Close up of reversible vest.

A Tale of Two (and a half) Basques

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December, eh? 

Wow…one minute, you’re watching the leaves change as you navigate some intense, real-life priorities, and next thing you know, the end of another year is on the horizon. Fewer and shorter sewing sessions means I’ve missed two full months of posting, but this last entry of 2021 is going to be a three-piece outfit Super Post. Let’s get right into it!

A woman with read hair wears black corduroy vest and pants with a poufy-sleeved purple and brown print blouse.
Back view of red-haired woman wearing black corduroy vest and pants with poufy-sleeved purple printed blouse.

When Madeline of Stitch Witch Patterns came out with the Basque Blouse and Dress earlier this year, my Delorian mind was immediately transported back to high school. If you were at a prom or wedding in the 80s to early 90s, you couldn’t fling a pastel scrunchie without it grazing at least a dozen poufy-sleeved, sweetheart-waistlined, satin  extravaganzas. I never wore one of these myself, but since I worked part-time at a fabric store my junior and senior year, the number of Jessica McClintock Simplicity patterns I sold between April and June was off the charts. I’m at that age when the fashion of my teens is making a second round (I mean, even scrunchies are back), and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. But Madeline’s design is also reminiscent of the traditional Basque dress hailing from the Spanish-French region that made its way into Victorian silhouettes, which is what drew me to this pattern. And since I refuse to give up on the dream of having a complex, multi-episode arc on a period drama, I listened to that little voice that whispered, “If you make it, it will come!”.

A woman with read hair wears black corduroy vest with a poufy-sleeved purple and brown print blouse.

This pattern comes with so many options — dress, blouse, sleeveless, short and long sleeves, full or regular bust — and the bodice takes on a completely different look depending on whether you put sleeves or not. That sounds like a ridiculous statement (any top looks different without sleeves…duh), but to me, the whole vibe is different with this one. That’s why I decided to do both a puffy-sleeve blouse, and a vest hack. A quick read through the instructions convinced me that it would be a shame not to make the vest reversible. Hence…two and a half Basques.

A red-haired woman wears a poufy-sleeved purple print blouse.
A red-haired woman wears a poufy-sleeved purple print blouse.
Back view of a red-haired woman wearing a poufy-sleeved purple print blouse.

For the blouse, I used a cotton poplin that I got in Paris at the famed Marche St. Pierre fabric store a decade ago. I found the colour combination and the vintage-y floral pattern to be really unique. For years, I’ve been kicking myself for not buying more, as there were so many dress patterns I came across for which two metres just didn’t cut it. I used a little bit for pocket lining here and there, but mostly it languished in my stash until this blouse. I had just enough, and I think it’s a match made in heaven. After making a quick muslin of the bodice using the full-bust pieces, the only adjustments I made were lengthening it one inch and flaring out the side seam a little to accommodate it going just past my waist. Madeline’s instructions are so clear, this came together in no time.

Detail of red-haired woman wearing black corduroy vest with purple and brown printed blouse.
Detail of black corduroy vest with purple printed blouse.
Back detail of black corduroy vest with purple and brown printed blouse.

The vest is where I got to have some pattern-hacking fun. I wanted it a little shorter, so I took one inch off from the original length. I also decided to convert the darts to princess seams for a few reasons:

  1. I was using corduroy for one side, which meant darts would be bulky.
  2. I planned to use most of the corduroy for a pair of pants. Even though I was pretty sure I’d have enough leftover for the vest, splitting the front into more pieces gave me more Tetris-ing options.
  3. I was making it reversible, and the fabric I wanted for the other side required complete weft interfacing, which would have meant even more dart bulk.

I learned how to do this conversion from the Bodice Sloper class by Suzy Furrer on Craftsy, which I highly recommend, but there’s also a great written tutorial here on the Cashmerette blog.

Sketch of poufy-sleeved blouse and black vest.

When I was sketching out the vest in my sewing journal, I was trying to think of how to make it look more like a vest and less like just a sleeveless top. That’s when the angles came into play. It’s amazing what a tiny cutout can do! As I was testing it out on the muslin, I got a little triangle-happy and added another one to the back waist to echo the front neckline. What got a bit tricky was figuring out how to maintain a nice front waist point while extending the panels to accommodate buttons and buttonholes. On a normal vest, if there are points at the waist, it’s usually a pair of them and they are not smack-dab at centre front. Having them overlap to form a single visual point meant that my extension had to be a little wider, so my buttons and buttonholes are a wee bit further from the edge than I’d like, but other than that, I’m really proud of this thing!

A red-haired woman wears a grey vest with black top and pants.
Close up of grey vest and black top.

For the reverse side, I used a leftover chunk of linen that I originally used to make this Coffee and Thread Celia Top. It needed a bit more body to make it vest-worthy, so it got the full weft interfacing treatment. Since I obviously want to wear this on both sides, I couldn’t to the understiching along the neckline and armholes that would have happened if this were just a lining. I haven’t done a whole lot of hand stitching, but this was a perfect (read: small and manageable enough) opportunity to try my hand at some pick stitching! For curious souls, this is basically a tiny running backstitch that’s often used to secure facings to seam allowances so they don’t flip out, but it can also be used to install a zipper or as a tiny decorative topstitch. I chickened out of using a higher contrast thread colour and opted for black so my many irregularities would be camouflaged, but you know what? I actually quite enjoyed it! My morning coffee was never so meditative, and I love the true handmade character it gives. 

Detail of grey vest with black pick stitching.
Detail of grey vest with black pick stitching.
Right side with pick stitching, left side without. Love the subtle dimension it adds!
A red-haired woman leans against a metal fence wearing a grey vest and black top.

I think it’s pretty clear how thrilled I am with my little vest project. Let’s bring this outfit home with some pants!

A red-haired woman stands in front of palm trees wearing a grey vest with black top and pants.

I’m calling these my Jenny Landers, which sounds like the name of an HOA president who has a LOT of opinions about your landscaping, but it’s just my mashup of the Lander Pants by True Bias and the Jenny Trousers by Closet Core Patterns. I’ve had the Lander pattern for so long, and this black corduroy for a couple of years now, but this was one of those projects that lived so clearly in my head, it was almost like I had already done it. Except…I hadn’t. So I did. I wanted these to fit both casual and slightly dressier occasions, so I used the Jenny pattern to switch the front patch pockets to slash ones. I also preferred the rounded back pocket to the Lander’s square ones, and a zip fly to a button fly. It was pretty simple to trace off the upper part of the Jennys and true it up against that of the Landers, and make some minor adjustment to the Jenny pocket pieces. I’ve been slow to get on the high-waisted pant train, but I have to admit, the fit of these has kind of won me over. 

Back detail of black corduroy pants.

I didn’t intend to make a mini capsule wardrobe, but this outfit looks so good with so many different tops and blouses — or none! — underneath, I think I’ve ended up with exactly that. Plus, if I’m ever invited to a Renaissance Fair, I’ve got just the thing!

Profile of red-haired woman wearing black vest and pants with purple and brown printed blouse.

Alrighty, then. Time to get back to the holiday gift sewing and cross my fingers that I can get to the post office in time! I hope everyone is being good to themselves and each other. Maybe this year you finally got to travel, dress up for Halloween, see family and friends, or enjoy a big, hearty meal with loved ones. Maybe you’ve gotten clarity on what’s truly important to you. Maybe you’re floating in an in-between space. It’s all good. Things may not have settled into a ‘normal’ yet, but let’s raise a glass to progress, to resilience, to care of ourselves and others, and to the creative spirit in every one of us!

Much love and joy to you and yours in 2022 and always.

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