Sometimes you say yes to things you really should have said no to, and sometimes you say yes to things you want to say yes to, but then freak out because you have no earthly idea how you’re going to pull said thing off. Such was my reaction a couple of weeks ago when all the glorious Refashioner projects starting hitting the interweb and I hadn’t even thrifted a blazer.
If you’ve missed it, Portia of Makery has once again challenged us to make use of some of the clothes languishing in thrift store obscurity. This year the challenge was suits, and I spent the better part of the summer thinking about how I would approach it. A lot of refashioners have essentially harvested their suits for fabric, but I love a beautifully tailored jacket and wanted to find a way to honour the original design of whatever garment I happened to find. I’m pretty stoked about the final result.
When I somewhat frantically hit the thrift store in search of a contender, I needn’t have stressed. There were literally dozens and dozens of suits waiting to be transformed from grandpa’s stinky sport jacket into something new. I bought a back-up just in case, but I fell hard for this oversized glen plaid suit jacket. I loved the shape and proportion of the wide lapels and the neutral plaid wool with the red highlight; since it came with a matching pair of trousers I felt pretty confident I’d have enough fabric to experiment with.
Confession time: I have grown to loathe thrifting. Before I started sewing I spent practically every weekend combing the racks for affordable clothes, and even operated an Ebay business for a while selling vintage I had found while hunting (incidentally at the same time Sophia Amaruso was running her vintage shop on Ebay; I thought she was a magical wizard). Now that I make everything my little heart desires, I have lost the thick skin you have to mentally form around yourself when you enter a thrift store. They all have the same gross smell, and I physically shudder when I think about how grey and dusty my hands get after going through the racks. I’ve just lost the taste and skill for it. Needless to say, when I got home and realized that one of the suits I bought smelled like someone had died in it while chain-smoking cigars, I had to make an emergency trip to the drycleaners. I couldn’t stomach ripping apart something that hadn’t been laundered in years. It actually makes my skin crawl thinking about it. When did I turn into such a wimp?!
Once at the studio and sanitized, here’s what my suit looked like on me:
Obviously far too big in the shoulders, but I loved the length and saw the potential for a simple refashion transforming it into a chic sleeveless jacket like the ones I have cruised on Pinterest like this. This plan had a few advantages. One, I knew I would actually wear it in my day-to-day life. The longer I sew, the more I know what I like and want to wear, and while it could have been fun to make a little cocktail dress or something out of all the scavenged wool, I knew a sleeveless jacket would actually be a practical addition to my fall wardrobe. Second, I wanted to do something anyone could recreate with a suit, and this is a pretty simple refashion that is just begging to happen to a jacket in your local thrift store. Third, I could accomplish the entire thing in a day or so and thus stop panicking about how I was going to get it done the same month we’re sending a new pattern to the printer.
To start with, I cut off the sleeves on the jacket side, making sure not to trim too much from the shoulder pads since I wanted to salvage them. Once that was done, I put the jacket on my form and used a contrasting basting thread to determine where my new arm opening would be.
The original idea for this actually came from a State the Label smock I saw Karen wearing at our recent jean-making workshop. I love the big exaggerated armholes on those refashioned shirts, and I was aiming for something equally dramatic. What followed was an intense period of trying the now sleeveless jacket on to fine tune the armholes. I wanted to shave the shoulder down a lot while still leaving some weight there, and I also had to note where the jacket needed to be taken in. It flared out quite a lot under the armscye, so I ended up smoothing out the side panel seams so the jacket fit straight through the waist.
After all my final calculations, I machine stitched the lining to the coat where I wanted the final armhole to land. This anchored the jacket and lining together and gave me a guideline to cut a new seam allowance. I shifted the shoulder pads in and tried to just catch them with my stitching to stabilize them in the seam. I then bound the armholes with bias tape I made from cutting apart the matching trousers; I decided to finish with bias tape because there was no easy way to bag the lining with the jacket already fully constructed.
The bias tape finish was a little tricky since I was sewing through so many layers (especially at the shoulders) but the beauty of wool is that just about anything can be achieved with a butt load of steam. I ended up hand stitching the bias into place since I didn’t want any machine topstitching showing up on my beautiful tailored jacket.
For a while, I contemplated repurposing the sleeves to make epic super pockets on the jacket, but eventually, I was sold by the clean lines of the jacket as is. Refashion doesn’t have to mean utterly reinvent, and since the bones of this baby were good, I decided to honour them with a simple renovation rather than a teardown gut job.
Much like my last project for Refashioners (my reconstructed Levi’s jeans) I LOVE LOVE LOVE this project. It’s super easy to wear and will be the ultimate layering piece; I can see it over sweaters, button downs, and maybe even lightwight fall coats for extra warmth. The scale and fit are oversized without being sloppy, and the plaid is neutral enough to work with just about everything. I also love that exaggerated armhole; it’s got lots of mobility and looks pretty cool with a contrasting garment underneath.
It is definitely getting packed on my upcoming trip to London this week! I’ll need all the help I can get battling that English dampness.
Are you participating in the Refashioners community challenge this year? What would you make with an old suit?
ps. To stay up to date with The Refashioners 2017, see all the other inspiring refashions AND find out how you could win an amazing prize go here!