A Kate-Middleton-style coat dress and a pillbox hat: the making of my viva outfit

As some of you know, I’ve spent the last few years working on my PhD, looking into the history of Australian English. At the end of February came the big day – the viva! Initially I did not have a special outfit planned for the viva, but I was dreaming of a Kate-Middleton-style coat dress for the graduation ceremony. However, the viva being in February, it meant the graduation ceremony would be in June, which would be a bit too hot for a coat dress. So I thought I’d try to make one for the viva instead. Especially since I’ve already made a pretty pillbox hat during a millinery workshop I attended in January. Again, the point of that was to make a fascinator for the graduation ceremony, but I managed to make a second piece as well and it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to create a whole outfit to go with it.

Choosing the pattern

There are not many patterns for a coat dress that I could find. There are a couple with a pencil skirt, such as this Daria Patternmaking one, or this beautiful retro number from Burdastyle with a fuller skirt, but nothing was quite what I wanted. I was after a fitted double-breasted bodice with peak lapels and a full skirt but no pleats or gathers. I went through all of my issues of Burda trying to find a blazer I could modify, but I could not find one that would be double-breasted and have peak lapels. Since I’ve never made a proper blazer before, I was not confident about adjusting the lapel shape on my own.

The closest pattern to what I wanted in terms of the bodice was the Vikisews Nancy blazer. The trouble with this pattern, however, is that it has a lot of ease and you only get one selected size when you buy it. I did buy the pattern about two sizes smaller than my measurements, but the toile was still huge everywhere and I decided it would be too much effort trying to make it fitted. But the lapel was just right! So what next? A bit of frankenpatterning, of course!

Making it work: frankenpatterning

Remember my quilted Liberty blazer I made a couple of years ago? It was based on a Burdastyle pattern from the 04/2018 issue and I really liked the fit of it, so I decided to go with this as my basis. Making it double-breasted and using the Nancy blazer lapel turned out to be quite easy.

First, I eliminated the front yokes by simply laying the bodice and yoke pieces next to each other seamline to seamline and traced around it. Then I looked for the centre-front line marked on the bodice pattern pieces of the Nancy and the Burdastyle patterns, lay the Nancy on top of the Burda style one on the CF-line and extended the Burdastyle pattern accordingly, copying the lapel shape. I also had to extend the waistband pieces.

As the Burdastyle pattern only has a collar stand and not a collar, I measured the length of the collar stand to see how it compared to the Nancy blazer one, since I would be using the collar of that pattern. By a lucky coincidence, it was the exact same length, so I could use both collar stand and collar from the Nancy. I traced the little Nancy pocket as well on the pattern piece, as you can see below, but I didn’t end up making it, as I wanted to keep it simple. Ind hindsight, I wish I’d included it.

As for the skirt, I used the panelled skirt of the 04/2020 Burdastyle dress I made several times, adjusting the width of the panels at the waist by following the width of the original blazer pattern pieces. In hindsight, I should have used a different pattern as I feel there is too much volume at the hips on the side of the dress and not enough at the front. I probably should have done a half-circle skirt instead.

Cutting out & construction

The most time-consuming part was cutting out all the pieces from the main fabric (I used a deadstock wool-blend light-weight suiting), silk lining (an old Goldhawk road find) and interfacing. For the construction, I mostly followed the instructions for the Nancy blazer which are excellent. Unlike Burda, the Nancy blazer instructions tell you to interface all of the bodice pieces, the top of the sleeve head and the hems, and also have you add seam-tape interfacing to the lapels and armholes for better stability. The instructions for inserting the sleeves are also excellent and these are probably the neatest sleeve heads I’ve ever made. I made my own small shoulder pads and used a bit of batting for the sleeve head to support the shape. I used some piping for the lining as it makes it look extra fancy. It’s inserted by machine except for the hems, where I’ve attached it by hand to hand-tacked hems of the coat.

Because the dress is meant to be fitted but only closes with one button at the waist, I decided to sew in snaps on the inside to make sure it was not popping open. It works well, but it is creating a bit of pulling of the fabric at times, which I’m not soo keen on.

Overall, I am reasonably happy with the coat dress, but I will make a few changes when I make my next one, as I’m sure I will at some point. The fabric was probably not the best choice either, the blue is giving me a bit of workman-style coat vibes… I think I might end up taking the snaps off and wear it as an autumn/spring coat with a colourful scarf. But I’m glad I made it and felt pretty good in it on the day.

Till next time,


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