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  • Writer's pictureCiéranne Kennedy Bell

1940s Waistcoat and Fishtail Trousers - Part 1

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

This week is the first in a two part edition of a matching 1940's style waistcoat and fishtail trouser set.

I designed this set about two years ago, bought the fabric from Crescent Trading about a year ago and, now is the time to make the idea a reality. (On a side not, when we are back to "normal" take a trip to London's East End and visit Crescent Trading. They don't sell on-line but have the most wonderful selection of suitings at a great price and because of that, an enviable client list but they are open to everyone.)

The Pattern

A while back I fell down a research rabbit hole when looking at vintage tailoring techniques and came across a magazine called "Tailor and Cutter". From there I discovered that not only had they published a magazine with guides on how to draft the patterns for garments á la mode but had published books. Living in London is something I don't always take advantage of but having the British Library on my doorstop was exceptionally useful in hunting down the rare books.

The following draft guide was taken from "Ladies Garment Cutting and Making" by F. R Morris published in 1943. For those who don't know what I mean by draft guide - it is a list of instructions in which you substitute your own measurements to draw a pattern for a garment.

Maybe not for the faint of heart or absolute beginner, you need to understand how a pattern should look, how it will be constructed and not get lost with the directions which, at times, can be pretty scant. You draft without any seam allowances and as one, big, interconnected mish-mash of lines. The next step is to make your pattern pieces, marking your notches, darts, lines etc and adding seam allowances which is when it looks more recognisable to most seamstresses.

For those with a keen eye you may have noticed that I redrew the darts on the front a number of times. The instructions gave no pointers as to what angle they should be at and therefore I'm sure mine ended up at too steep an angle. When making the pattern pieces from the draft you have to take into account construction and "true" your darts - which means making sure that both sides of your dart are the same length. This clearly was never going to happen with a fish eye dart on an angle, it would have caused so many problems with the grain of the fabric and twisting and puckering, that I decided to follow my own instinct and have them on the grain.

The Toile

The first toile. Ah. This is why we make a toile. In an effort of expediency, I used some of the measurements from the example, most notably, the back length. Only when I tried it on did I realise that this was 3" shorter than my actual measurements and therefore this waistcoat was so short and the waist sat on my ribs. An easy fix but means a complete new toile.

Toile 2 was more successful in that it was the right length, everything seemed to fit but I needed to bring the arm hole shape in and down as it was just too small. No need to make another toile for that though I can just transfer that straight to my pattern.

The Construction

The first thing to do was cut an interlining. A lot of the time I use the toile but on this occasion the calico was too heavy. I used a light cotton muslin. If you read last weeks blog, then you will already know how I prep and use an interlining and how I use it to match the stripes across a seam. As this is a waistcoat there is just the front to match as the back will be in a silk twill. The main fabric is a windowpane in 100% wool very fine suiting.

Here is where I started to struggle and doubt myself. I chose to pad stitch the waistcoat despite the fact I am far more comfortable with "hybrid" tailoring (a mixture of fusible interfacing and canvas/domette) but now is the time to try new techniques right?

Mistake number 1.

The silk twill frays like no-one's business. It made doing the welt pockets *almost* impossible. I don't currently have access to an overlocker so this was not an option and I just had to go with it. I am not happy with how the welt pockets turned out and I really do not think they will last all that long as I expect them to fray through the stitching. Even professionals make mistakes.

The rest of the construction went ok. Again, the silk twill frays and made it tricky to remain accurate but once stitched and pressed it actually looks beautifully crisp. It just needs a more delicate hand than I had patience to give it this week. In the future, to counter the fray, I would use a microtex needle, handle it as little as possible, and reinforce the edge with either a tape of a small amount of very light weight bias cut fusible interfacing where it is going to take stress. I am finding not being in my studio where I know I have access to the supplies I need quite frustrating.

The Outcome

The outcome isn't as sharp as I would normally accept. Luckily it is just for me and not for a client so I can live with it. Just a shame when you have an idea in your head that doesn't work out the exact way you imagined. However, the pattern is sound so if I want to try again I know I am happy with that.

A few more stitches to go and all the basting to come out before a final proper press then done.

I haven't taken pictures on myself of the waistcoat yet as I want to make the matching trousers first and have it all together as a finished outfit so tune in next week!


1940s Waistcoat and Fishtail Trousers - Part 2

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