The Official 2014 Post-Halloween Sewing Report

sew your own Willy Wonka costumes

October 31 was a wet, blustery night in Chicago. After standing in vain at a freezing wind tunnel of a bus stop for 15 minutes, I gave up and set out walking toward my destination. Traffic’s always rough, but it seemed to be particularly awful that night. It turns out cars were gridlocked on north/south streets because Lake Michigan was throwing up 20-foot waves directly onto Lake Shore Drive, effectively shutting down that thoroughfare. Guess it’s not Halloween without some real-life terrors.

I realized too late that I’d created my own personal Halloween sewing nightmare. As I mentioned in my plans post, my intention was to make Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp Willy Wonka coats and hats for my boyfriend and myself, respectively. Don’t get me wrong, this shit all got done, but not without some moderate freakouts along the way. Somehow I thought that making two jackets and matching hats from scratch would be totally manageable if I chipped away at them each day. I failed to recognize that sewing items I’m not familiar with (jackets, nay, MENSWEAR jackets, and hats) would involve some practice and probably many, many mistakes along the way.

Purple Willy Wonka Coat

Even with a muslin, the first jacket I made (the bright purple one), was a bit of a doozy. I decided against lining the jackets since I wanted to minimize spending and “uneccessary” steps for coats that we’d probably only wear one or two nights. I finally wrapped my head around how to attach the collar and facing without a lining, but then came the sleeves. I didn’t adjust the ease enough the first time I basted them in, and they were a complete disaster. They kind of looked like this. I ripped those sucker out, adjusted the ease a bit more, and Frankensteined them into place. They’re still not perfect, but at least they didn’t make Marc and me immediately burst into laughter just looking at them.

Thankfully, the Gene Wilder jacket and hat came together before our first costume party, held the week before Halloween. I abandoned hope of getting my Wonka getup finished by then, but the makeshift Golden Ticket costume seemed to go over pretty well. Thank god for Blick Art Materials’ golden poster paper and stencils!

wonka and the golden ticket

That next week, I focused on completing the red jacket. Since I’d already hashed out some issues with construction on the first jacket, this piece came together much more easily. The lapel and collar sit flatter, and the sleeves fit nicely after the first try. It was strange wearing a coat tailored for a man, but I cut out a small (instead of the medium I cut for Marc), and that seemed to balance out a little of the bulk. I didn’t have to worry about length for once—the sleeves and waist were pretty much spot on.

Red Willy Wonka Jacket

It’s got pockets, too! The flaps wouldn’t lie flat because I couldn’t iron them (hot irons+corduroy=burning plastic smell), but it was nice to have a place to stash candy, gloves, and cans of cider.


I could go on about these jackets, but I’m kind of sick of them at this point. McCall’s M7003 served its purpose, but I’ll be happy if I can avoid men’s outerwear or red or purple corduroy for the foreseeable future. Come to think of it, I’d like to add camel and black felt to that list, too.

felt top hats

These unfortunate “top hats” were nearly the death of me. Marc’s was way too small and ended up cutting off circulation to his head. My black hat fared a little better, but neither really looked like an actual top hat. And the camel one definitely looks like something an 8-year-old Indiana Jones might wear. As far as construction goes, I pulled from a medley of confusing WikiHow articles and online tutorials, opting to use sew-in interfacing for the brim and flue of the hat. I wish I’d had more time to make a prototype to figure out how to keep the top of the hat from collapsing into the flue. Millinery is tricky, y’alls! That said, the felt and ribbon came out to roughly $12 overall for both hats, and that’s way cheaper than most decent-looking hats I came across online.

We also made canes by attaching cabinet pulls to stained dowel rods. Thanks, Home Depot! And thanks especially for not giving us a breathalyzer before we used a saw to cut the dowels to our preferred size…

Despite the sewing hangups and imperfections, I’m happy with how our costumes turned out. I’m also happy that I discovered how fabulous dancing is with a cane. Try it! Now that Halloween’s over, it’s time to move on to the greener pastures of soft knits, patterned cottons, and trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to make for xmas gifts this year. Do you have any giftable sewing plans?

A Striped Hemlock Tee (and HaLLoWeEn Plans!)

grainline studio hemlock tee

I’m about a year late to the game with the Hemlock Tee, but I have to say, Grainline Studio hit it out the park with this *free* PDF pattern. At first I was a little freaked out by the one-size-fits-all cut, but since it’s designed for lightweight knits, this top’s really all about the boxy drape. And what a gloriously comfortable drape it is! It’d probably be even more flowy if I hadn’t accidentally cut off an extra 2″–3″ from the hem. Whoops. I made that mistake when trying to even out the bottom with a rotary cutter, not realizing that the stripes were ever so slightly offset. Long story short, this quickly turned into a cropped Hemlock, and I love it!

hemlock tee grainline studio free pattern

Most of my pants hit high enough that I don’t have to worry about flashing skin (it’s fall now, the time when us Chicagoans put away our bare skin until next spring). As far as construction, I used my walking foot and a lightning bolt stitch for the side seams. To finish the bottom and sleeves, I just did a simple turned hem with a slightly lengthened straight stitch. Next time, I’ll try a double-needle finish like the tutorial instructs.

hemlock tee grainline studio

I cut the neckline down a little lower than the pattern, which lead to some problems with the neckband binding. I thought I’d added enough length to compensate, but I had to rip out my first neckband and try again. Does anyone have a surefire formula for calculating neckband length? I know it probably differs depending on the level of stretch, but any tips are welcome!

hemlock tee grainline studio
V excited for BYOB sushi

I have high hopes to whip a few of these up for Christmas gifts, but for now, I’m focusing solely on HALLOWEEN. Halloween is kind of a big deal for me. Ever since I can remember, my mom’s always been a champ when it comes to whipping up creative costumes. As a toddler, I was a hand-sewn furry spider. In second grade, I was the R.M.S. Titanic. 

titanic Halloween costume 1998

There were many more, but that cardboard ship remains the costume to top. Bravo, Mom & Dad in 1998.

Last year marked the first time I sewed my own costume, a spring roll. It took forever, but it was gratifying to know I made the entire piece on my own. This year, I’ve decided to capitalize on my current haircut and go as Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. And since my boyfriend is blond and light-eyed, naturally I suggested that he be Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. I’m planning on sewing the coats, possibly making the hats and canes, and then throwing together the rest of the outfit with items we already own.

M7003 costume pattern

I found this McCall’s pattern for $5 on Etsy and immediately snapped it up. It’s not exactly the style of the Wonka jackets, but I think it’s close enough to pass if we get the accessories right. (And the candy. We’re only allowed to hand out Wonka Candy, otherwise WHAT’S THE POINT?!) The pattern calls for a mid-weight wool or gabardine, but I’m hoping that it’ll work with these mid-weight corduroys I found at Textile Discount Outlet:

red and purple corduroy

At just $3.95/yard, they were way cheaper than anything I could find online, especially when you take into account shipping charges. By the way, Textile Discount Outlet is an old-school fabric labyrinth that definitely deserves a visit if you’re even in Chicago. It’s not glamorous, but it does have an insane number of fabrics, notions, and everything in between.

I just got my pattern in the mail today and can’t wait to get started on these goofy jackets. Do you have any Halloween projects in the works? Let me know in the comments!