Throughout the 18th century, as well as in the end of the 17th, and beginning of the 19th, men’s shirts were fastened with clever little buttons made of thread. These were simple to make with basic thread that anyone would have around the house. They were also durable through washings, and comfortable enough to have pressed against one’s neck beneath a cravat.
You can buy your thread buttons if you like, but I’m here to show you how to make them yourself! They’re very simple to create. Chances are that once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be able to knock one out in no time whenever you need it!
What you’ll need:
Heavy linen thread
A pencil, knitting needle, dowel, or other stick with a 1/4″ diameter
Step 1-Tie your thread around the sizing guide
Step 2-Wrap your thread
Step 3-Cut your thread
Step 4-Move the thread ring from the sizing guide to your needle
Step 5-Pull thread through
Step 7-Buttonhole stitch around the ring
Step 6-Create the shank
Step 7-Wrap the shank
You can now make quick and easy thread shirt buttons whenever you need them!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.
Leading up to Christmastide 1816 at Locust Grove in December, Brandon finally got something he’s been needing for a while: a new shirt. Yes indeed, he has only had one shirt in the entire four+ years that we’ve been reenacting. Yikes. That sounds really bad when I actually think about it.
So, his old shirt, which was made in a rush out of cheap cotton, was in bad shape. Like, really bad shape. It was literally disintegrating.
It was definitely time for a new one. I had fabric ready and everything, I’d just been putting it off for a loooong time.
The new shirt is made with a lovely 4.7 oz. 100% linen from Dharma Trading Co. The Locust Grove ladies went in on a big order so that we could get a bulk discount. The lovely thing about square-cut shirts is that they are exactly that. Square cut. Every piece is a square, a rectangle, or a square cut in half corner-to-corner to make two triangles. This was done for several reasons.
It makes fabric usage very efficient. A good housekeeper could cut several shirts out at once by filling in all the gaps like a game of tetris, with yardage wasted in the square inches. (This is trickier today with our wider fabric widths.)
The large, gathered, square bodies make for a garment that fits even if the wearer gains or loses weight.
Shirts were generally made at home, rather than by professionals, and the formulaic process was much easier to learn and perfect than a more demanding fitted garment.
Shirts for men functioned much like shifts for women–they were an undergarment that was less valuable and more easily laundered than a person’s outer garments. They helped protect those expensive outer garments from sweat and wear. The only parts of a man’s shirt that would generally show were the crisp white collar and cuffs.
There are period cutting guides available so that you can make a shirt as accurately as possible, but since I was in a rush (as per usual) I used the Kannik’s Korner pattern, which comes with excellent documentation and instructions. I highly recommend it if you are in the market for a shirt pattern.
Traditionally, a square cut shirt is cut by measuring out pieces, then pulling out threads of the fabric to mark where to cut. This ensures that each piece is perfectly square. I attempted it, but the threads must have been a bit too flimsy, because they would break after a couple of inches, and I eventually gave it up as a bad job. Hopefully next time I try, the fabric will be a bit more obliging.
The first step in sewing is to finish the edges of the big slit in the shirt front that allows the man enough room to get his head through (and then some). The slit edges are hemmed as narrowly as possible, and then the bottom of the slit is re-enforced with buttonhole stitch, and a bar tack. You’re going to see the word re-enforced a lot in this post. A lot of work goes into making sure it’s as difficult as possible for the wearer to destroy his shirt quickly.
Before the shirt can be put together, the side slits and bottom edge also need hemming. This happens before the side seams are sewn.
The front and back of the shirt are all one enormous rectangle, with a T-shaped slit in the center for the head. You already saw me finishing the stick part of of the T (the chest slit). Now it’s time to deal with the crossbar. The shoulders and neck slit will take the most strain when the shirt is put on, worn, and taken off, so these areas get a lot of re-enforcement.
First, each end of the neck slit gets a gusset to prevent the fabric from ripping farther.
The gussets are only the beginning. The entire shoulder line is re-enforced with shoulder straps–long rectangles of fabric that cover the gusset and go from the neck edge to should edge.
The shoulder preparation is complete at this point, and it’s time to get the collar ready.
The collar is one large rectangle. Each of the short ends is folded in, then the whole thing is folded in half and the edges are whip-stitched together, leaving the seam allowance free at the bottom.
The collar is ready to be attached! This is pretty basic–the neckline is gathered up and stitched between the layers of collar.
The collar buttons shut with clever little shirt buttons made of linen thread. I will be putting up a tutorial on how to make these next week. They quick, and simple, and make a great little demonstration!
The sleeves of the shirt are–you guessed it–rectangles! The cuffs are prepared and go on just like the collar. There is also a square gusset in the armpits, which gives the wearer plenty of extra room to move his arms. Above the gussets, the sleeves are gathered onto the shoulder of the shirt. At this point, the sides of the shirt are still open.
Each of the gusset sides is stitched and flat-felled. The gusset is oriented like a diamond, with the top point opening up the sleeve seam, and the bottom point opening up the side seam. This gives the extra room in the armpit, so that the sleeve and side of the shirt don’t just create a corner under the arm, which could be binding and lead to the shirt getting torn when the wearer strains the seam.
With the gussets in place, the sides are ready to come together. They get stitched together, then flat-felled to finish the raw edges.
There are still some raw edges left on the shoulder seam, plus the whole thing could use some extra re-enforcement, so a sleeve binder (another long rectangle like the shoulder strap) gets whipstitched all around the armscye seam and gusset, and carefully hemstitched to the shirt body. The stitches barely show on the outside, and it gives extra strength to the seam.
We’re nearly there! The side slits get their own bit of extra oomph with small gussets. These are little triangles like the neckline gussets, but only the smallest part of their point is sewn onto the top of the slit, then the rest of the triangle is folded up inside the shirt and stitched down.
There’s one last adorable step before the shirt is officially finished. Each shirt gets marked with the wearers initials and an inventory number, so that the household can keep track of a bunch of shirts that look basically identical. Since this is the first shirt I’ve properly handsewn for Brandon, it is marked with ‘BV’ and a number ‘1’. I’m excited to do another one just so I can number it ‘2’!
This kind of plain sewing may look a bit dull, but it’s incredibly satisfying. Linen is a joy to handsew in the first place, and add to that all the little details like the finish on the neck slit, the flat-fells, the gussets, and the initials, and there’s just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Here’s Brandon looking much better (and happier) in his new shirt! Good riddance to the old rag!
I never feel as if I’ve done much in a year until I go back through the blog and see everything all in one place. Somehow at once 2017 flew by, but completing Snow White and Luna seem to have happened years ago. I was actually surprised when I looked back at the beginning of the year and saw them there! Go Figure. Here I’m going to look back at what I’ve done in the past twelve months, and tell you a bit about what’s coming in the next twelve!
I’m absolutely thrilled with how this cosplay came out! I’m going to add some wires to the front at some point so that the collar can be shaped more. It looks good in these photos because this is the first time I wore it, but it has gotten a bit crushed now. I did enter this one in the costume contest at Cincinnati Comic Con, but no luck! I may try it again elsewhere.
Brandon’s Christmas present from 2016! I finished the pants and made the coat in January 2017. We do have plans to add another row of buttonholes to the jacket so that it can be worn folded open as well as closed. Still adore that blue stripe down the pants. I’ve seen fashion plates with a red one too, so I’m tempted…
The second legwarmer is actually finished now! No good photos of this one yet, but we’re waiting to do a photoshoot until Meredith’s (you may remember her as Margaery) new Hermione wig is done so that we can do photos together!
The problem with bucket list projects that aren’t for any specific event, is they get shunted aside for things that are more time-sensitive. But Ravenclaw is back in gear this month, expect progress soon!
In preparation for the best 1st Anniversary we could ask for (The North American Discworld Con in New Orleans), Brandon and I cosplayed as two of our favorite characters! (Though I didn’t blog about it, I made Brandon’s coat and altered his hat, while he made his trousers and waistcoat.) We won Best Workmanship and Best Overall in the costume contest, and the Hall Contest as well! We can’t wait to hear where the next one will be!
I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into the 18th century–an era which has interested but intimidated me for so long. It was so fun to make and wear, and I can’t wait to wear it again!
Regency Shirt & Waistcoat for Brandon
The shirt was a desperate need, as his old one was literally disintegrating more and more with each wear. It’s the first one I’ve made entirely by hand, and I really enjoyed it! I may be posting a blog about it in the next few weeks. The waistcoat was Brandon’s birthday present, which I made in secret, and had his in-character mother give him as a Christmas present at our Christmas event at Locust Grove in early December. He was so surprised–it was really fun!
Coming up in 2018
Number 1: finish Ravenclaw!!! I draped the underskirt on Thursday, and should be cutting today! It’s really happening!
It’s going to be a historical heavy year, with only two cosplays planned: A female version of Colonel Mustard from Clue (part of a group that should be really fun!), and Daenerys’ landing dress from Season 7 of Game of Thrones, which I knew I had to have the moment that photos started appearing. There are fabric swatches on their way so that I can start finalizing my plans!
Other than that, it’s all historical, all the time! I have two new 18th century looks planned (another jacket & petticoat, and a Robe à l’Anglaise), and a whole pile of 1816 plans. I realized I haven’t made myself anything new for the era I spend the most time in since January 2016, and that has to change! I have plans for dresses, spencers, petticoats. The biggest historical project of the year is one I’ve been planning for quite some time, and am finally ready to bring to fruition. A tamboured net evening gown over a colored silk petticoat.
It’s going to take forever, but I’m really excited about it!
All-in-all, it should be a fun year for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching!