When the lovely Portia invited me to take part in her Refashioners project for the 3rd time earlier this year I immediately said yes. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in previous years (you can see my shirt refashions here and here and my jeans refashion last year resulted in this tutorial).
My number one criteria was that this refashion MUST be something that I would wear a lot. I can’t see the point in using up perfectly re-saleable 2nd hand garments in a project just to show off how clever I might think I am (and I can safely say that I do wear all my previous 3 Refashioners projects). I also knew the work involved would probably be quite high and I didn’t want to waste any of the lovely fabric.
I’ve been thinking about and posting about and writing about zero-waste sewing and the challenge of sewing in a sustainable way a lot recently. For those of you who don’t know, I used to work in the fashion industry and one of the companies I worked for was an organic fair-trade clothing business, so I know first-hand that it’s possible to do things differently. Prior to that I worked for one of the UK’s biggest fast fashion retailers when I was an idealistic fashion graduate, so I also know that there’s a huge problem needing to be solved. I’ve also done an MA in design during which I spent two years investigating ways to re-use textile waste and then spent a huge amount of time and effort in 2005 (before I decided to start teaching) researching a big project on textile recycling that I intended to do as a PhD at the Royal College of Art. I was even offered a place after a daunting interview involving, amongst others, Wendy Dagworthy, but sadly I decided that the person who would be my supervisor (not Wendy!) wasn’t someone with whom I would be able to work for 4 years. That’s another (long) story, but it’s all brought me to the here and now.
Anyway, back to the Refashioners, I was very excited about this year’s theme of suits – I love a good suit jacket; the work involved on the inside to create the subtle shaping and fitting is way above and beyond other RTW garments and the use of good quality cloth all got my cogs whirring and clicking as I set off at a gallop with earnest plans for a zero waste design for a cocoon style oversized coat or kimono using just suit jackets and I began collecting lots of inspiration on this Pinterest board.
Armed with my grand plans I was initially inspired by two recent book purchases:
Zero Waste Fashion Design by Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan (full of contemporary design and technique ideas).
Make Your Own Japanese Clothes by John Marshall (with some excellent kimono making instructions).
If you’re interested in zero waste design and refashioning I highly recommend both!
However, like a lot of creative endeavours, once I actually got out the scissors and started, I realised pretty quickly that I needed to re-think. There isn’t actually much useful fabric to “harvest” in terms of breaking down a suit jacket for useful pieces of cloth (unlike the shirts and jeans from the previous two years); there are lots of pieces in jackets and they have a lot of shaping.
So, rather than the safe refashioning route of piecing together fabric and using a pattern, I decided to put my faith in the garments and let them dictate the outcome. As a self-confessed control freak, this is NOT my preferred strategy! I like to know exactly what I’m doing and have a pretty sure idea how it’s going to turn out. I couldn’t toile this one (or rather I didn’t want to as that would’ve meant potentially wasting 3 jackets), so I had to just go with my gut and trust my abilities.
Here are my three jacket purchases. No, stupidly I forgot to do the obligatory “before” picture wearing them to show you how huge they were, you’ll have to believe me – they were massive and all of them covered the tips of my fingers.
From left to right:
- Grey/blue tweed jacket, unknown origin, no labelling, feels like wool £14.99
- Grey M&S jacket, 100% wool £4.99 (!! I know, what a find!!)
- Charcoal grey Sisley longline jacket, 75% wool/20% nylon/5% “other fibres” £12.99
- TOTAL SPENT: £32.97 (another reason I was adamant that this refashion would become a wardrobe staple!)
WHAT I DID
I decided to remove the sleeves from all three jackets along with as much as the inner scaffolding as possible, to enable me to create a softer, less structured garment which was what I wanted (as that’s what I enjoy wearing), rather than a very tailored look (as that’s not what I tend to wear).
Sooo many layers of different canvas, interfacing, tape and interlining – all of these were from the sleeve heads and upper chest areas of the jackets. These are the places, except collars, that have the most work on the inside of a jacket to create shape and fit.
Oh and rather a lot of stitching and different types of thread too – fine thread for machine tacking, regular thread for machine sewing and thicker thread used for chainstitching to help to prevent armholes stretching out of shape.
I plumped for the M&S wool jacket for the upper as I liked the collar shape and the soft malleable wool fabric. The first thing I did was to remove the hefty shoulder pads. This left behind shoulders that were far too square so I reshaped them by sloping the shoulder line down from the neck to the armhole. You can see the effect above – the shoulder on the left has been adjusted, the one on the right hasn’t.
Next, I decided where to cut off this first jacket to place the seamline for the central jacket portion.
I then placed this upper jacket onto the jacket I’d chosen for the central panel to decide where to place the seamline on this one, taking into account button spacing and pocket positions.
I repeated this process for the lower panel and managed to piece the outer fronts and lining fronts separately to keep the integrity of the jacket lining. Some patching and piecing and trimming was required to get the whole piece to roughly the same size.
The back required more piecing than the front so I decided to treat the outer and lining as one and bind the seam allowances.
I managed to sandwich the side seams in between the outer and lining of the fronts which kept everything nice and neat…
…and meant I could indulge in some satisfying seam matching…..!
I finished the back hem with more bias binding and a hand slip stitch to create an invisible finish.Make a small stitch through just the lining layer….…followed by a small stitch along the folded edge of the bias binding.
Here’s that slip stitch in action:
The final things to tackle were the sleeves and armholes. Currently the sleeves were too long and the armhole too far off my shoulder.
I tried the jacket on and marked the new position of the shoulder point and redrew the armhole. Before I trimmed away all that excess armhole fabric I tacked the original sleeves back in place. Sleeves can be tricky devils: the ease, the sleeve head roll, the pitch, all of which are going to be thrown out once you start altering armholes, so this felt like the most stressy part of the whole refashion. However, the sewing fairies must have been smiling on me as not only did the original sleeve fit back into the adjusted armhole (OK yes, I had lost most of the ease in the sleeve cap), but it also hung well, looked acceptable and was now exactly the right length! Now I’ve got to confess that was more by luck than judgement.
To create that lovely rise and fall around the sleeve cap I finished the inside of the armhole seam with more of that trusty bias binding, which did the job of creating a sleeve head roll without the need to put an actual sleeve head roll on the inside.
THE END RESULT
So, there you have it. One finished, very wearable coat, that I’ve already enjoyed wearing a few times, not a million miles away from my original vision and with the added bonus of loads of pockets! (I kept in as many of the originals as possible.)
Now the part that didn’t really conform to my original zero waste vision. There were leftovers.
I’m currently thinking about reworking them into some cushion covers like this one I made a few years ago.
They may make an appearance when I’m frantically sewing up Christmas presents on the 23rd of December…..
This was a tough gig; the raw materials weren’t cheap and to be honest I felt like they could’ve been worn as they were. I could’ve chosen inferior quality jackets to start with, but I deliberately chose good quality as I wanted to wear the end result.
Sometimes in refashioning you just have to trust your guts and let the garments dictate what you do with them. A tricky lesson to learn for a control freak!!
Now I’m hoping this project may have been just the thing I’ve been needing to get back to some of that recycled textile work of mine. Watch this space.
If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen this pop up in my feed back in August. I was very excited to find such an absolute treasure when I first started looking for jackets to use for this project. It’s actually so beautiful that I couldn’t bring myself to use it so, if anyone would like this gorgeous Harris Tweed jacket, just leave a comment telling me what you like (or dislike!) about my refashion and what you would do with this jacket and I’ll pick my favourite by Monday 16th October. You’ll just have to pay the postage, be that UK or international.
*** UPDATE: the jacket is single breasted and size 44″ chest. ***