Monday, September 23, 2013

1830s Vest: Drafting and making up

So where have I been for so long? I've had a couple of other tailoring projects I was (and still am) working on that took priority over historical tailoring. I also moved, out of the big city to the 'burbs. This gives me my own tailoring room! I built a tailoring bench:

I just need some more wood for lower shelves, instead of putting the cloth on the floor. It's the perfect height for drafting, and not too hard to sit on.

Anyway, after the research from the last post I decided to make the vest from buff broadcloth, with a red polished cotton back and lining, and ties to cinch it in back. I used the "Single-breasted roll-collar waistcoat, 1830s-1840s" draft from R.I. Davis' Men's Garments 1830-1900.

 You can see where I'm going to add padding in the chest lining. I also wasn't sold on what kind of cinching I was going to use, and you can see two different tab ideas for lacing. In the end I won't use either of these methods, instead attaching cotton tape to the back as ties.

This broadcloth is pretty fabulous. I ordered it from Burnley & Trowbridge. Here it is after using the iron to shape it. You can see that the cloth doesn't want to lie flat, and in fact has quite a bit of volume now that I've shrunk and stretched various edges:

The back pieces, in red polished cotton (ordered from Payless Fabric). The back pattern piece is cut in two double pieces, for the inside and outside backs.

I used the front piece as a template to cut the canvas for the fronts. In this case since the broadcloth is already pretty heavy I used cotton muslin for the canvas, cut on the bias.

The pockets are done in the same way as I've done before.

Here I've added the collar extension, basted in the canvas, and basted in the edge tape. The tape for the collar roll line is basted in tight, to help keep the collar against the chest. The bottom edge is turned up, and creates its own facing to attach the lining to.

The edge of the button extension turned over and cross stitched to the canvas.

Now I discover a problem. This broadcloth is thick. It's about 1/16" thick on its own. Fold that over, and add a folded over facing, and I'm looking at a front edge that's 1/4" thick! I was worried that this might happen (but not worried enough that I took steps to fix it ahead of time). Enter the beauty of broadcloth - because it's tightly-woven and then felted, you can use a raw edge and not worry about it fraying. This was actually common with period clothing, and I've seen examples of this in person (I don't have any photos though).

I cut off the turn-over of the button extension, and trimmed 1/4" (the seam allowances) off the collar and facing edges. This isn't too pretty where I've already stitched on the edge tape, but I'm not going to take it off. This edge will be underneath the buttoned-up front so I'm not worried about catching a glimpse of the canvas. The buttonhole-side I hadn't done yet, so I trimmed the canvas back before I stitched on the edge tape for that piece.

I basted the facing in place. In the front where it buttons, the facing is just behind the front, and then shifts to be just ahead of the undercollar. Does that make sense? That way, the pieces that will be showing are overlapping the pieces that won't.

After felling the facing in place you can see how it wants to lie - it's not flat. This will (hopefully) form around my chest and neck.

Success! After felling the total thickness of the front edge is just over 1/16".


  1. Wow. Great work. Love your step by step analysis. Made a modern vest (Vogue pattern) recently. Funny to see how things are similar, yet different.

  2. Love watching your progress. I'm also having "sewing space" envy.

  3. Totally agree - seeing the step by step process is really fascinating - looking forward to seeing the finished garment.

  4. This is a interesting blog. Could you guys have a "follow" gadget on your side bar? It would be easier to keep on reading. :)

  5. I'm wondering if you use cotton thread, and if you have any problems with it shrinking when washing the finished garment. If so, how do you prevent it.

    1. Hi Parker. I usually use either linen or silk thread (I used silk for this vest). With a garment like this I don't need to worry about anything shrinking, because I will never wash it! I did pre-shrink the wool cloth before working with it, by dampening it and then ironing over with a hot iron, but basically anything made of wool will never be washed. Perhaps I can dry clean them, but other than a little spot cleaning I don't plan on washing.

      For items like shirts, which are meant to be washed, they're made of linen, and I use linen thread, so everything will shrink at the same rate. Again, I pre-shrink my linen in a hot wash and then the dryer, so it shouldn't shrink too much in subsequent washes.

  6. Thanks! Where do you get your thread? I appreciate the help.

    1. Silk thread:

      Linen thread:

      Make sure to wax both types of thread if you're hand sewing. I wouldn't recommend using the linen thread in a machine, but I've used the silk in a sewing machine and it works great.

  7. Hello again. Thanks for being so helpful in the past. I hope you don't mind if I ask another question. I'm wondering what size seam allowance you used on the trousers you made using Jason Maclochlainn book. Also, if there's advice you could give on using the trouser pattern, I would find it very helpful.

    I'm a high school student and I'm teaching myself historical tailoring for an independent studies course because I'm so interested in it. Your blog has been so helpful!

    Thank you!

    1. I use a 1/4" seam allowance for pretty much everything, although many of the seams have inlays added, in which case the thread tacks mark the "edge" of the seam, and I will sew 1/4" inside the tacks.

      The best advice I can give for any of the patterns is just keep drafting and redrafting, making cheap cotton muslins at every step. The inlays are there to help you get some of the fit right, so baste the muslin test together, and don't be afraid to rip out a seam and pin/baste it back so it fits.

      I took a look at your web page, and it looks like you're doing great! Keep up the good work!