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Ladies Tailoring

There doesn't seem to be much written about tailoring for women, this may be because fitting the curves is an added difficulty. For me It's a challenge to be slightly more creative with the design and shaping a garment that's truly individual.

Just before Christmas 2016 I bought a bundle of fabrics from Fabworks Mill that included a country check and a wool Melton that looked great together. These fabrics inspired me to tailor a traditional jacket for myself.

I set about drafting a basic coat block, before adapting it to the design I wanted. I used Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear by Winifred Aldrich. I've since bought her book - Pattern Cutting for Women's Tailored Jackets.

I always seem to make life difficult for myself ...a check cloth throws up all the issues in the cut of a pattern! I made a toile, worked on the fit and then experimented with the position and angles of the pockets as well as the front opening. I then use the toile to cut the cloth.

When tailoring I always cut one layer at a time, especially with a stripe or check. It makes matching the check so much easier. However a check must match vertically as well as horizontally, so it needed lots of thought and observation before the shears met the cloth. Once cut I thread traced all the inlays, hems, vents, neckline and armholes.

The first construction process with tailoring is preparing and shaping the canvas. I made the horsehair canvas just slightly wider than the front panel, widening out to the front armscye and extending over the shoulder onto the back. This helps prevent a ridge when adding the shoulder pads. On top I added a chest canvas from the roll line of the lapel across to the armscye and from just above the top button to the shoulder. This is topped with a layer of Domette that the pad stitching will sink into. This triple layer provides the foundation that will shape the coat.

Once the pad stitching was complete I needed to cut darts to create the shape for the bust. I avoid making darts in the canvas in the same place as darts, or in this case a seam, on the main fabric. For women's wear I make 3 darts, one vertically from the waist area, one on angle from the underarm and another from the armscye. To keep the canvas smooth the dart is made edge to edge and over stitched, then covered with a strip of lining.

On the Domette I stick a piece of iron on canvas. What I hadn't realised at this point was the contrast between the black domette and the white cotton would show through the lining I had chosen. I had to use pieces of black habutai to camouflage the white strips.

I tacked the body fabrics together for another fitting so I was sure about how the checks were going to match. In tailoring the front and back sections are made up and lined before stitching the shoulders. The front is usually worked first. I had been going to machine the seams, but found it much easier to match the checks when hand stitching. It needed a lot of patience to match the horizontal stripes and to get the vertical ones balanced as the seam created shape.

At this stage the body canvas is tacked to the front fabric, these stitches stay in for most of the construction process and begin to build in ease and help to stop the front edges from rolling out. I knew I wanted welt pockets with contrasting flaps, two on one side and one on the other. I'd already decided on the position of the pockets just below the waistline, angled up towards the centre front to direct the eye inwards at the waist. However I experimented with the shape of the flaps, this made the decision really quite easy. When designing the jacket I'd considered a breast pocket, but felt it wouldn't sit well with the princess seam and add bulk across the bust.

It was time to really begin to build the jacket. In part 2 I'll discuss making the pockets, creating the lapels and collar.

I like to make the pockets after adding the body canvas to the main fabric. You have to trim away some of the canvas so the pockets are only stitched through the fabric. There are two advantages to doing it this way, both improving the overall look of the garment when things are put in the pockets. One advantage is when finished the pocket bags can be secured to the inside of the canvas giving the pockets more support, stopping them dragging on the fabric. The other reason is the pocket bags are now between the canvas and the lining so when in use the main fabric isn't distorted as it's protected by the canvas.

When making pocket flaps I like to make the under flap slightly smaller so that when finished the seam rolls slightly to the underside.

One of my pockets is a standard double welt, the other was made into the angled seam between the front/lower body and the upper side body. The process for both is similar, but the ends of the welts for the lower pocket where basted and secured into the side seam when the fronts and backs were joined later on.

When making welt pockets, after sewing round the shape, cutting the opening and turning through I like to press the seams open. This uses one layer of fabric to fold the welt around, providing support, but not too much bulk. After machining the pocket bags I layer the fabrics above each pocket to avoid a harsh edge when pressing. Next I herringbone stitch the pocket bags to the body canvas above the opening. This means the weight when using the pocket is actually taken by the canvas, stopping the pockets from sagging.

With the pockets finished I turn to the lapel and roll line. I cut a piece of cotton Silesia to go between the lapel fabric and the layer of canvas. It provides additional support without adding stiffness. Starting at the roll line the lapel is pad stitched, rolling the fabric over the left hand whilst stitching. This action shortens the under layer and the roll is held in place by the stitches. Then the roll line is stabilised by adding a piece of cotton tape that will extend onto the roll line of the collar. The tape is cut slightly too short, laying flat at each end with the centre section of the garment eased to fit over the full breast area. This will help the lapel lie flat and not gape. Sorry I don't have any photos of this!

One of the most time consuming tasks when hand tailoring is preparing the front edges. The fold line needs to be thread traced, just through the main cloth and the canvas trimmed back 5mm short of the fold line. I use bias tape that is place on the fabric edge overlapping the canvas. It's tacked to the main fabric along the fold line, then herringbone stitched to the canvas. The edge is folded in and tacked again, before a second row of herringbone stitch is done. The corner of the lapel was mitred and stitched down.

The back is relatively straightforward. I had to match the seams and try to get a balanced check when making the darts. Taking photos always seems to focus my eye on the bits that aren't quite as I'd like them, two stripes that come together that looks like a broad white stripe, but I don't think it's obvious when I wear it.

The back doesn't have a traditional vent. I designed it so the hem drops slightly all the way from the front opening to the centre back, where I've inserted a contrast element.

The back lining is made up next with ease built into the centre back seam. Its then hand basted to the wrong side of the jacket back.

In part 3 I'll show you how to prepare the front facings, make the inner pockets, add the lining to the front, before joining the front and back.


I took the opportunity to tack the jacket at this stage as it was the last opportunity to make any adjustments to the fit of the body. With any alterations marked the front were removed so I could work on the front facings, inner pockets and the front lining.

I don't use a separate pattern piece for the lapels and front facing, I use the actual jacket just in case I've reshaped any element of the jacket front. It's important to build ease into the facing to help create room for using the inner pocket. To minimise waste the strip that the inner pocket is made in is added rather than being cut in one piece with the facing. I decided to make one inner pocket just below waist level that would take a mobile phone. Position this too high and it might distort the waist area adding unwanted bulk in an area I would want to minimise.

I made the welts out of the lining fabric, wrapping it round the heavier lapel cloth. The pocket bags are stitched tight at the end of the welts for strength, then the machining widens out to make using the pocket easier.

With the pocket made the facings are added to the jacket fronts. They're placed wrong sides together, basting to build in ease, both along the length in the button area and in the width near the roll line. It's important to create enough room in the lapel cloth for it to turn to the outside with out pulling and not so much that it's loose. Once in place the pockets is herringbone stitched to the body canvas, thus creating support, so that when used the weight is taken by the canvas not the lining.

Preparing the front edges includes loads of tacking. The edge is tacked through all the layers, then the fold line of the facing, which is then trimmed. The facing edge is turned in and tacked, before tacking to the main fabric!

I decided to add a piping between the lining and the facing, I hadn't done this before so made it up as I went along! The piping was made from a bias strip folded edge to edge, pressed and then tacked in place along the line the facing would come to. I then laid the front facings in place, tacking to the body fabric and turning under the front edge, but not cutting in round the inner pocket.

With the two main pieces constructed it was time to sew the shoulders. Because the back shoulder is wider than the front there is no way to match the check all the way across the shoulder seam. When I was marking out before cutting I'd given particular care with how to make this seam look good. It's really important to match stripes near to the armhole as this is the area that people will focus on. The side seams are completed in the main fabric and the linings. With a traditional jacket with vents I'd finish the hems before stitching the jacket together, but I don't have vents so I left the hem until now. Hems are supported by bias strips of lining, that are stitched through as the hem is completed. The lining fabric is cut to the same length as the finished jacket, the edge is lifted and slip stitched in place so that the lining rolls down creating ease at the hem.

A hand stitched collar is one of the few processes of tailoring that can actually be seen and preparing the collar is something I really enjoy, taking straight pieces of cloth, moulding them into the shape we are all familiar with, finally hand stitching the Melton. The initial process is pad stitching the canvas to the Melton. On a formal garment choosing a contrast for the under collar can add a real statement, even if it's only seen when the collar is lifted! Collar canvas is tightly woven and firmer than other canvases, it's cut on the bias and can be bought in pre-cut pieces. I pad stitch along the length of the collar creating the roll by bending the fabric over my hand as I stitch. I notice that different tailors pad stitch collars in different ways, each with their own reason for using their method.

Once stitched the collar is pressed to set the stitches into the cloth. It's now time to shape the collar. As well as the roll that has already been formed by the pad stitching the outer edge has to be stretched to fit around the shoulder area. Water, heat and pressure is used to stretch the fabric. However it's really important not to stretch the centre back of the collar as this needs to sit flat against the back of the jacket. Up until this point the collar has been quite a bit bigger than it will be when finished.

With the neck edge trimmed to size the wrong side of the under collar is placed to the right side of the neckline, extending past the lapels at the front. At this stage I decide exactly what shape the front of the collar will have in proportion to the lapels. The long edge of the upper collar needs to be stretched. Then the upper collar is tacked onto the under collar. The edges are trimmed and tacked in a similar way to the jacket front edges.

The sleeves are the last major part of making a jacket, until I remember all the hand finishing! Unfortunately I don't have any photos of making the sleeves.

Sleeves are relatively straight forward, although there is a lot of hand stitching round the armholes. I've also realised that I haven't mentioned shoulder pads. They help create the frame that the jacket hangs from, so are really important. I'm rather square shouldered so I used quite thin shoulder pads. Its important to slip them in place whenever trying on a jacket as they alter the fit and armhole room. I stitched them in place just before the lining shoulder seam was stitched and before the tacking that is done to hold the shoulders in place ready for the sleeves.

The sleeves on my jacket have fully functioning hand made buttonholes, another feature that sets a well tailored garment apart from mass produced ones. The front arm seam is stitched in both the main fabric. Then the hem and sleeve vents are prepared and stitched, checking that the checks still match at the hem and vent. I reinforce the upper sleeve vent with the same wool Melton that I'd used for the contrast, herringbone stitched along the visible edges. Although this is rarely seen you can sometimes get a glimpse of it when you raise your arm, for me it's important that what is seen has been thought about and created carefully. The hind seam is now finished. The sleeve lining seams are stitched next.

The underarm piece of the sleeve lining is placed against the underarm piece of the wool sleeve, wrong sides together. The seam allowances are match along their length and then basted together, this stitch stays in place and will stop the lining from twisting. Finish the sleeve by stitching the lining to the vent and hem. Baste the vent closed before pressing. The sleeve is ready to set in.

Before presenting the sleeve the armhole edge is stabilised and eased in around the back armscye to give added shape over the shoulder blade.

The sleeve is tacked around the underarm and like most sleeves has to be eased in to fit the upper armhole. With a soft wool that is very malleable I ease as I tack. Using small stitches put the needle into the sleeve, through the armhole fabric(not the canvas or linings at this stage) and back out so the needle is now under the sleeve cloth. Allow the needle to catch the back of the cloth and drag it back slightly before finishing the stitch. Each stitch has more of the sleeve cloth included in it, resulting in the sleeve fitting the smaller armhole.


As the armhole seam takes a lot of strain it is important it's hand stitched securely. It's backstitched through all the layers, including the lining, canvas and shoulder pads. The shoulder pads are too thick so dig in at least half way through. Then with the body lining on top back stitch round again. This time digging as far as possible into the shoulder pad again. After trimming the armhole allowances the sleeve roll is added into the sleeve head creating a soft roll without any gathers.

Throughout tailoring there is a lot of pressing, it's an essential part of the process. Pressing the sleeve head helps the finished effect. The main construction of the jacket is finished when the sleeve lining is slip stitched to the armhole.

The hand finishing is very satisfying, especially as the tacking threads are finally removed. I finish the collar first, using a contrasting silk buttonhole thread to herringbone stitch the Melton and create the front edge of the collar. The inner neck edge of the collar is back stitched to hold it securely to the inner canvases and the collar is invisibly stitched to the front facing out to the lapel notch. Next comes the lining. For some reason the back neck lining is still something I find tricky, but I'm getting better! The front lining is slip stitched to the piping and shaped round the inner pocket.

I wanted a clean finish round the front edges without any pick stitching sinking into the soft contrasting wool. I chose to slip stitch the edges, rolling the top cloth slightly to the underside.

Then it was time for buttons and buttonholes. Each time I do them they get better and I get quicker! Here's a link to how I make buttonholes. With all the tacking removed and a final press. I was relieved to find I could steam the Melton to lift the marks made by the tacking!

The country look of this jacket means I can wear it with skirts or trousers, both formally and in casual situations and it is truly comfortable .

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