Tweed waistcoat

· sewing ·

A while ago, I bought a length of lovely charcoal herringbone wool tweed fabric from ClothSpot. At the time, I was vaguely thinking about making the longer version of the Arielle Skirt by Tilly and the Buttons, which I have already made successfully in denim. As I thought more about it, I reflected that I am not really a tweed skirt kinda gal, at least not in a sober colour like grey. I have long harboured an ambition to make something a bit unexpected like a biker jacket out of one of the very vibrant colours of Harris tweed, but this was not that occasion. Eventually I settled on making a proper tweed waistcoat.

Waistcoats suit me1, and I love the way that you can wear them with smart or very casual clothes, and they look equally at home with both. The modern pattern world isn’t exactly awash with patterns for women for the kind of traditional style waistcoat I was looking for so I decided to draft my own.

Over Christmas, I looked through my Japanese Bunka Fashion Series Garment Design Textbooks, and found that there was an example of translating a Bunka sloper (which I already had) into the kind of short, single-breasted waistcoat I wanted to make. The drafting was fairly straightforward (the diagrams and text on this page spread are the instructions for drafting — that’s all you get!), and I soon had the patterns cut for both the outer and the lining.

As I said, I wanted a traditional look, so I chose to make the front outer and facings at the centre front and centre back with my lovely wool tweed, and make the lining and outer back with the reverse side of an interesting wool-rich double-faced suiting fabric I also got from ClothSpot. This was also charcoal grey (fairly standard suiting fabric) on one face, but a shiny old copper colour on the other. This was the side I used.

I must say that I have a bit of a love affair with wool fabric. I love the feel of wool to wear, the way it drapes and regulates heat so well, and the fact that it is a natural product that can be composted at the end of its (long) life. It is also heavenly to sew. It doesn’t fray very much (if at all), and stitches sink beautifully into the fabric, so it is kind to your mistakes2. Wool also absorbs steam and moulds into shape with heat very easily, so it presses delightfully well and can be gently sculpted into the form you want. The tweed I used was no exception, and the whole process of sewing it was a treat. I took my time, and used hand sewing techniques at various points to make sure that I was doing it justice.

The Garment Design Textbook also provided a couple of pages of diagrams showing how to construct the waistcoat, which was helpful but somewhat difficult to follow at times. I ended up winging it a bit in places, particularly where the front facing and hem meet, and also when joining the lining and outer hem. It also gave instructions for constructing the single welt pockets, but I couldn’t figure them out, even after looking at them many times. I realised that I had already bought and watched a class by Kenneth D. King on Craftsy/Bluprint on designing pockets, which had a section on single welt pockets. I watched that again and then used his ‘origami’ technique. This has a lot of steps (it was definitely the fiddliest bit of the whole garment) but the result was very sharp and neat and worth it for the nice result.

I also decided that I would hand sew the buttonholes using proper silk buttonhole thread and buttonhole gimp thread. The results would appal any tailor, I’m sure, but I’m quite proud of them. Only a few hundred more to do before I really master it! The buttons are lovely smooth olive wood buttons which I picked up in Bristol on a visit there, and I think they work really well with the colours and textures.

I’m so pleased with the way that it fits me. The darts to shape the front and back work perfectly to fit the waistcoat to my form without it being tight or restrictive, and nothing gapes or pulls. It looks very smart buttoned up, but is equally good unbuttoned. I continue to be amazed at the way that the Bunka sloper system enables you to transform a basic bodice template into something that fits so well first time. There’s something magic about a tailored wool tweed garment: the first time I put the waistcoat on and buttoned it, the phrase ‘soft armour’ popped into my mind. I don’t know if that will make sense to anyone else, but it somehow combines a soft, cosy feeling with making you feel as if you could take on anything and anyone while wearing it. That’s pretty impressive for a few bits of fabric! I’m looking forward to our first proper outing together.

  1. I’ve got a long torso relative to the length of my legs, and a short-ish waistcoat seems to help to visually balance my proportions a bit. ↩︎

  2. Which is just as well because ripping out stitches from wool can be a trial. ↩︎