My family and I are heading off to a Regency Picnic held in Melbourne in March, so I am madly doing costumes for some of my children who don’t have anything to wear as yet. My two-year-old boy is one of these, and I decided to make him a Regency skeleton suit.
Skeleton suits became increasingly popular during the 1780’s and 1790’s, and they continued to be used until the 1840’s. The suit most often comprised a long-sleeved jacket, with matching long pants (with a fall-front) that could be buttoned together to form a type of romper suit. Sometimes the jacket could be short-sleeved, and the jacket collar varies from a short, stand-up collar, to one with fold-down lapels, and sometimes even no collar.
The suit set occasionally included a matching waistcoat that could likewise be buttoned to the pants. The pants were sometimes more similar to short breeches (reaching only to the knee), but most often were to the ankle. They also could have a button placket at the bottom of the pant leg to aid in dressing. Buttons were often self-covered to match the suit, but could also be metal.
Underneath this suit the child generally wore a boy’s shirt, which was a version of the man’s shirt popular in the 18th century. In the previous post in this series I made a little boy’s shirt, and in this post I will share my progress in making the boy’s pants.
I used a pattern online, which was taken from an existing skeleton suit in the Danish National Museum. It does need to be scaled up and then – because it is about an 8-year-old size – I had to adjust it significantly so it fitted a small child. Seam allowances need to be added as well.
I took a raft of measurements and used these to roughly alter the pattern. It is a great idea to do a mock up in cheap fabric, just to make sure you have a workable pattern, before doing the real thing.
Measurements to take:
- Waist circumference (a high waist, that is)
- Hip circumference
- Crotch to ankle length
- Crotch to waist length
- Various measurements around the leg (to check that the pant legs are wide enough)
The pants were made from burgundy cotton broadcloth, with wooden buttons.
As this pattern comes with minimal instructions, I have decided to detail my steps here.
Step One: I cut out the pattern in a similar way to the breeches I have made before. It is really the shape of the pattern that you want to replicate, regardless of the size of the person. In particular the back panel piece is shaped to give the pants a “splayed leg” appearance, which allows movement for horse-riding. The baggy seat of the pants is part of this.
Step Two: I sewed the two inside leg seams first (the front piece to the back piece), and then I sewed the crotch seam (which is the centre back seam and the centre front seam, joining in the crotch).
Step Three: Before the side leg seams are sewn, it is a good idea to sew the fall front. I did this a bit differently than I have done before. First I laid the front panels together and made a slash through both layers. This made the slashes both even.
Second, I cut a rectangular piece of material about an inch wide and folded (and ironed) 5mm in from each long edge. I sewed this piece (right sides together) to the side of the slash that is closest to the centre front (the one that actually forms the fall front). I used a 5mm seam allowance, tapering to a smaller allowance at the bottom of the slash. The rectangular portion was then folded to the inside to cover the raw edge, similar to the way bias-binding binds raw edges.
Third, I cut two pieces to go under the fall; I call them “under-fall-flaps” for want of a better description! These two pieces will be attached to the waistband and to the outer slashed edge. I hemmed the bottom edge of both pieces and also the edges that are closest to the centre front.
I then sewed these pieces to the other side of the slashed edge, using a seam allowance of 5mm, tapering to a smaller allowance at the bottom. These “under-fall-flap” pieces can then be folded to the inside to sit under the fall. The raw edges do need to be neatened, which I did with a very tight zig zag.
Lastly, I trimmed the bottom of the rectangular piece to form a neat little point. This covers any raw edges at the bottom of the slash, and is top-stitched for reinforcement. I have never done this type of fall front before, but I think it looks really good!
At this point, the outside leg seams can both be sewn. This is also the point that the side pockets can be assembled. This pattern has two pockets (one in each side seam), plus a third welt pocket through the waistband. I did not put any pockets into my pants though.
Step Four: The waistband can be interfaced, especially since it is generally so wide. I sewed the waistband piece and the waistband facing (seen here with the interfacing ironed on) together on three sides, with one long edge of the facing folded up and left unsewn.
The pants can then be sewn to the waistband. For this part, the fall front is left free (to be buttoned to the waistband later), but the “under-fall-flaps” are sewn to the waistband instead. The centre back portion of the pants is gathered to fit the waistband, thereby providing the baggy seat.
Step Five: The buttons and buttonholes can be sewn to the front.
Note: In the pattern, the fall reaches higher than the top of the pants so it can be buttoned on to the waistband. Unfortunately I trimmed it off by mistake, so I had to sew a wide “binder” piece onto the top of the fall to use for buttoning.
Step Six: The button placket on the pant legs was used to help the foot go through tightly fitted pants. These pants weren’t particular tight, but I thought it might be a nice touch to include them. Firstly I cut a rectangular piece of fabric about 2 inches wide and folded it in half. (It needs to be as long as you want your placket to be.) According to the pattern, this placket is actually cut as part of the leg piece but I forgot to include it. The buttons are put on this flap and it is tucked under the other edge to be buttoned up.
The top edge of the placket can be sewn and turned the right way. Once that is done, the long edge of the placket can be sewn to the back side of the leg seam.
The placket can be then folded to the inside, the raw edges can be tucked under and then it can be sewn down.
On the other seam (opposite to the placket), I sewed a little rectangular piece of material. This was to reinforce it so that the buttonholes could be put here.
Then the buttons and buttonholes can both be put on. I put extra buttonholes in the placket so that, when I let down the pants, all I have to do is put more buttons on the bottom.
Step Seven: The pants can be hemmed at the bottom. Three more buttonholes should be put in the waistband, at the centre back and one on each side, for buttoning to the jacket.
Stay tuned for the final post in this series, the jacket.
Sources and Relevant Links
The 2nd Annual Melbourne Regency Picnic – an Event on the Facebook page
Image Source: A nankeen skeleton suit – from Victoria and Albert Museum
Image Source: A skeleton suit – from the Danish National Museum
Skeleton suit pattern – from Regency Society of America forum boards (This particular page has two patterns, one for a girl’s dress and one for a boy’s skeleton suit. Just scroll down for the skeleton suit pattern.)
Costume for a Regency Child – by The Oregon Regency Society