Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chicken Legs

One spat down. The buttons are sewn to the straight back piece. The larger curved bit gets (more or less) evenly spaced buttonholes. A leather instep strap runs from the bottom button under the shoe to another button on the inside.

The difference between good spats and bad is tightness. Button the two parts together and fold them in half along the toe to determine where the center back seam should fall. Pin them loosely together and fit them over shoes and stockings. Backstitch for strength. If they are hard to put on, they are made properly.

Here is the belted waistcoat pinned over a shirt. The pockets are British Army style, but slightly higher. Keep in mind there is scant evidence for belted waistcoats, so interpretation will be conservative and familiar. The front is made of white cloth and the back of serge. No vents or tails, the whole thing is tight.

The bottom is cut square, but slightly lower at the front to match the tilted waistband on breeches and overalls. The vest covers all but the lowest button on the pants. A period button formula has a space of two button widths between each actual button, so between ten and twelve buttons depending on height.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rushon Boys

The kettle bag turned out swell, and work is proceeding on the spats. A matching small kettle bag is cut out. Meanwhile, TOP SECRET things are altering the sewing queue a bit.

The Continental Army kit has been languishing for awhile. Most of the gear is still acceptable, but upgrades are in order. While doing research for the winter march in January, a favorite subject reappeared.

An officer in the Royal Deux-Ponts regiment, Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger, captured these chaps in watercolor at the Battle of Yorktown. Their mysterious waistcoat vests are worthy of speculation.

The classic late 18th-century waistcoat has tails and pocket flaps.  Both tend to get hung up in regimental coats and stand up in an unmilitary fashion. Overalls, trousers, and breeches ride low on the hips, and a gap can form where the shirt peeks out, especially if the waistcoat is too short.

A belt that buttons the tailless vest to the pants would seem a (vaguely French) improvement. It uses less cloth as well. Time to apply drunk tailoring skills to a belted waistcoat.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Well, Diderot's mitten pattern works. Sleevil is strong with that thumb piece. Five tries later, it finally fit the hole. This is why fitting patterns are so important, especially with new stuff. Once that is out of the way, it takes about an hour to put together.

A quick scan of surviving 19th-century cloth mittens shows the seams on the outside. It may look better inside out, but it isn't as comfortable (and these things are hella comfy, y'all.) The separate cuff piece can still be added if they are too short, but with stocking sleeves rolled down over them it's like a wool space suit.

Here is the spatterdash toe back-stitched, with the raw edge whipped to the body. The buttonhole edge is turned under and clipped to fit the curve. There is a surviving 18th-century civilian gaiter with linen lining the toe and along the bottom inside edge. Add if desired.

Last, the kettle bag gets a tube over hemp cord to act as a draw string. The side and bottom pieces have their seams pressed open, and the raw edges are whip-stitched to the body. Remember this stitch when we start the unlined linen coat in the future.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mitaines and Markings

Our pal, Denis Diderot offers us an idea of how an 18th-century cloth mitten should look. This image is from the bottom of an illustration in the Encyclop├ędie.  Knit mittens were not unknown. A survivor was unearthed with British military buttons.

Sewn wool flannel mittens were considered an expedient at first, but found to be more durable by the British military. The knit one is 12" long (!!!??) Ten inches will probably work. Square off the cuff unless you're feeling fancy. Make a fitting pattern first.

Pity the poor British military fellow, issued tons of crap: gun, hat, shoes, &c. ordered not to loose any of it (or sell it for booze.) Gabriel Bray's delightful painting of a sailor bringing up his hammock gives us an idea of how they kept track of such things.

Fifth Foot Captain Bennett Cuthbertson recommends in A System for the Compleat Interior Management and Economy of Battalion of Infantry, marking linens with a mixture of vermillion and nut oil. Since cinnabar (HgS) is toxic, this seems like a good substitute.

Fold it into some walnut oil with a palette knife until the paste stands up by itself.  Thin with turpentine or mineral spirits. Use a nice period typeface. Initials, company, and regimental markings are good for starters. Oil paint can take weeks to dry depending on the environment. Adding drying agents and heat can speed the process. More information on markings can be found here, buy all of these immediately.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Distractions II

Winter sucks, particularly in the faux-past and when pretending to be poor. Eighteenth-century working class types had to be creative about staying alive. With toes cut off, old stockings are a great addition to a waistcoat. Mark quarter measurements with pins and use a pressing ham to stretch the stocking to the arm hole. This is not meant to be pretty. Runaway descriptions in the period call this "with stockings to the coat."

Another good item to have is a pair of spatterdashes. Made with linen (often painted) or black wool they protect the stockings and keep crap out of your shoes. Both sides wore them in the War for Independence, before overalls became popular.

 Patterning is the hard part. This kit is from Carl Johnson, and nicely oversized. The toe has been back-stitched into the front. A row of black horn buttons will close these, and needs to be centered on the outside of the leg. Best to steal measurements from overalls if you have them. Otherwise, turn under the short side of the front piece so it's centered on the ankle bone, with the toe pulled tightly over the shoe and stocking.

Here is a cool trick. The kettle bag uses a rectangle of osnaburg, slightly taller than the kettle for sides. After washing and pressing, tug on the corners of the fabric to straighten the weave. Measure and make small snips, try and use selvage on one side if possible. With a pin, tease out one of the threads from the snip and start pulling.

Careful tugging should free a nice long thread parallel to the length or width. When it breaks, cut along the gap and start over. After the two threads meet you are left with a nice rectangle or square, ready to sew.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


While the shako is in the paint shop, let's return to the 18th century. My friend Anna took this picture at Mount Harmon plantation, where a good time was had by all. A composite camp of regulars and loyalists was served by two sutlers and a laundress in perfect weather. Nice to have friends who are passionate about history doing things right.

There MAY have been some discussion of marching from the Old Barracks to the Princeton Battlefield overnight on January 3rd. Need to get in shape for that, but following Washington's route is too temping. Three items are required to complete the 1776 Philadelphia Associator kit: wool spatterdashes, mittens, and a 23-hole cartridge pouch.  Might as well make a kettle bag while we're at it.

Always wanted a kettle bag and Roy Najecki is kind enough to make kits for these, with everything included. He also sells a great haversack kit that I highly recommend (my is approaching 13 years old.)  The kettle bag instructions include the British and German models (shown at left.) Time to make a bunch of things at once.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lining The Shako

Sewing leather often requires that the needle be pulled or pushed with needle nose pliers. It's a good idea to lock the thread so it doesn't keep coming off. Here is a quick tutorial on thread locking. Lots of wax is helpful to keep the thread from fraying and breaking. Using a needle at each end of the thread speeds things up, and when the thread gets short, stitch ahead with one needle three or four holes and come back to lock the stitch. No need for knots. Here are some primitive diagrams of how the lining is attached.

The back and sides have two calfskin lining pieces that overlap slightly at the point in the back.  They are stitched upside down through the decorative band and body, and turned to the inside. The lining pieces have a slit on the inside to fit the curve, and a row of evenly spaced holes to take a cord.

Like the shako, the lining is dyed black, but doesn't get a coat of gloss varnish.

The front is much more interesting. The peak is shaped to fit the front, and the top part is skived to half the thickness of the leather. There is NO WAY to punch holes with an awl through the peak edge without donating pints of blood, so a micro drill bit was used instead. The bizarre stitch path holds the lining, secures the peak, and pulls it down over the wearer's eyes. Very practical.

With all the sewing done it's time for dye and varnish.

Monday, October 6, 2014


The shako top is on (looks like government contract work.) Here is how to make properly-spaced, straight stitches in thick leather. At right is a saddle maker's stitch grooving tool.  It removes a tiny line of flesh at a set distance from the edge by adjusting the L-shaped bit.

Next to the groover is a marking wheel which leaves perfect dimples, seven per inch, for the awl. A wet sponge keeps the marks permanent. Finished, it looks like this:

The shako's back band already had a top groove for decoration. While not strictly needed, the bottom groove helps guide the marking wheel. If this were an external seam it would keep the stitches straight and even. Time to attach the lining and treacherous peak.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Progress is painfully slow. Emphasis on painful. The top has slowly flattened, and it looks as if the edges won't match up. The shako should have a convex top to fit.

A wet sponge and a perfectly-sized plate will fix the issue. The replica onion bottle full of water acts as a weight on the wet top. Edge stitching is massive PITA. The thread tends to tear out if the hole is too shallow. There are hints of a weird pucker developing. Cross your fingers.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Slaves to the latest European military fashion, New England's volunteer militia wore the "bell crown cap" starting in 1820. Eastern European  martial influence spread gradually west at the end of the 18th century.

Harness and saddle makers added these to their lines of military accoutrements as they are entirely made of leather. Dyed black, they were coated with gloss varnish, and hung with all manner of metal decorations. The shako is surprisingly light and impractical.

The convex top is wet formed over a wooden mold and cut to the exact shape and size of the body. Stitch holes are marked and punched with an awl.

The body is edge stitched together from the inside and formed over the same mold as the top. After drying, the bottom is cut in graceful curve with a point in the back.  A trim piece is glued on, ending just in front of the ears. Strangely, the body seam is on the front, but none of the stitches are visible and eagles and chain &c. will hide the faint joint.

Matching stitch holes are made at the apex and emerge along the top edge. Careful pressure with the awl prevents (much) finger stabbing.

Before adding the top, a small tab sewn to the front will hold the RIDICULOUS plume (like it needs more decoration.) The distinctive bell shape is apparent.

Nineteenth-century leather workers plied their trade with special wax and flexible hog whisker needles. Drunk tailors use surgical needles, pliers and stab themselves repeatedly.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The spirit of Andrew Jackson ran high in New England during the 1820s. Patriotism, coupled with new found wealth enabled the formation of "volunteer" militia companies in towns large and small. Reform-minded fellows sought to change the image of the drunken amateur soldier.

The Oxford Light Infantry managed to complete their uniforms in time for a visit from Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. Local tailors, sign painters, leather workers, and gunsmiths outfitted the company in ways the US military could only dreamed about.

The "Invincibles" drilled regularly, competed in shooting matches and fought sham battles with companies in other towns. They disbanded sometime around 1838, never having fired a shot in anger. The uniform is quite practical, with the exception of the pack, which has thin cotton straps and can't hold much more than the fatigue hat and some cigars.

Keeping the trousers clean requires some effort, as does the lace (tarnished by the buff.) After examining several surviving coats, the collar was shortened and hooks and eyes added after these photos where taken.

 Derek is wearing the one item needed to complete this uniform: a bell crowned shako. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Here is the sleeve, inside-out, with the cuff pinned on. The sleeve is completely enclosed, and the decorative cuff comes to within an inch of the knuckles.  The sleeves caps are a bit of a bother as they can't be gathered, so they need to be reshaped to fit the body. Off the shoulder seams feel weird at first.

A detail of the finished cuff shows the overlap and decorative buttons, three in all. The cuff opening lines up with the bottom sleeve seam. They compliment the long shirt cuffs in this period nicely.

Next, the front linings are sewn to the shoulder seams and arm holes. Lots of pressing around the edges of the padding helps it to blend in. Time to move on to the tails.

These look pretty snazzy for being so small. The pleats should be ironed flat, and some tacks put in so they don't open all the way. Since the tail linings cover the pleats, they will help hold them closed.

There no turned edges on the bottom of this coat, which is nice. No pockets right now, but that may change. On to the collar.

Well, damn. The top coat edges need some blending, and the silver tape will definitely be overkill. All kinds of seam grading going on so the collar doesn't get fat. Fingers crossed the eagles come in the mail soon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Swallowtail II

The poof! The buttons! The cat hair! With the buttonholes complete, it's time to start tuning the seams. Chest padding gives this coat a unique silhouette. The top button might need to be moved, haven't decide yet. Somehow the length in front matches the waistcoat exactly.  Good news: there isn't much in the way of tail linings on these and the sleeves are pretty simple. Fourteen (!!!) more buttons to add, however.

The body lining is interesting. Since there are layers of interfacing and padding, and the outer fabric is turned, the wool lining is not. Lots of tiny stitches hold it down.

This one gets pinned right-side out, because of the padding. The waist seam helps the shape quite a bit. Note the vestigial pocket flaps. Not sure how to do this without a form. Even a drunkard can get good lines. More good news: the sleeves are only tight from wrist to elbow.

Frankly, the amount of baddassery on this project is slightly overwhelming. The urge to rush things is strong, so the collar and sleeves will be excellent distractions. With the event 30 days away, it's going to be interesting.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Look at this damned thing--just look at it. A rifle company of the Massachusetts militia wore these uniforms after the War of 1812. Where to start. Forget about the helmet for now.  The padding is remarkable, also that wasp waist (complete with seam.) The collar meets at the center front. The stars and wings are overkill. Minus all the bells and whistles, the Oxford Light Infantry coat should have this shape--poofy.

The quilted waistcoat that goes under the OLI coat is done, but in the time it took to complete I lost a bunch of weight. Unfortunately, I cut out and started the coat before the waistcoat.

Overall shape is good, but front overlap is four inches at the bottom (holy cats!) Poking out the top is the waistcoat collar. Time to rip out the padding, cut back the interfacing, trim the outer fabric. Nothing like completely tearing something apart to learn patience.

There are some adjustments that can be made where the fronts overlap to make it easier to install buttons and make buttonholes. The huge Massachusetts buttons look pretty spiffy. Since the they are held on with cord, each one is separate to avoid bunching and keep them upright.

Holding my breath for when the leather shako kit arrives in the mail.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moccasins III

After trimming and squaring off the back edges, a small tab is cut in the bottom fold. This gets clipped into a tiny swallow tail. The back seam is the same stitch as the center seam on the toe, but with a single thread. Since it starts at the bottom, it is almost never even when it gets to the top. Trim the ankle opening as required to make it look right on both sides.  

Pass the thread back through some of the holes at the top to reinforce as this seam gets some strain when putting on the mocs. Time to try them on and check the fit. They will stretch some.  The horizontal bulge in the picture is the fold from the previous flattening step.

The ankle flap should be slightly larger than the opening, and the width of the moc top when it is flat. Whip stitch it to the ankle opening as shown, inside the moc. Start and stop at the toe center seam. Turn the flap to the outside and DONE! Time to make another.

Trim the flap evenly on both sides, and poke holes for a lace if desired. Most period depictions show them flap up, tied over the leggings. Low-mileage footwear for the the frontier, and they feel icky when wet. A backup pair wouldn't hurt.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Moccasins II

Back again. Here is the rounded toe gathered into 1/2" folds and the gathers sewn together. The thread is doubled up for strength, and the holes are punched with a awl. Glover's needles work too, if you don't mind blood on your project.

After the center seam is complete, the moc is wetted, stretched, and pressed flat to dry. The hide blemishes make it look poxy, but some problems have emerged. One side stretched longer than the other. Not really a problem thanks to sharp knives. The bigger problem will be obvious to those who watch Mike Galban's DVD.

With all the adjustments to the toe, the ankle opening is now too small. The center seam needs to be opened up back to the center of the moc, WHICH MEANS the cuff pieces are too short. Oh well, Time to cut those off and make a one piece cuff that is overcast to the ankle opening. Nothing wrong with it, should protect the back seam from strain when putting them on. Next time, back seam and swallow tails.  

Monday, April 28, 2014


Here is something I have always wanted to do:

A Southern Provincial from the second half of the French and Indian War who has gone native. Indian dress was a great cost-saver for the Crown. The English never had the number of Indian allies the French did.

Since Native alliances were hard to establish and even harder to maintain, it was easier to have Provincials learn woods fighting or simply confuse the enemy by looking like Indians.

To go with the wool leggings, breech clout, and shirt a pair of moccasins is in order. Here is an old moc of mine that has seen better days, so I cut it apart to use as a pattern:

The dirty footprint shows these were too small. The next pair will be slightly longer and wider. To learn how to make mocs use Michael Galban's excellent DVD. Two of the most common Woodland patterns are covered in great detail, from patterns to stitching to material sources.

For a brain tan look without the smell or price, Crazy Crow natural color German tan buckskin #2 works well.

An argument could be made for cowhide mocs made by whites closer to civilization, and Crazy Crow has that as well. Here is the pattern in the center of the hide (the thickest part) ready for marking and cutting:

Galban covers how to measure your foot for mocs in the DVD. Since my old pair had cuffs on it they are included in the pattern, but separate attached cuffs were also common. These will be center seam style and very plain. If you plan on wearing them often, best to make extra pairs for when they get wet or wear out.

Next time, the toe is gathered and the center seam finished.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ken Doll

When I started the silly, silly hobby of living history 15 years ago, I was hugely intimidated. It is expensive. Sewing was not something I had ever even considered. Time to learn new things. In the beginning, patience is crucial. Way too easy to go to Jo-Ann's Fabrics and buy whatever. It's a good way to learn how to sew, but a waste of money. Thank the FSM for mentors and the internet. Even though I remember life before computers, I'm not sure how anyone shared knowledge.

I remember thinking "I'll just make the one outfit." Eventually, the clothes rod in the guestroom closet collapses under the load of historic garments and scares the hell out of the cats. The key is finding the most common clothing for your place, period and gender. Forget what you think looks cool or what others are doing. If you are recreating a 21st-century American male tourist you would need jeans and a t-shirt, not a fez and a bow tie (fezes ARE cool.)

Access to paintings, letters, journals, and periodicals from most time periods is stupidly easy to come by. Research enough and you start to see patterns. Ignore those who cannot prove their assertions without evidence. Take constructive criticism gladly. Share what you find. Eventually, you can mix and match your outfits and need only make a couple things a year. Good luck stopping once you get started.

Courtesy of Wilson Friedman Historically Speaking