Sewing a Vest

One yard. It seems so little. Usually a yard of fabric is about from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your nose. One yard can come in all shapes, colors and fabric.

  • One pillow case
  • Fabric remnant
  • A short curtain
  • One crib sheet
  • A small table cloth
  • Man’s large shirt
  • Woman’s skirt or a men’s pair of pants
  • Scraps from a previous project
  • Small blanket
  • Suit coat
  • Sweatshirt

You may think that such a small amount of fabric would amount to nothing, but I am telling you now, always save your scraps. With just one yard of fabric, I have created small green dresses for “poppies” in Wizard of Oz to a size 44 vest for Orphan Train. The poppy dresses were purchased fabric, but each dress only used one yard. The vest was an upholstery remnant (60” wide!) purchased for $6 at a fabric store. For the front of the vest, I only used half a yard of the upholstery fabric; I used a cotton remnant for the back. Whenever possible, I used natural fibers. They cooler under the lights of stage and tend to have less static electricity, which can wreak havoc on wigs and other costume items.

Let’s look at vest options. I usually look for patterns at Goodwill or Savers; they are often less than $1. Additionally, I recommend keeping a list of general patterns and patterns specific to upcoming productions. When the local fabric store has a sale on patterns, go through your list and buy what you can. Recently, patterns were on sale for $1 per pattern, with a limit of 5 per customer. I pulled up my list on my phone and started the treasure hunt. I went back multiple days for that sale, buying 5 patterns each time. Also, don’t overlook the discount patterns such as It’s So Easy and New Look. These patterns are usually only simple garments, but in theater simple is often the best solution
And then there are plenty of free patterns on the Internet:

Reversible Vest, size medium (10-12)

Hornpipe (military) Vest scroll down for pattern, there a quite a few free patterns here

Vest, size x-small (4-5)

Sweatshirt vest

Or how to create a pattern:

Double breasted vest

Button down vest

Upcycle vest pattern

Keep in mind; vests do not have to be lined. If you are lining the vest, you will need an additional yard of fabric for middle school and high school sizes. If you are not lining the vest, you will simply need to hem to edges or use a bit of seam tape or bias tape for finish the edges.

If you do not want to use a pattern or do not have time for sewing, your best option is to use an old suit coat or a sweatshirt to create a vest. Go to Goodwill/Savers/Salvation Army/Your Local Thrift Shop and buy a suit coat in the chest size needed. Cutting on the ‘body’ side of the garment, cut away the sleeves about one inch away from the seam. Turn under the armhole seam and sew/glue. Easy-peasy vest with collar, buttons, and pockets. This method is shown in the Sweatshirt Vest link above.

However if you need for an eccentric character such as the wealthy man in Orphan Train or Meeko, the winged monkey in Wizard of Oz, a dark, pin stripe or sweatshirt grey just won’t do. You need color, sparkly buttons and possibly a custom fit.

Here is the vest I created for Orphan Train…

Image of man in vest.

Creating a vest.

1 yard main fabric (I used ½ yard of 60” wide upholstery fabric remnant)
1 yard lining, optional (I used left over fabric from another project)
4 inches Velcro, optional
4 buttons to match fabric, optional
Fabric glue, optional

I created a lined vest with buttons and Velcro closure. The buttons were decorative, to make the vest look like a button down vest. However, I used Velcro closures for quick change options.

After creating/buying/drafting a pattern, cut two front pieces out of the main fabric. Cut two front pieces and two back pieces out of the lining. You can use the same fabric for both the vest and the lining; this will require a total of 2 yards of fabric at least 30” wide.

If you have a pattern, there will be sewing instructions which you can follow. If you created your own pattern, here are the basic sewing instructions:

Finish the edges of all six pieces using overlock or zigzag. Always finish your edges!

Match the front shoulders to the back shoulders, right sides together on both the vest and the lining. Sew this seam. Do not sew the side seams yet.

Match the vest to the lining, right sides together. Align the shoulder seams. Starting at the lower front corner, sew the lining to the vest from the lower front corner to the other lower front corner.

Next, sew the lower back seam. Finally, sew the armhole seam. The only areas left unsewn are the side seams. The side seams are left open so that you can turn the vest and hide the last sewn seam. This video shows this technique around 8:40..

Clip your curves, turn the garment and press.

Match and sew vest fabric only on side seams. You will need to move the lining fabric out of the way as you sew the top and bottom of this seam, so take your time.

Press under the lining seam allowance, using the vest side seam as a guide. Either machine sew or hand sew the side seams. (Use the video as a guide for this process if you are going to machine sew this seam.)

There are times when the side seam closure is a bit fussy-usually when I am sewing a fabric like satin. In those circumstances, I do sew the side seams after sewing the shoulders. Instead of leaving the side seam open, I leave about 3 inches along the side of the back seam. This still allows me to turn the garment. Then, once the vest is turned, I press the seam under, matching it with the rest of the bottom of the vest. I follow this with a top seam all the way around, including the previously open portion. Sewing the side seam method does allow you to hide the stitching, but it can be tricky when the fabric is sliding all over the place. Rather than hide the stitching, I incorporate the last closure with the top stitching.

If you are going to add buttons, I highly recommend skipping buttonholes and using Velcro. It allows for quick changes and you are less likely to pop a button during the change. I also recommend using a fabric glue (make sure it is washable!) to attach the Velcro. This eliminates small sewn squares running down the front of the vest. You may have perfectly matching thread, but trust me, these squares will be visible under some lights on the stage.

First, position and sew on the buttons. Use this opportunity to embellish! If you are sewing a gender specific vest, here are the rules for the overlap (as viewed when looking at the garment on the hanger)…

Boys/Men: Right over left, right panel on top
Girls/Women: Left over right, left panel on top

Next, position the Velcro behind the buttons. I usually cut out all the Velcro pieces and start with the soft side (loop side). I position this directly under the buttons and glue it in place. This accomplishes two things. First, it hides the button sewing so nothing can catch and break the thread. Additionally, the glue will also glue that thread. Second, when the vest happens to be open, the soft side is facing the skin and/or leotard and will not catch or scratch. Wait at least an hour for the glue to set.

Now for a neat trick. Press the scratchy side (hook side) to the loop side. One at a time, apply glue to the exposed back fabric of the hook side. Carefully align the fabric, lapping one side of the vest over the other, matching top and bottom. I usually start with the top and pin it in place and then glue the first square. After the first square has glue on it, put a pin under that square, between the buttons. Put one more pin above the second square, between the buttons and add glue to the second square. Move on to the next button until the last pin is holding down the bottom edge. Go away and leave it alone until the glue sets, usually about four hours. Do not be tempted to move it or you will undo all your hard work!

Voila! One completed, custom made vest.

Construction time (not including gluing): One hour.