Shirt Construction

This is not a transcription. The pattern is slightly modified from Deb Najecki’s original, which can be found here, along with notes on it by Ruth Hodges. This is part 3 of the pattern article. This is a guide to help people create a shirt for the time period using free community resources and information. My commentary I try to keep in italics like this, so that the I’s do not get confusing. I also attempt to mark other people’s I’s with their name, or specifically in a quote with their name following.

The Deb Najecki pattern, if used in it’s raw form, is most likely late third quarter 18th century. Over time people have added changes to the directions to make it into a more 18th century Revolutionary War style pattern. Those changes are included here. The changes are primarily done by shortening the cuff and removing the reinforcements and adding the straps.

Shirt Images:

The original shirt images included here are a shirt owned by Tony Holbrook that is dated between 1790 and 1810, although the shirt is later, the techniques used in creating it should be helpful in many aspects construction. It is the only shirt I have had freely shared with me for the purpose of this post.

“Shirts should fall just above the knee or so for the 18th and early 19th century. The shirt is tucked between the legs to form underwear as the breeches are pulled up. With shirt tails so long the shirt tails remain tucked. There’s nothing that destroys the look more than to see a man with shirt tails hanging out (usually cut too short) of their breeches or trousers. The only exception is if a man is wearing a loin cloth.” ~ Wm. Booth Draper

Shirt Slit Length – Thanks to Wm Booth Draper

Shirt body:

Make a 16” slit across shoulder on the fold where the material of the body is doubled. In front cut down neck opening 1/2”.

“The shortest bosom slits tend to be as short as 8 inches. Most appear to be at least 10 inches long (many are as long as 12 inches or more). Often modern men find this uncomfortable and want a shorter bosom slit. But as historians what are we representing?” ~ Wm. Booth Draper

Front Slit:

On center front of neck opening cut a 10” – 12″ slit. Hem this front opening with a 1/8” flat hem. At the bottom of this slit do a Binding stitch. (See pg 27 of “Guide to Plain Sewing” I).

Shirt With Reinforcing Stitch

Optional: Rather than a Binding stitch place a re-enforcing heart (see pg 12 of “Guide to Plain Sewing” book II).

Notes on Reinforcements: Some people believe that the faggoting stitch is distinctly PA German. Others tell me that the heart is not used that often. Others state that there are not enough shirts out there to draw any conclusion concerning what to do at the end of a slit. I will continue to share all of the opinions here. If anyone would share more on this subject and have it quoted here, feel free to message me.

“Although I don’t recommend a heart reinforcement at the bottom of the bosom slit, it was sometimes done in the 18th century. All that is really needed is a couple of bar tacks. For those who are skilled some faggoting makes an excellent touch.” ~ Wm. Booth Draper

For more information on the faggoting stitch watch the video.

Neck Gussets:

Neck Gusset

The shirt pictured here is an original owned by Tony Holbrook. It is an original, but slightly later. Because of the shoulder reinforcements and slightly wider cuffs it probably dates between 1790 and 1810. Although the pattern is slightly different, it can be used as a good example of shirt construction techniques used in the period.

Fold neck gussets in half to form double thick triangles. Stitch one edge of gusset to body having narrowest seam at point of triangle that fits up into the end of shoulder slit. Another way of sewing gussets can be found on pg 13 of book II.

Shoulder bands are considered to be the best practice for Revolutionary War period and prior to the war. Reinforcements (covered later in thei document) are considered post war. At this point you will be sewing your shoulder bands, if you are going to be using them.

“Press 3/8″ toward center along long eedges so finished band is 3/4″ wide. Backstitch in place along shoulder and over neck gusset on right side of shirt. Trim Length to fit.” ~ Ruth Hodges Shirt Notes

Two buttons on a shirt collar provide more stability for a stock, neck cloth or handkerchief over the top. Also, 2 buttons on shirts appear most common from 1700-1800. There isn’t a need to have a collar that folds down as are illustrated in these pictures of English and French from 1750 to 1789.”-~ Wm. Booth Draper

Collar:

Watch Wristband video before proceeding.

Gathers

Gathers on the Cuff, but done the same on the neck.

Best method and the one I (Deb) use can be found on page 21 of book II. Do not sew collar ends together before placing shirt. I turn back 1/8 – 1/4 in on each and baste stitch. I (Deb) overhand the ends after it is gully attached to the shirt.. On the shirt I (Deb) place two rows of running stitches (as stated on page 21), each stitch takes up 3 to 5 thread on the shirt.

The way I (Deb) figure out how to place the collar on the shirt is, I fold the collar in half and then in quarters. The center back of the collar goes to the center back of the shirt. The quarter marks on the collar fit to the center of the neck gussets. Do not gather these gussets.
Pin the collar to the shirt so that you are sewing on the right side of the shirt. This is a better method to get the gather to look right. Pull up the shirt to match the marks on the collar. Then sew the collar, catching the gathers as you go.

Then the collar is finished off, turn the piece over and fold the other side of the collar to match the folded seam allowance to the previous row of stitching. Pin in place and stitch each gather to this edge. Then over hand the folded sides of the collar.

For more information about stroke gathers refer to Sharon Burnston’s website.

Reinforcements:

Reinforcements are now considered to be post Revolutionary War. Consider using the shoulder bands that are explained above rather than the reinforcements if you are portraying the Revolutionary War period or earlier. Shoulder bands are described above.

Turn shirt wrong side out and attach the reinforcements centered at the shoulder. The reinforcements should reach from the side of the shirt to the collar. Baste in place. Make a small cut on the reinforcements at the center point of the neck gusset. They also just reach to the top of the sleeve gusset. You can sew the reinforcements at the center point of the neck gusset. They also just reach to the top of the sleeve gusset. You can sew the reinforcements in place now and sew it into the shoulder seam. However, I (Deb) prefer to wait until the sleeves are in keeping the section of the reinforcement out of the way with a basting stitch. I whip stitch the reinforcements over the shoulder seam. I (Deb) sew the reinforcement in with plain overcast stitch, folding edges in.

Sides of shirt:

Sew the sides of the shirt 11 1/2” from the top for the sleeve and 8” from the bottom for the tail with a 1/4 seam using the back-stitch (see page 27 of “Guide to plain Sewing” I).

A very helpful video made by Burnley and Trowbridge about the backstitch.

Sides of Sleeves:

Sew the sides of the sleeves (the longest sides, the 18” is the circumference of the sleeve) 6” from one end (this will be the shoulder end) and 5” from the other end (this is the wristband end). Use a 1/4” seam using the back-stitch.

Sleeve Gusset:

Paul Revere Shirt Cuff from Klára Posekaná

Sew the 6”x6” gusset into the end of the sleeve with the 6” slit. Take a few extra stitches where the base of the slit and the gusset meet.

Sleeve seams and hems:

I (Deb) like to finish all the seams in the sleeve and hem the 5” slit prior to putting in the wristband. I (Deb) use a flat fell seam, or a variation of it for the sleeve and gusset seam, and small flat hem for the slit. (See page 24 of “Guide to Plain Sewing” book II or page 18 of “Guide to Plain Sewing” book I)

Joseph Mann Shirt Cuff from Klára Posekaná

Wristband

Repeat the directions of the wristband video for the wristbands.

I (Deb) use the same technique for the wristband that I use for the collar. Place 2 rows of small running stitches on the sleeve, then I (Deb) mark the 1/2 and 1/4 marks on both the wristband and the sleeve. Then pin in the wristband matching the marks. Draw the sleeve up to match the wristband and sew it in. The rest is like the collar.

Tail Slit:

Hem the tail slit with a small hem. Also hem the bottom of the shirt.

Reinforcing wristband Slit and Tail Slit:

If you are putting in a tail gusset, put it in like the gusset for the neck. (See page 13 and 14 of the “Guide to Plain Sewing” II) I (Deb) don’t do tail gussets, I use a binding stitch. A very small one like used on the neck slit. I also do this binding stitch on the buff slit. These two areas get a lot of stress.

Placing Sleeve into Shirt:

 Thanks to Wm Booth Draper

Turn shirt inside out and the sleeve right side out. (Very important, or you will end up ripping out all of your stitching to put it in correctly. I tell you this from experience.) Mark the top of the shoulder on the shirt and the top center of the sleeve. Put the sleeve into the shirt. Pin the gusset of sleeve into the bottom of the slit and pin the top of the sleeve into the top of the shoulder, matching marks.

Pin in the sleeve to within 3” of either side of the top of the shoulder. Then pin in small pleats on both sides of the shoulder taking up the slack in the sleeve.

Sew in the sleeve into the shirt using a 1/4” seam. You can choose to sew in the shoulder reinforcement at this time or keep it out of the way to sew in later.

Finishing seams:

After the sleeve is sewn in, finish all seams with a flat fell seam. (See page 24 of “Guide to Plain Sewing” book II or page 18 of “Guide to Plain Sewing “ book I) If you did not sew the reinforcement into the shoulder, now you can sew it to the shirt using an overcast/whip stitch only picking up 1 or 2 threads of the shirt fabric. I (Deb) whip stitch the reinforcement over the shoulder seam. At the cut you made in the reinforcements over the neck gussets, attach the reinforcements so that it meets the edges of the gusset and covers the seam of the gusset and shirt.

Button Holes:

Make the holes 3/8” to 1/4” larger than the button.

Wristbands:

The button holes are places on the rear/back of the wristband, 1/4” from the edge of the center, on both ends for sleeve buttons.

Sleeve buttons look kind of like small cuff links that are hooked together. They can be purchased at many of the sutlers. I am linking to Roy Najecki’s sleeve buttons, because his lovely wife is the woman who shared the initial instructions that I am resharing here.

Collar:

Ribbon Thanks to Wm Booth Draper

The bottom holed are places on the left side when you hold the shirt up like you would wear it. The button holes are places 1/4” from the edge of the collar. The first button is 1/4” to 5/8” from the bottom of the collar and the second 1” above that. (See page 23 “Guide to Plain Sewing” book I”)

This is optional: Shoulder stitching. (This was seen in an original shirt I (Deb) saw, and I (Deb) adopted it.)

On the right side of the shirt, from the point of the neck gusset, pull out 2 threads, 1/4” apart, centering on the point. This will leave you two rows, from the point of the gusset to the top of the shoulder, to give you a thread to track to stitch in. Using small back stitches, sew the shirt to the reinforcement, following the thread track. This was done on one original shirt that we(Deb and ?) have seen and seems to keep the reinforcement and shirt from rubbing together.

Finishing Touches:

Ribbon Thanks to Wm Booth Draper

Silk at the Neck Instead of buttons:

“Sometimes men’s shirt collars closed with a 1/4″ – 1″ black (less commonly blue, red or pink for men) silk ribbon. Questions have been asked how to tie this ribbon. These pictures are the best I’ve seen. This is mostly seen on boy’s shirts, but men’s shirts as well, from 1700 into the early 1800s.” ~ Wm. Booth Draper

“Sir John Caldwell shirt has remains of silk ties, at both throat and wrists. Museum of Civ Collection number is : III-X-244.”  ~ Fred Lucas

Sleeve Buttons at the Neck:

“This is very unusual! Only seen in a few pieces of artwork. Shirt collars closed with sleeve buttons. Most pieces of artwork where this is illustrated is from the 1710s and of Native Americans but there is one print from 1786.” Wm. Booth Draper

Laundry Marks

 

Shirt Laundry Marks. Thanks to Old Ft Niagara and to Wm Booth Draper

” linen articles should have the name of the owner with the number of the Regiment and Company he belongs to marked with a mixture of vermilion and nut oil which when perfectly dried can never be washed out under the flit of the bosom of the shirt will be found the most convenient place as at the weekly inspection of necessaries an Officer can easily examine if the shirts at that time worn by the Soldiers are their own” ~ Cuthbertson’s System for the Complete Interior Management

To read more about shirt and shift marking please go to Sharon Burnston’s page.

We are a very lucky community. We have so many people willing to share information about things freely. If you would like to add some information to this post, contact me on facebook.

In Closing

I am going to end this with a period letter I found online a while back ago. We often talk about who was making clothing for those in the military. There were supplies coming in from many places. The military had tailors, and was also purchasing ready made materials. However there were also women sewing for their loved ones.

“Head Quarters 1st July 1781
The shirts and linen, which you, madam and the other ladies so benevolently provided for the Many land troops, under General Greene, are yet with this army owing to the late movement of Lord Cornwallis. It shamm be my care however, to forward them, and to write or tell the General the cause of them being delayed. From what these troops have done and suffered, the ladies could not have chosen , objects, more deserving of their donation. But, it is difficult to say, where there is much to praise, on both sides, which all should most admire; the little army that behaves so gallantly, or the ladies who send it so essential relief; for it foes not always happen that youth, beauty and the virtues, are so deeply concerned in such splended acts of goodness and patriotism.
With the utmost respect, I have the honot to be , Dear Madam,
Your most obt + hble Svt James Henry”

James McHenry A.LS. Headquarters [Virginia?], 1st July 1781 : to Mrs. [Samuel?] Smith, [Baltimore]

Helpful Links

Stitches you need to know for a shirt.

Helpful links for 18th Century Shirts

Places to Purchase Fabrics and Shirt Accessories

(Alphabetical)

Credits

  • Deb Najecki of Najecki Reproductions is responsible for the majority of the content of the pattern that is being shared.
  • A large number of images used in this are images found and cropped by the man otherwise known as Wm Booth Draper. I also quoted him liberally.
  • Videos that I link to are Burnley and Trowbridge’s. They are intended to assist people in understanding sewing techniques used in the 18th Century.
  • Tony Holbrook – Images of his original shirt.
  • Ruth Hodges – Her copy of the shirt pattern, with suggestions I use.
  • Kathleen Kannick – her books are liberally mentioned.
  • Sharon Burnston
  • Fred Lucas
  • Klára Posekaná
  • Elroy Davis
  • An Anonymous Dear Friend

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