Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

January 19, 2017

A Silk Taffeta Foot Colour

Recently I was allowed access to the foot colour in the National Army Museum store in Stevenage. It was educational and as you will see I was inspired to have  go and make one from scratch which opened up some of the secrets of the 1640s tailors who were asked to make flags for the armies of the Civil War.

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4th Captain’s Colour Sir John Gell’s Regiment of Foot c1646

 This is the catalogue entry from the museum website about Gell:

Sir John Gell was High Sheriff of Derbyshire when he was commissioned as Colonel to raise a Parliamentarian regiment during the English Civil War (1642-1651). His regiment took part in several engagements including the sieges of Chester and Lichfield and the battle of Hopton Heath.

Gell became disaffected with the political direction taken by the Parliamentary regime after the king’s surrender in 1646. A further cause of disillusionment was Parliament’s reluctance to compensate him for losses he incurred in fighting the war. In 1646 his regiment was disbanded and he was relieved of all appointments. Gell moved to London where he made contact with Royalist agents but in 1650 he was found guilty of knowing of a royalist plot and not revealing it to the authorities. Imprisoned in the Tower of London, Gell was released in 1653 on grounds of ill health. He was pardoned by King Charles II at the Restoration in 1660 and given an appointment at court.

 

This foot colour is the best provenanced of the three in the museum, having been in the keeping of the descendants of Sir John Gell in Newnham in Northamptonshire it can be connected with some certainty to Gell’s regiment from the Civil War. It was framed and kept behind glass where Andrew Polkey examined it for his research into the war in Derbyshire and Stephen Ede Borrett for his book ‘Ensignes of the Civil Wars’. Andrew’s comments formed the larger part of a description in ECW Flags and Colours by Les Prince and Stuart Peachey. In 1994 it was purchased by the National Army Museum and passed into their collection. Recently it was taken for conservation work to the Museum’s workshops in Woolwich. It has now been returned to the stores in Stevenage where I was allowed to view and photograph it. I had read the piece in Les’ and Stephen’s books, but because the previous inspections upon which the descriptions were based were limited I wanted to look at it for myself.

 

The museum entry says:

 

“4TH Captain’s colour. Gell’s Regiment of Infantry, C.1650. Double sided silk colour with a gold silk ground and five blue stars inset, running diagonally from the lower right corner of St. George’s Cross at the top left to the lower right corner (as viewed). The pole sleeve is lined with linen fabric.”

 

The width of the colour is 1990mm. It is 1915mm tall at the pole sleeve and 1870mm at the fly. The body of the flag is cut from three sections of yellow silk hand-stitched together with run and fell seams. The upper portion above the horizontal seam is 800mm wide and the lower section 1050mm. The lower section is one single piece whilst the upper section is made in two pieces of yellow silk, one under the canton and the larger piece (to the right hand side in the photo) joined with a vertical seam that runs from the top right hand corner of the canton to the centre seam.

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The silk on the St George’s canton, (especially the white quarters) has degraded over the years but it’s still possible to see how it went together. It’s obvious now, (though it wasn’t when framed) that the vertical of the St George’s cross isn’t one complete strip as the top and lower arms don’t quite line up. I think that I’ve now (having made a canton) worked out the sequence of construction for the St George in the corner. The canton was made up as a complete section and formed the basis for the rest of the colour. All the seams are run and fell to protect the cut edges of the silk, the practical problem here is that a run and fell seam has a finite width across both sides so if you aren’t careful lining up the pieces, the reverse side can look pretty rubbish (I found that out by trial and error). The two top vertical red pieces were sewn to a flanking cream square and the lower two were also sewn to another one, making sure that the two seams were identically aligned. Then these two sections were sewn to the horizontal red stripe to complete the cross.

The finished canton doesn’t overlay the flag, but is set into the body in the following way: It was sewn to the yellow silk section below it and this complete piece was sewn to the yellow top left hand quarter of the colour. The top and bottom halves were then joined by sewing together with another run and fell seam. In this way, all the seams are straight and there were no tricky corners to sew round. The entire flag was then hemmed on three sides with what looks like a thin cord inset within the hem to give it more body and hopefully keep it from immediately fraying in the wind.

 

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Following this, in a diagonal line from the corner of the canton were sewn a row of five blue stars. This denotes that the colour is the flag of a fourth (or possibly fifth) captain’s company. This also may explain why the flag has survived. Quite often any junior colours like this one wouldn’t have been used if the regiment was under strength. The stars are made of blue silk sewn into star shaped holes cut into the ground of the flag. I suspect the shapes were tacked on to the flag and whipped down around the edges before the silk was turned over and the yellow silk cut away. Then the yellow edges on the reverse were whipped over to hold them in place and to stop them fraying.

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The pole sleeve was the made from the same yellow silk as the flag, lined with plain weave linen and attached to the colour. It’s 50mm wide at the widest point, and could take a pole roughly 3cm in diameter. The colour also had a matching silk cord with tassels attached. It has been associated with the flag for a long time so may be safely attributed, but it wasn’t available for me to view

 

The colour has been stabilized by the museum and covered with a fine net to prevent any further degradation of the silk. Some fine dust was removed with a fine sable brush and this brightened it up generally. The white silk, (and to a lesser extent the red) in the St George canton has degraded badly but this has been enclosed in conservation net and the whole colour now fixed to a padded board for future display. As I understand it is to be displayed at the Chelsea Museum in rotation with another flag a blue and white pile wavy foot colour, also possibly from the civil war.

Since I visited the museum I’ve been commissioned to make a gyrony colour, 2nd Captain’s company of Sir John Owen’s regiment, possibly Capt Brinknir’s company. This picture was what I had to use, but I could begin to see how it would go together.13874781_10209424344542131_1517240195_n

The canton in the corner I could do, having seen the Gell’s flag. The gyrony sections I thought would also be a doddle. How wrong could I be? It all started off well, that canton went nicely, it even lined up on both sides. and I managed to complex seam with the angle that joins the canton with the red section below it to the white silk piece that completes one quarter.

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I laid out the silk pieces just to check all was well and took a deep breath before I carried on.

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Then I hit the wall! Having made up the three other quarters I started to join the whole thing together and realised that the offset nature of the run and fell seams make it really tricky to align both sides of the flag. One side was quite respectable but the other….Suffice to say I didn’t take any photos! Notice here that the colour takes up most of the living room when laid out.

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The drawing board was needed! I took a week off, then made a small replica and played with various alignments of seam, red over white, white over red etc. Why hadn’t I done this earlier! It was now coming together. If you are really interested I can draw you a picture of the seams and how they align, but to cut a long story short I was beaming all over my stupid face when I got to this stage. So glad it was only a 2nd captain’s flag that was ordered, but maybe I’d be up to the challenge of more sections?

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It just needed hemming around some thicker interior thread, like the Gell’s colour and a pole sleeve adding. I had even sourced a silk cord and tassel to match the one in the illustration.

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So here is the finished article ready to rumble.

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More reading, (though with less accurate descriptions of this colour) can be found in:

English Civil War Flags and Colours by Les Prince & Stuart Peachey 1991

Ensignes of the English Civil War by Stephen Ede-Borrett 1997

January 19, 2017

Required Reading

The new book from the V&A, 17th-Century Men’s Dress Patterns has been anticipated since the series started with 17th Century Women’s Dress Patterns. The wait has been well worth it, as the authors have learned from the previous volumes and produced this state of the art publication about early 17th century men’s clothes. I had a conversation a few years ago with a museum curator about the first women’s dress pattern book and she told me it was ‘re-enactor porn’. This has taken it to another level.

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The book has been produced by a collection of authors from the School of Historical Dress and Susan North from the V&A. Each author has inspected and put together a pattern for at least one of the items in the book, four doublets, a pair of breeches, a cloak, a pickadil, a hat, a cap and liner, embroidered mittens, a sword girdle and a pair of linen hose. The introduction and photos of stitches set you up with the background and techniques used for the clothes and then pitch you headlong into the world of the 17th century tailor. I particularly like the diagrams on page 11 where the different methods of fixing each of the four doublets to the matching breeches are shown so you can compare the different systems and track the development of the hook and eye system that we use at the 1642 Tailor. In the following pages you are introduced to all the tailoring techniques used for this complex garment. This is not a book of fancy dress, it’s proper stuff. If you want to make a real stiffened, interlined, fitted garment that will transport you back to the 17th century, dive in.

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This picture (above) lifted from the Amazon preview gives a flavour of the detailed photos you get  of all the clothes. I know that this red grosgrain silk doublet has been a favourite of Jenny Tiramani’s for a long time and she has pulled out all the stops, with close up photos, x-rays, detailed pattern layout and a superbly drawn construction sequence. There are even diagrams of the braid used and some photos of the half scale reconstruction Jenny made to test the techniques. If I was being picky, I would like an indication of which points each doublet would have been tried for size on the wearer. All the constructions just assume the pattern was spot on to start with. Below, (from another Amazon image) are some more photos and x-rays of a pair of silk breeches made for Sir Rowland Cotton.

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If you don’t have this book, save up your pennies and get a copy (or nick it off a friend). It will open your eyes to how hard the tailors worked to make these clothes. They weren’t just thrown together on a machine, but finessed, sculpted, shaped and finished off by real expert craftsmen. As has this book. It’s a tad pricey at £35 from the museum, but there are all sorts of places where you can get it cheaper.

I can’t wait for book 4!

 

 

January 9, 2017

Grey Russet Wool Fabric

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Just some old grey wool? Maybe not. The subject of russet wool is a tricky one, sometimes russet refers to a colour and sometimes it’s the kind of fabric. The trouble being that research hasn’t exactly revealed what the fabric was, and most people think of it in terms of colour, a kind of natural brown, slightly red shade that we are all familiar with. What we do know about russet in the mid part of the seventeenth century is that it was a lightish weight wool fabric, most often used for coats and breeches. Stuart Peachey in Vol 3 of Clothing of the Common People lists seventeen garments in records, including waistcoats, men’s pettycoats, coats, breeches, women’s pettycoats, waistcoats, cloaks etc. It would seem to be a popular fabric for clothes of the common people. In fact the famous quote by Cromwell is indicative:

“I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that you call a Gentleman and is nothing else.” (On the passing of the revolutionary Grand Remonstrance of November 1641)

We have tried to replicate as far as possible the make up of a seventeenth century russet fabric here. though there is still some discussion as to its particular make up. Stuart P (whose book is recommended) lists several quotes that suggest russet was basically a plain woollen cloth, undyed and left as whatever colour the sheep’s fleece was. There are suggestions that several shades of grey could have been possible candidates, as well as a lightish blue and possibly black. We have taken our inspiration from a tailor’s bill I was shown that lists the many kinds of grey cloth available in a Chester draper’s shop in 1642/3. Titmouse grey, iron grey, mouse grey, grime grey, lead grey etc. We went for two shades, a dark shade which I have named (in honour of Mr Cromwell) Ironside Grey  and a pale, the 1642 Tailor Titmouse Grey.

The next consideration was the weave. It’s unclear whether russet was a plain, (tabby) weave or a twill. most sources are unclear and different people have made different choices. Tudor Tailor have plumped for a twill cloth for their ‘sheep colour‘ wool fabric which is very similar, so we were almost persuaded. Stuart says “possibly plain”. I looked at the fabric on a (possibly) mid seventeenth century coat in Colchester Museum. It’s a plain weave, milled to take a cut edge and napped on one side. It makes sense if you are making coats to have a fabric that will hold an edge without really fraying, so in the end, after all the deliberation, that’s what we went for.

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The wool was commissioned from a mill in Yorkshire, in the Happy Valley of TV fame and I’m happy to say it arrived this morning. It’s plain weave, (each with a different colour grey thread in the warp and weft to give it a motley look), 150cm wide, milled and napped, and a good weight for coats, breeches women’s waistcoats, hodden grey soldier’s coats, etc, etc. For those of a more techjnical bent, it’s 400 grams per square metre or 20 oz/yd in weight. It is 100% pure new wool and has been given a raised and cropped finish. The yarns are both s twist: sett 11 epi and 9 ppi. We will be using it to make our own things, but enough is available to sell on at £22 per metre. Samples or more substantial lengths can be ordered from the 1642 Tailor.

 

 

October 5, 2016

The 1642 Doublet

We get asked for doublets at the 1642 Tailor more than any other garment, so I thought I’d write a short piece explaining what exactly went into a doublet in the Early Modern period and why we might just charge more than you would expect.

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As you can see from the above fellow (we only know he was a gentleman, not his name) who appeared briefly for sale by an art collector the doublet is a tailored garment, close fitting and generally has lots of buttons. What you can’t see is the internal workings, the padding, the stiffening, the little tricks they used to stuff themselves into their doublets and the girdlestead that holds his breeches up. It’s not a simple thing like a coat which at the most would have two layers and some shoulder padding, at the least only one layer. It’s not a lightweight jacket. I’ve picked up original doublets in museums. They have a weight and a presence that is difficult to reproduce in a hurry. You can’t just run one up on a sewing machine.

For a start I would guess that his tabs at the bottom are three layers like a doublet I saw at the Museum of London. The outer silk, the inner lining (possibly silk, or maybe fine linen) and an inner layer of a thickish wool. In the picture below you can see the outer layer wrapped around the wool and at the top of the tab a little bit of the silk lining remaining on the left hand side. This can’t be done on a machine, it has to be whipped on by hand. Spot also the girdlestead (this gets sewn to the doublet together with the tabs for strength) and the little linen tab that takes a cord to go across the belly to the corresponding tab on the right hand side. It takes the strain off of the buttons at the lower end for the more generously proportioned gentleman.

 

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The girdlestead is a hangover from the medieval doublet and hose when the two were tied together with laces and points. By the 1640s the it was a doubled strip of coarse linen with metal eyes fixed to it to take the hooks on the breeches waistband.

To make up the doublet, you begin with the canvas interlining, stretching and shaping to fit the customer and pad stitching in the wool padding across the shoulders. This forms the skeleton of the doublet, a structure that will be entirely hidden when the doublet is made, but vital to the fit of the garment. This is nicely detailed and properly explained  in The Modern Maker Vol 1 by Mathew Gnagy, a recommended text for anyone who wants to make their own doublet. The canvas interlining also carries the belly pieces (and the girdlestead) that work as a male corset, flattening the outline slightly. By 1640 these were relatively small, but very rigid, stiffened with whalebone. The picture below shows clearly the outline of the belly piece and another clear view of a belly tab, fixed through the lining to the stiffening and interlining.

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Because the interlining is coarse canvas, the buttonholes can’t be cut through this, so a buttonstand is constructed with a flap for the buttons separate to the lining. See below how the stand overlaps the buttonholes so that when the doublet is buttoned the two stiffened halves meet under the buttons. Note also the neatness (or otherwise) of the inside of the buttonholes in this quite high status example.

 

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The buttons are (in all examples I’ve examined in museums) thread wrapped. This may not necessarily have been the case in the 1640s, metal buttons do turn up in archaeological finds, but we try where possible to use reproduction threaded ones, like these silk ones on a recent doublet we made for a client. They’re not cheap, but they are correct. You also need loads, 20 was the lower end of the average number of buttons on a ‘posh’ doublet.

 

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The collar needs to stand up proud. This is stiffened with a collar piece of layers of coarse linen, pad stitched to hold them stiff and curved. This photo shows clearly the layers used to make the collar on this poor degraded doublet.

 

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The collar is also too thick for buttonholes, so the trick is to make finger-loop braid and use this to make loops for the buttons. The braid is secured on the inside and loops pulled through holes in the top layer. You make the holes with a bodkin.

 

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I’ve not even touched the sleeves. They weren’t as stiffened and built as the body, but they were often made in three layers and curved so that the arms were held in a particular way. Often the cuffs were secured with four or five matching buttons and buttonholes. The sleeve linings are also set separately, the lining of the body secured to the armhole before the sleeve lining is whipped in otherwise the whole thing won’t hang nicely when it’s worn.

So, think about what you want before you order a doublet. It’s not just a funny-shaped coat-ey thing, it is a significant garment, an investment in the clothing of the period. It will take you over when you put it on. It will hold your stomach in, your head erect and your arms in a particular curve. You will know you are wearing it and it will take you back to the seventeenth century. And don’t be surprised that we don’t have a standard price. Every single doublet we make is a labour of love and completely different to every other one we’ve made.

 

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March 23, 2016

The Witch, A Costume Review

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I went last night to my local World Of Cine to see The Witch, a film set in 17th Century New England about a family who set out to make a life outside of the local town on their own and eventually find that their faith isn’t enough to sustain them in the face of nature and poor harvests. The director Robert Eggars put in a considerable amount of research before filming to set the story, dialogue and the people directly in the period. It shows in spades in this atmospheric and spooky tale.

What struck me though were the costumes, designed by Linda Muir. Apart from some dodgy linen in the opening reel where the family part company with their local church, the clothes are pretty spot on and obviously hand made. I guess it was a luxury for the dressers, only having five principal actors who wear the same clothes throughout but the things worn by the two adults and the five children who make up the family were excellent, looked well worn and obviously personal to the characters. Linda also researched the period as intensively as the director, reading every one of Stuart Peachey’s new series of books as well as trawling the web for sources. You can read an interview here where she talks about the process. Note the part about the website that explains how to dress your hair with linen tapes. I think I might know which one that is.

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Special mention to Caleb’s coat in the picture at the top and William’s doublet. I loved that you could see the stitching on both garments, and the welted seams on the father’s (played with passion by Ralph “Finchy” Ineson) doublet are a feature that I will definitely copy sometime soon. Thomasin, the elder daughter wears a simple cloak out of doors that has clearly been pieced using authentic widths of fabric.

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Hats or coifs were worn throughout by the characters apart from a few notable exceptions, which is excellent as the lack of headgear a major bugbear of mine in period films. It is obvious that the advice on the reenactor’s website was followed in the dressing of the female character’s hair. The next picture shows clearly the handsewn doublet worn by the son Caleb. You can see the prick-stitching along the sleeve keeping the internal seam allowances down. I’m not 100% convinced by the sleeve caps which feature in all the clothes worn by the principals. I’ve not seen this style before, but it is plausible. His monmouth, or labourer’s cap is tucked in his belt.

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If I was being picky I would mention the buttons were generally a tad disappointing and that Thomasin should have worn a kerchief over her shoulders like her mother, but had this been the case I wouldn’t have been able to see the gusset on the shoulder of her smock (bad Black Phillip for calling it a shift) or the hand braided ties on the collar.

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It’s a good film with a great sense of the period.  Go and see it, the clothes are excellent and look hand made and well worn. What I would say is that if you are upset by animals copping it, even if they are acting it might not be the film for you.

The Witch: The Movie That Terrified Stephen King

Still from “The Witch” via Parts and Labor

January 24, 2016

A Trevelyon Pattern Embriodered Cap

image1I’m so pleased with the way this cap turned out that I may keep it for myself, though I would reluctantly let it go to a good home and a 60cm head! The embroidery was performed at Araaish Designs in Mumbai following a pattern that I sent to them together with a piece of antique linen and a skein of silk from Mulberry Dyer.

 

This was the pattern I used. If you look closely you will note that I’ve lowered the crown somewhat. High crowned caps do appear in pictures but as the vast majority of surviving caps are of this lower crown style. I modified the original, removing a couple of the lower pomegranates and substituting strawberries instead. I chose the upper of the two borders for the turn-back edge.

 

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This is the embroidery flat on the linen as it arrived from India.  As you may imagine I couldn’t wait to put it together, but I had some other orders to finish first. The lower border is embroidered on the reverse so that it is right side out when folded in place.

 

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I finally managed to put the cap together with a gathered liner and you can see the result at the top. Here are a few more details of the lovely needlework that the guys in Mumbai managed. I think it is nothing short of magicical, almost a masterpiece.

 

 

January 24, 2016

A Large Coat (Update)

A few snaps of the large coat from the last post actually being worn in the wild. Keen eyed viewers will spot the blue jump coat which is also part of the impression designed for the Aston’s Dragoones and which we designed and made for them. It’s good to see our clothes come to life, though a little patina of mud and horse muck will improve the look even more!

December 8, 2015

A Large Coat

image1Fresh from the workroom, this is a large cavalry or dragoon trooper’s coat made to the specifications contained within a set of papers that have come to light for a Royalist cavalry regiment under Sir Thomas Aston. The troopers were all given a ‘large’ coat to go over their doublets and short jump coats and the accounts list the materials purchased for their construction in the early part of 1643. This is the first large coat for Aston’s Dragooners and will go over the blue jump coats we have already made.

For instance, Robert Baker received a coat made from 2 1/2 yds of grey broadcloth, a piece of silk, 3 yds of looplace, 24 buttons, one long button and some thread.  John Mason’s took 3yds qt of cloth, 2 doz buttons at 16d, silk 3d, thrid (sic) 2d 1 long button 10d. Henry Pierey; 3yds 3 qts of cloth, 2 doz bigg buttons 16d, 3 yds loop lace 9d, 1 long button 10d a qtr Poldavivie 3d and silk 4d , thrid 2d.

There are some interesting things in the list, first that the coats were not lined with linen or canvas as were the New Model Army issue coats in 1645. It was unnecessary as the troopers all had at least two other layers of issue clothing. The looplace was probably for decoration, though we decided in this case to leave this feature and the silk possibly for facing the buttonholes on the inside. The long button remains a mystery. As far as I can tell, there are no extant garments with long buttons. The best theories that we came up with are that it might have been something to keep the coat closed around the neck whilst the rest of the coat lay open like a cloak, or possibly a regimental icon or badge.

The pattern I used was based on two coats I have examined, one in Colchester Museum and another in the V&A collection, both of which I’ve discussed in previous posts. It’s a basic coat block that flares from the hip with skirts that are the maximum width of a bolt of broadcloth. Once the pieces were laid out, it was obvious that the pattern would use best part of 2 1/2 yards of the cloth which matched the cloth allotted to Trooper Baker in the 1640s. The buttons were made for the tailor and based on the pattern of those used in the Colchester coat. It’s a turk’s head wrap and produces a serviceable button with a nice detail.

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The buttonholes are also based on the Colchester coat, the simple open-worked linen ones. We went for undyed silk thread.

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You’ll notice too that the edged of the coat are left raw. This was a standard feature of 17th century tailoring and was certainly used on the Colchester coat.

With an unlined wool coat, the hems need to be sewn down to avoid fraying every time it is worn. I used a prick stitch so that the external stitches were minimised. In the next photo you can see this together with the internal seams, plus the seam attaching the collar. This seam I have seen on several original coats and doublets.

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The sleeve ends in a turnback cuff. The construction is a little conjectural. The V&A coat is lined and the Colchester one has later cuffs added so I decided to make these by snipping the seams and turning them inside at the point of the cuff so that the allowances were always inside and hidden.

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June 17, 2015

Basic Period Buttonhole

As it’s been a while since we posted, I though I’d show how we do our buttonholes for basic coats and give some examples to show where the stitches come from.

The basic outline comes from a coat that I’ve discussed before in Colchester Museum. The construction of the whole thing is very simple and the buttonholes are no exception. If you look at this photo you will see what I mean. The buttonhole starts as a thread gimp around the cut hole and then stitches are worked around the opening, not as close as you would expect from more modern buttonholes, making the whole thing quite open and actually quick to make. The thread at the end is worked around the sidebars to finish the thing off.

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Here’s another example from a 1630/40 coat. Though this is more closely worked, the technique is very similar.

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Now here is my version.

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First mark out your buttonholes and tack (or pin) around where the hole will be to stop the layers from moving.

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Work the thread around the hole, outlining the buttonhole and making sure not to pull it too tight. I like to put in a couple of anchor stitches on the long edge to stop the gimp migrating into the hole.

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Make the basic stitches in this manner, so the thread lies across the outlining thread and so that the knot is made on the inner face of the buttonhole. Work all the way up one side in this manner. I’m just wrapping the thread over the needle here. You could go right round to create more of a knot, the choice is yours.

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Work around the bar at the top with simple knots. I like to make the centre stitch go through the fabric to anchor the bar. Then work back down the other side. Try to match the stitches evenly on either side, though the maker of the coat didn’t always do this very accurately!

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Work another bar at the bottom and finish off.

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The finished buttonhole. Simples!

February 17, 2015

New Rogues Gallery

Some pretty pictures of our blue jump coats, a boy’s green waistcoat and Helen one of our tailors in her kit from a small event last weekend at Beeston Castle in Cheshire. Enjoy!

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