Do you have a box of old clothes that maybe don’t fit or you don’t wear much any more? Perhaps they’re old favorites or sentimental pieces or just clothing that has stood the test of time and you still have them. I do. It’s filled with the first jeans I ever made, a dress from ninth grade that fit through multiple size changes, pieces of uniforms my Dad wore, and a fleece vest from high school. That fleece vest is from L.L.Bean, and my parents bought it for me when we first moved to Massachusetts. Everyone was wearing L.L.Bean and they didn’t want me to feel like any more of an outsider than I already did. I loved that vest. I felt good when I wore it.
I still have that vest packed away, even though it doesn’t quite fit any more. I love a good vest, and I have several, but none quite like that. I got one on sale a few years ago from a different store, but the fleece was inferior, and it soon pilled and looked…not great. I wanted a replacement in high-quality Polartec fleece.
My brother got me the Green Pepper #507 Plush Polar Jacket & Vest pattern in 2021, and my husband gave me the fleece this past Christmas. It was time to make a new vest, and I was really looking forward to it.
Sadly, I didn’t really enjoy making this. Surprising, right? I love Green Pepper patterns because they allow me to make all the classic outdoor wear I find in places like L.L. Bean, Patagonia, and REI. I love sewing fleece, and I have done it most winters for the past several years. And yet, sewing this was Not Fun.
Problem number one was that I second-guessed the directions. The Green Pepper writes really good directions, and I should have just followed them. That doesn’t mean they can never be improved upon or altered and that the patterns can never be hacked. It just means I should have known better and trusted what was there. Problem number two was that it’s not always easy to sew over bulky and sometimes uneven layers of fleece, even when you have all the right tools. Sometimes you have to try and learn, which means struggle.
This pattern is made to be sewn on your sewing machine, no serger necessary. I really wanted some extra secret colors on the inside, so I serged a few seams that would be visible inside.
Sometimes my choices to serge were good (extra colors!), and sometimes I thought I could be smarter than the directions and add in serging, which ended up causing problems later because I had cut off seam allowance I should have left on or something like that. I also had a lot of trouble topstitching over multiple layers, even with my walking foot, as things would slide around. While you usually don’t need wide seam allowances on knits, there were times when I wondered if a 5/8″ seam allowance would have been a good idea because you would have (maybe) had more even layers to sew over.
Here are some things that did help me with this project:
*My walking foot was great. This is a foot you can put on your sewing machine that helps your top and bottom fabrics feed through your machine at the same rate so things aren’t sliding around.
*I used a 12/80 ballpoint needle in my sewing machine.
*I hand-basted my zipper, and I hand-basted my collar seamlines and facing in place before sewing down the facing that covers the neck seam. I sewed it down from the inside on both facing edges.
*I checked out the book Adventures with Polarfleece: A Sewing Expedition by Nancy Cornwell from the library (copyright 1997), which helped me change up the bottom of the vest from a hem/casing to a “Lycra Wrapped Edge” (I used “The Cheater’s Way”). I trimmed off one inch at the bottom of the vest where the hem would have been and used the recommendation in the book of a 2″ x 43″ strip of nylon/spandex for my size to finish the bottom edge. I should not have zigzagged the bottom of the vest before applying the nylon/spandex. It would have been better to skip that and just use the book instructions. After fixing that issue, the bottom looked kind of wavy, but once fully finished, it was fine, especially when wearing it. I hand-tacked the corners of the nylon/spandex to keep them perfectly in place. This book has lots of other great tips as well. I hope to pick up a used copy of it at some point. She also wrote two other books on sewing with polarfleece.
*When I got really frustrated, I put this project in time out until I thought things through and had potential solutions to the problems I was having. Taking a break really helped me calm down and figure things out.
Here are a few more details on supplies and sources I used in case you are thinking of making this for yourself:
+fabric (main): Polartec Thermal Pro: Large Clump Shearling/Small Clump Shearling in “Whisper White” from Mill Yardage; 100% polyester, 68″ wide; could this be a Polartec 300 weight?
+fabric (accent): nylon/spandex tricot matte swimwear fabric in “Pink Lite” from my stash, originally from Spandex by Yard; 80% nylon/20% spandex, 200 GSM, 58″-60″ wide
+zippers: YKK #5 molded plastic zippers (jacket and pocket) from Wawak in “lavender”
+thread: 100% polyester thread for sewing machine and serger (I go back and forth between Gutermann and Coats & Clark, depending on who has the best color for what I’m sewing or what I have in my thread stash)
+hanging loop: grosgrain ribbon from my stash, probably made of polyester or nylon
+size: large; I chose based on my measurements; this fits with a fair amount of positive ease
+wish I had: a cute little tag to go on the outside; I’m trying to come up with a design I like and then maybe I’ll have some made.
After wrestling my way through this, here is what I think. This is a great pattern. There are a lot of possibilities for hacks if you want to change things up, copy high end vests or jackets you see in stores, or create things based on your own designs. If I needed 20 vests and jackets, I would have a lot of fun making different iterations of this with cool details and trying out different things. Since I don’t need 20 vests and jackets, I’ll leave the experiments up to you. Your first try may be a little challenging, but maybe not. Either way, it’s definitely a valuable pattern.
All this learning was not only to benefit this project. After this was done, I made the jacket version of this pattern, which I hope to share with you soon. You’ll be happy to know it went much better, thanks to my struggles here.