Red's Square-Cut Shirt

I have a good friend who is a Civil War reenactor, like me. He asked me to make a basic shirt for him using a sheet. It's a printed cotton/polyester blend. The printed plaid is very close to the grainline, but not quite, so the plaid looks crooked in some places. I cut most of the pieces following the grain of the fabric, not the printed lines. I am entering this project in The Historical Sew Monthly ( Here's the finished product:

This shirt is the basic square-cut type used for many centuries in Western cultures, with certain features typical of the mid 1800's. I referred to "1850's Civil War Men's Shirt Pattern" at and "Making a Shirt" at I reduced the size of the shirt significantly to be similar to a modern XL shirt. I chose to hand-sew all visible stitching to make the shirt more historically accurate and look more plausible, but also because I knew I needed the practice. I made a lot of mistakes. I fixed the major ones, but other issues were not significant. I'll point them out with my photos because I want to take note of how it could be done better and also to show that I have a lot to learn!

Obviously I started by cutting all the pieces. I cut the body as one big piece instead of two pieces joined with shoulder seams. Then, I cut out the neck opening and attached the neck gussets, which I chose to cut as triangles. There are different ways I could have done the neck and shoulders, but here's my approach, which may or may not be the best. 

I inserted one triangle (I cut the 4" squares in half)

Then I pressed the edges of another triangle 1/4"

And whip-stitched this triangle on the inside to hide the raw edges of the first triangle

Next, I attached the rectangular shoulder bands on top of the shoulders. From what I understand, these could be on the inside, but I used to make this style of shirt for a living history museum and I was taught to sew the bands on the outside. Because this fabric (50% cotton/50% polyester) does not stretch at all, I couldn't get the shoulder bands to lay smoothly over the non-flat shoulder and triangular gussets. But it looks good enough.

My next step was to attach rectangles to form the placket, which differs from the instructions I used, but I usually see plackets on Civil War shirts. I'm not sure about this style point. Did I do it right? Were plackets common in the 1860's? Anyway, I machine sewed one rectangular placket piece to each side of the front opening, pressed it over, and hand back-stitched them down.

Then, I lapped the two plackets and sewed a square and an X to hold them in place.
Subsequently, I pressed the rectangular collar and sewed its short edges. I gathered the neck opening to fit the collar, machine stitched one side, folded the collar to the inside, and whip stitched the inside edge. 

After that, I attached the underarm gussets and cuffs to the sleeves, finishing the sleeve seams before attaching them to the shirt at the armscye. I did not gather the top of the sleeves because it would have made the armscyes too small. If I want to make gathered sleeves in the future, I'll have to cut them wider. 

I sewed the rest of the side seams and flat felled all of them. I flat felled the shoulder seams and then realized that I forgot to sew in the rectangular shoulder binders, which would have covered the raw edges at the armscye, but the flat-felling was so nice that I didn't want to un-pick it. So I left it as it was and did not attach the binders. Oops. I also don't like the way I finished the underarm gussets. It would be better to press these gusset seams outward, then I would have to clip a bit where the body seam folds in the other direction.

I made that same mistake on the gussets in the bottom of the side seams. Also, these gussets were unnecessary since I shortened the shirt so much.

I rolled the lower hem 1/2" and whip stitched it.

 All of the buttonholes are hand-sewn using silk buttonhole cording. I used shell buttons.

I just mailed the shirt to Red. It was great practice for me and I didn't have to worry too much since the fabric was not new. It's amazing how basic and efficient the square-cut style is. The assembly is simple, but I'm not a professional, so it took a lot of careful consideration.  I hope it holds up well in battle!

The Challenge: May, Practicality

Fabric: 50% cotton, 50% polyester bedsheet

Pattern: "1850's Civil War Men's Shirt Pattern" at 

Year: early 1860's

Notions: thread, buttons

How historically accurate is it? Mostly. The fabric is not accurate, but looks like it is. I took shortcuts with construction and also made some errors in assembly.

Hours to complete: 6

First worn: Hopefully this month :)

Total cost: Red found the sheet in his linen closet. The thread was free (given to me). Not sure where the buttons came from, but probably from a flea market box, so negligible cost. Basically a few cents total.


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