Friday, December 7, 2012

Bird in Hand

a Kestrel Coat review and tips for velveteen
I love this pattern. It’s such a distinctive little coat.  We get heaps of compliments on it everywhere we go.
The velveteen is some especially luscious Italian stuff I discovered at Gail K while I was in Georgia for the summer. I was blown away by its softness.  The neutral color is more inviting in person, a gentle and lovely taupe just perfect against the autumn leaves.
The lining is cotton voile from Valori Wells’s Wrenly line. I confess I’m not normally a bird person, but these little cuties in their brown and pink swirly trees were the perfect foil for the subtle taupe. I laid out my scant yard of Wrenly in one layer so that I could carefully cut the lining pieces to best advantage. You can see we have one bird peeking out of each front side piece.
A few more birds perch in the back pieces.  I trace my pattern pieces on tracing paper and that helped my line up the little birds carefully. I marked seams and centers on my pattern pieces as well as the birds themselves to be sure things lined up where I wanted them.
Buttons are just faux horn ones from Joann, similar to what I actually have on my pink JCrew coat. They are also much smaller than what the pattern called for.  Frankly, I think huge buttons are a little too corny for this elegant coat. She so very much wants to button them herself.
I cut a 2T with 3T length and hope to get two years out of this coat. I folded up the extra sleeve length, catch stitched the coat hem to the interlining, and fell stitched the lining to the coat. The hand stitches will be easy enough to unpick and let out next year. I used a layer of cotton flannel as an interlining for warmth. The sleeves are lined with ivory Bemberg rayon so we can slip it on and off.  I’m realizing as I look at these pictures that I should have redrafted the lining and interlining to a one piece sleeve to reduce bulk.  I added inseam pockets for tissues and little treasures.
The only other modification I made was to create a front facing out of velveteen for the lining. In part, I didn’t dare try fusible on this stuff for fear of flattening it out. Also, I didn’t want the front edge to roll out and show the lining. The buttons are backed with a square of sew in interfacing, though I wish I had backed them with smaller buttons too. I skipped the topstitching because I didn’t want to interfere with the lusciousness of the velveteen.  I was also terrified that – after all the trouble the fabric gave me—my machine wouldn’t handle the thick and slippery velvet nicely and I would ruin the entire thing with sloppy topstitching.
The Kestral Coat includes sizes all the way through size 8, and the Clever Charlotte blog offers a downloadable alternate collar for spring.  The pattern itself is clearly written and easy enough to follow.  The only tricky part is getting those pivot points where the collar attaches just right. The constantly disintegrating velvet made it especially tricky to see where I was going. I fixed it up at the end with a few hand stitches. The pattern itself could be accomplished by an advanced beginner with patience, as there are a lot of pieces to manage and many steps to follow, but I strongly caution against velveteen as a beginner fabric.  A nice cotton twill would be much easier to manipulate for a first coat. Wool coating would be another good choice.
While I’m pleased with the results, I had a terrible with the fabric. I worked up most of it in the summer and made such good progress I set it aside for a few final summer projects. When I picked it up again for the final stages of assembly, I discovered how badly the fabric was raveling and I struggled to salvage the project before it frayed away at the seams. The corners were particularly problematic. I used fray check, fusible interfacing and hand stitches to reinforce anything I could no longer reach with the machine. It was very upsetting after so much work. I don’t recall having such problems with velveteen before, but I haven’t used it for a complicated project before.  Below, I’ve included some tips in the hopes that you don’t suffer as I did!

Tips for working with velveteen:
·         I pre-washed on the gentlest cycle with Woolite
·         Cut all your pieces in the same direction as there is a distinct nap
·         A rotary cutter is helpful because this stuff is so slippery. Consider cutting one layer at a time and use a straight edge whenever possible.
·         When pressing, take care not to flatten the pile. This means use more steam than pressure and use a scrap of the velveteen as a press cloth.
·         All of my seams slipped around so much that I needed to pin and hand baste AND use the walking foot AND loosen the tension  AND larger stitches to keep everything in place. However, this did nothing for the raveling of the fabric and the integrity of the garment.  I advise re-stitching every seam with small stitches once it’s securely in place.
·         Velveteen ravels like nobody’s business, or at least this stuff did. I now suspect it has a little rayon in it. By the time I realized how bad it was, it was too late. I struggled to reinforce seams before the coat fell apart. Next time, I will overlock every pattern piece before assembly so that it doesn’t ravel away.
·          I wouldn’t trim anything without reinforcement. To get sharp corners without trimming, I reinforced with fusible interfacing, finger pressed one seam allowance, folded it up to the stitching line and then carefully used a knitting needle to push the corner into place. It took fiddling, but made for a stronger corner.
·         The automatic buttonhole foot could not handle the thick layers, especially close to a seam, so I practiced alternatives on scraps. I was unhappy with how the fragile velveteen looked with a handsewn buttonhole. I considered snaps, ties and hooks, but really wanted buttons. I practiced a manual buttonhole using a zigzag stitch several times on a mockup before making them on the coat. It’s not a perfect solution and I’m still open to suggestions.
·         Finally, I wonder whether underlining might have helped with the fraying issue, but I haven’t researched this idea just yet.
 PS – don’t you just love the tiny boots?  ;)


  1. It's a gorgeous coat...I can see why you get lots of compliments on it!

  2. Congratulations on your all your hard work; your little girl looks lovely, and cosy. I loved your Halloween costumes too.
    Thank you for all your tips about working with velveteen; I made a lot of small children's clothes from corduroy, so I know the mess and hassle it can cause. Good luck with the Liberty frock


  3. Gorgeous!
    The velveteen is amazing (love the color) and the lining is so beautiful!
    I can imagine all the strugle you went through, but it's so worth it :)

    PS: I do love the tiny boots. Too adorable :)

  4. Aw, thanks! I think it was worthwhile - as long as it holds up.

  5. So beautiful! The coat (and boots) are killing me.

  6. What beautiful little child! That coat is amazing and the lining your chose is absolutely gorgeous! It is such a shame that little kids grow so fast as the coat will just be good on her for this season.