Sunday 29 March 2009

New beginnings


After a morning of working on my suit, -click here to read about it- I made a start of the calico test for the coat. I started (as I usually do) with the back.

Although for my current coat (the Mk III) I pretty much had the design nailed, there was a subtly about the back split I had not got quite right.

I had originally noticed it in episode or two and tried to do an interpretation of what I could see, but only once I got close-up with the coat at Earl’s Court did I fully understand.

Basically, the back split has the option of buttoning up, with four buttons, the top one of which is always done up. I had seen the buttons in a couple of scenes where the back of The Doctor's coat had billowed out.

Before Earl’s Court I did not understand how they worked, so I just added a token row of buttons to the then Mk II coat, seen here.

I had long seen that the folds of the vent continued down to the hemline, but had these pleats butting up to each other rather than overlapping, so the buttons had no practical application - they had no buttonholes to join with.

This was because I had been miss-footed (yet again) by Honest Dragon, who had made their coat back out of a single piece of folded fabric. This SEEMS the obvious thing to do, but below the vent it restricts the ability to have more fabric to construct the pleats.

Luckily for the Mk III I had made it in two halves and had made the vent the deepest ever, so I was able to work out how to put it right, and did a 'quick fix' to the Mk III so at least the mechanics of it were correct.

The picture here shows the Mk III quick fix - compare it to the picture of the real coat at the top of this entry.

This is how the real coat works: the right hand pleat goes beyond the halfway seam and laps under the left side pleat. It has four buttons, equally spaced along its height. The left side pleat then has a strip of material on its inside which is attached and intervals. Between these intervals are button holes to correspond withe the buttons on the right pleat.

Friday 27 March 2009

The other Doctor

Just to let you know I have started a new 'brother' blog to run in parallel to this one to cover the making of my Tennant Suit.

It can be found here:

I thought it best to keep them separate as they will run at different speeds since I will be starting the suit at the ground floor, having never done one before.

Hope you will look in there too and see how I am getting on.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

The competition's efforts

I think I have already established that I seek perfection in anything I do, and this coat is just one of those things what if it's not right, it's not worth doing at all.

So I thought I would just do a little round-up of some of the coats on offer on the internet at the moment. If you know of any I have missed - let me know with links and I'll update this entry.

I haven't set out to be harsh, but I will say as I see and praise where credit's due, but point out shortfalls where they occur. If I had found THE perfect coat, I wouldn't have gone down the risky route of making my own, where I only have myself to blame if it goes wrong!

Tuesday 24 March 2009

No steampunk here - this is the real thing!

Just before I embark on making the next coat, I thought I'd share with you the sewing machines I work on.

When I was young my Mother had an old hand-crank Singer sewing machine which had been passed down to her from my Father's Grand-Mother. I would watch in awe as she would use it to make various cushion covers, bed spreads etc, wondering how this machine could make such neat, tight stitching.

It wasn't too long (aged about 10 or 12) that I got to use it myself so I could make my own Muppets (I had become a fan of the tv series at the time).

I soon became proficient at using it and have always used one ever since. I just cannot imagine using an electric machine. I prefer the connection I feel when using a hand-crank machine. You turn the handle a quarter turn, and the needle drops just enough to lock with the thread below. I am always worried the slightest touch of an electric machine and it would run away from me, powering though fabric I was not ready to sew.

Monday 23 March 2009

Proms - any excuse

As we all know, last July there was an extra special Promo concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

It was THE event to get to - and I managed (by the skin of my teeth) to get tickets to go!

As the date had drawn close, various sellers on eBay had them on offer. It was finding the right tickets to get me in that was the problem. Often they would be one or two adult and one or two children. I need two adult tickets, and although I could buy one of the 'family' ticket sets on offer, I couldn't then sell-on just the children's tickets. Who would buy just a children's ticket, sitting next to a stranger?

Eventually I found two tickets and I sniped the auction at the last minute. However, once it closed the seller 'reminded me' that half-way through the run of the auction he had changed it from two to one ticket - though it was not correctly changed as he said, and it still said two in part of his listing. I was gutted and annoyed.
We mutually agreed to void the auction - not exchange money - and post positive feedback on each other and walk away.

All very well, but still left me without my tickets!

Luckily, another listing for two adult tickets popped up, closing with only a couple of days to spare before the event. Again I managed to snipe them - for multiple times their face value - but hey, I got em - and no more suitable tickets were posted for sale after that - so I like to think I got the last two seats in the house! Well, the eBay house that is!!!!

I paid for them and to ensure I got them, collected them by hand later that day (luckily the seller was in central London, so I could swing by on my way home).

The concert was an early start on a Sunday morning - a hot and sunny Sunday morning. A morning too hot for wearing an overcoat. Normally. But this wasn't a normal day, was it?

Everything about the concert was just fantastic!

Sunday 22 March 2009

Travels with my TARDIS

I thought I would just throw this in as an aside in the blog.

In July 2008 I went to Crich Tramway Museum with my Step-Father, who is an avid restorer of vintage buses, especially ones built by Leyland. His oldest bus was built in 1908, so last year it was one hundred years old, so a weekend event was organised to celebrate this and the eight or so other restored buses dating up to 1925 or so. Here is a pic of just four of his buses.

This was the very first time that all his buses had been together at the same place at the same time, as most of them live in transport museums around the UK most of their time.
It was quite a sight to see them together.

Anyway, Crich Tramway Museum is a living museum. They have various trams and buses there that have been rescued from here there and everywhere, as well as some buildings that have been saved form demolition. The build the buses are seen in front of WAS the town hall of a Yorkshire town, and the facade was transported and rebuilt brick by brick at Crich.

The trams are staffed by volunteers, who dress in period costume and take your ticket for the tram, giving a real feeling of being back in time to the Edwardian era.

There is also a pub and tea room, which again the facades were saved and moved to Crich. Last time I visited (some 10 years ago) there was nothing behind these facades, but since then they have built a fully working pub and tea room, where you can go to get refreshment, or for us last year, shelter from the heavy rain that spoilt most of the day there.

Now to the point. One of the buildings rescued is an original Police Box! So I was keen to get along and have some nice pictures of my in the Mk III coat!

Saturday 21 March 2009

ALCANTARA - where do we go from here?

Well, after all that search we now had a name:


Louise Page, the costume designer for the series had long maintained that the material used for the coat had been discontinued, so it was impossible to find now.

Not letting a minor thing that that put me off, I set about tracking it down.

And what did that 'ROAN 11' mean?

Obvious internet searches brought up a variety of sources for the material, but nothing obviously the right one.

My next point of call was the various Doctor Who forums to see what they had to say, as the news of this display at Earl's Court had hit big with everyone. There was a lot of discussion and debate about it, with various people recounting the leads they had found and the dead ends they had reached.

Then I found, hidden away on an obscure distributor's site an apparently forgotten range of Alcantara material. Could this be the one? It had a flecking to the colour - that seemed to match. Maybe it was the one. Could I have found it?

I asked for a sample of the colour I thought best matched it, in fact I asked for the entire swatch card for the whole range. But alas, being part of a discontinued range, no-one had any swatches left, let alone any actual material.

One of the contacts I tracked down was more than willing to help. He was a UK distributor for Alcantara and told me that if I order at least 200 metres, it would be feasible to re-weave the colour I wanted from the discontinued range. Anything less it would not be worth their while.
That was great news. I had seen some instances of 'group-buying' on the costuming forums, so thought this would be an ideal way of making it available again - not only for myself, but for anyone else who was up for having a good go at making their own coat. I also thought that if I could interest some of the replica costume makers, such as Magnoli, Baron's Boutique and maybe Cloth Ears, they could be alloted a large part of the run, leaving enough for the individuals to get what they needed too.

So, I put it to the forum on to see what they thought.
Here is what I posted (you will need to be logged in to view it).

Well, I wasn't quite prepared for the reaction I would get. Within a few hours of my inital posting.

The Earl's Court Exhibition - all bets are off!

So - The Doctor is in town!

Had to go and say hello - didn't I?

As I said before, instead of the coat being in a spinning glass case, it was this time on open display. You could go up to it and touch it - take the closest look.

Here are some of my pictures from that day.
And before you ask - no, I have no shame.

It was real cool to be so close to the coat.
The fabric it is made from is real soft to the touch, almost like velvet. It is clearly a suede like material, but a real good quality one. The colour is complex, being made of a flecked fabric, with lighter longer fibres over a darker, shorter base.

Moving round to the back of the coat, I finally totally understood what that back slit and pleats was all about.

The pleats of the gusset carry on down to the hemline, with the right hand side extended to lap under the left.
The left then has a flap sewn at intervals along its height, equally spaced along with are four button holes. There are then buttons on the right to correspond with the holes. Only the top most button is done up (at all times).

Then, in the next room of the exhibition there was a display of the costume designs for the series. One of these is for The Doctor, and it contained a bombshell!!!!

A hand written caption on the display states:

'sofa' fabRiC
single Breasted 
with BACK 

Could this finally be THE lead that brings us to THE fabric used for the coat????

The Mk III - nearly there

Now I had identified some issues with my Mk II, I set about re-cutting the pattern to get it even closer to the real thing.

I spent a lot of time working on the collar shape. 

I got the point of the collar less acute, at a more 80degree angle rather than the 45degree I had on the Mk II.
I also added a little trick to get the topstitching around the collar and lapel to look better. I sewing in a very narrow strip of padding along the seam line so when the topstitching was added, it looked a little deeper (see pictures here comparing the Mk II and Mk III).

Overall I was much happier with the result. I was now breezing the welted pockets!
I corrected a minor issue with the tailoring of the fronts. It is along this line that the buttons are sewn. On the Mk II I had this seam as a little curved, where it should have been dead straight.

I corrected the pleats in the back, making it even closer to the real thing.

However, the exhibition was in town (at Earl's Court) and this time it was up close - and personal!

It wasn't long before I took a trip there to find THE coat not only on display, but this time not in a glass case. this time you could touch it!

This opened a couple of cans of worms . . . .

The Mk II - I'm a perfectionist, it's still not right!

Well, by the title of this post you may well guess that I was STILL not happy with my coat. I started to spot a couple of minor things which I thought I could improve on, which were niggling me. But then I spotted something that made me realise that I had slightly missed the point of an aspect of the assembly of the coat.

The first minor thing niggling me was that I spotted the buttons I had used were just not big enough.
I had bought traditional 1 inch (25mm) buttons (see pic), but looking at a pic I took of the coat in Manchester, they were clearly bigger (see pic). It not by much, but once I noticed, it made all the difference for me!

I trawled the internet from pillar to post to find larger ones but they were strangely elusive. I could find 28mm in plain colours, but not in a horn finish. Widening my globally I just could not find them - it was bizarre!
After a month or two I tracked some down to a old-fashioned button shop not far from Oxford Street in London. I soon swapped the buttons over, but there were still a few other things that needed fixing in my eyes . . . .

There is a shot in Utopia, where The Doctor rushes to a porthole in a door, desperate to get through. As he does so, the coat rides up and the back slit opens to show some clues to how it was made.

It has two pleats which overlap each other, and then can (but do not) button together.

My current coat had these two pleats butting up to each other, not overlapping.
I also spotted a seam down the centre inside the gusset on the back. That meant it was made of two pecies of fabric, not one like I had been doing.

Although I had improved on the cut of my lapels and collar, I had noticed that the angles were just not quite right. My lapels (the below the notch) were fine, but the collar (above the notch) needed adjustment.

These photos show what I mean. My collar points are very acute. The real coat is a lot more square. I could see what needed to be done, but it was something that I did not have the skill to adjust on the existing coat - I would need to make a new one!

So - I put the Mk II up for sale!

There were no takers from dw_cosplay, but after it appearing on eBay, I found a buyer. They got a bargain in my opinion - they paid less than HALF the material costs. Still, I got some money to put towards the Mk III . . . . .

The Mk II - my coat to be proud of!

I can't hide the fact that I was dead chuffed with how the Mk II came out!

It had all come together - it all happened - it felt right and the result was worth showing off.

I started wearing it to work, enjoying swishing along the streets to work!

When I got to work, I would get admiring comments from co-workers - they neither knowing what the coat was a replica of, or even that I had made it myself.
When it did slip out that I had made it, several people were slack-jawed that I had made it so well.

I posted some pictures of it on the dw_cosplay forum, and got some real nice comments back. They are a right nice bunch on there - always supportive of each other and full of ideas to swap and tales to tell.

I shared with them pics of my Colin Baker coat as well.

Not long after finishing the Tennant coat, I proudly wore it to the Star Wars Celebration in July 2007 at London's ExCeL centre. I felt a bit of a fraud - going to a Star Wars event dressed as Doctor Who - but what the hell!

As it turned out, it was worth doing, as one of the stands had Colin Baker signing autographs. He instantly recognised what I was wearing and was more than happy to come out from behind his signing desk and pose for a photo. We chatted for a while (his queue was not long) and he is a very amiable chap.

Walking around the event I had quite a few people - especially kids - note what I was wearing. Adults giving me a smile and a nod, the kids getting all excited and pointing me out to their parents. As I passed one stand, which sold leather made belts etc, I was stopped by a guy who worked there. He was real gushing about my coat and just loved it. He was asking who made it, how long it took to make etc etc etc. Then he says 'So, it's from Firefly, right?' Great! Brilliant! Worth all my effort then! Thanks for that . . . .

The Mk II - better design

As well as researching better tailoring techniques, I also looked closer at the design of the coat and improved the cut of the coat.

I had become especially interested in how the back of the coat had been designed.
I noticed this in a particular shot during the first episode of season three, seen here.

The back appears to be made of a series of vertical strips. In fact, this is actually four long darts (two on either side of the middle gusset) from the shoulders, level with the arms, down to below the waist. This gives the back a very snug tailored fit across the small of the back and accentuates David's tall frame.

I followed this doing my best to replicate this in the Mk II.

There are also what appear to be pleats inside the slit up the back of the coat. It made sense the folds of the gusset above carried on down to the hemline. I later discovered I had been slightly miss-footed by the original Honest Dragon coat, which I was (maybe foolishly) still referring back to. That coat, and my coats to that point, have the back made out of a single piece of fabric pleated to create the gusset. I later realised that it does have a seam up the centre, which allows for more material below the waist line - but more of that in a future posting . . . .

I proceeded to replicate this as best I could, given the images I could find, and put in some buttons, which I had spotted in a couple of quick scenes in season four.

I paid attention to the angle and shape of the pocket flaps and the shape of the lapels and collar - but to be honest I still did not get it right on the Mk II pattern, but it was still a vast improvement on what I had done before.

I will cover lapel shape in more detail in a future blog . . . .

One important difference in the way I made the Mk II was the integral order in which assembled the coat.
When I made the Mk I, I was very excited and out for quick gratification, so I set out assembling the body of the coat so I could try it on after only sewing half a dozen seams. I them 'decorated' the rest of the coat; putting in pockets, adding lapels etc. The draw back of doing it this way is that you have to man-handle the entire coat when trying to sew welted pockets, which is very hard. It is a bulky coat!

For the Mk II, I cut the panels for the body of the coat, then set the pockets, sewed the back darts etc BEFORE putting the body of the coat together. This is SO much easier and it is the way I have done all my sewing in future. A tip worth noting.

The Mk II - better tailoring

For the Mk II I took a bit more time to research better tailoring techniques, as although I am competent at using my sewing machine, I needed to know some of the proper methods of tailoring and tricks & tips to make it more professional.

One of my failings was my outer pockets. I had no idea of how to assemble them correctly.
My first attempt was a bit rubbish. I cut a slit in the coat and 'decorated' it with the pocket flap and pocket. As you will see, this was totally the wrong way to do it!

I went back to old fashioned basics and went to John Lewis and asked someone in their haberdashery department. I described what I wanted to do and the lady said 'Oh, welted pockets'. At last - I knew the NAME of what I was trying to do!
She found a book with some basic skills - amongst a lot of gingham and chintz.
It had welted pockets, but for sewing into lightweight dresses - but the seed of the idea was there.
Googling 'how to welted pockets' gave me a couple of real good step-by-step guides, the best of which is this one:

I have it a quick go on a scrap of fabric, and despite never having done one before, I turned out a very presentable welt. Even I was impressed. To be honest, it was daunting to do, but as long as you follow EVERY step and don't skip anything, they are real easy to do.

Another area I needed to brush up on was lapel construction.
One each notch of a lapel, there are four pieces of fabric meeting together. The question is what order are they best assembled in.
Again I quickly found I had previously chosen the wrong one!
I had sewed the collar together, and
 tried to set it into the coat. As you can see from this website, it is best to set one half into the coat, and sew the other half to the lapel, then bring them all together.

I also found a fantastic book on Amazon, which is a goldmine (if a little patronizing from time to time) for making jackets and coats:

This book is invaluable for some clever tricks to make things better. One worth knowing is a little trick of putting a pin in the lapel before sewing the edge together. The pin is put pointing towards the point of the lapel, creating a big wave in the material. This helps make the lapel bend down towards the body of the coat, helping prevent the lapels curing up which can look real amateur and unattractive.
Later in this blog I will go through and show how this is done . . . .

The Mk II coat - getting a better fabric

Not put off my the disaster (let's face it) of the Mk I, I set about researching a bit better for the next one.

I trawled the internet searching for faux suede, firstly cheaper and secondly a better colour.
All I could find in a brown was either a oatmeal/beige or a mocca/chocolate with nothing in between. Besides, 99% of them were real lightweight, only a few grades above a silk - and real man-made fibres too. The type that gives off flashing in the dark if you take a jumper off too quickly.
I had companies from far and wide sending me swatches in the vein hope that one of them must match.

Then I came across Malabar - ironically through one of those annoying sidebar ads on eBay.

They had a good range of colours, in a decent weight with a good suede finish to it AND in a colour that was somewhere near what I wanted.
MALABAR - Shamios range
Now, the swatches on their website looks NOTHING like the actual material. I almost passed on the one I eventually went for, thinking it was too light and just wrong.

At this point I was also looking at picture after picture of THE coat and finding that sometimes it looked a mustard colour, sometimes even a slight olive to it. You could almost find at least one picture that could match whatever mid-brown fabric you had tracked down. So i decided the best thing to do was go and see THE coat and take my swatches with me!

As it happened, it was on display at the Manchester exhibition at the time, so we made the 400 mile or so trip to see it.

It was on display in a spinning glass case shaped like the TARDIS. This was the same display that had been used in the original exhibition in Brighton a year or so earlier.

It was very hard to tell, since I had to hold up my swatches and wait for the coat to fly past, bathed in coloured light, with a reflective glass between the swatch and the coat.

But even then, under those conditions I could see the Malabar fabric was a real good match - the absolute best I had found so far.

Above is one of the pictures I took at that time, and right is a picture of my finished Mk II. I think it looks pretty good.

Besides, the Malabar fabric was only £20 a metre - so quite a bit cheaper than what I had been paying.

The next problem I needed to tackle was getting a better pattern and getting better tailoring skills . . . . .

The Mk I coat

Having decided that the Honest Dragon coat was not up to the standards I demand (we will see more about that in future posts) I set about making my own and show them how it should be done.

The second Honest Dragon coat was so crap and unwearable (stinking of tar) I took it apart and used it as a pattern, making corrections and alterations as I went along.

I had come to the conclusion that that original coat had been made from some form of faux suede and not the wool mix that Honest Dragon had used.

Now I will say my first choice of fabric was not a good one. The only half decent faux suede I could find had a plastic backing to it. This I quickly found was a nightmare to work with. Most of the iron-on interfacing I used came off - the fabric was too stiff and my skills were a little rusty.

I finished it and it wasn't that good. In fact I never took any pictures and I eventually just threw it in the bin - which was annoying, especially since the material was £35 a metre.

Looking back I should have made a test coat of cheap calico like they all say.
I should have researched the fabric longer - but I just wanted to get in there and make my coat.

Not put off, striving for perfection and knowing I COULD do better I decided to have another go.

This time I would find the 'perfect' fabric and swat up on my technique . . . . 

How did I get started

Cool - well this is my first ever blog, and  I thought I would write it about making my latest replica of the coat worn by David Tennant in Doctor Who.
I think from the first publicity photo that showed him in the coat, I was taken with its style and lines. It is such a striking, long and flamboyant coat I just had to have one!

The first coat I had was one a lot of people got, made by  Honest Dragon through their eBay listing.

It was cheap - chearful - and not very accurate: the cut was all wrong and the colour was too pale.

I had a winge at them and got them to remake it using a darker material, but when that arrived it was worse that the first. They had used some dark brown fabric which stank of tar! It smelt like a newly laid road - there was no way I could wear it!

So I decided to set about making my own.

I had made a replica of the coat worn by Colin Baker when he was Doctor Who and I was 19 years old in college. I still have it today and I think it stands up well. Everyone who has seen it has always been very impressed.

I had no training in tailoring, but had been using my Mum's old Singer sewing machine for years, making little fun projects and puppets over the years, but this had been my first serious attempt at making something substantial.

I think the challenge I enjoyed the most was finding all the right fabrics.