A Tale of Three Waistcoats

One upon a time (about this time last year) I joined a dance team. This meant that I needed a colourful waistcoat to wear when performing. I was able to borrow one to start off with, but it wasn’t great, so I fairly quickly began wanting to make my own – one that would fit better, and where I could choose the colours and design.

My first waistcoat

my first waistcoat

I began with a pretty simple pattern, from the back of a library book, and crisp cotton fabric. This one I made entirely by hand, as this made it a more portable project (though also meant it took a long time). It was the first time I’d sewn a garment in years – probably since Year 10 which was the last school year in which I did sewing/textiles.

I learnt/re-learnt:

  • a little bit about my shape / fitting a pattern (I cut the pattern out of newspaper, pinned it together and tried it on to get an idea of fit)
  • how to use interfacing
  • how to cover self-cover buttons
  • … and generally gained a bit of confidence in making things.

I was pretty happy with the result – it was definitely better than the one that I’d been borrowing. The fit was okay, but it was a little tight around the middle, and I began to want something even more brightly coloured. So I started making plans for a second waistcoat. Now that I’d shown myself I could make something wearable, I had a bit more confidence. In addition to improving the fit issues, I also wanted to make this one reversible, and to add a buckle (is that the right term?) on the back. Like this:

Parrot-side backThe parrot-and-flowers fabric here is from a shirt I found in a charity shop. It’s gloriously bright but was a pain to work with – what I didn’t realise at the time was that even a little bit of stretch would have a big impact. The zig-zag rainbow fabric I used for the other side of it was a nice crisp cotton, and the difference between that and the slightly more stretchy/slippery rayon was frustrating. I succeeded in my aim of making it reversible, and I rather like both sides:

rainbow-side frontI learnt/re-learnt:

  • to be comfortable using a sewing machine
  • how to use bias binding
  • how to put on a buckle
  • about pattern-matching: the stripes on the stripy side match up (although they’re slightly crooked in the picture because I haven’t actually done the buttons up)
  • how to make something with a lining and pull it inside out so that it works properly with neat seams (given that I then ended up deciding to bind the edges in yellow, this was partly wasted)

At the parrot-side fronttime, I wasn’t entirely happy with the finished result, but having tried it on again recently I like it more.

(Which leads me to wonder whether jogging over the summer has been having an effect – either I’ve slimmed down infinitesimally which makes it fit better, or I feel more comfortable in my own skin, or both).

I made this using the same pattern as the first one, but deep down wanted to make one that would be more curved and fitted.

Then, one day, I was out shopping in John Lewis when I came across a beautiful Liberty Art Fabric print of blue teapots on a yellow background, half price (around £5/m instead of £10/m). It was lovely. It had teapots on it. I wanted it very much. And I wondered whether this would be the right fabric for my next waistcoat. I bought it, and also bought Simplicity 4079 – Misses Lined Vests.

But this fabric … this fabric was precious. I didn’t want to use it unless I knew that the waistcoat would be exactly right. Which is how I ended up making my third waistcoat out of completely different fabric – not at all yellow with blue teapots on it.

waistcoat front

Waistcoat front

waistcoat back

Waistcoat back


Waistcoat front-lining

Waistcoat front-lining

Waistcoat back-lining

Waistcoat back-lining


This waistcoat I put together in order to test out the pattern, and learn more about how to construct wearable things. It’s much more curvy / fitted than the previous pattern. I took my measurements, and discovered that my torso is quite differently-proportioned to the pattern (I am very short-waisted). I then laid out and cut out the pattern on some old curtain fabric, basted it together, tried it on, marked where it didn’t fit, chopped bits out of it, stuck it back together, tried it on again, and then used those curtain-pieces as my pattern.

The blue fabric was a piece I picked up in a charity shop some time ago – I suspect it’s supposed to be curtain fabric as it’s fairly thick cotton and the design on it looked like a repeating curtain type design somehow. I bought it because it’s made in the UK (and thus fulfils my “I want ethical fabric” requirements). I made the lining out of fabric that I’d bought for making bunting – the only reason the lining is interesting and different colours is that I didn’t have enough of any single colour to do it all!

I learnt/re-learnt:

  • a little bit about how ease works
  • about where you should put stay-stitching and why
  • how to make machine buttonholes (the second one also has machine buttonholes but I didn’t actually sew those until after this one – I had been doing the second one up using pin-badges rather than buttons)
  • a lot more about how to fit clothing (not that I know a lot, but I know a lot more than I did previously)

I am very happy with how the front of this turned out. The back is too short and the buckle is too low, but given that I had to make a lot of changes to the pattern I think I haven’t done badly. I’m certainly prepared to wear it, which is the main thing – although I probably wouldn’t wear it blue-side-out to dance as it’s too monochrome.

So. There it is: the tale of the three waistcoats. It’s been an interesting progression, (re)learning more and more about sewing, and making something that’s impossible to find anywhere in the process. It’s quite fulfilling, the whole act of creation and all that – I will be keeping an eye out for things I can sew in the future.

Do you sew? What do you like/dislike about it?

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