Project Update – Striped Linen Waistcoat

If you are a Facebook or Instagram follower, I’ve been teasing you lately with progress photos for the striped linen waistcoat I am recreating. Just to have it all in once place, I figured it was time for a progress update on the blog, too.

The inspiration for this project is this pink striped linen waistcoat embroidered with roses and pansies.

The first step in a project like this is figuring out the scale. I was so excited to get started on this project and try out my new digitizing software that I completely forgot about scale on my first attempt. The digitizing worked better than any software I’d tried previously, and the flower turned out lovely, but then I realized it was almost twice as large as it should be for the actual waistcoat. Luckily, I can adjust size easily while it is in the vector stage, but I did want to be sure all the pieces were sized the same from here on out, so I scrapped that initial digitizing attempt.

First Rose Sample


The process that I’ve found works best for me while digitizing is:

  1. Magnify the inspiration image to approximately the same dimensions as real life. In this case, I knew the waistcoat was about 18″ long at center back, so I was able to enlarge the photo to those measurements.
  2. Create vector artwork by tracing over the embroidery. I’m getting faster at this part, and learning more about how things are layered in the vector file impacts the final digitized design. I could create vector art right inside the digitizing program, but I like doing it in Illustrator where I have more tools for lining up pieces precisely, copying colors, testing repeats, etc.
  3. Convert the vector file to embroidery stitches. I’m still learning my way around the new software, so sometimes I switch between two editing programs to check on things like jump stitches or underlay or how pieces line up.
  4. Test out the stitches, editing and retesting as necessary. Once I’m happy with how it looks on my machine, it goes out to pattern testers before I publish the design.

Progression of digitizing process

For this waistcoat I chose to digitize two versions of each flower, plus the buttons. The differences between each pair of flowers is subtle, but the overall effect of alternating them keeps it from feeling too precise and perfect. Handwork is never flawless, and I try to make sure my machine embroidery designs reflect some irregularities, as well. Projects based on extant items always present interesting challenges. Some of the original flowers are shaped and/or shaded much differently than others, so which one do you select to represent the whole? The inspiration image doesn’t have much detail, especially when blown up, and this object was a bit unusual for the Met, since it didn’t have any detail shots that were crisp enough to see thread work. I discovered that while I like the overall waistcoat, I don’t personally like some of the individual flowers or the way they are shaded and had to resist the urge to make them more pleasing to my own eye. Long satin stitches look more like hand work, but can be difficult for some embroidery machines. Multiple color changes mean threads to trim and frequently changing spools, sometimes after just a few stitches. In the end, I just have to make my best guess and know that what I am producing is closer to hand work than most other embroidery designs I’ve seen on the market.

Once I see the test swatches, however, I get giddy with excitement. The end result is worth every bit of work and testing and revision and second guessing myself.

Striped linen waistcoat test stitch


Striped linen waistcoat test stitch.


Once the flowers were ready, I needed to mock up a waistcoat pattern for a sample. I decided on the Laughing Moon Georgian Vest pattern because the center front was perfectly straight instead of curved, and View B is a decent match for the style of the inspiration waistcoat. The straight front was important since the stripes make it obvious that there is no curve at all at center front. I needed to lengthen it about 2″ for my model, but otherwise, the standard sizing fit well.

I traced out lines to match the stripes in the linen and to figure out the button spacing. My flowers for the CF opening are about 1″1/4 tall, so I spaced the buttons 1 1/2″ apart. This gave me 11 buttons, ending just above the top button suggested on the pattern. That seems about right, since I think the roll line on the original is a tiny bit higher than the pattern, and my pattern is also longer than the original. I shifted the pocket over about 3/8″ towards center front, which allows it to fall precisely along a stripe, just like on the original.

Waistcoat pattern

Placing the flowers on the body of the waistcoat sparked a bit of discussion in the studio. My linen is not an exact match to the original. Instead of alternating wide stripes and solid areas, it has a thin stripe alternating with the wide ones. This means that I couldn’t center the flowers over a solid stripe like the original. They would need to be embroidered on top of the narrow stripe, and placed much further apart. Visually, it was just too different and I really didn’t like the idea, but I also know how hard it was to find striped linen that was even this close to the original, so I needed to make it work.

Then I hit on the (crazy!) idea that I could sew tucks in the fabric and hide the narrow stripes. Chris and I tested the fabric by pressing it, and the fold almost disappeared, so we agreed I had to try it out, crazy or not. If I hand sewed very carefully along the stripes, you could barely even see the seams, and the fabric was an almost perfect visual match. In the picture below, I’ve finished two tucks to the left, and there is untucked fabric to the right. I have only sewn partway along the center stripe, and you can still see the narrow stripe peeking out in the back.

I only (only!) had to sew three tucks along the width of the 60″ wide fabric. Luckily, I can cut both waistcoat fronts from that panel. There may be a narrow stripe that shows close to the side seam, but I’m not worried about that since it will rarely, if ever, be seen. I do still wish it were pink, but I’m pleased by how close I’ve been able to come to the original.

Tucked Linen Fabric

With the tucks in the fabric, the rest of the flowers line up almost exactly like the original waistcoat – as well as you can, anyway! The flowers on the body of the waistcoat seem to follow their own measurements and don’t really relate to the placement of either buttons or the flowers at center front. The bottom row lines up neatly, but the pocket interferes with the placement I would expect for the next two rows up, and then it doesn’t seem to follow any pattern above that. However, if I place my rows of flowers in line with every other buttonhole, they avoid the pocket and give me the same number of repeats as the original, ending with that single rose at the top stripe closest to center. This is no doubt because I have a little extra length to work with, and this is one time I don’t mind cleaning up the original a little bit.

I think the pocket is still going to be distracting, but everything about that pocket is distracting, from it’s off-center placement, to being squished between flowers, and the stripe alternating opposite to the body of the waistcoat. I also think the buttons are about 1/2″, but I have only found 5/8″ button moulds, so I’m going with the larger size for now.

Hand sewing those tucks was an unexpected delay, but I’m finally ready to start the embroidery! I need to alter a few more pattern pieces, as well, for facings and the collar, but it will hopefully be smooth sailing from here. I can’t wait to show you how the finished waistcoat turns out!

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