Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Making a 1716 Kit

Part One: The Research and Pattern

Sketch of John Fontaine
c. 1730
In 1716, John Fontaine joined a week-long exploratory mission of Virginia's frontier, led by Governor Spotswood. Their journey, which began officially on August 29 upon leaving Germanna, was chronicled by Fontaine. Among the most important observations of the expedition, his description of the "German town" is one of the first historians have of early Germanna, founded originally in 1714. To celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of the expedition, Germanna is hosting a gala and a living history event this summer. One of the organizers reached out to me and asked me to portray John Fontaine. As such, I had to make a kit appropriate for 1716. Unfortunately though, Fontaine never described what clothing he wore or brought with him--I had a lot of researching to do.

Firstly, as a gentleman visiting Governor Spotswood in Virginia's capital--Williamsburg--I figured that a rich outfit would be in order. What's more is that Spotswood recorded that each gentleman on the expedition took at least one servant with him. Since Fontaine never left an inventory of his clothing, I turned to portraits from the 1710s. My most useful source was the Portrait Timeline. In addition to this, the couple dozen other paintings I found online as well as photographs of extant clothing suggest a relatively high percentage of velvet in addition to plain silk and wool.  I ultimately decided upon a dark green velvet for the outer fabric (matching Sir Charles Shuckburgh on the right, painted by Michael Dahl).

For the lining, I chose linen as it is the most common fabric used for this purpose. The buttons are gold-plated pewter cast from originals. The design, something like a sun with a number of rays emanating from it, seems to match closely with some of the originals in the paintings that I found. This time period saw many types of buttons besides metal, to include cloth covered and passementerie in particular. I opted out of further embellishments for a couple of reasons: one, it seems that in the portraits of individuals who wear velvet, there are only a couple examples with braiding (Sir Charles Shuckburgh being one)--most are plain with no trim or embroidery. The second reason is that, while Fontaine was a gentleman, I don't see him as someone so wealthy as a knight or magnate as to have a fully decked-out suit. I don't have a clothing inventory from him, so it's already a guess that he might have worn velvet; I'm going to keep it simple.

From Leloire's Histoire du Costume
For the pattern, I am using Suzanne Gousse's French soldier's small clothes and justaucorps that I have not only tailored to myself, but have modified for the 1710s. I had to lengthen the waistcoat's front by five inches while leaving the back at the original length (see this extant waistcoat, albeit from two decades later, for just one example of the longer front) as well as opening the arm holes (since they were intended for sleeves). The buttons and buttonholes also extend the entire length of the front. The breeches pattern did not require any alterations. The justaucorps will need a few minor adjustments: the first is that the sleeves are three-quarter length, so I had to shorten the original pattern a bit (the cuff ends about mid-forearm). The second is that the buttonholes will extend to the bottom instead of waist-level. The third is that the back center skirts need to be slightly wider to accommodate for the false buttonholes.

So far, I have completed the waistcoat save for the buttons and buttonholes. Those will be added at the very end as my finishing touch. Part Two of the 1710s kit grand adventure will contain pictures of my work in progress.


  1. Fascinating. Would love to look at your patterns sometime in the future, as I'm having one devil of a time filling out in between 1680 and 1750.

    1. I found Suzanne Gousse's patterns to be the best for 1750s clothing (regardless if you're doing a French soldier's portrayal or just a civilian). You can then make minor alterations (beyond tailoring it to you) to suit the earlier styles. I'm not sure the jusaucorps could be altered for the 1680s, but it definitely works for the 1710s.


    1. I tried to use a Reconstructing History pattern for a past project, but I found the pattern so unworkable that it was much easier making my own pattern entirely from scratch. This is the same experience many have had with RH. I recommend Elizabeth Friendship's "Pattern Cutting for Men's Costume." The added benefit for buying the book is that you can use it to make patterns for many periods and articles of clothing.