Monday, November 16, 2015

Wrong Again

Remember these knuckleheads? Two Americans painted by a lieutenant in the Royal Deux-Ponts regiment at Yorktown. Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger might have captured the belted waistcoats that Lafayette wrote to President Laurens about:

 if we could get materials enough it would be possible to have a large belt out of the jacket, and independent of it, which could be tide upon the belly...

A 20th-century mind might interpret this as a full belt that ties in the back like a breeches waistband. One that buttons to the waistcoat or "jacket" at front. Mine did.  A fine guess, but wrong. Kitty Calash called these things a precursor to the cummerbund, a textile ammonite.  

Turns out Winterthur Museum bought the first surviving waistcoat belt without knowing it in 2014. Enter Matthew Skic. Hobbies can be useful at work. Printed linen seems weird. That it's a half belt slightly less so. This may be the best part about Progressive history recreation:  most objects didn't survive. Art and writing fill in some of the gaps. Learning the art of 18th century sewing tells you some of how they thought. When something new turns up, re-evaluate. Change is good.

The full belt worked fine this past weekend. Time to add a second buttonhole to the front of the belt, chop off about 24" and add four more buttonholes. Four more buttons on the back of the waistcoat will hide in the coat. Can't wait to see how it works.         

Monday, August 17, 2015


Here is a  finished pocket flap, the interfacing gives it a nice heft, it should close with a thunk when dropped. The tab at top gets back-stitched upside down, on a line between the lowest button on the waistcoat and the vent at back. Turn the flap seam allowance up into the lining and whip it down.

 The pocket opening should be cut slightly smaller than the flap, and  all the edges of the worsted need turning to avoid fraying.

Turn the bottom edge of the pocket bag first and whip-stitch it to the turned edge of the opening bottom. Fold the bag back up and buttonhole-stitch the side edges of the wool pocket cut to the bag back.

Turn the top of the wool pocket opening and whip to the back of the bag. Back-stitch the sides of the bag together to form a pocket. Whip all the edges that don't have selvage. Back-stitch the pocket flap cross the top to hold it down. Repeat all these steps on the other waistcoat front.

Next time, linings.    

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Basting and Buckram

First thing to watch with worsted is it may have an inside and an outside. The outside will be slightly fulled, the inside will have a visible weave. A stiffened canvas insert is basted inside this pocket flap. After the edges are whipped down a lining piece, with all of it's edges turned gets sewn to it. Once that's done the basting can be removed.

Here is more Buckram interfacing basted into the waistcoat front. This is the middle, where it transitions to double-breasted. Period waistcoats and coats often included a folded strip of linen on top of this for use as a button stand. As with the pocket flap this will be lined, but with the same red stuff.  The outside of the interfacing gets prick stitched to the worsted to keep it from shifting.

Next time pocket bags and linings.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


This little chap turned out well. The fronts of the legs are about 1/4" too long, but we can fix that at a later date. Also, the two-button waistband is annoying. Even one more button on the bearers would take some strain off the fall buttons. Oh well, frugal government contracts. Speaking of which, another way to save money on regular clothing issues is to use cheaper material.

Broadcloth, or just "cloth" is carded and fulled to make it dense, hard-wearing and warm. It holds a cut edge and is very stiff. Perfect for military uniforms that are supposed to last a year or more, cloth is no fun to wear in summer and it isn't cheap. Civilians often switch to worsted wools, or "stuff" when it gets warm. These long staple fiber weaves are plain or twill woven and more open. They often fray when cut but are less expensive.

Time to revisit the mid-18th century to look at an interesting waistcoat design popular with sportsmen. This fine fellow is Francis Burdett of the Markeaton Hunt, circa 1762-63. He and others like him can be found at the unspeakably good 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center. The web page is here, and you should spend hours looking. Markeaton seems to have had a uniform of sorts (why no pockets?) But the red, double-breasted hybrid waistcoat appears elsewhere. It's a similar design to the Regimental coats of the period.

There is room in the collection for another mid-18th century waistcoat, and in true drunk tailor fashion it will be shoddy and made of stuff.       

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Leg Buttons

Linen tape is used to secure four small regimental buttons, as seen in this inside view. The knee band is sewn to the button and buttonhole stand, which overlap it. Not visible here is another button sewn to the knee band on the same side as the others.

Blocked by the buttonhole stand is another buttonhole in the knee band at the bottom of this image. Because the wool will stretch, the buttons and buttonholes are tight and hard to button at first.

Make sure to measure for button placement with the thickest stockings you will wear with the breeches. It's fine to transfer these measurements to the other leg, but ONLY if your knees are the same size. Mine are not anymore.

The convex front and concave back of the leg are obvious here, and the outside seam is also slightly longer than the inside. The marked buttons make this garment specialized, but attractive. Now all that is left is to finish the fall.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


L'Hermione arrived yesterday. If you are on the East Coast north of Virginia you really should go see her. My friend Adam spent over a month aboard, learning to sail and speak French at the same time. He was the only crewman in period dress, so it seemed fitting to greet him in late 18th-century Virginia summer clothes. Green cotton velvet small clothes were an early effort, and they have been out of rotation for awhile.

Great as photography is for the ego, it's also good to figure out what's wrong with your clothes. The crease that is just visible in the left stocking is the bottom of my kneecap. That means the legs are too short. The waistband buttons should be covered, so the tabs that connect the waistcoat and breeches have stretched. Other problems are less obvious.  

The pile on this cloth is delicate. There is no way to prevent the dreaded butt mange. Burnley and Trowbridge doesn't have any more of this fabric. There isn't enough left to make coat, but there is plenty for piecing. In a time when fabric was expensive  and labor was cheap, it was easier to stitch scraps of cloth together than use more yardage. Sometimes the pattern didn't fit. Sometimes cloth was narrow. Holes were fixed with internal patches with all the edges turned. Disposable clothes are a new phenomenon, and it wasn't just the poor who were frugal. 

John Hancock's beautiful velvet coat can be seen at the Old State House in Boston. Look closely and you will see enough seams to make Dr. Frankenstein proud. This technique can be used to fix fit problems.

The breeches will require added bits to bring them below the kneecap. The mange will have to be cut out and patched. Rather than replace the tabs on the waistcoat, the internal waistband buttons can be moved down. Last, a center front tab will hold the waistcoat to the external waistband buttons on the breeches.

Time to get to work.

(Update: some conservator friends pointed out to me that this coat was folded for a long time. Some of what looks like piecing may actually be loss of pile on the folds. It's important to remember that even well-preserved objects can be ravaged by time and poor care.)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Yer Doing It Wrong

Living history folks live in a weird nether region between actual historians and cosplay/furry/costumers, mostly despised or ignored by both groups. The public couldn't care less about history. Most know nothing, so it makes wearing whatever easy. As a professional researcher for 12 years, and a mediocre tailor for nearly that long, I created this blog to fight that.

As wonderful as everything at right is, none of it is good research material. All is second-hand, someone's interpretation of the past. Word of mouth from old hand reenactors is nearly as bad.  Trust no one (including me.) Look it up. Question everything. Change is scary, but learning new things is good for your brain.

Start by looking around. Most average Americans wear blue jeans and t-shirts. Males have short to medium length hair, and some have moustaches or full beards. If you were recreating a 21st century middle class male, this and a pair of sneakers would be a safe bet. Another would be to take someone's picture and copy them exactly, but that only works if no one else does the same. Cloning creates a bias all it's own. So how do we know what 18th century people looked like?

Rich folks saved their clothes and had portraits painted, so that's easy. Go to a museum. Poor people tended to belong to someone in one way or another, so when they ran away, period newspapers become a gold mine. Each region of the colonies has it's own patterns. This is called primary source material. If it is written, made, or painted in the 18th century, we can trust it.  There are exceptions, caricatures (like Hogarth) use period symbolism to mock (men in smocks are rubes, bearded men are crazy,) so caution is required. Here is where the good historians can help. Make SURE They are using primary sources or have good notes. Otherwise, they may be repeating old lies. Read as much as possible. Look at as many prints and paintings as you can.  

Probably the hardest thing to do when starting out is abandoning personal bias. Love kilts? Do Scottish. Have a beard? Be a "German." Read enough runaway ads, and look at enough art and there is little evidence of either. Haversacks are not roomy man purses for everyday wear. They are military issue kit for food. Waistcoats without a coat hardly ever appear. On the other hand, men in coats without a waistcoat show up in paintings. There were no hunting shirts in the Seven Years War, and a hunting shirt is a specific kind of garment, not a smock. Once a few reenactors do something that is uncommon, the cloning bias starts to creep in again. Take baskets, for instance. Ladies, think about other ways to carry your stuff (unless you are selling food.) If you are not going to be specific, be average. Watch out for logical traps like "I'm a poor frontier farmer, who weaves his own cloth and makes his own clothes," when all the Natives around you are well dressed in European cloth. If you are poor, why do you have a $2500 rifle?

  The Bicentennial created some terrifying traditions that have hung around. Mob caps and bodices are not 18th century clothing (also, don't go out without your stays, ladies.) There is no evidence of large dining flys full of furniture and cast iron cooking sets for everyone on campaign. Space in wagons was limited (if there were any wagons.) Officer's might have some luxuries, but context is key.

 There is enough going on in this watercolor for a lifetime of research. Look closely. Ever think working poor men would put on all their clothes and not button them? When someone offers you advice on your kit thank them, then go look it up.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Snug without constraint: the secret to breeches is that simple. Their cut brings them right against the joints where movement is limited. The only exception is the backside which expands slightly for sitting. Imagine the wearer sitting astride a horse and the shape makes sense.

The fit at the knee is complex. While the front is convex, to accommodate the kneecap, the back is concave to fit hollow. The outside seam is slightly longer than the inside. There are tabs at the bottom of the button stand and buttonhole flap, so they can be pulled straight under the knee band.

Once the inside lining seam is closed, cut the wool seam allowance from the button stand top, and the leg front. Turn all the edges of the leg opening lining  and running stitch them down. The transition from concave to convex is visible in the gap. Whip the lining edges to the front and back of the wool. The half inch cuts visible at top and bottom of the picture are where the knee band starts.

Since these are button closure, the knee bands need only be as long as the leg openings themselves. The wool is thin, so the edges of the band are turned and running stitched to the turned lining edges. As with the waistband, turn the top edge of the lining. Match the band to the leg edge front and back. Backstitch the leg band on.

Once the knee band is pressed up, whip the knee band lining to the leg lining. The free ends of the band can be back stitched vertically to the button stand tab and front. All that is left now is buttons and button holes.     

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Legs And Linen

Linings are a great way to check fit one last time. Breeches should be tight. Make sure that the crouch seam is snug against the nether regions. Whip or tack the linings with big (one inch) stitches. If everything looks good, transfer any changes to the body and cut the lining back open.

Turn the breeches inside out and back stitch the inner seams and press them open.  Pull the linings together and line up their folded edges. Whip these closed. Make sure the outer and inner seams line up. If the leg seams start twisting use this to help resolve the problem.

What happens without a lining? Here are the bearer and the unfolded fall extension, back stitched to either side of a future fall cut. This is the front of a pair of linen Summer breeches. Seam allowance is only an eighth of an inch. More on how these go together is here at my old blog.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


This wonderful place is worth a visit. The last 18th century barracks in the country is right in the heart of Trenton, NJ. The structure is largely intact, right down to the fireplaces and masonry marks. Soldiers and prisoners from the Seven Years War to the Revolution lived and fought around it.

Best of all, the interpretation is excellent. Many of the rooms are furnished, and the bread oven and camp kitchen are used all day. These ring-trenched mounds appear in period books, but to actually use one to cook is a learning experience. The coals in the dirt firebox were still good the next day.

Another great event created by young people, and it was an honor to be invited. Whenever bullshit strikes, I recall the twelve-year-old (with the unholy light in their eyes) who takes a single careful photo. He/she already knows how the musket works, they want to talk about bayonet evolution over time. As they return to talk again and again, their mother apologizes and I tell her it is like looking in a mirror.

They are half my age and already exceed me in sewing skill. They find new cultural nuggets I have never seen before. The twelve-year-old grew up, and keeps me inspired to do this till I can't run anymore.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Attach the waistband to the breeches body as shown with back stitches. There is slightly more waistband forward of the outer leg seam, and the back of the leg is gathered to fit. Note that the outside leg seam is finished as far as the button stand.

A quick pin up of the legs proves this pattern still fits. If there is any question, best to cut the legs with extra material on the inseam. Finish the outer leg seam of the lining and insert it BEFORE attaching the waistband. Stitch through the body and lining.

Flip the waistband up and press the fold flat. Pull the waistband lining down over the stitch line as shown and sew down. The next step will be the pie piece-shaped gusset at the back and a test fit.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fall and Bearers

Since these breeches do not have fall extensions, turning the edges of the cuts is not an option.  Make sure the fall cuts are parallel to the center front seam and slightly shorter than the height of the bearer. The fall is around eight and a half inches wide. The cut should overlap the bearer about 1/4" at side and bottom as shown here. The fall is tucked under for clarity.

Make sure the top edges of the bearer and breeches line up, and back stitch along where the pins are in the photo. Overcast the edge of the bearer to the inside of the body if desired. The lining is going to overlap, so it isn't really needed.

To protect the edge of the fall, a separate fall yoke is added. This T-shaped lining piece has it's top and side edges turned and it is back stitched right to the edge of the fall. After that is in place, the fall can be pinned closed. A short (1/2") horizontal back stitch right at the base of the cut secures the fall to the bearer underneath and prevents tearing.

Monday, March 16, 2015

After Guilford

Pity the poor Fusilier, the Carolina sun finally came out and dried him after days of being soaked. Promoted corporal (largely through attrition) he somehow avoided capture at the Cowpens, saw his tent burned, waded through chest-deep rivers, and cleaned the mud from his uniform in a horse trough. He survived the slaughter at Guilford, moved wounded men for hours, and can no longer coax the ramrod from his firelock until it dries.

There is magic in hearing Lord Cornwallis's compliments read while standing on the muddy ground where hundreds died in 1781. Keeping weapons functioning, powder dry, and cooking food in the wet is a challenge. The winter uniform fared remarkably well. Back home, it is time to assess damage and make repairs.

Starting from the top, the hat slowly uncocked itself and is now soft. It is steamed back into shape, and shellac applied to the soft spots. The coat needs little attention: mud is brushed from it with a stiff brush. The right waistcoat pocket bag tore and needs to be stitched up. Ruffles are cut from the shirt before it is hand-washed. They will be ironed and replaced when the shirt dries.

The winter trousers are still in fat configuration and need to have three inches cut from the waistband back. Eyelets will be redone, and the popped seam inside the left thigh fixed. The stirrup straps stretched and need to be cut shorter. Water and a stiff brush remove most of the mud.  Belts, sling, and shoes are cleaned with soap and water. Shoes get a healthy dose of shoe grease, and some black ball. White leather is painted with white ball and polished with a glass bottle. The brass belt plate gets a high polish.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

British Army Breeches

Breeches start with the waistbands and the bearers. Turn all four sides of the waistband linings and back or overcast stitch them in place on the top and sides. If the wool is thin, turn those edges as well. Leave a 1/2" free at the bottom to turn up when attaching to the legs.

Bearers are similar, but there is no need to turn the top edges, just whip them together. Two or three eyelets finish the back of each waistband, and two or three buttons and buttonholes will close the front. If the wool stretches, add hemp or linen canvas linings to the waistbands (before buttonholes and eyelets) to stabilize them.

  If the pattern is 100% it's okay to finish the center front and back leg seams next. Make sure to leave an opening for the wedge insert at the back. If fit is an issue, leave the center front seam open for fitting over the pelvis.

Backstitch 3/4" of the side seams to get ready for attaching the waistbands. If fit is okay with the pattern, the center front and back of the lining pieces can be finished as well.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Very happy with how the old rag turned out. The fit is better, and it kept me alive once again over this past weekend. There was a minor scare on the blog today. Long story short if Google asks you if you want to save space by deleting some stuff, just say no. It took an hour to find the triple secret Picasa/Google + trash can that had ALL the photos to Drunktailor and put them back.  On to better things.

Since this post proved popular, why not knock out a quick and dirty pair of cloth breeches? The 7th Regiment of Foot didn't start out in overalls. Winter regulations originally called for a pair of white wool breeches with marked buttons, no pockets, and button closure at the knee. These will be fully lined. Ignore the pocket in the photo, we don't need it. Next time waistbands. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Finishing Touches

When it comes to pleats, it's good to keep that sh*t tight. Anchor the tops to the reinforcing panel and each other. Two long stitches through each pleat keep the folds from opening too much. Tacking the pleats to each other and the coat is the final step.

The coat is flipped on the form constantly, and buttoned to check fit. Since the back pleats droop below the fronts slightly (after the side seams are trimmed,) the lining bottom is cut free, and the pleats are trimmed to match the front. Buttons inside the pleat folds finish the bottoms. Buttons at the hip seams are secured with leather cord to the reinforcing panels like this

 Time to fix some neglect of the cuff panels. Mid-century regimentals often had huge fake sleeve flaps. Three decorative buttons make the faux flap look secure. All they need is some close worked buttonholes to set them off. We're all about appearance here. It's hard to beat elbow buttons for style, or a cuff large enough to hold tobo or spare rounds.

Here is a problem we may not be able to fix. Not easily, anyway. Oh well, it fits fine fully-buttoned and open. The NEXT coat will be better.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Here is the collar halfway off the coat. The old center-back seam allowance is visible, and the collar lining is free to shorten the collar to match the coat seams.

After the seams are pressed open, the collar lining pieces get trimmed and everything is overcast back in place. Over to the side seams.

The underlying waistcoat seams helped line up where the coat seam should be. All the material is removed from the back. With the skirt linings turned back, the canvas reinforcing panel is pinned back in place.

The folded pleats will hang from this, and it holds the hip button cord. An equal amount of material is removed from the back pleat edge to match the side seam.

Behold: the glory of the inside of a mid-18th century British-style regimental coat. Leather cord holds the buttons, and the half lining is apparent. More hemp canvas stabilizes the shape.

All the tack stitching is cut off the pleats and they are ironed flat. Next: the torture of refolding.  

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Regimental Revisited

The mid-eighteenth century British regimental is a strange beast: voluminous, not sleek like those from thirty years later. It can be worn any number of ways. Rich officer types would often unbutton the lapels and shove their hands between the coat and the waistcoat for portraits. The shape is unmistakable: short sleeves, big cuffs, long with full tails, hint of a collar. Even the buttons are unique and stupidly expensive to reproduce. It's the convertible aspect that gives the greatest pains when fitting.

Our specimen is five years old, and was last converted for a full-figure Provincial two years ago. The waist has three-button closure, but the top hangs open. It can be worn double-breasted, buttoned at the waist, or open as seen in the painting above. The collar geometry suffers as a result.

Slowly removing material from the back panel at the shoulder draws the neck hole up and closer. Compare at right, the collar is off the right side and the excess pinned up. Fortunately, the top of the coat is unlined. Unfortunately, adjusting the shoulder seams adds volume to the center back, so the collar needs to be removed even further to correct the center back seam.

The pleats are unacceptable. Not only do they stick out too much when the coat is buttoned, but there is an embarrassing amount of material in the back panels here. The hip buttons might as well be under the arms. All this needs to be cut apart, side seams reshaped, and the pleats refolded.

Adjustments to the shoulder seam make fiddling with the top of the side seam unwise. The sleeves are slightly baggy at the top for a reason. Luckily, the coat's bell shape and three waist buttons make that unnecessary. The comfy X-Acto handle with a #11 blade is your best friend at this point.

  What the hell. Unsightly bulges like this are a good problem to have. Next time, re-pleating and the faux cuff flaps get some attention.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Pretty happy with the belted waistcoat. We'll see how practical it is in the Spring when it gets torture-tested on a movie set. Dangerous territory, this garment. There is documentation and visual evidence for them, but little else. The concept SEEMS sound (what little we know about it.)

Traditional waistcoats have their problems. One solution is to add loops or tabs to the inside to button the waistcoat to the breeches or overalls. Both the British and the French military mention this as a good idea. There are surviving civilian garments with tabs. Eliminating the tails and pocket flaps streamlines the vest further.

What we don't know is what the back looked like. Uncomfortable territory for some Progressive folks, SPECULATION is bad. It is how we separate ourselves from this. But old garments are like fossils, most didn't survive. Ignoring them creates just as inaccurate a picture.

So how much is too much? Two loops to the overall fall buttons DO hold everything together. Lacing the belt like breeches allows for some adjustment. It is possible to put it on yourself. Lastly, the belt acts like a cross between elastic on a sweatshirt and a weight-lifting belt. Practical, yes; correct? Maybe. No farbs were harmed in the making of this garment.

Next time, an old friend gets his third makeover. The F&I Regimental doesn't fit quite right. New skills fix old mistakes.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Born Again Hard

So this happened.

The folks who took the real time battlefield tour in Princeton, NJ this year got a surprise.  A Pennsylvania Associator company appeared right where they were in 1776. We maneuvered and fired as if fighting ghosts of the 17th Regiment of Foot. We marched all night to get there.

The scheme started with some young chaps determined to recreate Charles Wilson Peale's Company for one weekend. Seldom do we get to test our gear and clothes to the limit. It all started at the Old Barracks in Trenton on Friday. Thirty-odd souls assembled in uniforms specific to the Philadelphia militia of the period. We drilled, rations were issued and cooking was by mess. We were entreated to sign on for another six weeks to save the cause.

Thomas Paine's The American Crisis read aloud by bondfire is inspiring. Sleep was hard to come by as his Excellency General Washington ordered us to march around the enemy at midnight. The plan was to fall on the rear guard in Princeton. The roads are still there, replaced by pavement and the distance is thirteen miles. A cold moon lit the way.

Those who marched were changed by the experience. A few impressions remain: the drummer with an ice sheet forming under his canteen; blistered hands leaking under the weight of a shifting musket; the hissing of leather shoes; the best pea soup ever; sparkling frost on gaitors at dawn. It's why we do this.