Thursday, July 30, 2015

Refashioning Tradition: A 1942 WWII U.S. Army Trench Coat

    I first want to apologize for my lack of posts these past few months. I started a new job and am finding out that I don't have as much free time as I originally thought I would have. I am excited to start blogging again and I hope you enjoy reading this post. This project has probably been my most favorite by far, but also the most challenging. This past summer my friend, Ann, approached me with an excellent idea for a blog post. She had a WWII Wool Jacket that belonged to her father-in-law who served in the military in 1942 and it is still in perfect condition. She wanted me to transform it into a tote bag that she could place her iPad mini in. I had done a remake before using my grandmother's coat, but the military jacket was made of  heavy melton wool and was tailored. I was up for the challenge and it turned out better than I imagined! She told me that I could either update her on the progress or I could surprise her with the finished product. I chose to surprise her with not one, but two items.

The trench coat front view with the patch on the side
The trench coat back view

Close-up of the patch on the shoulder

     The first step of the project was to map out an original design for the tote bag, which I modified a few times. I purchased a tote bag pattern (McCalls 4118) and laid it in different areas of the coat to see where it would fit. I modified the pattern and decided that I could use the bottom of the coat for the sides of the tote bag, as that had the most fabric in a single piece. With the trench coat having already been made and having multiple seams, I was limited on the amount of fabric I could use. I couldn't be sure if my design would work until I deconstructed the coat. This was a lengthy process, as I had to tear out all of the seams and the lining. The coat was made of a melton wool and was very heavy, but included additional lining in the sleeves and top portion of the coat.

The inside of the jacket that I had to deconstruct.

Removing the lining from the coat

After I laid the fabric out flat and tried to determine where each piece would fit. I cut each piece out of wool and lining. Some pieces even needed interfacing. We selected a medium weight interfacing to help give the bag some structure.  I followed the pattern directions and started sewing my bag. (These are brief instructions, so for the full instructions, please buy the pattern).

Laying the fabric out flat and placing the pieces. 
 Cutting out the pattern pieces. 
A lining piece with interfacing 

        When Ann and I first discussed the plans for the bag, she said that she was going to use it to carry her iPad in. I wanted to give her a way to carry other items in the bag in addition to the iPad, yet protect it. I decided a pocket would be a neat way to allow the iPad to readily be at her hands. I used one of the coat's inside pockets instead of having to make my own. This is definitely zero-waste upcycling. :) First, I made a narrow hem on the pocket and pinned it to the front of the lining. I turned the pocket up, baste in place, and stitched the bottom and sides. I tested the pocket with the iPad and it was a perfect fit. I sewed a tab on the top to keep the pocket from falling out. I placed the lining pieces together right side to right side, sewed the seams, and trimmed them to eliminate bulk. I repeated the process with the outside fabric pieces.
The pocket stitched to the lining
The two lining pieces wrong side out

    The next step was to put the lining in the bag. I placed the lining and the outside fabric together right side to right side and stitched them together at the bottom and at the sides. After I stitched them I turned the bag and gave the corners sharp points.

Placing the lining right side to right side with the wool fabric 
      I turned up a narrow hem on the lower bank and pinned the band on the upper edge and top-stitched it to finish. The final steps before adding the handles and decorations included creating a base shaper for the bottom of the bag to give it the ability to stand. I used remaining lining material to sew a cover. I found some old plastic sewing screen and measured enough for the bottom of the bag. After sewing it together, I placed it in the bottom of the bag. Boy was this bag standing tall and stiff. I am thankful for the stiffness of the wool, interfacing, and the base shaper. 
The topstitched edge of the bag
     After this was complete, it was time to place the handles. I had to measure the bag to figure out the center and try and get them equally spaced. I then stitched them into place.

Deciding where the handles should go
      The last step was the fun part...adding the decorations. To see the finished product, please look below for all of the photos and a description. I knew I wanted to showcase the patch, so I thought it would be neat to sew it off to the side. I also had a bunch of neat buttons that came off the coat that I wanted to incorporate into the design.

        My cousin, Caitlin, helped me come up with the idea to sew three buttons down the center of the bag on a coat tab to look like the buttons on a military dress uniform. The very last step was to add the tag that was on the inside of the coat. The tag had the date and all of the fabric information on it. Ann had requested that I incorporate the tag somewhere in the bag (see below), but I thought it would be neat up near the top.

        With the leftover fabric from the coat, I decided to make an iPad case/stand for Ann's husband. It was fairly easy to make and worked well.

     A few months later, I was up in Cedar Rapids for work and contacted Ann. She came over to pick up the bag and boy was she surprised. I wish I had actually thought to document her reaction with a photo. She loved it and wasn't sure if she could have imagined it better herself! Thank you to Ann for giving me the opportunity to do this.

        The lesson I learned from this project was that no project is too big or too challenging to take on. My project is proof that you can upcycle something older and constructed into something new. In the future, I would love to continue making new items out of historical pieces or family keepsakes.

The tag on the inside of the bag. 

iPad case and the finished handbag

ALL OF MY THANKS GO TO: Ann, my dear friend, who came to me with this project idea. I hope you are enjoying your bag and ipad case. Grandma, you have been the most wonderful sewing teacher to me all of these years and pushed me to become better with each project. Thanks for helping me figure this out and I know you think I was crazy for taking this on. ;) I love you so much. Last, to my cousin, Caitlin, for helping me deconstruct the coat by taking out the never ending seams and helping me come up with the decorating ideas. I love you.

What is one of the neatest things you have upcycled? I would love to hear about it.

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