Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


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Tai Chi Uniform: The finished jacket

I’ve been writing a series of posts about my progress with this self-drafted jacket that is part of a Tai Chi uniform. Here are the previous posts:

First thoughts on designing the pattern

Selecting the fabric

Cutting out and first sewing steps

It’s all coming together

Since my last post, I have completed the collar and the sleeves with their contrast cuffs. I have also finished the mitred corners and jacket hem. These were relatively easy steps given that I had worked out what I needed to do in each case. I did have to redo the collar, because I decided that I needed to work with white bobbin thread to make my slightly wobbly stitching less visible. I am now reasonably happy with the collar, although it isn’t particularly neat. I have even attached a special Kylie and the Machine “Ta Da” label.

Finished Tai Chi Jacket: worn unbuttoned

The last month I have mostly been finishing off the Chinese ball buttons. These, along with the button-holes that complete the frog fastenings have been extremely time consuming. I also managed to replicate the very fancy top button and button-hole which are finished with spirals. I found finishing buttons and button-holes very tricky. I am left wondering whether the materials I have been using were actually the most suitable for such a fiddly job. The video I used is in Chinese and although I could follow it very easily, it doesn’t tell me in English what materials they used. I used some shiny polyester bias binding, but would silk bias binding have worked better? Is this actually easy to get hold of silk bias binding. Then at one stage some “starch” is used, presumably to stick and stiffen the frayed ends together. I purchased some starch that looked similar from the internet, but again I have no idea if this was a good approximation of that used in the video. The buttons are also quite a different navy blue, but I am trying to think of that as a “feature”. This is very noticeable in all the photos below, so I expect given time I’ll stop noticing it too.

Finished Tai Chi Jacket, worn buttoned

On Tuesday the jacket had its first outing at the Tai Chi class and everyone was very complementary. I took it as a compliment (as was intended), but I do wonder why people say “you wouldn’t know it was home-made”? I mean, essentially every sewn garment is hand-made and there isn’t a huge difference between the fabrics, equipment and construction techniques used at home and commercially. Why wouldn’t it look like something you’d buy in a shop?

A bit of a Tai Chi pose!

I was pleased with the fit of the jacket. I definitely made the right choice changing the design so that the sleeves came out horizontally, rather than at a slant. I talked about that design change here. I do notice that the jacket rustles a bit when being worn and I felt a bit conspicuous because of the noise it was making. I bet no-one else noticed, though!

Finished Tai Chi Jacket: Really easy to move and I think it does look the business!

At the moment I am still in the mental phase of seeing all the “faults” with this jacket. But I’m sure that in the winter I will really appreciate wearing it. Our teacher is a bit of a fresh air fiend and with COVID still circulating, even in January I bet the doors and windows in the hall where we practice will be fully open!


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Tai Chi Uniform: It’s all coming together

In my last post about my jacket I was uncertain about large parts of the project and it”felt” like I was a long way from the finish line. Now I “feel” I’m not far off finishing the Tai Chi jacket, even though there is still quite some work to do.

The Frog Fastenings

After some investigation I found this video on YouTube. When I watched this video for the first time I was struck by the skill of the person making the knot buttons; I really felt that I was watching a master craftsperson at work here! However, watching someone so competent can also feel intimidating. Would I really be able to emulate their skill?

At first, I tried to use the jacket fabric to make the Chinese buttons. The original jacket that I am copying uses the same fabric for the frog fastenings as the jacket. However my fabric is more substantial and I couldn’t turn the fabric to make a long rouleau loop. I then purchased some bias binding. I was somewhat sceptical about the shiny nature of the bias binding, but at least I could turn the fabric to make the loops successfully.

Chinese buttons using bias binding

I followed the instructions on the video and produced two beautiful, but not identical buttons. I’m quite pleased with the result. I did also buy some silver bias binding, and wondered whether to make contrast buttons instead. Either way, the two buttons I have made are a proof of concept, and I will need to make six in total.

Silver and blue bias binding

Front and sleeve facings

The original jacket uses a contrasting white fabric for the front and sleeve facings. The sleeves are constructed with facings so you can turn up the sleeves when you wear it and reveal the contrast facings. I bought some white cotton lawn for these facings on my copy. I drafted my own facing pieces. The front facing was somewhat different from the original jacket as I wanted the facing to extend to the shoulder seam so it could be secured tidily.

Adding the front and sleeve facings

I haven’t really been keeping track of the steps I have been doing as I go along. It has all become a lot more haphazard. The reason for this is I just wanted to plough on with trying lots of different things. So far I have done the bottom hem and side slits on the front left side only, half-finished the sleeve facings and half-added the collar. At least this way I have practiced the techniques and just need to duplicate them on the right side of the jacket.


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Tai Chi Uniform: Cutting out and first sewing steps

After the Lander trousers interlude I am now back with my Tai Chi uniform. I deliberated for a long time before I bought the fabric as I wasn’t exactly sure how much I needed and the Mind the MAKER cotton twill isn’t exactly a cheap fabric at £22.99 / metre (ouch!). In the end I bought 1.7 m and prayed that my skills at tessellation would suffice. I know this quantity will be enough for the two front and back pieces and I just hope that I’ll manage to get the pockets, facings and collar out of this as well.

The cutting out was therefore a little stressful. I was worried that I would accidentally cut out two left fronts, or some such error, and therefore use up all my fabric. The right side and reverse side of the fabric are very similar, but not identical. There is a slight sheen to the right side so I suspect that if I had got this wrong it would have been truly visible in the finished jacket. To make sure I didn’t mess up, I went really slowly, checked and checked again, and labelled all the pieces as I went along. (You can see my label pinned on to the jacket front on the picture below). Labelling was very useful as it meant I didn’t “forget” that I had already cut a certain piece.

I was incredibly relieved when I had all four pieces cut out. I then cut out the pockets. There are four of these. They are all patch pockets, but the bottom two are larger and are slanted at the top.

My next dilemma is that I have no instructions for the construction. Well, obviously, as it is self-drafted, so I had to have a good think about what to do first.

My first steps have been as follows:

  1. Join two back sections together at centre-back seam, press, finish seams.
  2. Construct front patch pockets
  3. Attach pockets to front of jacket

And that is where I am at the moment…..I think my next step will be to add the facing, but I may have an obstacle here. I haven’t cut the facings out yet, as I think I am going to struggle with the amount of fabric I have left. Admittedly, on the original jacket, the facings are cut from a different fabric, so I could do this, but of course, that will probably need a trip to a fabric shop, unless I can find something suitably neutral in my oddments stash.

Tai Chi Jacket: Starting to add the front pockets to the jacket

In the meantime, I could take a look at the frog fastenings, which I think I’ll probably save for my next instalment.


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Tai Chi Uniform: Selecting the fabric

I haven’t been able to visit many bricks and mortar fabric shops so far this year. For this reason, I decided that I needed to order some swatches to select an appropriate fabric for my Tai Chi uniform.

First of all, let me try to explain the original fabric on the jacket I am copying. The fabric is a poly cotton blend in navy blue, with quite a smooth surface texture. It is quite crisp in nature, but crinkles smooth out relatively easily. It is quite light-weight too and I am guessing when I say that my inclination is that it is made of something like poly cotton sheeting.

I ordered four quite different cotton fabrics from Minerva crafts. I was keen to avoid a poly cotton blend and chose cotton fabrics only. I imagined, even before I ordered these fabrics that they would be more substantial / thicker than the fabric of the original jacket. I liked the idea of a thicker fabric, particularly as we have been practicing Tai Chi with the doors open for months (and some sessions I hardly seem to get warm despite an hour and a half of exercise). However, I didn’t want this concession to compromise the drape or flexibility of the design.

The fabrics were as follows:

  1. Sevenberry Kobe Cotton Twill Indigo
  2. Mind the MAKER Stretch Cotton Twill Indigo Night
  3. Soft Duck Canvas Navy
  4. Klona 100% Cotton Navy

Unfortunately it looks like navy blue photographs as badly as black so you’ll have to take my word about them all being different! The links to the Minerva site should provide more of an idea about these fabrics.

Four samples for my Tai Chi Uniform: clockwise from top left: Sevenberry Kobe Cotton Twill Indigo, Mind the MAKER Stretch Cotton Twill Indigo Night, Soft Duck Canvas Navy, Klona 100% Cotton Navy

Straight out the packet I noticed that the four fabrics were very different; colour, thickness, softness all varied, so I made a grid to assess them. I assessed the colour on the basis of its proximity to the colour of the original jacket. With drape, I screwed the fabric up to judge how crisp it was and also looked to see how much the crinkles were retained when I smoothed it out again. For the surface texture, again I visually judged how close this came to the texture and weave of the original.

FabricColourDrape*Weave / Surface TextureTotal
Sevenberry Kobe Cotton Twill Fabric Indigo2327
Mind the Maker Organic Stretch Woven Cotton Twill fabric Indigo Night44311
Soft Cotton Duck Canvas Navy Blue3216
Klona 100% Cotton Fabric Navy1146
Comparison of different jacket fabrics *see crinkle test above

As you can see there was an overall winner. The Mind the Maker cotton twill comes quite close to the original fabric. Strangely, it is described as a twill fabric, but the weave is quite fine so this is not particularly evident at first glance. My only reservation with this fabric is that it is a stretch woven, unlike the others. Perhaps this will in fact improve the comfort of the finished jacket, and hopefully won’t be too obvious.

Looking at the uniform I will also have to order the frog fasteners and some contrast fabric for the facings and cuffs.

Tai Chi Uniform jacket: Note the contrast cuffs and the frog fasteners.

My next step will be to order my fabric. Of course, drafting your own pattern means that I will have to work out how much fabric I need too. No handy envelope guide here!


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Tai Chi Uniform: First thoughts on designing the pattern

I was intending to crack on with sewing more of my #makenine for this year, however a new make has jumped to the top of my schedule. I have practiced Tai Chi for some while with the Wu Tan Tai Chi school.

My teacher has long been nagging me to sort out my clothing and wear something more “Tai Chi”, but knows I do make my own clothes. So, she has lent me some jackets to try on that I can use as a basis for a sewing pattern.

Tai Chi uniform

Naturally, I decided to also purchase some more Swedish Tracing Paper, which I reviewed here. I have used it previously and really liked using it. It has the added bonus that it behaves more like a fabric than a paper so you can sew it and try it on!

My first dilemma on trying on the jackets is that to me they seem quite restrictive in the shoulder. The grown-on sleeves actually pivot downwards. This means that with any movement of the arm at shoulder height or above, tends to make the bottom of the jacket ride up and all movements quite restrictive. I suspect that my square shoulders are contributing to this problem, because on less square shoulders I’m sure that the fit of the jacket would be fine.

I decided to investigate if there were any Chinese jacket or Tai Chi uniform patterns on line. My search revealed various different arm shapes, some with sloping arms and some with completely horizontal arms.

This is a wrap design, which isn’t what I’m after and the arms are too flamboyant, but it does have the horizontal arms.
This is the Chinese Jacket #114 from Folkwear patterns. This resembles the overall design of my jacket, but does include the horizontal arms too.

My first step is to make a sewing pattern using the Swedish Tracing paper. As I already have the sloping arms, I will make this pattern with horizontal arms and see if it improves the fit for my shoulders. The jacket is made of a quite light-weight cotton. It looks like and feels like a high-thread count sheeting. I don’t know if I will be able to get something similar (and I don’t want to use poly-cotton sheeting). I suspect that I will end up purchasing something heavier weight, so any restrictions in movement will be exacerbated by this.