I can never understand other people's written instructions for garment construction; but, having made a Redcoat and knowing how hard it is to find posts from people who also have made Redcoats, I'm going to try my hand at sewing by the written word.
In the spring of 2014 I was asked to make an 18th Century military tailcoat, specifically of the 71st Regt. of Foot. First on the checklist, ordering supplies. After weeks of agonizing over where to order what, I settled on these.
Where to order supplies for a Historical Tailcoat
- Wm Booth Draper for madder red wool fabric. I don't think you can buy small amounts of this wool any cheaper, anywhere else. It's all just expensive. I ordered two yards of red and one of white. It was plenty for my average sized-fit-youngish client.
- Roy Najecki for Regimental pewter buttons and wool lace. Again, I think Najecki is the only place that makes the buttons I needed(though I found this source for wool lace, .50 cheaper). The buttons on the shoulder boards were smaller than all the rest, so make sure you're getting the right sizes! I also learned that the stripe in regimental wool lace is called a "Worm."
- The extra large hooks-and-eyes for the front closure I bought at Hobby Lobby.
- The linen was left over from a roll I bought from fabrics-store.com(use the code "ilovelinen"! 7% off every time!)
Fitting and Sizing
This is a coat for an enlisted man, so the tails are short: they should come to the end of the rear. The sleeves are long and snug and come to the thumb knuckle when the arms are down. The front facing is(I think) roughly two-thirds of the length of the coat front, and the folded-back tail begins at the bottom of the facing. The back of the coat should fit close to the skin.
How to Plug a Button
The wrong side of the sleeve cuff with plugged buttons.
If you google "How to Plug a Button" nothing pertinent comes up. Maybe there's a technical term for this that I don't know, but this is how you add decorative buttons to a historical tailcoat. All the buttons are plugged so they lie flat on the surface of the coat. Plugging is punching a hole into the coat fabric(without cutting, if you can help it; use an awl) and pushing the shank of the button through the hole. Then with the shank sticking out the wrong side of the coat, put something sturdy, like string or cord, through the shank and tie the ends so it won't come out. I put a spot of glue on my tied ends for extra security.
Almost done: you can see that one tail is lined with wool and one isn't. To get the correct 18thC cutaway shape, I altered the front of my good old Regency tailcoat pattern and just sheared it away in the front. I also had to draft a new collar, which was, surprisingly, the one pattern piece that caused me trouble.
Collar and Shoulder Boards
The collar for this coat is not a stand-up collar, like the Regency style; it's slightly shaped around the neck but doesn't lie flat, and it has a point at the center back. The final pattern ended up looking something like a fat wishbone. The shoulder boards are sewn into the sleeve seam(which I always forget). The shoulder boards are straight along the line of the shoulder, while the shoulder seams are slanted back behind the shoulder. The collar, shoulder boards, and front facing are all two layers of wool: white on top, red underneath.
The coat was fully lined with linen; the tails were partially lined with white wool. I bag-lined the front of the coat, then hand-tacked it around the armholes and around the tails where the wool lining overlapped. The front facing was sewn into the front seam, and then hand-tacked down(leaving the edges raw) all around.
Pewter Buttons and Wool Lace
"Taxes aside, the decorative lace on Regimental uniforms would be enough to provoke the colonies to rebellion against the crown."
There are no functioning buttonholes on this coat, but there are forty decorative buttons with accompanying trim! I found this post on how to sew trim. It's not quite the same shape as what I did, and I didn't press mine every five seconds like they did, but the idea of sewing your trim into the shape you need, before attaching it to the wool- that was good. But anyway you do it, sewing the trim takes forever. The inside seams of this coat I did on the machine, and that went fairly quickly; but everything else had to be done by hand. The collar of this coat buttons over the top button of the facing.
Helpful websites with pictures:
- Reenacting Von Bose: Some good close-up pictures of a wool coat.
- The Redcoats are Coming: Lots of pictures of a Napoleonic tailcoat.
- 47th Regt. of Foot: Same era as mine, different Regiment.
What Pattern to Buy
Admittedly, I'm not the best person to ask about historical patterns because I rarely buy them; they're just so expensive. I can say that I have one J. P. Ryan pattern and it works well for me. However, historical patterns aren't produced like modern-dress patterns, and the garments themselves are certainly meant to be constructed differently than modern garments, so if you've only ever made modern garments, don't expect any historical pattern to be easy.