Maybe it’s a tad hyperbolic to compare this project with Alvin’s epic 240 mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawn mower. But that’s what came into my mind as I sat down to write about my journey with Simplicity 8298.
When I bought the pattern, I naively thought it would be easy to source some quilted fabric on-line. But after several weeks of trawling the internet, I resigned myself to the fact that it wouldn’t and the jacket of my dreams would remain a distant fantasy. That is unless I decided to embrace a whole new skill set and quilt my own fabric – how hard could that be? At this point, it would have been prudent to undertake a bit of preparation and acquaint myself with the actual process of quilting. But instead, fast forward to a flurry of excitable consumerism when I jumped both feet first, into the remnant bins of my beloved Abakhan.
I returned home from my shopping haul triumphant and lay out the bounty – 2.3 metres each of some beautiful green and brown patterned craft cottons along with some batting for £60 all in. What barginous luck – I’d dropped on material that aligned perfectly with my vision and it wasn’t going to cost me an arm and a leg. How wrong could I be. I’d based my fabric requirements on the recommendation for my bust measurement and neglected to note that this referred to material that was ALREADY quilted. And not having done the prerequisite research, I was ignorant of the fact that quilting is a THEIF – of your time, your money, your fabric and your thread.
Whilst reading this very informative post I realised I would need more material to mitigate the fabric swallowing effects of quilting. I spent hours positioning the fabric pieces in different formulations and considered using a number of remnant pieces from my stash, to create a coat of many colours. I found a piece of gold which might work for the inside sleeves and toyed with a number of hues for the pocket and hood. It seemed almost doable until I accepted that this hideous technicolored mash up, could not be further removed from my initial concept.
I contacted Abakhan and they very kindly tracked down a couple of metres of the brown but sadly not the green I was fixated on for the shell. Whilst picking up the lining fabric with my sister, she convinced me a blue fabric I’d spotted would be the perfect pairing. I was hesitant but I acquiesced – perhaps someone who had been designing menswear fabric for most of her adult life might just have the edge on me. By now the budget for this baby was out of the window – more fabric, more batting and don’t even get me started on the thread requirements. Take it from me – quilting your own fabric is not for the feint hearted, time poor or cash strapped.
Finally, I was in a position to start quilting and by now I’d garnered a few wisdoms. I positioned each pattern piece onto the blue fabric and chalked roughly 3cm away from the edge. I then used each piece as a template to cut the batting and backing fabric and affixed all three together with temporary spray mount adhesive. I located a central point on each pattern piece and from here chalked an intersection for two diagonal lines. The angle of the diagonals was determined by the fabric motif which made quilting super easy. All I needed to do was decide how many lines I wanted within each diamond and then stitch roughly in the solid gap between.
I was aided greatly by my walking foot for which – having located its shoe – I have a newfound love. I dispensed with the quilting bar as I found it much easier to judge the distance between each patterned line by eye. Another boon was the more loft, less weight Hobbs heirloom premium cotton batting I’d purchased. At £11.99 per metre, it’s not the cheapest but it’s double width and a dream to work with.
The quilting itself was a breeze – hour upon hour, stitching line after line, radiating from a central point for even shift and spread. After completing each section, I lay the corresponding pattern piece on top, chalked around the perimeter, sewed on top of this line to preserve the quilted area and finally cut just outside this line of stitching.
Assembling the jacket was similarly straightforward – just a few seams and it quickly took shape. I had previously made both a small and medium toile in heavyweight thrifted curtain material and opted for medium to accommodate my preference for layers. I thought I would be able to counterbalance any roominess by adjusting the button placement and ignored an inner voice, cautioning me against distorting the shape.
Again, my zest to make progress was my downfall and I Hong Kong-ed every internal seam like my life depended on it. The binding I struggled most with were the curved hood seams. Whilst the pattern does contain generic tips on binding techniques, I would have benefited from a lot more hand holding and guidance on dealing with bulk. I contacted Simplicity to ask how the sample seams had been finished in the hood and was disappointed to find they hadn’t and be referred back to the instructions and a few web page links. I spent hours searching Google for tips and cobbled together something which almost passes my critical eye.
I machine stitched some narrow binding to one side of the seam allowance as near as I could to the seam line. I then trimmed this side of the seam allowance to the binding edge and the opposite seam allowance as close as I could to the seam. Finally, I folded the binding over the seam line and hand stitched the binding using a ham to get a smooth finish. It kinda worked but in retrospect, having spotted this glorious iteration, I wish I’d gone the full Hong Kong immersion route.
The hood and jacket are attached together by the external binding, for which I used some dark green herringbone twill tape I picked up from the market. It’s clearly marked and if you fold it over, one half is wider than the other, so I ironed over this demarkation line and got to work. The tricky part is pushing the quilted fabric into the crease of the tape and getting a tight purchase before pinning, basting and finally machine stitching. I’m probably least satisfied with this part of the make. The twill tape seems to be pilling and there are sections of bagginess I need to draw a line under.
Aside from the inevitable critique that accompanies every make, I finally had the endgame in my sight. I was just about to go on holiday and all that remained was to quilt, bind and set in the sleeves – a doddle. But wait a minute – I’ll just try it on a hundred times or so to check the fit and then finally heed the voice in head which had becoming deafening – IT’S TOO FUCKING BIG. The front favours a Japanese aesthetic and didn’t take to kindly to me dragging one side over the other to reduce voluminosity. So out came the unpicker, as I dismantled every single one of those elaborately stitched seams. OH MY DAYS – the anxiety, the hours, the painstaking laboriousness of it all. What if I trimmed down each piece, re-assembled the jacket and the bloody thing was too small?
Thankfully it wasn’t – that internal wisdom gently nudging for your attention, is usually your friend. My hunch paid off and my patience rewarded in a fit with which I’m most pleased. I introduced the sleeves without any drama. On one sleeve head, I used a gathering stitch to accommodate bulk but I much prefer the finish I achieved on the other by pinning and bubble easing the excess. I inspected the insides of a few coats at work to determine how to finish the sleeve head and used some wide binding to enclose trimmed down edges in a closed bound seam.
During this project, I’ve had time a plenty to contemplate the journey towards my own straightedge. I used to think cigarettes and alcohol were inseparable from tolerating life. I was an outsider and these were my weapons. But what I’ve come to realise is how smoking and drinking functioned in my life – allowing me to separate myself from whatever uncomfortable position I found myself in. Socialising in large groups is the opposite of relaxing for me and those moments outside with a fag and maybe a like minded comrade, were as good as it got. Now, I’ve embraced my introverted nature and live in harmony with its traits, I no longer feel the need to escape. Seven months alcohol free and I’ve found that far from losing my edge, I’ve been exploring what it feels like to teeter on its brink and swim against the tide. This radical decision to experience life with emotions unblunted has brought me to a place of internal quiet that feels like home.