Friday, November 29, 2013

Odds and Ends

Happy Holidays! So much work to do. ANOTHER IMAX film opportunity next week. I love emails out of the blue. Where to start... How about at the end? Remember this thing?

It's the early 19th-century equivalent of a clip-on tie. I added a strap and stock buckle from my collection, and two folded strips sewn at one end. Some of the original stocks I've looked at have bows or knots stitched to the front (even backwards tails proving they weren't tied so much as built from pieces.) I'm going to leave this one loose so I can change it as the mood strikes me. It feels like a neck corset, and I can actually see stars if I hold my head the right way.

Here is something cool for all you 18th century Northerners and Francophiles as the temperature drops:

Comfy and practical, straight from Mr. Diderot. He says these Chausson were knitted from wool or linen thread by Canadians, or made from cloth. The pattern looks like this:

I was turned on to these by a friend who has a fantastic site on 18th-century Native culture here. Check it out if you have any interest in the frontier and honoring the history of the people who were here before us. Next time, construction details of a simple 18th century great coat, perhaps the first time I have worked on winter clothes during winter. Meanwhile, tying a barrel knot is much easier if you aren't wearing it:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Drunk(er) Tailoring

Well THAT was fun.

I destroyed my first pair of gaiter-trousers and my favorite shoes, but it was worth it. Not allowed to talk about it. Let's just say I understand why Peter Jackson likes Red cameras so much. Considering I only do living history a few weekends out of the year, I've finally reached a solid year of campaigning and it is time for some new clothes. Even my patches have patches.

Making overalls is a PITA. Trying to keep the seams straight on the legs is tiresome. It turns out I may have been doing it wrong all these years. Take a look at these nicely preserved trousers at the MET. The dating may or may not be right. The outseam is nice a straight, probably follows the selvage. The inseam is where all the fitting takes place. It looks like it meanders quite a bit. Clever.

Perhaps I have been too careful, despite my drunken intentions. Which brings me to terrifying thought: how bad did the British Army look in the 18th century?

Corporal Jones of the 13th Foot was drawn by William Baillie in 1753. His uniform is remarkably rumpled for being on a recruiting party. I'm beginning to think even my level of skill is too good for the King. We know that every soldier was generally entitled to a new coat every year, so making them must have gotten as close to mass production as possible.

Pieces were cut in several sizes economically and quickly, and handed off to poor women to assemble. Not tailors. Here is an interesting bit from the Old Bailey. I'm guessing Melckisideck didn't eat that day. So the faster you make coats the more money you get. Can I bring myself to use four stitches per inch?

This should inspire anyone to take up making 18th century military clothes. If it doesn't get laundered regularly don't waste time with fine stitching. The few surviving originals seem to bear this out: Redcoats looked good at a distance.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


The 1758 Forbes Campaign will always be one of my favorites. Pants are optional, no uniforms for the Virginians. Instead, there is comfy Indian dress. Shooting with paper cartridges and the powder horn, while moving quickly, is great practice.

Bad news: the company that produces the collar eagles for the Oxford Light Infantry uniform no longer make them. Thank the FSM, I know one of the best period metal smiths in the country. Ward Oles of At The Eastern Door makes fantastic 17th and 18th century trade goods. He copied some of my orphaned 18th century sleeve links, and can hopefully rescue me with some eagles. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I brought in another expert to consult on the OLI leather forage cap bill. the cap went together quickly, so I started on the white jean cloth trousers. Not terribly practical, those. My second attempt at early 19th-century trousers should be easier than the first. I find myself referring to these earlier photos often.

So here are the right fronts. The bearer, at left, is resting on the fall, which just sticks up at top. The entire right of the photo is taken up with the cotton pocket bag. MUCH easier to attach all this stuff before putting the pants together.

Next, the outside leg seams are done and the waistband goes on. That way, all the fitting can be done in the crouch and inside leg seams. With my corkscrew legs and the high waist, this is essential.

Until then, behold the splendor of Massachusetts militia headgear in the first quarter of the 19th century. Surprisingly practical considering the silver tape. Fingers crossed for eagles and stain free pants in the future.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Winter Soldier

After seven years of fighting, The survivors of the 7th Regiment of Foot evacuated New York in 1782. They had lost two sets of colors and left fallen comrades from Quebec to Charleston, and Savannah to Monmouth. I greatly enjoyed recreating their late-War Winter uniform.

Ignore my socks showing through the overalls. I'm thinking
about adding some tabs to hook the weskit to the
overalls in the front.

A good view of the hooked skirts on the coat. My pack straps should
probably be tighter, but the other gear is right where it should be.

The bayonet plate doubles as a belt buckle for earlier impressions. If you
look closely you can see white dust from all the pipe clay on those belts.

The two epaulettes with tape are something the unit added while I
was making the coat. A nice addition.

Rockin' the forage cap.

Obviously, the white Russia overalls are worn in Summer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I received an offer I could not refuse. These crack shots are the Oxford Light Infantry. They can be seen at Old Sturbridge Village, and represent all that is sexy and good in New England militia from the first quarter of the 19th century.

All their brass plates and buckles are silver plated. Their coats and trousers are the latest European military fashion, and look at that shako. What could be more Federal than putting eagles on everything?  Needless to say, I need to see what this is all about.
My obsession with fatigue caps gives me an easy place to start. A painted leather visor and silver tape really set this thing off.  Did I forget to mention my deep love of wheel hats?

The OLI fatigue hat is more of a muffin than a wheel, with the top gathered, but it is super easy to make.

The band is slightly bigger than the wearer's head and has a linen stiffener in it. Here it is inside out. The bottom edge is turned under and stitched to the linen.

I ordered some 4 oz. leather to make the brim, and Derek Heidemann was kind enough to supply me with patterns, silver tape, and buttons for the coat. Remind me to pay that guy.

Here is the top of the cap with the cotton lining part way in. I am going to get Taylor Shelby to help me gather this to the top of the band. It can't be TOO different than covered buttons, can it?

I haven't decided if the tape goes next or the bill. The last step is to add a cotton band liner for my giant sweaty head.

For those paying attention, I haven't forgotten about the stock. Here is the silk slowly covering the outside. The buckle will come from an 18th century repro I no longer use. No stains yet, but those wrinkles are handsome.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Neckstock

Ah, the Federal Period. Let's call it what it is, shall we? None of that Regency nonsense. Good whiskey and seegars for all Americans.

I recently returned from one of my favorite places: Genesee Country Village. If it was a collection of early 19th century buildings, that would be enough. The town spans the century, has a fine museum and even a balloon. Nothing like sleeping in a barn, eating in the tavern, and toxophily to refresh the spirit.

Time to return to the most vexing subject of the era:  the cravat. Drunk tailoring requires a degree of perfectionism, but barrel knots and creases are a pain.

What about a stock? The military loves them. I'm guessing this is the equivalent of the clip-on bow tie for the busy Federal gent.  Lots of interesting construction details here, and the box is killer.

A pattern based on this shape is unsurprisingly uncomfortable. Also there appears to be no knots or frills on this specimen. Lucky for me Genesee has TWO of them in their Men's Accessories display (did I say I love this place?) Both have faux tails and cute knots on the front, and a cutout for the chin.

Here is mine with several layers of buckram, wrapped in linen and the chin notch added. It is with great trepidation that I started using silk for the first time. No doubt it will be covered in beer and bloody fingerprints before completion. Next time, a buckle and a barrel knot I only have to tie once--huzzah!

Monday, May 27, 2013


Okay, they're tight, but they're supposed to be.  Overalls or gaiter-trousers are a unique late 18th century military garment.

Previously, breeches were worn with stockings and separate leggings or gaiters. Around 1777, both American and British troops switched to hemp or linen varieties for Summer and Redcoats often got brown wool in Winter.  

Stylish as well as practical, the British wool overalls had horn buttons at the waist and fall. Unlike breeches, small horn buttons stretch from calf to ankle, toes cover the shoes, and stirrups hold everything down.

The back is gathered and laced, as with breeches. Overcast stitches cover the eyelets and linen tape makes adjusting the waistband easy. A small pie-shaped insert fills the gap.

The seat is just baggy enough to allow the wearer to sit, since the legs are "snug without constraint."

The fall is lined with linen for comfort, and one vertical button hole attaches to the lowest button on the waistband. The waistband is also lined with linen.

The front looks pretty ridiculous, but these are the only large horn buttons I have at the moment. The whole thing gets covered by the waistcoat anyway (ideally.)

When working on overalls, fit the top first. Get the waistband, fall, and crotch squared away. Leave plenty of material to fit the legs. My knees actually point outward, so the outside seam on these twist around toward the back. The leg seam should stay centered all the way down.

Next, the toe is attached and lined with linen. The outside seam has a half inch of overlap for six buttons and buttonholes, marked at right, with linen strips as re-enforcement.  Start the opening at the widest part of the calf to allow room for the feet.

Don't forget to wear shoes to fit the bottom. The last step is to sew a small button inside the inseam of the foot, and cut a strip of leather to pull everything down over the shoes. Punch a hole at each end of the leather, and cut a small slit from it to fit over the lowest buttons.

These leather stirrups should last years. Overalls feel weird the first time you wear them, but the joy of not picking up stones in your shoes more than makes up for the hassle of construction.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Nearly Done.

A bit of inspiration--the March of the Guards to Finchley, by William Hogarth (1750.) George II might not have liked it, perhaps Frederick II had enough of a sense of humor to recognize some truth in the satire.

All the chaos and drunkenness of this work perfectly sums up my feelings toward the Fusilier regimental.  It makes my head hurt. I want it to be over.

Here is the back--fearful symmetry. Ideally the back tapes would have gone on before the lining was in....Only the body is lined.

The pleats on this coat are afterthoughts, tacked down along their entire length.

The cuffs get the same treatment as the lapels. The buttonholes and tapes have similar spacing, four to a cuff. It's heartbreaking to think these coats only lasted a year with the work that went into them.

The lower right corner of the Hogarth painting shows one of the the more common forms of recycling with old coats. The pioneer with the canteen is wearing a forage cap.

I've always wanted one of these. Old coat tails and lapel make a fine hat for fatigue duties. The embroidery is a copy of the Fusilier belt plate engraving. Decoration varied from regiment to regiment, usually just numbers.

Next, brown kersey overalls for winter service.