A 1910s costume, part ten: the suit jacket

This post is the tenth in a series in which I endeavour to create a historically-accurate late-1910s outfit to the best of my ability. From using an antique sewing machine, finding modern patterns of historical designs to using contemporary sewing manuals, this project is a huge challenge and one that I’m super excited about. I hope you will enjoy following along with my baby steps in historical costuming.

When I started this late-1910s project, one of the things that excited me the most was the challenge. Not only the challenge of using historical patterns, manuals and techniques, but making really complex garments! The corset had been the most challenging in terms of consturction up to this point, but it was beaten hands-down by this jacket. Not only had I never made a coat before, I knew I would have to dive into the world of tailoring – something that was incredibly daunting. Armed with YouTube videos, blog posts and historical sewing manuals, I got stuck in and produced something that I’m really proud of! This is going to be a long one, I would recommend getting a cup of tea.

Although the actual construction of this jacket only took me three weeks, the project technically began at the start of November. As with my c.1916 skirt, I killed time whilst waiting for a sewing supplies order to arrive by making the mock-up for my jacket. However, before I could start, I had to decide what features I wanted for my garment. This Wearing History pattern comes with a variety of collar, cuff and closure options but I immediately knew which ones I wanted. I decided to consult my Grandma (who is still in Australia due to Covid) just to get a second opinion and we decided that when presented with the opportunity of a fun pleated collar, you couldn’t say no. As this is jacket would be partnered with the skirt I made in my previous blog post to make the c.1916 suit, I wanted to have fun with contrasting elements. As well as having corresponding velvet trim, I wanted the jacket to have black velvet cuffs, lapel and collar. Once I had this vision for my jacket, I couldn’t get it out of my head and I was so excited about it.

The Wearing History c.1916 suit pattern – the skirt and jacket are also available as separate patterns.

With important sartorial decisions made, I got started on my mock-up. I really threw this together with very little effort; I only made one sleeve just to get an idea of the length! For me, the important part of this process was guaging fit and practicing the construction – important structural elements could wait for the real thing. The jacket went together really easily, the only bit that tripped me up was the collar. I couldn’t figure out whether I was supposed to attach the collar at the roll line or matching the seam allowance with the neckline of the coat. When I matched it with the seam allowance, the collar sagged and really looked quite sad. I have now learned that this was due to the lack of interlining and proper construction but at the time I consulted Lauren from Wearing History over Instagram. I messaged her totally on a whim, not really expecting a response – she has so many followers I didn’t think she would have the time to help me with my project or see my message! However, I was delighted and surprised to receive a reply within the same evening: not only did she reply to my questions and direct me to the ‘Suit-A-Long‘ series on her blog, she also got out her version of the jacket to send me photos! I really appreciated her help and, very much encouraged, I awaited the arrival of my sewing supplies so I could get started on the real thing.

A very rough mock-up.

I had one more task to undertake before I could start making the coat: research. Having never made a tailored coat before, let alone a historical one, I felt incredibly out of my depth. Most of my preliminary tailoring knowledge was gained from watching Bernadette Banner’s videos on YouTube (indeed, without her endeavours in tailoring I doubt I would have attempted it at all!). Having seen her video (Re)Making a Victorian Coat, or: Tailoring is Hard, I had learned about tailor’s canvas, and where it should be placed in a coat, and the concept of padstitching. Another one of her videos, Actual Tailor Explains Pad Stitching for Perfect Collars & Lapels | Barbara of Royal Black Couture, features master tailor Barbara Pesendorfer and is essentially a masterclass in padstitching collars and lapels. Watching these videos gave me the reassurance that tailoring is, at least, something I could make a decent attempt at and, armed with my new-found confidence, I consulted my list of contemporary sewing manuals for some historical context and technique.

The most helpful contemporary sewing manual for this project, and the one to which I continued to refer to during the making of this jacket, was Juditha Blackburn’s The home dressmakers’ guide. Chapter 9, Cutting and making the tailored suit, contains a wealth of information and I was delighted to find that many of the techniques used in the Bernadette videos were mirrored in the instructions in this chapter. I do think that the information in this chapter is more suited to the closer fitting jackets of the early 1910s – the diagrams and illustrations seem to indicate as much – but I was still able to successfully use the instructions to make my jacket.

This diagram looks quite intimidating at first glance but once you break it down it’s pretty straightforward.

Now, finally, I could get started on the actual jacket. The first step was cutting out and, boy, was there a lot to cut out – I actually wrote out a list to make sure I had all my pieces in the correct fabrics. As well as the wool jacket pieces and the lining, I had to make sure I had the correct contrasting velvet pieces for the lapel, collar and cuffs. I also had to contend with canvas interlining. As per the instructions from Juditha Blackburn (pages 93-95), I cut out canvas for the: cuffs, collar, back neckline, back armscye, belt and front of the coat. As I didn’t have pattern pieces for the interlining in the back and front of the coat, I had to figure it out for myself but luckily Juditha was on hand with some helpful advice. On page 95, she advises that, for a jacket which has a front in one piece, the depth of the interlining at the armscye should be 2.5″ and the width at the bottom should be 4″. I followed the illustration on page 95 and drew out the shape of the interlining piece onto the front jacket pattern piece, which I then used to cut out the canvas. I also cut out approximately 2.5″ bands for the back armscye and neckline.

Various materials.

Before I could actually start putting all the pieces together, I had to try my hand at padstitching and add the all-important interlining to the jacket. I started with the pieces which required less shaping, like the cuffs and the pieces at the back of the jacket, to get familiar with the technique before tackling the collar and the lapels. Also, as I’m a beginner, I drew lines approximately 1.5 cm apart to create a guide for my stitching. It was definitely a challenge to find my rhythm with the pad-stitching as the stitches must be invisible from the right side of the fabric. Also, to add shaping to parts of the coat using padstitching, you sometimes have to hold the fabric in various peculiar ways. Nevertheless, I did eventually get the hang of it: I found that bringing the needle up back through the fabric just as you feel the point of it worked well to get consistently invisible stitches. I also finished any raw edges of the canvas with herringbone stitches.

Once I had finished pad-stitching a particular piece, I also cut away the seam allowance in order to reduce bulk at the seams. The only place I didn’t do this was at the shoulder seams as Juditha states on page 94 that the ‘canvas is sewed in with the shoulder seams’. I cut away the seam allowances after pad-stitching them on because Bernadette and Barbara note in their video that the process of curving the canvas to add shape can reduce the seam allowance as the canvas curves more than the material beneath (they explain this better than I can in the video!).

Pad-stitched back pieces.

Pad-stitching the collar and the lapels was a very daunting prospect but one that I was really excited about; having seen the witchcraft of padstitching in creating well-behaved lapels in Bernadette’s videos, I couldn’t wait to try it for myself. The process of putting interlining and structure into the front of the jacket involved quite a few steps, the first of which was to draw out seam allowances, the roll line and other important markings onto the canvas. I did this so that I would no where to place my basting lines later on.

You can see where I marked the centre front line and the roll line, as well as seam allowances.

In Bernadette’s video about the process of remaking her Victorian coat, she goes into great detail about the placement and order of basting lines sewn to connect the interlining to the front pieces. The purpose of the lines is to reduce any wrinkling that the interlining may cause beneath the main fabric of your coat or jacket. She is emphatic about the fact that her videos are not tutorials but I used her example on my own coat as her process made a lot of sense to me and came from contemporary sources. The order of the basting lines goes as folllows:

  1. shoulder point closest to the centre to hem
  2. across the curved edge of the interlining to the hem
  3. a short line across the interlining at the waist
  4. two basting lines from the waist line to the hem (to smooth down the interlining)
  5. two basting lines from the waist line up to the lapel roll line (to smooth up the interlining)
  6. a basting line at the roll line of the lapel
  7. shoulder point closest to the centre down towards the bottom of the armscye
  8. one at the armscye

Bernadette demonstrates these far more clearly in her video from approximately 25:55!

You can see my basting lines here, steps 1 and 2 became one but I don’t think that matters!

With all the preparations complete, I could now start actually pad-stitching. I curved the lapel over my finger at the roll line whilst I was stitching in order to set the lapels in this position, working from the roll line towards the edge of the lapel. It was quite difficult to hold the work like this but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Although the pad-stitching worked really well, I do wonder if my stitching should be smaller and the rows closer together – something to experiment with I think.

pad-stitched lapels.

At this point, I went back to my reseach and realised that I had overlooked a rather important notion needed for this project: a cotton or linen tape used to finished the front of the coat and roll line to stabilise these points. I quickly went online and ordered 1cm wide cotton tape but this oversight did stall the project – what was I going to do while I waited for the tape to arrive? Of course I don’t just spend all my time sewing, but I was so excited about this jacket and I wanted to carry on making it. Luckily, I did still have other things I could do but it meant that the rest of the making of this coat is not the most coherent!

If Juditha says I need tape, I need tape.

The first thing I decided to do was put together the lining. After all, it didn’t require any of the structuring that the outer jacket did and I could put it together very quickly. However, making the lining did reveal another part of my sewing inventory that was lacking: a sleeve ironing board. The sleeves on this pattern are made from two parts and the shaping of them creates a slight curve in the sleeve. Consequently, the seams can’t be ironed flat on a normal ironing board. I figured I could get away with a shoddily-pressed sleeve on the lining but it wouldn’t do for the main coat – and to be honest it’s a good thing for me to have for future sewing projects anyway. I found a sleeve board from wilko which was a really good price and put in an order. I was still able to seam together the outer sleeves and the short edges of inner and outer cuffs but, without the sleeve board to press them, I had to set them aside.

The lining.

Next, I decided to work on the collar. As well as padstitching to add structure, I changed the pattern of the collar slightly according to the guidance in Bernadette’s videos and Juditha Blackburn. These sources instruct that the undercollar and canvas should be cut in two pieces on the bias so that they naturally curve around the neckline. Once I had sewn the centre seams of these pieces and laid the canvas on top of the undercollar, I drew the seam allowances, roll line and padstiching guides onto the canvas. Following the instructions from Bernadette’s video with Barbara (I followed this video very closely for pad-stitching the collar), I basted the collar and canvas together along the roll line before starting my pad-stitching on the collar stand. Once this was finished, I padstitched the main part of the collar by working in diagonal rows from the centre to the edge of the collar, one half then the other.

The basting line, and pad stitching on the collar stand.

Once this was complete, I sewed the undercollar and upper collar (which is cut on the straight grain) together, right sides together. I turned the collar right sides out and pressed it carefully so as not to crush the velvet. By this point, I had realised that a velvet board was not necessary and I could press the velvet carefully and not the right side up. I pinned and secured the pleats by topstitching them up to the roll line. Once I had done this, I realised that the collar wanted to stand up by itself, making me reconsider how I would attach it to the coat. This step was a little far off in the project but I suspected that I could attach it to the coat with the seam allowances of the collar and necline matching and not have the same issues that I had with my mock-up.

On my list of things I could do without my sleeve board and tape, the only thing left was the pockets. The pattern has the option for a breast pocket as well as two lower pockets but I decided to just go with the two lower pockets. The pattern also suggests a couple of methods for finishing the top edge of the pocket, including bagging out with a lining and a facing, as the historical pattern is characteristically vague. I decided to go with a facing as I didn’t want to be able to see the black cotton I would’ve used to line the pocket all around the edge. I cut a facing and hemmed it before sewing it right sides together to the pocket. I cut notches around the curves then turned out and pressed the facing. Then I finished the pocket by sewing velvet ribbon trim across the top edge. The pattern suggests sewing the pockets to the front of the coat before assembling the rest of it; however, I knew that I wanted to add two rows of velvet ribbon trim to the bottom of the coat which would mean I would probably have to move the pockets futher up. Without knowing the exact placement of my velvet ribbon trim, I didn’t know where my pockets would end up going!

Luckily, just as I ran out of things I could do on my jacket without the supplies I need, the sleeve board arrived. I’m so happy with it and it was so satisfying to see my neatly pressed sleeves with no crease down the middle like you get when you iron sleeves on a normal ironing board.

I don’t know why I didn’t buy one of these sooner.
Neatly pressed sleeves.

Next, I could carry on working on my cuffs. I had sewn the short edges together previously but now I could press them properly on the sleeve board. Next, I pinned the inner and outer cuff together right sides together and sewed them under the machine.

You can see the tailors’ canvas doing its job!

Next, I cut notches along the curves and turned them right sides out. As my jacket has a lining, attaching the cuffs to the coat was really easy. All I had to do was slide the cuff over the bottom of the sleeve, matching the seam of the cuff to the seam at the back of the sleeve, and sew it in place. The raw edges fold into the sleeve to be covered by the lining.

I started to get really excited about the contrast features here.

Three days later, and two weeks into the jacket project, my tape finally arrived and I could start making progress again. First, I felled the tape across the roll line, then felled tape from the shoulder seam to 2″ above the bottom edge of the jacket (allowing for the hem) along the centre edge of the canvas.

Working out how much tape I would need.

Once I had done this, I was finally able to sewn together the shoulder and side seams! I decided to sew a piece of tape over the shoulder seam as this is seam which deals with a lot of pressure and I don’t want it to split in the future.

It’s such a shame that all this interlining and work will never be seen again.

I did briefly wonder whether I should finish canvas around the armscye with tape in order to give it more structure. I consulted my Instagram followers but ended up with a decidely unhelpful 50/50 split on whether I should use tape or a herringbone stitch. I did a bit of research, using websites like this one, and found that tape is usually specified as being used along the roll line and front edge. As I figured it would have said either online or in my contemporary sewing manuals if I was supposed to use tape, I went with a herringbone stitch.

I finished all the raw edges of canvas with a herirngbone stitch.

With the side seams and shoulder seams sewn together, I could finally set in the sleeves. These sleeves do not require much easing and I found that I was able to get away without putting in a line of gathering stitches to help ease in the sleeve. However, I still basted in the sleeve before sewing it in properly.

Set-in sleeves.

Before I could do the next logical step and sew in my facing, I actually had to sew on my trim. I want the ends of the trim to disappear into the facing so I had to do those first. Sewing on the trim involved a bit of unexpected maths: as the skirt and the jacket form one suit, I wanted the distance between the first and second bands of trim to be proportional to the corresponding trim on the skirt. In order to figure this out, I first had to decide where I wanted the lower band of trim to go. At first, I pinned it 2″ from the bottom but when I stood back to have a look at it I decided a distance of 1.5″ looked better. Then, using the measurements from the skirt, I worked out using that the upper band of trim had to be approximately 1.5cm above the lower one. Once I had sewn on the trim, I could finally attach my pockets, approximately an inch above where they were originally meant to go.

Sewing on the pocket.

Next, I could sew in the facing. This was a very easy step but once I pressed the facing, I wasn’t happy with how it was sitting. It was laying perfectly over the lapel but kept peeking out from behind the front edge of the coat. In order to fix this, I decided to understitch the facing up to the point at which the lapel folds back. I don’t know if this is a technique that was used historically; Cathy Hay recently uploaded a video in which she describes how a tailor would sew the lapel and front edge by hand in order to overlap the lapel slightly over the outer fabric, and overlap the outer fabric over the facing on the lower portion of the jacket to get them sitting correctly. I could’ve done it this way but I’m satisfied with the way I chose to do it. I’d done so much hand-sewing by this point, and I had so much to go that I was happy to forgo this bit of technical sewing!

After the facing had been understitched.

The next step in the project was attaching the collar, and for this I referred to the collar portion of Wearing History’s ‘Suit-A-Long‘. As with most historical patterns, the instructions for this section were pretty lacking so it was really helpful to have photos to refer to. As I mentioned above, once I had constructed the collar with all the interlining, it stood nice and proud. For this reason, I wasn’t worried about it collapsing. So I went ahead and attached it to the collar (just across the back of the jacket at this point) with the seam allowances even. As I suspected, the collar stood really nicely. In order to attach the sections of the collar which lie over the lapel, I had sewed them about 1cm or so in front of the roll line of the lapel so that they wouldn’t be visible and could be covered by the lining.

Pinning in the collar.

With the collar done, I could move on to the hem. First, I pinned the hem, including the facing, up by 2″ and used whip stitches to sewn it in place. Once I had done that I could hand-sew the facing down; I left about 2″ loose at the bottom of the facing so that I could fold the lining over the raw edge of the facing at the hem to enclose it. I also trimmed back the facing so that I could whip stitch it to the canvas rather than the wool, avoiding a potentially visible seam.

Bewing the hem.

Before I sewed in the lining, I went over the jacket adding finishing touches. Firstly, I sewed another line of stitching around the pockets and a small reinforcement square of wool and canvas on the wrong side of the top corners. I also whip stitched the seam allowance of the sleeve to the armscye, and the seam allowance of the cuff to the inside of the sleeve.

Now, finally, I could sew in the lining. As the pattern doesn’t come with lining pieces, and I had used a contrast facing, I had to figure out what shape the front lining pieces needed to be. To figure this out, I pinned in the lining along the back neckline and the centre front of the coat up to the bottom of the lapel. As the centre front is just a rectangle, I was able to measure how much I need to take the lining back by. With these areas pinned, I put the jacket on my mannequin inside out so that I could smooth out and pin the lining in place so that it would not be visible when the jacket is worn. This took a lot of trial and error but once I had figure out one side, I could cut the lining back to the right place and use that piece as a guide for how much to cut the other side back by.

The row of pins on the facing mark the roll line of the lapel.

Next, I sewed the lining in place by hand along on each side but the hem. I wanted to try on the coat without the hem sewn in place so I could make sure the lining wasn’t too tight or baggy. When I was satisfied that the lining was the right length I sewed it in place.

To finish the lining and bottom of the lapel, I folded the lining over the facing to enclose the raw edge of the facing and sewed it in place. The I sewed the bottom of the facing closed.

Finishing the facing.

With that the end was finally in sight, I just had to finish the belt and closures!

I started with the belt, which, due to my own mistakes, ended up being more complicated than I thought it would be. Once I had sewn the belt and belt lining together and turned it right sides out, I realised that it was far too big. I marked with chalk how wide it should be but then I cut along that line, totally forgetting to add seam allowance. That meant I had to totally remake the belt but luckily I had loads of wool and cotton to spare, and I was able to salvage the canvas from the belt. I cut out the right size and quickly whipped up a new one. I did keep one end of the belt as a straight edge rather than have both of them curved. As one edge is hidden behind the other I didn’t think it was necessary for them both to be curved. I also didn’t bother with pad-stitching the canvas to the wool. As I knew that remaking this belt would set me back a day, I didn’t want to spend the extra time and I foound that a wide running stitch (invisble from the right side) worked just as well.

The belt wouldn’t be complete without trim. I though that outlining the belt with the velvet ribbon trim would break up the wool of the coat nicely and really elevate it – the trim also matches the trim on the skirt belt! As with the belt on the skirt, adding the trim meant I didn’t have space for buttons, so I added hooks and bars instead. It did take me about four attempts to get the hooks and bars in the right place: the first time the belt was too tight, the second I moved them over too far so the ribbon on the straight edge of the belt was visible and the third time the bars weren’t quite even! I got there in the end though.

Once I had finished trimming the belt I was also able to assess how well I had estimated how much velvet ribbon I would need for this project. I bought 12m of ribbon to trim and skirt and the jacket and I had a grand total of 41cm left! Cutting it fine or exceptional planning? I’ll let you form your own opinion….

The last ribbon standing.

As with the skirt, I decided to finish the jacket with bound buttonholes as I think they will be more hardwearing and looks good with the contrasting buttons. It took a few attempts to figure out exactly what placement I wanted for the buttons. Looking at contemporary images, I noticed that the buttons on jackets tended to be clustered towards the middle of the coat rather than spaced evenly along the centre front. At first I only wanted four buttons but I found it was difficult to space them so that the buttons didn’t interfere with the belt but weren’t too spaced out. I also found that in order to have them equally spaced, the top button was too far away from the waistline, creating gaping. As I want the option to wear this jacket without the belt, I needed the buttons to be evenly spaced so that they didn’t look strange. In the end, I added an extra button, that way there was one button behind the top of the belt and one behind the bottom and the other three were evenly spaced below.

Marking button placement.

I made my bound buttonholes slightly different to those on the skirt. Firstly, I decided to make them 3cm wide instead of 2.5cm which definitely works better with the 2cm buttons. Also, I pressed the wool binding in place instead of basting it and this seemed to work just as well. I think one advantage this jacket had over the skirt in terms of buttonholes is that there are fewer layers of fabric in the jacket. Consequently, the buttonholes are less bulky.

Finally, I could sew on the buttons, hand-covered velvet ones like on my skirt, and the jacket was complete.

Finished buttons and buttonholes.

Phew! If you stuck with me long enough to get to this point then I highly commend your patience! This jacket took me just over three weeks to make and, though challenging, it was such a fulfilling project. I learned so much about tailoring and it was fascinating to work from both modern and historical sources and see so much consistency! This project also led to some wonderful conversations with my Grandma, who has a wealth of sewing knowledge. I learned that she had made a suit for my Grandad in the past, so I was able to seek her opinion on placement of tailors’ canvas and construction. Again, interestingly, everything she told me lined up with what I’d been reading! I’m sure I have so much more to learn but for a first attempt, I’m very pleased with myself – not only have I made my first jacket, I’ve made my first historical jacket and my first tailored one! Even though this is a c.1916 jacket, I intend to wear it a lot in my everyday life (it’s probably the most ‘modern’ looking garment from this project!) and I was able to prove that it’s warm enough for a snow day this week!

Now when I started this project, I had intended for this to be the final project in this late-1910s series. However, the more I think about it, it would be highly improper for a late-1910s lady to leave her home without a hat so, I guess I need to make a hat. Stay tuned for millinery attempts, how can this go wrong?

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