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Posts Tagged ‘18th Century shirt pattern’

An 18th Century shirt, from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The sleeves are finely pleated to enable the tailcoat to fit over the top.

My first item of clothing in my husband’s Regency wardrobe is a white shirt.

Throughout the 18th century, men of all classes wore long white shirts with off-the-shoulder sleeves as a basic undergarment underneath their clothes. The shirts often doubled as nightwear and were usually made from linen or cotton. The only visible part of the shirt during the day was the upper edges of the collar peeking out from underneath the cravat, and maybe the frills on the cuff, which extended below the jacket sleeves in the 18th century. The tails of the shirt were also extremely long, designed to be pulled between the legs as an early type of underwear.

By Regency times, little had changed. The frills on the cuffs were beginning to be dispensed with, and by the end of the Regency the frills on the front opening of the shirt had begun disappearing as well.

The Pattern

The pattern of a man’s shirt was relatively simple. It was made from a series of squares and rectangles sewn together to form an unfitted and comfortable undergarment. Norah Waugh has a pattern in her book, The Cut of Men’s Clothes, and there are also patterns available online (from Kannik’s Korner). All of my pattern measurements below DO NOT include seam allowances.

As the garment is so loose fitting, I found it unnecessary to take oodles of body measurements, but I would suggest taking a few.

Body Measurements to take

  • Neck circumference (to make sure the collar fits)
  • Wrist circumference (to make sure the wrist cuff fits)
  • Armhole measurement around upper arm (I adjusted for this later)

My pattern pieces

The layout of the pattern pieces (not to scale).

  • Shirt front – 18″ (on fold) x 20″ – cut 1 on the fold
  • Shirt back – 18″ (on fold) x 20″ – cut 1 on the fold
  • Sleeve – 22″ (on fold) x 18″ – cut 2 on the fold
  • Sleeve binder – see below
  • Underarm gusset – 4.5″ square – cut 2
  • Shoulder gusset – 3″ square – cut 2
  • Side seam gusset – 1.5″ square – cut 2
  • Collar – 4″ x 17.5″ – cut 2
  • Cuff band – 5″ x 7.5″ – cut 2
  • Optional: Front frill
  • Optional: Cuff and sleeve opening frill
Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of my pieces all cut out before I began sewing, so I did a simple drawing of how I laid it out on the material. Using this layout, you will need 3.5 metres (3.8 yards) of material, either 115cm or 155cm wide.
I used cotton broadcloth, as it was a heavier weight cotton and much cheaper than the linen available in my local fabric store! You can use the leftover long lengths of material to make some cravats, but make sure they are at least 60 inches long or they will be difficult to tie.

Construction Steps

Step One: Sew the front and back shirt pieces together at the shoulder seams, sewing only 6 inches in from the sides. (I flat-felled – unless stated otherwise – all the internal seams to make it neater and more hard-wearing.) Make a cut 10 inches down the centre front.

Step Two: Fold the shoulder gusset in half to form a triangle and sew it in. (I actually cut it in half instead.)

The shirt front and back sewn at shoulder seams, with shoulder gusset. I have not flat-felled the seams here yet. I also made my shirt 32 inches long (rather than 40).

Step Three: Gather the neckline.

The neckline gathered

Step Four: Sew the two collar pieces together, with one edge turned up.

The collar, with corners clipped and one edge turned up 1.5 cms (or seam allowance).

Step Five: Turn the collar right side out and attach the unturned edge of the collar to the neckline, adjusting the gathers to fit. The turned edge can then be folded under on the inside and hand sewn to the neckline.

The collar attached, ready to be hand-sewn.

Step Six: Sew the underarm gusset to the sleeve underarm. (For greater detail on how to sew square gussets, see my post on making a chemise.)

The sleeve, with sleeve seam pinned and square gusset placed at underarm region.

Step Seven: Sew the sleeve seam, leaving a 4 inch opening in the bottom end of the seam for the wrist to fit through. Gather the sleeve head and the sleeve bottom.

The sleeve, with each end gathered

Step Eight: Sew the sleeve to the body. It can be a good idea to try it on at this point to ensure the arm fits nicely. If it is too tight, you can loosen the gathers around the sleeve head which effectively makes the armhole larger.

The sleeve attached, with cuff attached wrong! Oops! I had to unpick it in the next step!

Step Nine: Fold the cuff band in half longways and sew short edges together, with one edge turned up similar to the collar. Turn inside out and attach the unturned edge to the lower sleeve edge. The other edge is folded over and hand sewed to the inside, just like the collar.

The cuff band, pinned for sewing

Step Ten: Sew the side seams down 17.5 inches from the armhole. (Adjust this amount if you made the armhole bigger.) Fold the side gusset in half to form a triangle – or if you cut in half (like me!) hem it – before setting it in the seam.

Setting the gusset

The hemmed gusset

Step Eleven: Hem the rest of the side seams by turning over the seam allowance and sewing. Hem the bottom edge. (Note: I made my tails much shorter than period examples of up to 40 inches.)

Step Twelve: Many period examples have both sleeve binders and shoulder binders, and these served to reinforce and bind the seams. For the sleeve binder, I cut a length of material 3 inches wide and long enough to go right around the sleeve seam and a little below it. It was sewn on the same line as the armhole seam and then turned to the main body of the garment, thereby covering the raw seam edge in the armhole. (This was a great way to avoid flat-felling or zig-zagging a gathered seam!) Then the remaining edge was sewn down through all thicknesses. I have seen sleeve binders reach as far inwards as the collar. I did not do a shoulder binder, choosing to flat-fell those seams instead, but it is effectively a piece of material with raw edges folded under and sewn on the inside to cover the raw shoulder seam.

The sleeve binder attached to the armhole seam, and pinned ready to sew at edge.

Step Thirteen: The raw edges at the centre front slit are turned over and sewn. (Cutting an upside-down V-cut at the bottom of the slit helps when sewing the bottom part, similar to when setting a gusset in a corset or doing a welt pocket). In order to reinforce the base of the cut, hand-sew a heart-shaped piece of material on the inside.

I thought having a heart-shape inset into a garment was so romantic that I couldn’t resist embroidering our initials inside it! Ohhhhh…! You can also see the binding that covers the raw edge of the front frill (instructions below).

Step Fourteen: Attach a frill around the front opening and/or cuff/sleeve opening, depending on the look you would like to achieve. As a general rule, gentlemen had frills and working class men had none, but this does depend on the particular era you are interested in. I only did a front frill.

The front frill, pinned and ready to sew. After sewing, the raw edge was bound with bias-binding. You can also see the heart-shaped piece visible at the bottom of the vertical slit.

Step Fifteen: Attach a button to each cuff and one to the lower edge of the collar. The collar could have as many as three buttons.

All complete! An 18th Century man’s shirt.

The next item in Mr Knightley’s wardrobe will be a cravat.

To read all my posts on MY Mr Knightley, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey – A group of posts about women’s Regency costumes

Sources and Relevant Links

The details of an 18th Century shirt from the picture above, in the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon

A pattern for a man’s shirt available online (as well as other men’s period clothing patterns), by Kanniks Korner

How to Flat Fell Seams

An 18th Century reproduction of a man’s shirt, by Kanniks Korner

An 18th Century extant example of a man’s shirt – at All The Pretty Dresses

Making an 18th Century shirt – cutting and sewing instructions from 1760

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