Sew: court vest

A partially assembled pocket of star-strewn fabric with a welt opening, against an unbleached linen backing.
This is the inside of a pocket before it’s fully assembled, in case you didn’t know.

I’ve had it in mind to make a court vest for myself. These were long sleeveless coat bodies worn in summer in European nobles courts, or in deep winter under a frock coat for an extra layer of warmth. Not as formal as an embroidered frock coat in some circumstances, but highly formal in others… this one will be black with silver buttons; I’m thinking about making an appliqué sunburst or star burst of twelve or sixteen points on the the back, as well.

The first step was scaling up the pattern, as described in pattern recognition. I scaled this up to a 58” chest — I’m 56” against the skin, 58” over a shirt and sweater, 60” when wearing several layers. If I ever make a gored frock coat from the 1800s to go with this vest, it will have to have a 60” chest.

The pattern I’m working from is a Simplicity tissue, and it doesn’t have pockets. Unacceptable. I’m pretty sure there should be actual pockets in a garment like this— when it’s all buttoned up, I can’t get at my pants pockets, so where would I put my stuff? So I made pockets.

These are the tenth or twelfth pockets I’ve made on garments, and it wasn’t all that long ago that I added pockets to another garment, this electric blue vest. I was very pleased that I was able to put in pockets without reviewing 20 minutes of directions on YouTube or reading the pattern newsprint from a different pattern four times. I did it from memory, in fact.

Then it’s a matter of cutting the parts. A few months ago I learned about interlining — instead of iron-on interfacing, you sew a second piece of linen to the first, in the same shape. The result is a garment with better shape and drape, better texture, hand, and thickness. It’s the difference between a costume, and a piece of clothing. And, as I’ve said here before, Costumes are Clothes, yes. But again, there’s a difference between something you wear to a party with friends, and something you wear while on your way to the shopping mall, or while running errands.

If I’ve learned anything from this process, it’s that cutting four pieces of fabric “the same size and shape, on the same grain line” is a lot more difficult than it sounds. It’s ironic — cutting fabric well is incredibly hard, and yet I’ve never seen a tutorial on how to do it better than how I do it now — pinning or weighting the fabric, and just going at it with the scissors or rotary cutter.

Once the linen sandwich is made, the next step is to sew in the pockets. Done, from memory, quick and easy.

At this point I ran out of time to document my process much more than I already had — I was planning on wearing this, this weekend. That meant getting to the work a lot faster than I planned, and not reflecting so much, or taking so many photos. But — it’s done: lining, four pockets, interlining, shell, pressing, and assembly of the sleeve caps. The buttons and button-holes will have to wait for another event when I get to wear this.

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  1. I think in the 18th & 19th centuries coats were worn in European courts even in the summer (in a lighter weight of wool, silk or even cotton or linen, possibly an imported Indian block print of which we have a few extant originals). European gentlemen in the tropics however often went around without their coat and in shirtsleeves under a waistcoat.

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