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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.

The Pattern

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.

Pattern Pieces

  • 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.

Construction Steps

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!

The front

The back

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.

Related Posts

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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JJ Feild and Felicity Jones as Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey (2007)

The third item of clothing for my Mr Knightley is a waistcoat.

Regency waistcoats were often the most colourful and patterned item in the entire man’s ensemble. They could be made from silk or sometimes cotton, and were often lined with linen. Sometimes they were embroidered, as they had been in the 18th century, or else they could have patterns woven into the material. Waistcoats were worn with an upright collar and were cut straight across the bottom, with usually two inches of it showing underneath the bottom edge of the tailcoat. They always had self-covered buttons, and could be either double-breasted or single-breasted, with or without a lapel.

The Pattern

I have used a pattern adapted from an 1850’s waistcoat pattern in Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Men’s Clothes. The pattern was very similar to Regency ones, and only needed minor adjustments to fit the era.

My waistcoat is made from curtain brocade, and lined with cotton broadcloth.

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 bottom of garment)

Pattern Pieces

  • Front – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining
  • Back – cut 2 fabric, cut 2 lining
  • Collar – cut 2 on fold (outer and facing) of fabric

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. I lengthened it slightly and straightened the bottom of the waistcoat. I had to make the armholes a bit deeper underneath the arms and the neckline a bit lower all the way around. Because the neckline was adjusted, I also had to make the collar a little longer. I also added an inch in each side seam.

Pattern pieces cut out, slightly adjusted, with seam allowances added

Construction steps

Step One: In order for the lapel to be reversed, the front lining piece is made up of half lining fabric and half outer fabric. Allow enough for a seam allowance to join the two when cutting them out, and then sew them together.

Front lining piece, with a section of outer material sewn inside to create a rever.

Step Two: Taking the markings from the pattern piece, sew the front lapel section to the front piece using a dart. Repeat for the lining pieces.

A close-up of the dart which forms the top of the lapel

Step Three: Sew the centre back seam. Repeat for the lining. It was common in the Regency to have the back of a waistcoat made and lined in the same material, and in this case I have used the cotton broadcloth as the lining and the outer.

The back outer, with centre back seam sewn

Step Four: Sew the shoulder seams. Repeat for the lining.

The shoulder seams sewn

Step Five: Lay the lining and outer pieces down on top of each other, right sides together. Sew around the arm holes. Sew from the top of the front lapel down to the bottom of garment and across the bottom to the side seam. Turn the right way.

All turned inside out. The un-sewn neckline can be seen pinned. The un-sewn side seams can also be seen.

This creates a nice finish for the armholes.

Step Six: Sew the side seams of both the lining and the outer at once, repeating for the other side. The pinned seams should form a circle to sew around.

The lining side seams are pinned, ready to sew. The outer side seams are not (see below).

Both the lining and the outer side seams are pinned here, forming a circle to sew around.

Step Seven: With right sides together, pin the collar facing and outer together on three sides, turning up the facing on one of the long sides. Sew and then turn the right way.

The collar sewn, with corners clipped, but still inside out. The turned up edge of the lining piece can be seen.

In hindsight, this collar piece should have had the ends cut on more of an angle, which I did not realise at the time. I made this adjustment when I made a Regency waistcoat for a midshipman uniform.

Step Eight: Sew the un-turned edge of the collar to the neckline. Turn the collar facing to the inside, folding under the raw edge, and hand stitch along the inside of the neckline.

The collar has been attached and is pinned ready to hand sew.

At this stage I put small (invisible?) hand stitches all around the edge of the hem, lapel and collar to keep the edge defined and flat, as the brocade would not stay properly flat with just ironing.

Step Nine: I decided to do a pair of welt pockets on each side, using the instructions from Slightly Obsessed. It can be less fiddly (and probably recommended) to do these first, but one of the benefits of doing it later is that you are able to make sure they are even, as the garment is basically finished.

Step Ten: Finishing off! Using some small strips of lining material, make some ties for the back. Sew the buttonholes and cover and attach the buttons. Hem the bottom edge of the back with a hand stitch or machine topstitch.

Here are the finished pictures, and I am really pleased with how it turned out!

The back

The front, all finished!

Next in my Regency man’s wardrobe is a tailcoat. A bit of a challenge for me!

You can read all my posts in order at My Regency Journey, under MY Mr Knightley.

Related Posts

MY Mr Knightley: Making a Shirt

MY Mr Knightley: Making a Neckcloth

Sources and Relevant Links

The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh – buy through Amazon. There is a pdf version online as well.

Kannik’s Korner: Regency waistcoat pattern for sale online

How to make welt pockets – From Slightly Obsessed, specifically for a Regency waistcoat.

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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 working man’s shirt

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

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