Functional Yet Attractive Nightwear (part 1)

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Back in my essay on why I sew, I touched lightly on some of the problems of nightwear. Good quality nightwear, for most of the family, is expensive. It is also, unlike almost every other kind of garment, very difficult to find in good condition in the second-hand market.

I try very hard to never buy new clothing. The second-hand market is so huge, so vast, so overwhelming, and so filled with variety, why should I buy new at the mall? I can never find what I like as whatever is in the stores at the moment starts looking alike really fast. The prices seem to be chosen at random compared to the workmanship in the garment or the quality of the fabric. The second-hand market never has these problems.

The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and my personal favorite, the Jubilee Store in nearby Palmyra carry clothes that are from every season from every year, going back through decades and they are priced to sell. I’m not concerned about being trendy, so I don’t care if what I choose was in style 25 years ago. I only care that it looks good on me, fits me well, and that I like it.

Sewing a nightgown of your own lets you be both attractive and warm.

Sewing a nightgown of your own lets you be both attractive and warm.

I sew many of my garments, as well as things for family members, so I can get exactly what I want, I know it’s well made, and I can get it to fit tolerably well. But it has to be a really special garment, since even if I can get the fabric, patterns, and notions for free, my time is still very valuable and sewing well takes time. The more complex the garment, the longer it takes to make it. So I make specialty garments that aren’t easy to find in the second-hand market: distinctive shirts and coats that advertise us as Peschel Press are at the top of the list.

Nightwear falls admirably into this category. Good quality nightwear is expensive, the cheap stuff falls apart quickly, it can’t be found second-hand other than as one step above shoprags, and it generally isn’t that hard to sew! Fit or fine tailoring isn’t important since you want your jammies to be loose, soft, and comfy.

The only nightwear that is easy to find second-hand are kid’s blanket sleepers. These are usually in pretty good shape, other than the feet. This is an easily solved problem, and one that I’ve done a lot, until my kids outgrew blanket sleepers. Carefully rip off the ratty foot bottoms, preserving the shape. Using them as a pattern, trace around them on corduroy or upholstery, cut out the new soles, then sew them back onto the sleeper. The replacement soles will last long past the time your kid outgrows them, so be sure to pass them along to some other family.

If the sole has a toe top, the surgery is slightly more complicated. Rip off both parts, copy the toe piece and the sole, sew the toe to the upper part of the foot, then sew on the sole.

home sewing nightgowns

Nightwear in stores come in two looks: “Don’t ever touch me again” and “Put the money on the dresser.”

The other reason for making nightwear is that, in addition to better quality jammies costing more, it can be hard to find appropriate ones. On those rare occasions that I go shopping, I stop at the nightwear section for ladies. As I mentioned in my ‘why I sew’ essay, this part of the store is divided into two sections: “Don’t ever touch me again” and “Leave the money on the dresser.” Since writing that, I’ve asked all my female friends and relatives and they agree, yes, you get these two choices.

Why the women’s nightgown industry can’t make a nightie that is both warm and attractive is puzzling. Does warm automatically mean not sexy to them? Does the women’s nightgown industry have to add insult to injury to warm nighties by making them out of material suitable only for baby blankies? Neck-to-toes flannel isn’t improved by making it in baby pastels and patterned with duckies. It’s warm, but it isn’t attractive.

Attractive as in attracting the attention of one’s partner. Well, I suppose it does attract the attention and then it repels it with patterns that make one think of babies in diapers. This is not what I want.

The other choice is “Leave the money on the dresser.” This isn’t designed to keep you warm on cold nights (of which we have many in central PA), nor is it comfortable, with scratchy cheap lace or fringe or garter belts or whatever else they’ve put on it. It may be attractive to your partner, but do you feel attractive in it? Particularly if you are older and have a fuller figure? And if you don’t feel attractive and comfortable in the nightgown, then you won’t be as attractive to your partner as you could have been.

So this is where sewing a nightgown of your own lets you do both. You can be attractive and warm. We’ll start with our choice of pattern. I spent some time looking at patterns and most of them, alas, fell into the “Don’t ever touch me again” category.” Neck to toes, no cleavage, little-girl touches such as peter pan collars and dainty bows. I have cleavage so I want to show it off.

Simplicity 1260 pattern an attractive nightgownI settled on Simplicity 1260. This pattern has a high waist seam and a deep V-neck. You can choose several lengths (really, you can always select a length, whatever the pattern, just cut it the length you want) and you can make a shorter sleeve or a longer one. There is also a top and pants option. I chose View D, long sleeves and floor length.

I bought, using my collection of 50%-off coupons, flannel back satin at JoAnn’s in royal purple and icy teal. I bought the pattern at one of their super pattern sales at 1.99 or so. It may have been less, but it wasn’t more. The flannel back satin ended up being $3.50 a yard. I misread the pattern and ended up buying more fabric than I needed in each color. I ended up with even more purple as it was in two pieces on the bolt and I had to be sure that I could cut around the break. If a pattern piece needs an unbroken section 2 yards long twice over for the front and back of the garment, and the fashion fabric comes in 3-yard increments, you get to buy two 3- yard increments and you have lots left over. I had enough of the purple left over to fully line my ivory coat, so it worked out okay.

If I had bought the right amount of fabric, I would have purchased 3 and 5/8 yards of the 60 inch wide fabric or about $13 dollars worth. I didn’t buy any thread, I used what I had, and I didn’t buy any lace as I’ve got a drawer full that needs to get used up. I had the bias tape, not that I was going to use it, and I had elastic. So we’re talking about one nightgown for about $15 in cash plus my time.

I chose my colors quite deliberately. I have a medium beigey skin tone and dark hair. A jewel tone like purple or teal looks good on me. Fetching even and fetching is what I want. I picked white lace for the purple and black lace to trim the teal, again going for high contrast.

Next Week: Digging Into the Nightgown-Making Process