Monday, May 2, 2011

The Style Dictionary: Yokes

Welcome back to the Style Dictionary! In my intro to sewing class, I often find myself explaining the difference between skirt yokes and waistbands. So what better topic for a post?

Let's start out with the more common understanding of a yoke: a fitted pattern piece set into the shoulder and chest area of a bodice or men's shirt. This 60s housedress pattern lets you see the yoke lines clearly:
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You'll notice that the yoke has gathers below it, releasing fullness into the bust, a common feature on women's clothing. The etymology of the word yoke seems pretty clear; the common definition is "a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together" or "a frame fitted to a person's shoulders to carry a load in two equal portion." Similarly, the yoke on a bodice or shirt is a frame that fits around a person's shoulders.

Yokes were very popular on women's clothing in the 40s, and were an uber-feminine detail on dresses, often accentuated with lace, gathers, and ruffles.
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In fact, Constance Talbot's 1947 book, The Complete Book of Sewing, lists a whopping 8 types of yokes: stitched-in yokes, overlaid yokes, transparent yokes, decorative yokes, scalloped or scrolled edge yokes, detachable yokes, bib yoke effects, and plastrons. Pastrons? Come again? Ah, "yokes worn on the outside of a garment and tied around the waist with a sash, tie, or belt."

Yokes are also quite common on men's shirt backs, and they often have a Western vibe.

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Now, yokes on skirts. Also called hip yokes, these are shaped pieces that are sewn to the top of a skirt. They extend down further than a waistband, and generally start at the natural waist.

They can be shaped, as in this 70s pattern.

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I've been seeing yokes a lot on contemporary skirt patterns, like this simple Vogue design.

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Yokes are generally constructed by seaming them into the bodice garment. Other times, they can be appliqued with topstitching, kind of like how one applies a patch pocket. Shirt yokes often have a self facing on the inside which finishes the seams nicely.

Yokes are a great design feature because they allow you to play with contrasting colors, sheers, laces, trims, or grain manipulation on stripes.

This dress yoke is trimmed in ric rac.

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This lovely blouse uses the yoke to set off beautiful hand embroidery.


I love the playful use of stripes on the dress on the left below.


This mod pattern is so great. I especially love the lace yoke and the contrast version with a bow. Adorable!
Aren't yokes inspiring?

19 comments:

  1. I love hip yokes. For some reason, I hate skirts with a narrow waistband, instead I draft wide, sometimes asymetrical yokes for most of my skirts whether they be pencil skirts or full circle ones.
    Happy yoke day!

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  2. This is a great post, I didn't really know what they were and your post makes a lot of sense. I love the 60's style dresses at the end with the lacey yokes.

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  3. I am trying to wrap my brain around "plastrons". Sounds a bit Flash Gordon, uh, you're to young!!!

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  4. Another great post, Gertie! Would you tell us the pattern no. of that last goodie you posted (the dresses with the inverted V yoke)? Thank you!

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  5. That long skirt with the yoke and the center front split cracks me up!

    Yokes are also what 'defines' the look of jeans versus trousers. Jeans have yokes on the back, trousers don't. The angle of the yoke provides the shaping in lieu of darts. A front yoke is also what makes a classic denim jacket 'look' like a denim jacket!

    Also, putting in a back yoke in a men's style shirt (like the Negroni) remains one of the most mysterious sewing techniques I've ever done! I know it works, I can do it, but I just don't quite understand HOW it works!!

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  6. The very first thing I did in my draping class when given the chance was a dress with a midriff yoke, and a dropped shoulder yoke. Wide waist yoke details are so flattering, and skirts with waistband yokes have added support for those of us with soft underbellies. Another fabulous example of a modern pattern with a yoke is The Crescent Skirt by Sewaholic patterns!

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  7. I agree with sorbetsurprise and Karen L. That 60's dress is fantastic. There'll be a competition for it if you can post the pattern #.

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  8. I love skirts with yokes and most of the skirts I make for myself have 'em.

    Useful and well researched as this post is, I know enough Irish people to find it difficult to read without giggling.

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  9. I had skirts from the Simplicity skirt pattern! As I recall, a skirt yoke such as this allows better adjustments between hips and waistline, but dealing with a seamline in the middle of the zipper is really a pain. I remember skirts in the 80s had yokes going very low down on the hips - look at some of Diana's dresses - these really weren't very comfortable to wear!

    My mom liked yokes in our play and work clothing shirts and blouses because the lengthwise or bias grain stood up to the pull and strain of shoulders and arms.

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  10. I love skirt yokes -- have not had much luck with blouses but this post made me realize that perhaps I should look for yokes in those patterns as well. My successful tops have all been of the peasant variety, probably because my body is curvy in the sense of not having a single flat plane anywhere....I can't wear straight waistbands, for example. So yokes are a good way around trying to fit a curvy figure, and they do allow for greater range of motion and more decorative elements.

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  11. Yokes I knew them well. I sewed them for years in making Western shirts for my husband and kids.

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  12. I have recently rediscovered yokes. In the 1990's many of my go-to-work clothes were skirts with dropped yokes. This permitted a fuller skirt without the bulk at the waistband. The yoke was bias cut rayon, with a sewn in woven interfacing. The Rayon had a beautiful drape and permitted pleating and/or gathering. I have just been experimenting with S 7229 and agree that it is time for the yoke to make a comeback.

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  13. I love the skirt yokes. They seem to look really good on me for some reason. I just bought a new pattern very similar to the vogue pattern you have shown here. Hmm...maybe I should go find that now :)

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  14. Thank you for the thorough yoke discussion. I obviously had not given them the attention they deserve!

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  15. Lol,
    I am a yoke hater!

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  16. Totally off topic....waaaah! I want your book/patterns NOW! I learned that from my 4 yr old GD. I am excited about your book, but pouting because it isn't finished....oh, and add in envy, too.Love your posts.

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  17. Ha! Yeah, they really are!

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  18. I think I LOVE the Style Dictionary Gertie! The non-technical in me (I call most things: bits, thingies or that thing) is so looking forward to Sewing University via your blog!

    xoxo

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  19. I"m curious if the first yoke has a name. I'm trying to find a pattern with a similar yoke and I don't know how to search for it.

    I'm surprised no one has made a yokel joke yet.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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