Inspiration No. 25: Inspired by Balenciaga

A Reversible Double Cloth Coat With Matching Scarf

by Kathryn Brenne

Almost 50 years after his death, Spanish fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga still holds the title “the King of Fashion”. Balenciaga’s designs were structured and architectural in their shape, and they set the standard amongst his contemporaries as well as top designers who followed. He was known and greatly admired for his tailoring skills and Haute Couture techniques. His sparse designs still look as interesting, fresh and current today as they did during the 1950’s and ’60’s.

Cristobal Balenciaga, 1950

In 2017, I attended the Shaping Fashion exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. The exhibition examined the work and legacy of Balenciaga’s work. At the exhibition a small printed pattern of Balenciaga’s one seam coat cut from a single piece of cloth was provided. Attendees were encouraged to try cutting and folding it to better understand how it was designed and constructed. The exhibit also featured a well known photo of fashion editor Diana Vreeland preparing to exhibit the 1961 design at a Balenciaga retrospective held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973, one year after the designer’s death.

Diana Vreeland, preparing the one-seam coat for the exhibition

Balenciaga had a penchant for checks and often used them in his designs. The coat was cut from double cloth. Its shape was created with folds, a few seams and darts. When I spotted a windowpane reversible check at emmaonesock.com I knew it would be the perfect fabric to make up the coat!

Fabric: Double Cloth vs Double Face

There is often confusion with the terms double cloth and double face fabrics. Both are made from two layers, often with different colors or patterns. Double face fabrics cannot be separated or pulled apart whereas double cloth fabrics are held together by a set of threads. It is these threads which can be carefully clipped to separate the layers and create almost invisible seams in a reversible unlined garment.

The windowpane check I chose is a double cloth fabric, so the techniques discussed in this tutorial relate to this type of fabric. Double cloth requires a different method of assembling a garment and involves a lot of hand sewing. The fabric that was used is now sold out, but any coating fabric can be used!

If you do not like hand sewing or would prefer to use a different fabric that is not double cloth, the garment can still be made using the same pattern with the addition of a lining to cover traditional seams, darts and hems. Some of the techniques could be modified slightly for non-raveling fabrics such as boiled wool or fleece to create a casual modern version of the design. To see our complete collection of coating fabrics CLICK HERE!

Any type of coating fabric for any season can be used for this project. Enjoy these mock-ups showing a range of choices.

For this design I used 1.88 yards of fabric. This was just enough for the coat, pockets and a separate scarf. To prepare the fabric I damp pressed the wool blend and hung it to dry.

Double cloth fabrics are held together with a set of threads. On this particular fabric the thread used was a white, woolly nylon. Often the thread is a matching fiber and color.

The Pattern

The simple double-sided pattern from the V&A exhibition is cut from a single piece of fabric. It is shaped with two long darts in the back and two darts in the center of the sleeves. There are two cut lines. Once cut these two pieces of cloth fold around to form the lower Fronts of the coat. The sleeves fold along the shoulder to form both the Sleeves and the Upper Fronts.

Most wool coating fabrics are 55″ – 60″ wide. The width of the fabric becomes the width of the coat and will accommodate bust and hip measurements up to this width. The sleeves are quite wide and will accommodate all sizes. The sleeve length is determined by the width of the fabric. I am 5’8″ tall and was able to get long sleeves out of my 58.5″ wide fabric.

It is such an ingenious design, as it fits a wide range of figures and uses a minimal amount of cloth with almost zero waste!

Try printing out this pattern to get a sense of Balenciaga’s design. Fold and tape the pattern together to see the coat taking shape. Click the button below for a print-friendly file.

After researching the design I came across this copy of Balenciaga’s pattern. It has the addition of a Front Yoke inserted as a gusset into the Front. This provides some shaping and pitches the sleeve slightly forward.

Try printing this design and taping it together with the addition of the Front Gusset to see how the shape changes.

I decided to use the more detailed pattern. I enlarged the pattern to the width of my fabric and test-fit it in muslin. I then used the muslin as my pattern. I drew out the windowpane check, which has a 3.75″ repeat, onto half of the muslin to best position the pattern on the cloth and keep everything on grain.

My muslin pattern measures 50.5” in length and 52” wide. If you were lucky to purchase the fabric that I used for this tutorial, you can draw 3 3/4” squares onto a piece of paper or muslin and then just count the squares as you see in the photos here. It doesn’t need to be precise to get the shape. The coat can be made longer or shorter, narrower or as wide as the fabric will accommodate, it could have a center back seam for narrower fabrics.

Making the muslin pattern may take some tweaking to get it the way you want it, but it does not take a lot of skill to make the coat once your pattern is worked out. It is all straight lines!

Whether you choose the simple or the more detailed pattern design, the techniques will be the same, and the result will be elegant and timeless!

Layout and Marking

The best way to mark the pattern onto the fabric is to use thread tracing. Thread tracing is a technique which uses cotton tacking thread to outline the stitching line of a garment onto fabric.

On a single layer of cloth I found the center of the fabric and aligned CB of the muslin along the middle of the checked line. I positioned the pattern so that the hem would fall at the edge of a check. I allowed an extra inch, which is where the fabric had been cut, to finish the hem.

In this layout there was enough fabric to cut the coat, Front Yokes, 2 pockets and a 10″ wide crosswise scarf. The muslin is aligned at CB along a blue check.

To thread trace, pin the pattern to the fabric, placing pins every three to four inches along the stitching lines. Mark all darts, seams and markings for sleeve, pockets, side seams and CB with pins. Turn the fabric over. The outline of the coat will be marked with pins. Use cotton tacking thread and a long darner needle to carefully outline the design with 1/2″ long stitches. Only pick up one layer of cloth. Do not stitch through to the other side or you will not be able to separate the layers later.

Half of the coat has been tacked out on a single layer of fabric. From this photo you can use the checks to help enlarge the pattern to draft your own version to scale. The checks on this fabric are 3 3/4″ square.

After half of the coat is tacked out, remove the pattern and fold the fabric in half along the Center Back. I found it helpful to pin the corners of some of the checks together to ensure the two layers were exactly on top of each other. Using the tacked outline as a guide, pin through to the unmarked side, again placing pins every three to four inches, marking all darts, seams, etc. Again, turn the fabric over, and using the pins as a guide, thread trace the outline of the other half of the coat using tacking thread. You will end up with two identical halves.

Now that one side of the fabric is marked out fully, lay the fabric out in a single layer again. Pin through the tack markings to outline the coat onto the opposite side of the fabric. Thread trace the outline onto the second side. Although this seems like a lot of work it is worth the effort! It is very helpful to have both sides of the fabric completely marked with tacking thread when assembling the coat.

Once all of the thread tracing is complete the pattern will be marked on both sides of the fabric.

Separating the Layers: A Few Tips!

Be prudent! Take care when separating the layers. Separating too much fabric will leave wide seam allowances where you will see that the fabrics are not joined together. It is better to go slowly and separate a bit more fabric later, if needed, rather than open too much to start with.

Be cautious! Use a small pair of scissors to clip the threads when separating the layers. Do not accidentally clip a hole in one of the layers of fabric.

Be gentle! Once the Front seam has been cut, handle the garment gently and with care. The tips of the darts and the end of the Front cut lines are very narrow and potentially weak areas that could fray easily if not handled carefully. Once they are hand over-sewn and machine-stitched they are fine.

Before beginning construction of the coat, I cut a 3″ square of fabric to test out the technique of creating a seam. Find a piece to test after your coat has been thread traced, as this is an almost zero waste pattern and you don’t want to accidentally cut out a sample in the wrong place.

I decided to do all of the machine sewing on the tan side of the fabric and the hand finishing on the blue side. The pockets were placed on the tan side. I found that the heathery appearance on the blue side hid the shadow of the pockets, seams and darts better than the tan side. These are the kinds of judgements you will need to make, depending on your fabric choice.

Construction Techniques

The construction of this garment is very different from a regular garment. It is more akin to origami, a work in progress, made from a single piece of fabric. There are no traditional pattern pieces to cut out and seam together. Working with the garment as a whole piece of fabric, it is shaped with darts, folds and a few seams. The process is a bit like origami. The tack lines are actual stitching lines. There are no seam allowances as you would find in a commercial pattern.

In the following sections I will outline the construction techniques used to sew seams, darts and edge finishes. These same techniques are used throughout the garment construction. Once you familiarize yourself with and practice the construction techniques, you can proceed to the Sequence of Construction section of this article, which will be helpful in assembling the garment.

Edges and Hems

With regular garment construction, seams are usually sewn first and edges finished last. With double cloth construction, edges and hems are finished as you assemble the garment. In fact, the first step is to hem the back of this garment!

When separating layers of fabric leave a generous 1/2″ of fabric outside of the tack line. This will be cut down to 1/4″ but the process of separating the layers can stretch and distort the edge. I prefer to leave a bit extra, which can be pressed flat and then trimmed down to the appropriate width after it has been separated.

I discovered that the threads joining the two layers together on this particular cloth are quite strong and run lengthwise. For lengthwise edges that need to be separated such as the Fronts, I was able to pull the threads out leaving a nice clean edge. For crosswise edges I gently pulled the layers apart and used a small pair of scissors to open up the edge. Again, this will vary with your fabric choice.

To begin place a row of pins 1/4″ inside the finished garment tack line. The row of pins prevents you from opening up too much of the edge.

Place a row of pins 1/4″ back from the finished edge.

Pull the layers apart until the row of pins is reached. If scissors were used to clip the threads remove loose threads as they will work their way through the cloth. I found a lint brush handy for this job. Don’t be too aggressive with the lint brush or you will risk unravelling your fabric!

Press the edge flat. Trim to 1/4″. Fold one layer to the inside. Work with the good side of the fabric facing up and use your eye as a guide along with the tack thread to fold a straight line. Press. Turn the garment over and do the same on the reverse side. The two edges should just meet along the tack lines. If the edge follows a solid check, the edge of the check can be used rather than the tack line.

Use a slip stitch to close the edge. Stitches should be small and invisible. The thread can be tensioned to tighten up the edge slightly if it has stretched.

Use a slipstitch to close the edge.

During the construction process, finished edges are often inserted into an unfinished edge when a dart or seam is sewn. When finishing the second edge leave a little bit of extra fabric to wrap over the previously finished edge. A slightly wider 1/4″ is sufficient. Neatly fold one of the raw edges over the finished edge. An awl or the end of a seam ripper is useful for tucking the edge in. Fold the opposite edge in to meet. The meeting point of all edges should be tight. Make the stitches small and tight to keep the edge straight. You do not want the finished edge to have a lump in it.

Darts

There are four darts in this garment, which give the sleeves and body their shape. You separate one side of the dart but leave the other side intact. I sewed the darts by inserting the intact side of the dart (not separated), into the side that was separated. The dart was machine sewn on one side of the fabric and finished by hand on the reverse side.

Begin by cutting down the center of the dart to the tip. Very gently separate a small amount of fabric at the tip of the dart on the side that needs to be opened. Remember, the tip of the dart is very narrow and only a wide 1/8″ will need to be opened up. Opening up too much leaves loose cloth that will show on the finished dart. Immediately hand over-sew the tip of all three layers (the two separated layers and the other intact double layer) for 1 1/2″ – 2″ to prevent the fabric from unravelling. Stitches should be deep enough to catch at least two threads of the fabric. Use a thread color that will blend with the fabric as these stitches are permanent. It is important that the over-sewing is done before the garment is picked up or handled. In the close up photo below you can see that I have over-sewn by hand to the tack line. My stitches are close together and continue until the dart starts to widen.

Pin the non separated edge to one layer (I used the the tan layer) of the separated edge, aligning the tack lines. Match checks so that they line up across the garment. Place a pin at the tip of the dart to hold the other separated layer out of the way. With a contrasting thread baste the dart together. Take a temporary stitch on each side of a check to prevent the fabric from shifting when it is machine sewn. A pin at each check can also help to prevent shifting. Carefully take the entire cloth over to the machine, and machine stitch the dart. Shorten the stitch length to 2.3 mm for 2″-3″ at the tip to reinforce the narrow edge. Leave long thread tails at the tip and use these to hand over-sew the tip as further reinforcement.

Press the dart flat to set the stitches. Working over a seam roll, press the sewn edges open trying to keep the one unsewn separated layer out of the way. Press the dart towards the separated layers.

Trim the single layer (tan) edge to 1/4″. Grade the double layer to a narrow 1/4″. Trim the reverse single layer (blue), which will cover the dart to a wide 1/4″. This layer needs to be slightly wider to go over the other layers and cover the line of stitching. Tuck the edge under and pin, lining up any checks. At the tip of the dart there is only a narrow bit, which was previously over-sewn, to tuck in. Slip stitch the edge closed. Use the tip of your needle to turn in the tip of the dart before stitching it closed. Use small, short stitches to reinforce the tip.

Once the reverse side has been closed up, press the finished dart over a wooden seam stick. Cover the fabric with a press cloth and apply a bit of moisture. This technique will flatten out the bulk helping to make the darts invisible.

Seams

There are only a few seams in this garment depending on which pattern you choose. Both patterns have an underarm sleeve seam and a seam across the Front. The more detailed pattern has the addition of a Yoke and this adds a seam at the sleeve as well as the upper edge where the Yoke joins to the shoulder.

There are different methods of constructing seams in double cloth. For this garment I chose insertion seams. This type of seam reduces the amount of separating that needs to be done and gives nice narrow seams that are almost invisible once complete. Like the darts, the seams are done by inserting a double layer of fabric into separated layers of fabric.

One of the most critical seams is the Front seam that attaches to the Front Yoke or Upper Front. This seam should be as invisible as possible. I kept the separating and the seam very narrow, just the width of the blue check line.

I placed the lower Front seam right along the edge of a check. The point where the sleeve and lower Front get cut apart resembles a dart. As this is a point of high stress, located at the underarm of the finished garment, I left a slightly wider seam allowance of a narrow 1/4″ on the lower Front and cut the Sleeve a bit narrower. Over-sew the narrow bit of the Sleeve.

Gently separate the layers of the lower Front. Keep this as narrow as possible. If the seam can just fill the check it will be most invisible. If the layers are separated beyond the check, it will show. When joining the Front Yoke to the lower Front I basted the two layers together just a thread back from the edge of the check. Using my built in dual feed walking foot I sewed right along the edge of the check. To prevent the vertical checks from shifting, I put a pin into the front edge of each check.

Baste one thread back from the edge of the check. Place a pin aligning at the front edge of vertical checks.

After the seam is machine stitched, press and finish as described with the darts. When closing the reverse side, I left a bit unfinished at the Yoke/Sleeve edge. This allowed me to get in and sew the other seams before returning and finishing up the corner.

Once complete the Front seam is almost invisible.

Front seam attaches to the Front Yoke on the third horizontal check down from the neck edge. It should be almost invisible.

Stay Tapes

The edges of the Front Yoke, Lower Front and neck require stay tapes to prevent them from stretching. The stay tape should be thin and narrow. As the edges are only turned in on themselves by 1/4″, stay tape that is too wide would create extra bulk when folded back on itself.

I used the selvedge from a piece of silk in a color that blended with the coat. It was cut 1/4″ wide, which is narrower than regular stay tapes but perfect for these edges. Pin the stay tape in place with the woven edge of the selvedge facing in towards the garment. The tape should be centered over the tack line, which is the fold line. Use a stab stitch, working from the right side of the cloth, to stitch the tape in place. Stitches should be approximately 3/8″ long.

Once the stay tape is inserted the edge can be folded in and finished by hand.

Pressing Equipment

Some of the pressing tools I used were:

  • Tailor’s Ham to lift my work up when I was hand sewing.
  • A batiste press cloth to protect the fabric when pressing.
  • A fine mist water bottle to apply moisture to the press cloth when needed.
  • Seam Roll for pressing seams and darts open.
  • A wooden seam stick to get a flat press after the reverse side of seams and darts had been hand sewn.
  • Wooden block for pressing very flat edges.
  • A long metal ruler to give a straight edge to press up against when pressing the coat Fronts.

Sequence of Construction

The construction of this coat goes together differently than a regularly sewn garment. Some edges are finished before darts or seams are sewn. I have outlined the sequence I used, which worked well.

  • Cut the Back darts.  Carefully separate the side Back layers only at the tip. Over-sew all edges at the tip of the dart for 1 1/2” – 2”. Once the tip is over-sewn, the remainder of the side Back edge can be separated.
  • Hem the Back between the two darts beginning and ending just 1/8” beyond the tack line.
  • Sew Back darts inserting CB into the separated side Back. Finish the reverse side by hand.
  • Hem side Back and Fronts ending 1/4” back from CF. 
  • Cut lower Front and Back Sleeve apart. Carefully separate the lower Front layers at the side seam. Over-sew the separated layers of the Front and the Sleeve for a few inches.
  • Cut the Sleeve dart. Separate the Back Sleeve layers at the tip and oversew. Over-sew the Front Sleeve dart tip.
Individual separated layers as well as the double layer are oversewn by hand.
  • Hem the Front Sleeve beginning an inch back from the underarm seam. This will allow you to sew and finish the Sleeve seam and then finish this bit of hem when the seam is finished by hand.
  • Sew the Sleeve dart, inserting the Front Sleeve into the separated layers of the Back Sleeve. Finish the reverse side by hand.
  • Hem the Back Sleeve.
  • Sew the underarm seam inserting the Sleeve Back into the separated Sleeve Front layers. When finishing the reverse side by hand I started 1” back from the underarm. This allowed me to access the area when inserting the yoke. After finishing the reverse side by hand, finish the 1” of Sleeve Front hem that was left unfinished previously.
  • At this point it is a good idea to pin the muslin toile pattern for the Front Yoke in place and test the fit of the garment. Check to make sure CF is hanging straight. The yoke can be dropped down slightly on the angled seam above the bust to accommodate a fuller bust. Check to see where you would like the coat to end. Again, larger sizes can be fitted by widening the Fronts. Re-mark CF if needed.
Pin the muslin Yoke into the garment to check the fit. The check pattern has been drawn onto the muslin, which will be helpful when laying out the fabric to ensure a perfect match.
  • Layout and thread trace the Front Yokes and Pockets. There should be enough fabric remaining to cut a crosswise scarf.
The coat has been cut away along the Front Yoke seam leaving a piece of fabric large enough for two Yokes, two Pockets, a scarf and a small swatch to test techniques.
  • Insert stay tapes at CF on the Lower Fronts and Front Yokes. Cut all 4 stay tapes at the same time ensuring that each set of two are equal in length.
  • Close Front Yoke along CF.
  • Insert a stay tape into the short neck edge of the Yoke. Close the neck edge of the Front Yoke.
  • Sew Front seam inserting Front Yoke into the separated layers of the Front. Finish the reverse side by hand. Stop 1″ back from the Sleeve corner. This will allow you to insert the Yoke and finish the corner later.
  • Separate the layers of the Sleeve and Shoulder Yoke seams on the coat. Clip into the corner and oversew the edges on the tan layer.
  • Insert the Front Yoke into the Sleeve and sew from the Front seam to the corner of the Yoke. Remove the garment from the machine to refold and reposition. Sew from the corner to the neck edge. At this time finish the remainder of the Sleeve seam, which had been left open for an inch on the reverse side. Careful folding at this corner will keep it neat and flat. Clip the inside corner of the yoke on the reverse side. Turn the edges under and finish by hand.
Clip into the corner of the Sleeve and Yoke seam. Hand oversew the clipped edges.
  • Close the Lower Front along CF.
  • Check the neckline shape and adjust if needed. Open the layers carefully. Insert a stay tape. Fold stay tape in half and beginning at CB pin in place around to shoulder seam making sure both sides of the neckline are equal. Stab stitch in place. Close neck edge.
Check the curve of the neckline, apply a stay tape and turn edges in to finish.
  • Tun in all four sides of the pocket and close by hand. Baste pockets to coat. Using a double thread, fell stitch the Pockets in place taking a few stitches along the top edge of each corner.
  • Cut the scarf on the crosswise width of the fabric. Separate the edges, turn in and finish by hand.

The design is as current today as it was 60 years ago!

8 thoughts on “Inspiration No. 25: Inspired by Balenciaga

  1. Helaine

    Is there any chance this could be a YouTube tutorial?!!
    I would absolutely love to try this but I would need a visual.
    I already picked out my fabric! I’m hoping that I could get some help.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Natalia

    thank you for the fantastic tutorial! I have been dreaming to work with Balenciaga patter for very long time! how did you enlarged the pattern for printing it out?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. Jennifer Eufemi

    What an exquisite execution of Balenciaga’s one seam coat. I have long wondered how he achieved it, so seeing the flat pattern is a treat. The double cloth is lovely.
    Kathryn Brenne’s version is just beautiful and the documentation superb.
    Thank you to Kathryn Brenne and Emma One Sock for sharing this wealth of information.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. erniek3

    This is just a total treat! Thank you so much! I’ve stared and stared at this pattern since I first saw it some time ago, and made the little paper pattern and just admired it, stole some ideas from it, but never made it. I had assumed, given the photographs, that the scarf WAS the neckline finishing (extending on as a tie/scarf).

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  5. Kay Stuntz

    Fascinating! Thanks so much for your detailed explanation. the coat looks lovely. I saw the show when it was in Montreal–you can’t have too much Balenciaga!
    Alas, the arthritis in my thumb joints and tailor’s trigger finger preclude attempting all the handwork, but it will be so rewarding for those who leap in and make the attempt.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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