My projects,  Tailoring

Pattern cutting à la 1912 and a Victorian-inspired waistcoat

I got my hands on a Finnish pattern cutting book from the year 1912 a while ago. I was fascinated, since I am interested in historical fashion and it’s not easy to find Finnish sources. Of course, I wanted to try to use it. As I have watched a lot of Bernadette Banner lately, I decided to make a similar kind of waistcoat that she made for her lady Sherlock costume. Strictly speaking, the book I have is from the Edwardian period but the silhouette works for the late Victorian period as well.

The book is called Pukukaavojen Piirustamisopas (The guide for drawing dress patterns) and it is by Ellen Bremer and Anna Pulkkinen. The cover has seen better days but the pages are fine and easy to read.

Pukukaavojen piirustamisopas by Ellen Bremer and Anna Pulkkinen from the year 1912.

The book has instructions to draw basic patterns for children’s and women’s garments. The picture below shows the schematic of the pattern I used for my waistcoat. The title reads “A vest for a full-grown with two side pieces”.

The vest block I used.

The pictures and the text work well together which made the understanding old-fashioned Finnish language easier. Taking the measurements has also changed a bit. In order to draw the patterns, I had to take a few diagonal measurements that all start from the second vertebra and wrap around the torso in various ways.

The resulting sloper and my adjustments

If I had followed the pattern book to the letter, I should have chosen the pattern for the (cough) corpulent women, since my waist is over 70 cm. However, I do think that the resulting pattern would have not fitted well over my hips and my small bust. That’s the effect of corseting in action.

However, this is what I ended up with. The back piece has princess seams and there are two side pieces:

The back and side pattern pieces of my waistcoat.

The front piece has two darts.

The front pattern of my waistcoat.

I then made a toile, which was a very educational experience. I realised how much the shape of an “ideal woman” affects the way the patterns are generally drawn.

Here the most obvious difference was the shoulder slope. In the old days, sloping shoulders were fashionable and that shows in the pattern block. As my shoulders are very square, this was the very first thing to correct.

Also, perhaps due to corseting, the front part of the dress seemed to be proportionally smaller than with the modern patterns. I had to add quite a bit of width to the front piece in order to be able to close the vest. At the same time, I took away from the back hip area which was too big.

Designing the waistcoat

Of course, making the sloper was just the first step. Now I needed to transform it into a waistcoat. That meant adding the buttoning placket, making the armholes larger and drafting the collar. The first two were trivial and the last one a bit more challenging.

I took a large collar shaped piece of fabric and draped it around my neck while wearing the toile. I pinned the fabric on to the toile fabric and thus figured out the correct position for the neckline seam. That also meant doing little adjustments to the front and back pieces. I folded the collar to the right position and marked the roll line. Then I shaped the collar to the right shape. Furthermore, I added a bit extra width to the corner of the front piece that makes the lower part of the notched collar.

My waistcoat pattern pieces.

The materials

My materials for the wool waistcoat.

I spend a lot of time online trying to find the perfect tweed for this waistcoat. I shouldn’t have bothered. Finally, I went to visit Materials in Helsinki and there was my fabric, on the top of the discount bin, waiting for me!

After getting the actual wool, I rushed into the nearest Eurokangas store, as I remembered seeing the perfect shade of Italian cotton shirting there that I wanted for my lining.

The waistcoat also required a lot of different tailoring interfacings, hand sewing silk and basting thread that I already had in my stash.

At home, I soaked the wool in water and hanged it to dry. I was aware that I took a slight risk as the care label forbid washing in water but thus far I have not managed to ruin any fabrics with soaking. I also washed the lining to prevent it from shrinking later.

Making it!

Suggested reading material

Again I used many tailoring methods from my trusted book by Roberto Cabrera that you can get from Amazon here.

Cutting and marking

The busy plaid makes pattern matching important. I ended up cutting each piece separately so that I was able to get identical pieces with pattern matching. I marked the darts and the welt pocket position with tailor’s tacks.

Marking the darts and the pockets with tailor's tacks.

Hair-canvas interfacing

Then I cut hair-canvas and basted it onto the pattern pieces. I then cross-stitched the hair-canvas around the edges.

Adding the hair-canvas interfacing to the waistcoat.

The welt pockets

The front piece needed a bit more preparation. Before the hair canvas, I first needed to stitch the darts and make the welt pockets. I started with ironing a piece of fusible interfacing behind the welt pocket position.

The interfacings for the waistcoat front.

I constructed two tiny but working welt pockets.

The inside of the pockets.

The Cabrera book suggests placing the welt pockets on a slight curve to keep the welts from gaping open. However, as my pockets are tiny, I had to make the curve smaller. That’s the only con with this book, it assumes that you are constructing a standard men’s size coat and thus some measurements are a bit off when you are making a small women’s sized garment.

The welt pockets.

I am pretty proud of my welt pockets. For once, I am not afraid that they start unravelling at the corners. For now, they are sewn closed to keep them in shape during the waistcoat construction.

Preparing the front of the waistcoat

I closed the darts with bias strips cut out of my lining cotton. I first stitched the strips on and then finished closing the dart with zigzag stitches. Again, this is what Cabrera suggests.

Closing the darts of the front canvas.

Then I basted the hair canvas onto the fronts. After that, I was a bit confused about the right sewing order. I first cross-stitched the canvas on to the wool and only then started pad stitching lapel at the upper corner.

The pad-stitching of the lapel starts a couple of cms back from the roll line. I pad-stitched all the way to the roll line at which point I realised that in order to shape the curve of the collar I needed to rip the cross stitches from the corner.

Pad-stitching the lapel.

After the pad-stitching, more cross-stitching commenced as I taped the front edges of the waistcoat. I also taped the roll line while stretching the tape so that the finished collar would not gape at the collar.

Taping the roll-line and the edges.

The internal structure of the waistcoat back

Compared to the front, the waistcoat back was much simpler to construct. I sewed all the seams together and pressed them carefully. Here is a link to the DIY pressing tools I use and a tutorial video for anyone interested in the methods I use (Just click on the English subtitles to follow my Finnish explanation.).

As the wool is prone to stretching, I added a backstay that I cut out of some lightweight shirting.

The internal structure of the waistcoat back.

The collar support structure

Here was my chance of learning something new as I have never made a classic tailored collar before. I cut the collar pieces on the bias from both hair canvas and wool melton. I also cut little pieces of shirting to add body to the collar tips as Cabrera suggests.

The supporting collar layers.

Then it was time to do some pad-stitching again. I think I am on the right track here:

Pad-stitching the collar of the waistcoat.

This padded wool melton will serve as the undercollar while the actual top collar piece will be cut from my wool tweed. The Cabrera book tells to use silk finishing thread so that the pad-stitching doesn’t show from the wool melton side. I have no-idea what silk finishing thread looks like but this dark grey silk I found discounted at Eurokangas some months ago disappears very well.

Finishing the waistcoat…

I sewed the front and back pieces together in order to try the waistcoat on. Later, I will have to do a little adjusting of the side seams as the waistcoat feels slightly loose at the waist. I may also narrow the shoulders a tiny bit, but I will do those things only after the collar is on as the collar will change how the waistcoat sits.

The waistcoat still under construction.

However, here is where I will stop as this is how far I have got. I will finish my pad-stitching and attach the collar and the facings. I will then compose the lining and slip stitch it onto the waistcoat. However, I will show you that later.

Thank you for reading and happy sewing! Do subscribe if you want to be notified on new posts!


I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


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