How Exciting Can a Bathrobe Be?

Or – Who Is That Woman in our Kitchen? After well over twenty years of wearing the same ratty old bathrobe (well, it wasn’t old or ratty when I first started wearing it, but the years took their toll on it), I now have a new one. I will admit to being almost unrecognizable in the mornings and evenings now, as I float through the house in my new attire – leading my husband to wonder if a new woman is now making the morning coffee.

I found vintage Viyella wool/cotton fabric on eBay last year. Although only 35” wide, the length available was 5 ½ yards which I determined should be enough for a ankle-length bathrobe. Viyella is a lovely blend of 40% wool and 60% cotton, and it is machine washable. It is lightweight, but warm, very soft, and such a pleasure with which to sew.

The paper labels were still attached to this length of Viyella.

From four bathrobe patterns in my collection, I chose this one for its classic styling, including a wrap front and shawl collar:

I made a muslin (toile) to check on the fit, and then I used the muslin as my pattern, marking the seam lines onto the Viyella using waxed tracing paper.

Because of the narrow width of the fabric, and the need to be precise with matching the plaid in the fabric, I laid out my muslin pattern singly. I had to do this on the floor because of the great length with which I was working. Matching the plaid, although thankfully a very even plaid, took a lot of time – and time on my knees! Ouch!

One of the pattern pieces close up.

And here is one piece with markings transferred onto it. I am used to sewing on a marked seam line, and prefer this method rather than using set seam allowances.

I am always impressed by some of the subtleties in these vintage patterns. This one includes bust darts that descend from the shoulder seams. Also, two small back darts make the fit across the shoulders so much more precise. Both are clearly shown in the diagrams on the reverse side of the pattern envelope.

Click on the picture to see the details.

Also detailed on the pattern layout diagram is the slight flare to the front edges of the robe. I didn’t really pick this up in the muslin I made, but once I was working on the robe, especially in this plaid, which makes a flared seam more apparent, I was very aware of it. It is such a nice detail, making the wrapped front closure more graceful in appearance and offering just a bit more coverage than a straight edge would do.

You can follow the flare of the front edge by looking at the descension of the plaid.

A detail of the back neck edge.

I did make a few changes to the pattern. First of all, I used a fusible interfacing instead of a “sew-in” one (typically indicated on vintage patterns form the 1950s, as this one is.) I don’t use fusible interfacings very often, but I decided this would be a good application for such. I used “Heat n Bond” woven interfacing, ordered from fabric.com, and so far, I am very pleaded with its performance. Secondly, I added another pocket, as I like two pockets on my bathrobes. I also had to lower the placement of the pocket from the lines indicated on the pattern, which were inexplicably high!

Two pockets!

A third change was the elimination of the wide self-binding on the pockets and the cuffs of the sleeves. Instead I used a 1¼ inch self-binding which I cut on the bias. With all that plaid, I thought a little bit of variety would add a nice touch.

A minor fourth change was the addition of fabric belt loops, as opposed to the thread loops called for in the pattern instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the classic styling of this robe. The fact that I was able to use such a glorious fabric for it (contemporary with the age of the pattern, by the way!) makes it even more lovely to wear. Not only am I – yes – very excited (!) about wearing this new bathrobe, I also find it to be an unexpected, but wonderful change of persona for my early morning and late evening hours.

 

38 Comments

Filed under Bathrobes, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

38 responses to “How Exciting Can a Bathrobe Be?

  1. Wow, that is gorgeous! I absolutely love the material and the color is beautiful on you. The design is fantastic and fits you quite well… I wish they would reissue patterns like this. I think it’s super flattering and probably very tempting to wear all the time!!

  2. Mery

    After I saw the weather report I was thinking about you. I put on a jacket before opening your post in case you had photos of the cold that chill me. I know much about hot and little about cold. Glad to see your pretty robe is also cozy enough. It and your morning persona radiate warmth in the photos. I’m sure I’m not the only reader smiling. Glad you had enough fabric for the bias edges. Those, the plaid matching, and the not-slouchy pattern elevate it to the top. The colors will look Christmasy at Christmas and just pretty the rest of the year. Why do we not give higher priority to the wardrobe our loved ones and friends see us in most often! Well, it was comfortable, it still worked, and only something just right could replace it. This is just right. Knees. I thought that’s what the outdoor chaise lounge cushion was for – that and kneeling in the flowerbeds. Thanks especially about what to look for (or alter) in a pattern. All I remember about a vintage robe pattern I put away 40 years ago is that the sketch and the measurements said to wait until I turn into an hourglass with about an 18 inch waist to use them. Now I don’t take pattern fitting so literally. If I weren’t in such a hurry to go outdoors on this sunny, warm day I’d dig it out right now to see if it has yours’ features. Not being smug about the danger for those who must go out, just teasing a little with what I trust is a blessed day for you and whomever you’re snowed in with. I always have a touch of that school holiday feeling in extreme weather. You’ll have the last laugh in a few months when I’m melting (as we say, “in 3 garments and 2of them are sandals”) and you’re modeling a summer dress with complete foundation garments, a scarf around your neck and a belt. Happy sewing in your new robe.

    • Such an entertaining comment, Mery! I have to admit it was very thoughtful of the weather to take such a dramatic turn so that I could – and continue to – enjoy the cosy new warmth of my new robe! So glad to see that old robe go to the trash – it wasn’t even worth cutting up for scrubbing rags!
      Now – I would have used a pillow to kneel on while working out the layout of the muslin pattern, but I was moving around so much, it just wouldn’t work. I probably should invest in some of those knee pads that brick-layers use!
      As always, I love to hear from you!

  3. To answer the question in your title: very exciting and inspiring if it’s you who has seen it! Love that you used vintage fabric from the same era as the pattern.

  4. It looks like quite a challenge with the narrow/long fabric and all the pattern matching – you did it perfectly!

  5. Sometimes you just need to make a utilitarian garment. The fabric is perfect and your use of bias details plus perfect matching elevates this to custom. I know what you mean about needing the seam lines marked. Once I started doing this, I feel like I’m flying blind by referencing the cut edge. Curl up by the fire and stay warm during this storm.

    • Thanks, Mary! This was a fun project and certainly proceeded more quickly than a couture dress project. It’s lovely to make something that gets daily use (at least until it gets hot, which it most certainly will!)

  6. Lovely, and fabulous pattern matching on that plaid! I love the little details you get on vintage patterns like the back darts, who now would be so precise about fit on a bathrobe?

    • Exactly! I have no idea why all those nice little darts and other details are so often missing from new patterns. They help make a much more precise fit and look. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Donna

    Your ability to match plaids is amazing. Great attention to detail

  8. Bernice

    It’s such a gorgeous robe. I love seeing all of the details. It must be so luxurious to wear. Enjoy!!

  9. I love plaids, and this one is a winner for sure!

  10. Jaenice Palmer

    Thou swell, thou witty… That is one sumptuous, warm, and flattering bathrobe–among the best I’ve seen. (Said the girl who spends far too much time drooling over men’s dressing gowns!) I do love me a good plaid, have done for a few years now, and if such a doozy was in my wardrobe I’d swoon over it every day. Right, that does it: Time for me to get one of my own. A bathrobe in houndstooth or pinstripes wouldn’t go amiss either, now I think of it. (Then again, I may have been watching a few too many classic movies starring Katharine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall–or Barbara Stanwyck!)

    Again, loving what you’ve done here. Viva la bathrobe!

    • I highly recommend a bathrobe project. I really loved making this and love wearing it even more! Thank you, Jaenice, for such a flattering comment!

      • Jaenice Palmer

        Bathrobe project? Yes, please–I think I’ll bookmark two or three, while I’m at it. And as always, a pleasure!

    • Marguerite

      Old movies almost always had the star in a great robe! My dad used to point that out whenever we watched one! He was an old Navy guy and you know what that meant in terms of nighttime attire! When he received a beauty for Christmas, he said it was too nice to wear around the house! Even Jessica Fletcher had some classy night time ensembles in the classic movie style on many of the Murder She Wrote episodes.

      • Jaenice Palmer

        If memory serves, Navy guys tend to apply the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) theory to nighttime wear, which is fine, but it does mean they miss out on more than a few sumptuous goodies as worn by the likes of Spencer Tracy and Fred Astaire. Your dad sounds like a character–I knew one Navy vet myself, and while I never saw his choice of pajamas, he favored classic unfussy gear for most days. He did, however, wear such interesting and improbable combinations as a plain black beret with a blazer, khaki slacks, and dark lace-up shoes–go figure!

        But yes, your dad was right: Old-time film stars almost always sported a terrific robe at some point in the film. Rita Hayworth had lacy peignoirs, Carole Lombard had some stunning lounge ensembles in My Man Godfrey, Lauren Bacall had one doozy of a housecoat in Dark Passage, Ingrid Bergman (I think) wore a robe in at least a couple of her films, Grace Kelly had a peach parfait of a nightgown in Rear Window, and of course Katharine Hepburn had the aforementioned houndstooth number in Adam’s Rib. Judy Garland may have had a few scenes in dressing gowns, although I’d have to check to make sure. Too nice to wear around the house? Pfft. If all of us saved our nicest things for special occasions, we’d never have anything worth wearing. Besides which, it beats wearing a threadbare old shmatte by a mile and a half.

      • Jaenice Palmer

        If memory serves, the Navy rule of thumb for nightwear was KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Too nice? Pfft. I have never understood people who squirrel away all of their nice clothes for special occasions only, since that “special occasion” might not arrive for a while yet. But your dad sounds like quite a character!

        But yes, almost all the stars had a robe or robes in at least one point in the film. Rita Hayworth wore lacy peignoirs. Carole Lombard had stunning lounge ensembles in My Man Godfrey. Lauren Bacall had a doozy or three in all of her early films. Teresa Wright, I think, had a couple of sleeping ensembles in Shadow of a Doubt. Grace Kelly had that peach parfait of a nightdress in Rear Window. My favorite of the bunch, Katharine Hepburn, had the aforementioned houndstooth number in Adam’s Rib, to say nothing of the high-necked white robe she wore in The Desk Set. Judy Garland may have had a couple of moments of dressing gown glory; I’d have to check to make sure. Murder She Wrote–will definitely have to give that one a closer look!

      • Jaenice Palmer

        Oh, shoot–I thought my first reply didn’t go through, and now you have two replies at once!

  11. Linda Bryan

    Nice job and good thinking!
    I am an Upper Midwest woman “of a certain age” and I have a long down-filled bathrobe that I’ve had for a very long time. It comes out in fall and stays on a hook in the bathroom until spring. I am often awake in the night or early morning and having a truly warm robe available to grab in the dark (while spouse sleeps) is wonderful. It allows me to be warm without kicking up the heat on the thermostat until morning actually comes. I also have a vintage teapot and tray which join me by my comfy chair on these early morning adventures, accompanied by our local public radio classical music station and a good book. I can imagine how much fun it would be to have your plaid robe!

    • We spend a lot of our time in garments like this, don’t we? Even more reason to wear one you love! And in the Upper Midwest, you really, really need a warm one, too. Thank you, Linda, for sharing your bathrobe story!

  12. Genie R

    I loved this post so much I am commenting for the first time EVER on a blog. I obsessively searched for a robe pattern that wasn’t shapeless, paper doll basic for at least 20 years. I eventually gave up and made a shapeless robe in a gorgeous wool plaid. After reading this I am motivated to go back and add shaping- either darts or sewn down pleats, to manage the waistline bulk. My middle is bulky enough already, don’t need surplus fabric. The Viyella caught my attention, because I made coordinating pajamas from a black paisley Viyella, and they are very luxurious. It took a few wash cycles before the pajamas softened up, very comfy now. I bought the wool and the Viyella at an amazing fabric store on Santa Monica Blvd. near Beverly Hills…. going out of business a number of years ago. I guess my fabric could be decades old as well. My 91 year old mother, who lives with me, routinely shows up to breakfast in a red plush polyester robe with poorly sewn soutache trim. I made it as a Christmas gift in 1977, as a college freshman too broke to buy the coveted but pricey Quiana. Poly never dies, it seems. I expect my robe (and probably yours) to still be in use when I am 91. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I am flattered and delighted with your comment, Genie. Your Viyella pajamas sound wonderful! It really is a luxurious fabric. So sweet that your mom is still wearing the robe you made her so many years ago. I loved reading that. I made my mom a bathrobe for Christmas in 1973 – my husband and I were newly married and on a tight budget, and so I sewed to save money on presents. She wore it for quite a while. It’s rather remarkable to think back over those years and have your memory infused with thoughts of sewing.
      I loved hearing from you – thank you!

  13. You are such a glamour authentic vintage lady. I don’t even have a dressing gown. But if I did I would love this style. I remember in the 1960s sharing a room with a couple of Boston school girls who had exactly these sort of tartan Viyella dressing gowns.

  14. Marguerite

    So cozy and classy! I remember Viyella fabric and seem to think I had made a matching skirt and blouse from it back in the 70s. You have great luck finding vintage fabric gems on EBay. I have quite a few robe patterns stashed away and never get around to making any, but you have me seriously thinking of getting a project going! It may sound wacky, but both of the old movies White Christmas and Holiday Inn have the stars wearing robes I’ve admired for years! Vera Ellen’s white robe with red tassels on the belt is my favorite. You look just as classy in your red plaid!

    • I made a maternity dress out of Viyella in 1980, and the fabric was considered a classic even then. It really is such a good fabric to use for a bathrobe! I feel lucky to have found this piece.

  15. Fabulous! I love the plaid, the colors, and the fit. I have a RTW robe that is nice, but beginning to show wear at the elbows. I suspect your Viyella will not be doing that for many years. I might be inspired to find a nice robe pattern and some lovely fabric now…..

  16. Pamela

    Your post reminded me of all the times I have sewed with Viyella. I am a big fan of Viyella and have sewed many items over the years from it. I started with a baby outfit from yellow duck printed Viyella which my MIL had not gotten around to sewing for my husband back in the 50s. Jubilee cloth by Liberty of London has similar properties. It is 82% cotton & 18% wool and washes like a dream. I made a bridesmaid – British wedding so bridesmaid = child – out of a lovely sprig floral Jubilee cloth. I am holding on to these items for future grandchildren.
    Did you know that your plaid is a Crawford tartan? It jumped right out at me, as my mother is a Crawford and I had a kilt in that plaid. It is such a rich deep color combination.
    Your robe is lovely and the curved cut of the wrap is a detail to remember. Beautiful work.

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