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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Perfect Parka

I just happen to have a parka that is the most comfortable, take a nap inside, survive blizzard conditions while waiting for Cure tickets, go skiing and not freeze your back side off kind of parka. That’s right, it’s the perfect parka. This parka has kept me alive in the most massive of snow storms and with the cold weather so many of you are experiencing right now throughout the country I think you all need a blog post on how to make your own parka. 

So if you woke up this morning saying It's like Hoth out there I offer you hope to warm and nap and weather all storms.

The white parka you see in the photos is the one I made. The fuschia polar fleece is my original and the one I cut my original pattern from. 

Here are the materials you are going to need -> 
Materials: fabric, thread, pattern, sewing pins, measuring tape or yard stick, paper to make your own pattern, pencil, scissors, lining trim for the underside of the neckline, clip for keys (optional), trim for the loop at the tunic opening.

This pattern consists of 6 pattern pieces. With both arms you will be working with a total of 7 pieces. This parka can be made in about an hour and a half if you already have your materials on hand (this includes a snack break for a  Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwich and a cup of Hot Chocolate of course)

Pattern Pieces: Front, Back, Sleeves (2), Hood, Pouch, Tunic Lining (underside for the front opening at the neckline).

Let’s chat for a minute or two on the construction for this item. You should find making this parka to be rather easy but I have a few notes that you might find useful if you have not sewn fleece or cuddle fabrics before. This parka has a pouch in the lower front center with a key hook added inside. If you decide to not include a key hook including a loop to attach keys and such while in use is a great help. This parka actually came as the fleece lining for a ski jacket in the 90's so it's a bit basic in the style. You can upgrade as you want as you begin to plan your own project out.

Making the Pattern: For this you will want a crafting area, pencil (pen or marker works well too), paper, scissors, measuring tape or yard stick (grab both if you have them). 

Here is an image of my basic parka pattern I pulled from the original. When you are creating your pattern use this basic shape for the front and back shown here with adjustments made. The front will have the center opening at the top with or without the zipper.

If adding the front pocket the size you will want for this piece for the square pouch is 14" in width 12" in length. Once the seams are sen in the pouch will be slightly smaller. For the more stylized pouch with the top shorter than the bottom, you will want to cut the sides on angels with the top a width of about 9" in width at the center.

For the hood you will want the length to be about 16" and the width about 14.5-15". You will be adding about 1" fold over around the hood so it will be slightly smaller. The best way to determine the correct fit for the hood is to measure from the base of your neck up to the top of your head, add 1.5" and that is your length. For the width you will want to measure from the center back of your head around to the front to about where your eye meets, add 1" and that is your width. 

When adding the inside lining piece, this is a small piece and is essentially just the piece you see in the above image with a slice down the middle for adding a zipper, and a small tunic styled cutout about 4" in length from the top.

The front of the parka has an opened tunic styled neckline with a loop at the top and a button on the inside on the opposite side. I have found this opening is really nice for scarves, cooling down a bit when coming in from the cold and for having a bit of room for other clothing such as ski suits underneath but on those really cold days when the wind whips through your very soul having that loop and button at the top is great. The underside of the hood seam is covered with a lining trim that is no wider than ½” in width, slightly more narrow is better however you want to trim the seams really well in this area before adding the trim to the inside seam because this area will be visible when on and the hood is down so you want the underside in this area to look good. I added the white strip of trim lining to the inside hood seam by hand once I was finished with the rest of the parka.

You will most likely be using a fleece fabric which is a heavy weight fabric and in most cases has a bit of a stretch. I am using a white cuddle fabric which is a really soft and warm fabric but has even more of a stretch to it than a polar fleece so if I can do it so can you. In order to compensate for the thick stretch fabrics while using a regular sewing machine you will want to go slowly while sewing and depending on the fabric you have selected, you may want to tack areas down with a needle and thread before you sew them down with the machine. It really helps give definition to the area you plan on sewing with the sewing machine. 

I have found that even when I am using a heavy weight stretch needle the fleece can get a bit wonky when sewing as the machine wants to crush the seams together and in some cases you might find that the machine will either spread out a stitch or drop a stitch. This should in most cases be an indication that you are sewing too quickly and or not maintaining the rate at which your fabric is moved through the machine but at the same time regular sewing machines like straight up fabric weaves and stretch fabrics like fleece are usually a knit weave which trips up the stitch the sewing machine is making. We can discuss this in more detail at another time but in short my advice is to just go slowly as you sew and try to keep the rate of the fabric as it goes through the machine as consistent as possible. 

If you find an area has a dropped stitch, once the seam has been trimmed on the underside, you can sew the seam once more (though highly visible areas such as the topstitching along the hood area will look best with just one stitch). Adding the zigzag to all raw edges helps give the stretch in the fabric a footing to hold onto while being sewn. Just keep in mind that when you are adding double seams to certain areas that you will want to do the same to the opposite side. It just looks a bit more professional this way. You should find though that if you trim the raw edges, add a medium width zigzag stitch to the raw edges and then trim and turn in and sew the seam once more as a general rule while working on this that your parka will end up looking great.  

Sizing: This Parka is rather oversized as that is the size of my original parka (which is really big) but you can scale it up or down depending on your size. When doing this stick to the original pattern layout and cut. The back panel falls slightly longer than the front. The sleeves are cut almost exactly if you were to fold them lengthwise except the front is cut out more than the back to provide range in movement.

Cut all of the pattern and fabric pieces out. Take the pouch panel and trim any areas that need trimming. Add a zigzag stitch to the edges. Take the key loop and add it to the upper left corner about 3” in (if you are left handed you will probably want to switch this to the other side). Fold the seam over ¼” in from the edge and topstitch all the way around the edge of the pouch keeping the key loop tucked inside the pouch. Ideally you will want to tuck in and topstitch all the way around the pouch once *making sure to tuck the pouch in so the sides are folded in first and then the top and bottom are tucked in. If you feel as though you cannot sew the entire pouch around the edges all at once without the corners getting uneven (this provides the cleanest look on the outside) then your best bet is to sew around the edges with the fabric folded under ¼”. You will also want to start sewing ¼” down from the top. Trim the threads and sew the top and bottom down starting at the same point that you stitched the side seams, and also ¼” inward from the edge. 

*Don’t forget to back stitch when adding these stitches to the pouch so that the threads don’t start to come loose after a few washes.  As the sewing machine is made to sew a standard weave and the fabric you are using is most likely a knit weave, you really want to sew these seams well so that your parka can traverse the galaxy with you for a long time to come with many washes included.

Now you will want to take the front panel and pin the pouch to the front of the pattern. Sew the top, bottom and half way up the sides of the pouch to the front of the parka as noted above in the pattern making section. Make sure when you do this that you topstitch directly above the topstitching you already added when you sewed the edges down on the pouch the first time. When you sew up the sides a bit on each side of the pouch you will find things like wallet, phone, etc. will not slip out as easily when in use.

Now that you have the pouch sewn on you will want to sew a narrow zigzag stitch to the raw edges of the Tunic Lining piece. Add the small loop at the left side of the top of the neckline (loop facing outward toward the shoulder) and then add the lining piece to the front of the tunic neckline area (fabrics facing each other). Trim the edges as needed and turn in and topstitch around the top.

The lower sides of the front and back should be trimmed about 3.5" up form the bottom, a zigzag stitch should be added and then the fabric turned in 1/4" and topstitched. Align, pin and sew the shoulder and side seams, trim, repeat the stitching if needed in order for the seams to be straight, trim the seams as needed and sew a zigzag stitch to finish the seams. Make sure to leave a small opening on the lower sides whee you topstitched. Put this piece aside.

Take the hood and fold it in half and inside out. Add the straight seam to the top of the hood to close it up, repeat the stitching if needed to get a straight stitch and then trim the seam and add a zigzag stitch. Pin the hood to the parka and determine where you should fold over the opening of the hood. The pattern should be a decent indicator but you want the pieces to line up perfectly so before you fold the seam down it is best to make sure everything is aligned. Trim the hood lengthwise if needed, sew a zigzag to the sides and then topstitch with the seam folded in ¼”.

Align the hood to the parka and pin the pieces together. Sew the hood to the parka (*making sure when you get close to ends that the top of the tunic lining pieces are pulled up and being sewn down as you close up the seam. Trim the seam if needed but since this area is going to be covered with the lining trim you do not need to add a zigzag stitch to this seam.

Pin the trim to the underside of the seam where the hood meets the parka. Before sewing the trim down *keep in mind that this is the second easiest area to mess up and make your parka look like it would be best chopped up into something else (the first being the topstitching on the pouch area) so my advice is to take just a few minutes and tack the trim to the underside of the seam with a needle and thread. I timed it and it only took me a few extra minutes and this is the best advice I can offer because you are trying to sew a trim to the underside of both sides of the seam of a heavyweight fabric with a moderate stretch and sewing blind in a sense in that you cannot see the trim you are sewing down because you are sewing the top side so you can ensure you get a straight stitch. So we are going to hand stitch big tacky stitches to hold that trim down. Thread a sewing needle and turn the parka inside out. Tuck the trim in on the end and sew it down on each side of the seam all the way around the inside of the hood.

Once you have added one straight topstitch to the hood area I would recommend not sewing another stitch on top of it. If you miss the lining trim on the backside with the machine I would just take a needle and thread and sew it down because you want this to look nice as it is a highly visible spot when the hood is up.

Next take your sleeves and fold them inside out. Pin and sew the sleeves to the parka, trim the seam and add a zigzag stitch. Take the lower half of the sleeve and trim if needed, leaving 1/4" additional for the seam allowance. Sew a zigzag stitch around the sleeve, repeat with the other. Turn in 1/4" and topstitch. Turn in the sleeve and sew the length of the sleeve. Trim and add a zigzag stitch. 

Trim the bottom hem all the way around the parka, leaving the back slightly longer than the front. Add a zigzag stitch to the bottom hem, turn in 1/4" and topstitch all the way around the bottom hem.

You are officially finished!

Final Notes: In the end I was really pleased with my finished parka. Especially since I really needed a new one that was a bit smaller in size. It's perfect for staying warm while painting in the garage. It gets cold out there! So the parka is great because I can keep warm, have a big pocket to hold stuff (we always have stuff to carry right?) and the comfort value can't be rivaled. Sure it might not be the most fashionable item in the world, but it's warm and if you take your time you should find even be decent enough to wear in public. Despite pinning that front pouch down as perfectly as I could I feel as though the lower corner of the parka looks slightly off, just a tiny bit but all in all not bad. Not bad for a first try...

The only thing I would say about this parka is that when comparing it with those on the market today you can see where updates and more stylized cuts have replaced some of those designs from the past. The original fushia parka I used for the pattern was a style from the 90's, not terrible but we have since upgraded a bit with things like more cuts and shape. 

One of the reasons I have dubbed this the perfect parka is not only because of the warmth and comfort value, but also because once you have created a basic pattern for yourself, changing the style around a bit is really not too difficult. I will be adding more of these as I finish them but until then I have additional photos up I am including a few links to other fleece hoodies and parka's that will help give you an idea of the style possibilities once you have your basic layout. 



Here are a few photos of another parka that I recently made. I used the same white cuddle fabric but there were a few changes to this one after having tested my first for a few days. I widened the hood and elongated it about 2". I shortened the sleeves and slimmed it down slightly as this was going to be a gift for a smaller person along. Instead of an opened tunic area I went with a front center zipper and shortened the sleeves about 3". I skipped the pocket on the front and sewed the sides all the way down and added a drawstring with pull tie for the bottom hem, as well as a drawstring in the hood. The final change was that I switched the seam from the top of the hood to the back.

When you go to cut the area for the front zipper simply cut straight down, do not cut the area out like I did when making the tunic style shown above in the making of the first parka. You will want to sew the zipper in by hand, then hand sew the inside lining piece, and then reinforce these stitches on the machine. It is worth the extra time to have everything rest well as opposed to being crooked because you rushed the process. This is soft, stretchy and thick fabric so just a few minutes of some basic tacking down with a sewing needle and thread can really help you out here. You can also use pins however I find tacking it down first to be most helpful. 

For the hood I went with a slim shoelace type material with plastic on the ends. I knotted the ends so it would not pull through when being washed. For the waistline I picked up slim white round elastic and a plastic pull tie piece. When adding the final hem I sewed the bottom hem with a zig zag stitch, folded the hem under with the elastic inside and starting at the side, sewed the bottom hem down all the way around twice. Make sure when you go over the area where the elastic meets that the elastic is facing down so it is free to move through and does not get sewn down. Once you have the elastic in place pull both ends through the plastic pull tie and knot the end tight. 

Happy Crafting! Lindsay :)

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