What I wear

The ‘Deco Mermaid’ beach pyjamas

Remember the ‘Deco Echo’ blouse I made back in February? You may even remember the pants I was wearing with it as a 1930s beach pyjama set.  I didn’t tell you about them, because, well, they weren’t actually finished.  And by not actually finished I mean ‘something that I’m terribly ashamed to admit was held on with safety pins’.

Yeah. I confess. I was so rushed in the run-up to Art Deco weekend that I didn’t manage to get the everything remotely properly finished, and the pants were one of the items that were terribly put together, terribly badly finished, and just not OK. (see example below)

But with a 20s/30s challenge coming up on the Sew Weekly  and  a trip home to Hawai’i I had the perfect opportunity to actually make my beach pyjama pants properly.

My inspiration for the garment and the look was the beach pyjamas that were so popular at beach resorts in the 1920s & 30s. They are such an elegant, practical garment, but not what we usually expect from 20s & 30s fashion.

Beach pyjamas on the Cote D’Azure, colourized postcard, 1930s

Beach pyjamas at Nice, colourized postcard, 1930s

My first set of beach pyjama bottoms went wrong because of an under-abundance of time and an over-abundance of engineering. I tried to include a high-waisted un-darted yolk with piping trim, side pockets, a fancy side placket fastening, period-accurate hook fastenings, a symmetrical, direction print,and  french seams all into one garment. I also used the wrong interfacing because I didn’t have the right stuff to hand. Not surprisingly (like the camel with too many straws) the pants rebelled.

The yoke didn’t sit right on my bottom and gaped around my waist, the piping had to be re-done a half dozen times to be symmetrical, the yoke-facing ended up only facing half the yoke, the pockets gaped and getting them to meet the french seams was a nightmare, and the placket was a ridiculous mess. It needed fixing.

For my re-make I took the pants apart apart, ditched the pockets and the fancy side placket, set sun-burst darts into my yoke to make it sit properly on my way-curvier than the ’30s ideal bottom, re-did the yoke facing and a lot of the piping, and re-set the whole thing with a nice, simple, still-period-accurate side fastening.

Whew! Much better! I’m now proud to wear these, and they are a joy to wear. So light and comfortable in the Hawaiian summer, while still looking elegant and dressed up.

Isn’t the fabric fabulous? It turned up at a fabric sale in NZ, and I immediately snapped it up with Art Deco visions dancing in front of my eyes. I wish I’d got more! The print reminds me of scales from a distance — hence the ‘Deco Mermaid’ title.  And it’s a delicious 100% cotton light, draping sateen.  So unusual, but utterly luscious to wear.

Unfortunately my pants still have two problems — I got turned around sewing the hooks and loops into the placket, and I sewed them on to the wrong sides (hooks to back, loops to front instead of the other way around). Gah! I’m going to have to re-do that.

On the bright side, I need to show you where I sat to sew the unfortunately facing hooks and eyes:

It almost makes it all better, doesn’t it?  😉 Those are the woods around my parents house: not landscaped or anything.  The dress I’m wearing in that picture is one I made when I was about 14.  It still fits!

The other problem is that the pants simply don’t fit. I took these photos after two weeks in Hawaii, eating my parents incredibly healthy diet, and running around doing farm chores every day. I’ve dropped a full size. I’m not sure if I want to fix that 😉

The photos were taken by my Mum at ‘the Cove’, a little beach just a 10 minute walk from the family farm.  It’s where we always go to swim, because while it isn’t as big or pretty as other nearby beaches, it has the nicest swimming – it’s deep and sandy.

I wanted to capture both my island as it is now, and the sense of old Hawaiian postcards in my images. The latter was inadvertently helped by my Mum — she forgot her glasses so couldn’t see if the photos she was taking were in focus!

Sigh.  Just looking at these makes me homesick again.  It was the most amazing trip, and it’s good to be home, but I still miss Hawai’i dreadfully.  I can’t have both!



  1. Szarka says

    Had no idea my favorite pants shape had a specialized summer incarnation, and lo-and-behold, it’s a 30’s item! (I seem to be consistent…haircut, literature, etc.) Yours are very inspiring.

    I dunno about this ‘ideal’ thing, that model looking over her shoulder in the orange set has a pretty curvy rear. Possibly curvier than yours. 😉

  2. What a wonderful place to be sewing hooks and eyes! No wonder they ended up the wrong way round! Always good to know that happens to other people, too.

    I can imagine how comfortable the pants are to wear. Pants with yokes sit so nicely – no grabbing round the waist. And they look great – I love the standing smiley photo on the rocks. You look like a kindly Lorelei, about to point sailors away sneaky rocks instead of shipwrecking them. Not that you couldn’t do the other if you wanted to, but you just don’t seem to be that sort of young woman! 🙂

  3. Claire Payne says

    Magnificent! Perfect timing for this blog too as my very own 1930’s beach pyjamas pattern arrived recently and I am planning to purchase fabric when I go to Sydney in November. Do you have any recommendations for fabric? Does anything in particular work well? I love the pattern on your fabric. (Perchance was it from Fabric Warehouse or Global fabrics?)

    How I love a bit of proper beach glamour.

    • Claire Payne says

      Further to my above comment – I should mention that I saw that your beach pyjama pants are light 100% cotton sateen but I am keen to understand the properties of other fabrics which would also be suitable. My choice of fabrics in the past have been my failing. This strikes me as the sort of design that needs something with a good swishy drape.

  4. I love how these pair up with the blue top(s). And you make me think I need beach pyjamas. I’m not a swimmer, and the beaches I visit tend to be at the Baltic Sea… so something to cover up would be nice. 🙂

  5. You know, this may not be a helpful thing to say, but your confession makes me feel so much better about my own pathological inability to finish sewing projects.

    I love the beach pyjamas. I definitely need some of those. They look so comfy and stylish and practical.

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