Sewing for the Rain

You may already know I live in rainy Vancouver. On the  wet coast West Coast. I’m sure there is some statistic on the number of rainy days per year, and it’s not a small amount!

I’ve started riding my bike to work, which is awesome! I get to work refreshed, wide awake and pumped to get started. I spend my half-hour ride thinking of what I’ll do when I get into the office, how I’ll respond to inquiries, and of course, what I’ll sew today! (Compare that to six months ago, where I’d spend my forty-five minute drive stuck in traffic, worrying about being late, and bracing myself to sit at a desk all day.)

However, this is what my ride home looked like, one day last week!

The question is, how do I combine my love of biking with the gloomy rainy weather? When I woke up one rainy morning and wondered, should I bike? What should I wear? How am I going to try to look cute and professional and still stay dry?

Of course, I don’t own rain gear. I don’t even own anything remotely close to the right thing to wear!

So what have I been doing? I’ve been borrowing Mr Sewaholic’s rain jacket. It looks exactly like you think it does – like I’m wearing a man’s rain jacket. I feel a bit like a kid in hand-me-down clothes, but I can’t stop wearing it because it’s functional.

Some days I don’t want to leave the office because it’s rainy and wet, and I’m not looking forward to the ride home. The day that photo was taken, everything I wore had to dry out overnight! I was completely soaked by the time I got home. And the funny thing is, I don’t actually mind riding in the rain. A little waterproof mascara, the right gear and I’ll be good to go!

While last week, I admitted I never want to sew knit, padded bike shorts, this seems different. Rain gear seems easier to sew. I bet I can find coated nylon fabrics easier than super-stretchy knits, even locally! Plus, for days where it’s just sprinkling, I could wear something that’s water-resistant, like a lightweight trench-style jacket. Something that can handle a little rain, but not a downpour. Whatever it is, I want something a bit feminine, that doesn’t look like I’m wearing a tarp.

So my question to you is: have you sewn technical outerwear? Was it a success? and do you have any tips, fabric sources or suggestions for sewing rain gear? How about waterproofing seam tape? What kind of features do I need for the perfect rain-jacket?

Most importantly, are you interested in tips and tutorials on rain-gear sewing when I start experimenting? Anything you want to see me try? (Rain gear sew-along, anyone?)

I’ll be back with the next Crescent Skirt Sew-Along post tomorrow!

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43 Responses to Sewing for the Rain

  1. Lindsay May 5, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    Don’t worry, it’s been quite rainy here on the east coast for the past month or so. I guess that’s what Spring is all about! Tips on rain gear would be excellent! I’ve been working on Amy Butler’s Rainy Day coat for a class that I’m taking, but in cotton rather than laminated cotton (therefore, technically I’m making the Runabout Coat version). I love the design and am thinking about tackling a laminated cotton version after I’m finished. Your awesome tips would be appreciated!

  2. louise May 5, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    have you seen The Slapdash Sewist cycling gear? she definitely made rain trousers, not sure about top.
    I’ve similar plans re rain gear on bikes, i got a gorgeous waterproof stretch chenille from Gorgeous Fabrics that i plan to make into a jacket that looks like a normal one but is actually suitable for biking, haven’t tested out the waterproofness of it yet but i reckon will at least be showerproof if not downpour proof!!!
    cycling in the rain is lovely if you have something waterproof-ish on, especially during the summer :-)

  3. Leah May 5, 2011 at 6:17 am #

    There is an Amy Butler raincoat pattern that I have been dying to try! But I’m afraid. So I would be very excited to watch you make some outerwear and learn from your genius! This is the pattern, isn’t it cute?

    http://www.amybutlerdesign.com/products/patterns_display.php?id=45

  4. Toby Wollin May 5, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    Actually, there are a lot of resources on the Web on making technical stuff. I think the best one is http://www.specialtyoutdoors.com/tips/tips.asp
    I have used the following sources for outdoor fabrics:
    fabricline.com
    outdoorwildernessfabrics.com
    rockywoodsfabrics.com
    Seattle fabrics

    One thing for sure – you will want seal sealer tape (it looks like clear elastic but it’s about 1.5 inches wide) and a Teflon(tm) sheet; you sew up the seam, then lay the tape over the seam on the inside with the Teflon sheet on top of that and then you iron it down. Works like a charm. You will also want to choose a pattern that has raglan seams or saddle shoulders so that you don’t have any seams that are directly exposed to the rain. Jalie has good outdoor jacket patterns, as do all of the outdoor fabrics sources.
    Also – if you are going to put a hood on the jacket – do yourself a favor and put a cinch cord in it — I ride to work too and a hood without a cinch cord is sort of useless.

  5. shawnna May 5, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    a friend of a friend in Vancouver makes these rain skirts…I don’t know how well they would work for biking, but they look kinda cool.

    Gskirts, they are on facebook, check it out https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Gskirts/117099405036644

  6. Marianne May 5, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    I tried to sew myself a rain coat, but the fabric I used was totally not suitable for a coat. It’s ok if it’s warm outside (like 20C) but then I wouldn’t want to wear it since it’s just too warm. If it’s cold, and it’s usually cold when it rains, it turns really stiff and weird.

    I used my melt-glue-gun to seal the seams. Worked nice enough, but make sure the glue is warm enough to be runny, but not so warm that it melts the fabric!
    You can buy these sealing tapes, but I found that it didn’t stick without melting the fabric. But it might be the tape that had poor quality, and it might be that the fabric wasn’t intended to make a rain coat out of! Both are very possible.

  7. julia May 5, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    I’ve been looking for a cute raincoat or jacket for years, never found one. So I am wearing kind of what you are wearing right now, just in my size. A raincoat in an awsome print would be a dream come true to me. Unfortunately I don’t feel ready to tackle anything like a coat yet.

  8. bestmade May 5, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    Hi Tasia,

    this is an onlineshop to buy such fabrics but it is in germany: http://www.extremtextil.de/
    I think they ship worldwide, but maybe you have to ask.
    Hope this helps a little bit.
    I would be interested in your experiments.
    Greetings from germany (normally rainy but exceptionally sunny at the moment)
    Michaela

  9. Scooter May 5, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    A couple thoughts:

    I know kbenco has sewn some awesome-looking rain/outdoor gear–a troll through her blog might yield some ideas, and definitely will have some info @ seam sealing and such.

    As someone who loves biking (in all weather), I’ve found that rain jackets are almost invariably too hot. You may want to be careful about making a fitted, feminine-looking jacket–it may be too fitted to be comfortable! Mr. Sewaholic’s may be providing some much-needed ventilation. Otherwise, I’d consider pit-zips a necessity. They’re easy to install in any pattern with a standard side-seam (body side seam and sleeve seam must meet–no side panels).

    Another option: I’ve ridden happily in a cape (they make them for biking, with a little belt to hold them down), on the style of bike you ride. Perhaps a cute cape with hood, in a celebratory spring color? Lots o’ ventilation!

    I don’t know about anyone else, but the thing that always bugs me about riding in the rain is when the rain starts running down into your shoes. Ick, wet feet.

  10. Christine May 5, 2011 at 6:57 am #

    I don’t know much about sewing rain gear, but I do have a few opinions of what’s needed for bike-commuting in heavy rain!! My strongest memory of bike-commuting in heavy rain was being prepared (raincoat, rain pants, waterproof boots, a change of clothes, etc.), but still being miserable half the morning…The reason was that the rain dripped in through the neckline of my coat, soaking me to the skin. Which would have been fine if I’d remembered a change of underwear! So I went around half the day with a wet butt!

    So, my suggestions when thinking of rain wear for bike commuting include waterproof pants that won’t get caught in your chain and that will prevent wet feet, waterproof shoes (gore-tex socks or waterproof boots might be better since they go up under your pants). For the jacket, underarm vents and one of those yoke-vents in the back (so as to not get soaked from sweat). And some way to deal with the neckline! perhaps a hood that goes under your helmet? Some other way to prevent the water from going in? I don’t know the answer, but I would sure love it if you or someone could figure it out! :-) Can’t wait to see what you decide to do!

  11. Emer May 5, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Living in Ireland where it rains a lot, I would love a rainy gear sewalong. A feminine jacket thats waterproof is a hard thing to find.

  12. Ms.Cleaver May 5, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    I haven’t started bike commuting yet, but I have been feeling that my general raincoat is leaving something to be desired fashionwise (it’s LL Bean – great for hiking, not so much for going out on the town).

    The short version of this in waterproof fabric could be cute: http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v1097-products-9757.php?page_id=265

    And not for bike riding, but could be a nice raincoat : http://mccallpattern.mccall.com/m5525-products-8074.php?page_id=911

  13. Ms.Cleaver May 5, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Additionally – Denver Fabrics has some inexpensive rainwear fabric: http://www.denverfabrics.com/search/search.aspx?keywords=rainwear

  14. daiyami May 5, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    I just made myself a laminated cotton rainhat for Eugene, Oregon spring (http://twitpic.com/4rnu9d). The laminated was fun to sew with (though the teflon foot was worth it) but I doubt it’d hold up to real rain.

    Scooter, I am tempted by the idea of a waterproof cape. I need lots of ventilation, and it sounds like a nice easy entry into the world of sewing raingear.

  15. Lindsay T May 5, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    Sure, I’d be interested in this topic. I just made a rain cape, but it’s more for a light drizzle, not a downpour.

  16. Sarah May 5, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    I haven’t sewn outerwear simply because I am really nervous about sewing with laminated cottons (how do you keep the seam lines waterproof?). Patty the Snug Bug made a very pretty raincoat from the Amy Butler pattern: http://www.pattythesnugbug.com/2011/03/looking-forward-to-rain-amy-butler.html

    You can find tons of pretty laminated cotton prints on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/search/supplies?q=laminated+cotton

    I’d love to find out how to take the stress out of sewing your own rainwear. You’re an excellent teacher, Tasia!

  17. Corinne May 5, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    I think a stylish print cape, with hood would be a great idea. I have a zip front jacket, with hood from the 90’s made from a rubberized fabric from major retailer that I am still wearing, in pale blue. I have searched for this fabric for ages, no luck. Maybe we can gather up some suppliers and share. A recent posting by Elmo on her blog concerned a rain coat. She lives in Florida. http://adonising.blogspot.com/ She has some nice tips there. Now hers is a fashion piece, not a bike commuter piece, but helpful tips.

  18. Nadia May 5, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    This is something I’ve been wondering about pretty often as the fellow cycling sibling! The main concern that I have is that unlike walking, when cycling in the rain it comes at you from plenty more directions and coverage of your wrists/neck (with the ability to comfortably fit gloves and/or a scarf) are also important. I’ve been debating the merits of hood vs. no hood and how they’d fit under a helmet (probably pretty poorly, unfortunately) and even simply how to salvage my hair after a ride in a downpour!
    My goal is to bike as much of the year as possible while in Montreal, and that is going to include some fairly unfriendly weather. Not only do I not have cold-weather gear but definitely do not have wet-and-Montreal-cold weather gear! I would absolutely love to see a cyclist-intended raincoat in your patterns in the future. :)

  19. Nethwen May 5, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    I don’t ride because it’s not safe here, but from a biking trip in the San Juan Islands, I have these ideas.

    Can the hood of the rain jacket go over your helmet? That would keep rain from running inside the collar and down your back, as well as keeping your hair dry if your helmet has vents. You might need to make the back of the hood longer, though, so that you can still move your head comfortably.

    Depending on your position on your bike, the back skirt of the jacket may need to be longer than is flattering while standing to prevent a gap between your rain jacket and your rain pants/skirt.

    Find a breathable fabric and include vents. If you use plastic or rubber, you will be just as soaked as if you weren’t wearing rain gear, but the soaking will come from your sweat instead of the rain.

    I’m looking forward to learning with you.

  20. Val May 5, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    You don’t want to sew knit?! It’s a snap!
    As for raingear… Check out the slapdashsewist and her rain pants…
    http://theslapdashsewist.blogspot.com/2011/03/cycling-rain-pants-once-twice-three.html

    Good luck!

  21. molly May 5, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Seattle Fabrics has a large selection of different outer wear fabric, and I’d definitely recommend some sort of seam waterproofing whether tape or a liquid. Good luck!

  22. Mandee Jo May 5, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    I’m from Western Washington so I feel your pain. It has been such a long, dreary, wet winter! I’m overdue for a new raincoat so I would love to watch you sew one and get some tips.

  23. Peppertoast May 5, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Seeing as you are from the Lower Mainland, check out the tech fabric at Sundrop Textiles. http://www.sundroptextiles.com/

    They stock great tech fabric that is also stylish and they have Jalie Patterns as well and Jalie has some great jacket patterns.

    I also wanted to mention that although they are expensive, Brooks Saddles http://www.brooksengland.com/en/ are AMAZING! I have them on my dutch bikes. It may take a bit of time to “break them in’ to your butt grove but once you have (and this process is not painful), there is nothing better or more comfortable. You can cover them with a saddle cover in the rain but I just keep mine waxed and cover it when my butt is not on it! Seriously seriously comfortable.

  24. Ella May 5, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Tasia, there is a store called Outdoor Innovations at 16th and Main in Vancouver that seems to sell fabrics for camping and outdoor gear. I’ve walked by a few times, but never gone in. I would guess they’d have at least some fabric that might be suitable for sewing your own rain gear!

  25. Cat May 5, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Hi Tasia,

    If you go to outdoor innovations (as suggested by Ella) take some pictures!! I’d love to see a tour.

    :)

  26. Sarah May 5, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Hey! I am in Vancouver, too. I’d be up for a rain gear sew-along. I’ve been wearing the same MEC rain jacket for more than 8 years now. I am tired of it, but the Gore-Tex keeps working, so I keep putting off making something for myself.

    Dawn of Two On Two Off has sewn rain gear and tested all kinds of waterproofing for seams. And as someone else mentioned, Trina (The Slapdash Sewist) and Cidell (Miss Celie’s Pants) have both been making cycling gear for their cycling tour of the Netherlands.

    There is an outdoor fabrics shop on Main street at 16th or 17th. It’s right across Main street from the Granville Island Toy Company. I have purchased pieces of heavy waterproofed ripstop nylon there. He also carries every kind of plastic buckle or clip you could imagine as well as webbing in many widths and thicknesses. I think he has zippers, too.

    Anyway, I’m in if you are in. LOL!

  27. Darci May 5, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    @daiyami: I like that cape idea, too! I get REALLY hot when I ride.

  28. Becky May 5, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    I once sewed a rain jacket and rain pants, with the intent of saving myself some money on backpacking gear. I honestly can’t say I had the best experience with it–despite using the expensive outdoors gear fabric (in blah colors because that was what was available) and the waterproofing seam tape, it seemed like after awhile, the rain kind of soaked through. And the pants fit me horribly–they kept riding down my backside! Good thing I was wearing other pants underneath! In the end, I had to suck it up and buy backpacking rain gear anyway, because it didn’t roll up as small as commercially made stuff and took up too much space/weight in my pack.

    That being said, I have an adorable, cheery rain jacket for spring and summer. But I’ve been pondering sewing a warmer fall/winter rain jacket for awhile now. Being in the mid-Atlantic, winter brings rain just as much, if not more, than snow, and I don’t like walking around in my thick peacoat after it gets damp. Plus my not-so-inner sci-fi geek kind of wants a long, brown coat, and a rain coat is the only way I can justify sewing another coat. So I would potentially be interested in some kind of rain gear sewalong– especially if I can find suitable non-wool fabrics and underlining fabrics that I can use for a warmer one! (I have a bit of a sensitivity to things with high wool fiber content, it seems.)

  29. alice May 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    i fourth outdoor innovations on main @ 17th or so. even if they don’t have fabric that you like, they’ll *definitely* have the expertise!

  30. Kjersti May 5, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    I have bought fabric from this source before: http://www.shelby.fi/, but they are based in Finland and quite expensive, so they are probably not relevant for you seeing as you have many other sources. They do, however, have a forum for discussing sewing outer/extreme gear, maybe you can get some tips there? http://www.shelby.fi/forum/

  31. Clare May 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    It’s less relevant for you, but if any UKers are reading this, Pennine Outdoor is a good stockist for outdoor gear http://www.pennineoutdoor.co.uk/

  32. cidell May 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I havea great cape I bought in China that goes over my bike. It’s not breathable fabric though so I hope to remake it. I made rain pants and will report back on them next week after I get back. As for a rain jacket, I think I’m just going to buy one. So much fussy sewing.

  33. Debi May 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    David wants to make a raincoat and we’re having trouble finding suitable fabric….info on your experience with sourcing fabrics would be amazing!

  34. Freya May 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi Tasia,

    I wrote a post on sewing waterproof fabric a while ago, you may find it helpful.

    http://handmadebyfreya.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/how-to-sew-waterproof-fabric/

    Also this book: Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, it’s absolutely indispensable!

  35. Natalie May 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Hi-

    Threads Magazine had an article called, “Sew Fashionable Rainwear” in the April/May 2010 issue.

  36. Kris May 6, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Ponchos work wonderfully if you don’t commute up to SFU like I do :) (when I bike or walk up, I tend to shower on campus!). The main reason I like ponchos is that one doesn’t sweat as much in them, and so one’s clothing tends to stay looking a little nicer. If you do make a rain jacket, I highly recommend pit zips and/or a mesh back with a waterproof flap over, like you see in some hiking shirts. The zips don’t have to be waterproof, and the ventilation makes a huge difference if you find you get super warm. Also, sewing your own rain pants with articulated knees and a high back waist is totally do-able, and your fabric choices are way nicer than you’d find at an outdoor shop!

    There’s the outdoor fabric store on Main, that I see someone has mentioned. There’s also one in Coquitlam – Sundrop Textiles (http://www.sundroptextiles.com/index.htm ). It’s on my list of Places To Go, as I need more clothing for hiking this summer.

  37. Kris May 6, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    @Nethwen: I find it’s better for the hood to go under the helmet, especially if it’s a hilly commute. Otherwise, all the cold wind comes in and whooshes around your head and ears. YMMV, etc, but for my commute, I find under is more comfortable than over!

  38. Marishka May 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    An excellent reference book in this area: Sewing Outdoor Gear, Easy Techniques for Outerwear That Works, by Rochelle Harper; Taunton Press.

  39. Shalyn May 9, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    Yes, I would be very interested in a tutorial! I’m just starting now on making a winter coat for the first time and after that I’m eager to make a good water-resistant trench. One of my biggest fears of switching to cycling around Van is the rain, so I’m eager to build up some protection against that.

  40. Tasia May 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Thanks for all the rain-wear feedback and links! Lots to absorb and learn about, this is the opposite of my usual style of sewing! I went to Outdoor Innovations (thanks everyone who suggested it!) and will report back shortly. This may be an expensive failed experiment but I’ll share what happens, good or bad!

  41. Caroline May 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

    Yes! I feel a bit rude b/c I don’t have time to deep-read the other comments… but I have a lot of experience with this as I’ve been car-free 5 out of the past 8 years in rainy Portland, OR. Capes = big YES! I have sewn my own cape from a lightweight, black, waterproof, windproof breathable Burberry. I have to recommend the the cape as THE most functional, potentially handsome/sexy, lightweight rain gear a lady can make herself! It needs good girth so that it can flare out over your arms and knees, with loops for fingers or wrists (or handlebars if you’re daring) and a inner belt to keep it from flying up in the back. Some are hooded (mine has a zip-out hood), and they generally all have reflective accents. Some fold into themselves as a little stow-able pouch, and most of them fold up really small. They generally fall just below the hip. They can be as tailored at the shoulders as you like, and I just find them really great!

    A waterproof helmet cover is a must for keeping the hair dry, if you care.

    Personally I adore riding in the rain, even torrential rain. I guess I’ve just gotten used to it and really had no other choice. Why be miserable?

    Alternately, invest in some Showers Pass rain gear. It’s the real deal – if you don’t mind looking like a cyclist who takes herself (too) seriously. ;)

  42. cindy May 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    I would love to see a raincoat sew-along, as I am desperately in need of one and don’t really know where to begin!

  43. Lara900 June 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    I see people have suggested sundrop textiles.

    For functional outdoorwear, people seem to have success with greenpepper patterns (from Washington state).http://www.thegreenpepper.com/adults.html?id=9ERMPBjd I know that kbenco has used several of their patterns.
    I have bought outdoor fabrics online in Canada from http://www.peakfabrics.com/index.php and was very satisfied with speediness, friendliness and overall service.

    I will be looking forward to see what you make. They forecast sun for the weekend!!!!

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