Once in a while I open up a vintage pattern and think “jackpot!”
I have no idea why I was obsessing about blanket coats during the hottest, stickiest stretch of July. Probably the same reason I order sandals from Zappos in February – because they represent the balmy future instead of the dish-doing now.
A lot of blanket coat patterns are too oversized and 80s for my tastes, though I’ll admit even I went through a “cowgirl rides the range” period wearing Ralph Lauren dirndls with chunky sweaters and cowboy boots. Going back there at this age, however, is a little too “Dale Evans” for my lifestyle.
But when I saw this early 50s “Blancoat” pattern, which apparently was a PR boondoggle released by the North Star blanket company, I had to go for it. It’s a coat that’s “so simple, anyone can do it, even if you’ve never sewn before.”
I think you can see where this is going.
I was delighted to open it up and find a typewritten sheet explaining the pattern. It was “the ideal pattern for the busy housewife of today, either novice or experienced sewer, who has so many demands on her time.” That’s me in a nutshell.
You, person who had never sewn before, could make a lined coat from velvet! Silk! Satin! Taffeta! All so easy to work with!
The clincher was that “the public knows Blancoat because of a complete and effective national public relations campaign” which included CBS’s “Morning Show.”
Back in the day, I used to write for the grandbaby of that show, CBS Morning News, in the 80s when it was hosted by an actress who was known for Polaroid commercials. It was a great job, even though the show was terrible. I used to go down to the canteen in the basement of West 57th and see Andy Rooney in the lunch line! And I got to talk to big (though fading) stars like Steve Allen and Helen Hayes. But I quickly learned that the true divas (and holy terrors) were the women who did the cooking and craft segments.
I remember one show, a few months before the whole staff got laid off, that was “guest hosted” by lovable but sardonic actor George Segal. He had to do a cooking segment with an author who called herself “Supermom,” and after a few minutes of her saying “George do this” and “George do that” Segal plunked down his spatula and sputtered, “you’re awfully domineering, Supermom.”
So I had a soft spot for this pattern. It was designed “by the Italian couturier, Vincent Dante…an expert when it comes to styling.” Though I’m pretty good at tracking down obscure designers from the 50s, my guess is that Vinnie was the tailor for the president of the White Star blanket company.
The concept of the pattern, though, is much older. It’s based on the “Capote” blanket coats that trappers used make out of Hudson Bay blankets. They didn’t waste a scrap, making it one of the original “zero waste” designs. You can read about the history of the Capote coat here. And this website shows examples of the coats with sample patterns. The body of the coat is cut in one big piece, and the sleeves are inserted in slashes.
(Though somehow I can’t picture Truman Capote, the author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and man of style, wearing his namesake coat.)
Wearing History has released a cute 30s version of a blanket coat pattern, which you can find here. It’s not the traditional construction, but it is fun and retro.
Even though I grew up in the “Grand Traverse” of northern Michigan, I live in East Coast preppy-land now, so honestly you’re not going to see me in anything made from a blanket. Not even an attractive negligee like this:
(Note to Vincent Dante, Italian Couturier: use a cool iron on that acetate.)
So I decided to sew together several beach towels to make a retro bathrobe instead.
Karl, my fine fine Bernina 560, was having a lovely time overlocking them with presser foot #2A:
I cut out the massive body pattern piece on the fold, taking up three beach towels:
I was intrigued by the notion that “practically the entire outfit is put together in a matter of minutes, merely by running one long seam through the sewing machine.”
Then I looked at the instructions.
That “one long seam” on the top right – I could see that it had at least one pivot.
That’s when Karl, who was reading over my shoulder, shrieked “Merde! Quelle horreur! Not le PIVOT!”
Those of you who have attached non-traditional collars like this have lived through the pivot. It all looks so easy-peasy in the instructions, but what’s really happening is that one piece of fabric is going one way and the other is going another and they really don’t want to go through the feeddogs together, no matter how much you pin, maneuver, clip, or cajole.
Karl started whimpering, “don’t make me do the pivot.”
I reassured him, “but it’s so easy, just look at these super-helpful explanations on the pattern pieces.”
Karl was not impressed. “It says ‘place sleeves here,’ not ‘prepare to die.'”
But after I had a drink and I gave Karl some oil, we were sufficiently lubricated so we went for the pivot.
I won’t give you the play-by-play of the further shrieking and crying on both of our parts when four seams met at the pivot, but it ended up looking like Mount Vesuvius:
The construction detail was worth it, though:
Eventually we calmed down and cleaned up the seams, then finished the hems with Hug Snug rayon binding:
I covered some snaps with silk:
And called it done.
Just right for my summer walk across the yard to the outdoor shower! (Try to ignore my bad sewing hair…) We live about 25 feet from an historic site that has walking tours, so this is the perfect thing to keep me from accidentally flashing the tourists. After all, there are only so many relics they can stand to view in one day.
Okay, then it was time to put my makes in the back of the Mini to take to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair!
(“Please don’t wrinkle! Please don’t wrinkle! Please don’t wrinkle!”)
Nice score on my Claire McCardell dirndl and sash hack! The “Blancoat” got a blue ribbon, too.
Will I ever attempt a blanket coat again? Well, maybe, but shhhhh…. don’t mention it to Karl!
How’s your sewing going?
(To learn more about how Karl came into my life, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)