Monday, November 19, 2012

Field Trip!

I spent a fantastic weekend with my pal and mentor Henry Cooke, helping at a workshop for 18th century regimental coats. Participants got a coat kit, cut to their size, and two days of expert help in sewing and fitting. This is how I learned to sew all those years ago, and I picked up some new tricks which  I will share in the months ahead.

Henry dressed three reconstructed figures of George Washington at various ages, that really have to be seen to be to be believed. He is one of the most skilled period tailors in the World. He also collects period clothing made by drunken and sober tailors alike. Needless to say, I worked for free.

Even my stuff looks better than this thing:

Made from horrific sandpaper-like broadcloth, this late 18th-century French jacket is unlined, and has sleeves similar to an early waistcoat. Henry thinks the neck shows signs of a military heritage. If so, it is a perfect example of recycling and reusing. The English definitely had their neighbors beat in the wool quality department.

The interfacing bits are random pieces of broadcloth (cut off pleats?) One of the pocket bags has adorable cross-stitch initials on it. A closer look reveals more curiosities:

There is only one working buttonhole in the front of this coat. Each pocket flap has THREE working buttonholes (bad neighborhood?) Francois must have had a nice waistcoat to go under this. Aside from the olive buttonhole thread, I love the fact that a poor guy has fake buttonholes on his work jacket.

ALSO: broadcloth covered buttons? Sounds like a huge pain in the ass, which means I'll have to experiment. Now if you were to leave my rum-soaked shop and go to the good part of town, you might see something like this:

This frock coat is made from Nankeen, produced in what is now Nanjing. The embroidery is likely Chinese, done before the coat was assembled. And yes, it is lined in hot pink silk. Yet ANOTHER example of how the Victorians ruined everything. The cotton textile is so narrow, the garment has multiple side seams. There are surviving 18th century embroidered "kits" for coats and waistcoats, that tailors could cut out and assemble.

Here is what the top of a pleat looks like on the inside. Water stains appear at the back vent. I can only image how pimptastic this coat looked when it was new. It has worked buttonholes and center back, reverse pleats like the linen coat I made (but much nicer.)

Nankeen was so popular, the natural warm color was widely copied by dyeing ordinary cotton in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's nice to see the real deal up close. I leave you with a few more pictures of this amazing coat.

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