Roar, snarl! For a cold weather set, this outfit is kinda hot, if I must say so myself. Something as “buttoned down” and “prim and proper” as a 1950 hourglass-defining waistcoat becomes defiant and wild with my bold decision to use a suede leopard fabric. To match my newly made blouse, my suede multi-paneled skirt is an oldie-but-goodie garment, still being worn and enjoyed since I made it about 15 years ago.
I’m not usually an animal print sort of girl and a weskit is so odd and form fitting, but yet I am not shy to try new things. “Jungle January” is being hosted again over at the “Petty Grievances” blog so I have a good reason to go “wild”. After all, there’s always the (good) chance I might like something I thought I wouldn’t otherwise, especially when I make it myself. So here’s to going all out for a fun and unique project! Besides, there was sort of a gentle challenge behind the source of my blouse’s animal print. The fabric was a casual gift from my dad, who bought it for a work presentation background drape but thought it would find better use in my hands. I had to prove that hope correct, even if it was only one yard!
FABRIC: Weskit: a 100% polyester micro-suede in a leopard print of brown, tan, and black tones. The facing pieces are a tan cotton-poly broadcloth. Skirt: a polyester micro-suede with a poly cling-free lining.
NOTIONS: I have a variety of brown tones and used about three different colors from on hand for my weskit. Wanting to make this a practical “make do” project, I also used whatever was on hand to work – shoulder pads, interfacing, bias tape, and buttons. The skirt did not require much besides thread, with some elastic to finish the waist.
TIME TO COMPLETE: Well, the skirt was made so long ago (15 years) I don’t remember how long it took me exactly but I know it was relatively quick project for all those seams and panels (and lining). This year, I remade the waistband in a matter of one hour. The weskit took a total of at least 15 hours, spent off and on over the course of a few weeks. It was finally finished on October 30, 2015.
THE INSIDES: The weskit has a “Heinz 57” mix of different seams…French, raw, and bias bound. The skirt was made on my mother’s serge machine (over locker to Europeans).
TOTAL COST: As the weskit was half gift, half “from-on-hand”, and the skirt was made so long ago (with fabric probably bought for me by my parents, too), I’m counting this as…drumroll, please…free! Really, though, this outfit wouldn’t cost much made from newly bought fabric with both patterns demanding less than 3 yards combined.
These two pieces were a bit complicated in their own way. The skirt is fairly easy, just a bit time consuming and needing precise designation of the individual pieces with all the panels which make up the pattern. It’s kind of like assembling a quilt! Since the skirt is put together with so many pieces, I really don’t remember why I made this pattern out of a solid black, but perhaps I wanted a one color skirt to have some interesting seam lines at close inspection. The weskit was so very seamed and fitted, it became sort of a problem because each spot to be tailored relied on the other. For example, I couldn’t tell how the weskit would exactly fit until it could close, which meant I needed to add on the facing (for a true judgment)…which I couldn’t do yet because I might have to take out the back darts. The same combined problem existed between the side seams and the sleeves – I needed to hem the sleeve length before sewing up the seam (because the wrists are so skinny) but I couldn’t do that until they were in the weskit, which then the side seam (or at least half) needed to be done. Such a bother, I know, but if I end up with a perfectly fitted and beautifully tailored garment, any extra effort is worth it for me. If it’s something as unusual as a weskit I’m going to make, then it had to be a success in my book…and it is a wonderfully good one!
Part of my problems with fitting had to do with the proportions to this patterns seeming to be not as consistent and predictable as others from the early 50’s or even from McCall’s. One of the reasons I love McCall’s vintage out-of-print patterns is that not only are they printed for easy marking and making, but they also tend to fit me well (besides having awesome cover drawings). This pattern did have the lovely envelope image and printed pattern, but not the predictable fit that does well for me. I had to take out so much from the bust, both in the side seams of the bodice front and the darts, that it was crazy. Granted, women at that time were probably wearing “battle armor” style pointy bullet bras or some sort of brassiere artificially forming the girls into something like a Barbie doll’s chest, but this pattern was even bigger than that, it seemed to me. Then, the waist was incredibly small. I added extra room in the waist, but even with that I had to take out the bottom half of the back darts and let out the side seams from the under bust down to 3/8 inch just to fit. Women of the 50’s also wore very confining waist cinchers which helped give them the “wasp waists” so popular, and this might be the reason for the tiny waist sizing.
So, according to my supposing, the sizing being off very well could be solely on account of the trend of women’s lingerie creating the desired silhouette of the time…or it could merely be this particular pattern. I don’t think my blaming the era’ lingerie is too far off, because I remember my Grandmother reminiscing about the 50’s era confining “corsets”, and she seemed attributed her 19 inch waist on her wedding day in 1951 to wearing that kind of stuff. Wow, a 19 inch waist would have certainly found this pattern (as I made it) roomy. Looking into the fashion of the decade of the 50’s nowadays can make the decade feel like a great step back to time where women were bound and confined in more ways than one.
Moving on back to the construction details, my only major changes to the weskit design (besides those made for fitting reasons) were to lengthen the bottom hem by one inch and to eliminate the hassle of wrist closures. The sleeve ends are skinny, but not small enough to not slip over my hands when I cup them. Sometimes wrist closures in small circumference sleeve hems only end up itching my skin, and I had a feeling that a zipper had a high chance of that occurring. Besides, I really didn’t feel like the extra fuss of bothering with closing the wrists when dressing in my weskit. I have enough of those garments from the 1940’s where there are four or five different spots you have to close just to be dressed (see my 1941 Military-inspired wool suit for one example). There is a point which I appreciate of being ‘historically accurate’, but at the same time, I don’t think my interest in simplicity downgraded the weskit’s design.
I love the elegant neckline of the weskit, and the buttons I used are (I think) just enough contrast/match in color, with a small enough size to be feminine. The weskit calls for an odd number of seven buttons, and I found the perfect fit in my husband’s Grandmother’s collection – a set of six with a seventh matching in tone and width to the others except with a cat-eye center. The special odd-button is at the top, the first closure to the front. The bottom button ends a bit too high for my liking, so I added a tiny hook and eye at the center of the front weskit hem to keep that sharp corner together.
Anyone with larger upper arms like myself would love this pattern (although I believe it is hard to find)! Not too many sleeves are friendly enough to allow generous room in the biceps and shoulders but this weskit certainly and unexpectedly does – with room to spare. The sleeve pattern piece was huge from just below the elbows and up to the shoulder, but being a 1950’s pattern, it is shaped very well. It makes for a wonderful deep set sleeve which is very easy to move and reach freely in, though it does need thicker than normal shoulder pads to fill in the tops appropriately. If it wasn’t for the generous sleeve tops, I think this weskit would be uncomfortably confining.
I considered adding in some lightweight boning into the weskit to achieve something closer to the envelope drawing where the hem sticks out and the body is a straight and rigid vertical line. But no…what’s good enough is best left alone, and the pattern doesn’t call for such measures. I figure if I want such a look, I’ll suck up and wear a 1950’s corset girdle, and see how much torture it involves and commiserate with my Grandmother. My hem is merely turned under with bias tape instead of using the pattern’s facing so perhaps this is why I’m short of a feature to the silhouette (or maybe just hard on myself).
Weskits have been worn for a long time and are a fashion adapted from men’s wear. The word is like an informal acronym of “waist coat”, those short vest-like which ends at the high hip and is sleeveless, collarless and worn over a shirt and sometimes under a jacket. Waistcoats are of very English origin which can be dated very precisely to October of 1666 from a decree by “The Merry Monarch” Charles II after the Persian-mode of dressing. (See more waistcoat/weskit history here.) Some waistcoats created an extra layer of warmth before the era of central heating. Mostly these “waist coats” were ornamental, many with plain backs and all the ornamentation on the front, some even with a mock front or simple tie-back.
However, patterns I’ve seen for weskits in the 20th century include every sort of variant – a bib-like year 1918 weskit, a 1929 kimono sleeves weskit, a 40’s weskit-like jacket, a sleeveless and strapless corset-like summer 50’s weskit, a 1954 apron weskit modeled by “I Love Lucy”, and vests/weskits with and without collars, scoop necks, and double-breasted closures. My all-time favorite weskit is a striped one worn by actress Evelyn Keyes seen in one of my favorite movies, “The Thrill of Brazil” from 1946. Variety is the rule it seems with weskits, and they are so complimentary to the waist, I’m surprised they aren’t seen more than they are…which is hardly at all.
Speaking of history, my hat is a satin-type of nylon, woven as if it was straw, in an authentic early 50’s asymmetric style for more period appropriateness to my outfit. I love the fancy jeweled broach on one side! See “dollycreates” blog page here for a picture link to a 1951 fashion magazine showing a hat just like mine!
To complete the style of my weskit while still remaining modern as well as wearing something I made, my past-project black micro-suede skirt was resurrected and slightly re-fashion to my current taste. You see, the skirt was made well (all seams serged, fully lined), I did like it and have worn it many times, especially in the years after it was made, but lately I did not have the desire to put it on because I no longer liked the poufy elastic gathered waist. So I took out the elastic and cut off the casing to start over and make a cleaner, not-so-bulky, gathered waist. I’ve found myself doing this on several other past-made skirts with the same full elastic gathered waist. Very soon, I’ll have a blog post showing my method of revitalizing old waistbands and making smoother stretch-on skirts, otherwise I’d get into all the details here. All I’ll say is that it involves wide 2 inch elastic and keeps the gathering on the sides over the hips.
I love how the straight and long style of my black skirt is not-too-far-off from the slender and body hugging columnar bottoms which were so incredibly popular for women to wear for the few years in the very late 1940’s and early 1950’s. My modern skirt is close enough to be similar in silhouette, but not so extreme as those from the past. It’s still full, but slimming to the point that I feel taller in my skirt, and for a shorter lady like me, I like that! Those early 1950’s/late 1940’s skirts were at their longest lengths, low mid-calf, and very slender to the point that they appear restricting to my eyes, limiting movement like a modern “hobble skirt”. I do have a skirt pattern from 1949 (McCall #7809) which I think is a perfect example of what I’m saying, so I want to make this up sooner than later so I can experience first-hand just how confining and slender women wore their skirt back then.
Practical sewing has wonderful benefits even though it might seem a boring sew. It’s great to make garments that are classic enough to be a staple in a wardrobe for many years, like my skirt, and to fix them so you continue to like them, as well. On the other hand, it’s also great to try those more unusual pieces that stand out on their own and teach new sewing/fitting skills. Unique and lesser known styles are especially open to those who sew versus those who rely on what the fashion industry cranks out. Both ends of the spectrum met in this unusual set…and I love it!
What is your most unusual kind of garment you’ve made? Do you have “stand-by” clothes that you’re still wearing (and loving) after years of use?