This man’s shirt is made from finely woven white linen and embroidered in black silk. It has been dated from between 1585 and 1620. The embroidery style is a little early for our period, but the construction and pattern of the shirt is still correct for the 1640s. This photo courtesy of Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council. The reason I’ve decided to post these really nice images from Caroline Vincent is that they show all those small details that make the difference between a seventeenth century shirt and a fancy dress one.
A lot of these details are also shown in Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion 4, together with a detailed pattern. This is a recommended book for anyone interested in linens from our period.
The body of the shirt is made from a single length of linen 38” wide, and about 8 feet in length, folded and gathered into a neck band at the top. The length of the shirt is the first point that makes it right for the period. The linen is finely woven, but on closer inspection, the threads aren’t exactly even and an obvious texture is visible in the surface of the fabric. For a lower quality, soldier’s shirt maybe, you might want to look at a more coarsely woven fabric. The two sleeves are cut from the same width of linen, 24 inches long, sewn to the body of the shirt and pleated into embroidered cuffs at the ends. The work on the shirt is nice, but not top quality for the period and should be reproducible by any modern sewer who takes care and time. It’s the embroidery that is probably the reason why this shirt remains to be seen now.
For instructions on how to make a shirt, refer to my blog post. These pictures should be seen as a companion piece. This kind of sewing will take time and effort to copy, but having something nicely made will be the reward.
First of all, flat seams. There are instructions online how to do this, but here’s a photo that shows how a finished looks on the shirt, with the fabric laying flat and no raw edges inside or out. This seam was counter-hemmed, where one edge is folded and whip stitched to the other piece. Then the piece is turned over, the raw edge folded under and the folded edge whipped (or felled) down.
If you follow my instructions, the first construction point, having cut out your pattern pieces is to insert the shoulder gussets. This picture shows one in place on the Bath shirt. The edges of the gusset are gathered into small pleats and sewn into the collar.
This is a view of the neck opening. The edges are rolled back and hemmed as instructed in How To Make Your Own Shirt. Note the single tie sewn to the collar (there should be two ties but only one remains) and the gathers of the shirt into the standing collar band.
Next part is to insert the sleeve gusset. This is what one of the gussets looks like. Measuring tape gives you the scale in centimetres.
This photo shows the side seam where the opening begins. The shirt has two small squares of linen inserted to provide strength. This is a weak point and many reproduction shirts rip at this point. The edges are not hemmed as they correspond to the selvedge of the fabric. This is the advantage of using period width linen.
The sleeve is gathered in tiny cartridge pleats and sewn into the cuffs, which are also embroidered. Sleeves were becoming wider and more gathered even than this one by our period.
And to finish off, a few details of the embroidery which is mostly formed in vertical panels, possibly to line up with slashes in a doublet body that would have been worn on top. Some of the black thread has disintegrated but most of it is still there, and where it isn’t, you can still see the stitch marks. All detail photos reproduced with permission from Caroline Vincent.