When I was first getting back into sewing, I cut out an inspiration shot of a beautiful tweed trench coat. Most people start sewing with pajama pants. Not me! My time, patience and a couple of wrong turns (backwards sleeves that had to be ripped out and re-sewn correctly) were rewarded with a gorgeous coat that I always get compliments on. Which proves my point: Anything is possible to sew if you follow the directions carefully. Here's how to make your own classic trench:
Choose your pattern: While a trench coat may not be the most obvious beginner sewing project, consider some of the pluses. Because a coat is worn over other garments, fitting is easier because it can be looser. Measure yourself carefully, make sure you have enough ease in the hips, and when in doubt, go a size larger in your pattern. Pick a pattern with simpler lines and fewer details for your first trench coat. Also, if you are still feeling intimidated, remember a coat is constructed much like a jacket, but is just longer and made with heavier material.
Fabric matters: Speaking of material, trench coats, which were first popularized in World War I, are often traditionally made with gabardine. (Fun fact: Burberry and Aquascutum both claim to have invented the trench coat, but Thomas Burberry invented gabardine.) Still, you have lots of options with fabric. The key is to stick with stiffer, coating textiles such as cotton twills, midweight wools, silks and even upholstery fabrics. Do not fall in love with a lightweight fabric under any circumstances. It just won't hold up to being the stuff of coats.
Reinforcements: Even with sturdy material, there are techniques and tools that will give shape and structure to the trench. Underlining, which is a fabric that is sewn to the fashion fabric, so that the two pieces are treated as one, can add insulation. You can also reinforce your entire swathe of fabric with fusible before cutting it out. (With both underlining and fusible, you will want to line the coat.) Interfacing, whether sew-in or fusible will add even more structure to the collar, lapels and other parts of the coat and is generally part of the pattern instructions. .
Details, details: While the main body of the coat is pretty straightforward, the details are what really make a trench coat. Braided leather or leather-look buttons add authenticity. You'll also learn how to make a belt for the waist, cuff straps for the sleeves (tortoise-shell-look buckles are a nice touch), and shoulder tabs. Top stitching, a decorative stitch often seen on trench coats, can turn seam lines into design details. This is where the real fun begins!
For past DIY Design columns, click here. Next up? Sewing Grecian goddess pleats and gathers.