Schuylkill Arsenal Infantry Jacket

This project was definitely a procrastination item, so I'm entering it in the Historical Sew Monthly Procrastination challenge.

What the item is: Schuylkill Arsenal Infantry Jacket
The Challenge: January 2016, Procrastination
Material: wool broadcloth, linsey woolsey lining, cotton lining, cotton batting interlining
Pattern: County Cloth Chas. R. Childs
Year: 1863?
Notions: silk buttonhole thread, cotton thread, buttons, japanned steel hook and eye
How historically accurate is it? Great, except I machine sewed the interior seams. The Schuylkill Arsenal contracted out these garments to individuals who rarely owned sewing machines.
Hours to complete: 30
First worn: January 2016
Total cost: Maybe $100 U.S. for the materials

My friend for whom I made this coat gave me this commission and one other, a sack coat, two years ago. I started making this infantry jacket last spring. It went very, very slowly as I didn't know what I was doing and kept anticipating major problems like I had with the sack coat. So I spent a lot of time just staring at it blankly. The pattern is actually fantastic and I highly recommend it, but there are a few parts of it that weren't really explained in the directions. I was able to figure it out through doing what made sense to me, and it worked perfectly, so I guessed correctly. This is definitely a pattern for an experienced seamstress/tailor/sewcialist, but I managed. In the end, when I saw Tom try on the coat and it actually fit, I was ecstatic.

I also had a few delays because I needed to obtain supplies, such as the cotton batting. I kept running out of buttonhole thread and had to buy lots of it. Everything worked out in the end, slowly but surely. I learned a lot while making this project and am very grateful to some friends who supervised and fielded my questions. It felt so good to get this loooooooong standing project finished and delivered to its owner.

I sewed the front buttons on after I had Tom try on the coat so I could mark the button placement. According to one of our friends who helped educate me about this project, soldiers often moved buttons over to make the jacket fit more snugly and to downplay the pigeon breast effect. So, on Tom's jacket, I placed the buttons at the breast further from the edge to create a snug fit. Thank you very much to The Young Sewphisticate for helping me sew the buttons on! We got it done very quickly working together. 

Cuff buttons

Facings on the bottom edge--I had to guess how they were placed, but there's really only one way they fit onto the edge.

Interior breast pocket

More of the facings and the lining

Facings and the inside of the buttonholes

Japanned steel eye, sandwiched in between the outer and inner collar

Japanned steel hook

Buttonholes and a close-up of cat hair, even though I furiously lint-rolled the jacket

"The Art of the Hand-Tailored Buttonhole," was very helpful. I thought I was pretty good at buttonholes, but this is very detailed and has more steps than I'm accustomed to. There are different approaches to making buttonholes, but this tutorial is ideal because it's for thick wool broadcloth and is a specific, strongly reinforced style.

First, I basted around the buttonhole area. Then, I measured and drew lines to mark the location. Next, I punched a 3/16" diameter hole at the stress end of the hole, then used a 3/4" chisel to cut the straight part. Cutting the round hole first helped me to line up the straight cut more accurately. I trimmed the corners at the transition from the straight cut to the round hole with scissors to smooth out the keyhole shape. I whip stitched around the buttonhole first., then held the gimp in place and sewed the buttonholes as per the tutorial. Each one took about 20 minutes to sew.

One of the sleeve buttonholes

The tutorial gives a complicated method for making gimp thread by twisting, waxing, and ironing silk thread. At first, I just used thick cotton thread as gimp, but I tried the twisted silk and it was actually pretty easy, so I used that for all of the front buttonholes.

I referred to this resource about a different garment made by the Schuylkill Arsenal to help answer some of my questions about the jacket: "A study of Enlisted Invalid Corps jackets 1863-1866 by Christopher J. Daley," It looks like the originals used black buttonhole thread--good thing I saw that, because I was planning to use dark blue to match the fabric.

The sleeves are lined in white cotton

This facing piece where the buttonholes are sewn was a little confusing because the pattern didn't show how to position it. I just guessed and it made sense as the only logical way to place it. I also had to guess about how the side was folded over and the cuff edge/self facing was folded up.

More of the cuff facing and buttons

The back--I noticed that the sleeves are a tiny bit misaligned; the sleeve seam should be centered between the two seams on the coat, but this is close enough.


  1. Absolutely fabulous job Kaela! I love the overall cut of this particular jacket and your workmanship is lovely! I'm sure Tom was very pleased!

  2. This is fantastic. Picture it in black and white and I'd think it was original! Well done

    1. Thank you! Tom (my client) is everybody's favorite spokesperson for looking like the original cast. There's a tintype photographer in Gettysburg who has a picture of him on an advertisement sign.

  3. Hi! My name is John and I'm getting ready to start work on sewing a Union mounted services jacket which is very similar to this aresenal jacket. By the way, you did an amazing job on this! I came across this page doing some Google searching as it's so hard to find examples of people doing similar projects and actually showing pictures and providing some commentary of their progress. I recently made a Richmond Depot jacket, entirely hand sewn, and it turned out great - though in places the directions got somewhat confusing, and like you with this jacket, had to do quite a bit of guessing. I expect to find the same confusions when making my services jacket, but was wondering if it would be okay to email you some questions if any were to arise as I get ready to start the project? Would really appreciate it. Thanks much!! (I'm quite new to seamstress work!)


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