Siege Diaries 1/30/2022

I spent the earlier part of the weekend taking part in Cloth of Gilt, an online version of Cloth of Gold. The in-person version of this features teams of people working together to create an entire outfit; I’ve either helped run or participated in that several times. This one, being virtual, was a little more relaxed (no formal competition) and was mostly teams of single sewists. It started on Friday evening at 8 and ended yesterday at 4.

I entered because I had gathered together everything I needed for a long-planned opashen, a Rus’/Russian fancy coat, that I had originally planned to wear to Coronation last week. When that went virtual, the deadline driving its completion also vanished. But I had all of the components I needed: Fabric (a Sartor brocade with a subtle quatrefoil design I purchased on sale last year), Chinese-style frog closures, a damaged Persian wool coat I purchased off of Etsy as salvage to cut up for trim, and lining fabric. I had also finally figured out how the cut of the coat would work–it’s really nothing more than a rubakha (a standard Rus’ tunic) with slits in the sleeves under the arms and an added collar.

I figured the 20 hours or so of the competition should be enough to allow me to finish the garment and possibly a hat. The sewing gods were apparently amused by my hubris and first struck back by inducing a fabric crisis. I had created a muslin of the pattern earlier in the week and had eyeballed the fabric, to make sure I had enough, but the fabric was super narrow (about 30″ wide) and had I cut it the way I had originally intended, I would have needed about another metre and a half to get the long, dangly sleeves cut as single pieces. I was able to use triangular offcuts from the body to get the sleeves the shape they needed to be. The overall garment also ended up slightly more narrow, but not significantly so.

Other than a few long, thin scraps, this is all that remains of the fabric

The second thing that happened was that my primary sewing machine decided to pitch a fit. After winding a bobbin, I was unable to get it to properly sit in the bobbin structure. Luckily, I have two sewing machines, so I brought out the second one. I got out a fresh pack of needles, which promptly exploded all over the floor. But once I got that going, things went mostly smoothly afterwards.

Once I got the major seams done, the garment and the lining pieced together, and the arm slits finished by hand, I sat down and started taking apart the coat. I was amazed at its construction (a patchwork of pieces of fur) but also in just how large it was. A strip off the bottom ended up measuring 70″–close to my entire hemline. (I still have maybe 50% of it left, although with no long strips like that.) It was also generally in good shape–given that it was sold as scrap, that was a surprise.

Reverse of the fur, showing the patching

With the collar, hem piece, and cuffs cut out of the fur, the next step was to attach them. There was some fussiness around the collar. I decided to finish the garment’s neckhole and attach it to the finished edge. I was generally OK with the results. I took a break to press out various seams at that point, and thought I’d also press the back of the lined collar. Big mistake! It ended up curling and wrinkling the fur! My initial thought was that it had melted or done something to the thread used to stitch the pieces together. Whatever the case, I didn’t have time to fix it.

Next step was to attach the frogs. In the past, I’ve had challenges with frogs (and other closures with loops) leaving gaps unless there is significant overlap of fabric behind them. This time, I’d decided to sew on the loop side so that the loop was stitched down to the fabric, and then to cut open the centre and finish it a little like a buttonhole. Similarly, I stitched down most of the toggle side of the frog. I was very pleased with the results.

I was subsequently able to attach the hem guard and the cuffs, and to actually finish everything off. The garment was 100% complete at 3:40 pm. I had just enough time to get the fur for the hat cut out. I was inordinantly pleased with myself for finishing on schedule, and looked forward to showing off my shiny thing.

Unfortunately, the show and tell was a bit of a let-down. I was in no way expecting to win a prize (there were other entries more deserving/on theme, and this wasn’t really a competition) but I did not expect it to feel like a thesis defense, where people sat, listened, and then deliberated in order to tell me later what I did wrong. Most of the other entrants got encouraging words or ooohs and ahs. I got engineering questions. It didn’t help that I was highly conscious that my collar was borked. I left questioning whether my piece was any good.

I spent the evening fixing the collar. The wrinkling was apparently due to different thicknesses in the skin of the fur contracting unevenly due to heat. I ended up also redoing the shape of the collar, with the third version finally giving the shape I wanted.

I also completed the hat, reusing stiffener and lining fabric from the original coat.

Fixing the collar afterwards, making the hat (which I love), and having a chance to put it on together has definitely reassured me that it does not suck. People on Facebook seem to like it. I’ve also put in a little bit of reinforcing stitching on the frog loops, as well as stitching the toggles more tightly together (they’re made out of cord, which was trying to come apart as I used them). It also helps that I got a photo taken outside, where the blue really pops.

What next? Maybe pearls. The design would lend itself well to them, but I’ll need a lot.

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