When I was living in the Dallas suburbs, I belong to a vibrant and active chapter of the American Sewing Guild. The ladies in it were so talented and inspiring and it was just the thing to keep my creative juices flowing. One month we had a presentation on creating a jacket from a sweatshirt.
These types of projects are just up my alley. I don’t know why, but I love repurposing things. I see thrift stores as one big treasure chest of possibilities – diamonds in the rough just waiting to be polished to show their beauty. By comparison, craft stores feel cold and sterile to me. I prefer worn in things. Mass produced products these days just don’t have the quality, history or character of older items. Also, I seem to have this weird aversion for new things. I find their pristine condition a bit intimidating. I don’t want to ruin them so when I buy something, particularly clothes, I avoid wearing them, which is ridiculous and something I’m working on. Why I make things more precious than they are is beyond me. But then again, why fight my preferences and just accept that shabby is part of my aesthetic.
After that meeting I went straight to my favorite thrift store and found a couple of men’s sweatshirts and set to work on my jacket. Let’s be honest, this was the late 90’s, not a decade known for its style and the trend of creating a cardigan out of a sweatshirt turned up some questionable designs, most a bit “old lady”.
I am not here to judge anyone’s choices, this just wasn’t (and still isn’t) my style (I respect and applaud you to do you, with no apologies.) The idea though set my creative gears in motion and I made my version of the sweatshirt jacket. And by the time I was done, there was no evidence that it was ever a sweatshirt.
In the workshop, the presenter took a sweatshirt and used it as a base, covering it with strips of quilting cotton. I used a roll of batiks I had in my stash and sewed them on. Instead of sewing the strips right sides together to hide the raw edges, I just overlapped them using a zig-zag stitch. Then I did some freeform topstitching to give it a quilted look. That’s about all I took from the workshop because I decided to actually make a fitted jacket using a commercial pattern I had as a starting point (sorry, I don’t remember what pattern it was but any jacket pattern would do). Before I sewed on my strips, I removed the collar, cuffs and waistband, cutting the shirt up into raw yardage. I ended up using two sweatshirts.
I only needed enough fabric to do the front, back and the collar. After I had sewn on my batik strips, I cut out the jacket pattern pieces and sewed the fronts and backs together, serging the seams. I did need to adjust the darts to get a better fit but that wasn’t a big deal.
The collar was a bit of an afterthought and as the jacket progressed I thought a shawl collar would be a nice touch. The pattern only had a notched collar so I had to draft my own. I did this by putting the shell of the jacket on my dress form and draped muslin over it, drawing out the shape I wanted.
I used bias binding to finish off the edges that showed – the hem, front and collar.
I took a different approach on the sleeves. I’d been combining thrift store denim vests with hand knitted sleeves for awhile- directions here – so knitting sleeves for this project wasn’t anything new for me. I had a sport weight brown yarn that matched perfectly and decided to use the sleeves from the Double Leaves & Twist Duster in Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop. I did find a flaw with the sleeve pattern. If I recall correctly, you need to make a mirror image of them as the design is not symmetrical but the pattern does not mention it (at least not in my version).
Also, as I was knitting along I came across this:
I’m sure you’ve never made such a silly mistake but it is so frustrating to be well into a garment and notice that you miscounted and now have a little jog where there should just be straight lines of rib. And once I see it, I can’t unsee it so I had to rip it back and fix it. But the pattern is gorgeous so it was worth doing right. When I finished the sleeves I just sewed them into the armhole and amazingly they fit without needing any adjustments (yay for stretchy knit fabric!)
At the next meeting I presented my jacket in show-and-tell and it was a hit. While I love the process of creating, I think my favorite part is showing it off. It’s kind of embarrassing but when I finish a project, I’ll put it on my dress form and admire it. I don’t drink or do drugs – my buzz comes from the sense of accomplishment when a project (done right) is completed. Funny thing is, I think I wore this jacket once. It came with me to all of my craft shows as a display and always got lots of attention. One year I finally sold it and I can only hope it was loved and appreciated as much as I loved making it. I’ve been thinking about doing another version of this, making it into a trench coat. I’ll let that idea percolate for awhile.