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A sailor's tarred hat

A sailor’s tarred hat, made of leather with a gold and black striped ribbon streamer.

The last thing to make my little midshipman uniform complete was some sort of hat. I had planned on making a bicorn hat but, whilst I was waiting for the millinery supplies to arrive, I decided to make a sailor’s tarred hat for “undress” or casual/work attire. Many sailors wore these hats for dressing up smartly, but a midshipman would wear an officers bicorn for dress occasions.

Sailors of His Majesty’s Navy wore a variety of headwear to protect them from the cold, the sun, and the rain. The sailor’s tarred hat was generally made of leather and was coated with black tar to make it waterproof.

It was trimmed with black and gold ribbon, the ends trimmed with gold fringe, and the ribbon was often embroidered with the name of the ship that the sailor belonged to.

Pattern

After looking at few pictures and extant items online, I referred to the patterns in one of my books called From the Neck Up, by Denise Dreher. This book has a pattern for a sailor’s boater hat, which gave me a basic pattern to work from. The pattern was adjusted a little to fit a child.

My hat was made from the following materials: cardboard (the sort used for dress slopers and hat mock-ups), PVA glue, tissue paper, florist wire, gesso, acrylic paint, spray lacquer and ribbon.

Construction Steps

Step One: Cut out the cardboard, adding “seam allowances” or extra bits for joining the pieces. The tip is a circle shape, but it is actually slightly oval to match the actual shape of the head. “Seam allowances” are added around the outside of this piece. The side band is a long rectangle, and “seam allowances” are added to the short ends of this piece (about an inch). The brim is a circle shape with a circle cut out of it, but is once again slightly oval to match the shape of the head and tip. This means it is important to distinguish the front/back of your pieces so that they go together correctly. “Seam allowances” for the brim are added to the inside of the circle.

The pieces cut out. Extra is added around the tip circle, at the end of the crown rectangle, and on the inside of the brim circle.

The pieces cut out. Extra is added around the tip circle, at the end of the side-band rectangle, and on the inside of the brim circle.

Step Two: Glue the pieces together with PVA glue. I started with gluing the tip (circle) to the side band (rectangle). The “seam” edges should be snipped, folded in and then glued to the inside of the hat. You can glue the side-band piece together at the “seam” at this stage as well.

The tip of the hat is glued to the crown.

The tip of the hat is glued to the side band.

In order to increase the stability of the cardboard hat, I glued some tissue paper over the top of the “seam” edges. This meant that the “seams” would be held from both sides.

Step Three: I glued the brim onto the side band next, with the “seam” edges snipped and glued to the inside of the hat. I added tissue paper on the inside of the hat again to strengthen the seam.

At this stage I noticed that cardboard doesn’t always behave very well with PVA glue, as it absorbs the moisture and can go a bit wrinkly. At this stage I decided to bend some paper-covered florist wire into the shape of the brim’s outer edge and glue it on. I covered the florist wire with more tissue paper. This helped the edge of the hat brim be a bit more sturdy.

Step Four: I painted the hat all over with gesso.

The hat is painted with gesso.

The hat is painted with gesso. You can also see the tissue paper around the brim’s outer edge where I have attached the florist wire.

Step Five: I painted the hat all over with black acrylic paint (two coats). Once this was dry, I sprayed two coats of clear gloss polyurethane over the hat.

I imagine that you may be able to purchase a black gloss paint in a spray can, which might neatly combine this step! The polyurethane does give the hat a little bit of protection from moisture during use. The last thing I wanted was a sweaty forehead with a black line smeared across it!

Step Six: Then I attached some ribbon around the hat. I could only find gold and white striped ribbon, so I hand sewed some thin black ribbon onto the white parts to more closely resemble the traditional ribbon of this era. I sewed a little bit of gold fringe to the end of the ribbon to complete the “streamers”. Remember to fray-stop or melt the ends of your ribbon!

The ribbon was attached with some double-sided craft tape. I did add a little bit of black elastic to the underside, as the hat wasn’t deep enough to sit properly on my son’s head, so it was a bit more practical to have something to hold it on.

The finished hat!

The finished hat! It does have a few anomalies in the way it sits, but I figure a seaman’s hat would surely have looked a bit beaten out-of-shape after a while.

My son really wanted me to embroider the name of a ship onto the front of the ribbon, however we were running a little short of time. I am also pleased to announce that the hat survived its first whole weekend of wear, which I was initially concerned about! It’s not completely accurate, but it worked well for what we needed it for.

The outfit worn at the recent Jane Austen Festival in Canberra, Australia.

The outfit worn at the recent Jane Austen Festival in Canberra, Australia.

I would love to add to this midshipman’s costume by making a bicorn hat, for dress occasions. – coming soon!

Related Posts

The Making of a Midshipman – the first post in a series.

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Royal Navy Uniforms: Sailor’s Shore Going Rig – by The Dear Surprise

From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, by Denise Dreher

Making an 18th Century Tarred Sailors Hat, by Jas. Townsend & Son – Youtube video tutorial

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Midshipman Robert Deans (1790-1867), oil painting by the British School, 19th century

Midshipman Robert Deans (1790-1867), oil painting by the British School – 1807

In this series of posts, I have been making the elements of a midshipman uniform employed in the British Navy during the years 1795 to 1812. In this post, I have been working on a cutaway tailcoat that was worn by midshipman during this period.

The midshipman tailcoat transitioned from before the 1790’s, when the front buttoned edge formed a large curve from the collar-bone, in to the sternum (where it would be fastened with often only two buttons), and then falling out past the waist and around to the back of the knees.

In contrast to this, the cutaway coat had a straight button-up front, where all of the buttons were functional, but at the belly there was a horizontal edge out to the pelvic bone, then beginning a curve down to behind the knees.

(c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Portrait of a Midshipman – 1810 (c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Note that the double-breasted nature of the coat is incorrect.

The coat of a midshipman also had a high stand-up collar, with the white patch (with a button) of a midshipman rank. There were three decorative buttons on the cuffs, three decorative buttons underneath the corners of the flap pocket, a button to hold each of the two back pleats, and functional buttons down the centre front.

The above painting of Midshipman Deans (1807) is the clearest picture of the coat that I can find, as midshipmen portraits often only included the face and torso.

Hornblower had Pellew’s order as acting-lieutenant for two months now. Tomorrow he would take his examination. If he should pass the admiral would confirm the order the next day, and Hornblower would be a lieutenant with two months’ seniority already. But if he should fail! That would mean he had been found unfit for lieutenant’s rank. He would revert to midshipman, the two months’ seniority would be lost, and it would be six months at least before he could try again. Eight months’ seniority was a matter of enormous importance. It would affect all his subsequent career. 

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C.S. Forester

I used the 1790's coat pattern in Norah Waugh's "Cut of Men's Clothes" as one of my references.

I used the 1790’s coat pattern in Norah Waugh’s “Cut of Men’s Clothes” as one of my references, particularly regarding pocket placement, sleeve shape, and the back pleating.

Pattern

In deciding what sort of pattern to use, I spent a bit of time researching coats from the 1790-1800 time frame. I looked particularly at the construction details in the 3-pointed-flap-pockets and the arrangement of the pleats. I found examples in the books Costume Close-up, by Linda Baumargarten and The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh, and I also looked at as many paintings of midshipmen as I could find. (The downside with the paintings was that they rarely showed a full shot of the coat.)

Once I had determined where I wanted the seams and how high around the neck to have the collar, I laid the lining on my son’s body and “draped”, cutting a large allowance for seams (in case of mistakes!). Once the lining was pinned and adjusted to fit, I used these pieces to cut out the outer material.

This coat was made from navy woollen fabric (I think it was a wool/poly blend, actually). It was lined with ivory cotton broadcloth, and the buttons were a metal gold colour with a fouled anchor imprint on them.

Construction

For more step-by-step detail on making a tailcoat, you can refer to my similar post, MY Mr Knightley: Making a Regency Tailcoat. Several elements of this midshipman’s coat were done differently to my previous tailcoat, in particular the collar, the back pleats, and the pockets. Unfortunately my progress pictures were lost when I misplaced my camera’s SD card, so I am not able to include as much detail as I had planned to. Hopefully when I find them I can add them later!

Step One: The centre back seam, side seams and shoulder seams were sewn, for both the outer material and the lining.

Step Two: The sleeves were sewn together and attached to the coat. The sleeve lining was handsewn in to cover the raw edges of the sleeve seam, which had been pressed towards the sleeve.

Step Three: The pockets were made similar to a welt pocket (except without the outer welt). I made a slash through the outer fabric (not the lining) and then sewed one pocket-sized piece of broadcloth to the upper edge of the slash and one to the lower edge. These were turned to the inside, where the sides and bottom edges of the pocket pieces were sewn together. A three-cornered flap was then sewn to cover the slash, with three buttons decorating it.

The three-cornered flap pocket

The three-cornered flap pocket

Step Four: Around the tails of the coat and up to the cutaway area at the centre front, the raw edges of the lining and outer fabric were turned to the inside and handsewn with a topstitch. This was also done with the raw edges of the seams to be pleated in the tails. Once the raw edges of these seams had been sewn in, I made the pleats, pressed them, and hand sewed the seams together with a whipstitch. This seemed to help them sit flatter, but the wool does need a good deal of pressing to get it to pleat properly! Buttons were sewn at the top of the pleats to help hold them in place.

Step Five: The collar was lined with ivory cotton broadcloth and sewn to the neckline of the coat. I used a very similar pattern as I used for the collar of the waistcoat.

The midshipman patches were made using some white cotton broadcloth. Two layers were sewn together and then turned right-side-out. Buttonhole stitching was done across the centre of the patch and a small button sewn to the end of the patch. Then it was handsewn in place on the collar.

The midshipman badge on the collar.

The midshipman badge on the collar.

Step Six: The raw edges were turned in at the centre front and then handsewn with a topstitch through all thicknesses. The buttonholes were handsewn and buttons attached.

The buttonholes are handsewn with buttonhole stitch.

The buttonholes are handsewn with buttonhole stitch.

Step Six: The cuffs were made with only one layer of wool, just to make it a bit thinner. They were attached to the end of the sleeve and then turned up. Three gold-coloured metal buttons were sewn through all thicknesses to keep the cuff in place. Apparently as young lads’ arms grew longer, these buttons could be removed and the cuff pulled down to lengthen the sleeve, and then the buttons were reapplied.

The cuffs, with the non-functional buttons sewn on through the sleeve to hold the cuff in place.

The cuffs, with the non-functional buttons sewn on through the sleeve to hold the cuff in place.

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

I am very happy with the way the coat turned out. It does seem to attract a bit of dust and fluff, and could have done with a little brush before the photos!

It also probably should have been made a little bigger, as I think this little midshipman will grow out of it quite quickly. The other thing to note is that the collar on the waistcoat should have come up closer to the base of the neck, as it doesn’t quite sit properly with the coat collar.

For my next post in this series, I plan to make a midshipman’s full dress bicorn! But first, a sailor’s tarred hat.

For more details on my costuming posts, visit my page Costumes.

Related Posts

The Making of a Midshipman – the introduction

MY Mr Knightly: Making a Regency Tailcoat

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Midshipman Robert Deans (1807) – at Royal Museums Greenwich

Image Source: A Portrait of a Midshipman (1810) – at BBC: Your Paintings (Painting details online at Royal Museums Greenwich – where it states that the double-breasted jacket is incorrect.)

Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790, by Linda Baumgarten – buy on Amazon

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

Sewing a Welt Pocket – by Craftsy

Buttons of the UK’s Royal navy – by Diana’s Buttons

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A British navy waistcoat, after 1812.

A British navy waistcoat, worn by either a captain or commander, (circa. after 1812).

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!

A Portrait of a Midshipman, by Sir Martin Archer Slee.

A Portrait of a Midshipman, by Sir Martin Archer Shee.

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.

Pattern

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.

A waistcoat from the uniform of a British naval officer, c. 1807

A waistcoat from the uniform of a British naval surgeon, (circa. 1807).

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.

Construction

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.

The pattern for the collar piece. To the left is the centre back and to the right is the centre front. No seam allowances have been added to the pattern.

The pattern for the collar piece. To the left is the centre back and to the right is the centre front. No seam allowances have been added to the pattern.

I put in welt pockets, using a tutorial from Craftsy.

The welt pockets

The welt pockets

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.

The buttons and handsewn buttonholes

The buttons and handsewn buttonholes, and the centre front edges sewn with running stitch.

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

Keep an eye out for my next post in this series, making a midshipman coat.

Related Posts

The Making of a Midshipman – the introduction

MY Mr Knightley: Making a Regency Waistcoat

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

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Midshipman Robert Deans (1790-1867), oil painting by the British School, 19th century

Midshipman Robert Deans (1790-1867), painted in 1807.

My 9-year-old son expressed interest in coming to the Jane Austen Festival with me next year, so I have been contemplating what sort of costume to make for him. I really liked the “navy look” so after a bit of research I decided on a midshipman uniform.

It was that of a skinny young man only just leaving boyhood behind, something above middle height, with feet whose adolescent proportions to his size were accentuated by the thinness of his legs and his big half-boots. His gawkiness called attention to his hands and elbows. The newcomer was dressed in a badly fitting uniform which was soaked right through by the spray; a skinny neck stuck out of the high stock, and above the neck was a white bony face. 

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C.S. Forester

Midshipman Russell

Midshipman John Russell (1810-1869), painted in 1824.

Pattern Inspiration

I have struggled to find a pattern specifically for a midshipman uniform, though there are some available for captain and lieutenant ones, so I decided I would draft something myself. I was comforted when I read somewhere that all navy uniforms did differ slightly, even though there were “regulations” set down by the naval code.

So I decided to turn to depictions of midshipman in paintings and drawings of the period. A “proper” uniform for the navy was first introduced in 1748, but then the regulations were changed in 1774. More changes occurred in 1787, 1795, and 1812.

Since this Mr. Midshipman will be in a Regency style, I was most interested in those depictions from 1795-1812. Luckily the midshipmen uniform had not altered much (in terms of depictions of rank) over this time, as the coat still retained one row of gold buttons down the front, three buttons on the cuffs and pockets, and a white patch with button on the collar. What did change more perceptibly was the cut of the coat, particularly as the cut-away style gained more popularity in fashionable circles.

The uniforms of the British Royal Navy.

The uniforms of the British Royal Navy. To the left are those from 1787-1795, and to the right are those from 1795-1812.

I decided that Norah Waugh’s 1790 pattern for a coat and waistcoat (in The Cut of Men’s Clothes) would provide some useful guidance as to cutting for this time period.

Elements of Midshipmen Uniforms

From the pictures shown, I began to glean some of the necessary, or at least common, items of dress for a midshipman.

A midshipman

“A Midshipman” (1780)

Shirt: the normal sort of white 18th century shirt that was worn as an undergarment for every male during this time.

Stock: a black cravat or stock was the common sign of a military man.

Breeches: made from white wool with a fall front and gold buttons, with more gold buttons and buckles to fit tightly under the knee. During the Regency trousers were becoming more common in naval “undress” wear.

Waistcoat: made from white wool, with gold buttons, pockets at the front and a stand-up collar.

Coat: in a Regency cutaway style, with pockets (each with 3 gold naval buttons) and cuffs (each with 3 gold naval buttons) and with a single row of gold naval buttons down the front. In addition, a midshipman could be easily distinguished by the white patch and button on his stand-up collar.

Hat: a bicorn for “full dress” or a tub sort of hat for “undress”.

Stockings: white, reaching to above the knee.

Shoes: the normal 18th century sort, black with a buckle, are seen in many drawings. Boots seem to be mentioned sometimes too.

This is my first attempt at making a naval costume, so I am learning as I go. Stay tuned for my up-and-coming post on a midshipman’s shirt and stock.

Related Posts

Dress-ups for a Girl

Up into the Cherry Tree

Sources and Relevant Links

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C.S. Forester – buy on Amazon

Midshipman Robert Dean – from Royal Museums Greenwich

Midshipman John Russell – from Royal Museums Greenwich

Royal Navy Officers and Midshipmen – from Canadian Military History Gateway

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

Boy Sailors During the Age of Nelson and Napoleon – by English Historical Fiction Authors

Playing at Command: Midshipmen and Quarterdeck Boys in the Royal Navy, 1793-1815 – at Dear Surprise

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