Posted by: Kirsten | Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Dressing the Part: Colonial Style

Claude Moore Colonial FarmThe Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm (formerly known as Turkey Run) have a great resource on their website — one our family has definitely taken advantage of.  On the site you’ll find directions on how to make your own Colonial costumes using articles of clothing most of us already have around the house. It includes directions for making a man’s shirt (see below), a woman’s shift, breeches, an apron, and a kerchief. We’ve made our own outfits (and have bought a few accessories as well) and often wear them as we make field trips to historical parks and sites relating to Colonial times.  The reactions you get from other families are absolutely priceless!  If you’ve never considered trying this type of “immersion” field trip before, all I have to say is “carpe diem”!  Enjoy…

How to Turn an Old Shirt into a Colonial Shirt (Time to complete: 30 minutes)Supplies:

  • Men’s old dress shirt
    Choose an old shirt that is white, brown, blue, red, checked, or striped. Don’t choose any really bright or neon colors.
  • Scissors
  • 3 Buttons
    In the 18th Century a working man’s buttons would have been made of horn, bone, wood, or pewter. A dress shirt might have had thread buttons. Choose buttons about 5/8″ wide in brown, off-white, or white metal. Eighteenth Century buttons usually had 2 holes, not four, or were metal with a loop on the back.
  • Fabric glue or fusible web
  • Sewing machine, or a needle and thread

Background: In the 18th Century, shirts were used the way shirts are today, but they were also used as underwear, and to sleep in. Dress shirts were white and made of fine bleached linen or cotton. They might have ruffles made of lace or linen at the neck and on the cuffs. Work shirts were made of coarser, cheaper material. They were usually white or the color of unbleached linen, but they were sometimes dyed, or checked, or striped.

Note: The fabric which has been cut from the shirt is in this photograph below to give a rough guide as to how much has been removed – and from where

Directions:Modern shirt showing what is to be cut off
Remove pockets, buttons, and any labels.

2. Cut the points off of the collar to make it rectangular. Colonial collars were often rectangular. Sew or glue the cut edges of the collar together.

3. Cut the rounded edges off of the bottom of the shirt to make it straight. Leave the tails as long as possible. Colonial shirts were long. They came down to the middle of a man’s thigh. Glue or sew the hem at the bottom of the shirt.

4. From the bottom of the shirt, cut 5 or 6 inches up each side seam. There is no need to finish the edges if the cut is made between two rows of stitching.

5. Cut the cuffs to a width of about 1 ½ inches. Glue or sew the edge of the cuff.

6. Glue or sew the front opening shut from the bottom up to the second button hole. Do not let the front button holes show.

7. Sew a button on each of the cuffs and at the neck. Clip the buttonholes if necessary to make them a little larger.

8. Tie a kerchief around the neck loosely, and wear the shirt out to hide the front of the trousers.

Kids at CLMO...


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