Linen Coat and Waistcoat
This 18th century coat and waistcoat sat around for a few months while I was immersed in my first semester of graduate school. I really struggled to keep up with sewing projects, so as soon as the semester ended, I threw myself into sewing. I managed to complete both the coat and waistcoat in a week! I’m so proud of myself for just getting it done. I enjoyed these projects very much, which is gratifying because I often get intimidated and lose motivation. I guess I knew how to do everything and therefore didn’t feel anxious about working on it. These photos are of the completed projects. I hope to eventually get pictures of the owner wearing them.
I had a mock-up of a size 44 waistcoat, but I don’t remember what I made it from. It might have been a commercial pattern, or I might have drafted it or copied it from a coat that I made as I had been making several coats and adjusting patterns for them. Anyway, I met up with the gentleman for whom I made these projects and tried the mock-up on him. It fit nearly perfectly, so I had a pattern to start with. When I finally got around to making the coat and waistcoat, I drafted sleeves, pocket flaps, mariner’s cuff pocket flaps, and a collar. The collar took some troubleshooting, but I got it to work eventually. I referred to pictures of original garments on the 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center: https://www.scribd.com/document/240864437/Male-Dress-Coats-Suits
First, I cut out the pieces for the coat, which included a full lining of light-weight linen. I ran out of that fabric, so I pieced some of it for the sleeve lining. I began by machine sewing everything together on the long seams. I used natural colored linen sewing thread for all of the hand sewing. There is a buckram interfacing featherstitched on both sides of the front of the coat to support the buttons and buttonholes. I prick stitched the pocket flaps to their linings—both the flaps for the front of the coat and the flaps for the mariner’s cuffs, which I drafted after looking at images of originals. Next, I cut the pocket holes and hand sewed in the pocket bags, then attached the pocket flaps. To attach the cuffs, I machine sewed them to the fashion fabric and then whip stitched the lining in place, finishing by prick stitching the edges of the wrist opening. I turned and pressed about ½ inch of the fashion fabric and the lining all around the outside edges, then pinned them together. The lining is attached to the fashion fabric by prick stitching around the edges, which takes quite a long time!
Unfortunately, I made the sleeves a little bit too long—1.5 inches too long. I desperately did not want to re-sew the cuffs, though, because I’d have to chop the length off of the wrist end. (Sorry, D!) I made my uncle try on the coat to see how bad it would look with long sleeves. Not terrible, so hopefully my client won’t mind. If it’s a problem, I’ll just have to take it apart and fix it. I might be able to trim the top of the sleeves.
To attach the collar, I machine sewed the lower collar (which I cut slightly narrower than the upper collar so that it would lay flat when turned down). Then, I blind stitched the upper collar to the lining. I had to take the collar apart and remove some length from it and change the shape of the front edge—problems of drafting your own patterns.
Finally, I measured and cut all of the buttonholes with a hammer and chisel. There are 11 buttonholes down the front about 2 inches apart and three buttonholes on each mariner’s cuff. D didn’t want any buttonholes on the front pockets. He’s also going to attach the buttons himself (fabric covered buttons would look so fly, D!). I was going to do 1 inch buttonholes, but if you look at pictures of originals, the buttonholes on coats are very long. 2 inches would be ideal, but I went with 1.5” to make it go faster. I made gimp by waxing and twisting two strands of 16/2 linen together, then sewed the buttonhole stitches over that with some dark blue linen sewing thread. I’m not sure what size it is, but it’s slightly thicker than my other linen sewing thread. I know it’s very thin for buttonhole thread, but I didn’t like the look of my practice buttonholes in 16/2 linen. Besides, originals have buttonholes sewn with very fine thread. I had to whip stitch the lining to the buttonholes from the back because most of my stitches didn’t catch all three layers. If I were sewing anything thicker, like coat weight wool, I would have sewn the buttonholes through just the fashion fabric and the buckram before setting in a lining, which then necessitates whip stitching the lining, but I thought it would be best to sew all three layers together for this coat.
Next, I made the waistcoat, which went quite fast compared to the coat. It is made of a light weight madder red linen (I suspect that it’s JoAnn Fabric’s linen/rayon blend, but shhhh, don’t tell any thread Nazis). The lining is a slightly heavier natural colored linen (100%). I used the same pattern, but shortened it by two inches. Of course, there were fewer pieces. The construction process was similar to the coat’s assembly. After cutting everything out, I set in the pocket bags and sewed the buckram interfacing to both sides to support the buttons and buttonholes. Then, I machine sewed all of the inner seams. I pressed under all of the edges—including the collar and armscyes—and prick stitched them with natural colored linen thread.
Finally, I sewed the buttonholes. Again, there are 11 of them, about 2 inches apart, and this time I made them 1 inch wide. I struggled with the buttonholes. I planned to use some madder red 16/2 linen, but again, it didn’t look good with this thick thread. I tried splitting the 16/2 into its two plies, but the thread broke when I sewed with it. I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I didn’t have any silk thread of a color that would work with this madder red. Then, I remembered my stash of thick two-ply mercerized cotton. It was from my grandmother. I’m not quite sure what it was intended for; maybe embroidery? It looks just like buttonhole silk as it’s shiny and just the right thickness. Anyway, providentially, there was a spool of a brownish-orange color that was perfect for this waistcoat! I worried because the spool was almost empty, but there was only one thing to do: try sewing and see if I’d run out. As soon as I got up this morning, I started sewing the buttonholes. Lo and behold, there was exactly enough of the thread for the 11 buttonholes. It was nothing short of miraculous! I’m sure there’s some controversy over my choice of using cotton, but believe me, there was no way I’d be able to order the right kind of linen or silk for this project and then get it done before I leave the country (I’m going away for work this summer). I personally believe that the shininess of mercerized cotton makes it an ideal substitute.
Material: linen (and possibly linen/rayon blend) for everything
Pattern: my own
Year: I think we were aiming for 1750s, but it’s probably fine for much of the 18th century
Notions: thread—I used polyester for the machine sewing, linen for hand sewing, and linen or cotton for the buttonholes
How historically accurate is it? Considering the machine sewing, it’s only about 75% accurate. Points for good fabric and hand sewn buttonholes :)
Hours to complete: 20 hours for the coat, 12 for the waistcoat
First worn: Soon, I hope!
Total cost: I did not buy the fabric, but it might be about $50 U.S. for all of it. I paid maybe $8 for the buckram. I used thread that I already had, but probably a few dollars worth.