“I love making jeans, even though there’s sooo many pattern pieces!” an intermediate sewist told her friends.
A shriek of laughter splintered their conversation. They turned to a see a woman, alone in a shadowed corner, with a gaze as sharp as a 14/90 Microtex and a hollow laugh on her lips.
“Don’t go over there.”
“Just ignore her,” they advised.
But the intermediate sewist, braver or perhaps more foolhardy than the rest, approached the strange woman.
“What are you laughing at, old-timer?”
“You, garment sewer!”
“That’s right.” The old-timer cackled. “You think you suffered, because you had to cut a waistband x 2 and interfacing x 2? You think you’re tough because you slashed open a welt pocket? You added a gathered skirt to a tank top, so now you can hack it in the wilderness?! What do you know…” her voice dropped to an intimate rasp. “About piecing a quilt block?”
A chill ran up and down the intermediate sewist’s back. “Not much,” she admitted, frightened but compelled.
“The pieces! So many! So tiny! All with perfect 90° corners! I’ve seen things…I’ve done things…I’ve cut 1” squares without a quilting ruler or a rotary cutter.”
“Why don’t you just buy a quilting ruler –”
The old timer slammed the table with her fist so hard that spools of thread jumped up and rolled away. “Why don’t you just grow wings and learn to fly!!” She surged forward suddenly and held a seam gauge to the intermediate sewist’s neck, so close that the foolhardy sewist could feel its metal edge with every pulse of her carotid artery. The intermediate sewer didn’t dare to move or even speak.
“Do you know what it is?” The old-timer hissed. “The space between life and death? Between right and wrong? Hope and despair? Between a quilter and a garment sewer?! Do you want to know the seam allowance?!”
The intermediate sewist closed her eyes. There was a clatter and an abrupt sense of emptiness, and when the intermediate sewist looked again, she was alone, with nothing but the abandoned seam gauge on the table before her. Her eyes crawled irresistibly to the slider. The distance between her and a shattered woman.
Only a quarter-inch.
Through some mysterious process (I’m not even on Instagram!) it recently became a priority to make myself a pieced, quilted coat. I made a whole-cloth quilted Grainline Tamarack in 2019, but I don’t (well, didn’t, now) have any piecing experience. WELL. If you want to learn something new, it’s gotta be the first time sometime!
It’s true that I don’t have a quilting ruler, or a rotary cutter, or a big cutting board. This is mainly because I don’t like buying things and I’m not crazing about owning stuff either. But if I was going to go back to the beginning, I would strongly consider adding a ¼” foot to my toolkit. A ¼” seam allowance is NOT 3/16” or 9/32” or 9/40”, which I learned to my dismay; an imperfect seam here or there on a not-so-fitted garment will barely show, but I’ve been making such an accumulation of small mistakes while piecing that the results are wonky indeed. My progress so far looks like what it is: a first effort by a beginner. But actually I’m finding it terrifically fun as well. Let’s talk.
Thing 1: pattern! I decided to make another Tamarack, but for better coziness than the oddly wide neck provides, I added a shawl collar. Using this article from Threads, I made the center front 1.25″ wider, chose a breakpoint 12.75″ up from hem, and drafted the shawl collar to be 5″ wide when finished. After thinking about it before falling asleep every night for a while, I decided against using a facing. My plan is to bias-bind everything as the pattern instructs, including the seam where the shawl collar meets the back neck. We’ll see if this is realistic in practice. Now that Pinterest knows I’m interested it’s been showing me a ton of quilt content, including, rather late to the game, this article on designing a quilted coat, which recommends a separate lining; maybe next time.
Thing 2: pieced design! I have no particular claim on bison but I wanted something punchy for a central design for the jacket back, and I found this free quilt block, and designed outwards from there. At this point I thought blithely I could scale a square design to any size so I ignored the fact that the measurements given were for an 8” or 16” square. I used Illustrator to draw a design and color it a few different ways; all my angles are 0°, 90°, or 45°. This seemed achievable (based on no experience or knowledge, but hey).
Thing 3: Color! I had a vague notion of what I wanted, having already bought the backing fabric. It was terrific luck, actually – I described my perfect fabric (while walking to the fabric store, no less) to Professor BF as “white or off-white with grey or grey-blue stripes, but organic stripes, not perfectly geometric” and I didn’t so much find this fabric as recognize it from my dreeeaaams. So that meant any blues would have to have a nice relationship with that quite cool blue, and I also wanted the pieced side to have an off-white background. Here’s a few of my experiments:
I landed on the fourth palette, which I labeled somewhat ambitiously as “modern”. Once again, If I Knew Then What I Know Now, I would probably just pick a fabric collection or fat quarter bundle I liked and fill in my design with a pre-curated set of colors, but I didn’t. Instead I separated out each color individually (using Select, Same: Fill Color for you AI fans) and put them into a new document. Then I threw myself on the mercy of a lovely Gather Here employee and was like “How much each buy please!?”
Pink, white, dark blue, yellow – 1/3 yard each. Black, rust – ½ yard each. Light blue – 1 yard. Cream for the background – 2 yards. I had the brown already. Oh and binding – ½ yard also, but I picked that on the fly.
I mostly used Kona Cotton (named beautifully Ochre – 1704, Pepper – 359, Spice – 159, Fog – 444, and then disappointingly PDF Bleach – 1287 and Putty – 1303), but the pink with yellow dobbies and the dark blue are both Ruby Star Society (Warp & Weft Wovens Dots Lilac, and Speckled 52M Denim). The binding is Folk Friends Linework Cream by Makower UK. The brown is leftover Essex cotton-linen from my Morella pants, and the batting is some mostly-cotton kinda-poly stuff that was cheap and wide. I had a 20 minute shopping appointment and a hope that maybe I’d add another print or something and then I went into a fugue state and came out with these 35 minutes later. And next the real work begins!
This is getting super wordy, so I’ll stop here for now. More soon on my wobbly journey to a quilted coat! I’ll do the time and spending round-up at the end. If I ever get there!
Stay safe, don’t talk to strangers in shadowy sewing bars!