In this series I have been making a midshipman uniform for my 9-year-old son. The period I am focussing on for this uniform is the years between 1795-1812. In this particular post I have been working on a waistcoat.
This dear William would soon be amongst them. There could be no doubt of his obtaining leave of absence immediately, for he was still only a midshipman; and as his parents, from living on the spot, must already have seen him and be seeing him perhaps daily, his direct holidays might with justice be instantly given to his sister, who had been his best correspondent through a period of seven years…
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
One of the difficulties I am facing is that not many extant midshipmen uniforms have survived, so it is a little more difficult to find out the exact regulations for the the time period than merely looking at museum pieces. There are also less pictures (both paintings and cartoons) of midshipmen versus those of higher naval rank. I am also working to a deadline, as my son would like to wear this uniform next month for “Book Week” at his school. This deadline has squashed any desire in me to search for copies of British Navy regulations to peruse!
The British navy uniform included a white, woven wool, single-breasted waistcoat for all its officers. This waistcoat featured an upstanding collar, pockets (flap pockets earlier in the period and welt pockets later), and brass buttons. The Royal Museums Greenwich states that the pattern on the buttons indicate the rank and status of the wearer, and Diana’s Buttons have a useful summary of the British naval buttons through the 18th and 19th centuries. The waistcoat could be lined with cotton or silk, backed with cotton, and with the fronts and facings (if they had facings) in wool. Waistcoats of this era also often had tapes (or eyelets and cord) at the back for adjustment.
My pattern inspiration initially came from the all the extant waistcoats I could find. None of these are identified as midshipmen waistcoats, and the paintings of midshipman don’t always show the waistcoat clearly, so my general assumption is that they were all similar.
I looked at The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh, and Costume Close-Up, by Linda Baumgarten for ideas on the shapes of pattern pieces, particularly the collar. Both of these books have examples of waistcoats from the 1790’s.
From this information I draped the lining on my son and cut away! *gasp* This is the first garment that I have actually draped with fabric. Having recently made a vest for an Oliver production may have helped my courage!
The front panels were made from cream wool, and the waistcoat was lined and backed with ivory cotton broadcloth. The buttons have a fouled anchor imprint and are made from gold-coloured metal.
A modern waistcoat is relatively simple to make, as it generally consists of sewing two side seams and attaching buttons to the front. For this reason I have not gone through every step of the construction process. If you are interesting in seeing each step of a Regency waistcoat, you can refer to my previous post, MY Mr Knightley: Making a Regency Waistcoat.
What is different in Regency waistcoats is the collar and pockets, as many modern vests do not have these features.
I drafted the collar piece after examining the pattern pieces in Costume Close-up. It seems that many collars were seamed at the centre back. This has the effect of drawing them in closer around the neck. The grainline was often vertical in historical pieces, but in modern wear collars often have the grainline running horizontally.
I put in welt pockets, using a tutorial from Craftsy.
The buttonholes were slashed and handsewn with buttonhole stitch, and the buttons sewn on. You can see the edges of the waistcoat have been handsewn through all thicknesses with a running stitch to help keep the wool flat.
Keep an eye out for my next post in this series, making a midshipman coat.
The Making of a Midshipman – the introduction
Sources and Relevant Links
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen – read online
Image Source: A British Navy waistcoat (circa. after 1812) – at Royal Museums Greenwich
Image Source: A Portrait of a Midshipman, painted by Sir Martin Archer Shee
Image Source: A British Navy waistcoat (circa. after 1807) – at Royal Museums Greenwich
Buttons of the U.K.’s Royal Navy – by Diana’s Buttons
The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon
Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790, by Linda Baumgarten – buy on Amazon
Sewing a welt pocket – by Craftsy