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Reliving Civil War History, One Shirt at a Time

February 15, 2012

Greetings!  I am Molly and Pedro’s mom, Bia, the only other sewing person in the family.  I have been invited to blog about a few things, the first being the Civil War Reenactment Shirts I have made for Molly and Pedro’s Dad (we call him Da, apparently a traditional Irish way of saying dad – but really it’s just how The Oldest Sister pronounced Dad when she was a baby and it stuck).  Da has been doing Civil War reenacting (representing a Union Army Private, circa 1862) for many years and he has a great amount of excitement building up in anticipation of the 150th anniversary (and reenactment) of the Battle of Shiloh which he will attend this spring.

Shirt pattern with avocado.

Realistic and authentic clothing is a very important part of reenactments.  I have used Period Impressions patterns for many of the Civil War clothes Da wears.  This quote below is from a website that sells these patterns (and it is Da’s favorite ‘go-to’ place for Civil War things).

Period Impression patterns are researched and drawn from original patterns or clothing. These proven patterns are produced by the same pattern maker utilized by the Kentucky State Historical Society and the Military History Museum to produce patterns for garments in their collection. They are sized for today’s living historian, but have not lost the period look. Patterns are illustrated, easy to follow with instructions for the best possible results.

Additionally, not only does the pattern need to be authentically styled, but the fabric should be representative of the time period.  Fortunately, because of the special anniversary of the Civil War, many fabric companies have been making reproduction fabrics.  Da picked out his fabric from Hancocks of Paducah.

The three Civil War shirt fabrics chosen by Molly’s Dad (remnants).

Now, to Molly’s standard pattern review questions: Pattern:  Period Impressions #750, Military Issue Shirt Pattern Description:  Civil War shirt, worn by Civil War soldiers. Fabric Used:  Cotton calico. Yardage:  ~ 2.5 yards Did it look like the drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?  Yes, I believe so.  The collar never seems to fit quite right, so I have always put the collar button further down on the front slit.  This seems to be ok with Da. Were the instructions easy to follow?  Yes, surprisingly, they were.  There are good diagrams.  You should have some sewing experience before undertaking the pattern, as the instructions are not as complete as your traditional Simplicity or McCalls. What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I really like the way the gussets give extra room in the underarm for the wearer.  I think we should have more gussets in our shirts!  The front and back pattern is one big piece, which is a little funky to figure out the first time, but it works. Pattern alterations or any design change you made:  Da is more on the short side of height, so I shortened the front/back piece by about 3 inches. Would you sew it again?  While it’s not my favorite thing to sew, it is not too hard.  I will likely be asked again to sew more of these.  Sigh.  On the other had, I believe this would be a pretty good nightshirt/nightgown pattern, so maybe I would make one for myself (someday…). Would you recommend the pattern to others?  Yes, for anyone coerced asked to make Civil War Reenactment shirts, this is the pattern to use.

Neck/collar close up. Note pleat on back – allows for more arm/shoulder movement.

There you have it.  I will write another blog about the Civil War drawers I have made (cotton long-johns or full-leg underwear) one day too.  The drawers were not as much fun (if these were fun…) as the shirts.


Live long and prosper – Bia.

  1. February 17, 2012 12:12 am

    I had no idea they’d use colour like that. I like it!

  2. Susie permalink
    March 21, 2012 7:44 pm

    I have the same pattern for my menfolk (husband and son). I had issue with the collar also. I ended up ammending the pattern by using the collor from a suttler boughten shirt. It worked out better for me. I’m getting ready to make two shirts this week as my menfolk leave for Shiloh next Monday! :o)

  3. Ardyth permalink
    May 20, 2012 1:31 pm

    My daughter asked me to help her cut this pattern out because she didn’t understand it. I thought no problem I sew enough I should be able to do this right? Nope. The picture of how the material is supposed to be folded doesn’t click in my modern day sewing mind. I just don’t know how to read a pattern from that long ago I guess. I sure would appreciate help with this. We have two we have to make in just a couple of weeks. Thanks.

    • Bia permalink
      May 21, 2012 5:08 pm

      Ardyth, this is kinda tricky the first time. You know how we usually lay out fabric, so that the selvedges are ontop of each other? You have a ~45 in wide width laying so that its actually ~22 or 23″, then you put pattern pieces on it and get two pieces (or if on the fold, one piece) cut out.
      Well – for this main shirt body part, open the fabric out flat, not folded at first. Then fold it down so that each side of the selvedges are on top of each other. You have ~45 inches wide, but double thickness, with selvedges on each side.
      THEN, you fold that over the other direction, so you have 4 layers and now you have 4 layers of selvedges touching each other on the one side. There are two folds on the top edge (see their “Lay Out” diagram) and one “double fold” on the side – and on the other side, the 4 layers/selvedges.
      Put the neck hole part of the pattern on the corner that has what I have called the “double fold” (again, look at the “Lay Out” diagram).
      You have to keep arranging the first fold to get the right length, so the pattern piece fits on it.
      —– I sure hope this helps! — Bia


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