Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sewing a rain poncho

The ponchos that little girls wore when I was small were usually bell-shaped, with pom-poms at the end of a drawstring threaded through the neck opening.  Picture a lot of kids leaping around a skipping rope with their arms pinned to their sides and pom-poms whapping them in the eye, and you'll know why I have steered clear of them as an adult.  But... in a Boxing Day sale this year, I saw a gorgeous length of 100% cashmere cloth sewn into a boxy poncho and I couldn't resist.  And even if I hadn't broken my fingers the following week and found myself wearing a splint that didn't fit through any of my coat sleeves, I am pretty sure I would have been wearing it constantly because it is so wonderful.

The cashmere poncho is not just warm and soft and special-feeling.  It's actually flattering!  It drapes beautifully and the asymmetrical grey stripes knitted into the cloth make it look kinda glam.  It's the opposite of a frumpy sweater, while having all the assets of a frumpy sweater.  Well, except that it's easier to take a pan of roasted sweet potatoes out of the oven when you're wearing a frumpy sweater than when you're draped in a giant poncho.

(Don't ask me why I kept needing a sweater even when I was pulling something out of a 400 degree oven because I have no idea.)

So there we go: I am in love with my black and grey cashmere poncho.  I love it so much I bought a second one in a later sale, so that when the first one wears out I will have another in the queue.  And it's now April.  Soon it will be simply too hot to wear, not to mention depressingly dark in colour.

I was all set to part with regret until the fall when I started planning my travel wardrobe for our trip to Germany.  I have a sensible black raincoat I can bring, but it's not something I want to take off and carry when the day warms up or dries out; it's waxed cotton, so it needs a little care lest it look worn, and also, it's got lots of zippers and snaps that are heavy and prevent it from being easily rolled up into a pillow. 

A much better idea: comfy sweaters plus a fold-down rain shell.  Or better still, a fold-down rain trench!  So that my legs stay dry in the rain, too.  But I couldn't find any... until after I acted on the brilliant idea that occurred to me next.

Yep: I decided to make my own rain poncho!!  I mean, I already had the basic design, right?  I could just copy Mr. Cashmere.

It was surprisingly easy to find a Canadian supplier of black ripstop nylon and you know what, that stuff isn't even expensive.  I bought two yards and some sharp sewing machine needles and then about an hour later, found a pretty good-looking pocket-sized fold-down trench coat online which I also ordered, just in case.

Because, you know, I have some experience with my bright ideas, and I wanted insurance.

The fabric arrived within days - actually, on a day when I had a free evening and was able to get right to work.  So that's what I did.  Go me! 

I trimmed off the uneven edges and cut the piece into two 1-yard segments.

Then I used an eye dropper on the scraps to confirm which side was water resistant...

and folded the edges in for a nice clean hem on three of the four sides of each piece.

Then I fussed around with the neck.  On the cashmere poncho, it's 10 inches wide, so that's what I chose for the rain poncho, except I forgot to hem the neck opening before I started the French seams for the shoulders.

And also, after I did both lines of stitching for the shoulders and added a third in topstitching, I realized I hadn't tested the neck opening, which OF COURSE was too small because ripstop nylon does not stretch and cashmere knits do.

Duh.  How many hats have I knit anyway? How could I forget my head is 23" around, and that 23 >20?

So I ripped out the neck edges of the French seam and sat down to finish them properly

and then I thought - Wait.

Maybe I should try this on and see how it looks.  And maybe I should ask Pete what he thinks.

I looked in the mirror and thought, I look like a giant bat.

I showed Pete and he said, You look like you're about to get on the Maid of the Mist and go under the falls.  You know, in one of those cheap plastic rain ponchos they sell there, but black, like a garbage bag.

And I considered whether either of these looks is really what I want to go for while we're on holiday, any time it rains over the twelve days we are away.

Then Pete, who was still considering the black water resistant shroud I was wearing, asked, "Isn't it kind of hot?  I mean, it's rustling like it's really airtight fabric.  Are you going to go crazy wearing something hot?"

Which is why the poncho is now folded up neatly in my sewing bucket, waiting to be made into some lightweight waterproof bags.

Isn't it lucky I ordered that trenchcoat?  Won't it be great if it actually fits?

Something else I learned while making the poncho is that I don't love running seams as much as I remembered.  It felt kind of like work.  Maybe it would be different if I were sewing something other than stiff black nylon taffeta.  But - I'd been considering whether I could sew some of my own curtains for the 'new' house, to save some money for back yard landscaping, and now I'm thinking No.  Just - no.  Somebody else should do that job, who likes it.

And how is your week going?


Laurinda said...

I enjoy running seams, & right now my knitting has slowed down to a crawl, because I'm sewing 3 bunnies for my local grandkids, in Easter print fabrics, on my new-to-me machine (1901 Hand crank)
I'm looking forward to hearing more about your fold down trench coat, & your sock progress, of course

Mary Keenan said...

No sign of the pocket trench yet Laurinda! How did the bunnies turn out?? Love the old machines but a 1901 hand crank sounds especially cool :^)