It was, dare I say it, time for another experiment. I love stretching my skills, trying out new things and working towards a particular vision. And this is something that had been in my head for a long, long time: a casual (but smart), indoor waistcoat for wearing over dresses and light jumpers for a wee bit added warmth. I drew a sketch, I saw that the Twig and Tale trailblazer vest might be adaptable to my vision, I consulted with a prolific waistcoat maker on instagram (thank you @ceithern) and eventually I seized the moment and went for it.
I was between projects: I’d finished my Pleiades, made some undies, and I was on a kind of pause as in the next month we’ll be packing up our island home and moving to the mainland. I kept telling myself not to get started on another big involved project, but I missed sewing and I missed the escape that it provides from everyday life.
So it seemed the right moment, and one day I woke up and just knew that the waistcoat was the project that I would be starting on next.
I spent most of that same afternoon adjusting the trailblazer vest pattern. I have actually made this before for my nephew, and it is such a lovely pattern. It is so inspiring seeing everyone’s beautiful makes that I have no doubt that I will revisit this pattern at some later stage and make it up, for me, as the pattern intends. But for now I had this vision of a cropped, unfastened waistcoat and that’s what I made this time around.
Adjustments were major. Firstly I worked out that I wanted to shorten the body by a whopping five inches. I decided just to cut this off the bottom, rather than using the lengthen/ shorten lines, as I didn’t want to move the waist shaping up. I then moved the pockets up so that they were just below the curve of the princess seams and I spent a good while reshaping the pocket bags so that they now fit in the modified bodice. Unfortunately the waistcoat no longer has pockets so that was a bit of wasted time. I also reduced the collar as I thought a wee stand up collar of 2.5cm would be perfect, and added 1cm seam allowance on either side.
For my main fabric, I had a very special piece of Harris Tweed. This is a fundraising piece of cloth that was developed by an ex-colleague with one of the weavers on Lewis, Adabrock Tweed, and money raised from the sale of this fabric is donated to the RSPB for their work with corncrake conservation. So, this was very, very special indeed and the fact that it was made on a narrow loom, and I’d only bought a metre, meant that I had a bit of fabric sized 105 by 75cm. Which made every scrap extremely precious.
-And, to add to that, the lining is also rather unique. It was bought in 2015 as a two layer, midi length circle skirt made from old saris that I wore and wore and wore, but in recent years I’ve felt like it was no longer my style and so it sat – too loved to discard, but unworn/. After a wardrobe refresh, I *put it in my fabric pile, and this seemed like the perfect project for it. It’s a blend of 70% silk and 30% polyester, and that makes it the first silk I have ever worked with. It’s not delicate and has a bit of texture, but the depth of colour is just beautiful.
To simplify the overall look I decided to make the inner collar out of a very soft polyester jersey that I also used for the pockets. The colour matched the inner silk perfectly, and it’s an added softness against any bare skin. To do this, I reduced the size of the lining piece by about 4mm on the upper edge to encourage the tweed to roll to the inside and to reduce the chance of the yellow peeking out. It’s been a moderate success, I’d say, and to finish it off I sewed it down from the outside to stop the bounciness of the jersey and create a neater collar.
Putting the waistcoat together was easy. I’ve done one before, of course, although this has more shaping with it being the woman’s version (there’s a man’s and child’s version). I didn’t have enough of the tweed to pattern match across the way, so just made sure the dominant vertical lines were balanced and I’m really pleased with how that’s turned out. I’ve even accidentally matched the yellow across the front so I’m chuffed with that.
I decided, before I was too long into the project, to overcast all the wool seams down. The difference this makes is remarkable, and I highly, highly recommend taking this extra time on your own woolly project. After a heavy steam with the iron through a scrap bit of cotton (never steam straight onto a wool just in case it turns shiny) to open the seams, I then used the many different colours of thread that was lingering on almost-finished bobbins to keep those seams open and just took my time. Because of this the project took longer than it necessarily should have, but I am utterly delighted with the finish so it is so worth it. It also helps when turning things in and out, and keeps those seams neat over time.
Now for the try on, and it was just too long. Even with five inches removed from the pattern, it still sat on my high hip. I pinned it up to where I thought it should sit, and then bit the bullet, cutting an additional three inches off the bottom of my almost-assembled waistcoat. I also decided to sew a big seam of one inch (the seam allowance was 1cm) down the fronts so as to encourage the edges to sit apart. I decided not to trim this seam back, but instead folded it and overcasted it firmly down, so as to create a heavier front. This seems to have worked out very well. I then steamed and overcasted the hem from the inside prior to turning the right way out, and that was me: done.
One thing I took a bit of time over was the positioning of the Harris Tweed label – the orb is only used for certified Harris tweed: tweed that is hand woven in the Outer Hebrides, trade marked as such and passed by the Harris Tweed Authority. This, on the eve of leaving the Outer Hebrides, feels like an extremely special item that I will treasure for a long time to come. In this is wrapped up my memories of working towards corncrake conservation, long nights spent surveying, and living on the most beautiful islands I’ve ever seen. Memories are wrapped up in the cloth as well as in the making. Wool is one of my favourite fabrics to work with: it’s so malleable and obedient, and smells wonderful under the iron. To have worked with Harris Tweed is a real treat and one that I will hopefully have the chance to do again in future. But no matter how many times I return to this fabric in the future, I think this waistcoat will always stand out as something particularly meaningful.
It fits my vision almost perfectly. I don’t have my desired pockets for two reasons: shortening the waistcoat by an additional three inches meant the pockets needed to come out. And I was too scared to do welt pockets (I’ve only done them once before and they fell apart really quickly and have now been sewed up with patch pockets put over the top!). I think this was the right decision: there’s no coming back from broken welt pockets, and the waistcoat is short enough that they would be so teeny totty that there wouldn’t be much purpose for them, and this fabric and this project are both far too precious to risk. I didn’t have enough fabric for patch pockets (additionally, they didn’t fit the look I was after) and so I will just have to make sure all my dresses have pockets in instead.
And how do I feel? Is it love? Well, it’s something close to that approximation. I have dreamt of having a waistcoat of this ilk for years, and now I’ve made that a reality. This is one of the powers we creators have: we don’t have to wait for someone else to come up with our vision, we can pursue our own paths. No matter what the fashion is, or the current trends, we can make clothes that empower us in the here and now and that is utterly priceless.
I think in this silhouette, I feel most me.