Dressing Up Info

Welcome! Fitting and Proper

  1795-1810 Men’s Coat   
pattern and instructions copyright 2012 Fitting and Proper

These instructions serve as a guide to the costumer with regard to the order of construction.  They do not presume to teach the reader how to sew.  If any of the terms below are unfamiliar to you, please look them up and take whatever sewing lessons you need to understand them before you begin.

Gather your supplies.
If your previous experience was with women's costumes, you may not be familiar with the accoutrements specific to sewing for men.  Click the illustration to the right to see the full size image, allowing you to see the fibers.  Clockwise from top left:
Silk for general hand sewing
Buttonhole silk, size 30/3
Ring thimble
Lightweight wools (for modern suits, too light for this coat)
Medium weight wools (used for this coat)
Heavy wools (too thick for this coat, as they do not pleat well)
Linings: cotton sateen, glazed cotton, batiste
Interfacings: linen collar canvas, hemp canvas, hair canvas

Finished Garment Measurements

Pattern size
Back Neck to Waist
Height of fit model
Yards needed of 60" wool

  Tailoring Supplies

First sewing day:
Unfold pattern and iron it (without steam).
Compare the measurements of the pattern pieces with the measurements of your gentleman, and mark on the pattern your alterations and size choices.  For example you may need the width of the size 36 but the length of the size 40.
Cut out the pattern on the lines you selected.
Lay the pattern pieces onto muslin or other inexpensive, non-stretch fabric. Trace around the edge of each pattern piece, drawing the line you will sew on.  You need to flip each pattern piece over in order to have a right side and left side for each.
Suggested layout shown here. ------>
Your mockup can be one layer all over, it does not need linings to be useful.  Therefore leaving out the undercollar and facing pieces,  located on the far right of the layout diagram, allows you to use mockup fabric less than 60” wide.
Take note of how much fabric you use, to help you determine how much fabric to buy for the coat.
Stitch the pieces together to form a mockup. 
On the front of your mockup, draw a line for center front, and a roll line.

The largest size, 46, will need to be laid out differently, like this:  lay out coat pattern

  Coat cutting layout

Second sewing day:
Meet with your gentleman and put the mockup on him.  Fit the mockup while he is wearing his shirt, waistcoat, and most importantly, cravat.  If he is going to have even half the fabric around his throat that Beau Brummel did, you will need a neckline that is wider and deeper than modern suits. Pin the mockup shut; does the front overlap as much as you had planned?  If not, mark where to take the coat in or let it out.  Where you see creases, pin them to make the coat lay smooth.  Seek your gentleman’s approval on the length of the sleeve and hem, and the height of his collar.  Check the setting of the sleeve to see if the sleeve needs to rotate in the armhole to match the hang of your gentleman’s arm.  Thread mark the turning point where the roll line begins (most likely where your top button will be).  If he is amenable, I also recommend you take a picture of your gentleman in the mockup, for your reference.

While the fitting is still fresh in your mind, lay out your pattern pieces and alter them as needed.  Where you pinned a wrinkle out, cut a little slice out of the pattern in the same shape and size the pin took out of the mockup.  For example you might take out a little wedge between the front of the armseye and the neckline, since this spot varies quite a bit according to how square or sloped a person’s shoulders are.

Press your entire length of wool, and of lining, with steam on as hot a setting as you think you can get away with.  Spread out your wool and lay your pattern pieces on top and trace them, as you did with the mockup.  If you are using lighter-weight or looser-weave fabric than one would wish for a coat, stay stitch the curves of the armhole and neckline before cutting out the fabric.  Cut the pieces out with your preferred seam allowances added outside the lines you drew.  You can mark them if you fear you will not remember how much to leave.  I recommend a wide seam allowance (e.g. 1”) in the side seam, where you might let it out later, and minimal seam allowance (e.g. 1/4”) in the armhole where a large seam allowance can make the coat feel tight.

Next trace out the pattern onto your lining.  You will use the same pattern pieces over again, minus the collar, undercollar, and facing.  When reusing the front pattern piece, cut off the center front area along the line (or fold it back) so that your lining will only reach the edge of your facing.  If  your wool is especially thick you may choose to have the inside layer of your cuff also be of lining.  Leave the same seam allowances on the lining pieces as you did on their corresponding wool pieces, to facilitate future alterations.

Third Sewing Day:
Stitch front facings to lining fronts.
Stitch back seams of sleeves, for all 4: right and left, wool and lining
Press all those seams.
Stitch front seams of sleeves, for all 4: right and left, wool and lining.
Press sleeve front seams using a sleeve roll or other cylindrical object inside.
Run a medium-sized stitch along the top half of each of the 4 sleeves, just outside the line, and pull the bobbin thread to ease the sleeve cap.
If your gentleman has props to carry, now is a good time to put a pocket in the lining of the chest.

If you are putting interfacing into the coat fronts, it is time to lay it in.  An example of interfacing is stiffened linen, like the kind sold as needlepoint canvas.  Another example is hemp canvas, used for the burgundy coat illustrated here. Avoid fusible interfacings, as they can come unglued during laundering.

You can use the facing pattern piece for the canvas, or if you prefer a broader reinforcement to your coat chest, use the pattern piece from the coat front, and trace it from the bottom edge where the facing begins, all the way around until the matching point on the armhole.  Unlike your fabric, the line you trace from your pattern will be the line you cut on.

Secure your canvas to your wool with pad stitches. 

The example on the right was stitched flat, without "roll" to the lapel, because the gentleman receiving the coat will be wearing it closed, buttoned all the way up.
Stitch center back seam, from nape of neck to waist, for each of wool and lining.  Press.
Stitch side seams, from armhole to waist, for each of wool and lining.  Press these seam allowances toward the front of the coat.
Stitch shoulder seams, for each of wool and lining. Press.
If you didn’t do so before cutting out, now is the time to stay-stitch your neckline.
Pin the lining sleeves into the lining body, starting with each matching point on the armhole to line up with the sleeve seam. Pin down through the armpit, being careful not to stretch it out of shape, then ease the fullness of the sleeve cap into the top of the shoulder. Stitch.  Put the completed lining onto your mannequin (or your gentleman if he is handy) and check that the sleeve hangs correctly.  Make adjustments if needed to the rotation of the sleeve in the armhole, then once you have it arranged to your satisfaction you can make yourself new matching marks and record them, onto both your pattern and your wool.  Then set the wool sleeves into the wool body the same way. ------>

At the end of the day, hang up your coat body and your coat lining, on hangers or mannequins.  Here they will stay for a day and two nights, so the bias can hang out.
Pinning Sleeve

Fourth Sewing Day:
These are all things you can do that will not require you to take your coat body nor your lining off their hangers.
Stitch right and left halves of the collar together, and right and left halves of the undercollar.
Lay canvas into the undercollar.  Depending on how you want the collar to sit, you may choose to quilt multiple layers together, or cut your canvas on the bias.

On the bottom half of the collar, aka the "stand," make little pick stitches in vertical rows, quilting the layers together.  The stitches should not be obvious on the wool side, but you will see little dimples.

stitched collar stand

Next, fold the collar in half lengthwise, and pad stitch the remaining half (the "fall") while holding it in that folded position.  This is when you really need that ring thimble, to use the side of your finger to push the needle through all the layers of canvas and wool.


pad stitch collar

When you are done, the collar should stand up on its own, and resist being flattened out.

canvas stitched into collar

If you are sure your gentleman will never flip his collar up, quilting the layers of canvas and wool together by machine on the stand part of the collar will save time and still come out rigid.
collar stitches
Assemble the cuffs:
Lay canvas in them, if you think they need it
Pin and stitch around each cuff, leaving a gap of about two inches along the bottom.  ------>
Grade seams, turn right side out and press.
Cover your buttons (or go shopping for buttons)
Practice doing a buttonhole, on a scrap of your wool.  If you want buttonholes on the cuffs, mark and stitch the buttonholes on the closed ends of the cuffs while they are flat.
Finish assembling each cuff by folding the seam allowance back on the open slit, and slip stitch it shut. If your gentleman wants a solid cuff rather thana split cuff, you can stitch the short ends together to make a tube.
Threadmark the sleeve hems.
canvas in cuff

Fifth Sewing Day:

Put in wadding (you can use layers of cotton quilt batting and/or wool scraps) as needed to balance out your gentleman’s figure.  For example, most gentlemen have one shoulder higher than the other, for which you can tack a bit of wadding to the seam allowance in the shoulder seam or sleeve head.

Now we get to a stage where one could do much hand stitching, or none at all, depending on how perfectly one wishes the collar to lay, how much one might care about historical accuracy, and how many hours one is able to spend as a result of the given budget.  If you have the time for hand sewing, please feel free to fell the undercollar to the collar all the way around, wet it, press it over a ham, let it dry while held in that curve, and then attach it to the coat by hand while the coat is on a mannequin.  But for your average costume shop minion, here is a quicker, serviceable method:

Stitch each side of the coat to its corresponding facing down the front edge, and understitch from the beginning of the roll line up to the point of the lapel.

Pin and stitch the collar to the neckline of your wool, and the undercollar to the neckline of your lining. If your wool is especially thick, you will have to hand baste it first.
Pin and stitch the collar to the undercollar on the long seam only, and understitch it.
Lay the coat down, spread out on your table so you can see how you are balancing the left and right, as you pin from the tip of the lapel, turn the corner, and up the short ends of the collar.  If your bias has stretched out in handling, or anything else has gone awry, you will get a bubble you have to squirm back into place until the length matches on both sides.  It is worth checking with a ruler, because a mistake here will really show in the finished coat.
Grade your seams, and clip the corner where the lapel meets the collar (if you are using anything less optimal than suiting wool, use a drop of fray block).
Turn the whole coat right side out, and press everything.

Pin and stitch the skirt side seams.  The edge of the front skirts may have stretched out to become longer than the back skirts; that is normal behaviour for the bias and does not necessarily want to be corrected.  If you are experienced enough to understand how much bias takeup your particular fabric wants, you will use your best judgement on whether to ease some back in. If you are not sure how far to let your bias stretch, I recommend you not let the edge of the front skirts run more than 1/2” longer than the edge of the back skirts.

Pin and stitch the skirt center back, each wool to its lining.  Understitch and press.
Clip the center back waist, so the left skirts can come forward and overlap with the right.  (Again, if you are not using good wool, time for fray block)  Baste that little overlap into place, perpendicular to the center back seam.

graded collar seam
collar with understitched and graded seam
Slip stitch or whip stitch ("felling") the lining to the coat, across the waist, down the curve, and along the front edges of the skirts.  If your needle goes through the wool seam allowance you have folded back, and picks a thread of the outer layer of the wool also, it will hold your lining away from sight. 

You will have more control of the way the fabric lays if you attach the entire lining layer by hand using this method.  If you do not have the time nor patience, the alternative mentioned before is to stitch the lining to the outer layer by machine, turn it, and understitch it.  But it is a good idea to do this curve by hand, even if you did your other seams by machine.

Meet with your gentleman for his final fitting.  Mark button placement, and seek approval for the hem length and sleeve length.  Arrange the skirt pleats so they appear plumb when he faces directly away from you.  Pin or threadmark the pleats.  After that you can mark the hem and how it is affected by the pleats.  Mark the roll line also: you may find it useful to baste it while he has it on.

felling on lining

attaching lining to coat
Sixth Sewing Day:
Do any alterations mandated by the results of your fitting.
Now do the things you held off on doing before, just in case you had to get inside the coat and change something as a result of the fitting.
Handstitch along the seam where the collar meets the neckline, in order to keep the seam allowances from going the wrong direction. 
At the top of the center back skirts, stitch down the overlap.  This is a nice opportunity to have fun with decorative tacks.
Hem bottom edge of wool skirts, press this hem then press in the pleats.*
If this costume is for one-time use (i.e. a wedding or photo shoot), clip the corner of seam allowance where the side seam of the body meets the top of the skirt pleats.  If you anticipate it will be worn by different people or over several years, you can leave this point unclipped and retain the ability to let out the side seam later.
On each side of the coat, anchor the top of the skirt pleats, to each other and the coat, preferably by hand, and cover with a button.

Seventh Sewing Day:
Hem sleeves
Slip stitch the lining to the wool at the skirts’ hem.*
Slip stitch the lining to the wool at the sleeves’ hem.
Buttonholes and Buttons
Attach the bottom edge of the cuffs to the bottom edge of the sleeve, using whip stitches to ease in the curve from having one cylinder inside the other.
Look over your coat on the mannequin for anything you think may get out of control.  Depending on the coat’s intended use, you may choose to swing tack the lapel to the chest, or the collar to the shoulder.  Sometimes the pleats also benefit from a few discreet hand stitches to make them stay lined up.

*Note: if the weave of your wool is nice and tight, you can simply cut the bottom of the skirts to the desired length and leave them unhemmed. The lining will then be hemmed only to itself and hang seperately.  If you prefer this look, I recommend washing your wool in hot water and putting it through the dryer to tighten it up.  If you do this you will need to buy extra yardage to allow for shrinkage.

Photos of the finished coat
   1795 coat in gold wool     green wool coat c.1800    regency coat by fitting and proper

 Original sources
When fitting your gentleman, compare what he looks like to these historical images.  This was a time of transition and experimentation in menswear, which makes it lots of fun and gives us some leeway to mix and match elements.  Now perhaps you are wondering, "Why does your Regency coat look different than other Regency coats I have seen?"  Well actually, since I have labelled it 1795-1810, it is before the Prince Regent took the throne... but in our present age of search engine optimization, Regency is a word I really needed to include for people to find the pattern.   And it does fine for the Regency era, since it is nearly always safer to costume your production "earlier" rather than "later."  I have 5-year-old clothes in my closet and still wear them; most people do, right?  So your characters would have too... or much more than 5 years, given a sturdy coat and/or a limited clothing budget.

So, rather than move into the sleeker, more rigid look of ~1815 that you see all over, I have found it best to stay hovering around 1800.  Partly because everyone loves the way the tail moves when a guy is dancing, and partly because so many people do Jane Austen events.  She wrote Pride and Predjudice in 1797, so whoever she was picturing in her mind as Mr Darcy, it's a good bet he did not have a waist seam.

Here are references for how the collar and lapel can lay:
1794 prtrait
1800 portrait
1805 coat
1810 portrait
Depth of pleats:
Two inches of waistcoat showing beneath the coat front:
antique coat
Undated, but appraised as a court coat 1800-1830
1803 man
1803. This one also shows how your collar will swing wide when you sport an abundance of neckwear
1803 men
1803. Split cuff folded down on the right, folded up on the left
Beau Brummell
1805. Mr Brummell's sleeves are the loosest I have seen; usually they are quite tight
Method of lining:
court coat lining

Cuff as a closed cylinder:
1799 green coat
1799. His collar is likely made of seperate stand and fall pieces, but I opted not to do that for this pattern

and, though I do not have a photo of this phenomenon on hand, not all coats had the seams in back as narrow as modern tailcoats:
"A looser-fitting long coat, with the early wide back, was worn by the more conservative and older men until the end of the century."
--Norah Waugh
The Cut of Men's Clothes