This is a tale of perservance and triumph in the midst of many mishaps.
Last June, I made my first piece of menswear: a waistcoat for my Dad. I used the pattern from the Great British Sewing Bee book and, as far as I remembered, it was pretty straightforward. The book includes a thorough collection of techniques at the start which are referenced throughout and the instructions for the patterns are accompanied by illustrations. The only thing I found irritating about the men’s patterns was the lack of size chart – I had to measure the pieces and compare them to my Dad’s measurements to figure out what size I would need. Overall I think its a good book and a good pattern for beginners.
I did make a few alterations to the pattern to suit what Dad was after. I altered the front to make it a V-neck instead of rounded and added 2.5″ inches to the length. I also split the front lining in two so that I could use some of the outer fabric to make a facing. Unfortunately, when I made the second waistcoat, I couldn’t find my notes anywhere. I only knew about the alterations I had made from notes I made on the pattern pieces. It was only this morning that I remembered I had made an Instagram highlight about this project and figured out which notebook I had used so I was able to find my notes! However, I can’t say that they would’ve been very helpful. This project is really a lesson in making detailed notes.
Fast forwarding a little while, one of the discoveries my family and I made over lockdown was The Repair Shop on BBC1. In the cosy barn workshop, a team of talented craftspeople take heirlooms and prized possessions which have seen better days and restore them. It’s heartwarming and wholesome and the perfect antidote to a chaotic year. One of our favourite craftspeople is clockmaker Steve Fletcher, who is often seen sporting a waistcoat and two pairs of glasses. As the colder months drew in, and perhaps inspired by Steve, Dad started wearing his waistcoat more often. However, he told me what he really needed was a more casual waistcoat more suited to everyday wear. What he needed was a waistcoat like Steve’s. So naturally, my response was why don’t I just make you one?
I already had the pattern – all we needed was the right fabric. We spent a bit of time trawling through wools on my favourite fabric websites (we were still in lockdown – no fabric shopping trips for us) but nothing quite fit the bill. One day when me and Dad were discussing potential fabrics he pointed to my floor,
‘You know what, I actually really like that one.’
He was pointing at the wool I’d bought for my 1910s suit.
Obviously that wool was already claimed for another project but I told him to just order some more – I knew that I’d already bought 6m of the 15m they had left in stock at Textile Express and didn’t want him to miss out. Soon afterwards, we found a deep wine polysatin from Dalston Mill Fabrics and dark brown leather buttons from Totally Buttons and we were ready to go.
Cutting out the fabric was where my first mishap occured. When I opened up the pack which had my pattern pieces in I realised I had two versions. Having not used the pattern for over a year I had no idea why and assumed that they were both the same size – they were not. I cut out all the back pieces and the front lining using the pieces with notes on and the front main pieces with a different sized piece. My logic for this was that the front piece with notes on had been cut into two pieces for the facing so I would use the complete piece with the facing placed over it to make sure my placement was spot on. However what I actually ended up with was a main front piece which was two sizes smaller than all the others. I did not realise this until much later on.
Unaware of my mistake, I pressed on and put together the main wool pieces and the lining pieces. This was very straight-forward and didn’t take very long. The construction is very simple: the centre and side back pieces are seamed together, darts sewn in the front pieces and the shoulder seams sewn together.
I ran into another problem when sewing on the facing of the lining. For some reason, the facing pieces ended up about 2cm too short and the top too narrow. Luckily I had enough wool leftover to recut these pieces but I’m still not quite sure what went wrong as this worked perfectly on the first waistcoat I made!
The next step was to sew the lining and the outer shell together. This should have been easy: just place them right sides together and sew along all the seams except the side seams. However, it during this step that I realised something had gone wrong with my sizing. The giveaway was that the front darts didn’t match up – there was about 1cm of difference. After doing some detective work I figured out where I went wrong and honestly I couldn’t believe my mistake. Nevertheless, I persevered – I had promised my Dad a waistcoat by Christmas and it was already the 22nd.
In the end it was quite a quick fix. I’m not entirely sure how but once I had re-positioned the darts the main and lining fronts matched together pretty well. There was just a bit of excess around the top of the side seam. At that point I called it a night, the mental gymnastics of figuring out where I had gone wrong and fixing the mistake had worn me out!
With a good night’s sleep behind me, I woke up ready to finish the waistcoat. The pattern tells you to cut notches around the armhole and neckline to create a smoother curve when its turned right sides out but I was concerned about how much the lining fabric frayed. Instead, I tested whether or not I needed notches first. I found the the curves lay flat without the notches so decided to forgo them.
After pressing the waistcoat fully (the wool and polysatin were not the most willing to comply) I sewed up the side seams. I found that I did have to release the armhole and hem seams up to the seam line of the side seam so that I could cleanly fold and sew the lining seam – this is something I’ll keep in mind for next time.
Finally, the end was in sight. All that was left was buttonholes and buttons and I knew I wouldn’t mess those up! I used the waistcoat I had already made to mark the placement of the buttonholes and sewed them on the machine. I made them 2.5cm wide to accomodate the chunky 2cm leather buttons. In no time at all I had sewn on the buttons and given the waistcoat a final press. Dad got his waistcoat, just in time for Christmas.
I had anticipated this project taking me a leisurely couple of days. It only took three in the end but those were three days of very hard work. I was able to overcome all the mishaps and mistakes that I had made and give Dad a waistcoat which he is truly delighted with. It perfectly fulfils what he wanted and will keep him warm in the cold winter months ahead.