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! Clothing patterns based on rectangles

 
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If you are making clothing from home woven/hand loom woven fabric, the realization of how wasteful most patterns are of fabric will quickly make you want to figure out how they used to do things!

I was given some narrow (just less than 20" after washing and shrinking) cotton purchased years ago (1980's by the colour is my guess). I figured there's just barely enough to make myself a farm shirt. I wear long-sleeved cotton shirts all summer as I react to too much sun. I'm petite, so I figured 20" around the sleeves, and 20" across the front would be loose enough.

I had watched this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ql9r8UKIvZs - and the pattern was all rectangles. Unfortunately, the instructions were a bit vague in spots, particularly for someone who'd never done period patterns.

So I figured I'd start this thread so that other people might post patterns they'd found (I did find an old thread which mentioned similar patterns, but the link no longer worked.) I will post the rough pattern from the above video and later post the precise measurements I used (I'm still determining some of them!)

Pirate-shirt-pattern.JPG
This was quite difficult to read, but I think I figured it out.
This was quite difficult to read, but I think I figured it out.
 
Jay Angler
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I'm ~5' 4" tall, but long in the legs and narrow through the shoulders. However, I thought I'd post what size I made the pieces as an example.

Size of pieces based on my body: SA = seem allowance

Body: 26" + 26" = 52" long for front and back. Fabric is narrow, so I used salvage to salvage (20"). Cut one.

Sleeve: 20" + 2" +1" SA = 23" long. Used full width of fabric 20". Cut two.  

Collar: 2 1/2" + 1" SA = 3 1/2 inches wide. 14" + 1" give + 1" SA = 16" long. Cut two.

Gusset: 5" square + 1" SA = 6" square. Cut two. This is *really* guessing - need more info!

Cuff: 4" + 1" SA = 5" deep (folds in half). 7 1/2" long + 1" SA = 8 1/2 " long. Cut two. Too tight for me - I would do it 8 1/4 long + 1" SA if I were to make a second shirt.

Reinforcement patches:  1 1/2" x 1 1/2" squares (to include seam allowance.  Cut 7+ if an amateur especially.

I also cut two strips to bind the edges of the slit in the front of the shirt. The video above just used a thin "hem", but I needed this shirt for sun protection so I wanted better coverage.

Distance from edge of shoulder fabric to opening for head: 6 1/2" - this was tricky as I was using much narrower fabric than Bernadette's video called for. I marked 1/2" down from the back center neck opening and curved gently up to the shoulder so it wouldn't push on my neck.
Distance cut down the front of shirt - BD said 6", but I wasn't convinced it would go over my head so I started with 6 3/4.

Distance from shoulder point to start of gusset: 3"

I used the "pull a thread" method to make sure my rectangles had right angles (I was about to type "square", but that was just too oxymoronic!)
marking-straight-of-grain.JPG
[Thumbnail for marking-straight-of-grain.JPG]
 
Jay Angler
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As in the video, the "gusset" sounded scary, so I started by "practicing" the back-stitch on the collars and cuffs. I'm using silk thread from a Great Great Aunt in England, but it was too thick so I had to split the thread into 3 sections for the hand stitched seams.

My one nod to modern systems was to use my machine to make a double row of gathering stitches at the top and bottoms of the sleeves. The next picture shows the first arm installed.

Step 1 was the gusset to the sleeve.

Step 2 was the sleeve seem from gusset to about 3 inches above the cuff (you need that gap to easily get the sleeve over your hand, +/- rolling up the sleeve to do stuff). At that point I flat felled the seams carefully paying attention to how the fabric needed to sit. Any spot where fabric joined or separated, I used at least 1 of the small squares to reinforce the stress point, unless my flat felled seams did the job. Bernadette's video actually mentioned using a square on both the inside and outside, but my fabric was too heavy a weight to want to add that bulk.

Step 3 was to do a narrow hem on the open side seam.

Step 4 was to install the cuff. Note that "modern" shirts usually have the "underarm seam" separate from the location of the cuff opening, and make a separate slit to go with the opening. I suspect that's to get the bulk of the "cuff opening" to a more functional location. I'm not an historian, so I don't know when that change became the norm.

Step 5 was the scary part of pinning and sewing the gusset to the body, and the body side seam. Installing a gusset video - https://youtu.be/t0e1BqjWq7Y  This is from Morgan Donner and she left the top seam allowance on the sleeve side unstitched  to attach to the body section. Bernadette Banner's video (above) shows stitching to the top of the arm section. On the premise that it would be easier to add stitches than unpick, I followed Morgan's tutorial. In fact, since I needed to trim the fabric on the arm side to flat fell the seams, stopping at the point of length trimmed would have been ideal.

If you look closely at the above picture, the seams on the sleeve are already finished by flat-felling them, but the seams between the sleeve and the shirt are not. You can see the little square of fabric reinforcing where the sleeve's side seam ends and the opening for the cuff begins.
 
Jay Angler
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Once one scary sleeve was done, the second went much better. However, then I had to face the even scarier neckline.
Due to the width of the fabric I was using (it was free from a friend, so no choice there), I had to be very careful that I would be able to get the shirt over my head and arms. If this had become impossible, I would have had to open the whole front and install a facing and buttons, but I had so little extra fabric to work with, that would have required creative piecing! As was, I had chosen to put facings on the edges of the slit as shown in the next two photos.


Here the photo is out of sequence as it shows the button-hole which happened after the collar went on:


Note the "antique" silk thread! Despite the nuisance of having to split it, it was great to sew with - the slipperiness of it made the stitches easy, although it doesn't knot well, so I had to do little running stitches back and forth in the seam allowances to secure the beginning and end.

Now we get the picture with the collar on. I put a little pleat in the center back, rather than gathering as I didn't have enough extra fabric. I was trying to judge it so the shoulder wasn't too "dropped" but alas, I failed. I don't know how to correct for that, but would have to make a mock-up and do some tests.
Getting the collar around the tight curve of at the shoulder line was very tricky and required some pleats there as well. Modern patterns round the neck instead of just a "slit", but nothing bad shows, so that's a win in my book!
 
Jay Angler
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Finally I was down to the finishing details. My button jar just happened to have 3 matching yellow buttons from who knows where. I for the front and one for each sleeve. However, as mentioned a couple of posts back, the cuff was tighter than I was comfortable with. To help with that, I made "loops" for the cuff buttons, rather than a regular button hole. First I ran a "string" in a circle large enough to generously fit the button through, but not too generous, through the fabric at the edge of the seam 3 times, then I used the silk thread in its original thickness to do 1/2 hitches to cover over the string. It was important not to tighten the 1/2 hitches too much or they would have tried to spiral around the string, which I didn't want. I was *really* pleased with how they turned out!

Somewhere in there, I took the time to finish the hem at the bottom - just a simple fold-over-twice secured with felling stitches.

So now the big reveal! The shirt from the front:



And just to prove it really fits, the shirt from the back with me inside:



If you look carefully, you can see that cute little button loop holding the cuff closed!

This was *not* a quick project. I did not even try to keep track of the hours I spent sewing. Years ago I did weaving, and I hesitated to weave fabric for clothing as so much of the fabric for modern patterns goes to waste. Now I know that if I choose the right width of warp, I can weave shirt fabric that wasted almost nothing. I had about a square foot left, and that will be good in case I get attacked by brambles etc and need a patch. If I was prepared to machine sew, it would go faster, but I would have had to buy proper thread as my antique silk was not designed for a sewing machine and that would have taken from the meaning - my ancestor's silk and my friend's fabric.

So the challenge to anyone reading this - can you find me measurements for pants to go with??? I know they exist, but it may be a while before I go hunting for them myself, as I've got other projects in the queue.
 
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Hi Jay,
Your post caught my eye.  I've been thinking about work clothing, and your garment is a bit like English agricultural smocks, which were made from rectangles and a few triangles.  They were the original 'wax cotton jackets' being water resistant over garments for agricultural workers, rather than the ladies frocks of latter years.  They fell out of use with increased use of machines I gather.
See Lincs to the past, or Poppys cottage blog for example.
The smocking stitches as well as being decorative gave elasticity to the garment: no need for elastic.  I've got too many projects (and enough clothes just now) but quite fancy making a modern take on these.  Particularly the lack of elastic is what appeals to me.
 
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I just had to embed the video Jay linked to, because I just love that this style of shirt is one that a pirate would wear! Yar matey!

 
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Greetings Jay,
What stunningly gorgeous work on your shirt! It turned out beautifully!
Here is a gusseted pants pattern: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/0c/52/b0/0c52b0d22f73da290accff2ddcba03cc.gif
Hopefully the link works. If not, try googling “salwar” pants.
I’m hopping to get caught up enough to spend some time at my loom... oh, wait...it’s planting season in 10 minutes!
 
Jay Angler
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Thank you Jane for the pattern. I'm a little worried it will be bulky for field work once made out of fabric that's tough enough to stand up, but I will try it for something for sure.

So it doesn't get lost, I will show the picture here:


On this site: https://sca.berkeley.edu/how-to-make-a-turkish-salwar/  they give some of the history and state that the image may be used if accredited (it's on the image, but I will state here also - A big thank you for the image to Charles Mellor!)

However, I'm still looking for more clothing patterns that are designed for both efficient use of home-woven fabric, and yet functional for farming in, so if anyone else has suggestions, please post them.
 
Jane Wilder-O'Connor
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Greetings Jay!

I was thinking mostly of these pants for minimum waste hand woven fabrics. But a tightly woven heavy weight linen with a doubled front panel might hold up pretty well. It bears repeating that your shirt is gorgeous!

Jane
 
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I do medieval recreation, focusing mainly on 14th century England, and the clothing in the earlier half of that century and before is most all rectangles and triangles. I can make a long-sleeved knee-length tunic with about 2 1/2 yards of ordinary 48-50" linen or wool fabric, with just a modest rectangle left over. Making two identical I could probably do with zero waste aside from the shallow half-oval neck hole. The sleeve gussets and set-in skirt triangles give comfort and free movement, which is important in clothing I wear to throw pottery and fire a kiln. The gussets are intimidating at first, but it doesn't take long to get used to sewing them.
 
Jay Angler
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Glenn Herbert wrote:I do medieval recreation, focusing mainly on 14th century England, and the clothing in the earlier half of that century and before is most all rectangles and triangles.

Do you have measurements and basic instructions for some pants I saw a vague picture of today, which seemed to have 2 rectangular "tubes" for the legs, 2 square patches one for the center front and one for the center back, and then an odd shaped gusset like a long diamond, but with the two short corners cut off? It looked to me as if it would use fabric efficiently, such as you commented on for your tunic, but still be sufficiently "fitted" such as the shirt I made, so as to be practical for our current lifestyles.

I will do some more research focusing on the 14th century - I don't have a problem with doing some shaping, but I do have a problem with fabric waste that I've found with most modern patterns. I gather that the skirt triangles are from the hemline to about the waist to allow for the hips?
 
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This reminds me of a shirt I had. It was store-bought, but it was made in that way, only rectangles (and small squares for arm gussets). It was made in India, of hand-printed cotton. It lasted for many years: I bought it in my late teenage years (1970s) and as far as I remember it was still there when I moved to the street I now live in, which was a little before 2000.

It had more parts than you show. Both front and back were made of three rectangles, one wide and two narrow ones at the sides, under the arms. So the sleeve started higher up the shoulder. But the sleeve still was a rectangle and there were small gussets in the armpits. The sleeves were not long (about 3/4 length) and didn't have cuffs. There was no collar, the neck and the button-strip mid-front were finished with a long strip of the same fabric ( I don't remember, maybe it was cut on the biais).

Because sewing is one of my hobbies I was interested in that pattern, that was why I 'studied' how that shirt was made. To be able to make a shirt like that myself. And I tried it. But I found out it needed that soft, light Indian cotton. Made of 'ordinary' cotton fabric (like bed sheets) it didn't fit right.
 
Glenn Herbert
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I haven't made pants like the ones you describe - pants were not in use in that area and period - but I have seen patterns of similar description from the Middle East.

The tunic I and many others make is from a bog body in Sweden in the mid 14th century, known as the Bocksten Man. A search will bring up many images and patterns.
bockstenkirtle.jpg
the Bocksten tunic
the Bocksten tunic
 
Jay Angler
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I did some searching today and found the following pattern for pants. It isn't exactly the same as the picture I found the other day, as the gusset is a different shape and it goes from the crotch up towards the waist band, but I thought it was worth posting. I suspect this pattern will be a little bulkier in the crotch area than the one I'm still hoping to find a pattern for.
14th-century-pants-based-on-rectangles.JPG
[Thumbnail for 14th-century-pants-based-on-rectangles.JPG]
 
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I'm pretty sure I've posted this one somewhere else, but it's another rectangle based pattern: https://ofdreamsandseams.blogspot.com/2011/09/traditional-chinese-pants-pattern.html
 
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One book that might be of interest is Elizabeth Haywood's 'Zero Waste Sewing,' which includes a number of projects--mostly women's clothes, but a few unisex garments as well. She's on Instagram as @lizhaywood3754, and posts readers' finished projects, if you want to get an idea of what to expect.
 
Jay Angler
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Melissa Bee wrote:One book that might be of interest is Elizabeth Haywood's 'Zero Waste Sewing,' which includes a number of projects--mostly women's clothes, but a few unisex garments as well. She's on Instagram as @lizhaywood3754, and posts readers' finished projects, if you want to get an idea of what to expect.

Thanks Melissa! I don't have instagram, but the key words "zero waste" did get some hits on things I hadn't seen.

For example, the pattern below isn't based on rectangles, but it does use fabric efficiently and can be drawn to one's own measurements easily, which is another plus. My future goal is that I could weave fabric the width needed based on my measurements and know that hard work would be worth it.  However, since people keep giving me their hand-me-downs, I may never get that far, but by posting these patterns here, others will at least benefit from my explorations.

Zero-waste-trousers.JPG
[Thumbnail for Zero-waste-trousers.JPG]
 
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