I’ve made 3 bog coats and I have to say, I am not a fan.
I wrote about bog coats in November 2018. This style of coat is made from one piece of fabric with 3 basic cuts and what appears to be one seam. It is supposed to minimize fabric waste and be fairly simple to make. Well, the ancient Dane found in a bog with this coat had secrets that I haven’t been able to crack in trying to make 3 of these coats. (And I have a sewing machine, for crimeny’s sake!)
The bog coat design is certainly clever, but there are problems with executing this neatly.
Mini Bog Coat
Because the design of a bog coat is simple (see pattern here from Threads Magazine), I decided I’d make a mini bog coat first in order to figure out how to put it together. This bog coat is approximately 1/5th the size of the ones I made later to fit me.
Immediately, I ran into problems with the seams that attached the front tops to the front bottoms and simultaneously form the sleeves.
I had to figure out how to form the seam by using a seam allowance or topstitching. Topstitching was definitely the winner in terms of how the seam looked and functioned. I could also see from the mini bog coat that I was going to have trouble with the armpit area, where the “one” seam transitioned from the front of the coat to the sleeve. You can see a wrinkle in this area in the above photo. Not cool. I knew this was going to be tough to overcome.
Finding Fabric for Bog Coats
With what I learned about constructing a mini bog coat, specifically the problem armpit area, I decided I needed to make a full-size practice version.
At which point I discovered another problem with making a bog coat. If you are attempting to make it from one piece of fabric, which is the whole point of minimizing the number of seams and the cutting, you need a hella big piece of fabric to do so, especially if you want the sleeves to be full-length. You’re looking at fabric that measures 54-60 inches from selvage to selvage on the bolt.
Not only the size matters, but the drape of the fabric. If you want a loose, flowing coat, you have to find loose, flowing fabric, but your coat won’t be substantial or warm if the fabric is too flimsy. And you probably don’t want a coat that is too stiff (think certain upholstery fabrics) or it won’t hang well or bend well at the elbows or shoulders.
Trying to find a large enough piece of fabric that is the correct drape in a home stash is like trying to get Goldilocks’ porridge, chair and bed just right.
As I was searching my stash for a piece of fabric I didn’t care about for the practice coat, I was also looking for pieces I could use for my ‘for realz’ bog coat. To complicate matters further (because why not?), I wanted to make a lined bog coat, so I was hunting for 2 pieces of coordinating fabric in roughly the same size.
After digging around a bit, unfolding potential fabrics to see if the size might be right, I found a piece for the practice bog coat, a sickly gray-green polyester piece, and 2 pieces for the final coat, a woven tweedy brown check and a dark green knit for the lining. I wasn’t sure about mixing the knit with the woven because knits have more stretch, but this was a relatively stiff knit with little stretch, so I decided to take a chance on it. Besides, I like the combination of tweedy brown with dark green because of its earthy feel, appropriate to a bog coat, I thought.
Full-Size Practice Bog Coat
I made the practice coat first and had problems right where I thought I would, at the armpit corners, which are sharp angles and hard to get right. I determined you can’t properly sew directly across the front seam of the jacket and onto the sleeve without the risk of creating an unsightly pucker at the armpit transition.
The best way to work this transition is to first sew the front seam up the the armpit corner, then end that seam maybe a few stitches shy of the armpit corner in order to allow for adjustments. Take the whole coat off the machine, then make sure your sleeve edges are lines up as best you can and stitch the sleeve from the armpit out to the wrist. This will give you more control of the armpit corner.
However, note that I warn you to make sure the sleeve edges are lined up as best you can. That’s because, though this pattern is clever in design with its 3 cuts and minimal seams, it’s a royal pain to line up the fabric you fold over to form the upper part of the jacket and sleeves. Because you are cutting slashes in the fabric, there are no seam allowances, which means you have to fold the upper body/sleeve down to overlap the material you fold to create the lower part of the body of the jacket.
In creating this overlap so you can sew the seam of the upper body to the lower body, you have to cant the fabric slightly, which causes the edges of your sleeves not to line up perfectly. While you can massage the sleeve seams to line up again near the wrists, the seam at the armpits will be off. Aaaargh!
The Threads pattern linked above suggests putting quarter-inch slashes at the armpit corners, which I assume is supposed to help with sewing through this area more neatly. I tried that and it didn’t help much. I also received a bog coat/dress pattern from Liz Haywood, an Australian seamstress who blogs at The Craft of Clothes. She suggests overlocking the edges of the arm/front seams first, cutting the seam short of the armpit, and allowing your serger to cut the last little bit as you come to the armpit. She also suggests dipping down your stitches a bit at the armpit corner in order to not get puckers in the fabric.
While I don’t have a serger, so couldn’t leave a bit uncut, I did use a zigzag stitch on all the edges. I couldn’t quite manage the dipping down of the stitches, though.
For Realz Full-Size Bog Coat
Once I had the imperfect practice coat done, I was impatient to move on to the ‘for realz’ tweedy brown coat with dark green lining.
I got the 2 pieces of fabric cut to roughly the same size, with the tweedy brown a bit longer in case I wanted to hem it up for a finished look.
As I was making the cuts for the sleeves/bodies and necks, I had the fabrics laid out on the floor and was trying to imagine how I was going to sew them so the dark green would serve as a proper lining. This takes thought because you’re basically trying to make a reversible coat, which means you can’t have weird, unfinished seams showing on the inside.
Also, creating a finished seam along the neck, front and wrist edges might mean sewing the two pieces with right sides together at certain points and turning them right-side-out. However, you can’t just sew all the seams where the fabrics meet at the “public” edges (wrists, neck, front) while the right sides are together or you will create a piece where you can’t turn the garment inside-out. You’ll end up with a coat that is merely 2 pieces of fabric stitched together.
(This is difficult to explain, so forgive me, non-sewers. While my description is ham-fisted, I suspect it will make sense to the sewers who have dealt with linings before.)
As I was mentally trying to figure out how to bring the lining and shell together to make a finished piece, I realized I also had to deal with the seams of the sleeves/fronts on both fabrics. I suspected I was going to have t make each coat separately then put them together around the edges, maybe with topstitching rather than using the right-sides-together sewing technique.
And then I laid one coat piece on top of the other to visualize this better and saw that my cuts to form the sleeves/fronts/sizes did not line up. Like at all on one side. Shit. I had mis-measured and should have cut both pieces together.
Abandon bog coat ship!
Well, abandon the idea of a lined bog coat anyway. Which I did.
I sewed up the dark green piece to make a bog coat, having the same troubles with the armpit areas I had before and decided that bog coats are not for me.
Now I need to figure out how to salvage the tweedy brown piece of fabric I cut to make a bog coat because I am not going through that frustration again. And I really like that piece of fabric.
If anyone tries to imply that our forebears were somehow not as bright or talented as we are today, have them attempt making what looks to be a simple bog coat. Ha!