Solid fabric is a blank canvas. I can think of few projects that illustrate this better than my new yarn embroidered coat. A skein of wool yarn and some patience transformed this plain ivory sweater fleece into something that I’m really excited about!
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Yarn Embroidered Coat
Do you ever have times when you find a fabric that’s so nice but it’s just kind of meh? That was definitely the case with this sweater fleece. I found it at Fabrix in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I probably circled the store 3 times before finally picking it up for cutting. It’s a very lofty fleece with a sweater knit face. It sports unbelievable warmth and a stable hand that makes it easy to sew.
And yet…the plain cream was so very plain. I bought it anyway and it’s sat in my stash for a very long time. When you go about embellishing fabric it’s a good thing to think about what it is that your fabric is. What works for denim or cotton might not work for something wooly and thick like this fabric. For instance, blockprinting would be a terrible choice because the surface of the fabric is not flat and not likely to hold the ink evenly. While applique would work, another fabric could potentially take away from the natural beauty of this fabric, simple as it was.
Make it wooly
If I had one word to describe this fabric, it would be “wooly”. It’s not wool, but it looks very much like it. So, I settled on enhancing the wooly nature of the fabric with actual wool in the form of wool yarn. For this project, I used Patons wool yarn in blue geyser. The resulting fabric looks like cat’s paradise. I totally love the texture and the abstract pattern and color the yarn lends to the fabric!
Couching the yarn
The pattern I used for the coat is Ottobre 5-2007-11. The pattern almost doesn’t matter here as much as the technique for the couching. Couching is when you take yarn (or something yarn-like) and strew it across the surface of a fabric and attach it to the fabric. You can use hand embroidery or machine stitches to affix the yarn. Alabama Chanin has a lot of great examples of couching like this and this.
I was shooting for something a little simpler and ultimately more minimal than Alabama Chanin’s style. To do this, I cut out my pieces with a good 2″ on every side of each pattern piece. I did this so that there wouldn’t be any distortion in the pieces in case the fleece behaved badly under the machine. I unwound the yarn from the skein and started twisting it as it wanted to do. Then I stitched across it with a zigzag stitch and rayon embroidery thread. Each pattern piece took about an hour to create, and the large back of the jacket took about 3. I broke up the stitching over several weeks. The highly repetitive nature of creating this textile was rough on me mentally. I was excited about what was coming off the machine, but the process was slow and not something I wanted to power through in a weekend.
Cutting and sewing
After all of the pieces were covered with the yarn, I cut out my pattern pieces properly. This fabric was so well behaved even after all of the manipulation it went through. There was no stretching or distortion of any kind.
This embroidered coat went together in probably 2 hours which was refreshing after the many many hours it took to get it to this point! As I said, the pattern itself is highly basic. It’s a long cardigan style coat. The one distinguishing feature is the tall neck, which is wonderful for blocking out the wind!
The embroidered coat closes with giant 30mm snaps. I think the large snaps suit the weight of the coat well and they look really, really cool. I had finished everything up when I realized that the snaps would cost a small mint if I went to my local JoAnn. The list price is $10 for 2 snaps, and I needed 6. Even with coupons, this was going to be too much. Luckily, I found an Ebay seller who was selling packages of 5 for $6 total. There’s better deals still for snaps on Ebay if you’re willing to buy in bulk. Yes, I had to wait for the shipping, but the price difference was too great, and I actually think the quality of these snaps is better than the Dritz ones.
The perfect embroidered coat
I have been wearing this coat continually since I stitched on my snaps. It’s perfect for cold winter days that aren’t actively snowy, and overall it is very cozy. The giant pockets are also a bonus for getting me through my many Mom trips to and back from school and errands.
When you see plain fabric, do you think, this is nice but it would be nicer if I added _______?
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.