Pea Coat Sew-Along:Toile


Hello Sew-Alongers, If your materials are chosen, patterns pieces are pressed (lowest setting no steam) and fabrics pre-shrunk; I bet you are excited to start sewing. This week we should be focusing on achieving the right fit. We are going to put a lot of work and effort into making this beautiful coat so we need to make sure we won’t be disappointed about the fit and proportions.

How should a coat fit?  If I ask you this question quickly over the comments you will highlight all the critical fitting points: neck, shoulders, bust, waist, hips and hem. Declaring it shouldn’t be too big, too long, too short and so on. To approach fitting without a goal in sight is unrealistic so there are a few things we all should check:

  • Size.
  • Length.
  • Placement of details.
  • Fit preferences.
  • Style preferences.

Our bodies will make this process quite personal and complex. I find fitting a fascinating process because there are so many variations in methods to achieve the best result. I would suggest we all take this week to explore and conquer our fitting challenges. The previous coat sew along has great tips for making Toile/ Test garment so I don’t want to repeat information. On my blog there is a Sew Along posts on toile making: Dakota dress you may find useful.

After taking your measurements accurately you need to compare them to the pattern chart. There are 4 areas ready to compare: Bust, Waist, Hip and Back length. You will need to measure your sleeve length and upper arm width even though those measurements are not given on the envelop. It does help if you need to be making those changes flat ie. before you sew your toile. Because is impossible to share all the fitting challenges and adjustments for everyone taking part of the sew along I’m concentrating on mine but will be suggesting resources where you can find guidance.

fitting stage

Create extra vertical and horizontal lines to help during the fitting

Picking a size to start can be very challenging for me. I’m very tall, have narrow shoulders, hourglass shape in measurement but in reality I’m full busted and haven’t got much of a ‘derrie’. If I base my pattern on my full bust measurement my frame get overwhelmed. This being a coat and I also need to consider the under layers and avoid over fitting.  Based on my high bust I cut my first toile size 14, original. *Note one of the sleeve on the pictures had their head ease removed.

When trying your toile/ muslin pin the centre front together as they would be when buttoned. It should look the same on both sides. The lines and proportions should be matching. When unbuttoned the front edges should hang perpendicular to the floor. Seam lines should be straight. Shoulders need to be smooth both front and back. Neckline should sit smoothly. Always start analysing from top to bottom starting at the shoulders. Do one alterations at a time because one alteration can affect multiples areas and fix problem areas in different parts of the body.

finaltoile1CollageMost horizontal and vertical seams are parallel/perpendicular to the floor respectively. My “bad” posture mostly.


  • The waistline is at the correct place.
  • Neckline sits nicely.
  • Hipline is not hitting exactly at full hip but is not a bad position.
  • Centre front is at the correct position.
  • After hemmed sleeves are the right length.
  • After hemmed the coat finished on a suitable length.


  • Apex point is too high.
  • Shoulder seam not at the shoulder.
  • The shoulder and arm need to have enough ease for movement and I cannot raise my arms or give someone a hug.
  • Arm cycle is too low
  • Back is too big all over.

Fitting & diagnostics:

Fitting problem: Excess fabric length at the underarms, the fabric sags creating loose diagonal wrinkles aka Sloping Shoulders: Due to bone structure, slopping shoulders may be more apparent when combined with poor posture but essentially caused by the angle of your shoulder and shaping the armhole to the set of your arms.

For this project I could correct it either by altering the pattern or adding a custom shoulder pad. I did alter the pattern on my second toile. I’m still consider the construction of a sleeve head instead of using a shoulder pad so that decision will be taken with the final fabric.

Fitting problem: Too much fabric width across the shoulders. Arm movement is restricted. Loose vertical wrinkles at the side of the chest and on the sleeve cap. Armhole falls off the curve end of the shoulder aka Narrow shoulders:Poor fit when shoulder seams are too long for natural shoulder.

Fitting Problem: Excess fabric on the whole back aka Narrow back: Garment drapes off grain.

Sleeves: Sleeve fit is distorted by ease distribution of the sleeve cap and continue across the sleeve distorting the lengthwise grain. When I removed the excess of the sleeve head the pitch got distorted.

Next I decided to sew size 12 without the triangle pattern piece (using the lining back piece as a guide) and see how it compared to the overall fitting. I did a slopping shoulders adjustment on the flat pattern. When I see an enormous list of alterations I sometimes go down a size and see if some of the major alterations can be made more manageable. I did drop the apex slightly. If this was a dress I would really need adjust the princess seam because is too high. With this coat I may get away because it’s not as close fitted.


Clearly my biggest issue is the position of the shoulders and arm cycle.

Here is version 3* & final thoughts.

toile3 Collage

*That is the toile one half altered. I raised the arm cycle and reduced the shoulders length. I still need to adjust the sleeve head and the neck/back width. I’m ready to cut my beautiful italian wool.

The last fitting nick picks will be adjusted on the final version. I feel is important to mention that throughout the whole coat sewing process you should baste and fit as you sew. I know that makes the whole process a little slower but think the result is worth it.

Pro tip: If you are intending to add shoulder pads you need to add them while trying your toile. Position shoulder pads on the edges of your shoulders no matter what width your shoulders are, rather than letting them droop.

Book resources:

  • Fit for Real People by Palmer Pletsch
  • The Vogue Sewing book of Fitting, Adjustments, and Alterations.
  • The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting Paperback by Sarah Veblen  
  • Fast Fit: Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure Paperback by Sandra Betzina 
  • Fitting Solutions: Pattern Altering Tips for Garments That Fit by Threads 

Online resources:

How to shorten the hemline, using your muslin as a guide.

Step by Step How to make a toile/Muslin.

How to alter shoulders width.


We have a Pinterest board & Flickr group. Do share your work in progress with  #V1467SewAlong over your social media.

Now is your turn to try your toile. ( Muslin)

Stand in front a full size mirror, weight balance over both feet. What does your toile says!

  • Nice detailed explanation! One question though… how do you determine where the shoulder needs to be on a coat? For a close fitting dress/top it’s clearly at the shoulder joint. But coats need to go over other clothing, is generally made of bulkier material, and could potentially be more like men’s suit jacket where the shoulder extend a bit more so the sleeve drops straight rather than bulge out to accommodate the curve of the bicep. How should the sleeve head of a pea coat generally look? I’d be worried about overfishing a coat, especially working with thin fitting muslin…

    • I meant over-fitting of course! Silly phone autocorrect 🙂

      • The shoulder seam of the set-in sleeve should extend 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches (1.3 to 3.8 cm) beyond the natural shoulder

        • Houseofpinheiro

          I’m wearing a jumper underneath too.

  • great set of photos to illustrate the fit – I have narrow shoulders and I always prefer the shoulder seam a lot higher than it technically should be – it just feels more comfortable for me, so when ever I read any of the fitting books, the correct fit is not the one I like, even though its correct! so I do the fit I like –

    • Indeed and thats why on the list for checking your toile I added your preference. We all like our clothes to fit in a particular way. Hope you getting along ok

  • Thanks for sharing. In my case, I needed to do FBA. This tutorial form Craftsy was helpful to make FBA on princess seams

  • Cheryl S

    Hi! Thanks for tips! To what extent should the toile fabric be the same as the coat fabric? I’m not sure I have the necessary amount of a similar wool. I’m sure the fabric influences fit, but how much should this be taken into account? Thanks! 🙂

    • I have used upholstery fabric to have an idea of the fit but I will be fitting as I sew by basting and trying as I go. I’m giving myself some fitting insurance. Every fabric will behave differently so by having a similar fabric for making a toile it gives you a better idea of fit but it won’t be perfect. I didn’t have one so in making sure to give myself some extra fabric. So honestly as long you know that if you are using a thinner fabric you have to be careful to not overfit yourself it won’t be a problem. I have tried mine with a jumper underneath . So try yours wearing other layers

  • Excellent post. I love the detailed assessment of fit. A couple comments… sleeve heads are usually used in tandem with a shoulder pad…. It sounded like you meant to use the heads without the pads. In regards to the sleeve cap/mobility, I think that if you are using a lovely wool coating that you may be able to steam shape some of the cap ease over the ball of the shoulder which will give you some movement…toile and muslin are not as easy to ease into shape. I think raising the armscye was a good move.

  • I note that this particular sleeve has a dart at the shoulder. I don’t think I see a dart in your toile, but I thought that might be a reason for the extra ease.