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"Henrietta Diana, Dowager Countess of Stafford", Allan Ramsay, 1759; Glasgow Museums 3026 (c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Henrietta Diana, Dowager Countess of Stafford, Allan Ramsay, 1759(c) Glasgow Museums. Fur: cozy, but not for me. Also too early.

Winter is bearing down upon us, and while I was not in Connecticut last weekend, nor will I be in New Jersey two weekends hence, I do have winter history plans, barring the proverbial 50 feet of snow, which even a Subaru cannot handle. The Noble Train: I could not resist, for, as regular readers know, I prefer my history to hurt.

Still, I try to avoid cold-related illness and extreme discomfort, so I’m making sensible preparations. Of course, I have not finished my quilted petticoat, and lack the time to make a proper hand-quilted silk under-waistcoat. Reader, I have done a terrible thing: I have compromised.

The saddest part of all of this is that the waistcoat I’m making is the most feminine and luxurious item, and the only item even close to lingerie (aside from shifts) that I have ever made myself, or even own, no matter its inaccuracies. There is a kind of irony built into this project, hence a post while the irony is hot.

Waistcoat. Silk quilted and bound with silk grosgrain ribbon. ca. 1745. V&A Museum, T.87-1978

Waistcoat. Silk quilted and bound with silk grosgrain ribbon. ca. 1745. V&A Museum, T.87-1978

The waistcoat: an item of occasional debate, these are not the most common beast in museum collections. Fortunately, Sharon Burnston has a handy article and pattern posted on her website. To be clear, I am not recreating the Atwater-Kent waistcoat. I am cobbling together my own inappropriate but satisfying item. I am also using the absolutely inexcusable excuse that no one will see this garment, as well as previous bouts of pleurisy after long, cold events in stays when I had the merest hint of a cold. (My boss kindly offered to cup me for a cure when I had to take time off work, but I declined. The look on her face suggested a lack of appreciation for my historic ailment.)

But here we are, “confessions of a known bonnet-wearer” and all that, so onward to the project. I started with Sharon Burnston’s scaled diagram of the Atwater-Kent woman’s waistcoat. The shapes are very similar to a basic woman’s jacket of the period, bonus: loose fitting, no sleeves. It was easy enough to pattern up in an afternoon, with limited fitting (I did test it over stays, just in case.)


The compromises I made are in the materials: pre-quilted silk (with a cotton backing), lined with wool-cashmere, and bound in silk grosgrain ribbon. The size of the diamonds and the machine quilting, plus the wool lining, make this an inauthentic, inaccurate garment. The shape, construction, and binding are at least correct, as far as they go. But the lusciousness of that remnant table cashmere and the soft colors please me immensely, and I do expect to be warm.


This has been a quick project, with the majority of time spent on the binding. As in the Atwater-Kent waistcoat, I’m top stitching with a running stitch on the inside, folding the ribbon over, and hem stitching on the outside.

Will this feel like a hair shirt of shame under my gown, compromise as it is? Maybe, but at least it’s cashmere.