Thursday, 12 January 2017

Beardsley Inspired Embroidered Waistcoat

Hello! It's been a while since I posted here, but I do have stuff to post. I finally finished my first embroidered waistcoat! 
Edited (2019) I just want to preface this by saying the construction is very terrible, and that I fully intend to pick this thing apart and re-sew it.
I started it almost 2 years ago, when I was in second year fashion. My inspiration was this very fanciful illustration by Aubrey Beardsley.
Illustration for "the rape of the lock", Aubrey Beardsley, 1897.
I really like the swirly details on the man's coat, and wanted to make something with a similar embellishment, but a more historically accurate cut.
Magnificent swirlyboops!
I based my pattern on 1750's-60's waistcoats.

The back pieces are quite narrow compared to the front ones.

Inspiration pictures, plus the beginnings of the embroidery.
My fabric is a black silk that was marked as dupioni, but has very few slubs, so it's more like a very slightly lumpy taffeta. I basted it to a piece of stiff-ish brown linen, traced out my fronts and pocket flaps, and basted around the outlines of them in light coloured thread.
I used a white watercolour pencil to draw the swirly patterns on as I went, instead of sketching out the entire design at once (which might have been a better idea). Consequently there's a bit of a difference between the overall look of the pocket flaps (which I did first) and the front edges, but that's okay.
I split the floss into 3, so it's all done with 2 strands.
Making sure I had access to enough embroidery floss in the same colour would have been a good idea too, and I didn't do that. I started it at school with light greenish grey floss from the stash in the fashion studio, which soon ran out. The local fabric store didn't have the same brand of floss, so I bought equal amounts of the 2 closest shades I could find, and switched back and fourth between them for the rest of the embroidery. I also used up another similar colour of floss from the school, so as far as I can remember this waistcoat has at least 4 different shades of floss in it!
The 2 closest shades of floss the store had.
Held in a neat little case that someone made out of a binder cover a very long time ago.
Almost all the embroidery is split stitch, with the exception of some very small dots, which are French knots.
About halfway through the embroidering the panel was hung up in a gallery show for a while. It was my grad piece, and my teacher had suggested I do an embroidered waistcoat because she knows how terrible I am with deadlines, and this was something that could be displayed unfinished.

When I'd finished the first half of the waistcoat I traced around the edges of the design so I could make the band of embroidery on the other side the same width. I traced some of the lines from the design over to that side as well, and drew the second half of the embroidery on in a somewhat symmetrical way. I kept the general flow of the pattern the same, but did the details a bit differently, and I think it works quite nicely.
I traced out and embroidered 14 little circles for the button covers. I only ended up using 10 of them, so I have extras in case any need replacing. I made sure to not put French knots on the button covers, because I think they'd snag more easily than the rest of the stitching.
Embroidery all done! And all the pieces fit very nicely on the amount of silk I had.

Back side of the embroidery!
I washed and pressed the embroidered panel, and for some reason it became rather rumpled, which was disappointing. The backing linen seemed to have shrunk slightly, though I don't know why. I don't specifically remember pre-washing it because it was almost 2 years ago, but I can't imagine forgetting a step like that.
Thankfully the wrinkles aren't too big, and they're mostly horizontal, so they aren't really noticeable when it's being worn.
Mysterious wrinkles appear.

I love embroidered button covers!
Such happy looking little things.

After taking a lot of photos of the embroidery, I cut my pieces out.
Here are the front edges side by side so you can see the "somewhat symmetrical" pattern.

Here are my other fabrics! Black silk satin for the lining, and pale greenish linen for the back and pocket bags.
Both are very nice and soft.
I wasn't completely sure how to go about the business of interfacing and lining it, so I did the pocket flaps first.
I trimmed the seam allowances completely off the backing linen, basted a piece of heavy linen to the back, and whipped the trimmed edges of the silk down to it.
I then folded in all the edges of the lining piece so that it's about 1mm back from the edges, and carefully stitched it down.


Then it was time to do the same to the fronts.
I carefully stitched my pieces of heavy linen interfacing to the front, but it didn't stiffen it enough, so I added a layer of hair canvas on top of it.

Edit: (Added 8 months later) I know now that I should have used stiffened buckram, alas! I could simply have brushed fabric stiffener on my heavy linen and it would have worked so much better. This waistcoat turned out nice, but not quite stiff enough. Ah well.
I managed to catch almost all the basting to the backing linen layer, so it doesn't show on the outside. 
A bit of herringbone stitching on the 2 small edges facing upwards, just to make sure they're secure.
I trimmed the silk back to a little less than 1 cm on the front edge and armholes, and the backing linen a little further back than that. I tried folding the edges in and whipstitching them down like I did with the pockets, but it came out too ripply, so I did a small backstitch to hold the folded edge back.
Very slowly and carefully folding the edge back.
I did this to the whole front and bottom edge, as well as the armholes & pocket holes.
The front all ready to be lined.
I stitched the pocket bag to the pocket hole, and sewed up the side seams with a backstitch. I put the pocket flaps on very carefully, with a very small slipstitch.
Normally I prefer to use really sturdy, tightly woven stuff for pocket bags, but I doubt these will get much wear.
I stitched the lining down to all the turned in edges on fronts, the same way I did the pocket flaps.
I sandwiched the back edge of the front piece between the back & back lining, and backstitched them on (on both sides) to make a nice and sturdy side seam.
The newly attached back pieces before being pressed to the back.
I whipstitched the back seam closed.
Edited (2019): why did I do that? Backstitching it would have been better!
Almost all the construction was done with waxed black silk thread.
I stitched down the shoulder bits, turned in and finished the remaining edges on the back vents, neckhole, and armholes, and slipstitched the centre back lining shut.

Edited (2019) Oh my god WHY did I do it like that?? Ugh, I should have bought a copy of Costume Close Up years before I did. The proper order of construction is so much easier and better. Pockets in, flaps on, buttons & holes, front lining, side seams, back lining goes in last.
I used dimes for the covered buttons, with 2 holes drilled in them so I could attach a linen thread to the middle and anchor them securely. (Similar to the ones in this post.) Thank you Papa for drilling the dimes for me!
Edit #2 And now I know that I covered the buttons incorrectly too! I ought to have folded the raw edges in. This mistake I may pick off and re-sew, since it's relatively small.
Buttons getting dressed.
I'd heard that buttonholes in 18th century coats and waistcoats were made before putting the lining in, and then the lining was carefully cut and stitched down around them, but I was not about to try that technique for the first time on this project so I did them through all the layers as usual.

Edit #3 I know now (August 2018) that while the hair canvas would have made this a disastrous thing to attempt, it's quite fine when the garment is stiffened with buckram.

I forgot to get pictures of them up close, but they're just plain inconspicuous looking ones done in doubled black silk thread.
And it's finally done!
From a bit of a distance you can't even tell there's 4 slightly different colours of floss!
I'll be able to model it better when I finish my black breeches.

Back view. I'm very pleased with the fit!
It's a little late, but it qualifies for the last challenge of the Historical Sew Monthly 2016.

What the item is: Embroidered waistcoat.

The Challenge: #12: Special Occasion

Fabric/Materials: Black silk (that vaguely resembles taffeta but isn't quite), pale green linen, black silk satin.

Pattern: Drafted by me.

Year: Mid 18th century.

Notions: Cotton embroidery floss, silk thread, linen thread, brown linen interfacing, canvas interfacing, dimes.

How historically accurate is it? Pretty good as far as cut and construction goes. The materials are fairly close to accurate, but the embroidery probably isn't quite accurate for an 18th century waistcoat. (Edit #4: decent enough aside from the lack of buckram!!)

Hours to complete: I misplaced my time sheet exactly halfway through the embroidering, so I'm not sure, but I could get a rough estimate if I find it. It's definitely a very big number.

First worn: January 9th, 2017

Total cost: I forget what I paid for the materials, but I'm guessing maybe around $30 or $40 in total, since some of it was from my stash.

Overall I'm very happy with it! And I learned a lot about proper waistcoat construction. I'll do some things different next time, and hopefully avoid the rumpling.


  1. Oh my goodness, this is STUNNING :O Absolutely fantabulous.

  2. You look dashingly dapper! The embroidery is fantastic bravo! Your skills are magnificent! I'm using too many exclamation points but you deserve it!!!"

  3. This is amazing. I agree with Holly: not enough exclamation points to cover how magnificent this is!

  4. This is amazing. I agree with Holly: not enough exclamation points to cover how magnificent this is!

  5. Wow, this is just amazing. Such a labor of love.
    Hugs, Mamoo

  6. Wonderfully done, and the fit is excellent. You're right about the floss colours--I can't tell the difference, an I'm the one who refused to switch to natural cotton thread from the linen...on tiny, almost invisible construction stitches (Moselund Kirtle) because the colour difference was bugging me.

    Remember on the buttonholes, one of the options is to work them through a facing, which is nice and simple. It's also not difficult at all to hide the button stitches--just a nuisance.

  7. I love this! It turned out beautifully.

  8. Jaw-dropping! You, sir, are an inspiration.

  9. Absolutely spectacular work, it's beautiful. :D

  10. Just stunning. I love the idea of the fronts being very similar, but not entirely symmetrical.

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  12. Your vest is stunning! Your embroider skills are superb. And to tell you the truth, the rippling in your fabric actually helps to make it look aged. So even better for the special occasion - more "authentic" because of it's synchronistic "provenance". Great job!