How happy I am to have met my major sewing goal of 2009 – sewing 2 warm, organic winter coats for my husband and myself. This was a big project, but not beyond the capabilities of anyone who knows how to use a sewing machine. Coats are one of those items of clothing you may assume you just have to buy ready-made, but when you’re stuck with that belief, your chances of finding an organic coat are pretty limited. If cruelty-free is also on your garment checklist, your choices for store-bought winter coats are even slimmer. By deciding to sew your own organic men’s or women’s coat, you’ve taken the power of choice and ability back into your own hands, and I hope this latest article in the Reskills column of VeganReader will help to inspire you to take total charge of your winter wardrobe!
Why Would You Want An Organic Coat?
There are three good arguments for opting for organic clothing whenever you can.
Organic For You
Organic For Farmers And Weavers
Conventional cotton fields use 10 times the amount of pesticides used in conventional culture of food crops. Farmworkers die every year from pesticide exposure. The deadly cycle of exposure continues through fabric mills and garment assembly factories where workers are poisoned by the pesticide residues on the cotton, as well as toxic treatments applied to fabrics to make them wrinkle-proof, fire-resistant, etc. By choosing to buy organic cloth or clothing, you are protecting innocent, hardworking people from disease and death. Of prime importance is the fact that choosing organic means saying NO! to GMO cotton. Genetically modified cotton (also called BT cotton) has been forced upon the poorest farmers in some of the poorest places in the world (India, South America, etc.) by the multinational GMO corporation, Monsanto. Epidemics of farmer suicide have resulted wherever BT Cotton has been foisted on the farmers who become the indentured servants of the corporation, forbidden to save seed from the crops they grow, legally bound to pay for new seed each year, in total opposition to the traditions of seed saving that help farm families survive. GMO crops contaminate Organic crops, causing them to mutate into things never before seen on Earth. If for no other reason than this, choosing organic fabrics and garments is important to the future of us all.
Organic For Your Habitat
Pesticides and chemical fertilizers ruin your water, foul your air and are associated with a host of diseases…everything from Autism to Cancer. The toxic practices of conventional agriculture poison and kill wildlife and make our habitat a place of suffering rather than a hub of life. It’s up to us to make the change back to the organic growing practices that have reigned since the dawn of agriculture and up until the time when the first chemicals were put on our precious lands in the 20th century. By choosing organic fabric and clothing, we can be the change we need to see in the world, in hopes of keeping our world a healthy blue and green planet.
Why Would You Want A Vegan Coat?
Far be it from me to say a word against the ancestors and the modern indigenous people who have traditionally used the skin, hair and fur of animals to make clothing for themselves. I would never criticize the lifeways of others. But living in America means having a choice…a choice not to make animals give up their lives or their autonomy for our benefit. Animals suffer and die in the system that uses them for wool, fur and leather clothing and their lives are ruled by imprisonment. They have not consented to be used in this way by Americans and those seeking to lead lives of compassion can make the choice to opt out of a system that does not recognize the rights of our fellow beings to live their lives as they see fit, without having to show a profit to mankind.
Once you make this choice, the choice vegans make not to wear animal products, you are confronted with a dilemma. Cruelty- free summer clothing is no problem. You can make all the dresses, shirts and pants you need out of organic cotton calico or linen and be perfectly comfortable. But vegan winter clothing? That’s a tougher nut to crack. You may be tempted to turn to synthetics like polar fleece for layers of warmth, but most synthetics are very unpleasant to wear and many are based on the fossil fuels (oil) which we are all trying to move away from. So, how can you sew a winter coat that is truly warm, but meets your ethical requirements for both compassion and organic culture?
How I Made These Organic Coats
I took two approaches – one for the men’s coat and one for the women’s coat and both have yielded really warm garments.
My handmade organic men’s coat consists of 2 layers. The outer layer was made of an organic cotton sateen sheet. The inner layer (which you can see on the collar and cuffs) is an organic cotton blanket. The coat is actually reversible, with a shawl collar and two buttons. The overall style is along the lines of a raincoat, but that thick, organic woven cotton blanket makes it really cozy and my husband loves it.
For the organic women’s coat, three layers were used. The outer later is the same organic cotton sateen sheet material used in the men’s coat and the innermost layer is an organic cotton flannel sheet in taupe. These 2 layers enclose a layer of quilt batting. I assembled ‘sandwiches’ of these three fabrics for each of the main pieces of the coat – the fronts, back and sleeves and then quilted them before assembling the coat. I then quilted the coat in double rows of horizontal stripes and used scraps from the same organic cotton blanket to give the collar and cuffs that ‘wooly’ barn jacket look. I did the quilting on my sewing machine. I used another quilting technique to finish the hem, applying bias stripping to bind the edge of it. It’s a mid-calf length coat with four buttons. I decided I wanted to add an extra bit of design to my coat, and sewed two strips of blue and white organic cotton sateen (taken from the gift bag my sheets and blanket came in) together and then applied them to the coat a few inches above the hem. Finally, I appliqued two pelicans to the coat, turning my design elements into an image of sea birds circling above the ocean and surf. I think this gives a totally unique, seaworthy look to this special organic coat. It’s warm, comfortable and wonderful to wear!
I want to make special mention of the buttons I used on these coats. I buy American-made products whenever possible and I was totally thrilled to discover WoodButtons.com – a domestic company that has been making gorgeous buttons and toggles in Brooklyn, NY since 1939. These buttons are really something special and the customer service I encountered at WoodButtons.com was incredibly helpful, personable and friendly. If you love to sew, you are going to love the wide selection of beautiful wooden buttons these folks offer and the lovely, chevron design on the buttons I ordered adds such a fine finishing touch to my 2 organic coats.
My organic sheets and blanket for the project were purchased from another company I enjoy supporting: Coyuchi. Their cotton sateen and flannel sheets are fabulous for sewing with, their slightly glossy sheen lending that polished look to a project that you readily associate with coats, jackets and windbreakers. I really appreciate that this company gives me an option for buying large pieces of organic fabric to work with and I thought the ‘espresso’ color line used in this project resulted in really professional, classy looking coats.
For my husband’s coat, I attempted to work with a coat pattern. I wasn’t happy with the pattern, so I won’t link to it here. I ended up having to come up with my own solutions for it. For my own coat, I worked loosely with a large men’s shirt pattern, but making up a lot of it as I went along. If you are handy with sewing, chances are you can turn a shirt pattern you already own into a coat, if you remember that coats need to be much roomier than shirts in order to provide the ease of movement that makes a coat comfortable to wear. If you are just getting into sewing, you will be best off working with an actual coat pattern and following the directions carefully.
The Pride Of Gaining Skills
How much harder is it to sew a coat than it is to sew a shirt? Just a little bit. It takes some extra thought and planning to figure out how you will handle the layers of fabric you’ll be working with to get the desired warmth. How long did it take to make these coats? The Organic Men’s Coat took me 3 days to complete (three afternoons and evenings of sewing). The Organic Women’s Coat took 4 days. My husband helped me with the cutting of the fabrics – he’s a master with a rotary cutter!
How about the cost? I calculate that I spent about $150 on each coat. Is that a good deal? When I consider that I’ve got 2 organic, vegan coats that are not hurting my planet, farmers, weavers or myself and that my family will be wearing these coats for the next 10 years, I think I’ve gotten a great deal. And, when I look at the few mass-manufactured organic coats out there that are likely of inferior quality and see that they are selling for as much as $300 each or more, the deal looks even better. Finally, when I consider that I not only got to put my love into the project, but came out of it with the confidence that I have the skills to clothe my loved ones with coats that will offer real protection from winter cold, I am totally pleased.
You can gain these skills! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t sew a coat. In just a week, I made two of them and I’m by no means a professional seamstress. As human beings, we are dependent on clothing for our survival in the winter, but that doesn’t mean we have to be dependent on Macy’s. We can learn to depend on ourselves for these basic needs of life and we can take real pride in the discovery that, with a little work and love, we can provide for our families abundantly!