Pirate Vest at the Witch’s Castle

Last August I got to enjoy a few weeks of free time before starting my new job. To make the most of the summer, I rounded up my siblings and we had a lot of fun exploring and going out to places we’d never been.

One of the things we did was go down to Oregon for a day and poke around Portland. We tried to hit up Voodoo Doughnuts but the line wrapped two blocks down the street so we moved on to our main activity of the trip:

Hiking to the Witch’s Castle

The “castle” is located in Forest Park and is actually a rest area built in the first half of the 20th century although there are plenty of stories about the area’s sordid history and its supposed hauntings.

It was a gorgeous, easy hike. Only about 20 minutes from where we parked and with lots of scenic areas to enjoy. Much of the structure was covered with graffiti, some less appreciated than others, but there was a pretty sweet witch.

There were two miracles that happened that day:

  1. That this sweet girl made the whole day, there AND back, without needing to go to the bathroom. I don’t know how (or why) she did but we were sure glad she didn’t have an accident in the car!
  2. That my brother agreed to do a photoshoot.

I don’t know what made him agree to it, but I brought along his pirate vest and accessories and he agreed to put them on and pose!

He’s so handsome! Last August he didn’t have any pants to go with his outfit but he sure does now!

I’ll have to find a way to convince him to dress up again so we can get the full effect…


Yo Ho Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Vest for Jake (HSM #6)

For the June HSM challenge, I wanted to take the opportunity to really push myself so I decided to sew a waistcoat for my brother. Before starting, I decided that, no matter how long it took me, I would do it all by hand. I’ve done exactly two, much simpler garments by hand before but I wanted to focus on my technique. I started in the second week of May and finally finished it today – just in time to snap some pictures (albeit in the dark…with flash).

The garment will be worn for Halloween and he’ll get an entire outfit to go with it…eventually. The idea behind his character is that he’s an early 18th century gentleman-turned-pirate so he wanted his clothes to reflect that. This was my first time doing sewing a man’s garment from that era so learning the fashion and sewing techniques of the day was a challenge in and of itself!

I used Simplicity 4923 (View C) for most of it, making little adjustments to the shoulder and back to fit him better. I also completely re-drafted the pocket flaps so that they curved along the top and came to three points instead of being flat across the bottom.

The front is made up of a teal synthetic fabric. It has a wonderfully subtle floral texture that you can see when the light hits it just right. The back and lining is made of brown linen. I know that the backs often had lacing or ties to tighten the garment, but I decided to not add any of it at this point in time. The fit was great just having taken in the side seams a few inches and I can always add it if the need ever arises.


The embroidery is done with material that I had left over from other projects. The gold detail around the edges is left over from my Halloween dress last year and is couched on with yellow floss. The embroidery on the pockets and buttons is done with metallic floss.

One of the hardest parts of this project was all of the buttons. I’m terrified of making buttons and buttonholes; that I’ll mess up and won’t be able to get them to line up and then I’ll have ruined it! I put it off for a long time but eventually there was no way around it so I just held my breath and went for it.

I bought three packs of cheap plastic buttons that were on sale for $0.40 and spent last Sunday covering 20 of them with embroidered pieces of fabric. It took me literally all day. I was very slow at it at first, but I got in a good groove by the end. 

Pictured atop “18th Century Embroidery Techniques” by Gail March — absolutely wonderful!

I sewed them onto the waistcoat that night but put off the buttonholes literally as long as I could. I was working on them until about 10 o’clock on the last day of the month.

I’d made buttonholes from the same era once before, but I was still very worried. I finally sat down today after work and worked my way through them. I’d done plenty of research beforehand and took my time to try to get it all right and, while they’re passable, I know I still have a long way to go.

As a bonus, I had spent an afternoon back in May sewing a neck stock out of a few inches of spare cotton I had lying around. It was a very quick project and I’m happy with it. It adds a lot to the overall look. Eventually I will sew a few rows of ruffles or lace on the bottom to cover the small gap between it and the top of the waistcoat where you can see the ties on the shirt (from his Renaissance outfit from last year) but that can wait.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with the waistcoat it turned out. I’m proud of all the detail I put into it and I would grade myself a solid B on the buttons. At least they all line up and I didn’t ruin anything!

Next up pants for him and some proper photos of the outfit!

The Challenge: Out of Your Comfort Zone (HSM #6)

Fabric: Teal, synthetic fabric & brown linen

Pattern: Simplicity 4923

Year: Early/mid 1700’s

Notions: Black thread, covered plastic buttons, gold trim. Teal, gold, and yellow embroidery floss.

How historically accurate is it? Pretty up there…except for the fiber content. I’d say somewhere around 80%.

Hours to complete: Six weeks, working intermittently.

First worn: Tried it on today. It will be worn for real in October.

Total cost: Pattern and gold trim from stash. One and a half yards of linen for about $6. One yard of teal fabric for about $4. Floss and buttons together totaled about $2. Added up, $12.

1730’s Chemise – (HSM #1)

When I saw that the first HSM challenge was ‘foundations’, I decided that I wanted to use it to make my first foray into the 18th century sewing, which I’ve never done before. Rather fittingly, I’ll be starting with the foundation of my new wardrobe.

The Spring, by Jean Marc Nattier, 1738 © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I spent a lot of time doing research because I started with zero knowledge about this era; just a few general ideas about shape and necessary pieces. It took a while, but I decided on the 1730’s and based my shift’s construction off of the research done by Sharon Ann Burnston and used the painting The Spring (above) as a visual guide.

With all the time I spent doing research, I started really late in the month and had only a couple days to sew it. I swung by Joann’s one afternoon before I had to go to work and bought two yards of 90 inch muslin with a 50% off coupon.

The next night I took all my measurements (on the piece of paper at the top of the photo) and laid out the muslin to cut it up. The fabric was folded four layers thick so the front piece wouldn’t have to be sewn to the back piece at the shoulders and, as it so happened, 45″ was right where I wanted the bottom of my chemise to be so it fit quite perfectly onto the muslin.

I spent the night watching the stage production of Oklahoma! and sewing it all together by hand with cotton thread. I tried to get it all done that night, but, by 4:30 am, I just couldn’t do it any more.

It was going well until I got to the sleeves. I had originally planned to just gather them into cuffs that were loose enough so they didn’t need an opening, but, looking back at my guide picture and re-reading the instructions, I realized that they actually had a small slit up towards the elbow and closed with a ribbon (or cuff-links) through buttonholes. At first I was going to just move past it, but I couldn’t bring myself to and had to go back and re-open part of the sleeves that I’d previously sewn shut.

So it followed me around in a basket for the next couple days as I hemmed the new openings and gathered them in to cuffs. I was a little nervous to do buttonholes for the second time ever, but it turned out alright. At this point I had to face it that I would finish a couple days late but I didn’t want to over-do it on the first entry of the year.

So, in the end I finished two days late but I’m glad that I finished it at all. I had a love-hate relationship with all of the hand-sewing along the way but I’m pretty happy with the final product. If I could do it over, I would have made the sleeves a little fuller, but I think it’s pretty good.

Final Product:

Sleeve detail.
Side detail.

The Challenge: Foundations (HSM #1)

Fabric: White Muslin

Pattern: Made form my measurements using the instructions here

Year: 1730’s

Notions: White cotton thread, pink ribbon

How historically accurate is it? Pretty accurate, I would say. I stuck to historically-accurate methods of sewing and the shape, cut, etc. are right. It’s made of cotton, not linen, but there is evidence of cotton chemises from that time.

Hours to complete: I would estimate 10-15. I need to get faster at sewing by hand…or quit getting distracted by mid-century musicals.

First worn: I haven’t worn it yet. I did try it on once before I added the sleeves to check the neckline, but that was it.

Total cost: Somewhere around $5 because I ended up having a little less than half of the fabric left over. Everything else was taken from my stash.