Saturday, March 24, 2012

Victorian Shirt: Part 2 (back, yoke, and sleeves)

It's been a while since my last post, but I've been busy. Not on the shirt though - just working a new job for two weeks, so I had to concentrate on that.

Anyway, I attached the front and the back of the shirt. I'm always amazed at how the shoulder yoke works on shirts. Basically it's a tube that contains all of the seam allowances. Because it's a tube it's a little stronger than a single layer of fabric (though I've seen shirts - and in fact have made shirts - where the yoke is cut on the bias, which allows it to move in different ways).

The images to the right and just below show the front and the back (the back is gathered to fit into the yoke; on most modern shirts there are either two side pleats or one centre pleat to accomplish the same thing).

The next step was to start work on the sleeves. The first task was to make plackets for the cuff openings. Again, these are seemingly complicated, but really just reinforce and contain the hems. I remember the first time I made sleeve plackets I thought they were arcane and very strange. Now I understand how they work, and they really aren't that difficult to make, although hand sewing made them a little bit wonky on this shirt. I don't know if it's because I didn't pin it well enough, or if just handling the shirt pulled the placket off from where I wanted it to be. In any case, no one will ever see them, as I'll be wearing a jacket over the shirt at all times. No one would see me in my shirtsleeves!

Below you can see the black chalk marks for the folds and cuts of the placket. I've already made some of the folds already, so the right-hand portion of the placket isn't showing the chalk lines.

Here I've stitched around the border of the Y-shaped line, and then cut along that line. I turned the placket inside out. In this picture I ironed it flat and then realised that I shouldn't have done that, and ironed the folds out again. I really don't want any gap to show, not like that huge gap below. The edges of the cut should be right next to each other, just with the placket wrapping around them. Does that make sense? It really does make sense if you follow the directions right.

Here is the finished placket. Just a little wonky. If I'd machine stitched it, I would have used a topstitch all the way around, but since I was hand sewing I used a fell stitch for the entire thing, except for a back stitch across the top of the placket point to hold it all together.

Finally, the (almost) finished sleeves. I still need to put the cuff bands on them. This shirt will have separate cuffs, just as it will have a separate collar. That way you could wear the same shirt a few times and always have clean cuffs and collar, which are the only parts anyone would really see anyway. The sleeve seams are flat felled.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Victorian Shirt: Part 1 (front)

My original shirt. © 2011 Kelly Davidson
Finally I am beginning the Victorian tailoring portion of my Victorian tailoring blog. Now, I already have a shirt that I've made - in fact, I made an entire Victorian suit for my wedding. I learned a lot doing those, but now I'd like to start over and make more clothing while taking pictures for all of you. :)

The shirt I made is actually great. It's made of cotton, and looks wonderful. It has two problems, both with the collar. The first is that I didn't quite centre the rear buttonhole in the collar band, so that unless I made a custom separate collar with an off-centre buttonhole to match I can't wear collars. The other problem is that I didn't trim the excess fabric in the seams at the front enough, so that the collar stud can't make it through all four layers of the shirt that it needs to: two halves of the collar band, and two halves of the collar. The only way I can get the collar to stay fastened in front is to skip the back layer of the collar band, and only attach the collar to the front layer. This works as long as I'm wearing a tie of some sort, but shows that the collar isn't really fastened if I don't. I'll work hard to make sure this isn't an issue with the new shirt (also, my wife gave me some new collar studs for our anniversary, and I think they're a little longer than the ones I had).

The new shirt is to be made of the same linen I used for the Regency shirt. It's heavier than the cotton (the linen is 5.3 oz from, but I hope after some washings it will be very comfortable. In any case, it'll work as a winter-weight shirt if it doesn't soften up a lot. Once again, I'm using the Laughing Moon Mercentile #107 pattern. I don't need to make a muslin, because I know the shirt already fits.

The first steps brought me through attaching the bosom bib and the trouser tab (which I've never actually used - I guess my trousers aren't high-waisted enough) to the shirt front. In the first shirt I made I put in a pleated bosom, but I left it plain on this one. You can see that my hand stitching isn't perfectly straight, but I'm working on it! I think maybe putting in a row of basting stitches to act as a guide might help. Any thoughts on how to keep my stitches straight?

The bosom is attached to the front with a flat felled hem, though it's never called that in the directions. The part that actually took the longest was sewing the seven buttonholes (one for the trouser tab, and six for the button studs on the front). I'm happy with how they came out - I'm definitely getting better and hand-sewn buttonholes.

 Here I'm in the middle of serging the edges of the hole. You can see that it needs this step to keep the fabric from fraying - the loose thread running the length of the slit is from the fabric itself, not from my sewing. It's about to be held in place with the next set of stitches.

And here's the finished product. The above shot is from the back, where I made my black chalk marks. This is the front, all neat and tidy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cravat and Neck Stock

A period stock from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
After trimming the cravat down to a more manageable size, I decided that I also needed a neck stock to go with it. I didn't have a pattern for one, once again, so I did a lot of searching of online images. I found that while all the reproductions I saw were made with very defined pleats, and a boxy rectangular shape, the images of actual period stocks were looser, and didn't have the pleats sewn or ironed in. I think if I were making a stock for a military outfit - which would be made of black horsehair - it might be more along the lines of the crisp pleats, but this is to be a gauzy, civilian one.

I measured my neck, and the width of the brass buckles I had, and from there figured out how much linen to cut. Using the same method of gathering pleats as with the shirt, I gathered the ends and sewed them to the tabs of the stock, and then made buttonholes in the tabs to insert the buckles:

I think it turned out great. Here are some shots of the finished pieces:

And with the cravat:

Next up: an actual piece of Victorian tailoring!

Monday, March 12, 2012


I don't look very happy in this photo, and I'll tell you why.

I wanted to make a cravat to go with my Regency shirt. You wouldn't think that was such a difficult thing, right? It's only a simple piece of cloth. Well I wasn't sure exactly what went into it - how long it should be, and so forth. I looked online, and found one ubiquitous set of directions, which showed up on multiple sites:
  1. Cut 1.5 yards white linen. Keep the selvage edge smooth.
  2. Fold in half lengthwise.
  3. Measure 10 inches on the fold and cut. This will give you an isosceles triangle, 55" x 10".
  4. Hand sew a narrow hem on the slanted edges - the selvage [sic] edge is already finished.
  5. Spray starch and iron.
 These directions make no sense.

How wide should you cut your 1.5 yards of linen? If you fold it in half, measure 10 inches and cut, you get a rhombus, not a triangle. You can hem the slanted edges, and the selvedge edge is finished, but that then leaves a long edge to also cut.

I decided not to use these directions.

I have a Victorian shirt pattern (Laughing Moon #107) which gives patterns for various styles of neckwear, including one for a cravat. It's very simple: cut a 50" square of linen, and fold it up on the bias to form the cravat. I decided to take this approach.

My handkerchief-weight linen is 56" wide, so I decided to make a 56" square instead of a 50" one, so I'd only have to hand-roll two hems instead of three. That took me a couple of days to do. I folded it up and ironed it (saving the starch for later) and's really a lot of fabric. Even in handkerchief-weight, after folding it into six layers it's more like a scarf than a cravat:

When I wrapped it around my neck, and made it tight enough so that it didn't look too bulky, it sure helped my posture!

I think I'm going to have to drastically reduce the amount of fabric in this cravat. The ubiquitous instructions also come with an image of various ways to tie the cravat, including a picture at the bottom of an untied one:

I think that if I just cut about 10-12" of fabric from my 56" width, and make it into a rhombus like the picture shows, I'll have something about right. At 56" it might not be as long as when I fold my giant square along the bias (corner to corner), but I'll at least be able to get a small knot, if not a big poofy fold. It'll mean a lot more hand-sewn rolled hems. Ah well.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


 The first stitch is the one I've used the most often: the fell stitch. It can also be called hem stitching, since it's used very often to finish hems. The fabric closest to you is the side on top. Put the needle through that to start, then pick up a thread of the fabric below, just next to where the needle comes out. Push the needle sideways through a few threads of the top fabric, and repeat.

(All of the images on the right can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

The other side of the fabric. As you can see, even with the black thread the stitches don't show much at all.

This next stitch is a running back stitch. It does exactly what the name implies: it combines a running stitch with a back stitch. It isn't as strong as a back stitch, but it's a lot faster to do.

To make it, for every back stitch you make, put the needle through the fabric twice like a running stitch, then back stitch, and repeat.

 The next stitch combines the last two: the flat fell. Put the two pieces of fabric together, offsetting one by 1/8". Stitch them together: in this example I used a running back stitch, but for the Regency shirt I used a regular back stitch so it would be stronger. (This is also what the above running back stitch looks like when it's finished.)

Fold the overlapped edge down, and then fold again along the stitch line so that the fabric now likes flat. Using the fell stitch, sew along the open hem to hold it down. This is what it will look like from the back.

And this is what it looks like from the front.

 The final stitch is the rolled hem. Using your fingers, crease about 1/8" of the fabric, put the thread through the top of it, then stitch below the crease by about another 1/8", catching one thread. Moving diagonally, put the needle through a thread or two of the folded edge.

You can load a couple of these stitches on the thread before pulling them tight, which rolls the hem up and finishes it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Regency Shirt: Part 6 (finished!)

I've finally finished the shirt!

I know it took a long time to hand sew, just fitting it in when I had time, but I'm glad I did it this way. I definitely learned a lot, and my hand sewing did get faster. I don't know yet if I really want to hand sew everything, or use a machine for parts, but as it stands this wasn't so bad.

Anyway, the last two steps were sleeve binders and side gussets. The binders go on the insides of the tops of the sleeves/armscyes, and are there I suppose to add a little strength, but mostly to enclose the raw edges left from attaching the sleeve to the shirt. The gussets go at the bottoms of the side vents, to strengthen the point where the vent splits.

Then all I had to do was sign my work. I embroidered my initials at the bottom of the shirt, using the period lettering provided with the pattern. Even though I'm making this shirt for a Scarlet Pimpernel outfit, I used my real initials - Percy Blakeney has enough shirts of his own.

You can see below how long the shirt is. I've read that men often wouldn't wear smallclothes, but would instead simply pull their shirts up between their legs. I can see how that would be possible - there's a lot of fabric! When Beau Brummel said it took him five hours to get dressed, much of that time was probably spent tucking in his shirt.

In the process of tucking in the shirt.

From the back. Good thing those trousers have a loose seat - plenty of room to fit the shirt tails!

The collar, turned up. Eventually I'll make a cravat to go with the shirt, but next up: some stitching primers.