I made a quilt coat. I’ve always wanted one, for years and years, but finally the circles of fashion, need and time to make overlapped.
Here in the UK we have been in a 4 week lockdown to suppress the second wave of Covid. In the first lockdown, I distracted myself from the fresh panic and strangeness of that time by making a Silk Quilted Petticoat after the 1770’s style. In the everlasting summer of 2020, this project was the perfect escapism. Six months on we are all weary, battle scarred and the dark grey November lockdown, whilst less panicked, has now been an exercise in grim determination to get through. A buttery silk petticoat wasn’t what was needed, instead this make, bourne out of thrift and need, has been a brilliant project crutch.
I first saw quilted jackets back in 2000 when I found myself as a 20 something, rocking up at my first quilt show. I started making quilts after a period living in New England surrounded by beautiful faded romantic patchwork quilts, and reading about the work of Denyse Schmidt’s modern quilts in a newspaper magazine as I sat in an airport ( I talk about the power of this moment in my Great British Quilter Interview if you’re so inclined). My ‘quilt aesthetic’ was forged in this moment, I loved the romanticism of the patchwork quilt, the sense of history and craft, but I like modern style. For anyone who has made their first quilt since 2008 you’ll be like ‘well, yes’ but before that time this was not an aesthetic that you’d really find many places if you went looking for quilts. The quilt world was dominated by either contemporary quilters setting fire to wire rusted fabric or all about reproduction fabrics – both beautiful in their own way, but neither reflected what I had in my head. Fresh modern quilts that referenced the past, but that fitted in my modern home as a 20 something. Now it goes without saying that in the fashion norms of the early 2000’s as a young woman, quilted clothing was really not at the height of it’s fashion arc!
Fast forward 20 years and suddenly in this strangest of years a quilted coat seemed like the answer to everything! I’m working on a modern wholecloth (‘The Lilliesleaf Quilt’ search #lilliesleafquilt in IG to see as it takes shape this winter), part of a series i’m making that takes vernacular British quilt wholecloth hand quilted styles and make them modern by celebrating the quilting patterns by drawing them out in applique (see my The Misses Barron Quilt or Daisy Quilted England Quilt). The Lilliesleaf Quilt is based on the Hawick style of quilts, a series made by church groups for fundraising in the Scottish border region in the early 1900s and I’m making mine on a background of inky navy/grey linen. I had a nice sized offcut of this gorgeous linen and I immediately thought i’d like to wear it!
The lining was also an easy decision. I had a pretty piece of Liberty Fabric poplin that I had bought a year or more ago with plans for some garment in mind that it’s crisp nature made it unsuited for, yet this very crispness would make the perfect luxurious lining.
Once I started to consider a quilted coat I almost immediately got stuck on what element of patchwork I wanted to include. I love the look of the quilt coats made from repurposing an old faded quilt, but as a quilt historian i could never bring myself to cut one up, and anyway they don’t exist in the numbers in the UK that they might in the US to accommodate this, and especially during a nationwide lockdown. The answer came to me as we all watched across the pond at the American elected a new president at the start of November.
Back in the autumn of 2016 my family were holidaying in New York state with family that live in NYC. We were telling our young kids that they would see an historic election as the polls showed Hillary’s victory as a near certainty. We enjoyed a week in the city then time upstate in Hudson, a charming historic small town, set up the majestic Hudson River from the city. Hunkered down in amongst the autumn colour of the Catskill mountains I made a real feel good project, a New York Beauty block. At that time I ran a sewing school and small shop and we had reached out to Janice of Better off Thread for permission to teach her fun pattern. Anyone else who runs a small business will know that when your hobby becomes your job very often you find yourself without any time to enjoy what you once loved about it! At this time I was doing almost no sewing apart from teaching and so a week away with the chance to make something just for the fun was such a treat. I whipped up a version of this fun block, then took it to all the NYC tourist handouts with my kids. The election didn’t turn out like we expected, but it’s still a fun souvenir.
As I watched the agonisingly slow trickle of results in this year’s US election declare and reflected on 4 years previously, I knew that I had to remake the block, and that it was perfect for my coat. I raided a stack of fabric that I have been curating for a project I plan to start in the new year, a smokey mix of browns, mustards, icy blues and a pop of Turkey red. I pulled 32 colours, made a colourwheel and was away.
Foundation piecing is a Marmite technique, you either love it or hate it. I find it almost hypnotically relaxing in this kind of block where you just sew, trim, repeat over and over again without having to relearn FPP each piece you add which can put many people off this versatile technique. It was just the project to see out the long nail biting wait for a result in this 2020 US Election.
I had already decided on a garment pattern, the Wiksten Haori Jacket . This soft modern jacket is a classic for a reason and a million versions exist online so there’s no shortage of advice and hacks to this pattern. I knew that I wanted to make a short version as I like to wear dresses and this would be a fun throw on over a buffet style dress, plus many suggest the hack of making a half size collar to avoid being swamped by material. There is also a lot of advice to size down if you don’t want a really roomy jacket. I pieced the jacket out of the quilt top linen offcuts, but I needed to add some extra fabric to eek it out. I went for a lovely linen from Raystitch that forms the background of the New York Beauty and the inside of the collar.
There is an inevitable quandary when you make a quilted item rather than a standard coat. Usually the lining is made separately to sit inside the outer and all the seams are enclosed inside. But if you want to make a quilted jacket where the texture goes through to the lining you are left with a bulky seam to hide. Many dressmakers who have temporarily embraced quilting for this make solve this problem by binding the inner seams, a fiddly but ultimately nice neat finish. Asd a quilt maker dabbling in dressmaking I thought there was a better way, that would also give me a reversible jacket.
Back in the summer when I made my Silk Quilted Petticoat I spent a happy couple of weeks ensconced in research that has been done into these petticoats when they were made in the mid 1700’s. By looking at museum version, both the beautifully pristine version, but also the threadbare ones that revealed their bones, where seams and stitches can be seen and their secrets given up. What we know about old petticoats is that they were the first ‘ready to wear’ item in a fashion time when everything was made bespoke. Quilting was a specialist skill that actually needed two kinds of proficiency, an ability to design and mark a pattern, and the ability to sew the quilting. Quilted petticoats, akin to many clothes of that time, are made from uncut rectangles of cloth. In a time before cotton, when many fabrics were either imported (silks) or labour intensively created at home (linen) cutting into a fabric and rendering it un-alterable was avoided whenever possible. Items like shifts were made from a single rectangle with the underarm gusset cut out and repurposed as a godet to give body to the hem, and beautiful silk dresses were fashioned with elaborate trains that allowed fabric to remain uncut, their folds were just unpicked and remade as fashions changed or the wearer grew wider or narrower! Rectangular petticoats were pleated to a length of linen tape, then wrapped around the waist to fit. Therefore the rectangular quilted panel could be pre made and sold to anyone. The makers of these petticoat panels invented a special seam that allowed the panel to be worked on flat and then joined without a visible seam, they did this by quilting up the close to the side edges, then joined the outer, laid flat the batting, tucked under the lining to hide the seams then quilted over the lot, the flowing quilting pattern uninterrupted. This method would work equally well on a jacket so I decided to apply 1700’s tailoring tips to my 2020 jacket.
I knew that I would hand quilt this jacket, if gives the softest texture and I wanted a project that would distract as we endured another lockdown. I love to hand quilt and it was fun to play with echoed motifs in this make – flying geese and stars were added to the panels and arms.
As a part time research student, part time longarm quilter, part time charity Non-Exec Director I work from home. This year everyone is getting a taste of what those of us homeworkers have known for a while – that it gets really chilly after midday when you work at home and you want to eek out how long before you can put on the heating. My quilted jacket is so cosy. I highly recommend it to anyone in a similar situation, it’s just the best! Inevitably as a quilter of countless quilts, just one coat isn’t going to be enough? So many quilt blocks deserve an outing, but the ultimate accolade to the quilty coat is that my 18 year old teenager has asked for a version too. Perhaps this really is the moment for the quilted coat? I’d better enjoy it while it lasts!!