The great challenge, the coat was thus left the last thing. The aforementioned “Costume Close Up” opened the construction to me in a brand new light. According to it the front and back pieces were finished and even lined separately before joining them at a late stage. Remembering all the trouble I had had with the lining (mainly at the skirts) with Jarno's first suit this seemed to me a brilliant idea. The pleats could be pressed neatly before they stretched while hanging and the lining pinned and hand sewn on. I could still tweak the sleeve setting if needed and leave the hem open for checking the balance when I could try the coat on. The sheer size and weight of the coat alone made the idea of working on individual pieces as long as possible welcome.

As soon as I had finished the pocket flaps for the waistcoat I had began working on smaller pieces of the coat, pocket flaps, cuffs and back vent pieces.

The interlining for the large cuffs needed to be quite stiff, so I added an extra layer of even heavier jute and sewed the two together with rows of zig zag. I also tried to leave the top layer longer and make them slightly curved to begin with. The extra layer stops at the fold, which makes it sharp. I basted the fashion fabric on the interlinings and then moved on to make the buttonholes.


In the back vent piece I had originally basted only guideline threads on the fashion fabric to mark the buttonhole places, but after making a few first ones I noticed that on this larger piece the viscose fashion fabric tended to move despite careful basting. So did what had been proved useful in the past, sewed a machine stitch line on the buttonhole places through all layers, and this solved the problem. On afterthought I really should have done the same already for the pocket flaps, as the fabric moved a bit in them too causing some minor wrinkles. Anyway, making 18 buttonholes was much nicer done on separate pieces than on a large finished coat.

I began working on the large main pieces at the left front. The front edge interlinings had an extra straight strip sewn on the curved edge like in the waistcoat, 1,5cm wide at the buttonhole side and 4cm wide at the button side. First I accidentally tacked the wrong one on the left front, but happily I noticed it before beginning the buttonholes. I ripped it off and replaced it with the right one.

According to Waugh's diagram of interlining a coat (diagram XXXIV) the front edge interlining should not quite reach the armhole on the shoulder. This was hard for me to understand, especially as the shoulder was cut almost to bias. I originally cut the interlining dutifully to end 4cm short of the armhole, but then I became anxious again and cowardly added a separate strip of thinner linen to reinforce the shoulder. It was cut on the straight to prevent stretching but would not make the armscye seam too thick. On the rest of the armscye I tacked a bias cut strip of the same linen, pressed to follow the shape of the armscye. The side vent edges also got a 4cm wide jute interlining.

I had basted the buttonhole lines straight after cutting the pieces. I was a bit unsure how many of the buttonholes should be working ones at this period, but in the end I made three at the top blind ones, the six following them working ones, and the rest at the bottom blind ones again. I machine stitched a line around the opened buttonholes (this time very narrowly). I did have time to drive to my parent's this time for the zigzag, so I reasoned that some blanket stitch by hand would be a drop in the ocean with all the other handwork in this suit.

I worked on the buttonholes little by little. At some point I also managed to tack the interlining on the right front piece too. And then it was beginning to be high time to finally decide what to do with the lining or possible interlining for the skirts.

The confusion over the dating of the suit caused further confusion about the possible construction methods. Was it way too late for the stiff horsehair interlined skirts of the 1740's? In the picture the skirts look like stiff, but then it might be just the heavy silk. My upholstery material would not stand by itself backed only by a flimsy lining, and might also stretch at the bias cut parts in the flared skirts. According to Waugh skirts were interlined up to 1760's, which would be close to the dating of the suit. In her diagram for interlining the front skirts have it all the way but at the back only the pleats. This interlining is described as some kind of thin wool or wool wadding, and I have no idea what it should be like, as obviously it should give some support. After consulting my friend Riikka I decided to buy some stiff linen and add it on the skirts, front and back.

So, I pinned the linen interlining on the skirts, pinned the lines for the pleats and then pressed them. Then I basted the interlining, tacked it on the fashion fabric at the waist, on the jute interlining at the front edges and on the seam allowances at the side vents. I hoped that the firmly pressed linen would keep the pleats sharp, so I tacked the interlining and fashion fabric together at the pleat folds. The small pattern of the fabric disguised my stitches very well, so I didn't even have to make them super tiny.

On the front piece the interlining that went up to waist level also supported the pockets. To be sure the pocket opening would not stretch I even tacked cotton tapes on the diagonal edges. Then I sewed on the pocket pouches, hand-stitched the edge and sewed the pocket flaps on the top. I also sewed on the buttons on the pockets and front edge.

After tacking the interlining on the back skirts I joined the back vent pieces, pressed the seams and tacked the seam allowances on the interlinings. I also reinforced the tight corner at the waist with some stitching and then tacked a 3cm wide jute piece on the waist from the center back to the side seam. Then I made the last decorative buttonholes to cover the seam at the waist. Neck opening at the back also got a piece of jute, and to strengthen the center back and side seams I basted cotton tapes on both sides of the seam. I thought these necessary to support the heavy skirts, especially at the center back seam which was cut quite angled.

And then it was the time for the lining. As mentioned above, I had at last decided to use the viscose satin I had found, except for the top of the back and sleeves, which I would line with linen according to the economical period custom. I also thought that a back lined with linen would breathe more and thus be comfortable.

I began attaching the lining at the fronts. First I sewed the small pieces between the buttonholes. Then I pinned the lining on. On the pleats I tacked the lining to the interlining on the folds in herringbone stitch (or catch stitch), so that all the layers would now stay together. On the neckline and front edge I turned the seam allowances under and stitched the edge through all layers, like in the side vent too, though leaving a long part still open at the top to be able to work on the side seam. At the side seam, shoulder and hem I basted the lining on about 5cm from the seam.

On the back I first attached the lining in the back vent pieces. Then I moved on to the rest of the skirts, beginning at the center back. I pinned the lining on the folds one by one, first pressing the fold and then tacking the lining to the interlining with herringbone stitches. At last I arrived at the side vent, where I stitched the edge leaving the top unfinished like in the front.

This construction order, making the individual pieces as finished as possible before joining them together is quite reverse to modern sewing logic, but the sheer size and weight of the pieces alone made it sensible. It was also practical to keep the pieces separate and flat as long as possible, especially when attaching the flimsy lining. The downside of course was that after all this preliminary work it was somewhat intimidating to actually close the main seams and see how the coat would look on Jarno.

I began with the side seams. After sewing them I slipped round fabric pieces with a slit cut from the edge to center on the top edge of the side vent so that it circled the end of the seam. As I thought that one cannot have too much support at this crucial point (Waugh also points out “extra stiffening” here on her diagram of interlining) I used coutil for them. I tacked the coutil pieces to the interlining, sewed a couple of stitches through all the layers at the top of the vent, and then further secured the pieces by a machine stitch between the side seam. The last trick may be a bit modern, but could be done by hand too, and it works.

Next I finished the top edges of the pleats by turning the fashion fabric seam allowances over the lining, tacking it and attaching the lining by stitching through all layers. I was not quite sure whether the linen lining at the back should be added as the last thing, but I thought I could as well baste it on now, just leaving the seams open. I was already able to sew it on top of the skirt lining edge at the waist, just leaving a bit open at the center back for closing the seam. At the side seam I tacked the linen on the fashion fabric seam allowances.

Then I finished the top of the pleats on the fronts and sewed the lining on the side seam. I stitched the first pleats through all the layers by machine. The top of the side vent is always decorated with a button, and I strongly suspect this is a smart way of covering some heavy reinforcing stitches. The other pleats I sewed securely to these bottom ones. The final result is quite thick due to all those layers of interlining, but feels secure. I must say this way of assembling the side vents was a very much less painful experience than my fumbling with the first suit.

Next it was finally the time to close the shoulder seams and center back seam. As I was feeling very energetic and optimistic that day I also tacked the supporting tapes on the shoulder seams and neck, tacked the seam allowances on the interlinings and even finished the back lining before putting the coat on Jarno.

Aaaand this turned out top be a great mistake. The shoulder seam looked awful on, it was just like the back piece part would have been way too long. I had either made some mistake in fussing with the pattern in the early stage, not measuring that the edges matched, or then the weight of the finished skirts pulled the whole back piece downwards in a way that had not been as visible in the light mock up. The center back seam also curved out at the shoulder blades, not following the spine closely as it should, which I should actually have been able to predict. Well, I ripped out the lining and tapes and took another try at the seams.

The center back was easy, I just removed the supporting cotton tapes, cut them about 1cm shorter and basted them on again, gathering the fashion fabric very slightly between the shoulder blades. Then I steam pressed the fashion fabric to settle evenly and closed the seam again. This time it looked much better. The shoulder seams, on the contrary, were a much harder battle. I shortened the back piece edge and also shaped it a little anew at the armhole. At last the top of the back began to look tolerable, and I could sew the supporting tapes and the lining back on and finish the neck.

Now let us take a look on the sleeves.

As mentioned above, I lined them with the same cream colored linen as the waistcoat. Here was again a great opportunity to try out a new technique: Elisa from Isis Wardrobe had recently posted about the period way to line a sleeve, with great pictures. There you sew the fashion fabric and the lining together at the top seam of the sleeve before flipping them around, and it's surprisingly handy and also keeps the lining following the fashion fabric closely in a curved sleeve. As I wanted to sew just the fashion fabric of the sleeve on the armscye and sew the lining on later I left the joining stitch end a few centimetres short of the top edge, and sewed the layers separately from there on. I also sewed a gathering thread at the fashion fabric sleevehead.

After finishing the buttonholes at the cuff pieces I joined them together and tacked the seam allowances on the interlining. As the cuff is made from two separately interlined pieces it folds at the top with the sleeve like in museum suits, and it was nice to notice how small things like this help to bring the period look to the garment.

Lining the cuffs was a bit tricky, and I pinned the lining on several times before getting it relatively even. As the cuffs were open at the back any bagginess in the lining would show. At last I got the cuffs lined and decently looking. On the turned part I left the lining open for sewing them on the sleeves.

I sewed the cuffs on the sleeves with machine and pressed and tacked the seam allowances on the cuff interlining. For the last thing I sewed the cuff lining on top of the seam.

Now it was the time to sew the finished sleeves on the nearly finished coat. Sleeves have a nasty habit of turning out tricky now matter how many mock ups with balance marks you have made. This time was no exception. I pinned and basted the sleeves on many, many times, but they always seemed to either pull the shoulder to the sides or settle too low and far out. There also seemed to be all of a sudden more fullness on the sleevehead, perhaps caused by altering the shoulder seam and thus the armscye at a late stage. The sleeve also seemed to settle higher on the underarm. I fixed the problem on extra fullness partly by setting the sleeve further at the back than planned, which is also true to the period.

I was still not totally happy with the sleeves, but at last decided that they would not get any better with worrying and just sewed them on. I trimmed the seam allowances and sewed another pieces of cotton tape to keep the armscye from stretching with the weight of the skirts.

So, I was pretty nearly done with the setting of sleeves, when I noticed that the back skirts did not look quite the way they should. The back vent edges fell crossed on top of each other instead of aligning and the top of the side vents seemed to have dropped downwards. After a bit of pondering (and tearing my hair in frustration) I tracked this problem down to the sleeve setting again. I ripped the sleeve seam open at the underarm, pulled the underarm up about one centimeter and forced the sleeve to settle back, sewing the supporting tapes back on fast before any more stretching would occur. The underarm was left with some wrinkles especially on one side, but happily it's not a place where you look at first. With the raised armhole the side vents were pulled up enough to look more in line with the back vent, which also straightened a bit. I have been told since that as the skirts are flared the back vent edges are supposed to overlap a bit.

The extra fullness at the sleevehead still hurt my eyes, so I decided to try adding some wadding to fill it out. The effect was not very visible, but it doesn't make it worse either, so I left the wadding on. I finished the armholes on the inside of the coat by sewing the sleeve lining to cover the seam.

On the hem I had basted the lining on about 5cm from the edge, as I thought the balance of the skirts might change when the coat was finished and the sleeves set. I had been right. Especially at the back the skirts were too long. The annoying bit was that the last buttonholes on the back vent piece almost hit the evened edge. After getting over my initial frustration I ripped them off. Happily the the stitch marks disappeared with furious steaming. I also had to take off some of the tacking on the interlining and lining at the hem.

I evened the hem when it was on Jarno, first pinned the right length, when basted a line for the edge. Then I cut the extra interlining off according to the basted line, cut the fashion fabric with a small seam allowance which I turned over the interlining edge, pressed and tacked on the interlining. For the last thing I pinned on the lining and finished the edge by stitching through all layers. The lining was the most tricky part, and a few times I had to pin and sew some parts anew as the lining was too tight.

I finished first one side and then evened the other to match, checking that all the pleats were of the same length at the side vent. Somehow the back pleats still managed to stretch, being cut bias, and I noticed they would peek under the hem when the coat was on. I shortened them with a heavy hand, perhaps even a bit too much, but at least they don't show now. So, at last I had the hem evened and finished, and could make the last buttonholes on the side vents, at the midway and the bottom. For the last thing I sewed thread loops covered with blanked stitch to hold the underside of the pleats together. I had skipped this part on the first coat, and I must say that it does keep the pleats neat. If they still stretch and the loops begin to pull I can always fix them.

I worked on this suit in total for over a year, of course making a bunch of other smaller things simultaneously. Especially at the last stages of the project the coat lied untouched for long periods at a time, as I was too uninspired to tackle the problems that had turned up. Part of that may have been due to this year being a stressful one at work, but on the other hand a large hobby project was also rewarding and therapeutic.

As usual, when finishing something you have worked on for a while, at first I was simply happy that I didn't have to see it on my sewing table anymore, but it usually also happens that when you look at the pictures of the finished garment you begin to feel proud and happy. The mistakes are there, of course, like the problems with the shoulder seam and sleevehead, and especially the front edges of the coat which don't fall quite straight due to the interlining which had stretched on the edge when I sewed on the straight cut reinforcement strip which was supposed to prevent that very thing. This is a good remainder to do all the stages carefully. Anyway, I can live with that. Another thing that began to bother me a little on the finished suit is that I originally thought that the buttons for the coat and waistcoat could as well be the same size (the buttons on the waistcoat tended to be smaller in period suits), but now I think that doesn't look quite right. But the things I still love are the material and the style and cut of the suit.

The heavy construction of the suit makes it keep its shape well at least for now, also when packed. Time will show how it takes wear. Another good thing is that Jarno assures it's a lot cooler on than the old wool suit, even though the day of the photoshoot happened to be very hot.

I'm also very happy that although I encountered some problems this time too, I felt more in control of what I was doing than with Jarno's first suit, and I was left with a far more positive experience and clearer view of the whole thing. In both pattern drafting and sewing methods I clearly took a step forward, and I can see myself making a third suit to follow. Not anytime soon, though!

I would like to thank Seurasaari Open-Air Museum for permitting us to arrange a photoshoot in the beautiful manor house of Kahilahti.

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18th century man's suit