Regency Tailcoat, with an M-notch collar
The next item of clothing for my Mr Knightley is a tailcoat.
In the Regency era, tailcoats tended to be made most commonly out of worsted wool (also called superfine), but also linen, and were often unlined. They could be either single or double-breasted.
The shoulder seam reached over the shoulder and sloped into the arm scythe, fitting tightly around the shoulders. Sleeve heads were full, sometimes even puffy, and the sleeve reached past the wrist to the thumb web, usually with cuffs.
Throughout the era the collars were deep and stiffened, usually forming an M-notch with the lapel when turned over. Sometimes the rever on the collar and cuffs were in a plush velvet.
In the early Regency, there was no waist seam to attach the tails, as they were cut in one piece. Coat skirts were narrow and cut away from the front to aid horseback riding. The centre back vent was left open for this reason, and the two side tails were joined.
I have used a pattern of a tailcoat from 1825, drafted from Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Men’s Clothes.
It is made from gabardine and is lined with bemsilk, as my husband would die in a wool coat! As noted above, Regency coats would not normally be lined, but this gabardine was going to fray everywhere, so lining seemed the best option.
Body Measurements to take
- Chest circumference
- Waist circumference
- Width of back across shoulder blades
- Shoulder length (from neckline to top of arm)
- Length of garment (shoulder to small of back to back of knees)
- Arm length (from shoulder to thumb web)
- Arm circumferences (at underarm, elbow, wrist)
It is a good idea to do a toile, and to make it a size bigger than the waistcoat.
- Front – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining/facing
- Back – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining
- Sleeve Outside – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining
- Sleeve Inside – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining
- Collar – cut 4 fabric
- Cuff – cut 4 fabric
- Pocket flap – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining
Once I had drafted the pattern pieces onto paper and measured my husband, I did a toile out of calico. Based on this fitting I made some adjustments to the original pattern, which can be seen in the photo below.
My pattern pieces, all except the pocket flaps
In order for the coat to fit properly, I had to make the garment wider in the body, the sleeves both wider and longer, and the arm-holes and sleeve-heads larger. I also allowed more over the shoulder area, and I made the tails longer so they reached to the back of the knee. Seam allowances were also added.
Step One: In order to create a rever for the lapel, the front of the coat is faced with the same cloth to the dotted line seen on the pattern piece. The rest of the front panel is lined. To do this, sew the front facing to the front lining in order to form a full front piece. I had also done a similar thing was done for the waistcoat. (According to Norah Waugh, the front facing of the coat was also padded.)
The lining of the coat front, which is made up of half lining and half facing. You can see my pattern piece underneath which helped me ensure the seam was in the correct place.
Step Two: Sew centre back seam, leaving the vent open. Repeat for lining. Sew side seams, also leaving the pleated sides of the tails open. Repeat for lining.
The centre back and side back seams sewn, to the waistline.
Step Three: Sew shoulder seams, and repeat for lining.
Shoulder seams sewn
Step Four: Sew sleeve seams. The sleeves are made up of two parts and so have two seams, one at the front and one at the back (similar to modern suit jackets). Take care not to sew two sleeves the same, for instance, two left sleeves! Repeat for lining.
Step Five: Attach sleeves to garment, easing in the fullness at the head of the sleeve. Make sure your sleeves point the right direction, as these sleeves curve to the front. You don’t want your sleeves curving to the back! Repeat for lining.
The sleeve attached. I ended up easing the fullness in the sleeve head by running a gathering stitch around it, which made it easier. It is still a tiny bit puffy, which was common in later Regency times.
Step Six: Sew side pleats in the tail. Repeat for lining. Press them to the front.
The side tail pleats sewn
Step Seven: At this point you might like to put in some pockets and the horozontal dart or fish, both of which I forgot to do until my garment was finished! I ended up hand sewing some pocket flaps on, for decorative (rather than functional) purposes. Here are some instructions for welt pockets with a pocket flap, also called coat pockets.
Despite spending hours and hours researching and then more hours deliberating how to construct this garment, I managed to miss that little horizontal fissure in the pattern, which houses the pocket! I ended up leaving the fish dart off, and I hope it doesn’t affect the look of the garment too much.
Step Eight: Lay the outer and lining right sides together, matching seams etc… and sew around the lapels, tails and central vent, leaving collar area open. Clip curves and turn the right way. Press the garment well.
The central back vent, with outer and lining right sides together. These two “flaps” will lay flat and overlap, and will be handsewn to lie flat along the top edge.
I left sewing the bottom edge of the tails until last, when I was sure it would all sit right. You could either turn up and handsew the bottom hem of the tails after it has been turned the right way, or machine sew it before it is turned the right way, like I did.
Step Nine: I have heard that there was no standard way of doing the side-back pleats of tailcoats, and I was a bit stuck as to how to manage it with the lining. I have never seen an extant coat close enough to see how it was done. I eventually decided to have an “inverse” pleat in the lining, which would fit next to the outer pleat. This meant that, from the outside, the coat would have a normal-looking pleat, but the inside would have a “poinky” pleat, where the lining had “lined” the outer pleat. This meant that I could iron and then hem the bottom edge of the pleats better.
The inside of the side-back pleat. I pressed the seam allowance back on itself so that the lining pleat could encase it.
I was a bit worried about the side back pleats “sagging”, that is, the lining sagging down and showing at the bottom of the tails. In order to prevent this, I handsewed a line of stitching in the valley of the seam through all thicknesses.
Hand sewing the pleat seam
Step Ten: Norah Waugh mentions that the collar was “heavily stiffened”. I stiffened two collar pieces with interfacing. Then I sewed the collar pieces together and repeated for the collar facing.
The collar outer and lining, stiffened.
Sew the collar and the facing together, making sure to turn up the bottom edge of the outer collar piece, for later handsewing. I drew a sewing line in tailors chalk so I could get the M-notch right.
A sewing line
Clip the curves and trim the corners. I found it a good idea to have the interfacing stop short of the collar points, as it seemed to make it easier to turn the right way.
Corners trimmed, and interfacing trimmed. The bottom edge in the photo has not been sewn, as this is the edge that will attach to the neck of the garment. The line of stitching there is to attach the interfacing to the collar piece.
You can then turn the collar the right way, and press it well. Attach the collar to the neck of the garment. Then turn over the raw edge on the inside and hand sew it to the neck. For more detail on sewing a collar, look at my instructions on sewing a Regency waistcoat, as attaching a collar is pretty much the same no matter what sort of collar it is.
Step Eleven: Cuffs were sometimes left off in favour of longer sleeves. Otherwise cuffs could be attached, with either a slit and buttons or a false button. Sometimes cuffs were also folded up, similar to how they were in the 18th century, as mine are going to be. In order to do this, I sewed the cuffs along three edges (leaving the edge open that will be attached to the sleeve).
Two cuffs, one sewn and clipped, and one pinned. I forgot to turn up one edge to make it easier for handsewing later!
Attach them to the sleeve, making sure to catch the lining in as well.
Cuff pinned to the sleeve, with the edge of the cuff facing turned up that I forgot to do in the step before!
Then turn the cuff facing over and hand sew to the sleeve.
Cuff pinned, ready to handsew. There is a little overlap, which will allow me to sew a cuff button on it at the end.
Step Twelve: Sew button holes and attach buttons. I had a total of 10 buttons up the front, 2 on the back tail pleats, and 1 on each cuff.
And here are the final photos!
Hopefully, the next garment for my Mr Knightley will be soon on its way. It will be a pair of breeches.
To read of these posts in order, go to My Regency Journey and look under MY Mr Knightley.
MY Mr Knightley: Making a Shirt
MY Mr Knightley: Making a Waistcoat
Sources and Relevant Links
The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh – buy through Amazon. There is a pdf version online as well.
Making a Toile – Burdastyle. Primarily for women, but the principles can be applied to men’s clothing.
Making a Coat Pocket – Burdastyle. A modern coat pocket which can be adjusted to the Regency era.
An Introduction to Gentleman’s Clothing of the Regency
Country Wives Regency Tailcoat pattern – buy through Amazon
An extant Regency lined tailcoat, with a waist seam (c. 1820) – From All the Pretty Dresses
To Cut a Regency Coat – by Suzi Clarke. In this article, the author describes three Regency coats that she was able to closely examine in a museum.
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