November 30, 2013

Shirt - A Basic Definition

I thought it might be fun to document a shirt using a dictionary from the time-period. This morning I pulled up the Google Books copy of A New General English Dictionary[1] from 1771.

First, the basics:
SHIRT (S.) a garment commonly worn by men next
[to] their skin, and generally made of linen.
Seems straight-forward enough. Just to dig a bit, I also looked up "garment" and "linen".

GA'RMENT (S.) any sort of cloathing or covering of
the body.
LI'NEN (S.) sometimes means cloth in whole pieces made
of flax or hemp, and sometimes shirts, shifts, sheets, table-
cloths, etc. made of such cloth.
And finally cloth:
CLOTH (S.) the matter or substance whereof garments are
made, which is sometimes composed of woollen, line, silk, etc.
Fair enough. In 1771, a shirt was a covering of the body, worn by men next to their skin, made of flax or hemp matter. So far so good. The shirt that I'm making was cut from linen cloth, will cover my body, and be worn next to my skin.

So what about the parts of the shirt?  The pattern I'm following has sleeves, gussets, a body, buttons, etc.

[SLEE]VE (S.) that part of a garment that [cont]ains the arm.

GU'SSET (S.) a piece of cloth much broader at one end than
the other, that is sown into other pieces to widen it, as women
do their shifts, seaman their sails, etc. ...

CO'LLAR (S.) ... also the narrow cape of a coat, the upper
part or band of a shirt, made fit to go about a person's neck;...
WRI'ST-BAND (S.) the broad fillet at the bottom of a shirt
sleeve, etc. wherein all the plaits are sewn or inserted, etc.
and which buttons round the wrist, etc.
Button didn't appear on its own as an entry, however I did find a description of what we would call cuff-links:

STUD (S.) ... sometimes 1 small button with two flat heads and
a neck between, used to button the wristbands or collars, etc.
of mens shirts; ...

The closest description of the torso of a shirt was found under "Body", which also contains an awesome definition of the physical body of a person:

BO'DY (S.) ... In Geometry, it is any thing
that has the dimensions of length, breadth,
and thickness, and particularly the tetrahedron,
consisting of four triangles...
With all the pieces and parts documented, I looked at the process:

SEW (V.) to stitch or join cloth, etc. together with a needle,
an awl, etc. ...
STITCH (S.) a single operation of the needle, awl, etc. ...
STITCH (V.) to sew or fasten things together with a needle
awl, etc.
THREAD (S.) small twine of flax, wool, or silk, spun or twisted
together, for the use of sewing things together.
THREA'D or THRE'DDLE (V.) to put thread, silk, worsted, etc.
into a needle.
Last, I took a look at the definitions of the tools needed:

NEE'DLE (S.) a small instrument used in sewing; and according
to the application, it is different denominated; as, a stitchig-needle,
a flocking-needle, a packing-needle, etc. ...
SCI'SSORS or SI'ZZARS (S.) an instrument used for
many purposes, but especially to cut cloth, etc. made
of steel or hardened iron consisting of two sides or
cheeks made very sharp, and fastened with a rivet to
move upon.

 While I'm using the modern versions of these tools, they haven't changed much over the years, with the exception of how they were produced.  At a later date, I may make a more detail post about needles, in particular.

[1] Dyche, Thomas, and William Pardon, ed. A New General English Dictionary Peculiarly Calculated for the Use and Improvement of Such as are Unaquainted With the Learned Languages. London: 1771. (accessed November 30, 2013).

Clothing Eli

Wow.  It’s been over a year.  Life got ahead of me, and this project was put on hold while my wife and I added a third daughter to our family.  Now that daughter is toddling around on her own two feet, I’m starting to find time to work on hobbies again.

Another project that I’ve been working on is an Italian Bauta costume.  I need a shirt for that outfit.  Conveniently, I can use the same style shirt for Eli Davis, Bookbinder.  I started to construct the shirt the other night using a sewing machine.  Yesterday I re-read this blog and was reminded of my goal to attempt using period techniques whenever possible.  Fortunately I had only sewn one seam by machine.  I’ve decided to make the rest of the shirt by hand.
In addition to using period techniques, another of my goals is to document this persona and his possessions as fully as possible, targeting the year 1776 in New England.
Documenting a shirt from the time period has been fairly easy, thanks to the previous works of numerous scholars and reenactors.  The instructions I’m following are from the website La Couturière Parisienne which shows a typical men’s shirt from the era.  The two books referenced by that page, L'art du tailleur (The Art of The Tailor) and  L'art de la linger (The Art of The Laundress) can both be found on the French National Library’sGallica website.
Another great page describing and documenting men’s shirts is this post from Two Nerdy History Girls.  They show detail that I was not able to see in places such as the links from the 18thCentury Men’s Shirts page at the 18th Century Notebook site.  Searching Pinterest for “18th century shirt” also turned up numerous photos from museum collections, all documented to the time period.
Finally, reaching out to the 18th Century Life Yahoo group led to some great tips on sewing, another pattern, some instructions on sewing buttons like those pictured on the Two Nerdy History Girls site, and a video on how to construct button holes.
One interesting thing that I did find, or rather didn’t find, while researching shirts was that, in the estate inventory of a bookbinder who died in 1799, no clothing was listed.  The inventory was taken a year or so after his death.  I wonder if the clothing had been given to others, or perhaps even sent to be made into paper for books?
In addition to researching, I’ve been slowing working on the shirt.  I’m finding that I actually enjoy hand-sewing, even if my stitching isn’t straight.  I like that I can sit on the couch in front of the TV or computer, while the kids run crazily around the room, and still make some progress.  There’s no need to drag out a machine, set it up, shoo the kids away from it, and so on.  All I need to do to work is to pick up the fabric, needle and thread.  Easy as easy can be.
I'll follow up with photos when the shirt reaches completion.