Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I'm Part of the #ADCapeCult Now!

I've loved American Duchess for a long time, from their gorgeous historical shoes to the very helpful blog chronicling the making of various items of historical clothing, the accessibility of their Simplicity patterns and their informative Fashion History podcast. Somehow it escaped my notice that they had a Patreon page, but then all these costumers I admire and follow on IG were posting about making this 1912 wrap cape from a free pattern by AD. So now, a week of naptime/post-bedtime sewing later, I have a cape and am a patron of American Duchess!

I actually had this cape pinned ever since participating in the VPLL 1912 Project years ago, so of course I had to make it. It seemed like most IG-ers were either making neutral gray/black/brown versions, and a few people made capes in their Hogwarts house colors. I knew I wanted to go vivid, and I had a red brocade tablecloth that I got at a thrift store several years ago that I actually meant to make into a cape...but I'm so not a Gryffindor. In fact, when I took a Sorting Hat quiz that tells you what percentage of each house you are, I think I got something along the lines of 67% Slytherin and 33% Ravenclaw, and zero percent Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. In other words, if you want someone to learn a lot of information and then use it for their own ambitious ends, while not caring about other people or the right thing to do, then apparently I'm your person. *insert laugh-crying emoji here* I think I had a genuine existential dilemma for five minutes about making a red cape when I'm so not a Gryff, but in the end I decided I wanted a red cape too much, and  since I was lining it in black satin, I could just call it a Fire Nation cape. Not that entire fictional countries must match up to Hogwarts houses, but I really do think the Fire Nation (as evidenced by its royals) is the most Slytherin nation in ATLA. Nerdy crossover fanning aside, though, I'm so glad I went with the saturated dark red, both because that's one of my favorite colors to wear, and because if you're going to make an impractical historical cape, you might as well go the whole way and make it an impractical color too?

The AD pattern is done on a tiny grid, like Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion books. When I was making JA patterns, I enlarged them by drawing on the back of wrapping paper that was printed with a 1-inch grid. I don't have any gridded paper anymore, so I scaled up the pattern by plotting it on medical paper (which is very thin and see-through) laid over my gridded self-healing cutting mat. It took a couple hours (with lots of interruption from kids, so YMMV), then another couple of hours to plan the layout on my tablecloth and cut the pieces. Somebody on IG pointed out that the shoulder seam notch on the cape piece didn't make sense grain-wise, and many people pointed out that the cape was two inches too short on the back piece when you walked the back-cape seam. Putting together these two pieces of information, I decided to rotate the cape piece back two inches: this makes the hem line up and also puts the grainline perpendicular to the floor when worn. Other than that, I didn't have any issues with making up the garment. The darts did take forever to mark and pin, and my polyester fabrics were tricky to press well without getting a weird shine (thank you, silk-organza press cloth and wooden half-dowel), especially on the collar. I also decided to make the cape theoretically reversible, so that meant changing up the collar fabrics and putting the contrast piece on both sides. Hemming the back piece at the end also took a couple of tries before I got the tablecloth and the satin lining to hang right together. To add some additional visual interest to the cape, I decided to add little chain tassels to the collar corners to mimic the buttons at the shoulders on the original cape. The cape is secured at the ends of the wrap pieces with hooks and eyes.

I seriously love this tablecloth. 


And worn flipped. 

The finished cape is just delightfully full and twirly and swooshy and good for dramatically storming about. If I were Snape (because a chemistry teacher is just a step away from potions professor, right?), I could flounce about most pleasingly! My only regret is not checking the shoulder fit before cutting and sewing: with my wide shoulders, the only way to get the shoulder seam to not sit obviously too far in toward my neck (and therefore make the cape hang funny) is to wear the wrap portion too loose. It's not the end of the world (that would be coronavirus), but I just wish I'd thought to check. It's been so long since I've sewn a new pattern that I forgot what issues I usually need to adjust for.

Why is red so hard to photograph in the only somewhat-still-lit corner of our backyard when we sneak out to quickly snap some photos while the kids have their half hour of screen time? Oh wait, I think I just answered my own question...


Pattern: the American Duchess 1910s Wrap Cape pattern, free on their Patreon page

Fabric: a thrifted dark red poly-cotton brocade tablecloth, and black polyester satin from a friend's destash for the lining. I'm really pleased that I was able to make this suddenly-jumped-to-the-head-of-the-sewing-queue project entirely from stash materials.

Notions: three sets of hooks and eyes from a charity shop that I got on one of our anniversary trips to the UK, and two chain tassels that used to be earrings that I got at a clothing exchange.

Hours: Five for prepwork (scaling up the pattern, layout planning and cutting, pinning darts), then maybe another three for sewing and an additional hour for evening out the hem, sewing hooks and eyes, and adding tassels, for a total of nine hours.

How accurate is it? My fiber content is obviously anachronistic, but in terms of general look and "passing," I'd say pretty good!

Total cost: A whopping $5 for the tablecloth!

Final thoughts: How can you not love a cape? It's impractical, especially with young kids who see such a giant expanse of fabric as basically a giant napkin, and of course there's the fact that I made outerwear from non-breathable fabrics right as the weather is heating up, but I regret nothing. I'm so thankful that AD put out this pattern at this time, and I'm glad I can support their business even a little bit by being a patron.


  1. I love it! The little tassels are a great touch. I said it on instagram, but I'll say it again, you got some impressively sharp corners on the collar, especially given it's all polyester.

    1. Thanks! I worked really hard on those corners so I appreciate that you noticed!

  2. It’s fabulous!!! This is totally on my fantasy sewing list. Also now I want a full Fire Nation/Victorian cosplay. 😂😂😂

    1. Oooh nooo don't give me ideas...I would love to do a Victorian ATLA nations group cosplay one day!

  3. This is amazing! I love the swoopiness of it, and the tassels are a fantastic design feature. They look great on their own and they add a nice emphasis to the collar.

    -Caroline/@carobanano on IG

  4. This looks so fantastic! The tassel detail might be my favorite thing ever.


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