Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Making a 1716 Kit

Part Two: Construction and Completion

After about two and a half months, the entire suit is complete. I learned a little in the process, but it was mostly the tedious hand-sewing that I know many historical tailors are familiar with. In all, the suit contains five yards of velvet and about four yards of linen, hundreds of yards of linen thread, about one hundred meters of silk buttonhole twist (82 buttonholes), and sixty-six pewter buttons.


Constructing the suit was really no different than making a 1750s or even 1770s one. The biggest differences are the number of buttons and buttonholes, the length of the waistcoat and coat, and the additional set of buttonholes on the back skirts of the coat.

I started the sewing with the waistcoat, then the coat, and finished with the breeches. I left all of the buttonholes and buttons to be added last (excepting the buttonhole placket on the breeches which is half-covered once sewn on, so I added the buttonholes first to it). Unfortunately, by the time I finished hand sewing everything, my buttons still had not shown up. As it turned out, by mid-June, the supplier was just getting around to casting them despite reassuring me in April that the buttons would be gold-plated by the end of May. Well, when I called last week, the buttons were cast but the plating-company closed for two weeks right before getting to my order. Needless to say, the sutler sent me a set of the buttons in plain pewter for this weekend's event. I'll have to pop them off once the gold ones come in and swap them out for the September event. So right now, I have shiny pewter buttons that work, they're just not gold-plated as intended.

Since having to wait on the buttons, I just went ahead and sewed the buttonholes hoping that the dimensions I received for the buttons were accurate. I went with two-inch buttonholes for the coat front, cuffs, pocket flaps, and back skirts. For the waistcoat, I sewed one and a half inch buttonholes on the front and pocket flaps, and one-inch buttonholes on the breeches. I chose these sizes based on the size of the buttons and what I estimated in the collection of paintings and extant examples I had found. I feel that, after having sewn 82 buttonholes, I'm nearly an expert at it; practice is really the only way to master the art of making buttonholes.

Once I came back from a bit of a holiday in New England, I found the buttons waiting for me. I started last night and finished sewing them on about noon today. They fit the buttonholes perfectly (so the dimensions were in fact correct) and the pewter looks good with the dark green velvet. I'll still switch them out for the gold later, but they'll definitely work for now.


As soon as I finished sewing the buttons on, I tried everything on. I have a thin cotton shirt with ruffles at the neck and cuffs and pewter sleeve buttons. The white stockings are pulled over the knees but tied under them with a black silk ribbon. For the cravat, I really had only two choices: embellished or not. Embellished cravats are made from what looks like white fine linen or silk with lace at the ends. Since most lace available today is either made with synthetic thread or in an inaccurate design, I opted for the plain white linen cravat with the ends tucked into my shirt. Both styles are accurate for the period, but my decision was based on availability of resources rather than personal choice (I'd prefer the embellishment of course!).

Finally, to top it all off, I'm wearing a periwig fitting for the 1710s: a mass of curls, just a bit longer than shoulder-length with a part in the middle. I am fortunate to have a modern wig-dresser in my town who was able to supply me with this. While it is synthetic, it was intended for normal, 21st century use so it looks and feels remarkably realistic. I've also been told that synthetic wigs are so much easier to work with than human hair, so the choice was easy to make for me. For anyone interested in buying an historical wig, I will recommend the shop I bought this and my 1770s wig from: Hollywood Fashion Wigs in Old Town Alexandria, VA.


It wouldn't be proper for me to write about this whole kit without putting in a bit of advertising for the event I made it for: the 300th anniversary of Governor's Spotswood's Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. Hosted by the Germanna Foundation, the event celebrates the governor's 1716 excursion into the Virginia frontier. I will be portraying John Fontaine, the chronicler of the expedition. This weekend (July 15-17), members of the historical society will take pre-registered visitors on a bus tour of the 1716 route, a conference, a gala and silent auction for the donors, and a small encampment. We will be open for the general public as an encampment the weekend of September 16-18. For more information on this, please visit the Germanna Foundation's website.

Upcoming Topics:
  • Making a 17th century wood-core leather scabbard
  • Camp diversions: or how to entertain yourself at events
  • "A doublet of fustian... and breeches of canvas"

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