I’d had the idea for a while: make a personalised version of a DryRobe, that I could use for swimming outdoors, uniquely suited to my needs.
My dream: the basic idea of a DryRobe, but with an absorbent inside (the official has poly fleece inner) that I can use to dry myself with, and making it as washable, sustainable and long-lasting as possible. I put a post on the ever-fabulous The Foldline group on Facebook and discovered that quite a few people had had similar ideas. The inspiration flowed. And then stalled. I knew it wasn’t going to be a cheap make, and it all needed to fall into place.
A few months later I received my monthly email from Minerva (which I receive as part of their Brand Ambassador team), in which a beautiful cotton towelling was listed. “Ooo”, I said to my boyfriend, “this would do for my dry robe!” I quickly sent a wee email across to Vicki with my request, and she promptly sent me three metres of this in ochre.
When I received it, I immediately put my hand inside the bag, pulled it out, and gave it a massive cuddle – it was gorgeous!! But I couldn’t do anything with it right then, as we were moving house, and so it got packed away in a vacuum bag, until we’d moved and I was able to pre-wash it. Knowing that it would be carnage if I didn’t do so, I overlocked the cut edges prior to popping it in the machine, and I am SO glad I did, and wholeheartedly recommend finishing any cut seams in some way prior to washing. That is, if you don’t want to have bits of towel appearing on your clean washing thereafter, ad infinitum!
It washed beautifully, perfectly, amazingly, and came up squidgy and soft and I can just tell it’s going to get better with age. You know that way that towels keep getting fatter and fluffier through time? Well, this feels exactly like that. I hung all 3 metres of it over the banister to dry, and it did so promptly and provided me with something to cuddle every time I ascended and descended the staircase until eventually I could bear to put it away!
Now to find the main fabric. I wanted cotton, if that was at all possible, and ended up finding some beautiful rust-coloured waxed cotton (on sale, hooray!) from Profabrics. I also bought wadding (real Thinsulate) which is non-absorbent, and stays warm even when wet, and a long separating zip from the same shop. Now, these weren’t cheap. And this confirms again that sewing isn’t really a cheap hobby. I mean, it can be, but this wasn’t. In all, it came to a significant amount under the price of what an official DryRobe would cost (£150 vs £76.74 – I received the towelling for free, but this would have brought the price to £137.21). But saying that, I did over-estimate how much I’d need and have about a metre of Thinsulate, and 80cm of both the towelling and the waxed cotton left: all will find a very good use soon and will not go to waste.
However, sometimes spending a bit more is worth it, and in this case, I definitely feel that it is.
Now for the pattern. I hummed and hawed, and could not decide. A popular suggestion on the Facebook group had been to use the Wiksten Haori, but I didn’t feel it was quite right. I wanted a hood, after all, and how the heck do you draft a hood? Another issue was that having moved house, we were in-between printers. Then the Sewcialists announced a challenge of No Waste Sewing for February and I suddenly remembered Liz Haywood!
Liz has been on my radar since she started following my blog a few years ago and every so often I go and look at her Zero Waste Patterns and plot and plan. But now everything suddenly clicked into place: I could use her patterns to make the dry robe of my dreams. And then, in a moment of perfect serendipity, Liz posted a blog via the Sewcialists, which contained the fabulous statement: “[a] brilliantly simple cutting concept, known as a bog coat/jacket, dates back to the Bronze Age” and in reading those words I was sold. I love a bog body, love the history and the relationship we can form with people that have been so preserved, and to think of taking inspiration from their clothing. Well, what could be better?
Now that it was decided, I laid out all of my fabric and got ready. But I was nervous about making those first cuts: the shape of the basic pattern is a square, and you cut in for the arms and neck/ front opening. (Hopefully the diagram below helps explain as it’s a bit of a brain twister after being used to using patterns! I quickly sketched this up, but I really highly recommend that you check out Liz’s blog, book and instagram: they are very inspiring). Cutting into the very lovely fabric in this way was a difficult move to make: what if I cut wrong, or squint, or in the wrong place? But eventually I just had to go for it and hope for the best.
However, I didn’t completely stick to the rules of zero-waste. For the pockets, I cut a huge, generous shape with angled access as I have realised that straight top pockets (yes, I’m looking at you, Sienna) are not the most comfortable for actual hand-holding. So this was my first non-zero waste move, creating a triangle of waste from the top of both pockets. Like this though, the pockets are insanely warm and perfectly useable. To create the warmth, I gave them the same layers as the main body. From the outside of the pocket to the inside of the jacket it goes: cotton, thinsulate, towelling, hands, towelling, cotton, thinsulate, towelling. Such luxury!
My machine did struggle with this, unsurprisingly. I sewed together the patch pockets first of all, so that all the seams were finished on the hidden inside (not inside the pocket, but inside the inside of the pocket!). I then sewed them onto the outside of the robe. And this is the first moment that I realised what the practical difficulties are when it comes to zero-waste patterns: the size.
Take a moment to think about it. Say this was a ‘normal’ coat I was making, with similar dimensions to this robe. One of my first moves would be to attach the pockets to the front pieces, before sewing those fronts to the backs and inserting the sleeves. Instead, with this garment, from the get-go, I was working with the entire coat, which was, of course, made up of very thick and unwieldy fabric. This did cause both myself and my machine untold stress. It turned out fine, but it was certainly a learning process, and some nights I just did not have the energy to wrestle with the robe which definitely contributed to the length of time it took to put together. By the end, I’d learnt my lesson, and set up the machine on the sitting room floor so that the weight of the robe was supported, and if there’s one thing I’d like you to take away about making a zero waste robe is give yourself room to work! The floor was definitely the right way to go.
Once I’d got the fiddly pockets over and done with, however, it was full steam ahead. A single seam creates the arms and joins the upper front to the lower front. I did add another complication by adding a hood (which I didn’t follow any pattern for). So from my initial rejection of the Haori because it didn’t have a hood, I ended up drafting my own hood anyway. For this I used my favourite jacket’s hood, and then made a few adjustments to make it look better. It’s definitely not wonderful (it’s far from wonderful in look to be honest), but it’s functional and cosy so I really am not complaining. Connecting it onto the robe wasn’t easy and I ended up gathering part of the side panel. I did discover that I don’t love drafting – do not expect any pattern making from me any time soon!
It then came time to put it all together. I had separate lining (the towelling and the thinsulate) and outer (the waxed cotton) and needed to attach them. Incredibly, just earlier that day Peter Lappin (Male Pattern Boldness) had posted a weird picture on his Instagram, whereby he was using an interesting method to attach his lining to his parka outer. And, very happily, this was precisely what I needed to do too! It felt like a wee bit of magic, but it’s worked so, so beautifully and will be a technique that I remember in the future. I hope the photo below explains somewhat, but really it was about sewing the two ends together, wrong sides together, but as a long tube (jings, the techniques used in this robe are really hard to explain).
The zip went in without issue, I’d added a zip shield on the inside (the inside of it is towelling!!) and the only thing to say here is to make sure to insert your separating zip the right way up – they’re pretty confusing. I’d also learnt from my Moderne to mark the zip where you want the seam lines to meet, and overall it just went in really well. To sew up the fronts I had to do it in two passes using the burrito method, and that just left the bottom open, which I just top stitched from the outside. An alternative method would have been to fashion another burrito, leaving a gap to turn it the right way around, but by this point the whole thing was so incredibly bulky that I just couldn’t face it. I was sewing at 9 on a Sunday morning, determined to get it finished so that I would be forced to go out and swim. To get to that finish line, I just had to topstitch all the way around (please bear in mind that I trimmed the seams vigorously throughout the whole sewing project), and voila, the robe was complete!
I wouldn’t have called this an enjoyable sew at the time, but now, with this finished article in hand I am chuffed to pieces, for several reasons:
- It is exactly what I dreamed of when I first saw that gorgeous towelling on Minerva.
- It is unique, functional and very useable.
- It is washable and made out of mostly natural materials (okay, not the Thinsulate, but I really needed that for it’s insulating-while-wet qualities)
- It’s super drying so negates the need to take a towel as well – making it easier to dry off after swimming and get dressed.
- It’s my first attempt at making something zero waste! Yes, it did produce some waste, but not nearly as much as a normal pattern would and all the waste bits are very useful shapes due to being cut from squares and triangles, which is definitely something to take forward.
- I love it.
The Sunday I finished was perfect. A bit of sewing in the morning, gleeful shrieks when I realised just how good it all had turned out, packing up and heading out for a swim, more gleeful shrieking when I felt the cold water, which was utterly wonderful , followed by a walk, good chat and an excellent meal at night. Truly, sewing this was a battle, both physically and mentally. But the finished article will be used so much. When getting changed for my swim, it kept the cold wind off me, and was the most welcoming thing to get changed into once I was out the water. I really don’t think I could be happier with it than I already am, and I’m counting down the days until I’ll be able to get back into the water again – and my robe will definitely be coming with me!