The first steps I took in the cloak project were deciding on a material for it and deciding on what sort of cloak I was going to make. The most popular choice of fabric for a cloak is wool; it’s fire-resistant, water-resistant, historically accurate, and retains its ability to keep you warm even when wet. However, there were two very good reasons for me not to make my cloak out of wool: (1) I live in a hot climate and am hot-natured; I’ve never been able to wear even a wool sweater without sweltering; (2) wool is freaking expensive, and a cloak requires an absurd amount of cloth.

With those caveats in mind, I was delighted when a routine tour of the Wal-Mart dollar-a-yard rack yielded up a large bolt-end of heavy cotton twill in a very attractive dark sprucey green which proved to contain fifteen yards of 60″ fabric. The material is about the weight of denim, so I consider myself to be making the cloak equivalent of a blue jean jacket, which is just about as much additional warmth as I’d need but will still be heavy enough to give a nice dramatic swirl to the cloak.

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Another happy coincidence in this project was that my mother had found most of a 150 yard roll of decorative cording at an outlet and given it to me for my house. After making a few curtain ties, though, I hadn’t needed anymore, so it had just been sitting. But the colors blended beautifully with my cloak fabric, so I decided I’d fancy the cloak up with some decorative cording around the edges.

The next decision was pattern. Did I want a rectangular, full circle, half circle, or three-quarter circle cloak? Hood or no hood? I finally decided on a full circle cloak with attached hood- not the most historically accurate version but the one I thought was the prettiest and most convenient.

Since I am about 5’9″, I knew I’d need to use the full 60″ width of the fabric as the vertical length of my cloak. I could have cut it out in two half-circles and sewed it together, but I didn’t have a clear ten feet of floor to do the cutting in, so I ended up cutting four quarter-circles. To do this I first cut out four 60″ square pieces of the fabric and laid them out on my floor. Then I stuck a long, sturdy straight pin through one edge of my tape measure and anchored it into the rug at one corner of the square. Then, using a fine-point sharpie and the 60″ mark on the tape measure as a sort of impromptu compass, I drew an arc from one end of the fabric to the other. This process gave me four wedges of cloth.

To make the hood, I measured the distance from the tip of my nose to the base of my neck and then, using the same tape-measure-compass trick, I drew a half circle with that measurement as the radius. I made two of these so the hood could be lined, and set these half-circles aside for later.

I had a pack of denim needles for the sewing machine from when I made the corset, so I loaded the machine up with one of those. The first order of business was to sew the four quarters together, leaving one edge open to form the opening of the cloak. This gave me a HUGE circle of fabric that was pretty massive. Next I used my trusty compass trick to cut a hole in the middle for my neck- keeping it as small as it can be and still be comfortable.

The next thing I had to deal with was how to finish the raw edges. I knew that the bottom would be taken care of by the hem but I wanted to think of something that would make the front opening look neat; also I needed to figure out how best to attach the hood to the neck.

The solution to my problems, I decided, was to put facings in. Facings, for those who don’t know, are those strips of cloth you get around the necklines of shirts and such. They allow you to make a nice finished edge on the parts of a garment where there are no seams. The facings in my cloak would serve double duty by providing a good way to attach the decorative cording without the engineering of it being readily apparent.

I cut two strips of fabric, 60″ long, about 6 inches wide, and hemmed one side of each. These would be my facings for the front. I also cut two lengths of decorative cording, making sure there was several inches overhang on either side, as I wasnt’ sure how I would finish off and hide the cording edges.

I put an adjustable cording/zipper foot on my machine and prepared to attach the facings. The special foot would allow me to sew right up against the cord.

I layered my fabric like so: the cloak went on the bottom, right side up. Then the cording, with the decorative part facing inward and the little fabric tail that’s there to attach it lined up with the cloak edge. Then the facing, right side down. I pinned the hell out of this fabric sandwich so it would stay in place while I wrestled with the cloak, which is really heavy as well as bulky, and a real pain to work with, not least because after having it on my lap a while I’d get overheated.

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I sewed one row of stitching near the edge, basically to tack everything together. Then I moved up as close to the lump where the cording was as I could get with the zipper foot, and sewed a row of stitching right up against it. When that was done I flipped it inside out, which left me with a very nice finished edge, with the cording attached and the facing hiding all the rough edges.

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Next up was the hood. The first thing I did was make a sandwich of the two hood layers with a line of cording down the straight edge of the semi-circle (which would be the part of the hood that frames my face) and sew it like I had just done the facing. When turned and pressed, this gave me my hood, ready to be attached.

Now came a rather tricky part. To attach the hood I would need to gather the curved edge of the semicircle and sew it in to the neck of the cloak. Easy enough in theory, but have you ever tried to gather a double layer of denim-weight fabric?

I ran a row of gathering stitches and pinned the two edges of the hood to the two edges of the cloak, and then pinned the middle back of the hood to the back of the cloak. Then I adjusted the gathers as evenly as I could between those points and hand-sewed them down to the cloak. This was not at all pretty, or even, or anything; just meant to get the thing on there and stable enough to do some more work on. I decided that I would need another facing around the neck of the cloak to hide the rough edges where the hood was attached, so I cut a full circle of fabric, cut a slit up one radius to the center, and then cut out a neck hole the same size as the one on the cloak, so that I had about 8 inches of facing to work with that would fit around the neck of the cloak.

What I needed to do to get the thing properly attached was to make another “sandwich”, with the cloak on the bottom, right side up, then the hood, inside facing up, then the facing, right side down, and sew it all together; however, this sandwich was so thick (due to the gathers) that I was worried I wouldn’t even be able to get it under the presser foot of my machine. It did go, but just barely- I didn’t even have to lower the presser foot, as it couldn’t GET any lower. I sewed that seam with a dense zigzag stitch (hoping that would make it stronger) but left the first and last few inches unsewn, as I still had to deal with how to finish up the ends of all the facing and cords.

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Much to my chagrin, when I looked at the seam I discovered that I’d sewn it too low, and my distinctly unpretty initial tacking stitches were still visible. I’m going to have to sew the seam again, higher up. However, that’s postponed, as the next question to address becomes how I’m going to do the seam finishes on the three long seams on the body of the cloak.

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I usually use French seams when I sew, as they’re the easiest to do and require no special equipment, but this fabric was so heavy I thought that the little roll of fabric a French seam makes would make unsightly ridges. I’d thought about binding the seams with bias tape, but that would involve buying a bunch of bias tape. Finally I went to the shop and bought a felling foot, which helps you to create a flat-felled seam (this is like the side seams on a pair of jeans; flat and very very strong). I can’t do the traditional process, as the seams are already sewn, but fortunately due to the way I cut it out, each of the seams has one seam allowance that was on a cut edge and one that was on a selvedge. I used the felling foot to turn the selvedge edge over the cut edge and sew it down. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to go ahead and sew that down again to make a proper felled seam. I probably will, just because it will add a lot of reinforcing on those seams and the material is so heavy that I want to make sure that they are strong enough, especially where the cloak hangs across my shoulders.

Anyway, that’s where the project stands. I need to finish the long seam finishes, figure out what to do with those dangling ends of cording, re-sew the neck facing so it’s in its proper place, and then hang it up for about a week so it can stretch out before I hem it and run some of the cording around the bottom. Updates when I get around to doing all that.

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