40s jacket progress: the outer shell

Last Monday I started cutting out all my pieces for my Sew for Victory jacket. And let me tell you, fabric, underlining and lining… that’s a lot of cutting. Phew.

So far things have been going pretty well, so I thought I’d catch you up on the assembly of the jacket shell.

One thing you may find interesting is that I’m paying very little attention to the actual instructions in my pattern. Why? Two important factors: the lining is sewn in entirely by hand and the collar is assembled more like a blouse, not like the way I’ve come to find is more typical for jackets and coats. Instead, I’m mostly following general assembly instructions from the book Jackets for Real People: Tailoring Made Easy (I have learned so much from this book!), and referring to my pattern and other resources when needed.

Anyway, one of the design details on this pattern is the patch pockets on the chest. They mimic the patch pockets with flaps on the original Eisenhower military jackets but instead of a flap, the chevron shape is just a band across the top of the pocket. The pattern’s instructions on how to line the pockets was a bit fussy, so instead I wanted to try a tailoring method that has self facing and lining on the inside. But that left me figuring out how to work that out with the shaped pocket band. There was some serious head scratching, a junked pocket and some and trial and error involved!

In the end I added 1″ to the pocket band piece to turn inside to form the facing. I machine basted on the seam allowance of the band, then clipped and turned in the edge and hand basted them shut. Here it is from the front (you can just of see the green basting stitches along the shaped edge):

(By the way the color of my fabric is all over the map in these photos. Above is probably pretty close to real life. It’s a very, very dark forest green.)

And from the back, below, after trimming the seam allowance slightly (and apparently not very evenly I see). In case you’re wondering about that pink thread, I basted the center line so I’d know where to pivot when I stitched the band to the pocket.

I stitched the band to the pocket front, and then trimmed the seam allowance to reduce bulk (not mentioned in my pattern). Here they are both from the back:

Then I sewed the lining to the pockets with right sides together (I interfaced the mouth of the pocket on the facing side but forgot to photograph it). Because you cut the lining piece about 1/8″ smaller on all sides it makes the fashion fabric roll in a bit, and there’s no chance you could see the lining sticking out. See? No one will ever know (but you) that my pocket lining is beige.

(Oh see how the pocket is off from my marks? That’s come back to bite me in the butt and I’ll likely be moving the pockets.)

I invisibly attached the pockets with a slip stitch by hand.

Here’s a photo of them sewn on. Be forewarned the fabric looks terrible in this photo. While I am having some issues with the fabric nap crushing easily when pressing (even with just steam and my fingers),  and the pockets show it the worst, I don’t think it looks quite this bad! The photo is washed out so it makes it look worse and makes the fabric look really blah. I promise it’s nicer in person.

Above you can also see the green hand basting to keep my underlining to my bodice pieces (and stay stitching along the neckline, which I did on each piece before assembly). I didn’t show it, but after sewing on the pockets I basted them shut with silk thread to keep them from gaping while assembling the rest of the body.

Now enough about pockets. The next thing of interest is I added a back stay to my jacket. This is a piece of firm muslin or something similar across the upper back and shoulders, and supports the shoulders and armholes. I stitched it to my underlining/fashion fabric before sewing the fronts to the back.

When you use a back stay, I learned you don’t need to tape the shoulders when you sew the front to the back since it provides support and structure, so I didn’t. You can see how the back stay looks when the front is sewn to the back, below. You just pink the edges so there’s no chance a visible seam or overlocking could show through the fabric.

Moving on to the collar… my pattern only had one collar piece, but all my resources suggested a center seamed under collar cut on the bias to lay better, so I converted my pattern. Now I said before I wasn’t going to pad stitch the under collar or use extra fusible interfacing marking the roll line, but I used hair canvas (also cut on the bias) as sew-in interfacing. Between that and my wool fabric, I very easily shaped it nicely around my tailor’s ham with some steam. (I did measure the height of the roll line at the back of the neck as a guideline for where to roll the collar.)

Tip: don’t painstakingly pin, then hand baste, then sew on your under collar… inside out.

Because you’ll have to do it all over again the right way.

This was the first time I got to use my point presser!

I graded the seams of the under collar, pressed them open and then catch stitched both under collar seam allowances open.

The sleeves were next. My pattern has about a 4″ long vent at the back of the wrist going into the cuff. I first basted through the underlining and fashion fabric to keep things together and also basted the patch (right sides together) to the sleeve piece. (By the way the long diagonal basting stitches you see I added when I realized my fabric and underlining were shifting around a bit on the sleeve.)

I followed tips from a vintage sewing book. I sewed up the side of a center chalk line, decreasing my stitch length about 1″ before and after the top, and then stitched a second line along that upper inch for security. You can see that best on the underlinling side:

After slashing and pushing the patch to the inside I pressed it (with steam and my fingers) so it would stay flat on the inside.

I understitched the seam allowance to the patch to make sure the seam would stay rolled towards the inside. I did it by hand since the seam allowance was so tiny. I forgot to show it but I also catch stitched the patch to the underlining fabric to keep things in place permanently (those instructions were in my pattern).

And then I basted the vent shut with silk thread twice: the beige silk thread is to help keep the seam rolled correctly until a final pressing towards the end, and the blue is to keep the vent shut so it doesn’t stretch out while assembling everything else. The beige will stay until the end, and the blue will get removed when I slip stitch the lining vent to the sleeve (yes, I have to do that all over again on the lining too).

Setting in the sleeves went like normal (two rows of ease stitching before setting it in worked beautifully for my wool), but then came what felt like days of struggle getting the sleeve heads and shoulder pads just right! Who knew those little buggers could be so annoying.

A sleeve head is a bias strip of lofty fabric that gets sewn to the seam line up and between the notches of the sleeve cap, then pushed (along with the seam allowances) inside the sleeve. It helps support the top of the sleeve from crushing in and making dimples.

You can see below what the sleeve looks like before you push the seam allowances and sleeve head into the sleeve compared to once it’s in place. Nice, huh?

I had a hard time figuring out exactly how far to put in the sleeve heads and if and where they should be trimmed, but I think in the end it works. Between the sleeve heads and the shoulder pads (that I sewed in three times before ditching them and making smaller pads and then sewing those ones in twice), it all might be a little more than my frame needs. I think it would definitely be too much for a suit (I would need to trim down the sleeve heads and make the shoulder pads even thinner, I suppose), but I think it’s appropriate for outwear. In the end I think the shape came out nice and I could probably fuss with it for days yet, so at some point you just have to step back and stop!

And here’s the shell of the jacket. Obviously the cuffs and bands aren’t on it yet, since that won’t happen until the lining is inserted, which will also add the upper collar (so you’re just seeing the interfacing).

The only change I will probably still make is to move the pockets about 3/4″ away from the sleeves and about 1/2″ down (they are even, I just didn’t place the jacket very neatly on the dress form). There’s a little bit of wrinkling in a couple of places, but nothing that I’ll lose sleep over. I’m really quite pleased with how it’s looking so far.

I’m also learning a lot, and discovering I enjoy the elements of hand sewing (incuding oodles of hand basting) that are going into this project. It not only gives me a lot of control in certain places, but it breaks up some of the machine sewing.

I had a lot of time to sew this weekend so I’m already pretty far into the lining at this point. I’ll be talking about that next. So far so good! Hope you’re enjoying this behind-the-scenes look into my first jacket. 🙂

Filed: Sew-alongs, Sewing

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Golly, 21 Comments!

  • Looking very nice:) Love the forest green colour


  • I am so excited about your jacket!! Those pockets are perfect.. I just love the details!!


  • I can’t wait to see this finished. I love the green.


  • that fabric is just stunning, I’m so jealous! i love the pocket details and haven’t come across the technique yet so thanks for taking ltos of photos! can’t wait for the next installment!



  • I’m REALLY enjoying this behind the scenes look at your jacket, I find it all fascinating! I think you’re doing a sterling job Tasha and I take my hat off (if I ever wore one) to you for all that patient hand stitching. It’s going to be worth it when you have a well tailored period jacket in your wardrobe, MADE BY HAND!! Looking forward to the next instalment. x


  • Wow, it’s looking GREAT!!! Isn’t it fun how something that seems so complicated just comes together? And handbasting soon becomes a sewists best friend when wool is involved =)
    Love the colour! But then I might be heavily biased as it reminds me of my beloved winter coat =) Speaking of which, have you found a suitable buttonhole twist for the shell fabric? If not, try emailing me your adress at b_akire (at) yahoo (dot) se, and something that might do the trick could magically appear ; )


  • This is looking great already. Very interesting to find out how to make such a tailored item. It looks really difficult, you must be very pleased with the results so far!


  • Oh Tasha, this is just wonderful! For someone making their first ever tailoring project this is incredible! Thanks so much for sharing all your details, I can’t wait to see what it all looks like when it’s finished 🙂


  • It’s not even done yet and it looks aces!!!!!!


  • This truly is a process. Youre amazing and it looks amazing! xox


  • It is looking amazing!


  • this is looking great! love seeing your progress and all that gorgeous hand stitching!


  • Absolutely amazing, Tasha!! What a work of art! I really enjoy seeing your progress – it’s a great learning experience, too. 🙂 Cannot wait to see the finished product!


  • You sounds like such an expert! It’s coming along really well and looks amazing – great work!


  • WOW! It already looks incredible! Really, really, incredible.


  • I’m sorry you’re having trouble with your fabric but I don’t think it looks bad at all! Not even a bit. All of your hard work is certainly paying off because the jacket is looking amazing so far! I can’t wait to see it finished. Your tailoring and (patience! lol) attention to detail is really inspiring. I MUST attempt a jacket like this someday.


  • I just know it’ll look perfect when it’s done!


  • Those pocket details are positively delicious! It’s coming along so well – I’m excited to see the finished version!


  • I love that your making a jacket! I would be tooscaredto do that. I can’t wait to see it all finished.


  • Wow, this looks so great. And you are working so accurate, this is miles beyond my sewing skills, I don’t think I will ever be calm enough to do something like that. I can’t wait to see it finished.


  • Looking good Tasha! You certainly are fussing a lot more than I would LOL (I am so impatient LOL).
    it looks fabulous!


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