A lot of firsts with this project! First biker/moto jacket, first time I worked with leather, first time I worked with shearling, and first time I ever did lapped seams. This is my final entry for Pattern Review’s Natural Fibers contest, which end on October 31.
Shearling biker jackets don’t seem to be too common – especially the ones with a waist seam – but I found a couple of them.
My jacket had a few style changes from the original style:
- Added a waistline seam
- Omitted the sleeve zippers
- Changed the placement of the horizontal sleeve seam to be closer to the elbow, and split the undersleeve horizontally at the same level
- Combined the lower mid/side front pieces
- Omitted the pockets. I couldn’t get a nicely shaped pocket piece that wouldn’t hang out from the bottom of the jacket without compromising the length of the opening.
I used this lambskin shearling, which I bought on sale from Fabric Mart not quite a year ago. The fleece side is extremely soft and crimped. It varied between 1/4″ and 3/8″ in loft. I needed 15 (!) of them.
My zipper was a #5 antique brass zipper from Cleaner’s Supply. The thread was Gutermann Mara 70.
My biggest challenge with this project was the fact that the 17 shearling skins I bought were tiny…and at this point it wasn’t as if I could just go out and buy more if I was short. (The small size is why I added the waistline seam.) To ensure that I would have enough for the whole jacket I cut out/altered all of my pattern pieces, then placed them on the skins. I marked each skin with a Post-it note saying which pieces fit on it. There was a lot of crossing out and rewriting, and it took a couple of hours because I triple-checked my work to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. But when I was done I not only fit everything, but actually ended up with two extra skins to spare! (Maybe I can make matching mittens?) When it came time to cut out the pieces a it went somewhat quickly because I was able to just reference the Post-it notes, place the pieces, and cut.
When I was cutting I worked from the shearling side and used a combination of pattern weights and loosely pinning the pattern piece to the fleece to prevent it from scooting around. This was a rare project where I cut with scissors rather than a rotary cutter. If the pattern marking was along a lapped seam I marked it with chalk on the suede side. If it was an internal seam I made small clips with the scissors.
My second challenge was with the lapped seams. It took a bit of thinking before I could wrap my head around how they worked. Basically the stitching line of the piece that is placed on top will be slightly offset, either to the left or right of the actual seamline. You mark the placement of the top layer onto the bottom layer with chalk (abutting the seam allowance against this chalked line.)
Here’s a couple of drawings so you can visualize how it works. Note: I used 3/8″ seam allowances and my stitching line was 3/16″ from the edge.
When I actually sewed the pieces together I just went slowly and carefully, stopping often to check my placement because the shearling tended to obscure the chalked placement line.
Right after I cut out my Ziggi I was all set to try out lapped seams on some scraps. Good thing I did, because my Janome 6500P did NOT want to sew this stuff. I tried a regular foot, a Teflon foot, a walking foot, and experimented with presser foot pressure. The walking foot did the best but the machine just did not want to push this stuff through and the stitches looked very uneven. (I think the crimp of the shearling was confusing the feed dogs.) I took it to my Seiko STH8-BLD-3 industrial machine, which is a compound walking foot machine. (This means that machine has a triple feed system – in addition to the bottom feed dogs it has a two section walking foot, AND the needle helps feed the fabric. Very good for multiple layers of thick fabric.) It ended up being easier to handle on that machine than denim! Everything just pushed right through, no stopping to readjust. I love how the lapped seams came out – very strong and almost no bulk. And no pressing required!
Due to not having to finish seams and the lack of a lining this jacket sewed up very quickly. I think I spent more time planning and cutting than I did sewing.
To make the stitching line as accurate as possible I used my 3/16″ topstitching/compensator foot. I set my stitch length to 6mm. (That’s slightly longer than what most domestic machines can do, yet due to the thickness of the skins it looked more like 4mm topstitching on denim.) When I got to the end of each seam I tied the thread tails in a knot and clipped the ends off. For hemming I turned back the 3/4″ hem allowances to the outside and then topstitched in place by sewing 3/16″ away from the cut edge.
My fitting adjustments were:
- Lengthened the lower section of the sleeve 1.5″
- Added 1″ width to the sleeves at the elbow/bicep
- 3/8″ forward shoulder alteration
- Added 2″ to the hip
- Added a total of 3/4″ to the front side seams at the waistline level
- Took in each side/center back seam at the waist 1.5″
- Added 1.25″ to the upper back
I bounced back and forth between doing a muslin and not doing a muslin, and in the end I just didn’t feel like doing on. So instead I did flat pattern measurements, comparing them to a well-fitting jacket, and altered as necessary. This is a rugged, more casual style jacket and the lambskin had enough “give” to it that I wasn’t worried about it being too small. I didn’t want to overfit either because I spent quite a bit of money on the shearling and want to make sure I will still be able to wear it if I gained weight. I was also very eager to get these skins out of my stash. 2-4 square foot shearling skins may be small, but 17 of them take up a lot of room. After I cut out my pieces I had a pile of scraps that was larger than the pile of my pattern pieces!