Monday, December 11, 2017

Towards a Truly Showerproof Trench: Modified McCalls 5525 in Anthracite Etaproof Cotton

I am in love with trench coats... this is my second one this year!

I'm not sure how I managed without a trench coat all of these years, it is just such a versatile garment. As a maker, I am enamored with all of the functional, beautiful details. 

That isn't to say that I don't LOVE my first trench, the Burberry Inspired Trench. I was wearing it constantly this fall, and enjoying it immensely. 

However, the Burberry-esque trench doesn't quite satisfy all of my trench desires. For one, it is rather heavy due to all of the tailoring details, the quality of the twill, the full lining, and the length. This isn't really a problem... in fact, it gives it a sense of substantiality that feels luxurious. It is also warm, which is great for the cool climate that I live in. I noticed this sense of weight with my handmade winter coat too, and I think that in an age of fast fashion, we just aren't used to the weight of a garment made with quality materials and traditional tailoring. However, I was thinking about how wonderful it would be to have a trench on my trip to Italy this spring, and the thought of taking such a weighty coat to a mediterranean climate seemed like a poor match. Hence began the dream of an unlined, shorter trench.

Also, I wasn't truly happy with the "showerproofing" situation. I have to say the Nixwax Cotton Proof on the first trench is doing its job and water beads up on the Burberry Inspired Trench, but a proper trench should be truly showerproof. The gold standard for trenches seems to be very tightly woven cottons that expand when exposed to wet weather, becoming impermeable to water. 

Ventile is the brandname of one such fabric, but calls to the UK mills and retailers of Ventile were fruitless... the manufacturer wouldn't acknowledge me, probably because they could tell I wasn't interested in wholesale, and UK retailers wouldn't ship to the US or wanted totally crazy shipping fees. Then I discovered Etaproof, which is is another very tightly woven cotton fabric with claims of weatherproofing. was more than happy to ship overseas. I had my 3 meters of Anthracite Ventile 2nds in about a week. It was beautifully boxed and they included care tags and "Etaproof" labels.

I took the summer off from coatmaking, but when the weather started to cool off, I started muslining up a new trench coat. I used McCalls 5525 for the front and the trench details, then pulled out Simplicity 2508 for the raglan sleeves. Raglan sleeves are common on early trench models, and I love the look. I also was inspired by the trenches designed by urban-outdoor brand W'lfg'ng that have all the classic trench details and are made with cotton showerproof fabrics.

My trench on the left, a trench by W'lf'g'ng on the right.

I added a third seam down the back of the raglan sleeve to allow the sleeve to hang better with the natural shape of the arm. I also narrowed the collars, and tried to make sure the lapels were shaped to allow the coat to be buttoned all the way to the top.

I made 4-5 muslins... I can't remember how many now. But I really wanted to work out all of the details before I started cutting and sewing.

Cutting was nerve wracking. I can't find my McCalls 5525 pattern envelope, but it must call for significantly more than 3 meters. It was a squeeze to get all of the pieces out of the fabric I had, and there was no way I was ordering more. The front facing is pieced together (down at the bottom, where it wouldn't show. The length was also somewhat determined by the fabric I had-- if I wasn't constrained, I probably could have gone with another inch or two. At the end of the project, all of the tiny scraps I have left wouldn't add up to a square foot.

Following the suggestions from the manufacturer, I sewed all of the major seams with a true flat fell seam and cotton wrapped poly core thread. A true flat fell seam is NOT the flat fell seam that we sewists commonly use as a seam finish on jeans and collared shirts. A true flat fell seam interlocks the two edges of the fabric, and each line of stitching goes through all 4 layers of fabric. It is hard to describe, but here is a good video demonstrating it:

It gets used a lot by people who work with outdoor fabrics or places where a seam needs superior strength, and I ended up using a technique demonstrated on the Men Who Sew blog. Following their suggestions, I used clear Elmers glue which worked surprisingly well and was much more cost effective than using something like washaway wonder tape. The only downside was that the coat looked terrible with bits of glue all over the place, but it all washed out without any trouble.

The thread I used was Coats and Clarks Dual Duty, which is a cotton coated poly core thread with a weight of Tex 40, which I ordered from Wawak. Excuse my language, but it was a total bitch. NOTHING I did made this stuff sew reliably, it would make little birdsnests on the bobbin side at totally unpredictable intervals. I tried all sorts of tension combinations in both the bobbin and top thread, tried switching needles, and wound and rewound bobbins to make sure I wasn't adding additional twists. My fights with the thread made me put the project away multiple times-- it just sucks to be sewing along and hear the machine snag-- there goes your perfect seam.  In addition, on my machine, the top of the seam always looks a bit more perfect than the bobbin side, and this was exacerbated by this thread. I never truly solved the problem, I just ended up just muddling through. I sewed all major seams from the front side, which was a bit of a trick sometimes. I would cringe when I heard a snag but I would keep going, and after the seam was done I would fix the snags by pulling them straight and tying the ends. So the inside of the coat is just less perfect than I had hoped. On less major seams where watertightness wasn't a problem, I put regular poly in the bobbin and used the Dual Duty on top, which reduced but did not eliminate the problem. And for some seams where it didn't matter, I just used my usual thread.

If anyone has any insight into this, I'd be curious to figure it out. I've had some trouble with Guttermans Tex 40 topstitching thread-- the occasional snag-- but nothing like this. Unless someone has some really bright ideas, I'm probably NEVER going to use this thread again, at least in my Janome.

Inside of coat. It is unlined... the flat felled seams make it very clean looking!

Anyhow. So, while I'm getting things off of my chest, the other HUGE problem was that when I went to try on the mostly put together coat, the collar wouldn't close in front. How could this happen, after all of those muslins? I'm not sure what went wrong, but I ended up adding a piece to the collar and collar stand... I did it at the center back. I also ended up adding a piece to the tops of both lapel pieces (you can that piece clearly in the very first picture). I'm just going to call those spontaneous design details. In the picture below, you can also see the one piece I didn't manage to fit on my cutting layout. Instead, I used a piece of goretex left over from another project.

Inside showing facing and hanging chain.

After a lot of unpicking and re-sewing, my adjustments mostly fixed the problem.. here it is, buttoned up, and it isn't perfect, but it does the job of creating a respectable closure around the neck area.

All buttoned up.

So, another fun fact about designing with tightly woven showerproof cottons is that they are most waterproof when they have two layers. Having a full-on two layer garment would have gone against my desire for a lightweight garment, so I settled for an extension of the facings into areas that were most in need of rain protection... the shoulders. Fortunately, other areas of a trench already have multiple layers thoughtfully built in-- the little cape on the back, the gunflap, and the double breasted front.

Inside of the coat, showing the extended facing that adds additional rain protection to the shoulders.

I was a little unsure what to do for structure in an unlined trench made with cotton weatherproof fabric,  and couldn't find much guidance out there on the issue, so I tested out a few options. Fusible horse hair canvas seemed to adhere okay, but I sort of don't trust it after struggling with the bond on my last trench coat. Pad stitching was totally visible. So I threw out both of those options! The collar stand and collar contain a layer of sew-in horse hair canvas. On the collar, I did my best to shape the layers together before basting them into place, but there is no pad stitching, the hair canvas is just held in place by the seams. After much debate, I decided to leave out any kind of interfacing in the lapels since I was afraid fusible would affect the performance of the fabric and the fabric seemed to have plenty of structure on its own. 

Back strorm flap.

The back vent is a symmetrical pleat, to allow movement while still providing a bit of wetness protection.

Center back pleat, from the inside.

I also added all of the usual trench details: epaulettes, sleeve buckles. I debated adding a hook and eye as a throat latch, but decided instead to do a sewn on buckle. The hardware (buckles, metal eyelets and chain for hanging) are from pacific trimming. The buttons are genuine horn from Ebay.

The hand-warmer pockets are deep angled welt pockets. I think these are the most comfortable pockets on coats!

On the inside of the coat, the pocket bags of the welt pockets are somewhat hidden in the facing. However, all raw edges are finished with bias tape, and since I was short on fabric, there is a bit more of that gortex waterproof fabric for the inside pocket bag. I also added inside zippers, so the handwarmer pockets can function as pass-through pockets that allow access to the interior of the coat. The main thing I've used them for so far is to access the warm pockets on an inner layer. Also, the inside zippered pocket is wide enough to stash an ipad, kindle, or moleskine-style notebook.

Inside of welt pockets, also showing the etaproof tags and spare button.

As you can see, I went all secret-agent with the pockets. There are also four zippered lapel pockets, two on each side. The top left one is designed for my giant wallet, the bottom left one for a cell phone or glasses, the top right one is designed as a document pocket, and the right bottom one is another one sized for a cell phone or glasses case. That is, when they are not filled with high tech spy gear.

Zippered interior pockets in the front facing.

Inside out, front of coat.

The belt buckle on my previous trench was always clanging against things so I just removed it. I suppose a leather-wrapped buckle would have been wiser. Anyhow, on this one, I just did away with the buckle altogether, since it really is pretty impractical, and made this belt double pointed, channel stitched, and sized for tying.

The hem and sleeves are finished with facings. At first I tried just turning them up and stitching them, but it looked sort of cheap. The facing gives it a bit more structure, I think.

Sleeve detail. 

I think I should have left off the last button near the hem, it feels a bit awkward there. Just today on Couture and Tricot Tany was talking about the placement of buttons on her self-drafted shirt and mentioned that "the last button should be more distant from the hem than the distance between buttons along the front, for a better visual effect." She is so right, I never really considered this before.

I tried to size this trench to allow layers underneath. Before it got super chilly, I was wearing it with a down vest. I was considering putting a zipper into to the trench to zip the vest in, but the Patagonia vest that I own uses a YKK 4VS zipper, which I can't find anywhere! Lots of 5s, no 4s in a plastic tooth. But just wearing the vest with the trench over it works too... in fact, I often take the trench off and huddle in the vest when my office is frosty (which is all the time in the winter!) At some point I'd love to get a long sleeve down sweater or make a quilted wool sweater, I think that would make this coat an option in even farther into the cold season. 

Am I planning my next trench? I can't say I haven't given it some thought (but no, I haven't bought any fabric!) Don't you think a wool trench would be luscious? Either in a drapey wool twill, or a thin but dense lightweight coating. 

However, I think my next coat project will be making a replacement for my gore-tex ski jacket. I think it is almost 20 years old! That makes me feel old. Anyhow, I was thinking about making a Kelly Anorak in 3-layer Goretex. I probably won't get to that project until this summer or next fall. 


  1. This is truly well done! And thanks for the links on true flat felled seams. But again, phenomenal work. I'm a big fan of claiming design features, hence my pocket fangs on my leather jacket when i accidentally cut the opening double wide. But your whole project is just magnificent.

  2. WOW! that is one fantastic trenchcoat...
    (the 4-5 muslins truly paid off)

  3. Thanks! I try to make sure that I talk about the flaws/challenges... since it's all part of the process!

  4. What a beautiful coat! All of your details are exceptional, and I enjoyed reading about your process. This sounds like it was a really interesting fabric to work with.