Saturday, January 30, 2016

HSF Challenge #1: Procrastination: late 16th century shirt for rapier combat

As winter settles in and life is (slightly) calmer, the time has come to break down and tackle some of the un-glamorous sewing that I've been procrastinating on all autumn.  Jay and I are probably going to Gulf Wars in March (a week long medieval camping event for those of you not in the Society for Creative Anachronism) and while both of us have a decent set of 16th century clothing and a change of shirt/camicia now, there had never been time to make enough camicia and shirts to get through more than an overnight event. And rapier fighting is sweaty, so a clean shirt every day is a necessity.

So this month is "fatta in casa"1 sewing:  linen underthings traditionally made by the female members of the household.  And it works nicely for the procrastination challenge. When Jay got into rapier combat in the SCA we bought fabric for me to make him a set of rapier garb but it turned out that buying him a basic set would let him start playing a lot faster than waiting for me to make it. I've been meaning to start a set of rapier combat legal garb for him, but there was always something more pressing.  This challenge was my excuse to stop procrastinating and make him a decent shirt.

I started with pattern #9 from Patterns of Fashion 42.  a shirt c.1580-1620 from an extant garment (37-1962) at the Warwickshire Museum Service. Jay isn't a particularly unusual size for a man and shirts are forgiving, so I drafted up the pattern straight from the book and didn't make any size adjustments, although I questioned the narrowness of the sleeves originally.  Then I realized that the shirt was mean to be worn under a doublet with sleeves and it all made sense.

base pattern from Patterns of Fashion 4 

I made 2 deviations from the pattern:  I shortened the length to  36" because I  wanted to get 3 shirts out of the 9 yards of linen (Fabric Store 019 5.4 oz) I had on hand. I also enlarged the gusset to 10" because rapier combat requirements states: "acceptable minimum armpit coverage is provided by a triangle extending from the armpit seam. covering the lower half of the sleeve at the seam and extending down the inner/under arm one third the distance to the fighter's elbow"
Since this was going to be a "functional beta" to make sure the shirt worked for rapier combat, I decided I would do as much by machine as I could to save time. Me being me, this meant I still ended up doing 50% handwork.

For the gussets, I determined that 2 layers of Fabric Store 019 and 2 layers of the 090 was the minimum that would pass the drop test to make it combat legal so I machine quilted the 4 layers together.  The end result definitely felt padded and made felling the seams a bit tricky.  I may see what combination of linen and silk passes the drop test and try interlining the gussets for the next one in silk for less bulk.

The quilted end result

To minimize bulk as best I could in the seams, I cut the seam allowance off the interlining pieces and basted them in before quilting all 4 pieces together.

The interlining before I put the final piece on top and started basting

The neck gussets went in easily enough by hand using a hem and whip stitch method.  I guess I made a third deviation because  the pattern uses square gussets and I used 4 triangular gussets, stitching the second piece wrong sides together for a tidy finished edge on the inside.

underside of gusset 

For the collar and cuffs, I cut a 2" strip 2 yards long for the collar and a yard each for the cuffs and did a tight gather, based on the Nils Sture shirt pieces in PoF4.  I machine gathered each strip and attached it by machine, then put the lining piece in by hand.  I'm not sure how traditional a method this is, but I like it because it guarantees I won't catch part of the ruffle when I machine stitch the ends. I used an interlining of the 019 linen for both collar and cuffs to give them a little more body. Due to fabric constraints, my cuff and collar aren't as full as the Sture shirt, but they still came out pretty well, I think. I used the selvage edge as the finish for all pieces.

I'd intended to use hooks and eyes to close the collar and cuffs, since this was just a functional beta.  but at this point, I was really liking how it was turning out, so I did a simple finger loop braid for the collar and sleeve ties. I attached the collar ties in the seam allowance before I put in the lining, but I decided follow the Sture shirt example and put in an eyelet on each side of the cuff for the ties.  In looking back more closely at the pattern, I see that the sketch of the cuff only has an eyelet on one side, not both.  Note to self:  refer to your original documentation more during the construction process.

collar ties

putting an eyelet in the cuff

The finished shirt came out well and I am very pleased with the gussets. They will definitely serve well for rapier combat.  Since they're enlarged for armor protection, they appear to droop a bit in the picture, but once his doublet (sleeveless) is on, they sit just fine.

The whole project hit a good balance of function and historical accuracy and there weren't any moments which made me curse like a sailor.  Doing several more of these will be a pleasant thing to do while watching Netflix. In fact I already have shirt #2 cut out and in the sewing basket.

The Challenge:  #1 Procrastination

Material: 2 yards 25" of linen (+ 3/8 of a yard for gusset interlining)

Pattern: pattern #9 from Patterns of Fashion 4.  a shirt c.1580-1620 from an extant garment (37-1962) at the Warwickshire Museum Service.

Notions: poly thread for machine sewing, 80/2 linen thread for hand sewing, cotton #10 crochet cord for ties.

How historically accurate is it? perhaps 70%? The base pattern & fabric are accurate, but I adjusted the pattern to make it rapier combat legal, did some machine sewing on it and the ties should probably have been made of linen rather than cotton. I also wasn't specifically following accurate seam finishing techniques.

Hours to complete? 2 weeks of my evenings and weekends sewing time so 15-20 hours.

First worn:  probably 27 February at the Meridian Challenge of Arms

Total cost:  $0.  We bought the fabric last summer so everything was from the stash.

I've also made 2 Italian camicia for myself and a functional beta of a 15th century men's shirt based on Master Lorenzo's research.  It's been a productive start to 2016!

1  Brown, Patricia Fortini. Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.  New Haven: Yale University Press 2004.
2. Arnold, Janet.  Patterns of Fashion 4. London: Macmillan, 2008. 

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