Thursday, April 28, 2016

Federal Era Revised

Five years have passed since we tried our hand at an early 19th century tailcoat. John Lewis Krimmel provides some great inspiration, rocking out at the Wayside Inn. May have to forego the bullwhip, but checks and a cigar are always welcome.

The older the sewing efforts, the more horrifying the garment. The tailcoat pattern included some guesswork. It's remarkably helpful to have someone who knows surviving clothes well locate all the problems with the copy.

This sexy beast is in the URI Collection (1967.13.17) and known as the "Stonington Plaid." Details can be found here. Everything we want: mismatched pattern seams, fake pocket flaps, tail and breast pockets, unlined linen. Aside from input from Dr. Hammer, the Laughing Moon pattern will be our start point. A cotton fitting pattern will be used for sleeves and collar testing.

Considering how well it fits, the 2011 coat has serious issues. The neck opening is huge, probably why it doesn't hug the neck on the right side.  The front panels are the wrong shape, so the arm openings are strange. The back pieces are way too big, and for some bizarre reason the back sleeve seams are not centered. While we are at it, all the current early 19th century trousers are not tall enough. Might as well make news ones.

This was good, but we can do better. Next time: fitting pattern.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Back to Dobbs, where the ratio of women, children, and dogs to Provincial soldiers is just right for an 18th-century frontier fort. Sandbyland. Lovely Carolina weather: 80 degrees during the day, 30 at night. The site director kindly allowed his drunkenness to be a valet for two days, a chance to up the common soldier game and stay busy. The Letenant's dual role made him hard to locate at times, but his possessions were always handy.

Friday was school day at the site. Showing 500 children how a musket works has it's moments. When asked about the practicality of the mid-18th century uniform, one young girl quipped "it was probably the swag of the day." Still time in the evening for work. Shoes need cleaning and black ball. Hot water from the laundress is helpful. The officer's coat is thoroughly brushed, tape restitched, and a pocket flap repaired. A vain fellow, our officer cannot grow long hair, so his wig needs redressing.

All this happens after hours, which begs the question if you interpret history and no one is there to see it, what's the point? The skills are still useful. The laundresses experimented with indigo in their rinse water to get just the right shade of blue for white linen. The public has a role to play, but are they required? It's a challenge to mesh the duties of the soldier with those of the servant: dressing both of us before formation, and preparing a noon day meal right after drill. Always keep the port glass full.

 Meanwhile, Red Shoes laundry boils dozens of shirts and stockings in the blazing sun. After drying, stockings are darned and repaired. Not everyone has this level of obsession. Others get bored easily. The officer's clean shirts have no marks: time to paint initials on them. The scrounged tablecloth needs mending. Here is hobby as work. Dressing the part and learning facts is only half the battle.

With enough fatigue it's possible to stuff a huge rag down a dry musket barrel while cleaning. Rookie mistake #5 means a stuck rammer and barrel removal with primitive tools. Thanks to Todd and his viselike grip the breech plug came out. Blacksmiths are 18th-century superheros. The servant role requires further exploration, but next time we'll start an early 19th century summer suit.      

Monday, April 4, 2016


A full couple of weeks, these past. Film continues to answer the need for more gritty immersion, even if only for one or two takes. Black powder charges buried in potting soil with cork fragments are safe, but still ring your bell. The air bursts are worse.

Faux soldiers can never come close to the terror experienced in real combat, but the dread of remote detonations, and the concussion is exhausting. Loading on the run and falling are good tests for clothes gear and skills.

 It's nice to relax indoors with a new waistcoat. Fit is excellent, it could be longer. The side vented needed to be shortened a couple of inches. With so many great sites full of talented people, it's easy to become complacent. Living history land is mostly populated by good folks, which makes the appearance of bad apples glaring. Irony is not lost on the drunk tailor when normal 18th century behavior rears it's ugly head.

Sadly, physical altercations are no longer a civil matter. Pain is inspiring. Shunning still seems to work, and having units police up their drunks is pretty efficient. The spirit of 1976 lingers. Women sometimes feel unsafe (or worse.) New ideas are looked down upon. Humans hate change, love routine for routine's sake. Best to inspire young people, charm them away from the creaking edifice that was reenacting.