Friday, September 2, 2011

CHOIR HOW-TO -- Costume -- Part Five: Cloaks are all the Vogue

Caroling in capes in the Byward Market, 1997

One sunny Saturday afternoon in December, 1997, we were booked to carol while strolling through the Byward Market (here in downtown Ottawa.) The market administration supplied one-size fits all fleece capes (deep grey-green with attached red scarves) for us to wear, in keeping with their Caroling in the Market theme. The whole choir loved them because they were cozy, festive and surprisingly clean (Holly, the clean freak, always appreciates clean costumes.)

Being a natural ripoff artist, and knowing many of the choir members were fed up with the tuxedos, I searched pattern books for the same look.

Wouldn't you know, Vogue had the perfect pattern.
The Vogue pattern -- no longer available -- naturally, I still have it


Since I was sewing them myself, I wanted them to "fit" the current members of the choir. I took arm length measurements and measurements from the neck to the back of  the knees. Some cloaks had to be shorter in length or arms, some longer.With these adjustments, the women's cloaks were made according to the original pattern. For the men, I added a back center panel .  This fulfilled the need for necessary extra shoulder width and arm length without compromising the overall shape of the cloak. Once again, my experience with costume held up -- I am comfortable adapting and even combining patterns if necessary to get the look I want.

Now I had the tools to judge how much fabric to buy.


Running down to my favourite fabric stores, Bouclair (now defunct) and Fabricland, I searched through the materials looking for the right weight and drape. Working with costumes in theater taught me that any costume has to look right under lights and must move the way you want. I had the winter cape image in my mind and finally settled on fleece. Available in almost any colour (since it was all the rage in 1998) I found the perfect Christmas green and red.
Fleece yet to become choir Cloaks
I wish I had a photo of my ancient Honda Civic filled above the headrests with fleece. I needed a whole bolt of green and about eight meters of red. It was a challenge to drive it home, since Pete had fleece filling his rear-view mirror, I navigated.


Red buttons -- a challenge to get enough of all the same button. I fear I will never find the exact button again if I need replacements!

Matching thread --  So important! Buy the BEST quality you can afford and match it to the fabric exactly in natural light right there in the store.
Red acrylic Yarn --Easy care is important if you want to add details. You don't want the item to come out of the wash with dye running or material shrinkage!
Red wool for edging

I laid the fleece out on the dining-room table to cut, and found I could do no more than two layers at a time due to the thickness of the fleece. Luckily the paper pattern stayed put and I had no need to pin it, avoiding damage to the delicate tissue pattern. After all, I had to make over twenty-five cloaks . (am I nuts, or what?)


Fleece doesn't need to be hemmed, but, to strengthen the edges, I did a single line of stitches 1/3 of an inch all round -- on the scarves too.


A bright red button on both sides holds the cloak halves together without inhibiting the drape of the fabric.
Cloak button -- and edge stitch
I LOVE Vogue design!

Stairwell Carollers ready for... carolling!
The cloaks are not "slimming", so I decided to do a large blanket stitch by hand down the front edge of each cloak with a matching red acrylic yarn to create some vertical interest. The result seemed to "finish" the look nicely.
 hand-lettered Stairwell Carollers on attached scarf of choir cloak

I finished the scarves with a hand-written "Stairwell Caroller" logo on each using liquid writer gel. I designed a sample and then worked each one referring to the sample. A bit nerve-wracking, considering this was the finishing touch to each cloak and if I messed up, I would have to replace the whole scarf.

I also used the writing gel to scribe each person's name in their cloak for convenience. Now that so many people have come and gone, the names are assigned to new people according to fit. One of those choir members has since passed on -- and his name is in a way memorialized in the cloak.

 No, I didn't mess up. On the scarves anyway. I can't  tell you how many times I had to pick pattern pieces apart because I sewed them together backwards or upside down! Assembly line production can be hypnotizing at times and Pete had to literally drag me away from the machine for meals when I really got going.

By the way...

Don't let anyone tell you that you need a fancy sewing machine to do make beautiful items.
Best sewing machine on the planet --  the 221 Singer Featherweight
I used my old Singer 221 Featherweight electric for everything. I acquired this machine from a secondhand store while at Ottawa University and Pete has helped me keep it working ever since.  I have sewn wedding dresses (my own and Dawn's,) and all the bridesmaid dresses for both weddings. I've sewn costumes, promotional flags, you name it, but those are other stories... for a different Blog :) That I haven't created... yet. (Collective sigh of relief)

In the end, I had enough fabric left to make some children's cloaks for a special concert. Yes, I also made a few extra adult cloaks before running out of fabric. I cross my fingers every season that I will get all cloaks back in one piece -- so far -- so good. This post better not jinx it.


The choir cloaks -- or as David Rain calls them , our "Cloaking Devices" have turned out to be both comfortable and versatile. Onstage, most of us wear a light weight shirt underneath and, since churches tend to be on the cold side, most of the singers find them cozy but not too warm. For an outdoor venue, such as Sparks street, the cloaks are perfect, protecting our throats -- important when singing out in the cold air!
Cozy in our cloaks, carolling on Sparks Street, Ottawa
Thirteen! years later, the cloaks still look new, and even with machine washing and drying at the end of each Christmas season. 
The Cloaks at nine years -- still looking great

The Choir Costume series links :)

Choir Costume Part 1 - what NOT to wear?
Choir Costume Part 2 - Gowns or Gownless Evening Straps?
Choir Costume Part 3 - Girls in Tails
Choir Costume Part 4 - Period Wear -- Medieval/Renaissance to Victorian Era
Choir Costume Part 5 - Cloaks are all the Vogue
Choir Costume Part 6 - Spring Pastels to Basic Black


  1. Thanks for the cloak history, it was interesting. Though I would say that the fleece is great for singing outside, not so great for singing indoors under the lights! Hot stuff!

  2. I stand corrected! Never speak for others:)

    I do often make the joke that we could sing under the cloaks naked and still be comfortable. LOL


You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Holly :)

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