Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mentally Thrashing Out The Boy's Button Suit

The 1860's Boy's Button Suit.

And before I go further, I want to say that the images I have here I pulled from saved files and I honestly have no clue where they originated. I want to give credit where credit is due and don't want to violate any copyright issues, so, if you recognize a photo and have info about whose it is, please let me know!!

So anyway I am revisiting the 1860's boy's button suit. I tried this style three years ago with David and Judah. They were 2 and 3 years old at the time. They looked adorable but there was so much about the button suit to not like. The number of buttonholes! (although I have become more fond of making buttonholes since then). The lack of flexible sizing! (there's only so much bagginess you can put into a suit like this before it looks, well, bad.) The biggest problem was going potty.
This little boy's suit is quite large for him and is probably the Extreme Edge of Bagginess I would attempt at making a suit larger than needed. Any baggier and it would look way too much out of proportion!

In a button suit, the blouse has a fixed waistband. This waistband is buttoned to the waistband of the trousers all around the waist. This creates problems and frustration for little boys who need to use the bathroom and do not like mommy or daddy help when doing so. So, I ditched the button suit. I embraced the Flexible Tunic, which could be created quite large to leave plenty of growing room and could also hide an elastic waistband on the trousers so the boys could easily go potty by themselves.

But after 3 years of making tunics I have become bored with them. And I don't want to feel like I just gave up on the button suit without making it work somehow. So I'm revisiting them and am in the middle of making David and Judah each a new button suit for the always-cold and October-y Civil War reenactment we will be going to next Saturday.

The most helpful piece of information I have discovered during the last 3 years, concerning button-suits, is that some trousers in suits like these had a convenience slit in the front. I am not sure how that slit was created (is is *just* a slit in the center front crotch seam?) but I will be adding them to the trousers I'm making for my boys. For these, I will go with a normal fly opening that is sewn to the waistband at the top. I don't think I will make the fly button shut but it at least will have the nice overlapping bit that a normal fly has to avoid accidental exposure of things best left unseen. So that will take care of most of our potty issues. They will still need help, I think, if they have to completely remove their trousers but the need for that should be relatively rare compared to the need for the nice convenience slit.

To finish off the button suit I will be making waistcoats and jackets to go over the blouse. The waistcoat will be just like a man's waistcoat and will help add warmth (definitely go with more lightweight layers when it gets cold instead of one bulky, heavy garment!) and the jacket will go over all. I first planned to make a notched collar for the jackets but the more I look at images the more I see the type of jacket that buttons all the way up to the neck. It appears that this type of jacket has no collar or perhaps a very small standing band collar, and then the collar of the shirt beneath is folded out over the top of the coat neckline. I really like this look and it seems it would be warmer than a notched collar style since the entire neck and chest area will be covered.

Then, if it's *really* cold, they can wear their wool sack-style coats from last year over everything as a sort of overcoat. But hopefully it won't be that cold. I don't like cold events.
This is the look I'm going for.

It's going to be inconvenient to bring a nursing infant out anyway. I keep imagining the awkwardness of trying to unbutton my coat and push it out of the way, unfastening a dress bodice, undoing the neckline of a chemise and fiddling around to get the nursing apparatus out, all while, probably, trying to "cover up" beneath a lightweight shawl or blanket, with the baby, heavily bundled herself in a wool coat and hood and wrapped in a woolen shawl, squirms and complains about being covered up (she hates having anything over her head). . . just thinking of all that almost makes me want to stay home instead of going to the event!
This woman looks strong, confident and not ashamed of breastfeeding WITHOUT covering up! Woo-ha! She's
SO. Awesome. I love her.

But if they did it in the 1860's, we can do it too. I just keep having to tell myself that to motivate me to try. Like I said, I hate giving up on something without making it work somehow! Photo below from Breastfeeding Art.
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Lots of sewing to do!



  1. In button suits from the early 20th century the slit is backed by a "fly" flap. Some sewing manuals say to use a rectangular fly piece, some a half-circle piece, either of which is whipped down to the seam allowance inside so it won't open by mistake.

    Typical example: "An inside flap is next prepared to cover an opening in the center-front seam. The opening is from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long and comes to about 1 inch above the inside-leg seam. To make the flap, cut two half circles of the material, having them a seam's width longer than the opening on either side. Place the two together and stitch around the curved edge, leaving the straight side open. Turn the flap right side out and press, and stitch near the edge on the curved side. Next, place the flap on the right front of the trousers at the point indicated for the opening, with the right side of the flap to the right side of the trousers, stitch it a seam's width from the edge, and fasten the threads securely. Now place the right and left fronts of the trousers together and stitch above and below the opening. ... Press the seam edges and the flap to the left, and whip down the seam edge on the left side opposite the flap." -1917

    That's a bit later of an example, I know, but maybe it will help.

  2. Oh, how interesting to see photos of nursing mothers! Once baby is attached I'm semi comfortable with nursing in public without cover, but exposing everything to not always discreet bystanders? Not fun. On one of our events this past summer I had one rude man standing by waiting as I unlaced my kirtle! I responded by pointedly turning round a bit and wait to go further untill he'd gone. Luckily, baby wasn't in one of those "I must eat NOW!" modes...

  3. Emma, thank you so much! That really helps me a lot, and makes a lot of sense. I think I'll do that instead of the full fly, since it will be more in keeping with the look of trousers in images - thank you!!

    Sarah, I agree! I don't usually cover while nursing (certainly not at home anyway, and usually only if I'm in a place like church if I'm in public) and the baby isn't used to being covered. I don't like getting everything out and arranged in full view, but once the baby is eating there is really nothing to see anyway. There will always be leering weirdos who will gaggle over such a sight and then the ones who are "offended" (although they likely see more, and much worse, just watching t.v. commericals) but it's nice to see plenty of historic support for uncovered breastfeeding. It's such a natural thing to do! Even the Victorians did it. :D

  4. read you header as I was scanning and thought, "but I thought thrashing small boys was generally frowned upon these days?"

    must learn to read properly...

  5. Anything pre-1923 is public domain, so you're fine as far as copyright goes :-)


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!