Revisiting Garment Sewing

I grew up with a mother and grandmother who sewed all kinds of garments, and taught me the rudiments of making my own clothes. Attention to detail ran a distant second to speed in my work. It always had to get done for a deadline and a basted hem worked just fine.

In college I stopped sewing as much. Button fly Levis became my uniform along with chambray shirts, and the army/navy surplus store supplied my clothing needs. Once I was working, it was a thrill to shop for clothes that someone else had made. I loved being free of the dorky homemade look my own efforts produced.

Over the years I noticed that patterns became much more expensive, as did nice fabric. I grew up used to fine woolens and fully lined jackets and skirts. To reproduce such garments became cost prohibitive, so I wasn’t tempted to even try to make my clothes. In fact, some of my first quilts used old fabric from my clothing sewing days.

All this is by way of saying it’s been a long time since I sewed any clothing other than Halloween costumes.

Fast forward to my growing collection of silk fabrics, capped by bits of hand dyed kimono silk I bought from Laura Murray. I’ve made quilts with neck ties and intended to make one with all that silk, but when I saw this pattern by Barb Callahan at a quilt show I decided to make myself a flowing vest instead.


Because I had been away from this kind of sewing for so long (I don’t count my theatrical costume making stint as I simply followed orders) I bought some pattern tracing material to make a trial vest before cutting into my pretties. The result seemed large so I took fullness off the back and side seams.

Once I thought I had the right fit, it was time to cut the silk. Now, because I had many different weights of silk I decided to interface the lightest with a product called French Fuse, a fusible nylon tricot. I found the tricot was difficult to sew on which caused a few difficulties, but nothing I couldn’t force my machine through. The real problem I faced was the huge amount of fabric the vest needed – about 2.5 yards for the exterior and 2 yards for the lining. The largest piece of fabric I had was about 3/4 of a yard so I got creative in patching the segments, which of course created more seams to sew through.

The pattern calls for a process known as bagging out to sew the exterior and lining together. That worked pretty well, except for the armpits. I chanted Tim Gunn’s “make it work” mantra as I forced my fabric into a semblance of submission. I also changed the way of sewing the shoulder seams together, opting for a tabbed tuck method I sort of made up.

So, here’s front and back views of my vest in all its harlequin glory.


You’re wondering about the lining fabric? It’s a silk Bill Blass scarf I bought at a women’s organization fund raising sale It’s also faced with French Fuse.

img_8906The finished product makes quite a statement and is very full, even though I removed about 8 inches from the original pattern. I plan to wear it to gatherings of art quilters, though it would make a great garment for shoplifting. I could hide a lot of merchandise in those folds.



Filed under Completed Projects, Techniques

13 responses to “Revisiting Garment Sewing

  1. Pingback: Remember Those Sewing Pattern Books? | The Snarky Quilter

  2. Very nice finishing, love the fabric and color combination. A perfect piece for quilters to show off their skills!

  3. This was brave! Or it seems that way to me, since I have never really made garments or worked with slippery silk or even really know how to use a sewing machine! But the finished vest is so striking–I’d love to see a photo of you wearing it. Do you feel soignee?

  4. Jane

    Quite beautiful, Joanna! I look forward to seeing it in person some day. I have several silk scarves and tops from my suit days looking for a use. Thanks for the inspiration! I have long admired Barb’s patterns, but have had difficulty finding a “flowing” pattern that works on my short pudgy self. I need to take a closer look in her booth next week at Expo. I made much of my own clothing during my El-Hi days when the patterns and fabric costs made doing so the most cost-effective way to avoid wearing hand-me-downs from 3 sisters and 2 cousins. It could be fun to pull in quilting and art-quilting skills and try garments again. And while the devil may reside in the details I do sometimes find I’m better off with the devil I know than the one I don’t know.

    • Thank you. Do talk to Barb at the expo. She may be able to offer guidance on the best pattern for your body. And consider a quilt or clothing made of silk. Shaila is an expert on that material. I can attest that silk is a slippery customer when you’re used to working with cotton.

  5. jennyklyon

    Brilliant use of your gorgeous collection of fabrics! This is stunning!

  6. Wow that is really lovely! I’m glad you persisted to finish. I love the drape with the diagonal lines. And be sure to tell us about your shoplifting expeditions, too! 😉

    Funny to see your phrase “attention to detail” this morning. I’ve been pondering just that for the last few days. Not sure where it will take me …

    • Thanks. If I have one constant goal in my life, it’s to pay more attention to detail. While the devil may reside in them, I need to give more care to my work, whatever its nature.

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