacques Fath, Either way, the swing coat become a necessity for women in the late 1940’s for two big reasons:

  • Big Skirts: In order for women to cover up their new fuller skirts that were often made by Dior from 10 yards of fabric.
  • Big Bellies: And to cover their baby bumps. The years following WW2 saw the biggest baby boom in US and European history.

I neither wear skirts made of 10 yards of fabric nor am I expecting, but there is just something about the look of these type of coats that I love. I have found 5 patterns so far that are in the running for my swing coat.

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Vintage Simplicity 8591 is my current top pick. The sleeves will need to be lengthened, but otherwise it looks perfect. This vintage pattern is uncut, my size and as an added bonus has raglan sleeves which I love! Another bonus, it comes with a dress pattern. There is slightly less swing than I was aiming for, but I could add some volume by doing a little slash and spreading along the center back.

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Vintage McCall’s 9859 has kimono sleeves! This pattern is not my size and doesn’t have welt pockets, but I love the cuffs and I could easily grade it up and add the welt pockets from my Milano Cape. I think this pattern looks the most like my inspiration coat.il_570xN.631026541_pgwo

Vintage Reproduction Simplicity 1319. This is my least favorite because it’s a reproduction and would need to be lengthened. It is the best price though of course!  The bolero version has the welt pockets and collar, but I’m worried I wouldn’t be able to lengthen it correctly because of the curve.il_570xN.638898855_47qh Vintage Simplicity 7441 has the right amount of swing, the welt pockets and is nearly my size so very little grading would be needed. This is an authentic vintage pattern from the 60’s. However, no collar. I wonder if I could replace the little collar stand with the collar from my Pavot Jacket.

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Vintage McCall’s 3766 is  also not my size and I think grading would be slightly more difficult since this one has set in sleeves. I do like that the welt pocket is also at the side seam and that the coat has a back yoke. In my research I’ve found that the swing coats of the 40’s and 50’s often stretched out from wear at the shoulders and the yoke would help prevent that.

These patterns range in fabric requirements from 3 yards to 6.5 so this project will need a full blown muslin before I make that investment. Choosing a pattern has to be my next step before I order my fabric, but I can’t help getting excited about all of the different options.

In a post about working with wool coating, Jen from Grainline suggest using boiled wool if you are aiming for warmth with drape. Since I do want the swing shape to really shine through this fabric seems like my best bet. I ordered samples or boiled wool, virgin wool, melton wool, cashmere wool and generic wool coating to compare. Mentally I’m leaning towards the boiled wool based on the weight and drape, but we shall see! The one decision I have made is that I want a solid color, just like my inspiration coat!  Here are the swatches I have ordered so far. They are from Mood and Britex and range from $25 per yard to $95 (ouch!).

Royal Blue Boiled Wool

Royal Blue Boiled Wool

Marine Solid Boiled Wool

Marine Solid Boiled Wool

Sky Blue Wool Coating

Sky Blue Wool Coating

Italian Graymore Wool-Cashmere Coating

Italian Graymore Wool-Cashmere Coating

Purple Melton Wool

Purple Melton Wool

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Italian Ocean Blue Wool Blended Coating

Teal Wool Coating

Teal Wool Coating

So there you have it, there is all of my research and prep work so far! Next up I need to decide on my pattern, work on the muslin and maybe order a few more swatches from some other sources to compare quality and price.

I’d love to hear about your coat making experiences or if you have any advice I’d love that too! Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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4 Comments

  1. This looks like such a fun project! My best coat-making advice is to remember that the whole weight hangs from the shoulders; if they are not properly supported (with vintage-appropriate shoulder pads, for example), a coat can really start feeling heavy in a hurry. And with a swing coat’s additional fabric volume, this is an even bigger issue. Morals: Choose your fabrics carefully, and give the shoulders extra attention. Can’t wait to see how yours turns out!!

    • I never even thought about shoulder pads, what a great idea! I am also going to interface my shoulder seams before I add the lining, but shoulder pads would look fab. Thanks so much for your tips, you’ve been so helpful!

      • That’s also a great idea, to interface the shoulder seams; a coat is a lot of weight to be hanging from seams cut at an angle, so stabilizing those seams is important. Have fun! I’m looking forward to seeing your new coat!

  2. Pingback: The Making of a Great Coat: Part 2 | Sweet Carolanne

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