Today, I happily share one of my more challenging projects that really got me outside of my comfort zone. The most troublesome projects can sometimes feel like a cloud hanging over your head. They are usually rooted in a lack of experience, and yet, the only way to get the experience is to do the hands on work. These issues can be the most rewarding when you reach the resolution of a finish line.

Last summer, I got a work call and the first thing the guy said was, “This is going to sound really strange but can you make me a smoking jacket?” This was actually not a strange question at all because during the Sew Dayton years we made one for another client.

What I neglected to mention was that it was for a small woman and I had a vintage pattern to follow.

Within minutes the client was in my studio wanting to see a picture. He explained he wanted one as a retirement gift for an employee. He originally ordered one online and it turned out to be so cheaply made that he was embarrassed to give it to the retiree. I am always happy to help save someone’s day.

We worked out a plan – he would give his person, Lynn, a certificate to come to my studio, get measured, pick a style and I would take care of the rest. We agreed on billing, estimates and contracts. Lynn came to my studio with a picture of the style of jacket he wanted replicated. At this time I took his measures and I gave him a sewing time line.

The smoking jacket was sure to be a challenge. I had no pattern and Lynn was very tall at 6’5″.

I started to realize how much a fancy smoking jacket looked like a robe. I bought the most extravagant and pricy, real velvet fabric, the kind in the back on hangers that is too nice to be wrapped on a bolt. I also got the closest robe pattern I could find that looked like it could be modified into a jacket.

I was smart and made a muslin first. Then I had my excited client come in for the first fitting. There were a lot of changes to be made. The width of the belt was not wide enough and the placement of the belt was too high. The sleeve lengths, and the over all suit length, needed to be longer. The last thing I did during the fitting was to mark all of these changes right on the muslin. I marked where he wanted each welted pocket at and where his company logo patch was going to be at this time, too. I’m always glad when I take the time to make a muslin first, but this one was critical.

Making a garment for a tall man was, honestly, outside of my comfort zone.

The robe pattern didn’t have a lining, welted pockets or any of the fancy stuff a suit jacket needs to be smoking. Luckily, I had a lot of experience lining jackets and I knew it would need a pleat in the back to give it all some ease. I had to do a lot of extra work to make it just right.

Then I ran out of fabric and wound up going back to the fabric store to buy more.

Velvet has a pile to it and all the pieces need to face the same direction with the nap of the fabric. This takes more fabric than what you would think. I considered myself an experienced craftsman when it comes to velvet, having worked with a good many velvet projects in the past, but nothing prepared me for this. I was really reaching.

The biggest tip I can give is do not even get an iron close to velvet no matter what! Even the steam will cause the luster to fade. If this does happen, a damp cloth with a little white vinegar may help. But let’s not go there if we don’t absolutely need to.

Even though velvet is thick the smoking jacket just didn’t look crisp enough like it should. I had the entire jacket totally sewn together and then I took the entire jacket apart. I had to do it the right way if I wanted it to pop. If that is not a lesson in humility I am not sure what is. I knew that all hemlines, sleeve hemlines and the collar would need to be interfaced just like a suit jacket.

This was all after I put three welted pockets in that could not be pressed. Well, those also got taken apart and interfaced so there were definitely no saggy bits.

After I got the details right all of the hemlines had to be blind hem stitched to look professional. Top stitching never looks good on velvet due to it’s pile.

I am sure you can imagine how happy I was when this project was finished.

Behind the scenes~

The Dayton Garment Designer Meet Up group has three events on the calendar including our first group fashion show.

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it! Sew It!



Tracy McElfresh
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