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.