My second-last project of 2019.
I was extra thorough in photographing the construction steps, so hopefully this post will be helpful until I make that big 18th century shirt tutorial I mean to do eventually. I've had a number of people ask me about shirt construction and I'd like to have something to link them to by way of an answer in the meantime, so this will be that. A sort of substitutorial I suppose?
The fabric here isn't remotely accurate to the 18th century, but the cut & construction is, at least to the best of my knowledge. I'll add any extra information I think is relevant.
As I've probably mentioned before, I need more practical shirts without ruffles to wear to work, and I also have a lot of cotton in my stash that needs to be used up.
In May of 2018 I tried making a vaguely modern-ish shirt with the intention of making more like it out of my stash cottons, but it turns out I hate that shirt. It's my least favourite shirt, it doesn't go with any of my waistcoats, and is far less comfortable than my 18th century ones. So if I do make more shirts with stash cotton they'll be cut and sewn just the same as my 18th century linen ones, which is what I did with this shirt.
For most of my shirts I use plain woven white linen, which is much more 18th century appropriate.
I machine sewed some of these seams with cotton thread, and hand sewed some of them with linen thread from Burnley & Trowbridge.
All the pieces are squares and rectangles. The Cut of Men's Clothes (That link is to a free pdf version) has a nice pattern diagram for an 18th century shirt, and Costume Close Up has one too, though the cuffs aren't quite right since it's taken from a shirt that was altered in the 19th century.
The fabric was 113cm wide and I used 1.73m of it, though I regret not cutting it fuller and using up more of it. I used the method of pulling out one thread and following it, so all the pieces are perfectly on grain. The dimensions of my pieces (seam allowance included) were as follows:
Main body - 65 x 180 cm (could easily go a lot wider and longer. 18th century ones were really long - at least mid thigh length.)
Sleeves - 61 x 45.5 cm (I really wish I'd cut them fuller. A 61x61 square would be good.)
Collar - 20 x 41 cm (This was a little bit tight, and next time I'll cut it a smidge bigger.)
Armhole seam binding bit - 42 x 2 cm
Underarm gussets - 12 x 12 cm
Neck gussets - 8 x 8 cm
Hem gussets - 5 x 5 cm
Shoulder strips - 4 x 19 cm
Cuffs - 20 x 6 cmpictures of these on a couple of extant shirts, and some have heart shaped reinforcements, and some have both.
I'm 5'9", my neck is 38 cm around, and my wrists are about 16.5 cm around, if that helps. The shirts are very loose everywhere except the cuffs and collar, so there's a lot of wiggle room for how big to make the body and sleeve pieces. The cuffs meet edge to edge, so the finished cuff should only be a little bit bigger than the wrist measurement. More on that later in the post.
Having cut out all the pieces, I folded the body piece in half lengthwise and cut a horizontal slit for the neck hole. I left 15.5 cm closed on either side of the slit, for the shoulders. In the middle of that I cut a 27 cm long slit down the front of the shirt, so I had a T shaped opening. I did a tiny hand sewn hem on the edge of the bosom slit.
(For a lot of my previous shirts I didn't realize the body should be cut in one piece, so I did mine in two pieces and sewed the shoulders up the same amount as I left closed here. If you do this be sure to put the seam allowances for the shoulders on the outside of the shirt, as they will be covered by the shoulder strip.)
rolled hem video, and a rolled whip gather video that shows you how to do that. The ruffles should be a finer material than the rest of the shirt.
If you'd rather attach ruffles by machine you'll need to do the front slit ones before attaching the collar, and cut two pieces for each cuff so you can sandwich the ruffles in between. Since I have no better illustration of that method, I'll have to grudgingly link to a shirt post I made waaay back in 2014 in which I photographed all the steps of doing this. I did it by hand on that particular shirt, but since I didn't really know what I was doing I just used the same methods as the previous shirts I'd made by machine. So just do that but with machine sewing instead of backstitching. And here's a link to a quick video on machine gathering.
Oh dear, this post is untidy and not very well organized. But hopefully helpful to people who ask me shirt questions, which is what's important.
The neck gussets are two squares, and I pressed the edges in.
|Here you can see the bottom|
(All the stitches on 18th century shirts should be small and sturdy, and all the edges finished, so that it can withstand a lot of washing.)
|Oh dear, that is a bit wobbly.|
I'm still not used to my new machine.
|Sewing the collar on. |
The seam allowance of the collar should of course protrude beyond the neck slit hem.
|Collar folded and mostly pinned down.|
|Whipstitching the inside edge down.|
|The sleeve sewn on and the binding strip added after that.|
I did this by machine.
This is attached in the same way, just much narrower. I also saw a post about a 17th century shirt where someone simply sewed a piece of woven tape over the gathered seam allowances here, so that would work too.
I folded in the seam allowance on all 3 side of this strip and hand stitched it with more tiny whipstitches.
At this point the body and sleeve of the shirt form a right angle in the armpit area. I pinned one side of the gusset into this area and backstitched it on, leaving about 1 cm of seam allowance. The neat little backstitches should be on the square part, not on the sleeve/body side of the seam, so that when you finish this seam later the long messy side of the backstitching will be hidden.
|Tightly spaced backstitches in linen thread.|
Here I will add a backlit photo of an earlier shirt I made, to better illustrate what's going on here.
|Not a very good photo, but you can see where the gusset goes in.|
After stitching in the square on the armpit corner on the other side, it's time to sew up the sleeve and side seam. Again, I leave about 1 cm seam allowance, or a little more. I did these by machine, leaving 10 cm open at the ends of both the sleeve and side seam. One is for the cuff opening, and the other is to make the bottom of the shirt easier to tuck in.
Extant 18th century shirts appear to have more of a slit at the bottom than my comparatively small shirt, so if you've cut yours to proper huge 18th century size I'd suggest leaving closer to 15 or 20 cm open at the side seam.
(For a truly shameful number of shirts I was doing this the other way around, which not only took longer and looked messier, but it made the shirts very weak at the corners of the gussets and nearly all of them ripped and needed to be patched there. Don't do that! Fold those underarm gusset seam allowances outwards!)
I sewed these edges down with more tiny whipstitches.
|Very neat and tidy and sturdy!|
Much like the neck gussets, the small squares for the hem gussets get their edges folded in and then are folded in half. These I whipstitched onto the split at the bottom of the seam, on the inside.
|Hem gusset from the outside.|
This looks much nicer when it's white thread on plain white fabric...
|A better view of the cuff opening.|
Clipping the seam allowance allows you to fold both to one side on the seam
and one in each direction on the opening.
Clipping it a bit past the beginning of the seam makes it a bit more sturdy.
18th century sleeve buttons in a previous shirt post, and it's pretty easy. I just bend a large jump ring into an elongated oval shape and put 2 metal shank buttons on it.
Dorset wheels are early 19th century or very late 18th, and for most 18th century shirts they're bird's eye or Dorset knob buttons. In a lot of 18th century portraits where you can see the buttons they appear to be small and round. But again, that's just what it looks like to me from a pretty small sample size of shirts.
brown waistcoat I wear to work most days.
I've been wanting to do tutorials for a while now, but have been feeling rather insecure about it because I'm self taught. Not insecure about my skills, I know I'm good at sewing, but about my knowledge base.
What things do I not know? Are there super obvious important things that I don't know? I have no idea! I've spent a very long time learning what I can from books and the internet, but have never actually met any professionals, and have never even seen a single extant 18th century garment in person.
I tend to worry about being judged by reenactors, which is... weird because I'm not a reenactor. And even more weird because I've never been harshly criticized by one. (I've gotten some unsolicited constructive criticism, which can be annoying, but I usually don't mind it much.) I have no idea why this is a thing I worry about.
And it only goes as early as 1750. I've found next to nothing on making early 18th century menswear, aside from some patterns in The Cut of Men's Clothes which come with no construction information.
I've had multiple people send me messages asking questions about getting started on 18th century sewing, which delights me! I love seeing more people getting involved in my Very Favourite Thing!
But most of the time there just aren't tutorials out there for me to direct them to when they ask, so the best I can do by way of an answer is to post a lot of pictures and type it all out, link to one of my own blog posts, or (for more general questions) recommend a few books.
I've often lamented the fact that so few people sew Fancy 18th century menswear, but perhaps more of them would if the necessary information was more readily available.
My sewing has gotten so much better in the past year, and I finally feel like I have a decent understanding of 18th century tailoring, so I will make some tutorials. With an emphasis on how "This is the way I do it but there are many different ways to do things, so maybe you will want to do it differently, and also I may be getting some things not quite right." And I'm making an effort to be more thorough with the descriptions and photos of my construction process.
I also mean to put together a masterpost of links and whatnot so I can have everything I've ever found useful all in one place. (I've got a rough version of that post up already and I need to organize it better, add more stuff, and post it here.)