17th Century Waistcoat

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

When I was an undergrad, the best art history courses always started at eight in the morning. While everyone was filling up the schedule with afternoon classes, I booked all the morning lectures I could fit into mine. One of them was The Golden Age of Dutch Art. Out of all the college courses I took, that one was my favorite. Not only were the selected textbooks cheap, the professor would start off the morning playing dutch baroque music for the full experience. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, while my roommates still slept off their hangovers, and get there first thing in the morning to listen to classical music and help prepare her slides.

Yes, I was a teacher's pet. #sorrynotsorry

Since then, I couldn't really tell you anything I crammed into my brain come exam time. The only thing I remember is tronies are my favorite genre, and a theory on why the light in Dutch paintings always looked more radiant than comparative landscapes elsewhere in that time. (Psst, it has to do with lakes, that have been reclaimed by man, reflecting the sunlight. I'm sure it's more complex then that, but alas, it's been years since that particular lecture.)

It was complete happenstance that I happen to meet someone who reenacts 17th Century Colonial Dutch. Even more surprising is that she became my best friend. Well, it's not entirely surprising, she is amazing.

Anyway, she's always invited me to join her group, but I never got around to making a kit. I'm the type of person who likes to attend events with a somewhat full wardrobe, or I spend the whole event feeling awkward in my oversized pink polo.

Accurate recreation of being the only one in the group with a half-assed outfit.

The problem I faced with 17th century is that it's somewhat underrepresented within the reenacting community. There isn't many patterns to choose from, but I get it, a plain waistcoat isn't exactly the most stylish thing to sew.

In the end I chose the waistcoat from The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress book after drooling over Couture Courtesan and Wasted Weeds version. While it's marketed for late 16th century, it's quite similar than the waistcoats seen in Dutch portraiture of the mid-1600s.

Adriaen van Ostade. The Fishwife, 1672.

Jan Steen. De kandeelmakers, 1665 - 1670.

Nicolaes Maes. The Lacemaker, 1656.

Also, note this original in the Rijksmuseum!!!

See? Not at all different. There are some variations on the waistcoat in the later period, such as cartridge pleated sleeves, but I didn't have enough yardage. I think I can get away with wearing a démodé waistcoat as a colonialist in New Netherlands. 

I used the book, so I scanned in the pattern and printed them at home. I usually HATE this method. It take more time than using a printed pattern, I always run out of ink, and something always gets lost in translation. But alas, lets use what we have, shall we? 

Mockup One

We're already mistranslated. The book says it should enlarge to 36 inches, but it turned out smaller than my 34 inch bust, even with added seam allowances. Okay, on to mockup two!

Mockup Two


BETTER! I did your average slash method to size it up. It didn't take that long since we're dealing with two bodice pieces without much shape, rather than a darted or princess seam victorian. However, when resizing it, the bodice lost a lot of its shape in the front. I made two skimpy darts in the front and tried again.

I didn't take pictures of my third mockup. I just slipped it on, sighed with relief when it was exactly how I wanted it, and went to work!

The Construction:

Can you guys smell it?

That pungent odor of bad wigs and wild-flowing locks in the wind??? Of corsets without chemises and stays as clothing? Of polyester laces and drapery material? 

And that horrible sound of newly-oiled gears as a seamstress backtacks her 17th century waistcoat on....



Yeah, deal with it. I gotta a life I need to live. 

This is probably why this waistcoat won't grace any pages full of reenactors. We'll keep it to the costumer boards and groups for now. 

While I was pulling 12 hour days, I made the compromise to machine-stitch the interior seams while handsewing the visible, which I known is looked down upon by many within the community, but I'd like to go to events while still being able to sleep. Since this isn't a time period I see myself going to often, I didn't feel as guilty sewing it up in the modern way as I would with my 18th century kit. 

I'm using Burnley and Trowbridge's worsted wool for this project. I was able to squeeze all the pieces onto the scant remnant leftover from the last project. Yay at me being resourceful!!!

Beginners beware. The instructions in the Tudor Tailor are approximately seven bullets of text. No pictures. It wasn't so daunting as I first thought, but I strayed from the instructions after the line "Cut out piece of top fabric and lining." So....

I sewed up the fashion fabric and lining separately, then sewed them together at the collar and bodice fronts.

After notching and pressing, I stitched the wrong side by hand, making sure to catch the seam allowance so it will lay nice and flat, with a spaced backstitch.

After the bodice was all done, I sewed the wings with two layers of fashion fabric. I've seen wings made with fashion fabric and lining, but I didn't like how the white peeks out like piping when worn. 

I sewed the sleeves as one giant piece. Lining, sleeve, and wings. Make sure to have everything where you want it to be. Sleeves are not interchangeable. I learned the hard way. The nice thing about the wings is that it hides any puckering if you're too lazy to go back and fix it. I did a pretty good job, but it is tricky with all that thickness there.

Similar to the bodice lining, I topstitched the underside of the wings to prevent rolling. 

I did make one mistake in my mockup process. I forgot to add the notes to the pattern piece about lengthening the back. While I remembered with the fashion fabric, I completely forgot about the lining. Instead of cutting a new piece, I just used some scraps from my bin and pieced it. Crisis adverted!


I do have some fitting issues not accounted for in the mockup. There is some puckering under the arms on both sides, but I'm saving my final judgement until the godets are in. It's not finished until it's finished. 

But you should've seen my face when I saw the picture of the back.

Something went wrong here. The only solution I had was to lengthen the slashes for my godets, not just on the back, but on the sides as well. My thinking is that the puckering is coming from the waistline "sitting" on my bum roll. I lengthened the slashes, hoping the waistline would drop down and the bodice would lay flat. It helped a little, but not a huge amount. 

Maybe I'll have this issue sorted out by waistcoat v. 2. 

Onto the godets. I fit mine to my bodice, rather than using the triangles in the pattern. I take a bit of ribbon, pin them over the bodice, and mark how wide they need to be. This way I get a custom fit over my skirts and bumroll.

After cutting out the godets, all on the bias, I went to work! First I did them by hand, but got nervous the seams would pop from all the tugging and wear, so I resigned to do them by machine.

The trick to perfect...well near-perfect godets is to sew your normal seam allowance, then narrow to almost nothing at the point. Less puckering, less time needed to seam rip and stitch again.

Annnndddd we already hit a roadblock...

This was my fault. I sewed the godets from the top down, versus from the down up. Thus, my lining ended up being a little smaller then my shell. Okay, so a lot smaller. Anyway, I cut new godets and sewed them up. I'm pretty good at them after doing ten practice rounds.  

Interior, including a shot of the piecework.

After sewing the lining to the sleeve.

Now, let's get down to the details, shall we???

I bought fifteen pewter buttons from Burney and Trowbridge. They're the perfect size and weight for 17th century, the only complaint is wishing the shank was a bit bigger for cooler methods of application. 

So I measured the buttonholes at 3/4th inch apart and cut the layers with razor. However, I think this is a sloppy, unclean method. Instant fraying afterwards. I think I'm going to invest in some buttonhole cutters, or experiment with some hardware chisels to see if they work better than cutting away with scissors and razors.

I started with you basic buttonhole stitch, but I went without the gimp since it wasn't used widely until the 18th century. However, the gimp does provide nicer results. After I did my first set of five, I discovered that most 17th century buttonholes were stitched with bartacks for reinforcement. 

Source: The Good Wyfe (Doublet c. 1625-30)

For more information, Matsukaze Workshop has a informative post on the evolution of buttonholes from Elizabethan to Georgian. 

I cut the buttonholes larger than I should've. I had to back and close them up with a satin stitch, so the decorative details with the bartacks are lost, but I'd rather have messy buttonholes than a bodice that always falls open. 

First set of buttonholes on the left. Last set of buttonholes on the right.

Like everything, buttonholes got better with practice. Did I tell you it was my first time doing handbound buttonholes? Oh, I didn't? Well, now you know. It's not perfect, but it does the job and doesn't look all the bad from a distance. 

It only took half an episode of Poldark to sew all the buttons on. 

In hindsight, the extra time and money on pewter buttons was totally worth it. Who wants to sew those finicky eyes and hooks anyway?

The Event:

Are you ready for some pilgrim awesomeness???

I put the waistcoat and my new "dog ear" apron to the test at Crailo State Historical Site for their annual Twelfth Night event! 

Dawn at Dawn pulling out the Oliebollen, an apple and nut doughnut. 

Dawn at Dawn sharing her knowledge of traditional Dutch fare.

Crailo is a stunning museum that transports you right back to 17th century New Netherlands. I spent a night cooking over the open hearth, minding the snert (pea soup) and oliebollen (apple doughnuts), and answering questions about traditional Dutch fare as the visitors descended upon our tasting table. I left that night with a newfound passion for historical recipes and open heart cooking. It's an avenue I'd like to explore in my future reenacting career. 

I was too busy during the event to snap any pictures of myself, so I took advantage of another snowstorm hitting the northeast to showcase the finished waistcoat.

Final Thoughts: I'm glad I put the time and effort into sewing up The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress pattern. There are some improvements I'd make for version 2, including lengthening the cut of the waistcoat and the godets. I walked away from this project a sworn member of the Brotherhood of the Pewter Buttons and will forever finish my waistcoats with them. If that's not a real thing, then it is now. Care to join? Initiations requires stitching 15 buttonholes evenly while watching Ross make an ass of himself in Season 2 of Poldark. Bartacking required. 

Overall, it's solid waistcoat I can wear to events. I'll be happy to make it again. 


  1. I'm a history teacher who likes to show up in costume every now and again (keeps the students on their toes). I love your work here! Did you make your stays pattern also? I've always used commercial patterns because I have no experience drafting my own! Suggestions?

  2. I just saw this, as I got a couple of hits to my blog from this page recently :)
    If it makes you feel any better, I have been noting some documentation for the bar tacks--at least one side--being worked separately after the main part of the buttonhole is done. Which I think is awesome (of course, since I geek out about historical buttonholes...)!

  3. I went with my family to the 12th night at Crailo this year for the first time, though not in costume. I'm local to the area and just getting started with historical costuming and was wondering if you are part of a costuming group or how you got connected with people to do events. After I tackle a couple of looks from the 1700's I'm hoping to do some Dutch 1600's, and this is great inspiration.


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