Sewing a faux suede Ulysses Trench coat with Fiona Parker

I fell in love with the Ulysses Trench when it was released by Victory Patterns months ago, and for some reason couldn't get the idea out of my head of making it up in faux suede! It has taken me quite some time to get around to making it; partly because I had trouble finding the fabric I wanted, but mainly because my fears over working with such a different fabric took a while to overcome!

I tried sewing a suede skirt years ago, not long after starting sewing, and it's safe to say it was a complete disaster. I was similarly expecting hours of playing around on the machine trying to get it to neatly sew more than one layer at a time, but thanks to my new Brother Innov-is F420 my fears were unfounded!

I spent a long time looking for the fabric, as I wanted weightier non-stretch suede instead of the stretchier variety. I had in my mind that I was looking for a berry or rust colour, but couldn't find it anywhere, even after ordering samples online. I ended up being quite taken with this dusky purple/pink which I came across in Classic Textiles on Goldhawk Road. It perhaps a fraction lighter in weight than what I was looking for, but that actually worked out for the best and the drape is a dream match for the waterfall front.

I originally thought that, by using faux suede, I'd want to use slightly different finishes to the pattern instructions, particularly for the pockets and rear overlay, both of which are lined. This wasn't needed, however, as the faux suede was quite fine and sewed up much like a mid-weight woven fabric, despite being denser.

Lining turned out to be the best way to get a nice, clean finish and I'm pleased I went with it as I'm not sure the belt loops (which are actually part of the rear overlay and the reason why I fell so hard for this pattern!) would have turned out so nicely. The visible seam allowances are all finished with bias binding, which you can make from your lining fabric... although I got lazy and ordered my binding from The Fabric Store! This is made of a Liberty Tana Lawn called Belmont Ivy and they also stock the same fabric by the metre, so I was able to match my lining! It was the ultimate sewing cheat - buying the binding ready made saved me so much time and was so easy to work with.

For a coat, and quite an involved project with lots of elements, this was surprisingly speedy to make. Once I had all the pieces cut out and prepped I had it pretty much finished in a day! This was definitely helped a huge amount by my Brother sewing machine, which is packed with lots of features to shave time off here and there; each little bit really adds up over the course of a project like this.

As well as being super-fast to thread when I was switching between black for the binding and lilac for the main sewing, the knee lift in particular is my new favourite thing. It allows you to line everything up under the foot super accurately using both hands rather than having to release one hand to lower the presser foot with the lever. I wouldn't have had it on my list of essential features but in combination with the thread cutting button, it noticeably speeds things up. This magic little function pulls the thread tails through to the back of the fabric and leaves two short little tails. So much faster than reaching for your scissors at the end of every seam and a game changer for someone like me who likes to pin multiple pieces and seams and then sew them all, production line style!

It is possible to set the machine to back stitch and cut the threads automatically but I'm sticking with using the button while getting used to the machine! For basting or anything you want a longer thread tail for, there is still a manual thread cutter on the side of the machine.

This was the first time I had sewn with faux or real suede, and I was nervous about it as it behaves so differently to a lot of other fabrics. I was expecting problems with skipped stitches and fabric sticking and shifting as it ran through the machine, but the F420 handled it like a dream.

The machine produces such neat, even stitches, even on a potentially tricky fabric like this! The only change I made to the regular stitch settings was to reduce presser foot pressure slightly on thicker areas as I didn't want to mark the fabric. I chose a size 80 microtex needle so it was super sharp but still had a bit of heft to push through the suede.

I used the regular machine foot and had no trouble, but if your fabric is sticking you could try the Non-Stick foot to help your project glide through. If I had problems I was going to first try my walking foot, but didn't need to. I know some sewers keep their walking foot on their machine all the time and mine has certainly got me out of a sticky situation or two, but I find it quite hard to sew accurately with the reduced visibility created by attaching that chunky piece of kit to your machine. I prefer to save it for when I've got real fabric shift issues and use the functions of the machine to handle everything else. Looking at the photos, there are a couple of areas along the longer seams where things aren't perhaps hanging as well as they could, but I think it is less noticeable in real life.

The worst thing about the faux suede was it wanting to stick to itself when you lay the pieces out to pin seams. Surprisingly, ironing was no problem at all. I had a press cloth to hand, but discovered directly applying a medium heat with no steam softened up and smoothed out the fabric a treat, with no unwanted sheen or weird markings. However, because you can't use a high heat it is difficult to get nice crisp pressed edges and corners and I think I would have got a better result on areas like the pocket flaps and epaulettes if using a traditional woven fabric. Top-stitching is essential to achieve a nice clean edge with faux suede and the needle up/down button on the machine helped hugely with the accuracy of this on all the small elements which require sharp corners. I could effectively sew one stitch at a time until I was right at the point where I wanted to pivot.

Speaking of accurate stitching, I'm slowly getting used to the markings on the needle plate and presser feet and what the seam allowance is when the needle is in different positions. This pattern uses a variety of seam allowance sizes throughout, so it is important to follow the instructions carefully instead of assuming you know the correct technique. 3/8" is used quite a lot, the marking for which I found quite hard to see on the machine, as it is kind of hidden when using the regular presser foot. I got used to it with practice though. When top-stitching, I used the central groove on the presser foot to line my seam/fabric edge up with.

The pattern is a dream. The instructions are excellent and incredibly thorough, with clear illustrations. Each part of the process is broken down into lots of little steps, and that means each element (even sewing the vent) feels straightforward and able to come together without much effort. The instruction booklet is quite overwhelming at first glance because of its size and detail, but quite a lot of the steps are to do with the binding, as the whole process of four separate steps is repeated each time a seam needs binding.

I think being more detailed rather than less is a good thing, and this is definitely a project you could take your time over and tackle one little step at a time. I definitely recommend taking your time sewing on the pockets and pocket flaps, as getting these looking nice on the outside, even with top-stitching, is important - since there is no lining, you can also see this stitching inside your coat! Using faux suede also forced me to slow down, and I didn't want to unpick anything as it would leave permanent holes.

The only thing I did differently to the pattern instructions was to leave the collar and front edge un-hemmed, as the faux suede doesn't fray, although I may go back and hem this later, as I think I could do with reducing the size of the waterfall a touch - it feels a little overwhelming on me!

I did hem the bottom of the coat to give it a bit of weight and also enclose the bottom edges of the interior binding neatly. I love the effect of the binding and the fact that when you apply it, the pattern cleverly tells you to end it before the hem allowance of the body and sleeve to reduce bulk when you turn it up. Little touches like this told me the pattern had been really well thought out and that the company really knows their sewing!

I adore the fact that this is a real timeless style but features some subtle and clever contemporary design elements. In particular, the angled pockets and belt running through loops in the back overlay really elevate this coat. The resulting project feels very elegant; classic, yet modern and unique without being over-designed.

I wish I hadn't let my apprehension of encountering fabric problems put me off tackling this project for so long. I enjoyed every step of making it and am delighted with the finished garment. It has given me the confidence to try out some more unusual fabrics and make the most of my machine's features. Any suggestions as to what I try next?