Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Making a 17th century shirt- Preparations and cutting

Today I cut out and started sewing a 17th century shirt for J. I'm basing it on a pattern in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 4, on page 74-75. Shirt patterns didn't change much over the course of the 16th to 18th century and all the patterns I have seen after extant examples looks basically like this: A long rectangle forms the body, smaller rectangles the sleeves and there is a square forming a gusset under the sleeves. There are small rectangular pieces forming cuffs and neckband. Details differs and measurements, but that's the general idea. The reasons for choosing just the patterns I did, are several.

The original shirt, complete with blood stains.
Livrustkammaren 21454 (5793:1)
It fits the time period. The shirt was worn by Admiral Claes Bielkenstierna when he was killed in 1659. J's planned outfit will be mid-17th century.

It is Swedish. As I'm a Swede, I always enjoy the chance of using a pattern of a garment that has actually been worn in Sweden.

It is plain. Most extant shirt has been persevered because they are very pretty, with embroidery and lace. Livrustkammaren, the Swedish Royal Armoury where Claes Bielkenstierna shirt is, has had a bit different view on garments worth saving, like being a shirt worn when somebody important was killed. This particular shirt is very much an everyday shirt, even if the linen is fine and linen quite nice. Despite the plainness it still have some interesting details like a pleated section on the sleeves, a little spider web design on the front sleeves and some decorative back stitched on the neckband. There are also small worked bars at key-points to prevent tearing as well as extra fabric added for reinforcement at several places.

The material I will be using is white shirt weight linen. I plan to sew it completely by hand as I like to have a project that I can take with me and work on at odd moments. I also plan to follow the original construction as close as possible. There are a few differences in the measurements. The original shirt is about 120 cm long, mine will be about 100 for tech simple reason that I didn't have enough linen. The original sleeves measure ca 89X64 cm but as J is tall I had lengthened the sleeves to 67 cm. The gussets is 8X8 cm, as is the original ones. I haven't cut the cuffs and neckband yet, but will cut those to fit J.

All set to cut. The tail belong to Spiff who helped by wighing down the fabric.
The original fabric was just 100 cm wide which is also the width of the shirt, making the most use of the selvages. Modern fabrics are much wider and tech selvages looks different. So another difference is that I will make a tiny hem all around the body piece before I attaches the sleeves and the gussets. I will also hem the sides of the sleeves the same way. The original shirt has such an hem on edges that doesn't have selvage, so it doesn't feel too far-fetched. The original have hems that are just 1.5 mm wide, which is far too tiny for my sewing skills- my hems will be about 2.5 mm.

So now a lot of hemming is in the stars. I will return to you on the shirt subject when it is time to make the neck band.

Read more

A dicsussion on the early modern shirt and the making of one at The Costume Historian.

Making a plain shirt.
An extant shirt in England, similar to Claes Bielkestierna's.

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