do it yourself...
Every year I face the same shopping struggles: finding summer sandals, spring jackets, and winter coats. A few months ago I had started the familiar yearly routine of setting up shopping alerts and trawling shops both online and physical for a coat that might take me through the colder winter days. Although not the coldest by any means, London winters can still drop below 5 degrees at which point none of the coats I have can keep me warm enough. I started to despair when it occurred to me I should find a shearling coat, which would definitely be warm enough and as a meat-eater I’m more comfortable with lambskin than fox or mink. And so began the long search for a shearling coat that met my criteria – I wanted one that hit around the knee, belted, with a collar and with the fur side out.
At 5′2″ it’s difficult for me to find a coat that doesn’t completely swamp me. The closest I came was this Burberry coat but the sleeves were several inches too long and the fur lined the inside rather than the outside of the coat – it was too expensive for something I didn’t love.
Eventually I decided to take matters into my own hands and begin the journey of making my own shearling coat that would hopefully fit me perfectly. Being only a beginner-intermediate sewer, it was a sharp learning curve. I’ve detailed all my steps and mishaps if you want to try this for yourself. Alternatively try the super easy DIY fur scarf. If you’d prefer to buy a shearling coat I’ve picked out the best I’ve found online on the next page.
shop shearling coats
shop shearling coats
For the pattern you’ll need:
- Use the tracing paper to trace carefully the various sections of the body of your coat. Use the pattern ruler and french curves to smooth out the lines on the tracing paper.
- Follow a sleeve pattern drafting tutorial for the sleeves based on your new pattern.
- Cut out your pattern pieces out with scissors or a rotary cutter. Mark which piece belongs where on the coat (it’s helpful to number them and have a diagram on a separate piece of paper).
- If you have some fabric lying around you can create a toile and use it to adjust your pattern if necessary. I would recommend doing this particularly for adjusting the sleeves.
Now the trickiest part: you need to buy enough shearling to fit all your pieces on.
Be aware that real shearling pieces are variable in size and shape and be mindful of the direction of fur growth as you want to minimise sections on your coat having opposing fur directions. I ended up with skins of these sizes (all in square feet):
3.0, 3.25, 3.5, 3.5, 3.75, 4.25, 4.75, 5.0
although there’s no guarantee that buying these exact sizes will be enough. It will involve some trial and error – try to pick an eBay seller that allows returns just in case. The 3-4 size skins are great for arms and the 4+ sizes are great for front and side sections. Larger hides tend to have longer fur too which is bulkier.
Arrange all your tracing paper pattern pieces on your shearling taking care of the direction of hair growth as mentioned previously, draw around and leave a small seam allowance, and then cut out. Use a knife, or if using scissors keep the blades close to the leather and make small snips to avoid cutting the long fur.
The recommended way to stitch together fur on a conventional sewing machine is to use a zig zag stitch on the edge of the pieces of fur, but I found my machine could not handle this and in practise it was immensely difficult. Instead, I used a lapped seam. I arranged and stuck the edges of the pieces together with micropore tape (as an alternative to furriers tape) and leather glue in problem areas. Take note of how the fur grows in each overlap. I stuck down the entire coat and tried it on before sewing to check it was all OK. The tape was incredibly helpful and as it’s cloth-like was able to stabilise the leather whilst sewing and avoid it stretching out.
Sewing machine supplies
- Needle threader
- Bobbin pack
- Leather sewing needles
- Extra strong polyester thread
- Sewing machine feet set
- Walking foot
Sewing it all together:
- Set up your machine with a leather needle and walking foot with extra strong polyester thread on top and don’t forget to thread a bobbin.
- Sew a zig zag stitch on the machine over the overlapped taped areas on the body. You can also use a straight stitch although I found it was easy to miss the overlap.
- For the sleeves, as they wouldn’t fit over my machine’s arm, I had to switch to an embroidery/darning foot and put down the feed dogs and funnel the arms through bit by bit to sew.
- I wanted a double-sided fluffy collar. Sewing the fur edge-to-edge with raw edges visible didn’t look great so I aligned the collar pieces edge-to-edge with the suede side facing out and taped together, then did a straight stitch as close to the edge as possible. Turning the collar sections furry side out created a lovely seamless looking collar.
- Create pattern pieces if you haven’t already for pockets. I drew roughly around my outspread fingers as I wanted small pockets just big enough for my hand and my phone. mark on your body pattern pieces where the pocket should go.
- Purchase a leather (which you can also use for a belt) and cut out the pocket pieces using a rotary cutter and cutting board leaving a small seam allowance and one pocket slightly longer than the other where they attach to the coat.
- Mark a line on the inside of the coat where the pockets will attach using the pocket pattern pieces from 1. Straight stitch the longer pocket piece to the coat on the side of the line closer to the back of the coat, with the leather side to the suede side of the coat. Straight stitch next to this, leaving a tiny gap, the smaller pocket piece with the suede side next to the suede side of the coat. The pocket pieces should align when flat against the coat. Straight stitch the pocket pieces together to complete the pocket and repeat for the other side of the coat.
- Use small, sharp scissors to cut the pocket slits in the coat between the pocket pieces to complete the pockets.
Things you’ll need:
- Lay out your pattern pieces and buy the appropriate amount of anti-static lining. I bought roughly 1m x 1.5m. You can simplify the pattern (you don’t need to cut every piece out if you can place them next to each other on the fabric). Leave a seam allowance at the edges.
- Cut out the pieces and use a universal needle, normal weight thread and presser foot or straight stitch foot to stitch the pieces together to form a coat made out of lining.
- Buy some leather for the facing that matches roughly the fur colour, which will run from the bottom of the collar to the bottom of the coat on both sides. This just makes it look a bit tidier, gives the buttons something sturdy to stick on to and hides the lining somewhat. Cut out the leather sections (mine were 3.5cm in width).
- Switch back to the leather needle and extra strong polyester thread, and using a presser foot or straight stitch foot, sew the leather pieces to the edges of the lining.
- Then sew the body of the lining to the body of the coat, wrong sides together. I skipped sewing the lining to the coat at the bottom and instead hemmed the bottom edge of the fur. Switch to an embroidery/darning foot to sew the sleeves together. This is a good lining tutorial to use..
The finishing touches (mostly optional)
- Leather for belt
- Leather glue
- Leather edge paint
- No-sew press fasteners: eBay / amazon
- OR sew press fasteners: eBay / amazon
- Handle sewing needle
Use the hand needle or small scissors to pull the hairs caught in the stitches out – the fur should now cover the seams. You can also trim the fur at the seams if the fur overlaps here.
Buttons/fasteners: You can choose between non-sew and sew. I chose sew as I didn’t want the outside of the coat to have visible buttons. Measure where you want to place your fasteners and use the machine with a normal presser foot to stitch them on.
- Follow this tutorial to create thread belt loops and attach them to your coat – I poked holes in the sides and threaded them through, knotting at the ends inside the coat.
- You can purchase a leather, or use the same leather for the facing to sew a belt. Measure how long you want your belt to be and cut out the pieces. If the leather is thick, sew sections edge to edge to create a long belt, or if it’s thin sew as usual with a seam allowance. Use the leather glue to hold the edges together, then straight stitch along the perimeter of the belt. If you want to look really professional, finish the edges with leather edge paint.