Fear and Loathing on the Sewing Room Table: A cry for tailoring help

Embarrassingly enough, this is the fourth year in which I’ve had this project hanging over my head. It’s a top coat meant for my husband that I started back when this was the approximate level of my sewing skills (ambitious little sewist, I know.).

I used a pattern that I just should not have used (it was a morning coat, not a top coat, so didn’t have the correct amount of ease); I changed it a lot when I didn’t really know what I was doing; and hack after hack to undo error after error has piled up.

The thing is, it’s actually pretty damn close to being finished: the entire shell is constructed, and it’s completely hemmed and lined. The length and fit through the chest and waist are pretty decent. All that remains is to attach the collar, attach the sleeves and line them, do the buttons, and cover up the remaining of exposed seam allowances with the mostly-installed lining.

But I am absolutely paralyzed by two to three questions that have kept me from making any progress for the last six weeks. Opinions, tips, links to reference books most welcome. 

  • What should I do about the collar? The existing collar pattern simply does not fit the collar opening of the jacket. To address said jacket ease problem, I opened up the back seam and the shoulder seams an awful lot. The original collar pattern as traced does not have markings for where it is supposed to hit the should seams, so I can’t simply add distance at the shoulder seams and center back, never mind that I have no idea how much distance I’ve actually added and where.
    • think I need to draft a new collar, but the only references I can find for doing so are for drafting collars when you have an existing pattern. I do not have an existing pattern. Should I just try to trace the mostly made coat in order to approximate the pattern (something akin to the ‘rub-off’ method) and go from there?
    • Something else entirely? Here’s a close-up of the front and the front facing, for what it’s worth.

  • Where should I attach the sleeve? I cut my pattern pieces with very, very wide seam allowances. I did attempt to trace the original seam lines. Problem is, the morning coat/ease thing. I had my husband try the coat shell on while wearing a blazer, and the existing traced shoulder/armholes approximately follow the seam lines of his blazer. That means there’s not enough wearing ease, I think. Is there a rule of thumb for how far past the shoulder point a top coat should extend to allow a blazer to be worn underneath? In this pic, the right-most neon pink thread represents what I think may have ben the initial seam line but am not sure. The white threat in long basting stitches is what would be about half inch past the shoulder point of his jacket.

  • Is there a rule of thumb for button distance on coats? I believe the first button on a top coat is meant to go just below the roll line. Most men’s top coats I see have three buttons total. How far apart should they be, do you reckon?

  • Should I just scrap this shit now? I really considered it about three weeks ago. On the one hand, I’ve spent an awful lot of time and energy on it. I mean, look at these innards! But I’m worried that the collar thing in particular is essentially a problem too big for me to undo.

  • And finally: Is there a good-looking simple mens top coat pattern out there? I basically want this.   I just can’t believe there’s no pattern out there for such a classic silhouette, but damned if I’ve been able to find one.  I would honestly attempt this again, now that I feel so much more prepared sewing skill wise. (And no, the Japanese patterns won’t work. Dr. Wasted is decidedly US-sized, and I’m not a glutton for grading punishment like that.).



  1. Burda 6932 is similar. At this point, with all your troubles, I would scrap it and start fresh. Knowing what you know now will help make the next one much better. Good luck.

    1. Thanks, Barb! Burda 6932 looks like a great pattern, but it’s a little more casual than what I’m after (it doesn’t have a lapel, just the collar on the top). Honestly, if I could find a pattern out there that I gave me the starting point I wanted, I might have scrapped the whole thing two years ago. I just can’t seem to. Elena’s ideas on the collar below give me a a bit of hope that this thing might be salvageable yet, but it’s probably important to keep in mind that this is a learning process if the whole thing still turns out sideways.

  2. I’m so proud of you and I don’t even know you! I’d try a couple muslin drafts and see if you could make one of them work before I tossed it. That would give you an experience base for a fresh project. YOU MIGHT BE ABLE to pull this rabbit out of the hat! You’ve done so well already. What a delight to read about your hard work.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! Elena’s ideas below give me a fresh starting point for the most complex issue. I’ll definitely try muslining the collar a few times before settling on an adapted pattern.

  3. I think you should finish it, even if it doesn’t come out quite right, but for the sake of a learning experience. I’ll try to help with your questions but note that I do NOT specialise in menswear! We did a bit of menswear in college just to show us just why exactly we should leave it alone (I do women’s clothing). So take this with a pinch of salt!

    1. Collar. You should be able to salvage it – I assume you still have either the original pattern of that piece or the piece itself which you can now use as a pattern. 🙂 Fold it in two so the tips match up – the fold line is your centre back. Cut it in two. Baste the two halves where they should go from the tips – you’ll have a hole at centre back, and that’s what you need to add. It may also happen that as you’re basting from the tips, the collar starts resisting and won’t follow the neckline. Ah! That’s where the seam line was supposed to be, so cut about there right across the collar and spread it so it lies nicely. Transfer to paper – here is your pattern.

    2. Sleeve. Try attaching it just past the point where your husband’s blaser sleeve ends. Then try it on. 🙂 Don’t forget that shouder pads change things.

    3. Buttons. Top button just where the collar breaks, then every 12-15cm depending on the size of the button. There is no hard rule, it should just look right. 🙂

    Good luck!

    1. Amazing. Your instructions on the collar make so much sense to me, and I’m definitely going to have a go at doing it that way before walking away from this project. I almost feel a bit dumb for not being able to figure out that the point where the collar is resisting is the point where it needs to be spread! I’m so glad you pointed that out. 🙂

      Noted on points 2 & 3, I’ll try that. Thank you so much!

      1. You are welcome! Hope it works out. 🙂 You’ve done so well already on this coat! It’s easy enough to follow a pattern to the letter, but difficulties arise when you have to modify it. I think this coat still has a few things you can learn from, so definitely worth while to persevere, even if you decide that next time you would definitely do it differently! But that’s the thing – if you didn’t have this practice now, how would you know to do it differently next time? 😉

        Someone clever said that we don’t learn much from things that go right. It’s when it goes wrong, that we start learning!

    1. Ha, thanks for that.

      On Burda 6871: I think it’s an updated version of what I originally used. It’s true the cut is quite similar. BUT it’s more of a tunic-length suit jacket than it is an overcoat. That was my first problem. (Well, that, and I used an old pattern where the tissue had been distorted, but never mind.) Granted, I didn’t know enough back then to know to check for adequate ease, so maybe I’d be in a better place today. But I still don’t know that the pattern would work since I’m after something you could wear a suit jacket under.

      (It seriously shouldn’t be this hard to find a real men’s overcoat pattern. I’ve been looking for like four years.)

  4. I agree with the others that this is a valuable learning experience and you should stick it through! Having said that, the original design you have in mind reminded me of one Butterick pattern I saw… the Butterick B6502. Not exactly what you’re looking for but just might be close enough?

    1. Sticking with it, and actually getting somewhere!
      B6502 might work. The front looks about right, so would be a matter of taking that frock look out of the back— might be easier than the types of changes I had to make for this thing.

  5. I hope that you can make this one work, but for men’s patterns definitely search Ebay and Etsy. Vintage and older patterns are great for men as so much of what they wear are classics and don’t need to be reinvented.

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