Years ago, as fall transitioned into winter, I realized that my new dog, Oreo, wasn’t built for the cold. With short fur and a bare belly, he would start to shiver any time weather dropped into the 30s, which was happening more and more.
Determined to keep Oreo as a hiking buddy throughout the winter, I searched local pet stores for coats that would fit him. However, most of dog coats didn’t fit his muscular body. If the coat fit his length, it was too small for his neck; and if it fit his neck, it was trailed off him like a dress. Even the highly adjustable dog coats usually wouldn’t fit. (However, over the years, I have managed to find a few that fit OK.)
I knew I couldn’t be the only dog owner with this problem. With so many dog breeds out there, dogs come in many shapes and sizes.
So I searched online for custom dog coats, ones created with measurements specific to individual dogs, and I found the small local business Dogn’i Apparel, which operates out of Bangor but able to fulfill online orders as well. From Cynthia Rollins, the woman who owns the business and sews all the coats, I ordered two double-lined fleeces, built to Oreo’s specs. The coats were adorable and functional, they fit perfectly and lasted Oreo for years of hiking, playing in the snow and excessive rolling. However, eventually, I lost one, and the other, while we still use it, has several holes in it.
I’d certainly like to order a jacket from Dogn’i Apparel again, however, I recently got the craft bug. I think I’ll blame it on Halloween, for which I hand-stitched a skirt and top to be the character Gabrielle from the 1990s show “Xena: Warrior Princess.” My sister was Xena. The costume, in my opinion, was a success, and since my sewing materials were already out, I thought, why not try to make Oreo a coat?
I purchased some fleece at Marden’s surplus and salvage store, where I chatted with the lady working in the fabric section about our dogs, both of which came from the Bangor Humane Society. She, too, sews her dog jackets, she told me, and she was currently knitting her dog a sweater.
With a bag full of patterned fleece, I headed home and jumped on YouTube to look up tutorials on “how to make a dog coat,” and there were several. In the end, I went with the first to pop up, “How to Sew a Dog Coat – Pattern and Assembly” by Professor Pincushion. The design was extremely simple, with just one piece of fabric that would lay over the dog’s back and fasten around his chest in front of his front legs and behind his front legs. The tricky part was creating the pattern using several measurements from Oreo.
Also, not being experienced at sewing, I didn’t have a number of the supplies. For example, instead of having a flexible ribbon of measuring tape, I had the type of measuring tape used in carpentry. You know, the metal kind. And as I tried to wrap it around Oreo’s chest, the cold, hard material bending around his skin scared him so badly that he went and sat in the corner … and faced the wall.
Perhaps he was thinking “I can’t see you, you can’t see me”?
So I changed my method and used a string to take Oreo’s measurements, holding it up to the measuring tape after, then jotting down each number. After scaring Oreo with the measuring tape, this process required plenty of dog treats. There were six measurements in all.
Another supply I didn’t have was pattern paper, which is basically a big, thin piece of paper with dots every inch for easy measuring and to help with the drawing of straight lines. Instead, I cut apart a big paper bag, which was more difficult to work with but served its purpose.
Once I was satisfied with my pattern, I cut it out and pinned it to my folded fabric, then cut out the coat.
That’s where I veered away from the tutorial because the rest of the steps required a sewing machine, and though I have a sewing machine, I still haven’t figured out how to use it. Someday I’ll be patient enough to sit down and learn.
In the tutorial, she used the machine to sew on velcro for the straps as well as bias tape to edge the material. I’d never even heard of bias tape before, so I certainly didn’t have it.
Instead, I cut out a second layer of fleece, then hand-stitched the two together all around their edges while I watched TV. I then hand-sewed on two big snap buttons on each strap, and voila, my simple dog coat was complete.
Now, if you know how to use a sewing machine or have more time and patience than me, I’m sure you can create a much nicer dog coat than what I came up with. But the experience did give me a little insight. So here’s some advice:
- Find a pattern to follow. You can always tweak that pattern or add to it. Patterns can be found online or in sewing books.
- Measure your dog carefully and use those measurements in your pattern. The hardest part of creating a dog coat is getting it to fit your dog comfortably.
- In general, it’s best to use velcro as a fastener for straps because dogs can free themselves from velcro if caught on something like a tree branch or fence. The only occasion you’d want to use snaps — like me — is if you always have your dog on leash or under close supervision.
- Use inexpensive fabric when using a pattern for a first time. You may need to tweak the pattern or re-take measurements. Wait until you have it perfect before cutting it into nice fabric, such as fleece.
- Consider doubling up fleece in your coat. One single fleece layer is often not very warm or durable all on its own.
- Don’t try to measure your dog with a metal measuring tape. It’s not flexible enough and may scare your dog (if he’s a big baby like Oreo).
- One way to jazz up your coat is to add little stick-on felt embellishments. I even found some shaped like a dog footprint.
- An easy accessory to make for your dog coat is a matching neck warmer.
The coat I made was much simpler than the Dogn’i coats, which were pieced together with multiple parts so they covered much of Oreo’s chest, front legs and neck. So while I’m pleased that my handmade coat fit Oreo and will help keep him a little bit warmer, I know that I have a lot to learn about sewing before I’m capable of creating something that I think will keep him warm and comfortable on the coldest of days. For now, for that type of full-coverage coat, I’ll just have to shop.