Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Green Wool 1730's Breeches

The final piece of my 1730's suit! (Except for a few other small things I want to make for it.)
I finished these a few weeks ago.

I'd only ever made late 18th century breeches before, and early 18th century ones are quite different. This pair from The Met was my main inspiration.
Breeches, British, c. 1740.
They have a button fly instead of a fall front, they're much more splayed (compare these to later breeches lying flat on the table - there's a huge difference), and they have a lower waist.

And all this makes sense when you look at the waistcoats! Early 18th century waistcoats are very long (mine ends a bit above my knees), so the button fly won't show, and nor will the excessive crotch wrinkles from all that extra fabric there. The splayed shape was presumably better for riding horses?

During the 1730's it was fashionable to only have a few buttons done up on your waistcoat, at about the level of the pocket flap. And since the waistcoats were so long and the pocket flaps quite low, that leaves a very big unbuttoned gap on your torso. Before making my 30's breeches pattern I tried on my 30's waistcoat over my stripey late 18th century breeches, and found that the waistband was so high it was visible in the unbuttoned part of the waistcoat! So I lowered it a few cm for this pattern.
Back view of the above breeches.
By contrast, late 18th century breeches are very high waisted, with a fall front and a much less wrinkly crotch. This is the logical way to proceed when fashionable waistcoats have gotten so much shorter. The fly fronts changed to fall fronts sometime around the middle of the century.

What doesn't make sense to me is the presence of pocket flaps. Decorative pocket flaps on breeches? Why? They're going to be 100% covered up by the waistcoat, but there they are. Not on all the pairs of early 18th century breeches I referenced, but on quite a few. They're weird, so of course I was very intrigued and had to include them on my breeches.
There are a few more examples on the "with fly closure" section of my breeches pinterest board. (One especially confusing pair has four pocket flaps, but the source link is broken.)
Breeches, c. 1720, probably French.
I find it even more peculiar that many of these examples include decorative buttonholes and buttons on & under the pocket flaps, in metallic thread no less. Seems to go against the 18th century logic of not wasting expensive materials in places they won't be seen.
"After" by William Hogarth, 1730-31. (Detail)
I think it's possible that these pocket flaps evolved from ones that were visible, but I don't know enough about 17th century fashion to say when they might have started. There are similar pockets on the pair that's being held up in "Le débat pour la culotte" but earlier than that I don't know. They're still very decorative and very hidden from view in 1690's suits.

In Marriage A la Mode (1743), and in a 1751 painting of a soldier, we can see that they're definitely functional pockets! The Met pair appears to have a couple of welt pockets on the waistband too, but I didn't do those.
Marriage A-la-Mode 2, The Tête à Tête, William Hogarth, 1743. (Detail)
The Cut of Men's Clothes has a c. 1730's pattern on page 66 which I based my pattern pieces on. Normally I wouldn't post images from a book, but since the whole thing is available online as a free pdf I don't think it makes much of a difference.
The front part of the crotch is a perfectly straight line,
as are the side seams.

Since I had already drafted a late 18th century pattern that fits me well, I traced those pieces and changed them to look more like the 30's pattern. I tried to photograph this, but pencil on brown paper doesn't photograph well so you can't really see it, sorry.

I lowered the waist (especially in front), made the waistband narrower and longer, added more material to the crotch seam, made the curve around the knee a bit more shallow, and drew a pair of pocket flaps the same shape as the ones on The Met's pair.
Because the cut of these is so different, I did a mockup.
Very unhelpful picture of the pattern changes I made.
The mockup went well, so I proceeded to cut out my fabric.

Ideally I would have made these out of the same green wool as my 1730's coat, but since I made that with 2.9 metres of inherited wool that I couldn't get more of, I only had scraps left. I bought 1 yard of the closest colour match I could find, which was a forest green wool broadcloth from Renaissance Fabrics. It was a bit more blue than my coat scraps so I overdyed it with yellow. Even though my sample came out perfect, in the actual dyeing I somehow overcompensated and now the coat scraps look a bit bluer by comparison. The difference looks really bad in this photo, but it's much better in person.

The broadcloth I bought is too heavy for breeches, really. It's considerably heavier than my coat wool, and would be ideal for a winter coat or cloak, but it still worked decently well for my purposes. The colour difference shouldn't be too noticeable, because not much of the breeches show when you're fully dressed, and there will be a contrasting waistcoat in between them and the coat.
Pieced waistband and a pieced back panel.
I used coat wool scraps for the waistband, the pocket flaps, and some piecing on the upper portion of the back pieces. They won't be seen when I'm wearing a waistcoat, and the waist area is less bulky this way.
Most of the sewing on these breeches is by hand, with the exception of a few seams on the lining and the pocket bags. All the stitching on the wool is by hand with linen thread because that's stronger than the cotton thread in my machine.
The buckram in the pocket flaps is stiffened linen from an old shirt. (A modern linen shirt that someone gave me some pieces from.)
I sewed the pocket flaps and pockets in the usual way. Edges of the fashion fabric pressed in around the buckram, the lining put on the back with the edges folded in and stitched down with Le point à rabattre sous la main. Pocket slits cut open and the edges pressed inwards. I sewed the two halves of the pocket bags together by machine and then attached them to the opening with a small whipstitch.
The pocket flaps are stab stitched on along the top edges, and about 8mm down the sides to keep them from flipping up.
The pocket bags are plain black cotton. The lining of the breeches is a nice fine dark brown cotton damask which I believe is a remnant of bedsheet material. It's extremely similar to some bedsheets I've seen, and it was 2.64 metres from selvedge to selvedge. As far as I can remember I got it from a clothing donation that came to the fashion studio at the college.
It's not historically accurate but it's comfortable, sturdy, has very little bulk, and is from my stash, so I really don't care. Nobody will see it!
The brown pair from The Met appears to have a side seam pocket on the right side only, so I added one to mine. I wish I had made it a bit wider, because it's just a little bit too narrow for my hand.
The piecing, the side seams, and the seams attaching the pockets to the wool are all done with a backstitch. I sewed up the side seams, the inseams, and the crotch seam, leaving the fly and back lacing gap open.
I know that wool this thick & felted in the 18th century was typically just left cut on the edges, as it wouldn't fray, so I did that on the bottom edges of the legs. On the fly opening and the gap in the back I folded the seam allowances in as usual.
The overlap bit where the buttonholes will go has the edge folded under
but the underlap bit which the buttons will attach to doesn't.
I'll trim off that bottom edge at the white line.
I sewed the inseams & side seams of the lining by machine with cotton thread, leaving the button part open.
Inseam sewn, side seam not sewn yet.
But I hand sewed the crotch seam of the lining with a heavier linen thread and a tightly spaced backstitch because I was worried the cotton wouldn't be strong enough. Walking and otherwise moving around with legs puts a lot of strain on that seam, and I've had linings split there before, so I want to avoid having to do unnecessary repairs.

(This is also why I always sew the crotch seam twice when I alter pants at work. I've had to re-sew multiple burst open pairs that some other alterations tailor used only one row of stitching on.)
Backstitching the lining legs together.
I folded in the edges of the lining around the knee openings and stitched them down. I did the same around the fly opening and the centre back gap but forgot to get a picture of it.
Left one is stitched, right one isn't.
The waistband interfacing is scraps of the buckram from the 30's coat. I pieced two scraps together for each side of the waistband. I tacked the buckram onto the waistband as usual, with only tiny stitches showing on the fabric.
I folded in the seam allowances on the top and sides of the waistband and basted it so it would stay there.
I then backstitched the waistband to the breeches. I did this through just the wool layer. One of the reasons I pieced bits of the thinner coat wool onto the upper back is because that portion is gathered, and I really didn't want to gather the thick broadcloth. That would have been way too bulky.

The mid 18th century pair of breeches in Costume Close Up has the fashion fabric gathered, while the lining is pleated. I can't tell if the Met pair has the lining pleated but it seemed like a good way to help cut down on bulk a little, so I did it. After backstitching the waistband on I pleated the lining and secured it with a running stitch.
Backstitching the waistband on.
The gathered seam allowance was pretty thick, so I tacked it down to the waistband to flatten it a bit and keep it in place. I stab stitched it with heavy green linen thread, only leaving very small stitches on the outside of the waistband.
Wrangling those bulky seam allowances into place.
I laid down the waistband lining with the edges all folded in and stitched it on with tiny whipstitches in a black linen thread.

It appears I forgot to photograph the kneebands while I was lining them. I opted to fold all the edges in on the wool, even though it was very bulky, because I was worried the friction from the buckles would make them fray. The wool was so bulky that I couldn't get a good crease while pressing the edges in, and somehow one kneeband ended up about 3 mm wider than the other. The difference was very noticeable when they were lying side by side on the table, but I decided not to re-do one, because it isn't noticeable at all when I'm wearing them.
The kneebands are lined with the same off-white silk taffeta as the waistcoat, because the end that pokes through the buckle is the only part of the whole lining that might possibly be visible.

Now, buttonholes! I took a lot of pictures while sewing the buttonholes, because this is actually the first time I've done 18th century buttonholes correctly. It's a bit embarrassing that it took so long. I was doing them mostly nicely, I just didn't think to try the bar tacks at the ends for some reason. I'd seen them in lots of images, so I have no idea why I never did them until now.
I mentioned in my waistcoat post that it was only after I'd finished all the buttonholes that I came across a nice tutorial for false 18th century buttonholes, but then shortly after that I came across one for functional 18th century buttonholes! Aside from the bar tack it's basically the same as what I've been doing.

I marked out the locations of all the buttonholes and cut them open with a chisel. I overcast the edges with a fine green cotton thread to keep all the layers in place.
I haven't got any silk buttonhole twist, so I'm using DMC cotton pearl. I waxed the very end bit (about a cm and a half) so it would stay put, and started doing buttonhole stitches.

I've seen a few different instructions for how to loop your thread around for buttonhole stitches, but my preferred method is taking the thread from the needle end and looping it clockwise around the needle that's poking through the fabric. I find this the fastest and easiest way, since that end of the thread is already in my hand. If you're working the buttonhole stitches in the other direction you'd have to loop it around the other way.
Once I got to the end I did 2 or 3 long stitches across it, just like it showed in the video.
And did buttonhole stitches over that.
Then I stabbed the thread straight down into the fabric to anchor that last buttonhole stitch neatly, then brought it back up again and started doing the other side.
Another bar tack at the other end, and it was done!
Hooray! My first nice good 18th century buttonholes! The backs look ugly, but then they always do. It's ok. I did all the buttonholes on these breeches the same way as this one.
I marked how much of the ends of the kneebands needed to be left unattached, and then started sewing them onto the bottoms of the breeches.
I stab stitched the end part, backstitched the upper edge on, then whipstitched the bottom edge of the breeches to the inside of the kneebands.
I should note that this is not the way they're attached on the original pair. Zooming in on the Met's photos it looks like the kneebands enclose the whole bottom edge like a binding, and the breeches are slightly gathered at the knee. I didn't want to do that with such thick fabric, so I just used the later method from Costume Close Up, but I will try to copy what I see on the Met's pair the next time I do early 18th century breeches!
On the waistband I did two eyelets in the back - one on each side as opposed to the two I do on my later ones. The Met's pair has a buckle tab but I don't have a spare buckle that size, and the pattern in The Cut of Men's Clothes, the extant blue brocade pair at the beginning of this post, and this beautiful 1720's pair all have a single pair of eyelets.

I forgot to take a closeup picture of the eyelets. I poked holes with an awl, and just sewed around the edges a lot with green waxed linen thread (no buttonhole stitches! I know some eyelet tutorials say to do that but it's too bulky and bumpy.) occasionally widening the hole again with the awl.

I put a short length of cotton twill tape through these holes and hemmed the ends. Can I call it lacing if it's just two holes? With the 4 holes on my later breeches it's lacing, but I think for these I'll just have to call it a tie or something.
I made 16 covered buttons with 5/8 inch wooden button moulds from Burnley & Trowbridge. I usually fold the edges in when doing covered buttons, but with this wool I didn't need to. I sewed them on in the usual way.
The fly extension is lined separately and then, after adding the buttonholes, it's simply sewn to the inside. I backstitched it in from the outside, with stab stitching at the ends to keep it more secure. I did another row of backstitching on the other side of the opening, so it would be more symmetrical, and because the Met's pair has one.
There's no interfacing of any kind in the fly area. I might consider it for a finer fabric, but not this thick wool.
The completed fly from the outside.
This was so much easier than a modern zipper fly! I know that's mostly just my lack of practice speaking (I've done maybe 5 zipper flies my life?) but my goodness, modern pants are convoluted. These 18th century flies are just so beautifully simple.
The completed fly from the inside.
The original pair has a bar tack reinforcing the bottom of the fly opening, as does the mid 18th century pair in Costume Close Up, so mine have one too. It's done the same way as the ones on the ends of the buttonholes, but I used the heavy green linen thread.
I realized I've never posted about how breeches buckles work, so here are some pictures in case anyone reading this has never used them before! (These buckles are from Burnley & Trowbridge)
One end of the kneeband has a buttonhole, and the anchor shaped bit of the buckle goes through the buttonhole like so.
Then you stick the other end of the kneeband through the buckle and pull it snug around your knee.
Stab the prongs through the fabric (I had to sharpen mine a bit with a metal file when I first got them) and then put the end of the kneeband through the other side of the buckle.
I took a lot of photos of the finished breeches with a self timer, but this is the only one that didn't come out very dark or very blurry.
The March challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly 2020 is Green, but since they've made it so you can do the challenges in whatever order works best for you, I submitted these!

The Challenge: Green

Material: Green wool broadcloth, scraps of a different green wool, dark brown cotton damask, a couple of tiny scraps of plain black cotton, an even tinier strip of off-white silk taffeta.

Pattern: Drafted based on one from The Cut of Men’s Clothes, and an extant pair from The Met.

Year: c. 1730’s

Notions: 16 wooden button blanks, a bit of black cotton twill tape, linen buckram, linen thread, cotton thread, DMC cotton pearl, and a little bit of silk thread.

How historically accurate is it? Pretty good. There’s only a little bit of machine sewing in the lining, and the materials are mostly ok, with the cotton lining being the least accurate of them. The cut is pretty accurate, and the construction is probably not totally right but it was my best guess (aside from the deliberate choice to do the kneebands with a slightly later method). I’ve found next to nothing on early 18th century construction, so I’m just trying to work backwards from the mid century stuff in Costume Close Up, and squinting at a lot of photos trying to copy what I think is going on. The look is pretty good, I think, and will be mostly hidden by the waistcoat anyways.

Hours to complete: 34:53 wow that is longer than I expected.

First worn: February 12th, just for a few photos. I actually finished them on the 2nd, but camera troubles and procrastinating delayed the photographing and posting.

Total cost: I’m not exactly sure, but probably at least CA$30. Wool gets awfully expensive when you add shipping costs and convert it from American to Canadian dollars :( But most of the other materials were things I didn't buy.
And I still have some big chunks of my broadcloth left, which I think I'll use for mittens from that Diderot pattern.
Looking at the finished breeches laid out flat, I think my pattern could still be improved a bit. They don't have the ( shape of the originals, but I'm pleased with them, and I think they're pretty good for my first pair of early 18th century breeches.
While the bulky wool was a bit troublesome to work with in some areas (only because it's not well suited to breeches, it's not the wool's fault) it's perfectly comfortable to wear. The lining fabric is also very nice and comfortable, as one would expect from good quality bedsheet material.
Most of my other breeches have 4 buttons at the knee, but these have 5.
These photos are a pretty good depiction of what the colours actually look like.

And here are the photos that turned out way too dark, which I've badly edited to be brighter.
They could stand to be a tad looser, but I think the fit is pretty similar to the ones in that naughty Hogarth painting.
Not looser because they're uncomfortably tight or anything, it's just that earlier 18th century breeches generally appear to be a bit looser because they weren't as visible as the later ones.

I mentioned in my year in review post that I plan to do "an extravagant 1720's suit", and when that happens I'll try doing some things differently on those breeches, including:

  • Trying to copy that very round inseam curve that the extant pairs have
  • Making them just as tight at the knees but a bit looser in the rest of the leg. On the extant pairs it looks like the inseam is kind of.. vaguely s shaped? I'll do that.
  • Making the seat just a little bit less full, because both extant 20's pairs appear to have fewer gathers.
  • Doing the very slight gathering at the front of the knee, and copying the kneeband method from The Met's photos as best I can.

So that'll be fun! I already have the fabrics for it, but am not sure when I'll get started.
And that's it! I would like to get fancy photos of me in the completed 1730' suit sometime soon-ish, but first I want to try covering a pair of shoes to look like early 18th century shoes, which are quite different from the late 18th century shoes I have. I'm a bit intimidated by this project (which is almost unheard of for me!) but hopefully it'll go well.