The embroidery for the Cook Waistcoat is finally finished! It has taken me 240 hours, which is quite a time, but gives me a benchmark for future reference. It looks well, I think, and hopefully close to the original embroidery did when Elizabeth had finished it.

So now I need to get started on the construction process. My deadline is Feb 12th, which is when I need to get it up to the museum. The pattern needed to be worked out, then the construction sequence, because they worked differently in the 18th century from the dress-making and tailoring techniques we use today.

I was able to work out the pattern using three sources: The original embroideries, or at least the images I bought from the State Library; the measurements that Lindie Ward and myself had taken from the waistcoat at Te Papa, and a tracing I was able to make from a waistcoat front piece that I was able to examine in the collection at York Museums Trust store. The originals gave me the shape of the front edges and the length, but nothing of the width of the chest or the details of the back.

Lindie’s and my measurements from Wellington gave me more of an idea of chest size. However, the Te Papa waistcoat had been altered afterwards: My theory is that Elizabeth altered it for her cousin, Isaac Smith. He was a protégé of James, and a midshipman on the Endeavour voyage. He later became an admiral when he had to retire from active service due to ill-health, and he and Elizabeth lived together in later life. So it seems logical to me that Elizabeth might alter the waistcoat for him to wear. Whoever it was, he was about 4 inches shorter than James, and about 4-5 inches stouter! By deconstructing the alterations, I was able to estimate a chest size for James, and I know from other records that he was 6’2” tall, which was tall for the 18th century! How he managed on the Endeavour I will never understand, given the deck heights in places.

The York waistcoat piece gave me a feel for the shape of the front piece. The side and shoulder seams were not as we would put them nowadays, but were quite far towards the back, so the elaborately decorated fronts of the waistcoats were more visible and emphasised.

Using these three sources, plus pattern outlines from books by Norah Waugh (The Cut of Men’s Clothes), I was able to put together pattern pieces for the front and back of the waistcoat. I made a rough toile from calico to check the pattern pieces fitted together, and tried it on the manikin I bought to use for the display in the Museum. It worked!

Next step was to make a mock-up of the waistcoat, to check the hang of the fabrics, and details of the back vent and pockets, facings etc. I used medium-weight sew-in Vilene as a substitute for the tapa cloth, as it is similar in texture and feel. Some cotton curtain lining material and calico did for the backing fabric on the embroidered pieces, and lining material for the silk facings inside the front edges and skirt of the waistcoat. I tried to make it up in the sequence they would have used in the 18th century, stitched by hand and so on. It seems to have worked, and hangs fairly well on the manikin. I still need to pad out the chest area a bit, as the silhouette during the 18th century was different from todays: they emphasised the chest area rather than the shoulders as we do today. However, I am pleased with the mock-up, and I learned some details of construction that I need for the actual garment, such as the placing of the back vent, and the lie of the pockets. I also established from reading a great book I found in the last few days that they stitched the buttonholes and buttons before fitting the lining, so it could more easily be replaced if it got worn or damaged. The lining buttonhole slits were slip-stitched to the back of the buttonholes afterwards. The book is “Costume Close-up: Clothing construction and pattern 1750-1790” by Linda Baumgarten and John Watson (1999): if you are interested in 18C costume it’s VERY useful!

Anyway, that’s the practice pieces done and they worked out quite well. Now I have to start on the actual garment: Help! (Mild Panic, about Level 2)
Pictures below show the finished Left front, and the front and back of the mock-up.