Let’s all go down The Strand

I’ve wanted to make the Strand Coat by Merchant & Mills ever since I spotted the pattern while I was in The Natural Fabric Store near Lyme Regis a couple of years ago.  I have an aversion to collars so this style is perfect and works well with a scarf.

Last month at Chi Stitch I spotted a boiled wool type fabric on the swap table.  I’ve since done a a burn test and it’s clearly polyester-based but it is lovely and soft.  Although I never wear brown I really liked the abstract pattern and decided it might work well for a first attempt.  I went ahead and bought the pattern from The Draper’s Daughter during an open day at Winter’s Moon.  Mr J-M was very extravagant at this event and bought two vintage wicker bar stools for our kitchen – and he’s not well known for home furnishing purchases!  It may have been the three pieces of chocolate brownie he consumed that put him in such a jolly mood.  I think he may also have just had a personal best at the Park Run!  If you’ve never heard of Winter’s Moon you should definitely check out Julia’s website or visit her when she opens her studio in Chichester on a Wednesday and Friday.

The Strand is described as a “simple unlined coat for cutting a dash in the city”.  I love Merchant & Mills.  I have made the Trapeze Dress and Top 64 and really like the simple and clean aesthetic of their patterns.  I have a whole collection of their haberdashery items – pins, scissors, tailor’s clapper, chalk etc.  I also have their book and portfolio – the latter was a recent gift from Karen at The Draper’s Daughter and I’ve not yet been able to bring myself to sully its pristine pages!   Going back to the patterns, I would say that in my opinion the envelope images don’t always do the garments justice.

I’ve found Merchant & Mills sizes tend to be quite generous so I made a quick toile of the bodice using some curtain lining and decided the size 8 would be fine.  The final version is slightly wider on the shoulder than the toile but it does mean I can wear layers underneath it.  I’m sharing this toile with The Draper’s Daughter as she’s also keen to cut a dash in the city with a Strand!  The only alterations I made were to take FIVE inches off the sleeve length and a similar amount off the length.  I’m 5′ with short arms but that’s even more than I had to take off the sleeve length of the Top 64.

I’m glad I started with the toile as there were a couple of head scratching moments in the construction.  When I was inserting the sleeves I couldn’t work out why the sleeve seam didn’t line up with the side seam.  A quick search on IG came up with someone else who’d had this problem and discovered they weren’t supposed to!  There’s also a requirement to snip into the armscye to get it to lie flat at the front before inserting the sleeve.   I was worried this snip would weaken the area so I reinforced it with a tiny piece of interfacing.

Otherwise construction is pretty straightforward and this fabric was a dream to sew with.  There was no need to finish the seams as there was no fraying but the pattern suggests optional edge stitching the darts and most of the seams which I chose to do and this helped finish the seams off more neatly inside.  The pattern is labelled Intermediate and you probably do need a bit of sewing experience.   There isn’t a great deal of hand holding in Merchant & Mills’ instructions and whilst the hand drawn images are lovely they are not as helpful as a Tilly & The Buttons photograph!

The coat has FOUR pockets!  Two inseam and two little ones set into the waist seam – similar to those in the Top 64.  Someone online suggested these pockets are too small to be useful but I think they’re great.  Just the right size for a train ticket, tissue, spare change etc.  The main pockets are more than big enough for your hands.   When I finished attaching the bodice to the bottom of the coat I thought something had gone drastically wrong because the small pockets seemed to be upside down but they weren’t.   They just needed careful pressing downwards and then edge stitching to sit right.

I was very glad of my clapper for this make – it made a massive difference to the seams and short work of the area where the pockets overlap and there was quite a lot of bulk.  A clapper is definitely a good investment.  This is the one I have – it was given to me as a gift by my lovely sister.

I wasn’t sure whether I’d be happy with the internal finish of the coat without a lining  but I finished the facing with a linen bias binding and overall I think it looks fine.   If I was using a denim or linen I might do some extra finishing with bias binding.  I’m also keen to try lining a coat and this may be a good one to start with.  At the moment I feel like the whole ‘bagging’ thing might be beyond me.

The coat is supposed to be fastened with five hooks and eyes set into the facing so they just peep out at the edge.  I used large, more decorative ones fixed to the outside for three reasons :

  • I bought two packets of large brown hooks and eyes before I thought the whole process through
  • I then realised they were too big/bulky to sew inside the facing
  • I couldn’t actually work out how to attach them even if they had been the right size so that they would then poke through in the correct way.  I have limited spacial awareness!

To be honest the last reason was the main deciding factor in going for the external fastenings and I think I prefer them.

All in all I’m really happy with this coat and I’ve worn it nearly every day since I finished it.  I was irritated that the front gapes slightly between the top and second fastenings (which you can’t see in these photos) but when I look on Merchant and Mills’ website their version does the same so I don’t feel so bad.  There will be more Strands.  I have a hankering for a crushed velvet version, maybe in dark green – or red?!

 

 

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Sewing Inspiration

I’ve reported here about the sewing group – Chi Stitch – I run with Karen from The Draper’s Daughter.  We now have a lovely group of regulars who come along with a myriad of sewing and crafting projects and I find the whole experience inspiring – even if I don’t always get a lot of sewing done!

This has set me off thinking about my sewing inspiration generally.   I know both my grandmothers sewed and knitted, although I really only remember seeing my paternal grandmother in action.  She was Scottish and knitted very fast on long needles tucked under her arms.  During the Second World War I know that she knitted socks, gloves and balaclavas for soldiers.

My mother has always sewed, knitted, crocheted and generally made stuff  – and still does.   My dad was also an inveterate maker of things.  He made model boats with working steam engines, built furniture and kitchen units, made wooden toys.  He could turn his hand to just about anything.   I’m ashamed to say that I never really took the opportunity when I was younger to benefit as much as I could have done from their skills and knowledge.  There were other things that seemed of much more interest to me!  That’s not to say that we didn’t make things.  We were deprived of television for many years “for the good of our education” so we had to fill the time somehow when we weren’t sloping off to our friends’ houses to watch TV there.  Amongst other things we made rudimentary dolls’ clothes, knitted yards of woollen ‘tubes’ with the Knitting Nancy and made a mess with papier mâché.

At  secondary school I did needlework for the first three years.  Our teacher was sadly not inspirational.  We were taught the basics and I remember making a striped apron with a patchwork embellished pocket and a really hideous dress that I never wore.  Despite the lack of inspiration, I was quite good at sewing and remember one test when I had to pass my very neat seam finish samples to my friend behind me to copy because she had no idea what she was doing! Another friend and I always recall the time when she was sewing the pocket to her apron and it ended up attached to her skirt!

Of much more importance to me was my Food & Nutrition (aka Cookery) teacher who I have never forgotten.  She was a tiny and very feisty Welsh lady called Mrs Jones who I really liked – and she really liked me because I paid attention.  Not something I was necessarily well known for in some other lessons.  She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know and a few things I didn’t.  I honestly don’t think I’ll ever make my own flaky pastry – but I could if I wanted to.  I certainly won’t be stuffing a heart or sousing a herring!  Here’s Mrs Jones in the centre of the photograph.

Fast forward a number of years and after various forays into assorted crafts I decided I wanted a sewing machine.  I acquired a basic Singer and started making bags.  I also used it for sewing paper which probably didn’t do it the world of good, although it’s still working as my colleague now has it and is using it to make a new set of seat cushions for his boat!

Having decided I would like to try making clothes I popped into The Eternal Maker to ask Anna if they were planning to offer dressmaking classes.  She said they would if they could find someone to teach them.  I put her in touch with a friend of a friend and I started a six week course of lessons with Cath.  I made a skirt which turned out surprisingly well and we moved on to a second six week course.  After that we set up a little sewing group which met in the conference room at my office for a few months and I was on the road to a sewing obsession!

Back to Chi Stitch and I was so pleased last month when Cath came along for the first time! Without her I probably would have carried on sewing bags and paper decorations and never met all my lovely sewing friends.  Here she is with her knitting on the table reserved for Catherines – @cathysewsstuff is next to her and Catherine opposite her!  Karen is also there – her name does start with the right sound!

I can’t believe this picture was taken a month ago.  The next Chi Stitch is tonight at St George’s Church Hall in Cleveland Road, Chichester from 7.00 – 9.00 pm.  Everyone is welcome.

Just going back to school needlework teachers.  My sister, who can sew but doesn’t, had a sewing teacher whose response to anyone referring to “material” was “fabric dears, fabric”.  It’s an entrenched phrase in my family which we often repeat automatically when someone says “material” and then have to offer an explanation!