Making my first quilted coat was one of the most pleasurable sewing experiences I’ve had in a long time. It just felt very creative and original to be making my own fabric—which is essentially what you’re doing when you’re quilting layers of fabric and batting together and coming up with this new quilted fabric. I actually can’t wait to sew my next quilted garment!
So, as previously promised, here are my tips on sewing and quilting a coat or jacket, or other type of garments:
1) Having quilting experience helps. Not going to lie here, I was immensely helped by the fact that I’ve taken several quilting classes and have made a few quilts. You can still sew a quilted garment successfully without having quilted before, but think about taking a beginner quilting class sometime. You’ll learn a new skill and meet some new sewists. I’m finding there’s more crossover these days between quilters and fashion sewers, with each group dabbling in both fashion sewing and quilting.
2) Choose a pattern with simple lines and a looser fit, at least for your first garment. Avoid lots of seams and details until you get a little more proficient at quilting garments. For my coat I chose Vogue Patterns V9123, which has very simple lines:
3) Hobbs wool batting has a nice loft and will keep you warm. (Loft is how much puffiness you get when you quilt it.) Marcy Tilton uses Hobbs wool batting when she quilts garments. Feel free to test other types of battings; I think which batting you choose is really a matter of personal preference. Make large (at least 10″ by 10″) quilting tests first to determine which batting to use and how far apart you want to place your quilting lines. Your batting supplier will have stitching info on the packaging.
4) Think about the properties of your outer and inner fabrics. The outer fabric is your fashion fabric and the inner fabric is your lining. How will quilting lines look on your outer fabric? Do you want them to pop or recede? Solid fabrics tend to show off quilting lines a little better than prints do, but don’t be afraid to use a print. For my inner fabric I used a quality poly charmeuse and it makes my coat heavenly to put on and wear. Plus, when charmeuse or other slippery fabrics are part of a quilt sandwich (outer fabric + batting + inner fabric) they become completely easy to work with and don’t shift on you.
5) Cut your pattern in a slightly bigger size, then take in the seams if you need to. I recommend you first make a muslin of your pattern to get a general idea of how it fits you. I did this with V9123, and discovered that without quilting it ran a little big on me, so adding quilting would probably make it fit just right.
6) Quilting may “shrink” your fabric, though probably not by much. Joining your outer fabric to batting and inner fabric through stitching may cause some shrinkage of the layers. For me, I didn’t experience any shrinkage width-wise of my outer fabric but I did in the length. Fortunately, because hems were added in the pattern to the sleeves and the coat, this didn’t matter as you don’t need those hems anyway (all edges are trimmed to appropriate size and then bound). Cutting your pattern in a larger size will help combat shrinkage.
7) Cut out your pattern pieces in your outer fabric first. Then use those pieces to cut your inner fabric, cutting about 1 to 1.5 inches extra fabric around the pattern pieces. Do the same with the batting, leaving extra fabric around the pattern prices. Then, after you’ve finished your quilting, you can trim each quilted piece again—cutting away the excess batting and inner fabric you cut as a safety in case of shrinkage—using your pattern tissue pieces as the cutting guide.
8) If you have a dog who likes to rip the stuffing out of all the toys you buy him, do not let him near your batting. I cut my batting pieces and fabric on my dining room table, moving the unused batting to an ottoman in my living room, just to get it out of the way for the time being while I finished spray basting. I happened to look over to see what my dog was doing, and there he was, tearing into the batting like it was a new chew toy. (Fortunately I was able to get it away from him before he did too much damage, but who’d have thought he’d eat my batting?!)
9) Hold your layers together using a spray baste. Because things like sleeves and coat backs and fronts aren’t very big, spray basting will hold the layers (outer fabric + batting + inner fabric) together nicely. First I placed my charmeuse sleeve piece on my table, wrong side facing up, sprayed it lightly with spray baste, and then placed the sleeve batting piece on top of it. Next, I sprayed the sleeve batting and placed the outer fabric sleeve piece on top of that, with the right side of the outer fabric on top. I repeated this for each pattern piece, which in my case was two sleeves, one back and two fronts. Important: Make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated room if you are using spray baste; or, better yet, do this part outside. And cover your table with an old sheet to protect it from the sticky spray residue.
10) Determine the quilting pattern you want to use and draw it on your outer fabric. For me, quilting a diamond pattern worked best as the fabric print actually formed diamonds. To better see where to stitch, I used a water-soluble fabric marker and ruler to draw stitching lines on the pieces.
11) Quilt in the middle of your pattern piece first, then move outward. You want to anchor the piece in the middle with your quilting stitching, then radiate outward. This will prevent your layers from bunching and shifting on you, and will help keep your piece smooth and not curving because the layers are pulled in different directions. Check your layers frequently as you stitch to make sure they’re not bunching or pulling. Alternate stitching direction with each row: Stitch one row starting from the left side of the piece, stitch the next row starting from the opposite side, and so on. This also helps prevent bunching.
In the illustration above, the blue lines indicate the first two lines to be stitched. Stitching first in the middle like this helps to anchor your garment piece and keep the layers from bunching and shifting as you stitch.
12) Surprise, quilting actually goes quickly. Because you’re working on relatively small pieces that aren’t very wide, you can get this part of the process done fairly fast. It took me just a couple of evenings to quilt my coat. Using a walking foot helps ease the layers through, so attach yours and use it if you have one. Important: Do not worry about achieving perfectly straight or parallel stitching lines. It’s actually more desirable and chic for your garment to look hand-quilted rather than machine-quilted in a factory.
13) You can stitch a regular 5/8″ seam, or wider if you choose. I stitched 5/8″ seams, pressed them open and Hong Kong seam-finished them. Unless your outer fabric is really thick, working with quilted seams is not a challenge at all. Try other seam finishes. For my next quilted coat, I may bind all the seams and make it reversible. See this post for more photos of my coat.
14) Use a quilting binding technique to finish your raw edges. I cut 2″-wide bias strips from cotton velvet for my coat. because I needed the stretch in a bias cut for the curve around the neckline. (Normally in quilting you can cut strips on the straight of grain, because there are no curves in most quilts, but garment generally have curves at the neck.) My strips were folded in half and then stitched to the right side of my coat’s edges, raw edges together. Then, I turned the binding in to the wrong side of the coat and hand-stitched it in place. Watch this video by the Missouri Quilt Company to learn how to sew a quilt binding.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to try quilting a garment. Seriously, it’s fun! If this sounds overwhelming, you can always start small and try quilting a little jacket for a baby or toddler. Leave any questions for me in the comments section, and let me know if you’re intrigued enough to try quilting a garment. Good luck!