- New Demos

- Classes & Schedule

Getting Started
- Basic Sewing Tech
- Fun With Bias

Body Measurement
- What & Where to Measure

Pattern Development
- Basic Pattern Drafting
- Basic Pattern Development
- The Toile & Mock-Up
- Basic Rectangular Patterns

Sewing Tech
- Gores, Gussets, and Inserts
- Facings
- Cartridge Pleating
- Basic Handsewing Techniques
- Hand Bound Eyelet Holes
- Machine Seams

Trims & Embellishment
- 5 Cross Cultural Embroidery Stitches
- Appliqué Techniques
- Passemaine (hand made trims)
- Trims requiring very little equipment
- Complicated Trims
- Cardweaving
- Buttons
- Making Felt

Western European
- Underwear
- Shirts
- Farthingales
- Corsets
- Stockings
- Collars and Cuffs
- Partlets
- Gloves
- Hats
- Shoes

Eastern European:

- Shirts
- Pants
- Coats
- Shoes
- Boots
- Hats
- Jewelry

Ancillary Arts
- Fans
- Pouch Hinges, Part 1
- Pouch Hinges, Part 2

Demonstrations>Sewing Tech>Basic Hand Sewing Techniques

So, just how period do you want to get in your construction techniques? Period enough to not use your sewing machine? No? Me neither… but it is helpful to know the differences between modern and period construction techniques. Here we go!

Modern vs. Period Construction Technique -

Basic construction of clothing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries differed drastically from the approach used in modern clothing construction in three basic ways.

The first, and most obvious difference was that everything was sewn by hand. The sewing machine as we know it was not invented until the mid 1800's and was not in general use until the turn of the century. Construction of garments by hand differs in both sequence and technique, which I'll get into during a later demo (The Difference Between Modern and Period Garment Construction).

The second difference between construction now and then was that textiles were not as readily available nor as cheap. The textile was more important than the labor used to construct a piece of clothing. This meant that great effort was taken to use every scrap and often times to piece things up, with nap, grain or pattern suffering in the process. This is actually taken into account in tailor's handbooks. Additionally, there were no standarized dye lots. Many pieces of fabric were dyed in seven to twelve yard increments meaning that, if you ran out of fabric, you did not have the luxury of running down and buying more; it simply would not be the same color and might even be a different quality of fabric.

The third difference lies in the way that clothes were fitted. Fitting was often done concurrently with the construction process and on the body of the person for whom the garment was being made. While there were tailor's pattern books, there were no standard, various sized patterns available.

In general, seam allowances were smaller and, if the garment was to be laundered, the seams were carefully encased to prevent them from fraying.

Linings were often cut in the same shape as the shell and treated as either a foundation or as one with the shell during construction. Separate facings were very uncommon. The lining was usually turned under at the edge of the garment and stitched down to the outer shell.

Bias binding, which we know as the process of cutting strips at a 45-degree angle to the grain of the fabric (to take advantage of the stretch) was almost unheard of. Most binding was made on the straight of grain and eased around corners during hand sewing; an impossible process when sewing by machine. Bias binding is actually somewhat wasteful. If you have access to the text Fashion in Detail, take a good look at the bindings on the edges of the corset and other garments. None of them are cut on the bias.

Running Stitch

General Construction Techniques -

Illustrations reprinted from The Costume Technician's Handbook by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey. Copyright (c) 1992 by Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey. Published by Heinemann, a division of Reed Elsevier, Inc., Portsmouth, NH. All rights reserved.

I've taken the liberty of breaking down the general construction of a garment into three categories; seam construction, piece attachment, and finish work.

Back Stitch

There are roughly two types of seam techniques and four seam finishing techniques, based on period sources. The two seam techniques are the backstitch and the running stitch.

The running stitch is great for basting, easing and gathering as it is applied by simply running the needle in and out of the fabric at regular intervals. It forms the basis for cartridge pleating and easing of straight-of-grain bindings.

The backstitch is much more sturdy and is most often used for seams in period. It is accomplished by stitching back under every stitch taken, as in the diagram below.

Flat Felled Seam

Flat felling a seam requires that the seam be first backstitched and then the resulting flap slip stitched down.

French Seam

The French seam (one of my personal favorites) uses back stitching to first stitch the wrong sides of the pieces together and then the right sides, completely encasing the seam.

Lapped and top stitched seams were often used in period. The process involves stitching both shell pieces and one lining piece together then stitching the other lining piece separately - or - stitching down both shell and both lining pieces down and then topstitching over.

Last Thoughts -

There is some evidence, based on extant garments, that lapped seams were used extensively in Eastern European and Central Asian construction. The lapped seam is also found in Viking era garments. All of the above are based on rectangular construction. When garments start getting away from rectangular construction, the French seam very often takes the place of the flat felled seam. It is very difficult to flat fell a rounded or cureved seam. Such a seam is much easier to French seam and sometimes, binding is used if it is a very difficult seam.

Bibliography -

Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries
M. Channing Linthicum. Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1936.

The Cut of Men's Clothes: 1600 - 1900
Norah Waugh. Routledge Theatre Arts Books, 1964.

The Cut of Women's Clothing: 1600 - 1930
Norah Waugh. Routledge Theatre Arts Books, 1968.

Patterns of Fashion: c. 1560 -1620
Janet Arnold. MacMillan London Limited, England. 1985

Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd
Janet Arnold. W.S. Maney and Son, Ltd., Leeds, England. 1988.

The Costume Technician's Handbook
Rosemary Ingham & Liz Covey. Heinemann Educational Books, Inc., Portsmouth, N.H., 1992

Costume Close Up : Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790
by Linda Baumgarten, John Watson, Florine Carr, Costume and Fashion Press, 2000

Fashion in Detail: From the 17th and 18th Centuries
Avril Hart and Susan North. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1998.

site map | guided tour | contactOther sections: 16th Century | 18th Century
This site and its contents (c) 2006 Tammie L. Dupuis
Best viewed at 640 X 480 or 800 X 600