Tailoring a Coat: Making a Back Stay

Another baby step of progress on the Seventies Wrap Coat project! Here is the first tailoring technique I’ve applied to my Wrap Coat. We’re adding a back stay to support and stabilize the back of our coat. This will prevent strain across the shoulders as well. And I’m guessing it will also keep loosely woven fabrics from stretching out and sagging. We only need this stay across the back of our shoulders, not all the way down the back. I picked this step next, because it seemed easy enough to do in a short period of time and didn’t require any of the other coat parts to be sewn yet.

Let me show you what I did! It’s easy to do, and I bet it will make a huge difference in the quality of our coat projects.

First I did it wrong, then I did it right. (Would you believe I wrote up this whole post and then realized I did it wrong?!) The instructions in the book are clear enough but basic, and I tend to glance at the photos and then forge my own way ahead. And not all of the steps are illustrated with photos.

So let’s get started with making and attaching our Back Stay!

You’ll need:

  • your back pattern piece
  • your back coat piece, cut out of fabric
  • muslin
  • pen/pencil – something to write on your pattern with
  • marking pen or chalk
  • ruler or tape measure

First, take your back pattern piece. Measure down 9″ from the back neck, and make a mark on your pattern piece.

Now, we’ll make a second mark, 3″ down from the armhole. We’ll join these two markings to create the pattern for our back stay!

Now, we’ll connect these two lines. Extend each line as a straight line, towards the middle. This will make it easier to eyeball the curved part.

Next, we’ll sketch in a curved line between these two straight lines. It doesn’t have to be perfect – aim for it to look somewhat like this:

This is our back stay pattern piece! We’ll use the upper edge, armhole, and centre back edges of our pattern piece, but cut it short along this new, curved line.

For the back stay, we’ll use muslin. You could use any stable sew-in interfacing for your project. It needs to be stable, and not stretch, so it can properly reinforce this area. Place the top of your back pattern piece over the muslin, and pin it in place.

Cut out around all edges, except for our curved lower line. To transfer the curved line to the muslin, I used my fade-away marker and drew on top of the pattern piece. The fade-away ink went through the tissue and left a faint line on the fabric. You can use any method to transfer this line – either by lifting the tissue and marking the line or using a tracing wheel.

I’m supposed to pink the lower edges of the back stay, so that the line doesn’t show through as a ridge on the right side. (Like a panty-line. We don’t want a curved back-stay-line across our backs!) I don’t own pinking shears though, and my coat fabric is thick, so I’m hoping it will be fine without.

The last step is to baste the back stay to our fabric pieces – and this is where I went wrong!

Here’s what I did:

Wrong! You’re supposed to sew the back seam first, on both the stay and the coat, and then baste the stay to the coat pieces. Oops! I was confused by the next step, making a raglan sleeve stay, which is attached before any seams are sewn. (More on that later!) If your back is cut on the fold, then you’re fine! It’s only if you have a seam in your back stay, that it needs to be sewn first and then attached.

Here’s how the back stay should be attached:

First, construct your jacket back by sewing all seams and darts. Then, sew the seams in the back stay. Overlap the centre back seam allowances of the back stay and stitch in place. Trim extra seam allowance.

To make sure your overlap is accurate, mark the seam allowances along centre back. On one side, mark a second seam allowance – that will be where the raw edge of the overlap ends up!

Now, overlap the two pieces, with the seamlines on top of each other, and the raw edge along the second seam allowance line.

Sew the overlapped seam using a zigzag stitch.

Trim extra seam allowance off to reduce bulk.

Now we put both parts together!

Baste around all edges of the back stay except for the curved lower edge. In my Tailoring book, the example is a regular coat with set-in sleeves, not raglan sleeves like mine, and they also leave the shoulder seam open. So if you’re sewing a coat with shoulder seams, skip the basting along the shoulders too.

I basted about 1/4″ (6mm) from the raw edges, using the edge of the presser foot as a guide.

Here’s what it looks like, once it’s attached to the coat:

And that’s it! That’s what a back stay looks like, what it does, and how to add one to your coat project! (And I still have that lower edge accessible if I get my hands on some pinking shears before the coat is finished…)

Have you sewn a coat with a back stay before, and did you notice the difference in the finished product?

Have an awesome weekend, everyone! Relax, sew, stay warm and have fun!

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48 Responses to Tailoring a Coat: Making a Back Stay

  1. Elizabeth November 18, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to cut the back stay on the fold? I thought back stays were supposed to be one piece. But I could be wrong as I am far from an expert.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 9:43 am #

      Hi Elizabeth! The reason the back stay is cut on the fold is because often the centre back seam of a coat pattern is shaped. Centre back seams can be perfectly straight but usually there is some very slight shaping to the seam. In that case, cutting the stay on the fold wouldn’t follow the curve of the coat’s seam.
      In my case, the pattern piece is basically straight, so I probably could have cut it on a fold. Also – even if the CB seam looks straight, sometimes the grainline may be slightly off from the top of centre back, in which case it’s best if the stay and the coat have the same grain.
      I hope this makes sense! In my coat pattern there’s very little shaping at CB so it makes total sense to skip the seam and cut it on a fold. One less sewing step to do, too!

      • Elizabeth November 18, 2011 at 10:09 am #

        Oh, wow. I knew I was speaking from a place of ignorance. Thanks for explaining that. I appreciate it. :)

        • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 10:12 am #

          Oh no, it was a good question! I read it and thought ‘hmm.. why DIDN’T I cut it on the fold, there must have been a reason?’ It’s always good to question why we do certain things, that’s the best way to find better ways of getting it done!
          And I’m not always right either. (Which is why I left in the part where I sewed the stay wrong, and then showed the correct way. Nobody’s perfect!)

  2. didyoumakethat November 18, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Perfect! I’m about to start a coat, so this is extremely helpful.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 9:44 am #

      Excellent! I hope to have many more coat-related posts that might help you too!

  3. sheila November 18, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Great tutorial and thanks for sharing.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 9:44 am #


  4. Graca November 18, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Thanks for this post. I’m also making, well procrastinating on a winter coat. I have the muslin cut out and my fabrics picked out. It will be my first one, and wee bit nervous. Your post was a shot in the arm that I needed.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      It is a bit nerve-wracking to start such a huge project! My best advice is to take it one little bit at a time. Especially if you don’t have a ton of spare sewing time! Decide what you’re going to do in each sitting, do it, and bit by bit the coat will come together.

      This is what I’m telling myself anyways, as I wish I had more time to devote to the coat myself!
      Making the muslin is a good way to get pumped about the project too. The muslin comes together quickly and reassures you that the actual coat is just a little more work than the muslin.

  5. Seraphinalina November 18, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Well that’s very cool. I haven’t made a coat, but I wouldn’t have thought about that. It would even add another layer of warmth across the shoulders depending on what you used.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 9:48 am #

      Good point! Not a lot more as it’s just muslin, but the extra stability and layer help block the wind and cold. If you wanted it to be warmer, I’d probably suggest interlining the whole thing or using a thicker lining.

  6. Melissa M. November 18, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    I love my pinking shears. I would love to have a pair of Ghinger scissors and pinking shears but they are a bit out of my price range. I picked up a pair of Fiskars pinking shears from joann’s because they were on sale and that fit better in my budget. The Fiskars brand runs about $20+ but if you use a coupon it’s less. In fact, right now there is a 60% off coupon at Joann’s website for printing for Nov. 19-20 in store only. Looks like they currently have the Ghingers on sale too darn, that 60% off coupon would have been better than the 30% sale price.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 10:02 am #

      I’ve never owned pinking shears! I always borrowed my mom’s when I lived at home, and afterwards I just didn’t pink anything. I’m in Canada so we don’t have a Jo-anns here but it sounds like they have great sales, lucky!
      You know, I bet they’re not that expensive. It’s more that on a limited budget, I don’t have the need to pink that often and can often find alternative ways of doing it. In this case though (and the more I sew tailored things) I should probably make the investment!

      • Brumby November 18, 2011 at 11:36 am #

        Do you have a rotary cutter? Or do you use shears?

        • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 11:58 am #

          Shears – I don’t have the space for a big mat, either to lay it out or to store it. It’s super small in here! In fact I forget i own a rotary cutter most of the time.

          • Brumby November 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

            Was just thinking that they have a blade available which does pinking dont they? I could be mistaken, but think I recall seeing a few different blade options including pinking at the local quilt supply store. Could be a more economical way of achieving the same result without the outlay of a decent pair of pinking shears?

            • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

              I think the blades are expensive too! It’s a good idea though, and will make me get back into rotary cutting. Although, it’ll be a pain to rotary-pink the lower edge of my back stay now that it’s attached…

  7. Caroline November 18, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Another idiot question probably – why is the stay seam constructed by overlapping rather than sewing a regular seam and somehow finishing the seam allowances? I’m guessing it is to reduce bulk, but if the seam allowance was pressed flat it would still be only two thicknesses of fabric … what am I missing here?

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

      I’ll tell you what I think, and then I’ll go look it up in the book…
      I think it’s to make the seam smaller, and so it doesn’t rest in the same place as the coat seam. The overlapped seam can be trimmed as narrow as the zigzag is, and then that zigzagged bit rests in the middle of the coat seam allowances that are pressed open. So it almost fills in that dip in the middle of the coat seam allowances.
      And I’m also guessing the zigzag/overlap seam is stronger than sewing a straight seam, that could burst over time and you’d never be able to get in there and fix it.

      Off to see if the book has an explanation as to why!

      • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

        No, the book doesn’t tell you why, it just tells you to do it. It’s a little vague, and the demo jacket doesn’t have a CB seam so their stay doesn’t either. But when they demo how to cut the back stay, their demo DOES have a centre back seam. Strange!

  8. Claire (aka Seemane) November 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    V. interesting – I guess this would work for tailored jackets (dependant upon thickness/show through to the fashion fabric) too.

    BTW – Which tailoring book is it that you used to read up on this technique please :)?

  9. Melissa M. November 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    I don’t do a lot of pinking but it really comes in handy for my fabrics that fray easily. You can buy rotary cutter blades that do the pinking effect. I have a very small space myself and have a couple of small rotary mats, would love to have a huge one but no room. I use my small mat that also doubles as an ironing surface for when i’m cutting out squares for quitling. I’ve also used the cut of the pinking shears as a design element in felt projects. I know the budget thing very well, same here. I bought the fiskars because they were cheaper than the ghingers and since I don’t do a lot of pinking i’ll get my money back in use before they dull. They may be a bit pricey but i think they are worth having in the sewing arsenal

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

      You can iron on those mats?? I didn’t know that! Apparently there are $10 pinking scissors at ikea, I’ll check those out and try Michaels as well..

  10. patsijean November 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    I own a pair of Wiss Pinking Shears that date from the early 1970’s and they are wonderful. I had them sharpened about three years ago. Fiskars Pinking Shears were used while the Wiss pair was being sharpened and them I gave them to my grand-daughter. I thought about the Ghinger pinkers but they recommend you only pink one thickness at a time. One reminder about pinking shears: When you to intersecting seams etc., use a regular pair of shears to cut that section. Otherwise you could ruin the alignment of the pinkers trying to cut through all that bulk.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

      Good point about not cutting across bulky seams! Thanks for the tip. I’d probably try to force them across the seam and wonder why they didn’t work so well afterwards. :)

  11. Latrice November 18, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Funny that you wrote a post about back stays, we watched a video about it in class on Wednesday. Haven’t decided if I am going to install it in my trenchcoat. How do you think one would do a back stay if you have a back vent in your coat?

    Oh, guess what just arrived on my desk while I was commenting? The Minoru Jacket!!! I think I might do a muslim/pin fitting before the sew-along, get all adjustments out the way.

    • Tasia November 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

      You mean a back vent, like a pleat? Across the upper back – like this?

      I would guess you’d do it the same way, and restrict the pleat to only open below the back stay. So behind the pleat, your jacket would be supported shoulder-to-shoulder, and the pleat is more decorative than actually able to open and close.

      Anyone else? What do you guys think?

      • Latrice November 19, 2011 at 9:17 am #

        This is the trench coat

        • Giselle November 20, 2011 at 9:05 am #

          You would definitely be able to get a back stay into that coat! You’ll have to check if you can measure 9″ down from the back neck or if it needs to be a bit less and then cut the back stay muslin piece as if there was no pleat there. So it lies flat across your upper back and shoulders.

          • Latrice November 21, 2011 at 10:12 am #

            Thanks Giselle

          • Tasia November 21, 2011 at 10:17 am #

            Thanks Giselle for jumping in! I agree, you’ll be able to add one even with the back pleat, and just like Giselle said it will lie flat and provide support between the shoulders. That’s a cool-looking coat pattern!

            • Giselle November 22, 2011 at 2:57 am #

              Very cool! And so is your wrap coat Tasia!
              Your tutorial and all the other posts are so inspiring and motivating, I can’t wait to try some of these techniques. I feel very, very encouraged! Thanks so much for posting these.

              • Tasia November 22, 2011 at 9:39 am #

                Just wait! There will many more tutorials and demos to come once I get going on the coat project! I’m glad they’re helpful and interesting.

  12. Montana November 18, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    Thank-you so much for this! I am hoping very soon to dive into my first jacket/coat making adventure and I will definitely keep this in mind. I just got Jacket Fit for Real People and am so excited to try it out! Your blog is so wonderful, and I’ve learned so much from you! Just made my first pendrell blouse and am loving it!! I’m hoping to put pictures on my blog soon!

  13. Lia November 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Tasia, very random question not related to this post.

    I am coming to Vancouver for Christmas (from Australia) to visit my sister in law. Anyway, do you have any sewing shopping suggestions in Vancouver. I have a couple of free days to do some shopping.

    Thanks in advance.

  14. kaitui_kiwi November 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    I think I will try this on my next coat! I’m trying to get more into techniques to lengthen the life of my lovingly hand-made garments because I ate when one of them starts showing signs of actual wear. I used stay-tape for the first time on the weekend on a bias cut curved neck edge and I was really pleased with the result :)

  15. Meigan August 20, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    If you use sew-in interfacing on the entire back of the coat, is a back stay necessary?


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