It's September 2013 and I have been busy exploring my Colonel Robert Magaw memory in detail. I decided to go back to first principles and recreate the material goods that he knew. The "feel" of once familiar clothes and equipment is so important in discovering and consciously remembering your past life as a particular physical being.
With that in mind I decided to hand sew a 1776 Pennsylvanian Rifleman's Frock also known as a Hunting Shirt. Made from 100% Rough Irish Linen it was the definitive garment of my experience at that time. A source of tremendous pride and embodies the soul of 1776. A poor piece of practical clothing that became a symbol of our revolutionary fighting spirit.
Researching images on the Internet I decided to build it entirely from scratch and first principles. Much as a unique work of art it would come directly from my soul.
I first made a small paper model of the garment to study the pieces needed. A clear idea of the geometric shapes required in the pattern is essential. Economy of materials, ease of construction and minimal hand sewing are important considerations. Next I made a full size pattern from an old bed sheet that allowed me to test the sizes and 3D shape of the garment.
Again economy is the key and experimentation this way costs very little. One can always throw it all away and start again if it proves a blind alley! Researching material suppliers I was astounded to find that the quality of linen I required was Â£29 a metre! Two metres would be minimum for a shirt. I just "knew" that in my head! Of course it was Two Yards in context with the time frame so I figured metres were a bonus as a yard is 36 inches where as a metre is 39 inches.
Interestingly I found myself using feet and inches straight away!!! Despite being a trained modern scientist Feet and inches fit exactly the harmonic proportions of the human body. Time and time again I found myself intuitively cutting material only to find that it measured a whole number of inches exactly when measured!!! 1, 3, 4, 6 and 12 cropped up over and over again as being "just right" according to balance and aesthetics.
My intuition knew that I would find what I wanted at Military Odyssey 2013 over the end of August weekend. I would find a tomahawk it kept saying and sure enough as I walked in to Detling on the Bank Holiday Monday the first stall I stopped at had a second hand tomahawk for sale and a powder horn! Both very cheap too! It's ah hah moments like this that you know the Quantum Universe is on your side and willing you on. But it just got better and better. Next tent was Bernie the Bolt purveyor of all manner of cloth to reenactors. There I spied the oat meal linen that I would need again at a fraction of the price of the Internet. I ordered 4 metres to be sure that I had enough for the knee length frock coat which would be on the full side. Major as he was then Robert Magaw was a successful country Lawyer so would have the wherewithal to purchase and make his own uniform to a good standard. I just felt and knew he had made it all himself as he lived a frontier life in Carlisle, Pennsylvania from the 1750s onward. The township itself was only founded in 1751 followed by the French Indian Wars 1756-63 so life was basic and on the edge of the wild then. Something I love!!! :)
1: Cutting the body rectangle.
4 metres of 100% Irish Rough Linen were used. (400cm x 150cm)
I used my re-enacting linen shirt as a guide to check my measurements and also I discovered the clever use of the underarm gussets to give flexibility of movement. Something I hadn't appreciated from the pictures on the Internet.
Realising that I had a model to check against gave me the necessary confidence to start cutting!
With a shirt the material is cut and fashioned in an over the shoulder one piece as with a Musketeer's tabard but I decided to use the material long ways so as only to have the shoulders to stitch and thus save a lot of sewing! I knew the joint would have to be strong as the weight is taken on the shoulders but my paper model had shown this to be the easiest and most economic way to use the material and time required. The old trick of pulling a thread to get a straight line was remembered but only half way through the build! Also the fringing is a byproduct of the pulling of threads to sew the garment together! I bought some expensive linen thread to sew strong joints but quickly started to use the material's own linen thread for sewing all other needs.
Dimensions: Linen 150cm wide = 59" : Cut 42" length : 26" width back : 13" x 2 width front : two x seams 3.5" = 59"
Fringe over hang 1/2".
Shoulder drop 3" trimmed from the square: Neck opening 7" : Arm slits 2 x 15".
2: Cutting and sewing the arm rectangles.
Two rectangles are cut to fit the arms and sewn onto the body using a back stitch for strength and then sail stitched to stop the raw edges from fraying. The result is and extremely strong and durable bond between the sections of material. Two square sections are then sewn into the under arm gusset spaces. Straight away the coat takes shape and is wearable. The lower garment hem is formed by folding the material back onto itself in an S shape allowing the fringe to over hang. The whole hem is then sewn with back stitch and then sail stitched top and bottom of the S around the hem to strengthen and stop the fringe fraying beyond the hem baseline.
Dimensions: Sleeves 2 x rectangles 25" x 21" : this allows 1" for seams and 3" for Cuff fold back and fringe overhang.
Cut 2 x 6" Squares for under arm gusset. 5"x 5" with 1/2" hem.
3: Collar Attachment and Cuff Hem.
The Collar rectangle is cut double thick and sewn on. Then back stitched and sail stitched around the fringe line. The same S shape technique is used on the cuffs as the main baseline hem.
Dimensions: Collar rectangle 22" x 14" : fold in half to get 22" x 7". Fringe formed by sail stitch hem.
4: Cutting the Cape and attaching.
The geometrics of the cape fascinated me as they just evolved in a totally harmonic fashion. The square and circle touching to give the dimensions. Followed by an equilateral triangle for neck. Two scalene triangles are then cut to allow the cape to fall diagonally from the centre line.
Dimensions: Two squares 30" x 30" and 20" x 20" : Neck 7"x 7"x 7" Equilateral triangle: Cut out 2 x ( 7"x 6"x 5") the 5" discounts the arc of the circle. This allows the cape to hang properly.
Readers can follow the attachment sequence and hemming of the capes in the following pictures.
At this point I decide to embroider two 5 pointed stars one on each collar as I felt sure Robert Magaw (Major of Thompson's Rifle Battalion) had done. A single star came to denote the rank of Major in the Confederate Army 90 years later.
My subconscious was very happy!
5: First fitting.
6: Final fringing and Antler toggles.
An extra line of fringing is added to reinforce the body of the garment. This adds reinforcing, decoration and structure. Antler toggles add a nice frontier touch and authenticity to the build. Again this came straight out of my subconscious as being correct. I also had Viking and Ice Age memory flash backs whilst sewing! The two cuff toggles came for Tobermory in Scotland and the neck toggle was an old broken key ring from Scotland, a present from my Mum back in the 1970s. It had lain dormant in my tool box for 15 years. I think my Mum would have approve :)
Dimensions: All fringing 4" wide double back to 2" allows for 1" fringe. Threads used for sewing detail. Whole garment could be sewn with its own thread. The second line body fringe just fitted with 2 x (4"x 59") strips!
7: Final Finishing.
A labour of love the extra stitching and strengthening completed the build. Time taken from purchasing materials to finishing 3 weeks.
Cathe Fulton of Gettysburg suggested wearing the Rifle Frock as much as possible and even sleeping in it to access my subconscious memories. I shall report back on any interesting insights in future updates.
Sunday November 10, 2013:
Completed a two hour photo shoot of complete uniform. Very pleasing results.
Photo taken by J J Roberts.