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.