Battle Plan: Greatcoat

I am but a novice tailor, if I may be so grandiose.  You all know I’ve been carefully building my knowledge and understanding of tailoring, and I hope I’ve been helpful (or at least interesting) up to this point.

The waistcoat needs buttonhole facings and buttons, which should happen this afternoon.  I’m thrilled with how it looks, somehow a Victorian hard-tailored waistcoat easily melds with Husband’s university/ecologist style.  Go figure.   He’s very impatient for it to be finished, he all but chained me to the sewing machine.

I’m so pleased with the mini-tailoring experiment that I can’t help but work out the kinks in the thought-work for the coat.  I haven’t forgotten my series on Sewing Habits and Practices, and will follow up soon with a brief discussion on Construction.  However, right now I feel like a general on the brink of a strategic battle.  Would a wise general charge forth into the night, shooting cannon every which way?  Absolutely not.  Perhaps a drunk one would.

No, a wise general carefully plans his campaign.  He pores over maps, plots his strategy, conjures potential difficulties and provides for them in advance.   He tests his ideas and gathers intelligence.

I draw information and techniques from so many sources, I am afraid I will mix up the order or create more sewing work for myself than is strictly necessary.  Also, I hate making something and then running across information later on how I could have made it better.  It really upsets me. 

I started dissecting the altering, muslining, and cutting over coffee this morning:

The I stands for the first wave of muslin/alteration; II stands for the second.  I may or may not play with the collar size.  Husband is slightly worried it will be too big, but I think it will work when it is sewn (seam allowances…).   I like to leave myself detailed notes, like breadcrumbs.  Next time I make a “real” coat, it won’t take so much thinking.  I also like to leave space to scribble additional notes as they occur to me.  Scrawling in a moleskine feels better to me than just writing.  I have lost notebooks in the past to leaky roofs, so it reassures me to scan the pages.

I draw a grid on the backside of the fronts to guide my pad-stitching.  I didn’t pad-stitch the waistcoat and I am sure I will live to regret that.  When I made my first tailored jacket, I lost my way with all the taping and interfacing, so I thought this time I would save myself the stress and make a map ahead of time. I can dither and waffle now, but when I’m sewing I like to know where I’m going next.

I found it very satisfying to nail down the chest pieces, taping positions and hem strips.  I keep reading contradictory and confusing information, so the fact I could wade through it and decide what to do makes me happy.

Undecided about waist seam placement.  The pattern has no marked waist, I assume it sits at natural waist.  I’m not sure if this will look odd with Husband’s other clothes.  I looked at John Peacock and it seems to me that most coats of the era hit at the waist in the front, and below the waist in the back.  I rather like that.  I hoped to get off without muslining the skirts, but it might not be avoidable.  I’m not sure about keeping the original pocket placing, which is another reason to muslin the skirt.  I can find out where Husband’s hands will slip into the pockets and adjust accordingly. 

That is as far as I traveled.  When it came to the collar, I could not decide between the Palmer Pletsch instructions, the Burda instructions, or the instructions from a 1970’s hard tailoring book I borrowed from none other than Nerdy Seamstress. She’s very generous.

Basically the Burda says to baste undercollar to neck edge, then stitch upper collar to facings, then put the two together.  Palmer Pletsch says the same thing, but with more exact instructions on which direction to sew, etc.  The 1970’s tailoring manual tells me to stitch the facings to the fronts.  Then it says to hard press the raw outer edges of the upper collar to the wrong side, and then stitch the upper collar to the neck edge.  Then I completely assemble the under collar, again hard pressing the raw edges under.  Finally, I stitch the under collar to the upper collar, using a tiny applique stitch.  That’s the gist.

I’m leaning towards the 1970’s version because

  • J’adore hand-stitching
  • My machine needs a service
  • It is probably nicer
  • It is more “historical,” which I find interesting
  • I had a hard enough time maneuvering the neck of the waistcoat, the coat will be harder
  • It will be easier to face the buttonholes with less coat to handle
  • Both upper and under collars should be interfaced according to the pattern instructions, and I think that will be quite heavy, more easily handled with the tips of my fingers.

I might be thoroughly sick of the whole project by then and happily shove it backwards (Palmer Pletsch style) through the machine.  I hope that if I am sick of it, I will take a break.  

Jump in any time and lend some constructive criticism.  Anything to help me be better or give me something to think about.

Next up, Finished Object: Waistcoat (I promise).

Edited to add:  Wowie, I just found Wearing History’s Regency Tailcoat.  I know who to ask when I run into problems.  I don’t know how I overlooked this, I read her blog and I’ve been scouring the net for tips.  Amazing.


  1. I'm unfamiliar with the 70's tailoring manual technique, but with this method it sounds like you could incorporate those neat little prickstitches that some tailored garments have around the collar/lapels. I quite like that look. Maybe this method evolves from the traditional mellon/felt undercollar, but I'm just guessing here!

  2. Hi, My first jacket sample made when I was an educational rep for the Armo Interfacing Co. was the historical method. I still have the sample! Any method is correct if it works for you! Good luck! Pati Palmer, Palmer/Pletsch. We have a new free newsletter on our web site right now. (I am using my daughter's computer as I am with her in NYC but this is really from

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Pati. I use your books in my classes as a great resource and use them as a starting point for my own research. I'm interested in what you mean by "historical" method. Sherry, I'd love to do a felt under collar. Almost every tailoring book I poke my nose into talks about using melton, felt, or wool flannel for the undercollar when working with less stable fabrics. Since the whole coat is wool flannel, I'll stick with it for now.Errrgh, just waiting for husband to come home from fishing so I can take some crappy webcam pics of his waistcoat for you all.

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