Clothing Forum

by Ralph & Mary Briggs

Errata: Only one article out and already I have to eat my words. In the January-February issue of The Courier I asked about sources for lighter weight "madder" red wool. I stated that wool weight was based on number of ounces per square yard. Wrong. Unlike floor coverings, fabrics are sold by lineal yards, and their weights are compared the same way. It is important to know the width of the fabric one is talking about when discussing weight. For example, a cotton duck of 10 oz weight from a roll 45 inches wide is going to be much heavier than a 10 oz duck from a roll 56 inches wide. (Linton, p. 240).

For comparison of weight, an American yard of wool is based on a lineal, rather than a square, measure of 36 inches, and a width of 56 inches. The British use a slightly different system - their weight for wool is based on a yard of 38 inch length and 58 inch width. Therefore a wool of 18 ounces by British standards would be the equivalent of a 16.5 ounce domestic wool. (Linton, p. 736).

Anyone have anything to add on this subject?

GATHERS. One of the most time consuming parts of assembling a shirt is the gathers at the collar and cuffs. For those of us who do not sew our shirts by hand, here is a tip for doing gathers with a sewing machine. Set your stitch length to maximum, and your top tension near the maximum. Being extra careful not to pull the fabric through the machine, run a stitch line just inside the seam line. Voila! Instant gathers. Practice on a scrap piece of the material first to find out exactly how much it will gather, and adjust your top tension as necessary. Heavier or stiffer material will not gather as much as lighter weight fabrics, but on average it will gather to about 50% of its original length.

SHIRT CUFFS. The famous portrait by John Singleton Copley of Paul Revere (Frankenstein, p. 84, redrawn left) done about 1769 is one of the best I have seen showing a typical man's shirt of the third quarter of the 18th century. It clearly shows a cuff no wider than one inch. I have never seen any painting or illustration from our era that shows a shirt cuff any wider than this, yet by about 1840 the cuff had evolved to a width of two inches or more (Drummond). When did this change begin? Gehret's examples in Rural Pennsylvania Clothing all have wider cuffs, but the book covers a long time span, 1750-1820, and none of the shirts shown are assigned dates (pp 110-122). No speculation here, we are looking for solid documentation, like a portrait, a letter from a tailor, an order placed for a shirt, etc.

MILITARY SMOCKS. We got our first question from the membership: Does anyone have any specific information about British troops either being issued or wearing smocks over their uniforms? Submitted by "A Regimental Tailor."

If you have any help on any of the questions posed here, or are looking for help yourself, please contact us at rbriggs or write us at 1537 31st, Des Moines, IA, 50311.


Drummond, William, Thomas Box-Wicket Keeper, c.1840 (lithograph), British Museum, London, ASI Goldman, Paul, Sporting Life, An Anthology of British Sporting Prints, British Museum Publications Ltd., London, 1983

Frankenstein. Alfred, The World of Copley 1738-1815, Time-Life Books, NY, 1970

Gehret, Ellen J., Rural Pennsylvania Clothing, George Shumway, York, PA, 1976

Linton, George E., The Modern Textile Dictionary, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1954