Alex's LARP coat

The Fire Elemental


Nel asked me to do this for her at a point when she felt unequal to the challenge.  I was happy to do this.  I love fun stuff like this!  She sent this LOOOOVERLY black velvet with just a hint of red to it when it catches the light, and two colours for the lining: there wasn't enough of the red, so she added in the green.  This will work, but it might be fun...


First off: the pattern!  This is an older Butterick pattern, no 6765, one size in the pack.  It has now been re-issued as a multi-sized pattern, no.6844. On taking it out and inspecting it, one can easily see that it's based very firmly on an 18th Century cut.  It's very like both the Redcoats pattern and the JP Ryan pattern used for the Town Crier project.  However, it has been resized for a more modern fit, and there is more ease than the older styling would lead one to expect.

B6844.jpg (62229 bytes)  B6844.gif (26033 bytes)

After some minor alterations for length, the fist two major sections of the pattern were laid out on the lining.  I thought that as this is for a Fire Elemental, and the lining will show as he walks, it would be a good idea to cut the main front and back sections from the red lining fabric, leaving the sleeves and the side/back sections for the green fabric.  These two sections are very large, and didn't quite fit, which allowed for some jiggery-pokery with the stuff!

Oh...  Some of the pictures are black and white to show details more clearly.  This is black velvet, and quite hard to get decent colour pictures of some sections.

When I found that the pattern didn't quite fit on the lining fabric, a decision needed to be made about where to piece the pattern...

As the lining skirt might show in use, I decided to piece at the top rather than in the traditional hem area.  

lininglayout1.JPG (102803 bytes)  missingbits1.JPG (102004 bytes)  missingbits2.JPG (112881 bytes) Here you can see how much needs to be added into the front and back shoulders, and at the side above the waist.  Not a lot, but it is vital to get it right...
addingbits1.JPG (93642 bytes)  addingbits3.JPG (113843 bytes)  addingbits2.JPG (87204 bytes) After cutting the pieces out, I used the off-cuts to add the missing areas back in, checking that I had plenty for the new seam allowances!

Once the pieces were pinned in place, I checked that they all lined up and fit the pattern...  It's nice when you can match stripes exactly on a job like this, but it certainly isn't essential in an area that will be so well hidden in use!  I did the best I could.  For this sort of lining piecing, it's more important to get the fabric grain line matching than the pattern.

addingbits4.JPG (83224 bytes)  addingbits5.JPG (96532 bytes)  addingbits6.JPG (113876 bytes)
It would have been so much easier if I hadn't needed to get the main sections out of the red lining...  There's a lot more of this here green and navy stripe! greenlininglayout.JPG (136497 bytes)  hemlength.JPG (121654 bytes) No joining of pieces needed here...  Just the usual bit added to the hem.
sparegreenlining.JPG (81982 bytes) The spare lining looked like a lot crumpled up on the end of the bench, and when I spread it out to fold it, I found there was more left than I had used! moreleft.JPG (99193 bytes)
Once I had the lining cut, I could spread the velvet out...  There are certain things you have to do with velvet, and the most important is make sure all the pattern pieces are the same way up!  The pile direction makes a big difference to velvet. velvetcut1.JPG (101998 bytes)  Traditional velvet like this (as opposed to something like a knitted velour or panne velvet, with a longer pile) is cut with the pile facing UP the cloth: this allows for a richer, darker look to the garment.  You can, naturally, cut it out whatever way you like, but do make sure all the pattern pieces are laid out the same way, or some panels of the garment will be darker than others because of the way the pile catches the light!
velvetcut2.JPG (98340 bytes) I put the velvet on the cutting table with the TOP towards the camera: that makes it easy to remember to place the pattern pieces all the same way up!

The fabric wasn't quite wide enough to cut both fronts out with it doubled, once the extra length had been added, so more than the usual number of pieces were cut on single fabric...  Note the ingenious use of cans of cat food as fabric weights!

velvetcut3.JPG (113010 bytes)
There wasn't a large enough piece left after cutting the two fronts to cut the side backs out doubled either, so they too needed to be laid out on a single layer. velvetcut6.JPG (113713 bytes) When you do this, you have to remember to cut mirror image pieces, so that you have a right and a left, as well as placing them both in the same direction on the fabric!

When the fabric is an odd shape after cutting lots of other bits out, it pays to have a second copy of some of the pattern pieces...  Note also the ingenious use of the lining as pattern in this instance!

velvetcut8.JPG (39455 bytes) Once everything was cut, there didn't seem to be much left!  Actually, the only bits of red lining left were mere inches square, so I just tossed them.  There's enough green to line a coat, and enough odd shapes chunks of velvet to make a corset or bodice for an Elizabethan project, and possibly for narrow sleeves...  But I must remember that the collar pattern is missing, and I'll need a bit for that!  I can send the odd shaped scraps off for the covered buttons. velvetcut9.JPG (77688 bytes)
At this point there came a looooong hiatus.  The reasons were many and varied, including health problems and manic customer projects, and all sorts.  It generated a bit of a guilt field, but never mind.  Eventually I managed to get back to it.   I'd sent the scraps off for the buttons, and as usual, Sid Trim in Leeds came up with the goods.  Lovely covered velvet buttons!  Wow! 
The first bit of real sewing was the corners that had to be pieced.  This was easy enough, and doesn't show too badly.  being hidden at the top of the shoulder, it won't show at all in use.  Then I neatened the edges of the lining and sewed the back sections together.  I sewed the back pleats down at the top to help to control them and to strengthen the seams: there's more support for them this way, and this is expected to get some severe use!

The same was done with the velvet, only this time I neatened the edges with a Hong Kong finish!  There were two reasons for doing this rather than just overlocking it as I did with the lining:

1: The velvet frays a lot and needs to be neatly finished.

2: I need the practice!  It's not a technique much used these days, but it gives a lovely finish when you want a more traditional look.



I put some good old fashioned cotton rank tape over the stitching on the outside.  This neatens it off a bit more and also adds more strength.  I'll sew buttons at the end of it later, to finish it off.
  The two part sleeves and the deep cuffs were fairly straight forward until it came to sewing the cuffs on...  Well, there was nothing particularly difficult about this either, except for the fact that there was the sleeve, and the two layers of cuff plus one layer of interfacing, and a layer of facing!  They all had to be lined up and pinned carefully (and this was THICK - especially at the seams!), and I used my Big Pins!

Once the cuff and facing were stitched on, I went round again with a row of understitching.  This gives me a second row of stitching holding it all together, which strengthens the construction, and also helps to hammer the very thick edge flat.  Once turned through and pressed carefully ( this IS velvet, after all!), it looks quite neat.

The sleeve heads were another Area of Interest.  First I put in a line of ease stitching to make fitting them to the armscye easier. 

I also wanted to put sleeve heads in, and a couple of shoulder pads to support the heavy velvet.  Luckily, to save time, I had these sleeve head pieces made up that a friend sent me (about a dozen pairs - she was closing her shop).



I put in a soft head first, and a firmer one inside to support the weight of the velvet.  While this pattern has a strong resemblance in many respects to an 18th Century gentleman's coat, it is squarer cut, and does require more support at the sleeve head than one would give a purer 18th century cut, especially as the young man in question has quite sloped shoulders.

They get pinned in place and then stitched in the seam allowance with a loose hand basting that stays in.



The next thing to do was finish the collar and the neck edge, and the front facing.  I hadn't done the front facing before sewing the side seams as I spent ages hunting for the right kind of interfacing.  I didn't want something as heavy as full hair canvass, but I didn't think most of the fusible stuff I had was quite up to the job...  Then I found this fusible light weight canvas in the bottom of the interfacing stash!  I cannot for the life of me remember where I got it, but it was perfect for this, the collar, and inside those huge cuffs!

Oh, and I managed to draft a replacement collar pattern fairly successfully...

Then I went back and put those sleeves into the coat...

This was a little tricky: care has to be taken to ensure that the ease is fed into the armscye evenly and that the sleeves hang at the right angle.


  First the sleeve head was pinned into the armscye, and the ease as evenly distributed as possible.  This was refined somewhat when the sleeves were basted in place.  While I'm no great advocate of basting everything, a la school sewing lessons, there are times when this is essential, and with all this bulk to control, this is one of them.  Once basted, you can check that it looks reasonable smooth on the outside, and that the velvet hasn't creped too much...
  The walking foot is an enormous help in the control of all these layers, and eases the passage of the bulk through the machine.

On something like this I like to make two passes, to help strengthen the seam as it will get heavy use.

One last check that everything is OK, and on to the shoulder pads. One thing I did NOT bother to do was take out the basting, except if it showed on the outside.  There's really no need, and it gives an extra safety line, just in case...
  Cheating like mad, I'm using made-up shoulder pads from a tailoring supplies place.  These were old stock from a factory that I got via Croft Mill (now alas gone).

They get basted in by hand, with a stab stitch through the seam allowance.  For this exercise I like to use nice long quilt basting needles.

Once in place they don't show from the outside, but the whole construction helps to support the shoulder and the sleeve head, and gives strength where it's needed for heavy use and those big heavy cuffs hanging at the wrist!

Here we have some general views of the almost complete coat.  This is son James modelling it, so it doesn't fit as well as I'd have liked... Mind you, the real owner is 200 miles away, and this was done purely to a set of measurements taken by someone else - NOT my usual modus operandi!   Saville Row it, ain't, but it looks fair, given that the hem is pinned rather than sewn, there are no buttons on it yet, and James (despite being not yet 14!) is slightly too broad in the shoulders for this man-sized pattern!
  These aren't my best ever pictures, but it was getting late and I was getting a bit shakey.  At least you can see that the shoulders came out ok, and the collar went on just fine.  Ignore the little wrinkle below the collar at the back: this is caused by the coat being an inch too tight across the shoulders for James, and his shoulders being less sloped than those of the coat or of the owner.  For James I'd add an inch to the shoulder width, use smaller shoulder pads, and take it in a bit round the waist.

You can also see where that shoulder seam lies: well behind the shoulder line of a modern coat or jacket.

The robe from the side.

All in all, this was a well drafted pattern, though it cannot have been drafted for a 5'10" average height man.  James is that height, and as you may see from the photos further up, quite a section was put in to make the body of the coat long enough for the customer..  I just hope the newer version is as well done.

I need to thank James, my stalwart model!
    Some closer pictures of some of the details.  The hem was quite curved, so I gathered it slightly .  The outer fabric was sewn up by hand, and the lining on the machine.

I used a double row of the buttons down the front and three on each sleeve.