So here’s the rundown:
First, forget what I said about the pattern being “pretty good”. It’s a pretty good starting point.
First of all, it’s worth reading through the instructions first before you cut anything. If you are not making a zip-out fleece to go inside it, you don’t need the zipper extensions, and you don’t necessarily need as many of some of the pieces as it tells you to cut. In particular, you only need one of the chest pocket pieces because it’s meant to fold back on itself; no reason to cut two unless you want two chest pockets.
Also, the pattern calls for multiples of the storm flaps, pocket flaps, and sleeve tabs because it has you make them multiple layers thick for added stiffness/structure. You might not need to do that, depending on your fabric. And it’s worth figuring out first what you do and do not need because lots of the fabrics you might use are fairly pricey.
I first made this jacket about eleven years ago, using purple (under the lighting in the store, I could have sworn it was navy blue – the zippers I bought for it are navy blue, but under that lighting they looked like they matched, too!) 2-ply Ultrex I bought at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, MD with a contrasting yoke in black 1000-denier Cordura and a white athletic mesh lining. I also added 2″ wide strips of white vinyl reflective tape across the front and back.
As far as fabric choice, I can’t complain much. Ultrex is supposed to be waterproof/breathable, and my experience has been that you can really have one or the other but not both. That said, it’s water resistant for a useful amount of time, and while it doesn’t breathe that much, it’s better than a vapor barrier. Over time, the coating did wear off, especially in high-friction areas like the armpits, so this time I got 3-ply WPB, which has a tricot mesh stuck over the coating to protect it. It also has a subtle ripstop/matte finish, which looks and feels nicer buy I suspect might attract dirt more. We’ll see how it works.
The difficulty with any of these fabrics is that you can’t make mistakes – the needle holes will always show, and every time you puncture the coating it’s more apt to leak. I don’t bother to seal the seams because they are mostly either sheltered enough or not on the leading edge of where the rain comes from. But still, it’s better not to make holes where you don’t need to.
The idea with the Cordura yoke was that I frequently carry things on my back and over my shoulders that have rough or harsh straps and frequently wear through the shoulders of things. The Cordura layer is also coated, so in addition to the superior abrasion resistance, I’d have an additional layer to wear through the coating of before it leaked. While the rest of the jacket definitely looks like something that’s had eleven years of hard use, it looks pristine. It hasn’t faded, pilled, torn, abraded, scuffed, or anything. I was planning to do the same thing, maybe with 500-denier instead for a bit more pliability, but I got seduced by some shiny diamond ripstop instead. It doesn’t have quite the same abrasion resistance, but preliminary testing (scrubbing a corner of it with the “hook” side of some velcro for awhile) indicates that it should be fine, and it is lighter weight. And shiny.
The mesh I used last time seems to have worked out well, except that since it is (err, was) white, it looks really grungy now and could use a washing, but otherwise it’s fine. The mesh I got this time turns out to have much bigger holes than I was expecting, but I think it will be okay. It may actually improve the venting that way, which is a good thing.
I ordered fabric this time from Seattle Fabrics. They’re expensive, but they have good stuff for projects like this. Last time I used vinyl reflective tape, which doesn’t wear off like the printed-glass-bead type and stays more reflective when wet, but it’s not very pliable and over time it has cracked and torn a bit (although it is still very reflective). This time I ordered Coast Guard-approved SOLAS reflective tape from Identi-Tape.com. It’s a knit fabric laminate and is more pliable than the vinyl, but more abrasion resistant than the fabric and brighter than just about anything. It’s a bit tricky to sew because the foot tends to stick to it (even the teflon foot), but you can solve that by sewing it down through paper and then tearing the paper away.
The first task was to figure out what modifications I made to the pattern eleven years ago, since they clearly have worked out. I remembered that I took it in substantially (it’s designed to be roomy enough for a thick insulating layer underneath, which I don’t want), added the back yoke, lengthened the sleeves, lengthened the back hem, added a vent in back under the yoke, added armpit vents, etc. I had also taken it in too much, and then had to add After much consternation and measuring, I took 1/2″ out of each front piece, flaring out to the original width at the bottom to make room for the leatherman and cell phone I carry on my belt. I took 2″ of width out of the back. I re-drew the neckline so that the neck/collar is unchanged. I lengthened the sleeves as before, although it was kind of hard to tell what I did because I did the cuffs differently then the pattern. Actually, the same is true of the hem and collar, for that matter. I made size extra-small.
This time I added a bit of a contour to the bottom edge, slightly higher on the sides. The plan was to make facings for the bottom edge instead of a hem, but there turned out to be a problem with that.
The problem came when, having figured out my pattern modifications, I started cutting and realized I was on crack and had ordered 1 1/2 yd, and the pattern calls for 2 1/2. I figured out how to get all the major pattern pieces out of it, but I had to cut the collar in two sections and the pockets had to come from somewhere else. It also helped that I was planning on an accent color anyway, so some of the smaller bits and pieces like one of the storm flaps, pocket flap, and sleeve tabs could come from that. In retrospect, I think the ideal thing for the pocket bags would be a light un-coated nylon ripstop, because it wouldn’t add weight or bulk and would breath better than three layers thick of the WPB (I’m sorry, three layers of it won’t be breathable anyway). All I had was urethane-coated, so I went with that.
And I had to come up with another alternative to facing the bottom edge because there wasn’t enough fabric to cut them out of and I didn’t want them to be the contrast fabric.
The first problem I have with the pattern is that it doesn’t make the lining pieces any different from the outers, and they really should be. It just has you fold up and hem everything together, which I guess doesn’t matter if you are using a thin lining and want a little extra structure at the cuffs anyway, but it’s still cheesy, especially with this mesh stuff, which is a little too thick for that. Oh, and the lining should be all one piece in front instead of having a yoke, unless you want an inside chest pocket or something. There’s no reason that should be two pieces.
Fortunately, all that is easily fixed.
The pattern’s instructions for the zippers on the pockets are totally cheesy too, in that the whole zipper ends up inside the pocket, instead of being slotted between the pocket lining and the shell. But that’s also easily fixed. I also decided that the side pockets needed contrast-colored welts. The first one came out a little too narrow (I winged it instead of measuring carefuly), but I fixed it on the second one.
To add the back yoke, I separated the back section at the point where upper sleeve meets the side gusset. I added no seam allowance to the bottom half because the zipper takes up about that much space. To the top half I added an additional two inches plus seam allowance, to make the flap over the back vent zipper. The yoke in front and back is actually two layers thick, with the WPB on the bottom and the ripstop on top. I cut the ripstop shorter for the back yoke so that the upper side of the zipper flap is the contrast color, and the underside is the main color. To insert the zipper, I cut it shorter than the width of the back, sewed “ends” onto it in the main color, then sewed the whole thing in. I sewed a piece of twill tape across the zipper in the center of the back so that when it’s open the jacket can vent without the bottom half of the back sagging. In the interest of minimizing punctures to the WPB membrane, I topstitched through all layers including the bottom edge of the reflective tape, but then stitched the top edge of the reflective tape only to the ripstop and not through both layers.
To add the armpit vents, I cut 12″-long slots and stuck in zippers. That’s it. But I did make them longer than last time, when they were 6″ and I decided that wasn’t enough. I also put them toward the front edge of the gussets instead of in the center. And I made sure that when closed, the zipper sliders are on the sleeve end rather than the body end so that they won’t get in the way of backpack straps. They might get in the way of a backpack with the vents open, but if they do I can just close them because the backpack will prevent them from working anyway.
For the bottom edge, I couldn’t make facings and was also sort of considering using a shock-cord edge with toggles since I’d done that before. So what I ended up doing was using some stretch-knit cuff edging as a facing that would follow the curve. I just stretched it out a bit as I sewed it. The raw edges have a tendency to curl as knitting is wont to do, so that actually made it quite easy to turn under and stitch through all the layers, lining included, for an easy solution. In case I decide I want shock cord on the back edge after all, I cut the edging at the sides and then overlapped a new piece with the edge turned under to go around the back, so that there’s a casing already built in that I could shove some shock cord through if I want to, or I could leave it as is. I’ll probably leave it, actually. I’m hoping the reflective sleeve tabs will make it REALLY obvious when I’m signaling left turns.
I actually did the cuffs more or less the way the instructions said to, only I put more reflective tape over the sleeve tabs. I might actually change the cuffs or at least add elastic, but they’re the way they are for now.
So, that’s the story of my jacket. But I actually bought two jackets’ worth of materials, all in blue for me and all in green for Jake. And yes, I only got a yard and a half of the green, too. But knowing that in advance will help me figure out a better way to cut it, as will not needing to cut extra bits that I don’t need, etc.
For Jake, I’m going to take it in the same amount on the front and back sections, but make the gussets and neck a bit wider, and not lengthen the sleeves. Honestly, I could totally get away with doing the exact same thing for both of us, but as long as I’m at it, I might as well customize the fit for each of us.
One thing that’s been interesting about this project is comparing the way I do things now with the way I did them over a decade ago. I cut a lot more corners, I was sloppier, and I was a whole lot slower. And I didn’t keep track of what I changed. Actually, I was pretty cavalier. I did the pockets the way the pattern says to, and while I still think it’s cheesy, it also hasn’t bothered me, because when I saw that it was done that way, I had to actually go check to see if I did it that way.
The new jacket is a little heavier than the old one, and I suspect it will be warmer, but it’s also better vented. It’s a lot stiffer, but I think the old one was stiff when it was new, too. If nothing else, the gigantic reflective tape is stiff until it gets bent and creased a bit.
Next time, I’d consider changing the sleeves so they’re a little more contoured at the elbow and re-draft the top of the sleeve and the top of the armhole for a slightly more graceful fit. But that said, the side gussets make for great freedom of movement. With the lengthened sleeves, I can be all the way stretched out on my bike with my hands in the drops and the cuffs still come to my wrists. Of course, if this jacket lasts anywhere near as long as the last one, it will be years before I ever do. But at least I’ll have kept track of what I did. 🙂
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