My 10-Day Tailoring Challenge

McCall 8420 Junior Miss TwoPiece Suit 1935

About 7 days ago I decided to start a tailoring project.

Years ago I received McCall 8420, a 1935 pattern with a skirt and kinda-half-Norfolk jacket. The pattern was my grandmama’s, who resembled one of the illustrated women, and the size was a junior 11.

24 inch waist, are you kidding me!? There was no way it would fit me, so this turned into a grading project.

…which I stagnated on (of course), until I bought Simplicity 3688, containing a retro 1940s blazer pattern, to use as a cross-reference on the 1935 jacket.

Using the jacket pattern to cross-reference

It worked! I traced out the vintage pattern and new pattern pieces on my brown wool and adjusted accordingly.

So with 10 days until leaving for the holidays, I sliced into the wool, muslin underlining, hair canvas, and satin lining, tailor-tacking and pad stitching like a boss.

The hair canvas on one of the front pieces
The front piece with the hair canvas attached, trimmed, darts done up, and the lapel pad stitched and taped, steaming for shape over a rolled towel.

I was thrilled with how easily things went together. I had the complicated back assembled by the end of the night, along with the front pieces darted and steamed to shape.

The jacket back, made up of  5 different pattern pieces. I made several mistakes here and even had to recut the skirt. All noted for next time, though…

Day two had me pad stitching the lapels and taping the edges. Day three I was working on the collar, crashing through the tailoring sections of Vogue Sewing Book, Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing, and Couture Sewing Techniques to understand this delicate and complex part of the project.

At this point it looks a bit like a rumpled mess, but you can see the lapels rolling nicely, and the under collar has been pad stitched and steamed to shape. It looks too long right now, but ended up being a little short when all put together and attached.

Facings went on and collars were attached, but at this point my little mistakes made at the beginning started to become bigger problems. The biggest one was that the belt in the back wasn’t straight. I know now why it happened, but it was stupid of me not to see the flaw when everything was flat and fixable. Another issue arose in my choice of materials for taping the edges – I used cotton twill tape when I should have used super-thin seam binding. My patch pockets weren’t applied all that well, and my collar knotches are funky.

Last night I set in the sleeves, easing and shrinking an extra inch and a half into the armscyes and achieving a smooth sleeve cap (this is sorcery, I swear), and you know what? Even with my mistakes and fumblings, now that it’s starting to look like a proper jacket, I’m proud of it!

Facings are on, sleeves are set, and now it’s looking pretty good. Time for lining and closures

You see, tailoring is a dark art. I don’t mean just the taking in or letting out of clothes to fit you; I mean the manipulation of cloth, by means of hidden structural and shaping techniques, to hang and act as intended on a specific body. The amount of engineering that goes into a Saville Row bespoke dinner jacket is staggering, but even cheap suit jackets have these interfacings and stabilizing layers.

There’s tailoring. And then there’s tailoring.

It’s at once forgiving and punishing, but somehow always rewarding. Even just a *little* tailoring goes a long way, and the difference between a tailored and un-tailored garment is huge. Once you go down that pad-stitched rabbit hole, you can never…ever…go back. So perhaps spending my 10 days pad stitching, steaming, and easing pieces together appears to be a waste of time, but the result is well worth it, and in the words of Guy Martin, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

As 007 says…

So today I will be assembling and attaching the lining, and working the buttonholes, and then I’ll be proud to say that I finally made Grandmama’s 1935 half-Norfolk jacket…

…and it’s tailored.


  • j3nnyclair3

    December 20, 2014 at 5:52 AM

    It looks awesome!
    The tailoring class I took used this book…Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Women's Wear. It was very informative as well!

  • Kat

    December 20, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    Hey I think that turned out wonderful! Pad stitching is still sorcery to me. I did it (well, my uneducated version of it) for my husband's Regency vest lapels, and I still have no idea how it's really supposed to be done. I stare at images of the pad stitching others have done and still don't quite get it. Perhaps one of those books you mentioned should be on my Wish List. I need to step things up!

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2014 at 11:31 PM

      All tailoring is sorcery. If somebody showed me an armscye that was 17" around and a sleeve head that was 19" around I would never ever believe that those two would go together without a wrinkle or a rumple at all, and yet they do!

  • Carla

    December 20, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    It looks so gorgeous!!
    It's giving me hope to take on a project I'm looking to do soon. I have a couple of books on tailoring I'm sure I'll be pouring through

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2014 at 11:31 PM

      Yes, have the books open while you're working on your project. It's all totally confusing until you lay hands on the cloth and start doing the techniques (and even then some of the stuff is confusing).

  • fixitfaerie

    December 20, 2014 at 10:00 PM

    Very nice! I have a picture (somewhere) of my maternal grandmother wearing a suit that looks very much like yours. I think the picture was taken in the late 30's-40's. She sewed and tailored all of her clothes and she always instilled in me that it is a 'must' to tailor your clothes. It was much easier when I was younger and poor and made all of my clothes. lol

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 20, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      Yes! And I find that the better at sewing I get, the more I demand that things be fitted *just so*. It was so much easier back in the day when I could just stitch together any ole Simplicity pattern and be happy with it, lol

  • Adrienne Simpson

    March 5, 2022 at 2:19 AM

    Beautiful work.
    I have a question about the pattern, though. I was wondering if the original sleeve is one piece, or two? I’m looking into possibly recreating this coat myself sometime in the future and was curious if that might be something that I might need to adjust on my own pattern?


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