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Nov 15, 2011

Peter's 1944 Topper Project + COAT QUIZ!

Readers, having recently put the finishing touches on my 1944 misses' jumper -- which evidently stirs up unpleasant young Jane Eyre at Lowood charity school-type memories for a number of you -- I am now ready to get started on the most challenging and exciting of my three 1944 garments, the vintage Butterick topper.

As you may or may not know already, a topper is a woman's short, lightweight coat. This is a tailored garment, and there will be a good deal of hand sewing involved, horsehair interfacing, twill tape, etc.  The coat has welt pockets, but because they are located on a seam, there's none of that complicated pulling one layer through another.

There are also -- saints be praised -- no buttons, which means no bound buttonholes.  So I'm approaching this as sort of a practice tailoring exercise: just enough to be challenging, but not so much as to be discouraging.

You may recall that this is a refashioning project.  My fabric is a vintage wool blanket purchased at the Chelsea flea market.  I wouldn't be surprised if the blanket dated back to the 1940's itself.

While the seller claims to have had the blanket dry cleaned, it retains a -- how shall I put this? -- distinct aroma of basement, with some damp attic top notes; halfway between a moldy Featherweight carrying case and a washing machine full of old cardigans.  I think the damp weather may be contributing as well.  It wasn't apparent when I purchased it, but steaming seems to have restored its original smell.  I am hoping this will dissipate over time.

Butterick 2969 is an unprinted pattern and, right out of the envelope, the pieces resembled those wadded-up Kleenex one occasionally finds at the bottom of pants pockets after doing the laundry.  Thankfully, with a little careful dry ironing, I was able to bring the pattern back to life. 

I needed to bring the blanket back to life as well.  It measures 66" x 82" and is not without its cosmetic flaws, which I proceeded to outline in white chalk so I could cut around them.  Nothing major -- just some small tears, areas of excessive wear, light stains and discoloration.  

For topstitching, I'll be using beige cotton thread, which adds some much-needed freshness to the look of the fabric.  The wool is relatively easy to work with so far, though quite thick.

Friends, I had planned today to post a few similar vintage Forties women's coat patterns available on Etsy, and there are quite a few, like this one:

But as I was looking through coat patterns, I noticed a very odd trend.  I have decided to let you identify just what this trend is, in the form of a quiz.

1) What is wrong with distinctive about the following coat patterns?

2) What do these patterns suggest about a) fashion trends, b) home sewing, c) pattern companies, d) anything else you can think of?

Readers, I must start my day.  I hope you will take a moment to respond to today's quiz, as well as to share your best time-tested methods of removing dank smells from old wool.  You've been so helpful in the past with my old luggage (now sold, thankfully) and Featherweight case!

Have a sweet-scented day, everybody!


  1. I'll state the over-obvious: All the patterns above lack fitting in the bodice. Why? It was fashionable during some era's, and it's also easier to sew. No need for a toile, just jump straight in! And this is just not with regards to the waist, but the back, the shoulders - and thereby the sleeves...

    These patterns removes fitting as an issue, making the process easy. While this style suits a lot of people, it's not good on me. I prefer the close-fitting princess style I made my winter coat in ; )

    There, a simple observation, but I'll leave the more complex analysies to others =)

  2. your topper is looking tops thus far! i know, i know...that's a really bad's not at all punny....sorry!!!

    Clearly it's time for bed in my hemisphere:/

  3. Peter,

    What about making matching dog coats?

    Wouldn't Cathy look smart sporting two pooches who exhibit fashion parity with her?

    Oh, the photo-ops!


  4. All those coats are uni-sex — and could fit two people inside their big, boxy shapes. (Cuddly!) You could have his and hers coats that equally unattractive on both sexes.

  5. I agree Suzanne! There is nothing more unattractive and that will turn me off from a pattern than making it gender neutral. Yuck!

  6. Soak the fabric overnight in borax dissolved in water, then rinse and dry.

  7. White vinegar also gets mildew smells out of fabric. Put the wool in a tub of water with a cup or two of white vinegar and soak.

  8. The coats are "ok", but they neither flatter the male nor female model. They do send the message that a thick sweater would work underneath.

    If I had room to sew a coat, (and lived in a climate that justified the effort,) I would definitely prefer something intended to flatter the female shape. Your choice for Cathy is lovely.

  9. As long as wash and rinse water are the same temperature, you can wash wool safely. In a washing machine, this means cold water only. The fabric must air dry. My mother used to wash our wool blankets annually. She hung them on the line to dry and they smelled great.

    All those coat patterns are oversized enough to fit the model and two of their closest friends.

  10. Another idea with the vinegar-when I am getting ready to sell something vintage that I can't wash and can't afford to dry clean, I put some (about a 1/2 cup) vinegar in the watertank in my steamer and steam the garment that way. It seems to help quite a bit. Vinegar gets out sweat stains too-it neutralizes the protein in the stain. I think your coat is going to be lovely!

  11. I collect antique kimono ( and one problem I do have with a large number of my kimono is a strong musty smell - sometimes also cigarette smell. My kimono are all different fabrics, some are silk, some rayon, some wool, some cotton and I've used a number of different methods, all rather successfully:

    1. Hanging the kimono outside to air, or by an open window if you don't have a yard or balcony.

    2. Placed the kimono in a plastic box with a saucer of baking soda on top (I didn't sprinkle the baking soda on the kimono - that would be hard to get out), then placed the lid on. The smell was absorbed.

    3. Activated carbon - there's a number of ways you can get this, pet stores have them for litter boxes, Fish stores have them for filters, etc I've even heard of people using Dr. Scholl's oder control insoles. You then essentially do the same thing as #2 above - place the item in a plastic box, put the carbon in, put the lid on, voila!

    I hope this helps!

    Oh - one last thing I remember from a friend who worked in the costume dept. at a theatre. A spray bottle full of cheap vodka and spray it on the garments. It apparently kills the odour very effectively. I personally haven't tried this as my kimono are extremely old and many of the dyes are not colour fast - but she used to use it on all manner of vintage clothing after the actors took them off and it instantly killed any smell. They used cheap vodka, because, you know, you want to keep the expensive one for drinking!

  12. i despise unisex patterns. our bodies are not (generally) shaped like a lincoln log. why would anyone spend all that time making a coat to fit a roof beam?

  13. Oh, I think your coat is going to be great! I love that you have picked a happy color for such a drab time of year.

    When it comes to clothing, I tend to feel about unisex the same way I feel about one-size-fits-all... one-size-fits-no-one.

  14. Yep, those are all unisex, and they do all appear to be of 70s or 80s vintage. I confess that I do like the first Simplicity one with the toggle buttons and the hood. And I also have to confess that I owned a RTW version of Simplicity 7996... we called them "barn coats" if memory serves. It was just as boxy as those patterns.

  15. unisex nightmares!
    and recalling the post a few days ago about men's sewing patterns, I'll never sew something "unisex" for my sweetheart.
    Oh crap, I did... bedpants. (insert look of shame.)

  16. The patten company also wants the sewist to be happy with his / her result. That way they will hopefully get repeat business. Putting out a huge boxy coat is a no-brainer. The sewist can't fail in getting a big sloppy coat. The question is, who wants to look that bad?!

  17. I love the pink blanket come coat idea - I'm going to be checking the opshops for old blankets now! Yours is a gorgeous colour, and the topstitching looks beautiful!

  18. Hmmm, Peter, cool idea using a vintage blanket.

    For smell, I'd go with the activated charcoal. No need to touch the fabric. I put whatever stinks in a sealed bag with a bag of charcoal for a month. Works for books, too.

    Those coats have to be boxy to fit over the boxy suit jackets with mega shoulder pads. Not very warm either, as the winter wind blows up them. Horrible 80s fashion. Love 80s fashion in Goodwill as there's always lots of fabric to recycle, but to wear - no!

  19. It's so fun to be in touch with other folks who simply love the look of 1940's pattern instructions! I think because it was my mother's era I've always felt it was mine. Weren't things classier then? I love unprinted patterns too, and dry-ironing them and figuring out their various little punctures. When I'm finishing the inside seams of my garments, I think, no one will know but me, and yet it gives me joy to do it. I wear my clothes for so long that they turn vintage on me, and then I love them because I've had them so long. I recycle them as a different "layer" than before, wearing old summer blouses under light jackets in spring, etc, to give them twice-long life. If something actually does wear out past mending I sometime "replace" it with a similar garment in a similar plaid or print. It's become such a part of my days I need to continue it somehow. All this is just a way of expressing joy in being on the planet. Being in touch with other -- much more fashionable than me! -- people who love these things is a joy in itself.

  20. I am really loving the colour of your coat! It's going to look fabulous with the grey pinafore! I am loving it!

  21. Because so many already gave such great answers to the quiz, I’m just going to say, “ditto” to all.

    I like the choice of thread color for the coat. It will give the garment lovely subtle detail. The Chihuahuas will be upset to lose their blanket, poor babies. Be sure to give them some extra love!

    I think the coat will look great with the jumper, which I really like, by the way. A very tailored look. I am in awe of your bravery to sew plaid. I am not worthy.

  22. But your commenters have yet to deal with your most interesting question: what does the unisex pattern "issue" suggest about a) fashion trends, b) home sewing, c) pattern companies, d) anything else you can think of?
    a) obvious -- we've been androgynizing in one or another section of the fashion world since the 60's, b) probably NOT that there are more men sewing, but rather that people are too cheap to want to buy 2 separate patterns when it's time to make the family some coats (ha!), c) not sure here, perhaps see (b), and d) hmmmm... now it will get interesting.
    Let's rephrase (rather than answer): what is the source of the androgynizing of fashion and the human form in general (eg, runway models with no distinctly feminine or masculine features standing out)?

  23. In my climate those big boxy shapes are quite appropriate if you ask me. We have almost constant rain, but the weather is not cold- cold, just never warm. Something like this protects from the rain but allows for the temperature fluctuations. also I like the styles of my youth.

  24. I was able to get rid of noxious mothball odor from 30 year old wool by laying it in the sunshine for an afternoon. Vodka has already been mentioned by others, it will kill bacterial so spaying it should help eliminate and moldy/mildewy smells. Can't wait to see the finished topper! Good luck!

  25. Spayed vodka? What an image!

  26. Peter - first you must understand I'm from below the Mason-Dixon line (the Southern Plains) where we ahr acclimaitud tuh hundud ahnd fuftain dahgres in de shaid!!!! Therefore we think the sun can cure all sins - there is nothing I find that gets out that old nasty moldy smell that a good sun-soaking. I either hang the garment on a hanger and on the outside line, or just draped over the line. Of course if it's a dark color and prone to color fading, it's not out there long, but if it's a light shade I might leave it out for two days.

    Also I'm sure you know this but chlorine is the tradition remedy for mold eradication, but if your stuff isn't white that doesn't work too well.

  27. I have nothing to add to all these good ideas for smell removal. Just copying them all down for future reference. Have done the vodka thing when I worked for a ballet company. Works like a charm.
    I love the pink coat. Just remember, Peter, to use your interfacing in the hem to avoid hand hem stitches dimpling on the outside in that thick fabric. I speak from experience!

  28. 1) They're awful for both sexes
    2) Pattern companies like to print patterns for what's currently 'in' in fashion, even if it's ugly. :)

    ps: your coat is turning out lovely, though.

  29. Love to see this topper evolving!!!

    Here is another thought using a modern blanket that was given to me as a challenge:

  30. The vodka thing is for prevention of odour after a costume has been sweated in: it kills the bacteria that cause the smell. (I'm an ex-theatre person myself.) I don't know that it would work for old, musty smells.

    I love the pink of that blanket, by the way.

  31. This pink color is really beautiful, modern pinks have been really corrupted by Barbie or something - its just not he color it once was.


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