Guest post by Julie Anne Eason
A big part of survival in New England is keeping warm seven or eight months out of the year. I love fur, but I’ll never be a “tan-your-own-animal-hide” kind of girl. So, when I came across a $20 mink coat in a thrift store the other day, I decided it was finally time to make a pair of fur-lined mittens. I’ve seen Eskimo versions and extant pieces of archaeology that didn’t seem too difficult. So, I repeated my favorite motto–“how hard could it be?”
Turns out, it wasn’t that hard. But things didn’t go exactly as I expected.
First, I removed the satin lining of the coat. I thought the leather on the back of the mink would be one smooth piece and I could just make the mittens out of that (with leather on the outside and fur on the inside.) Turns out fur coats have rows of stitching all along the length of the leather, presumably to strengthen the fibers. It is a heavy coat after all. Plus, there were stamp marks all over the leather. I’m not sure why, but perhaps to certify where the furs came from or something. Anyway, it was already time for a plan B.
So, instead of making leather mittens, I decided to make a wool shell with a fur liner. This involved making two separate pairs of mittens–one wool and one fur. Then slipping the fur one inside the wool one and stitching them together. After researching mitten patterns online, I learned there are two types of patterns. A two-piece version with an inset thumb, and one where you just trace around your hand and the thumb is already attached. Since I knew sewing the fur was going to be dicey anyway, I decided to make the one-piece pattern.
I traced around my hand leaving a good inch and a half of extra space. Then I cut the pattern out in wool and sewed it together. Even with what I thought was a ton of extra room, they just barely fit. Which meant when I added in the fur lining, the mittens would be too small. So, back to the drawing board. This time, I added 2″ all the way around and they were nice and loose when I finally stitched them up.
I sewed the wool mittens with right-sides together and turned them right-side out so the seam is on the inside. Then I pressed them flat with a steam iron, which basically steam blocked them into the right shape. So far, so good.
Now, the tricky part–cutting and sewing up the fur liners. Since I needed the liners just a “hair” smaller than the wool shells, I just folded the fur in half so the fur was on the inside and traced the finished wool mittens onto the back (leather) side of the fur coat. After that, it was a simple matter of cutting them out and sewing them together on my machine. I used a regular sewing needle for leather, and a straight stitch. I tried to keep as close to the edge of the seam as possible without slipping off.
Here’s what I learned about sewing fur:
1) After you trace out your pattern, pin the pieces together *before* you cut the fur. Place the pins far enough away from the edge that you can sew and still leave the pins. This will help keep the fur from slipping around.
2) Have a vacuum cleaner handy!
3) Do not–I repeat–do not chew gum while cutting and sewing fur. Trust me on this one.
4) Make sure you orient the fur so that your hand slides into the mitten “with” the grain of the fur. You don’t want to be sliding your hand in and pushing the fur up in the wrong direction.
5) When you’re sewing the fur on a sewing machine, have your presser foot set to the lowest pressure setting. And you’re going to want to pull from the back just a little to keep things moving along.
6) Be sure to cut the fur mitten about 2″ longer than the wool one so you can pull it up and over the wool and sew it down.
Once I had both the shells and the fur liners sewn, I put the fur mittens on and then slipped the wool on over them. They fit perfectly! All I had left to do was fold the fur over to make a cuff and stitch it down by hand. Now I have the warmest mittens ever, and there’s enough fur left over to make a hat. Lucky me!
Julie Anne Eason is a freelance web writer and publisher specializing in sewing and craft articles. She spends her days dreaming up new things to make and writing reviews for heavy duty sewing machines like the Bernina 950 industrial.