Monday, April 29, 2013

David's Confederate Surgeons Uniform

Wow, it's done. At times I thought it would never be done. It was becoming the Never-Ending-Shell-Jacket-of-Doom. Not in a terrible way, but in a way that became more and more annoying. Actually, it only took a week from draping the pattern to having the coat finished so it isn't that bad, but still. It's the mental strain of it all. Especially when the event your husband needs to wear it to is less than a week away.

And so now it is done and I am sad because it was, after all, enjoyable to work on and to envision the end result while I was stitching away at the buttonholes or quilting the Never-Ending-Lining-of-Doom.
I have told David he is my creation and I have made and molded him into what he is in the reenacting world. Without me, he would be nothing. Of course, he is not as keen on that idea as I. And yeah, he has the historical knowledge and physical ability to take what I sew and make an honest-to-God impression out of it.  But still, his looks have certainly improved since I first met him and he was wearing a horribly fitted, blanket-weight wool sutler bought uniform with zig zag stitching and uneven seam allowances. He is honestly the most horrible person in the world to sew for since he is so picky and so critical but hey, he's really helped me develop my skills over the years, and that is worth a lot. 
I made the trousers a few weeks ago and the waistcoat was quickly made over the weekend so we could head out yesterday afternoon for some pictures at a lovely local wooded park.

The boys yelped with glee on the playground, the baby wailed when I set her down in the grass to take photos of her Papa and David looked stern and annoyed.

It seems whenever I do take pictures of him in a period outfit he assumes that angry look. I promise you, he does not typically look so upset. I told him to try to look happy.
Oh my gosh though he does look so adorable here. After almost 8 years of marriage it's awesome to be married to a guy who gets hotter as the years pass. 
He tried.

The completed outfit is composed of three main garments; the trousers, the waistcoat, and the jacket. The trousers are of dark blue wool kersey with a 1 1/4" black velvet stripe, edged in gold piping, sewn down the outside legs of the trousers. The waistcoat is a civilian notched collar style, made in Richmond grey wool broadcloth (made military-esque by the use of droop-wing Eagle Confederate buttons) and the coat is a shell jacket style made in the same Richmond grey broadcloth and faced with black broadcloth at the center front and with black cuffs and collar.

The trousers are made according to Confederate regulations. There were no regulations for waistcoats (as they were often a private purchase item; made to personal specifications) and the shell jacket is inspired by the many original examples of these kinds of coats that are still in existence, though the shell jacket was not a regulation style.

So what makes this uniform a surgeons uniform? I had no idea when I first began researching this project earlier this year. Now I know that there are 3 things that define this uniform as a surgeons.

The first is the black velvet and gold piped stripe on the trousers. That was a feature unique to the Confederate medical department. For our stripe we used cotton velveteen and metallic gold piping.

The second feature is the black cuffs, collar and facing on the jacket. Every branch of they army had their own defining color and the medical department was specified to be defined by black. According to regulations the jacket was to be a "tunic" (frock coat) faced and edged with black with collar and cuffs of black. Since this is not a frock coat we did not pipe the edges in black but David plans on having a future Confederate surgeons frock coat made with black piped edges.

The third feature is the green wool sash. This is copied from the United States Army. While a sash was not always worn, it does look nice for dressier occasions and green is a color more people can easily recognize as being a "medical color".
The belt buckle is Federal, but would not have been uncommon in the Confederate army. 

The stars on the collar marks the rank of officer.

In David's case, a full surgeon of the Confederate Army was ranked as a Major. The three rows of gold braid on his kepi also indicate his rank. The double breasted style of coat indicates that he is an officer although it does not indicate exactly what rank he is.

Braid on the sleeves was often worn and also indicated rank, but we chose not to add braid to this coat since David plans on using it for his heavy-duty field use coat. This will be his fatigue uniform; the frock coat we will make later we will make according to the regulations and it will have the sleeve braid.

The coat, combined with the waistcoat, can be worn in a variety ways. Confederate coats certainly had more  bling than Federal coats. For most of the pictures we took yesterday David had his coat worn with the facings turned back and buttoned so you can see his waistcoat underneath. The sash and belt are worn over the waistcoat and the jacket is put on over top.

But it can also be worn (and I prefer it this way, to be honest) buttoned snugly shut, with the sash and belt worn at the waist of the jacket.

And here it is, with no sash and belt at all. Here it looks very plain.

While the kepi looks nice with the uniform, David also plans to wear his black wool felt civilian hat with a twisted hat cord. For very hot events he has a plain straw hat he can wear with a hat cord that will also look nice with the uniform and give it a completely different look.

So my big huge sewing project of the year is done! It's a relief and a satisfaction yet I'm a bit sad that I don't have anything so exciting to work on anymore. We will be going to our first event this weekend so now I must turn my attention to finishing my new corset (it just needs the grommets set; but I cannot find two piece grommets ANYWHERE! Wal Mart, Jo Anns, Hancocks and Hobby Lobby all used to sell them and now they only sell the one piece eyelets. I'm going to Tandy today in hopes I can find some there. If not, I'll have to work the eyelets by hand) and finishing Judah's new button suit. I have materials for a cage, too, but I don't know if I'll have time to get it done before Saturday. We'll see! Maybe!



  1. Fantastic project! Great work on your husband's wardrobe!

    I have a suggestion for you, if you are interested--you mentioned that you are looking for two-piece grommets. If I am thinking of the right thing, you might try a home improvement store, such as Home Depot (we also have Lowe's and Menard's in our area--Menard's carried them). I hope you are able to find what you are looking for!!


  2. The picture of you two, is SO CUTE. You look so happy, and adorable :)

  3. Love it!!

    When I made my corset I ordered the two-piece grommets, I can't remember where I ordered them now, but I did that just because I lived in such a rural area.

    Also, I was wondering if I could get your input on a project? I am making a mourning dress and I've found a picture with some sort of gathered collar and I want to reproduce but I'm not sure how and I was wondering if you might have any ideas? If you'd be up to take a look at it I'll upload the photo somewhere and post the link here in the comments :)

    I love everything you do! Your sewing skills definitely inspire me!

  4. Thanks!

    Thanks too for the suggestions for the grommets. We went to Menards. They do carry them, but the only sizes our Menards had were unfortunately too big. I was really sad but I had to break down and do the eyelets by hand just so the corset will be wearable for the weekend. Maybe I can put grommets in later, through the hand done eyelets, if I can find them. It's so weird they have totally disappeared from the shelves in local stores. I may have to resort to mail order in the future!

    Emily, sure, I'd be more than happy to look at the picture of the mourning dress!

  5. Thank you!!

    Here is the picture:

    I want to re-create the collar. My cousin (who designs wedding gowns for a living) thought it looked like two petals laid on top of each other--thus the shadow. I'm not so sure, I think that it's created through gathers... ?? I've not seen a collar such as this before, but I love it and want to copy it. How do you think it was done?


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!