My venture into coat making started with a bolt of bright red Softshell fabric on the bargain shelf at Fabricland. At $6 a meter I took all of it and then turned to the internet for advice on coat making. I decided that whichever pattern I used, it had to have Thinsulate. Softshell fabric is wind resistant and fleecy on one side, but if I’m making a coat, it’s going to be warm.
Coat patterns all assume you will be using a wool coating or synthetic wool-like coating. This meant I could find patterns for lined coats, but I couldn’t find one for an interlined coat. Even the internet has very little to offer and next to nothing on working with Thinsulate.
Working with Softshell
Wool coating, or even a synthetic coating, is not practical for me. My lifestyle calls for a coat I can wash. Wool is generally dry-clean only or hand wash very carefully and synthetic coating turns into a limp rag after a few rounds through the washing machine. Traditional coating fabrics aren’t very wind resistant either and I’m not a fan of drafts up my back.
What it is
Softshell is a tightly woven fabric laminated to a fleecy layer. I found its drape similar to a good garment quality suede or leather. The fleecy layer grabs everything, I was constantly picking off pet hair and stray threads. It also grabs at itself, so I definitely found it easier to cut right sides together.
Cutting and Marking
The exterior fabric is so tightly woven that it is wind and water-resistant, but it also shows pin marks. That was a bit of a challenge for me because I usually pin transfer all of my pattern markings. Whether due to the tight weave, or the laminating process, there is almost no fraying to worry about. Which is good, because it’s thick enough that I had to grade seam allowances a lot more aggressively than usual.
I tried a few needles before finding ones that worked well, #12 Microtex needles were best for minimal thread shredding and skipped stitches. The #14 Microtex were a no-go, along with universal, top stitching and denim needles. Even with the Microtex needles, top stitching was tricky. I actually started out top stitching with black on red and ended up cutting a new front for my coat. I could get good enough for coordinating thread but I couldn’t get anywhere near the perfection needed for contrasting thread. I gave my seam ripper a work-out on this project.
When it came to pressing my fabric, I thoroughly tested my iron on some scraps before starting my project. I worried about delaminating the layers. The fabric doesn’t hold a crease well, something to consider in your pattern choice. A clapper helps but I don’t think you could get good results without top-stitching your seams. A walking foot would have been nice to have but isn’t necessary. I’m using a vintage Singer Slant-O-Matic and the only walking foot I could find for it is crap, but I do miss having one.
Working with Thinsulate
The internet really let me down when I went looking for tips on sewing with Thinsulate. I was surprised considering how long it has been around. Add that to the fact that there isn’t a lot of info on interlining a coat and I made it up as I went. So if anyone has better methods or if I’ve done something that is just wrong, please share in the comments. This is just how I did things and there are definitely a few things I will do differently on my next coat. That said, my best information came from this document here.
What it looks like
Thinsulate looks like a bunch of cobwebby layers sandwiched between two layers of thin non-woven. I’ll give you a really important tip here – the non-woven stuff is melty so don’t touch it with your iron. It’s easy to see why the stuff is so desirable for outer-wear, it’s not at all bulky and it’s pretty easy to work with.
My Thinsulate was fused every 6 inches and 3M recommends you quilt it every 6 inches for washable garments. What little information I could find on interlining a coat called for attaching it to the lining, so that is what I did.
To keep it in place for quilting I used fusible hem tape to attach it to the lining. One blogger mentioned using washable quilt basting spray, but at $50 a can that just wasn’t happening for me. I fused my lining to my Thinsulate, pressing from the lining side. Honestly you just don’t want to touch it with your iron, it makes a big mess.
Once it I fused it, I stitched through both layers lining side down, and using the existing lines in the thinsulate as a guide. This was another area where a walking foot would have been helpful but it worked without it. The one thing I would do differently here? Don’t quilt into your hemlines, seam allowances, or any area that will be pleated for wearing ease. That way it will be easier for you to debulk those areas when you assemble your lining.
Once I had all of my lining pieces quilted, I treated each piece as one. I found it easier to sew than I expected, even setting in the sleeves wasn’t too bad.
One other suggestion…
Thinsulate is pretty thin, but it still adds bulk. If I make another coat, I’ll take all my measurements with a bulky sweater on and a layer of thinsulate wrapped around. I do find the sleeves on my finished coat fit more tightly than I would prefer.
And that’s that! The ins and outs of Softshell and Thinsulate explained. I hope you found it helpful.