*As in a rush, not the undergarment!
This holiday season has been just full of bustle, and the weeks leading up to it were also full of something else…great subterfuge and trickery. You see, it’s quite tricky to sew a present for the person you live with while still keeping it a secret.
In this case, the project was a linen Regency banyan, which is a casual men’s over-garment meant for wearing around the house. Basically, it’s a way of staying very comfortable while still not being embarrassed if guests come by. Attire’s Mind has a great rundown on the history of the banyan here.
What with the sweltering humidity of Louisville summers, Brandon has been desperately wanting a banyan ever since he learned they existed. Since he plays one of the sons of the Locust Grove family, it would be perfectly appropriate for him to wear during casual daytime events, and in a lightweight linen, it will be perfect to beat the heat.
Banyans were a holdover from the 18th c., and while Regency men generally wore solid colored frock coats, banyans were a different story. As you can see above, they came in stripes, dots, and brocades, and that’s not all: paisleys, florals, and patchwork are all represented in extant examples. Basically the sky’s the limit when it comes to fabric pattern, though Brandon did request when he hinted he wanted one of these, that his not be too over-the-top. He’s not a man at home in head to toe paisley, and certainly not in this:
So I set out on a quest for a tasteful, striped linen with enough visual interest to showcase how different a banyan is from a frock coat, while still being something Brandon would happily wear. I went through many options. The fabric I was originally planning to get was from Burnley & Trowbridge, whom I adore, but sadly they had one yard less than required. I was nervous at this point, since I’d discovered in my first search that an irregular, but not over-the-top stripe is incredibly hard to find. Either the stripes are regular, or it’s white with bright green and yellow stripes, or something equally eye-catching. I was about to give up on my dream of irregular stripes when I found the perfect thing on Fashion Fabrics Club. It’s a very light weight linen in a dusty purple (you may think purple would be too much for Brandon, but in fact it’s his favorite color, so I was home free there) with dark blue stripes alternated with subtly patterned beige stripe.
It was perfect, even better than my first plan. I ran it past our male costume director (our friend Brian) with my fingers crossed and he loved it! I sent the package straight to his house to avoid prying eyes.
So that was the fabric squared away, but I still needed to get this thing made. As you can see from the examples, it’s not a small garment that could be easily worked on in secret.
Cutting it out wasn’t a problem, I “worked late” and zipped over to Brian and Amy’s for a cup of tea, chat, and fabric cutting, then snuck the pieces home at the bottom of my enormous work bag. Once safely at home and out of sight I stacked them in the order in which I would need them and hid the stack at the bottom of a box of pillows waiting to be covered for other Christmas gifts.
The main construction all got done in little chunks while Brandon was in the shower, and when he leaves earlier than me for work on Mondays. Occasionally, he would have to go do something on one of the days when I work from home, and I would go “Jackpot! I’ll do this now and work a little late!”
I used the Mill Farm Banyan and Cap pattern, though I borrowed it from Brian, who had already altered it slightly to fit himself, and his altered pattern was perfect on Brandon. Though the pattern calls for lining, I didn’t do this, since the point was to make the banyan as light and airy as possible. All of the seams are French seams, so that they are nicely finished.
The collar is a very simple narrow band, and all the edges of the front are hemmed, since there is no lining or facing to finish them.
Once it got down to the more time consuming hand stitching, I would “stay late at work” and either sew at the studio, or go over and hang out with Brian and Amy. The closest Brandon got to discovery was when I came home smelling like fried onion because Brian was cooking dinner while I was there. It made Brandon suspicious, but he still didn’t know!
Here are the cuffs: They are prick stitched all long both edges to keep them nice and neat, and stitched to the sleeve itself along part of the top edge to keep them hanging properly:
The pattern doesn’t include any kind of closure, but I added 5 one inch covered buttons (though I didn’t put them on until after Christmas, so I could fit it on him first). I covered simple wooden buttons from Joann by gathering one large circle (about 5/8″ bigger than the button) around the front and tying it off. I covered up the raw edges with a smaller circle (about 1/4″ bigger than the button) that I gathered up, flattened into a disk and whip stitched to the back of the button. I could then use the same thread to sew the buttons to the front of the banyan. I backed each place where a button was sewn on, and each buttonhole, with scraps of canvas to keep from pulling on the thin linen.
The pocket flaps are quite large, and didn’t lay nicely, especially considering how incredibly not-stiff the fabric is, so I added a buttonhole at each corner and fastened them down with 1/2 inch buttons covered in the same way. The gap between them is still large enough that Brandon can slide his hand in without rumpling them.
Here’s the finished product, though I forgot to get a back or side view where you could see the pockets.
I managed to get it wrapped and in the present stack without Brandon knowing where it came from, and his reaction on Christmas was a totally worth all of the subterfuge. He was so excited, and proceeded to wear it for the rest of the day. For next year, I guess I’ll have to come up with some new sneaky tactics…