Reader’s Closet: A Lockdown Labor of Love
This submission comes from Annie M. from the U.K.
Annie decided to show us her “lockdown coat” on Show us Your Threads! on the Threads Facebook page. Followers of our Facebook page loved the nearly finished product – and we did too! Below, we get insight into the inspiration and the labor behind the construction of this lovely coat.
Note: We have chosen to post this in the original British English rather than American English. Enjoy!
I’m Scottish and our famous Bard, Rabbie Burns said “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”. I had lots of plans for this sewing year but they’ve had to change and adapt along with me as a little old thing called Covid-19 showed up in March this year.
We had just managed to visit our newest grandson Bruce (after The Boss!) in California and felt lucky that we traveled unscathed before lockdown changed our lives.
Serious lockdown begins. We bunkered down, stopped looking after our other much loved grandson, Fox, but kept in touch with family and friends through Zoom & Skype and although not as good as kisses & cuddles, we at least got to ‘clap eyes on them’ as my nana used to say.
I had started sewing a navy blazer and had struggled with the lining and the notched lapels. At times I seriously wanted to throw it in the bin, but I persevered and (with some cursing) finally wrangled it in to a jacket and decided to wait for milder weather to wear it out and about.
My much loved and often visited fabric store, Leon’s here in Manchester where I live, had closed like other supposedly “non essential” businesses, so I visited my stash instead. There are all sorts in there but usually nothing large enough for a lightweight coat pattern I wanted to make (Simplicity 4789). However I found a large remnant piece of curtain fabric with a really nice pattern which had cost just £5 from the bargain bin, so off I went.
I planned to wear it if and when when we were able to go out to the theatre again. It became my Hope Coat. My cousin had given me a cardigan which had belonged to her late mum, my aunt Margie. It had great clasps so I repurposed one for the neck fastener. It feels so nice to wear, it’s light & looks way more expensive than it was. It’s great feeling when you get a coat for a £5!
The weather is mild, I could wear my navy blazer but I have nowhere to go. This lockdown is starting to feel burdensome, and somehow it is harder to motivate myself to pursue projects. We are retirees so we’re used to organising our days and we consider ourselves blessed in that we have a roof over our heads, food, clean water, heating, gas, electricity, trash collections and the toilet still flushes! We have a garden and can be outside as this spring is warm and dry. We adapt the way we shop, we keep our social distancing in mind, we’re Skyping, writing letters & cards until we run out of stamps – it’s a pain but we’re doing ok.
Until Monday 13th April, Easter Monday, that is. There had been virtually no traffic on our quiet street. Cars are parked in front of houses – some have moss growing on their windscreens! The skies are quiet & clear of jet streams. Then our much loved, mischievous cat Buzz was knocked down and killed by a car right outside our front door. All of a sudden the trauma, grief & shock pierces and shatters our bubble. Already acutely aware of grief, trauma, shock and desperate sadness enveloping families the world over, this, in the scheme of things, was ours.
Some neighbours who were out walking saw it and the very next morning there were cards, tulips on our doorstep and flowers sent to us in the post. People are kind.
Sewing, so many times a source of joy & pleasure, for example making 35 (yes 35) Christmas shirts for family & friends (that’s a whole other blog!) or making a Beatles Jacket & a shirt for our eldest son for his brother’s wedding in New York, took a back seat for a while. My husband, the hero, buried Buzz in our back garden, the 7th and last cat to be interred there. Time to recover.
Responding to my husband’s gentle nudging I decide I need an autumn weight coat. It would be just the thing! I loved the idea of a camel wool coat for the Autumn. I looked long and hard through all the patterns I have – nothing inspiring there so I browsed for something with a simple collar, no lining, no buttonholes and best of all no notches on the lapels – it didn’t even have a lining – bliss – or so I thought!
The pattern I settled on was Simplicity 1067. I liked it as it seemed simple and the girl who modelled it reminded me of early photos of my mum so it was labelled ‘The Mary Coat’, although this eventually changed to the Lockdown Coat.
How to get the right fabric? Again, my husband searched the internet, found a company and we bought yards of camel fabric – 80% wool & 20% nylon, a really serviceable mixture. Pause whilst waiting for the fabric to arrive. I study the pattern notes. No lining, no buttonholes, no notched collar. I’m thrilled and I read, reread and make notes on the instructions, I’m good to go and all I need is the fabric to arrive.
It arrives and I’m really pleased. It came the size of a small cushion in tightly wrapped plastic, well sealed and undamaged. I slice open the parcel. You know those yellow emergency inflatable boats you see in films, well it was just like that! How they got it wrapped so tightly I’ll never know! It weighed a ton and the fabric wasn’t creased or wrinkled .
Lockdown continues apace. I set myself to the task of cutting out my pattern pieces, carefully marking the wrong side with chalk as there’s no nap or pattern. The collar is huge!
I go to my thread boxes to fetch matching thread – there are at least 4 spools which by all accounts should be perfect but no, they’re all either too light or too dark! In my Threads magazine there’s an article that says you don’t need to match thread to your fabric – unless you are top stitching. Whats the first thing I have to do on this coat? Top stitch the pocket in place!
The stores are still closed, so back on the internet for camel colour thread. How can you do subtle colour matching a screen? I plump for two, one called camel the other fawn! Fingers crossed at least one will match, so another pause while I wait for the thread to arrive… Finally it arrives and one thread is perfect! Disproportionate joy at the match! OK, now I’m ready for the sewing to start. My notes have been annotated and it begins well.
End of May
I realise that the Lockdown Coat is taking time to make. Some days I work away for hours, looking up to see the clock has raced away and its time for dinner. Other days I can’t seem to get going at all – and then it’s time for dinner. Days pass, I couldn’t really tell you which days were which, time had no real meaning as our routines stretch and warp like scenes from a science fiction movie. We still do our keep fit session but now it’s at 10.30 instead of 8.30, we have dinner at 7ish. I don’t know how the time passed between these hours but they just did.
Our oldest son was scheduled to move to Vancouver to start a Masters degree in August. He works in the media and was living in a 1 room bed-sit, saving money to go to study. Work dried up so he came back to stay with us. Another shift and change in the household routine. It’s not been easy for any of us.
My coat was calling to me from my workroom. I didn’t answer – I ignored it, feeling like a child again when I should be doing my homework but wasn’t really doing anything I enjoyed. Again it seemed hard to motivate myself. Eventually I gave myself a good talking to, realising that my coat may have to become a winter coat! So, I studied how to resolve the no lining effect of all the raw seams which would be on show in this beautiful wool fabric! Chinese finish or binding seams – there was information aplenty. I had a lot of tape from – of all things – hand tied flowers which had been given to me over the years so not knowing if I had enough of each colour despite my best measuring I set about using the pieces I had to cover the seams.
I was reminded of the Dolly Parton song ‘Coat of Many Colours’. I too was sewing in to my Lockdown Coat love, memories, thoughtfulness & kindness shown to me over the years. This was when I realised that this coat was no longer my Mary Coat but my Lockdown Coat. I didn’t ponder where I would go in it, I didn’t imagine how it would look but the more I sewed these pieces of tape in to it, the more relaxed I became about not feeling the need to have a place to go in it. I was just so pleased to have it finished.
My husband asked about The Threads’ ‘Show us your Threads’ on Facebook and suggested I should post it. I thought it looked great from the outside but the inside was a bit of a dog’s dinner and it still needed a posh fastener but I put it up there and, as always, there were all these other sewers commenting & encouraging and being so positive about it. A wonderful supportive community.
What have I learnt from my Lockdown Coat?
As with all sewing projects you learn a great deal about sewing and you also learn a great deal about yourself and others – but in these strange unprecedented times that sense of community, albeit through the internet or in printed form, becomes even more essential, vital even. Until I posted on Facebook and read the comments I hadn’t fully realised the processes I’d gone through. I will always wear it and remember these times with a mixture of pride, sadness, nostalgia and gratitude but most of all, love.
We can’t wait to see the fastener you’ve chosen and hope to see you wearing the coat before too long, Annie! We hope you’ll send in photos when they are done. Congratulations on this wonderful coat and for sharing your story.
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