The Last Brother



Sophie Davies

(click images to to enlarge)

Outline the story …

"The Wild Swans"/"The Six Swans" goes thus: A stepmother transforms her new stepsons into swans, and their sister must silently weave shrouds/shifts from stinging nettles in to restore them. She falls into peril, the brothers arrive—but one shift is incomplete, and the last brother has one wing forever. It's appropriate, then, that my costume is incomplete. I could not photograph the waistcoat worn—it is full of pins and so, very sharp. I submit regardless in the spirit of being a persistent beginner! I was also inspired by a modern retelling—Michael Cunningham's "A Wild Swan: And Other Tales" (2015)—which details the discomfort of a man socially marooned in a modern city by his wing. My ensemble is an 18th-c style shift/shirt with one sleeve missing—replaced by human-scale swan wing, paired with an 1895 waistcoat drafted from "The Keystone Guide to Jacket and Dress Cutting" as an intentional clash of eras. The waistcoat lapels show stinging nettles in flower, and I intended to use the structured and neat shape of the garment to visually convey the same feeling I had reading Cunningham's text—the delightful surprise, but also obvious discomfort, of a being rendered too awkward for mundane society by magic. The feathers on the swan wing are to scale in size and shape as those of a real mute swan to reinforce this juxtaposition. The 18th-c shirt shape was picked both for the poofy sleeves, which give lightness and a winged appearance, and for its shift-based construction, as in the original tale.

Outline the construction…

I have entered the Beginner section as I have only made one successful garment (a simple rectangle skirt) before, although I attempted to incorporate my theoretical knowledge into this piece—Clearly biting off more than I could chew. I aspire to low/no-waste making, and 100% of materials except for the structural thread (already owned) including elastic, embroidery thread, tulle, interfacing, washers and bolt, wire, linen, the poly/cotton blends, and the buttons for the shirt and waistcoat were obtained secondhand locally, recycled from a past project, or both. For my 18th-c style shift/shirt, I combined historical hand finishing techniques with machine finishing. All gathering was done by hand and the seams were finished with a combination of hand turning/felling and machined French seams to simulate this historical method for speed. I attempted a machine buttonhole for the first time with success! My feather patterns were self-drafted using reference images (thanks to and constructed with two layers of a poly/cotton blend and one layer of tulle, meant to mimic real feathers' structure. They are quilted for added structure and visual detail, but constructed so that the wire can be removed at the end of their life, enabling reuse or recycling. The harness I designed myself with reference to prosthetics harnesses. I took some inspiration on process from Sunnybrook01's wing tutorial on DeviantArt, and from Miss Bernadette Banner in her YouTube overviews of the shift and waistcoat construction processes. My waistcoat was self-drafted (see above) and the lapels were embroidered by hand.




  1. Avatar Rachel Zanoni on March 11, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    The embroidery is gorgeous! The one wing looks fabulous, and I love the shirt.

  2. Avatar Laura Boyles on March 11, 2021 at 10:45 pm

    Magical, start to (almost) finish. The wing! The bright red splash of waistcoat. The delicacy of the embroidery. The perfect shape of the shirt. And I’m off to read the book by Cunningham. Thank you. Best of luck x

  3. Avatar Emily on March 12, 2021 at 9:33 am

    I love the nettle embroidery SO much and when linked with the story I think it’s perfect. I hope you get a chance to finish it off and get lots of wear out of these pieces

  4. Avatar Laura Wemyss on March 12, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Great interpretation! I love the wing.

  5. Avatar Andrea Olinte on March 12, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    What an idea, to do the wing! It looks so cool.

  6. Avatar Carolien van Alphen on March 12, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    I love this story, it was always one of my favourites because it had the girl as the hero of the story. Well done on submitting, despite not finishing you full look. The idea looks intrueging and the embroidery on the waist coat is lovely <3

  7. Avatar Ame on March 12, 2021 at 7:33 pm

    I love the embroidery on the lapels, it’s so detailed and just a gorgeous pattern. The waistcoat is gorgeous, I hope you get a chance to finish it entirely! The swan wing is such a neat piece, I love that you sewed the feathers out of fabric and it’s so cool to see the construction of how it works. Your shirt is also delightfully poofy-sleeved!

  8. Avatar Stephanie Murison on March 13, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    I love your idea to do a one-sleeved shirt to show off the wing on the other side, the gathers on the shirt are delightful and the embroidery on the waistcoat is lovely! Well done for submitting it, even if it isn’t finished, your hard work shows!

  9. Avatar Valerie on March 17, 2021 at 2:32 am

    I love love love this tale, and actually gasped aloud at the one wing! And the nettle leaves. I can only imagine that you felt just like the sister trying to beat the clock!

  10. Avatar AnnaCatherine Sendgikoski on March 23, 2021 at 3:48 am

    Oh, I love that embroidery! The shirt is very well sewn. I love it too! Thank you!

  11. Avatar Annick on March 30, 2021 at 6:11 am

    I love your entry. This fairy tale has always been one of my favourites and you have depicted it marvelously. Such attention to detail in the construction of each item – to be honest, even the prickly unwearability of the waistcoat feels like it fits into the story. Wonderfully done, thank you for sharing this!

  12. Avatar Lizzie Blake on April 1, 2021 at 5:14 pm

    I love your feathers! I also love the waistcoat (pins and all, though I’m sure it’s a lot nicer to wear without pins)! The embroidery on it is absolutely lovely

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