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Mark Lester as Oliver Twist in the movie, "Oliver!", in  1968.

Mark Lester as Oliver Twist in the movie, “Oliver!”, in 1968.

One of my sons was in a recent production of Oliver at school, and I decided to make him a quick costume for it.

There are many online instructions for putting together an Oliver costume, but generally speaking there are four components:

  • a shirt,
  • pants,
  • vest
  • and cap.

Optional extras include braces, jacket, black shoes, a scarf/cravat … and dirt!

Shirt

I bought a normal white button-up business shirt from a second-hand shop and unpicked the collar, that is, the “pointy” part.

The shirt with the pointy strip of the collar removed.

The shirt with the pointy strip of the collar removed.

Then I sewed the neckband back together, making sure all the raw edges were tucked under. The shirt ended up being quite long, as it was a small adult size, so I roughly cut around the bottom edge so it didn’t look too ridiculous!

Pants

I decided not to worry too much about making pants, so he just wore a brown pair of cargo drill pants that we already had at home, with the legs rolled up to his calves. Many boys in the Victorian period had matching pant/vest/jacket suits, so making something from the same material as the vest is always an option.

Vest

For the vest, I used newspaper for the pattern pieces and held it up to my son’s body and cut it out. There were two pieces, a back panel (to be cut with the centre back on a fold) and a front panel (with extra at the centre front for the button placket). Just remember that the centre front and the centre back need to be placed on the grainline. Grainlines generally run at right angles to the waistline.

The newspaper pattern I drafted. I have marked the centre front and back.

The newspaper pattern I drafted. I have marked the centre front and back.

This is a useful video tutorial on how to make a very simple vest. You can easily make adjustments to it to suit a different style of vest.

The vest front, shown with the shirt and pants.

The vest front, shown with the shirt and pants.

I had bought a large man’s button-up shirt from a second-hand shop, made from a heavy, thick woven cotton. I used this to make the both the vest and the cap. The vest is not lined, but is backed with black bemsilk.

Cap

After unsuccessfully scouring second-hand shops for something suitable, I resigned myself to having to sew a cap. I used the free pattern and tutorial provided on Clevergirl, and set to work. This cap was made from the same heavy cotton material I used for the vest, and was lined with black bemsilk.

The cap

The cap

This cap is probably a tiny bit floppy for the purpose, but it can easily be adapted if you prefer the panels to be smaller.

The good thing about this type of costume is that it can be used for a number of characters, including Gilbert Blyth (Anne of Green Gables). I am always on the look out for easy, versatile book-character costumes to use for Book Week!

Related Posts

Dress-ups for a Girl – an 18th century costume

Dress-ups for a Baby – an Edwardian costume

Sources and Relevant Links

How to make a simple vest – Youtube tutorial

Newsboy Cap: Pattern and Tutorial – by Clevergirl

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