Knickerbocker glory

I’m not sure what first inspired me to want a pair of knickerbockers, but I think it was likely some combination of pictures of dapper folks at various Tweed Runs and the gloriousness of Oscar Wilde. There’s a casual insouciance to them, a stylish flair and an opportunity for mixing many textures and colors between the knickerbockers themselves, the accompanying knee-high socks, and the waistcoat or blazer topping it all off.

Shannon standing outdoors in front of an iron gate, wearing plaid knickerbockers, a rust wool vest, and a patterned shirt.

My set began to come together in my mind when I picked up this lovely rust colored wool remnant at the Textile Center Garage Sale (always great for bits of wool!) It coordinated so nicely with the tan tartan I already had in my stash (purchased online for a different project, but not quite suitable).

Shannon standing outdoors in front of greenhouse, wearing plaid knickerbockers, a rust wool vest, and a patterned shirt. Her legs are crossed and her hands in her pockets.

I worked on the vest first. The pattern is the historically-inspired Butterick B6339, a set of men’s waistcoats. Because it was decidedly not made with my body in mind, I did some sort of baffling set of full bust adjustments and dart rotations to get it there. When I say baffling: I am not even sure if I could describe the things I did, trying to maintain the two vertical darts in some semblance of the original pattern while not warping the armscyth too much. It was ugly, friends, and I did not document it.

A close up of the vest, showing gold buttons and a welt pocket.

What results, though, is a vest that maintains the style lines of the original while accommodating my breasts — either in a bra or, as here, in a binder. This dual fitting function is one I’m very keen to explore, and you’ll be seeing more here soon! This was also the first garment I’ve made that feels really good over a binder, not just incidentally okay, but purposeful and affirming. Next I just need to make more binders that also feel affirming and fit well — my pink binder was an exploration into that, but I’d like to do more with shaping and flattening.

Shannon standing outdoors in front of an iron gate, wearing plaid knickerbockers, a rust wool vest, and a patterned shirt.

The knickerbockers, though. The knickerbockers I LOVE. They were, all things considered, a pretty easy make, and they feel so good and fun and happy on my body. I started from a relatively basic high-waisted, pleated-front, wide-leg pant pattern, the Claire Shaeffer Custom Couture 7468. The largest size was too small for me, but I already had it in my stash and the instructions are really nice — a mix of couture and couture-light techniques that taught me a few things! To size it up, I went a pretty lazy route. I needed another inch or so in the waist but around 7 in the hips. So I simply added it all in the darts and pleats, without changing the vertical grainline, which gave me plenty more room through the butt and thighs. Then I just tucked all that extra into the darts and pleats — a great trick when you have a high waist/hip disparity.

A close up of the front of Shannon's knickerbockers, showing stitched-down pleats.

To get that knickerbocker look, I cropped them at just below the knee and added a cuff. The volume of the back side of the pants is evenly gathered across half the cuff, while in the front I added two deep pleats at the side. The cuff is finished with a button — one of these adorable gold equestrian buttons I used for the whole thing. If I were to make another pair (should I?) I’d maybe go for a slightly longer leg, so when cuffed there is more volume above the knee, simply for range of motion. Or perhaps I’d go for the slightly longer and more exaggerated plus-four style.

A close up of the cuff of Shannon's knickerbockers, showing pleats and a gold button.

As the tartan has a loose weave and slightly rough texture, I interlined the entire pants using a polyester lining. If I hadn’t already had it in my stash, I probably would have used rayon bemberg, my favorite these days. However, the poly is slightly heavier, giving these a good heft and making them cozy enough for the cool December day we spent running around Detroit!

Shannon standing outdoors in front of an iron gate, wearing plaid knickerbockers, a rust wool vest, and a patterned shirt.

I’ll definitely be using both of these patterns again. Additionally, I’d love to make another shirt in a simple linen that might bring out the soft hobbit feeling of this outfit (the one I’m wearing here is my much-loved Strawberry Thief!) Additionally, I’ve just enough fabric to make a coordinating blazer, I hope! That’ll be a tailoring challenge, but one I want to take on.

15 thoughts on “Knickerbocker glory

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  1. These look really great, and they sound like satisfying projects as well as successful ones. Thank you for talking about how the vest works with a bra and a binder – having a bust and how it’s distributed is something I’m personally finding hard to consider with clothes, as much as I’m interested in thinking well outside of a binary of flattering and ideal shapes!


    1. Thank you so much! I’m excited to write more about adapting for different chest/bust shaping as garments I can wear multiple ways are becoming really affirming things to have in my wardrobe.


  2. Shannon, I love the whole outfit! I really like the material you chose for the vest and the pants, and of course the strawberry thief! The buttons are fabulous. I collect antique/vintage buttons and I really like yours. You are an amazing seamstress! I look forward to you next project. Happy Sewing.


  3. I adore this outfit! The contrasting prints and textures are so satisfying. You should absolutely make a pair of plus fours, if only to pay homage to the greatest (fictional) boy reporter of all time, Tintin.


  4. Year ago, I had an outfit that was almost this in perfection and I freaking loved wearing it. I adore your knickerbockers and the vest is perfect! Thank you for reminding me of how much I love this look. I might be copying it soon. 😉 ❤


  5. This is great! Did you run into any issues worthy of warning when doing a welt pocket over darts/seams, like the one at your waist? I’m currently drafting a vest that needs to include a functional breast pocket, and the princess seam I’m working with is going to fall right across it no matter what I do. I haven’t had much success finding examples of vests with shaping in this area, so I’m eager to hear the voice of experience. 🙂


    1. Thank you! Actually, it worked pretty smoothly! If the dart is wide enough, you can cut right up the center and press it open, potentially trimming the cut sides if needed. I would say do the same with a princess seam — notch the seam allowance along the curve and press it open so there’s less bulk, then just treat it like usual. Also, this vest and another similar one I’ve made both have you interface the entire front which helps keep the fabric around the welt very stable. You could trim your interfacing so it doesn’t quite cover the seam allowance to reduce bulk as well. Good luck!


  6. I’d love it if you could do a tutorial on how you added the extra to the darts. I know you explained it, but for those of us who are not as accomplished a sewist as you, it sounds complicated. BTW, I LOVE this outfit! The textures and subtle color mixing is delightful!


    1. Do you mean on the pants? I could possibly do that! I didn’t really take pictures as I was going (mostly because it was a lot of trial and error!) but if I make another pair or do something similar in the future I could make up a tutorial. Thanks!


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