Monday, 9 September 2019
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Measuring for Dog Coats and Customising a DIY Pattern

Measuring a dog's length from neck to tail

Shivers, furfriends! Winter in our new town is a wet and chilly season of short grey days, and spring can be rather soggy and squishy, too. I wanted our jackets to be comfortable, durable, washable, and sized so that they could be worn by either dog (similar, but Oli is longer and wider).  They also needed to be compatible with our leashes and collars. The coats themselves are fairly simple, but the added features I wanted made things trickier, so I decided to create a warm weather-resistant dog jacket with sport fleece and polar fleece and then replicate the design using the more expensive and less sewing-friendly softshell for a waterproof dog jacket. I'll be sharing both in follow-on, but first up, a few important points of preparation, whether you are shopping or DIYing a dog coat.

How to Measure a Dog for a Coat

Whether buying or making a coat, taking a few simple measurements can help with a comfortable and secure fit.  It's important that the jacket not impede natural movement (or peeing!), rub and chafe, or cause other discomfort. 

Gather a soft sewing measuring tape, pen and paper for noting measurements, patience, and treats for the obliging model. If you don't have a soft tape, you can use string or ribbon to take the size and measure it against a standard tape measure.  The three key measurements are:
  • Length is measured down the dog's back from the neck (collar) to the tail.
  • Girth is measured around the torso of the dog. 
  • Neck size is measured around the neck.

If you are buying a ready-made dog coat or jacket, some or all of these key measurements are what you will typically see in sizing guides and charts (refer to your specific retailer for detailed guidance). As you can imagine, it can be tricky to get a perfect fit, which is why dog coats often have adjustable closures, like Velcro strips, to help you refine the fit. If you are buying or making a custom coat, you can adjust the design for a better fit to the shape and size of your dog. The diagram (click to enlarge if needed) below shows the key measurements (red) along with supplemental measurements (blue) and additional fit checks (green) used in creating my coats:

Diagram of how to measure a dog for a coat

🧩 Girth is measured at the widest part of the body (usually in the chest area, right behind the front legs), but depending on your dog's build, for a blanket-style coat you may want the belly bands to sit a little further down the body. The neck wrap will keep the coat from sliding back and the wider chest forward of the band will keep it from sliding forwards. You can also the bands wider with a tapered fit for a similar hold with more chest coverage, but that wasn't viable for my project due to our dogs' notably different chest girths.

To further customise the fit of my coats, I also checked:
  • Mid-torso girth measured at the point where I intended to attach the belly closure bands. 
  • Flank size measured from mid-back/spine to the lower side of the torso where it curves under to the belly. This was used to determine how far the jacket should fall at the side for comfort and clearance.
  • Leg and privates positions relative to each dog's length to help with belly band size and positioning.
  • Chest width shoulder to shoulder at the front of the body and chest depth from neck to leg joint to help with sizing and closure overlap allowances.
  • Ear position relative to the neck measurement to help with collar sizing. Since I was making popped collars to shield the neck, I wanted to avoid making them too high or wrap too far lest they be an annoyance to the dogs ears or when tuning their heads.
  • The collar/harness loop position was measured with the partially completed coat fitted so I could be the placement as close to perfect as possible for our type of collars and walking style.

Creating a Dog Coat Pattern for Custom Fit

Our household is rather unusual in that the current age/activity difference means our dogs are usually exercised separately. Because our dogs can share coats instead of needing to wear at the same time, I would need to make a few compromises. Oli is slightly longer, rounder, and has a much deeper chest than Humphrey. Length was an easy compromise, but the differences in girth means that a full chest jacket wouldn't be suitable for sharing. A blanket-style coat, however, could be made to fit both by ensuring the belly band width and position suited both dogs and had enough adjustment in the closure to fit snug on smaller Humphrey and still be secure on the stockier Oli.

I wanted to be efficient with material use, but for the raincoat version I would also want to minimise upper seaming. Because of this, I based my design on a modified rectangle (single piece) body/neck/chest with separate belly bands, collar, and leash opening shield.

DIY dog coat pattern with example size measurements

Armed with the measurements above, I did something I very rarely do. I create a paper pattern for my project. Nothing fancy, just a rough full-sized mock-up using butcher's paper. I drew the pieces using the measurements above, check measurements between the drawing and the dogs, and tweak the dimensions until I was confident with all aspects of the sizing including compromises made to allow the same coat to fit both dogs. Then I cut it out, laid it out, and double checked again before cutting materials.  The of my coat and tabs were gently rounded in my final pattern for comfort, and by plan combined with chance sizings, the design was very low waste on cutting after I experimented with laying out the pattern pieces in different configurations so that I could minimise small offcuts.

The elements are shown above (visual aid only, not to scale) with notes on sizing so you can use it to help create your own pattern to perfectly fit your pup. Below, you can see the same elements assembled as the jacket alongside a photo of Humphrey modelling one of the actual coats made with this design. The diagram in the measurement section above also shows the measurements overlaid on a photo of Humphrey in one of the coats. Click the images to enlarge, if needed, for improved visibility/legibility.

DIY dog coat pattern with photo of Dalmatian dog wearing the finished coat

The basic coat and belly bands are super simple to size and sew, so don't be intimidated by the idea of creating and sizing your own custom fitted pattern.  

✂️  If you'd prefer to simplify, you can switch from a popped collar to a basic wrapped collar, or skip the collar all together. Without the collar, you may no longer need to create access (or covering) for your leash. You can also can modify (or omit) the leash grommet and/or cover flap. 

I'll cover the assembly and construction in detail in our follow-on DIY coat posts, but here are a few notes on the extra elements in our pattern and what I used them in my coat design:

  • The popped collar standards naturally thanks to stiffened materials (more on that in the detailed DIY posts) but also naturally wants to pop because it is a straight rectangle sewn to a curve, creating the (partial) side of a cylinder. For a fold over collar, you can do the same without stiffening. For a lay flat decorative collar/trim, you can use matched curve instead.
  • The modifications to create and cover a leash access (necessary because of the collar) are more complicated. The cover flap is layered into place with the collar and coat body. It's a small detail, but it really makes the coat feel more finished than having an open gap/hole, especially with the raincoat. Initially, I wasn't going to include a cover, but the style of our collars requires a sizeable hole if we want to maintain a snug neck fit, and nobody wants a leaky drafty hole on the back of their neck (or in the middle of their back if you use a harness).
  • The leash hole itself is sized to fit Humphrey's double-loop collar (and also works great with Oli's extra wide collar). An oversized buttonhole would be a good alternative for a different style of collar/harness (and may not need covering), but it wouldn't be wide enough for our double loops. They would lift and shift awkwardly under the coat without the leash hole. The extra work to make the trimmed grommet-style hole and add a cover flap was definitely worthwhile for us. 
  • After making the red jacket and wearing it a few times, I decided to add a small belly band sleeve to help secure the end of the top band when fastened all the was closed on Humphrey's smaller body. This is not shown above, and is just a little strip sewn to create a loop near the top of the inside band. Velcro inside holds it snug against the band when not in use or when worn by Oli. Both the hook side of the Velcro and sleeve hold the end of the outer band when worn by Humphrey. It works perfectly and was included when making the follow-on raincoat.

Check out the details on the construction and assembly of our DIY dog coats in these follow-on posts:

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