Making a Victorian Era Cape – Inspired by Jane Eyre

I made a Victorian cape entirely by hand, and it is surprisingly warm for how drafty you would expect it to be (then again I wore a thick wool sweater underneath because this is the North).

This cape was inspired by Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Brontë, as I imagine her a few decades after the events in the book and is intended for the 2021 Foundations Revealed contest. But I have always wanted a cape like this anyway, so I consider myself a winner no matter what ( https://foundationsrevealed.com/compe…​ )!

Materials used:

Outer wool: 1.5 meters
Lining wool: 1.5 meters from
Black cotton twill tape: 2 meters
One cape clasp
Silk thread, dark grey, and natural

Resources mentioned:

The Keystone Guide to Jacket and Dress Cutting, 1895
The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840​
Cathy Hay’s “sewing video

Excellent videos here on the YouTubes for autism, especially (but not limited to) in women and girls:
Sarah Hendrickx – Girls and Women with autism
Yo Samdy Sam – autistic and neurodiverse-focused channel

Emily Brontë (Charlotte’s sister) and autism

Other writers linking Jane Eyre to autism:
https://spinningthelight.org/2019/09/…
http://autistscorner.blogspot.com/200…

Transcript:

Good morning, and merry wintertime to whomever of you out there who currently have your world wrapped in a thick blanket of snow, much like myself here in The North of things.

As befitting said cold and snow-filled winter time I thought I would start this new year 2021 off on an easier foot by making myself a nice wool cape. I say easy because capes are basically a skirt for your shoulders with a nice, wind-protecting collar overtop, which will hopefully help me start the new year off with a feeling of mastery and capability.

Capes are warm, snug, go well with pretty much anything and have the added bonus of fitting a range of shapes and sizes. Really, they are just a stylish blanket.

This particular cape was inspired by my recent re-read of Jane Eyre. Published in 1847, that brings us right to the beginning of the Victorian era. However, rather than just recreating the black merino cloak she describes wearing in the book, I imagined our heroine a decade or two after the events in the book where she might have needed some new items in her wardrobe. Who knows, perhaps she even traveled to visit my own, snow-covered shores? She does mention Norway at least twice in the book, so I allow myself to imagine she did.

From what research I could dig up before drowning entirely, it does seem like capes were pretty ubiquitous throughout the Victorian era, and I could find fashion plates all the way through depicting capes and cloaks in various shapes and sizes.

Being in the aforementioned north, I knew I wanted a long cape, but not a full cloak. I also wanted it to be as full as reasonable fabric use would allow me, meaning that I folded my wool fabric double, measured up one-quarter circle as long as the width of my folded fabric, and then made another part of a circle on the fold, in that space left between my two-quarter circles. I also made circles at the top for the collar, making it wider than my own collar to account for nice, warm pleats at the back.

For the lining, I have this glorious, soft wool that I ordered online once upon a time intending it for a thin Viking dress. The fabric arrived and was… ehe… thinner than I thought, to the point of sheer. It could not then service me as dress fabric itself but will do absolutely wonderfully as lining for this cape. Yes, I am lining wool with wool to really double down on the warmth.

Again, keeping things easy, I just folded my lining to the same width as the outer layer and laid my pieces on top of the lining before cutting.

Ok, so I said this project was going to be easy, so just bear with me as I pad stitch all the lining layers down to the outer layer, trying to leave a gap several inches wide at the edges to make room for stitching, pressing and other such sundry activities.

I tried this because… fitting the lining layer into a 3D garment is easily one of my least favorite parts about sewing. I take so long and use so many pins and it still ends up wonky and in need of emergency folds here and there. I thought that by just pad-stitching everything together while everything is nice and flat I would avoid my least favorite part later. And lo and behold, it did work. 10 out of 10 for partly or wholly engineering your way out of the things you like the least about a project.

With the pad stitching finally done, we now only have to pin our pieces together (you can see here that I made the back piece longer than the two front pieces, but forgot to make a gradient to avoid… well… this. So let’s cut that off for now and then we can pin and sew together our pieces with two straight seams followed by pressing before folding the lining overtop and stitching that together with fine silk thread.

Before we can try our wonderful new cape on for fit, we need to go in and hem the edges so that the width is correct. Here I am hemming with a strip of black cotton twill tape to avoid folding the outer layer twice and creating bulk. I had never done this before but must say I am a fan. It adds a little extra detail for us to enjoy even though it will not be seen. There is joy in trying to do things as properly as we are able.

At the center of the back, I am planning to put a couple of nice pleats for warmth, just at that spot between the shoulder blades where heat loss is one of the largest on the entire body. This is why we often sleep on our stomach or side when it is warm outside, to help facilitate as much heat loss as possible. In wintertime we obviously want the opposite of that, so I am placing pins an inch apart and folding everything up snugly. I then sew up my pleats with a strong backstitch because I have no intention of trying to convince pleats to stay in their lane while stitching a collar overtop. One thing at a time, friends.

After my main pleats were in, I tried the cape on again and looked at how much I would need to pleat in front to end up where I wanted to be. I did not make it super tight against my neck because I want room for sweaters and scarves, but you may obviously do as you please.

In the front, I opted to try cartridge pleats instead of folded pleats because of reasons and experiments. This did take a couple of attempts to get right and even on both sides, but I am happy with how it came out.

I wanted a little bit of pleating on the front as well because, talking to people who made themselves simple circle cloaks, I know that it is wildly uncomfortable to not have the weight distributed evenly between the front and back. If most of the fabric is on your back, it will pull the cloak backward leading to much uncomfortable choking sensations and a garment that just doesn’t sit very nicely. 0 out of 10. Do not want strangely cloaks or capes.

Last, but very much not least, we have come to the collar! This, the only piece of our garment I shall do my very best to draft onto a piece of leftover packaging paper and onto my fabric.

For this collar, I am using collar diagram number 60 from The Keystone guide to Jacket and Dress cutting. This is a bit late for what I was going for, but it was the best I could find until I heard about The Workwoman’s Guide published in 1838 you know… the week after.

Sigh.

Anyway, Keystone is still a Victorian-era reference, so I hope I am not too far off. This particular collar is described as being the best of both worlds, as it works both folded down and up against your neck. Which sounds perfect for what I am trying to do.

To the best of my ability, I measured the collar of my cape and divided that by half to get one side of the collar, then I added half an inch because I do not trust myself.

I then used that and the instructions in Keystone to recreate the shape of the diagram to the best of my ability, following the instructions.

Then, channeling both frugality and my inner Jane Eyre, I wrestled with the pieces I cut off from the bottom of the cape until they consented into fitting to my collar piece. I left the pad-stitched wool lining on because… more warmth around the neck does not seem like a bad thing to me.

But, knowing a thing or two about lightly colored fabrics around your neck, I then went into my fabric stash to dig out this small piece of absolutely gorgeous 100 % black wool jacquard that I just adore. It is so luxurious, but obviously not cheap. I did not have enough left over after making a blouse to line the entire thing, but I do have enough to line the collar, which I think will add just a little bit of pizazz when folded down, or it will be my own secret luxury when folded up.

I then thread-marked all my chalk lines because collars actually require some accuracy and stitched the two pieces together as well as the top of the collar. I did not stitch the front up at this point because of aforementioned lack of trust in my own ability to use a measuring tape, so I opted to do that after I stitch the collar onto the cape.

And of course, everything is pressed carefully to keep things nice and neat.

It was at this point in the process that I realized that I am indeed working with some very floppy, soft wools, and will need substantial help if my collar is to have the ability to stand up on its own. Whoever said I knew what I was doing anyway?

This is also the point where I breathe a sigh of relief for having chosen to draft the collar onto actual paper because trying to redraft my already stitched pieces onto tailors canvas with as little waste as possible would not have been a good time.

As it stands, I could easily cut out two pieces of tailors canvas from my little pattern piece and… adjust it for my not super-accurate stitches, before pad stitching that several notches more neatly than the lining as these stitches will actually be permanent.

But then! We can stitch up the last outer seam of the collar and fold that last edge of raw fabric in, complete with a very necessary coat loop made out of black twill tape, before using some black thread and careful hemming stitches.

Coat loops on outerwear is very necessary in my opinion. Almost as necessary as pockets in other garments. I would rather my coat loop pull and fall out than permanently stretching my entire garment. Also, you never know what sort of hallway facilities might be present if you go guesting other humans, but at least where I live, coat hooks are pretty standard and lets you avoid the shame of leaving your beautiful new outer garment in an unsightly heap on the floor.

And with that, we only have to hem the bottom of the cape, remove the pad stitching and add some closures before we can call this cape functionally, beautifully complete! And while I would have liked to line it all with black twill tape like I did for the sides, I simply do not have enough of it. So this time I do the hemming by folding in the outer layer once and folding the lining layer overtop.

Not the traditional way to do this by a long shot, but the lining layer is much thinner than the outer layer and leaves much less bulk compared to if I had done it the other way around. I still did my best to keep about a cm of outer layer on the bottom to keep things looking nice and neat.

And while I am hemming all around the bottom of my cape, I would like to tell you a little more about why I chose Jane Eyre.

Jane is a strong, delightful character to read about. She fights for what she believes is right within the confines of her age, social class, society, and gender.

But it is more than that. In the very beginning of the book, Jane is disliked by the relatives who have taken her in because she is different. She is quiet, ever watchful, very specific with her language, and according to those around her, just doesn’t act like a child should.

All those things lead me to believe that Jane, much like myself, might be autistic. A trait that endears her to me more than most other literary characters, for we are sorely lacking in representation, not just of autism in general, but specifically of autistic women.

If you are reeling in your chair right now because your only image of autism is a non-verbal person rocking back and forth in a corner, stay a little longer. Autism is absolutely that person, but it can also manifest in other ways. I will not go into a long explanation in this video because it is not what this video is about, but I will leave links in the description down below to a couple of really good resources if you are curious to learn more about how certain types of autism can hide in plain sight, especially in women who have been chronically underdiagnosed because our autism often manifests differently.

For now, suffice to say that Jane is one of very few literary protagonists I can actually somewhat identify with, which is a strange and wonderful feeling for me.

Last but not least we have, of course, closures.

I have in my stash for a number of years had this beautiful and very distinctly Norwegian cape closure that I have had no idea what to use for. Perhaps it is not perfectly Victorian or Jane Eyre aesthetically pleasing, but I do think stash busting is very in line with Jane Eyre values, so I shall be using it all the same.

The closure is simply stitched on with a bit of black thread before using some thicker, dark grey silk thread to make our closures nice and respectable. Yes, I did take inspiration from Cathy Hay’s sewing video.

Now, I had first planned on adding a strip of black velvet ribbon all around the cape as a nice, understated decoration well befitting Jane Eyre, but I only had about half of what I would need in my stash. This being plague times and most velvet ribbon being un-compostable plastic polyester anyway, I decided against trying to acquire some more.

Instead, I thought I would give myself hours upon hours of extra work by trying to tat a small silk lace to go around my cape edge. I did want this to be deep black silk and have ordered that but… at the time of recording this, that is still in transit so perhaps we will have to come up with something else. In any case, that will have to wait until a later video because I wanted to wear and share my new glorious cape with you already.

Now, please excuse me while (nervous laugh)… attempt to make several meters of tatting lace for this glorious, wearable blanket by the dangerously fast-approaching end of January.

Until next time. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for a specific post? Search or check the archive.

Latest videos:

  • The As-You-Like-It Shawl
    The As-You-Like-It Shawl

    An attempt at a pattern. The As-You-Like-It shawl is a build your own adventure shawl. Where we follow a few basic rules, but end up with wildly different shawls based on the choices we make on the way. Choose between picking one pattern block and doing the whole shawl like that. Jumping between two different…


  • Never Underestimate Textile Crafts Again!
    Never Underestimate Textile Crafts Again!

    Watch it directly on YouTube! (and maybe leave a comment?) I had entirely too much fun scripting this one. I hope you have fun watching it too! Wordplays, idioms and etymology are just endlessly fascinating! Especially when it is related to textiles and textile history. Thank you again to @JillianEve for sending me some footage…


  • Making a Simple Daily Wear Blouse Feat. Smocking
    Making a Simple Daily Wear Blouse Feat. Smocking

    Link to video. Keeping some projects small and manageable, just before we head into the more cosy autumn, spooky season. It doesn’t hurt that I finally got to use this glorious fabric that has lived in my stash for years either. Projects don’t all have to be big and ambitious or even symmetrical. You can…