by LYNN COPE CONROY
This elegant jacket is an example of tone-on-tone sophistication that you can create with a few tried and true classic heirloom techniques.
Sometimes you see something so beautiful that it inspires you to create one of your own. Sometimes the idea needs to settle and grow. Sometimes 11 years might pass between the initial inspiration and completion of your own rendition.
In 2009, my local SAGA chapter, The Cable Car Cablers, hosted Beverley Sheldrick for a weekend workshop of her well known Victorian Silk Sewing Reticule. Beverley brought a trunk show of her work for display and I was taken by one item in particular that she called her “Opera Coat”, something she was considering offering as a future class. It was executed in the darkest shade of silk dupioni. Was it black or dark, dark blue? I don’t recall. I took a few pictures, tucked the idea away for some future time and looked forward to taking that class. It wasn’t very long before we lost Beverley to cancer in 2014. But I knew that some day I would make my own version of the coat.
My vision was of narrow French lace in black against a background of midnight blue silk dupioni. Here and there along the way, I would set things aside with this project in mind. The first thing I set aside was the black narrow French lace. I got what seemed like a lot at the time. More would have been better I’m sure. Years passed and I came across some midnight blue silk dupioni at Britex in San Francisco. Three yards seemed like a good amount. I put it away for another few years. On a more recent trip to Britex, I came across some deep, deep blue silk charmeuse, 3 yards of that seemed like a good idea too. Time went by and I came across a pattern called The Sapporo Coat by Paper Cut Patterns of New Zealand. I had the chance to try one on at a meeting of my local ASG chapter. It felt just right. A lightbulb went off. Just like the original opera coat had felt when I tried it on. Finally, I had the right pattern to use for that project that had been percolating away all these years. Papercut Patterns is an independent pattern company out of New Zealand. Their patterns are available as PDF or in printed format. https://papercutpatterns.com/products/sapporo-coat
I first met Beverley Sheldrick at the 2002 Martha Pullen School of Art Fashion in the Down Under School when I took her 2-day class on the Tumbling Blocks Blouse. This women’s blouse features a cross section of heirloom techniques such as twin needle pintucks on linen; lace shaping; feather stitch in floss; and silk ribbon embroidery.
Beverley’s Opera Coat used a slightly different palette of techniques, but I was confident that I could use the techniques learned in the Tumbling Blocks class to create the look I envisioned of an elegant, special occasion garment accented in narrow French lace.
As we entered 2020, I was determined that I would sew down my stash and get to the work of creating a few of the projects dancing around in my head. Midnight at the Opera was one whose time had come.
For more about this coat, check out our Holiday 2020 issue of Classic Sewing magazine. The jacket techniques are featured in the magazine. Supplies, pattern alterations, specifics on pintucking, embellishing tips for sleeves and construction recommendations for creating your own jacket are available as web extras.
Discover more projects and techniques from, or inspired by, Beverley Sheldrick:
Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Hand I: video with Beverley Sheldrick
Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Hand II: video with Beverley Sheldrick
Sewing Hussif: machine embroidery collection and hussif project