Monday, June 27, 2011

Linen Regency Tailcoat ~ Inspiration ~ Research ~ The Real Thing!

Back when David and I decided that we were going to attend the Jane Austen festival in Louisville, KY this summer, I knew in the back of my mind I would have to make him a tailcoat. For some reason, I dreaded making this and put it off. . .and off. . .and off. Til a few days ago, actually. I realized with a lurch that we had two weeks til we had to have our ensembles finished and ready to wear. And I became aware of the fact that, yes, we will probably be taking Malachi with us and no, he has nothing to wear and yes, I will be the one who will have to make it for him.

The last four or five months I've been reading all I can about tailcoats of the regency era. I have a huge bulging computer file stuffed with pictures of extant coats, pattern diagrams, paintings, fashion plates, drawings and tailor guides. Bit by bit over the past months I've tried to digest that information. I've had a lot of help, from a lot of people, and I'd be totally lost with the guidance of those who have Gone Before.

Early on, we decided to go for an 1806 look. Not too terribly early in the grand scheme of regency fashion and not too late either. David did not like the puffy sleeves and tight waists of the later regency period and he wanted something that could be suitably worn for Lewis and Clark and The War of 1812 type events. He liked this fashion plate in particular, and wanted something similar for himself:

We planned on making the tailcoat of a hunter green wool and having it partially lined. However, we found a great deal on some beautiful linen at Jo Anns a few months ago. It was 50% off so we bought it and brought it home. It was originally intended to be used for breeches but after thinking more about the tailcoat, I decided to make an unlined coat from the linen instead. I hoped it would be cooler for David to wear during the festival and I thought it would be a nice change from the wool coats he is accustomed to wearing for reenactments. Here is an original unlined linen coat from the later regency period, from the Tasha Tudor auction site:

For the pattern, I used several diagrams as a guide. The first one is the 1790's tailcoat from Nora Waughs The Cut of Men's Clothes. Also helpful was the 1820s tailcoat from the same book. I also used a graphed pattern for an 1825-1830 tailcoat I found on a website (I cannot find the link at the moment; it is a pdf file). I also was able to look at the patterns from Sheps book about various styles of tailcoats.

We wanted an earlier look than the 1820s so I made the sleeves with minimal poufing at the shoulder. There is no side seam on the coat and there is also no waist seam, as there are on later coats. I left off the tail pockets since I could not figure out how to make them look well on an unlined coat but I did make hip pockets. From what I've read, hip pocket flaps were usually "blinds"; but David wanted functional pockets so I made a bag pocket that hangs from the opening. The flap covers the opening and adds a decorative element to the coat. Here is a picture of all the pattern pieces cut out and laid out before I started sewing them together: (except little pieces like the cuffs, etc, which are not shown as I just cut them as I needed them)

Here is our first fitting after sewing the body pieces together. I was pretty happy with how well it fit. For the pattern above, I started out with David's 1860's civilian frock pattern from the Laughing Moon pattern. It took only a few modifications to change the pattern shape to mimic the shapes in the tailcoat diagrams I had and was much easier than starting from scratch and draping a pattern.

The side. You can see a little wrinkling here because there is no side seam. Unless a man is built like a barrel I think some side wrinkling is unavoidable in styles like this. I was happy with how smooth it was, regardless. And his shirt and vest beneath will help fill out the hollow spots as well. The underarm area of the coat goes all the way up to just below where the arm joins the shoulder. This helps the sleeve to set correctly and also maximizes the movement David will have with his arms when he wears this. The back of the shoulder is cut slightly away too, for the same reason.

The back. I wasn't quite sure how long to make the tails, so I went with knee length. Hemmed, this comes to just above the knee at the back.

The coat is made of a single layer of linen and is faced at the front opening/lapels and at the back neck, from armscye to armscye. Otherwise, all the seams are finished by felling or are turned under and hemmed by hand. The main seams I sewed on the machine but everything that can be seen from the outside is done by hand. It worked up pretty quickly though.

Excuse the un-masculine shape of the dressform. When I get the buttons and buttonholes on this, I'll get some pics of Mr. Handsome himself wearing it. ;) He wants to use it for the 4th of July festivities this weekend, so, it will be a good practice run for the coat.

The sleeves I did end up draping. I used the sleeve pattern from the 1825-1830 coat as my guide for a shape. I did have to go through 3 mock ups before I got all the fullness from the head cut down enough to please David - it was VERY poufy at first! The sleeves are cut with a curve at the elbow and end just above David's knuckles. There is a 4"-ish wide cuff at the end of the sleeves and a small opening at the back wrist. This will be closed with 2 buttons when all is said and done.

Here is the coat laid out flat, from the outside:

And from the inside: I did not finish the pocket seams since I wasn't sure how to do it? Maybe a small whip stitch? I had to trim the allowances pretty narrowly to get the pocket to lay flat beneath the outer layer of the coat.

All I need to do now is to make the buttonholes and put on the buttons. Then David's outfit will be COMPLETE! Yes! :D He plans to pair it with his straw hat, which is an extremely similar shape to the hat worn in the photo below. He also has a very nice black felt hat from Tim Bender, with a similar shape, only with a smaller brim. We don't have money to buy a specific "regency" hat, so, he won't be your typical top-hat-wearing-regency-hero but I think he will look appropriate and very much himself anyway, don't you?

And he is on the hunt for a cane of some sort. He will be wearing his black boots, and he has a pocket watch already. . .which reminds me, I *should* make him a watch fob. . .



  1. Tailcoats <3 Looking good so far can't wait to see the complete outfit modeled.
    The internet site you mentioned having those pdf-patterns is Tidens Toj ( Love that website! So many wonderful patterns and information about the clothes. Too bad the pictures are quite small...

  2. Fantastic! My husband will be envious of the light-weight, cool linen. His frock coat is wool, poor thing. I would love to see pictures of your fob. I need to make one too. And let us know where you find a cane. Carson was asking the other day if he could carry one.

  3. Thanks for the website link Paula! Yes, that is the site. It's fabulous!

    Jenni, I think for the fob I will just get a ribbon or hem a piece of silk to the right length (maybe 6 or 7 inches?) and attach it to the watch. I'm going to look for a charm or something to put on the end at the thrift shop. I know I can find some costume jewelery that would give the right effect. David is looking at the local antique stores for a cane. He wants a straight cane with a knob head, so, I hope he can find one. :) There are a lot of canes at the antique stores when we have looked before but they have all been crooked which he doesn't want. I think Lauren's (of The Lady of Portland House) husband Aaron made his own cane. I am going to have to look up that post and see if I can get details on how he made it.

    I bet the wool coat holds its shape a lot more than the linen one does. That is the one downside to using linen, there is just NO structure. Felling all the seams seemed to help quite a bit with stabilizing the shape but still. . .it's going to be floppy and wrinkly, just cause that is the way linen is! Maybe starching it really well will help.

  4. Oh, you're so fortunate to be able to go to the Jane Austen festival. I live too far away to even consider it.
    But no, I don't envy you all that sewing, all of my sewing endeavors so far have been near disasters!

    -Miss Georgiana

  5. It looks fantastic!
    I am right in the middle of planning a Regency outfit for my husband, and it is a BIG deal! I have never done tailoring of coats before, so it will be a challenge!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!