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In the spring of 2019, I was lead costumer for a local high school. They are putting on the production of Once On This Island. Though the majority of the cast is wearing Island type, Haitian clothing, there is a fancy ballroom scene near the end which requires gowns for the females and vests and bow tied for the guys. I have scoured thrift stores and local community theatres for the right sizes and looks, and sometimes I still come up short. Several students need costumes in larger sizes, which have been remarkably difficult to find. When I can’t find the right item, either be color or size, I know to just sew it from scratch. 

Knowing how to copy clothing styles and create your own pattern definitely comes in handy for these types of occasions. Not only do you not have to rely on having the right pattern in the specific size, but you also save money by just creating a pattern from scratch. Here’s how I created a simple, custom vest for a cast member, completing his look to match the rest of the cast.


I take chest, waist, and hip measurements up front and document them in a notebook for reference.I did manage to thrift a white Oxford shirt that fit him, so I used that as my fit reference. The burgundy vest that I borrowed became my reference point for style and design. I lay out a series of computer paper over one half of the shirt sides, and tape them together. I’ve also used Pellon tracing cloth when I have it on hand, which is easier. I notice the cut of the vest and draw with a pencil on my paper where I want that lower “V” to fall. Then I draw how wide I want the shoulder to be, and mark how far below the arm scythe that I want the side seam to fall. I leave a little extra room at the center front so that the vest can overlap by an inch and close with buttons. I also draw it ½” larger on all sides, so that I can account for a seam allowance.


Once I have my proposed design traced onto one half of the shirt, I cut it out. I check proportions and make sure I like the overall design. I use that half template as my pattern to cut out two vest fronts out of a bottomweight material. Normally, and if I wanted this vest to look even more professional, I would also create facings on the inside of the vest. As the quicker version, I serged all the edges and turned them to the inside, and topstitched to hold them down. Most of the time, no stitching is shown on the outside of a vest, so creating a facing would be more appropriate. 

After I had my front vest cut out, I flipped the white Oxford shirt to the backside, and traced half of the back. Since this piece will be cut on the centerfold, I make sure my pattern line runs directly down the center. Then I overlay my front vest pattern and mark where the shoulders and side seams will be joining into the back piece. After I complete my back piece, I cut one out of satin, on the fold.

vest  vest

I attached the vest fronts to the vest back at the shoulders, right sides together, then serged the arm scythe’s and al, the way around the vest edge. I ironed the serged seam towards the inside of the vest by ½”, and topstitched all the way around. I then made four fabric covered buttons with Dritz button cover kit, created buttonholes (I love how my Brother 1850 does them in one step! I never mess it up!), and that completed the vest! 

Check out my other musical costume creations in my gallery.


Joy2Sew is a sewing business specializing in bridal alterations, custom costume creations, sewing lessons, and pdf patterns for children's costumes.

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