I live in the desert.
We get, oh, a handful of days of novelty rain per year and so a raincoat is not something that regularly factors into my wardrobe.
So it is conundrum when I go to those strange, alien-like lands where rain is common and plentiful. Now, before I start this off, I need to say that, yes, I did have a raincoat before I decided to make this one in 3 days, but it had some issues. 1. It had no hood, ffs, and 2. It only came down to high-thigh level. I’ve searched at length for a vintage-style raincoat that is a longer length, has a hood, and is truly waterproof without being made of shiny PVC. Nothing checked all my boxes (and I’m first to admit I’m picky and usually disappointed with 83% of clothing I buy from elsewhere), so I decided to make my own.
Enough with the prattle, on with the project …
|My chosen pattern and the fabric, a gore-tex-like semi-breathable and very waterproof fabric.|
I used Hollywood 1777, a 1940s “coat-dress” pattern. It seemed simple enough but in hindsight I recommend a pattern without a waist seam…something big and tent-like. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly: I added in-seam pockets and the ever important hood, which I traced off a regular knit hoodie and added a fish-shaped gusset.
|I traced off the hood shapes from a hoodie. I was worried about the hood being too small/close, so I added an extra gusset into the center seam, which gave plenty of extra space.|
|Here you can see the gusset – its wide at the front and tapers to a point at the back/neck edge, so no extra length had to be dealt with when setting this to the neckline of the coat.|
My raincoat is made of a “Gore-Tex-Like” fabric, plain-weave rayon for the lining, and almost all of the seams are taped with heat-adhesive waterproofing tape. The gore-tex-like fabric is lightweight, matte in finish, breathable, and epicly waterproof, and it was available at my local Mill End shop, along with the seam tape. The rayon came from Nicole, who is herself a magical genie with all the best fabrics and somehow willing to part with some of this.
|Goretex with rayon bemberg (plain weave) lining, which was breathable and comfortable. I originally got cotton for the lining but we all decided it would be too “sticky” when trying to put the coat on over other clothes.|
|The finished coat front with the extension, snaps, and belt.|
I added width to the side seams of the pattern to adjust for my measurements and ease, which probably would’ve worked fine for a dress, but for an overcoat it all came up a bit small. I ended up adding two rather wide pieces to the front to create enough of an over-and-underlap to keep water out and to be able to easily close the coat. This worked fine but I didn’t do a great job in the finishing (shhh…just don’t look at the hem…eeeee).
|Clipping under the seam allowances in progress, which is when I decided I’d need front extensions for this to fit loosely like an overcoat and not snug like a dress.|
I constructed the outer shell first, taping every seam as I went. I trimmed, pressed, and adhered the tape over each seam using no steam and a press cloth. I originally bought 10 yards of the seam tape but had to go back for more. It’s amazing how much length is in the seams of what appears a basic pattern!
|Here you can see the seam tape applied. So the seam allowance is trimmed, pressed open, and the tape heat-adhered over the top. You have to do the tape at every step not after it’s all done.|
|The tape isn’t pretty and it kindof feels like “oh my gosh, this is going to look all puckery on the outside,” but the goretex is weirdly forgiving. Just get that tape on there. The armscyes were the biggest pain in the tookus – everything else was pretty straightforward.|
I had some problem-solving to do with the edges. The idea is that everywhere there is stitching water can enter, which makes cuffs, front edges, and hems particularly tricky.
For the sleeve cuffs, I sewed the lining and outer fabric right sides together at the cuff, opened it out and taped the seam, then pulled the lining up into the sleeve, hand-stitching the armscyes of the lining in the tailor’s method.
|Once the outer shell was constructed, I bag lined it around all edges save the hem – here you can see it all inside out with the facings and lining ready to stitch on along the front and neck edges.|
I ended up not taping the hem. I figured that it was way down there and not at high risk for water ingress, so I just serged the edge, turned it up, and top stitched it. The lining at the hem gave me the most trouble and it’s not really level. I hemmed it by machine and tacked it to the main seam allowances of the outer fabric with loose-ish thread loops, which mimics the seam finish used on my London Fog rain jacket but not done nearly as well.
A bit of luck – may hood came out great! The dress pattern is collarless and I sortof wing-and-a-prayer’d the hood onto the neck edge and was pleased to find it came out perfectly. It’s my favorite part of the coat.
|OMG it worked!|
For the closures, I opted for snaps instead of buttons and buttonholes. My buttonhole attachment on my machine is dodgy at best and I didn’t want to ruin the hard work and good luck I’d had in making this thing. I’m pleased to say the snaps work great and it’s very quick and easy to get the coat on and off.
|I was warm, dry, and fashionable on the days it rained. I could also sit down on the damp benches of the historic ferries and steamers when everybody else fled inside because I was the only one with a raincoat long enough to cover my derriere (lol).|
So the verdict? Does it actually work in the rain? Yes! I’m writing to you from the UK, where it rained all day and I stayed nice and dry.
Have you been thinking of making your own raincoat? Here are my tips for success:
- Fabric choice is important. There are lots of waterproof fabrics, but not all are breathable; some are a bear to sew and require special presser feet, and some shred in the seams. I highly recommend Gore-tex (or in my case, off-brand gore-tex) and it was a pleasure to sew and is wonderfully waterproof. For lining, rayon is the standard. Cotton is too “sticky,” silk is very warm. A slippy polyester isn’t a bad idea but it won’t be as breathable.
- Tape those seams! The curves seams are trickiest, but otherwise it was no big deal and does not add noticeable stiffness to the finished garment. I have no idea what brand my tape was, but Goretex seam repair tape is available on Amazon.
- Choose a simple pattern. My pattern had way more seams, and way more work, than it needed. A 1940s straight-cut coat would be perfect, or a 1950s swing coat. Nice, long, straight, simple seams. Belt these and you’re good to go. Insta-vintage, easy-to-make.
- No pins! Pins leave holes, which means water can get in. Instead, I used Wonder Clips and they worked perfectly.
- Account for ease. Make sure there’s enough ease so you can get your coat on over your clothes.
- No hood? No problem. There are tons of free diagrams and patterns online for hoods of various shapes and sizes. It’s easy to add a hood in lieu of a collar, though there are also designs that have hood+collar combos. A little trickier, but doable.
- Study how professionally-made raincoats are finished, particularly around the hems. Try to reproduce these finishes.
- Consider pockets. I felt the patch pockets included with my 1940s pattern weren’t a good choice for a raincoat because their openings face upwards and they could fill with water. In re-considering, next time I would do a tilted patch pocket or a shaped in-seam pocket.
|mission accomplished – 1940s style raincoat made, worn, loved.|
Have courage! You can do this! Heck, I did it in 3 days with zero idea of what I was doing, which means you can definitely kick ass making your own raincoat. Grab a pattern, order some materials, and get stitching, and be ready for everyone to covet your fashionable new rain slicker and ask you where you got it. <3