Sewing: William Morris US Civil War Frock Coat

Adventures in swearing and sewing continue. This time saw the purchase of a folding picnic table, which has taken cutting out pattern pieces from “impossible and agonising” to merely “very annoying and painful”, as it turns out that my shears work perfectly well when there’s a solid surface to cut against which isn’t the bloody carpet. I cannot express how silly my extremely small flat looks with a large outdoor trestle table dominating pretty much all of it and how extremely silly I looked hopping over the sofa and under the table to get around to the right parts of the pattern.

One of the most important things the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee has taught me is that one should always read the pattern from start to finish before beginning. What it has not taught me, and which I have repeatedly had to learn on my own, is that about 50% of the pattern instructions are vague to the point of incomprehensibility, the diagrams were created by people who have never sewn anything in their lives, and large chunks of the process (in this case: interfacing) can be readily discarded as pointless and time-consuming. Ease-stitch this, McCalls.

The bane of this particular sewing experience, apart from “pattern matching is for sissies” and “obviously I intended to be half up and half down, shut up”, has been the tendency of the new doom sewing machine (this one has a proper brand name and everything as opposed to the John Lewis Own Brand Infernal Hell Machine of Endless Noise, and I can hear the TV over it) to casually turn the output of the bobbin into an argumentative hellish mess. Maintaining consistent tension has also been a matter of some consternation, but thankfully working with upholstery fabric rather than fiddly dress-making material has saved me from some otherwise infuriating moments. I definitely recommend taking “this is supposed to be for a duvet cover” for all your coat needs.

William Morris 1

Also pictured: a cheap, two-layered wrap-around silk skirt I picked up in Camden market, and my terrible lack of regard for combining patterns according to any sort of sensible rule of fashion.

Oh and the buttons are modelled after Roman coins. I found them on Etsy and decided that if one is going to bastardise the basic notion of the frock coat as a military garment, and make one’s first foray into it by combining pattern A and pattern B with a cavalier disregard for the results, then one may as well do it while wearing the blurred and corroded face of an unknown Emperor five times in a row. I shall just have to be grateful that my past self decided not to embroider anything on this one.


Those pleats played absolute havoc and had to be unpicked several times (thank god I used a long stitch) because the instructions might as well have read “pin the pattern to the wall, set fire to the fabric, then clothe yourself in the ashes as desired” for all the bloody good they were.


The sleeves and shoulders are a touch too long as the pattern is for a gentleman with my size chest, rather than for the slope-shouldered, stump-armed monstrosity wearing it, but overall for something hacked out in two days with no prior knowledge of the pattern, very little experience of making coats, continual swearing, a McCalls pattern full of bogus instructions and mad diagrams, having to hand sew the lining at the waist (what kind of cruel god would dictate that? A fucking McCalls god, apparently), and the requisite broad scattering of pin-related injuries – only one bad enough to cause any profuse bleeding this time, which counts as a victory – it’s not bad.

I’m going to wear it to Kew next time I go.

(Pictured above are the boots which are currently breaking me in rather than the other way around:


They’re painful and they’re winning. I had to limp back from Edward II at the BFI and I’m not sure the blisters were worth it, even if Derek Jarman’s masterpiece was … well … very Derek Jarman.



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