Sew your own: Making a waistcoat from field pants

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A few weeks back I was doing a little thrifting and came across a pair of vintage Norwegian army field pants. Super condition, worn in and undamaged. Mine for a pound. Score! Only, in the same way I don’t wear denim jackets, I don’t really wear field pants either. A quirk of taste or a physical manifestation of an inner sense of style? No idea, I just sense it won’t happen. I do wear army jackets though, and I do like a nice waistcoat.

So what do I do?

The field pants were hanging on the banister in the kitchen though, waiting to be added to the collection in the basement. And gradually an idea came to me. I have made a few waistcoats before, in fact so many that I transferred the pattern to an old sheet for easy. Laying these pieces out on the trousers it was clear that there would in fact be enough fabric to unpick, cut, splice and assemble into a waistcoat. Game on, you might say.

I’ll make no claims to being a lead innovator in doing so. Needles are always cutting up vintage army stuff and reassembling it in odd ways. Maharishi similarly. I’m not sure if I’ve seen either do a waistcoat before though, and I had a couple of ideas of my own. The first was to use as many of the original features of the pants as I could, the second was to demilitarise it. For the first point I reused both rear pockets, the front coin pocket, the fly, the rear darts and used the waist cinches as rear cinches. Where the fabric was double for strength I left it like that.

Even when cut up and reassembled, the army origins of an olive waistcoat are quite obvious to even the least observant of menswearists, and this was a point that was very much in my mind. I’ve previously made the point that when wearing military garments, wear just one piece at a time. We live in troubled times and matters are not improved by dressing up like you’re a member of some outback militia member. So I wanted to make a point of this not being army surplus.

I added lapels. I sense readers recoiling fractions of an inch in awe at this sneaky move, and indeed, it is pretty radical. Apart from dress uniforms, would a designer of utiliterian garb for an army put lapels on a field garment? No, I can’t imagine so either. And to be fair, apart from the fabric and inherited details, the waistcoat is in fact based on a pretty standard suit-style pattern from Burda.

How I proceeded:

If you’re interested in how I went about this, read on. First of all I laid out the pattern on the trousers to see how it might work out. This wasn’t all that helpful, apart from indicating that there was indeed enough fabric, as there was not enough continuous fabric for all of them. In addition, I would need to cut and splice for the front to get the pockets in the right position and the right way up. So the next step was to unpick the stitching on the legs and explode the trousers in to four main parts. I then cut the two rear panels and inside front panels out, each in one piece. The lapels were also easily cut.

For the front though it was trickier and this was a case of cutting out the pocket parts and then adding the bits around to make up the full front. This could be done in any number of ways, so it’s really a matter of puzzling it together. The scars become part of the design, with different styles of stitching, some top-stitching, some worn original stitching, some double layer fabric, some single. At the end of the day I was just pleased when I had the surface area needed. Using the two parts of the buttoned fly was another challenge, as it was curved and tilted, with many layers of fabric in places. I decided to make it more of a design feature than integrate it in a perfect manner, adding more design interest. Reusing the waist cinch tabs and original buttons on the rear also worked out quite an effective detail.

For the lining I used some fairly heavyweight cotton fabric (from IKEA of all places). I’d have liked to use something lighter, not nothing suitable was at hand. The end result is a waistcoat that if not literally bulletproof certainly has a certain heft to it. I wonder if it will work in combo with jeans and tweed? We live in interesting times.

The almost totally final result, before I top-stitched the front.

The almost totally final result, before I top-stitched the front.

Final thoughts:

Something that struck me again and again while working on this was how immensely well made the original trousers were. It took at least a couple of hours just to undo the stitched, as it all properly felled and made to last. Even the pocket constructions were over-engineered to ensure the pockets would be solid enough and be able to carry weight. It’s pretty impressive really, and also makes me question the opinion that the Japanese recreations of classic army wear are of immensely better quality, given that they (obviously) don’t have any budget restraints. How solid do you need your trousers to be?

Addendum:

A few people have mailed to ask whether the canvas was tough to sew and what sewing machine I used. I’m sorry to say I’m not using a vintage machine for this, it’s a quite new Janome “Easy Jeans”, a mechanical machine known for strength and reliability. During this project I broke 4 needles, as going through around 6-8 layers of canvas at times was a little too much for even denim-grade needles.

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2 Comments

  • jay woo 14/10/2017 at 19:36

    Very ingenious and well done……and >>>is that a denim shirt?

    Reply
    • nick 14/10/2017 at 22:29

      Thank you! The shirt is a wabash print Nudie from a few years back.

      Reply

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