Tuesday, November 29, 2016


With the boot toe up, pressed flat on the floor, here is the cardboard template for the front. The pin marks the center, and the scratch awl is used to trace the new edge. A cut down Teflon cutting board inserted into the boot makes this job easier.

Nearly two inches need to come off the back of the boot, so the canvas pull straps are removed, and their stitch holes made further down. Cutting was nerve-wracking at first, but not difficult.

This is not one of the Frenchmen's helmets from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The secret of 18th century British bearskin caps is a mitre-shaped tin plate. Bent into a curve, it is drilled with holes for stitching. It is sandwiched between the hide and the linen lining, with the front plate over the hair.

The front cutout makes it lighter, more comfortable and it is matched to a small triangle of calf skin sewn into the bear hide. The whole mess at the edge is wrapped with a leather sweatband (velvet for NCOs on up.) One of the Royal Marine caps has holes drilled around the cutout. Since there are no known Fusilier bearskins, the height of the plate was determined by surviving German Fusilier mitre caps.

Here is our legally taken bear hide. Check your local laws before you buy one online. Some states have strict controls on bear parts. The pattern is sketched to take advantage of the hair crown on the back. All the hair should lay up on the cap. The very top of the pattern is cut in a shallow V-shape, for a nice tight seam over the point of the plate. The gradual curve is where the wool bag goes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Boots and Bearskins

Well that didn't go well. Making two coats at once was a huge mistake. Too many distractions. The regimental coat looks good, but doesn't fit worth a damn. Snug WITH constraint. Perhaps Kitty can make it into a riding habit. The lesson here is patterns need to be revisited and fitting patterns made for everything. Don't rush.

Time to shift gears a bit. This beautiful thing was found during Big Dig construction in Boston's North End. Boots have been around forever. At the start of the 19th century they became fashionable everyday wear for men. High-front "Hessians" and "Suwarrows" copied Central and Eastern European military styles. They were replaced soon after by "Wellingtons" (not the rubber kind.)

No we aren't making boots. We are taking advantage of an excellent boot maker who is flexible. The design is not unlike mid-19th century boots, with changes to the toe and heel. The canvas tabs need to be removed and replaced after the tops are cut.

Another good winter/Apocalypse project is at right. The 1768 British Army clothing warrant gives grenadiers, fifers, drummers, pioneers, and fusiliers the authorization to wear bear skin caps. The fusiliers cap is "not so high," as the others, which are to be twelve inches tall. This fearsome headgear cost over ten times as much as the standard hat. No wonder many regiments (including the 7th Foot,) gave them up as the American War progressed.

The Royal Fusiliers DID arrive in American with them, though none survive. Construction of surviving caps was a bit of a mystery until the 1990s, when the Scottish United Services Museum started conserving the Seafield Collection. These are post-Revolution, but still follow the 1768 warrant. Pioneer, musician and grenadier caps are remarkably similiar, but for some details. Good friend Jason is using this as the basis for a fusilier version and so shall we. Trade in bear parts is legally complex, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Words. Details can be maddeningly elusive in the past. The Continental Army coat started out well enough. There were good sources that helped shape the color and style of this coat. Then there weren't. Always good (painful) to check footnotes. Construction of the coat has passed the point of drastic changes. Since details are often few in letters, orderly books, and journals, the meaning of words becomes key. There are coats and there are jackets.

This might look familiar. The white at left is the belted waistcoat. Wrapped around the right edge of the canvas interfacing is the red strip of a lapel. Hooks and eyes get fixed at top right. Only a skirt lining in this coat.

The America Southern army was nearly destroyed in 1780 at Charleston. General Gates did his best to destroy the replacement Army two months later. Gates replacement, General Greene discovered a dearth of roads and wagons in the Carolinas. States like Maryland struggled to get clothes to their nearly naked troops.

"Regimental Coats" arrived in October, and were handed out immediately. In Virginia, good old Baron Steuben rushed supplies, arms, and men South. These fellows wore "jackets with sleeves."

Steuben put a bug in Greene's ear about jackets. Jackets were not as "sightly" as regimentals, but easier to make and better than nothing. Here is the single layer collar turned to the outside. The seam will be covered by the collar. Greene described the jackets as "in the form of British Light Infantry Coats; to come down as low upon the hips as the waistband..."

Since the buttons have short shanks, it's easier to apply linen tape to the lapels--till you get to the collar. None of this is visible when finished. To muddy the waters further, the 1780 Board of War specifications state coats should come to mid-thigh, and have functional lapels, and collar.

Always nice to know what they were supposed to have. There is period imagery of British Lights with square cut jackets as early as 1777. This is probably what Greene is talking about. No lapels, no skirts, "with sleeves" implying that sometimes they were without like a waistcoat. Blue and red is a safe choice for mid-Atlantic Continentals, but not sure. Already ideas are forming for another coat.