Ten Minute Tutorial: 18th Century Garters

For the Embroidery Illiterate such as Myself…

As I have confessed multiple times, sewing and embroidery are not my strong points (You can see one of my better attempts here). However, I am stubborn and enjoy conquering challenges no matter how gnarly my stitchery may be! The challenge for HSF this go-’round is titled “Under It All” and since I had been planning to make a set of garters for about a year now, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to spur myself to action.

“Femme en Robe à la Polonoise” circa 1778

18th century garters came in many different forms from simple ribbons to tasseled, elaborate bows that close with clips,  but I wanted to make something half-way between the two. The garter collection in the Museum of Fine Art Boston is fantastic! While the fancy ones are lovely to look at, my favorites are the deceptively simple looking ones like this:

French Embroidered Silk Garters with Motto, 18th century

American Geometrically Embroidered Garter, 18th century

English Embroidered Garters, circa 1784

The first pair of garters has an embroidered motto. Many 18th century garters of this type had sayings, mottos, or couplets embroidered on them ranging from sweet to scandalous. Others portrayed messages through symbols like Cupid’s arrows and roses. Most of these are lovingly hand-embroidered, but the look can be replicated with the right sort of ribbon.
This method isn’t as fancy or historically accurate as embroidering one yourself, but it’s a good starting project that can be done in less than 10 minutes!

How to Make an 18th Century Ribbon Garter

Garter Tutorial

You will need:
At least 20 inches of Decorative Ribbon (1 inch to 2 inches wide)
 2+ yards of plain Silk Ribbon (same width as your decorative ribbon)
Needle and Thread

While finding a proper, historically-acceptable ribbon to mimic embroidery can be a challenge. If you can find an actual embroidered piece, kudos to you! Otherwise, a jacquard woven pattern can do in a pinch. Here are a few ribbon types and motifs that work:

Ribbon

Hearts and Florals

Cross-stitch

Sari Borders
You can trim some sari borders down to the correct width. You’ll need to secure the edges, though, to keep them from fraying. Thin bias tape or simply folding the edge back and tacking it down with a simple handstitch is usually enough to tame fraying. Many 18th century garters were also beaded (especially with silver spangles/sequins) and sewn with gilt threads, so other beaded trims will work as well.

Geometric and Zig-Zag Patterns

Step 1: Decorative Ribbon

The Pragmatic Costumer Garter Tutorial

Note: Cotton, silk, wool and other natural fibers will grip historical stockings more securely. I ordered this ribbon online and while it is lovely and very good quality, it is mostly polyester, so it does not grip stockings enough to support them. Despite their polyester content, however, my garters work well with my modern thigh-highs and on bare skin (I will drive historians mad by wearing my garters with shorts and no stockings)!

Your decorative ribbon choice should be 1 inch to 2 inches wide. Once you’ve chosen your ribbon, measure the circumference of your leg just above or just below the knee–depending on where you wish to wear your garters– to determine how much ribbon you will need.
Historically speaking, you’ll want decorative ribbon around at least half the circumference of your thigh, but no more than three-quarters around (you want to leave room enough between the ends to tie a bow).

For example, I settled on a design that went about two-thirds the circumference of my leg. I have ridiculously scrawny 16 inch thighs, so I measured out 10.5 inches of decorative ribbon.

Step 2: Adding Ties

The ties of most 18th century garters are made with silk ribbon. Pick a silk ribbon that matches or compliments the color of your decorative ribbon and is the same width or smaller. I chose ribbons that are both 1.25 inches wide.

“RIEN/NE/PEUT/E/GA/LER” (Nothing can be equal) Garter, circa 1790
This garter is just over 2 inches wide.

Cut two sections of silk ribbon 10-15 inches long. For bigger bows or to wrap it twice around your leg for more hold, make your ribbons longer–around 18-24 inches (there are historical examples over 50 inches long, so don’t be miserly with the ribbon).
Put the “pretty” side of your decorative ribbon against the silk and fold the edge of the silk over the back so the decorative ribbon is sandwiched in the middle, like this:

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Use a backstitch to make a strong seam that goes through both layers of silk and the decorative fabric.

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No matter how ugly your stitching may be at 11 o’clock in the evening, the backstitch has got your back! The ribbon will rip before that seam will.

Repeat with the other side of the ribbon.

Another way to attach ties is to sew your decorative piece applique-style onto one continuous piece of silk ribbon (add 12-18 inches to your thigh measurement to get the length of the ribbon you’ll need). This requires more ribbon, but if you are using a polyester decorative ribbon like me, the silk backing helps improve grip!

Voilà!

You’ve just made an 18th century garter!

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My finished 18th Century-ish Garter. :)

For more about 18th Century garters, check out these links:

“Late 18th Century Garters” by the ever-fabulous Aristocat– She hand-embroidered hers and gave them springs for tension and hook closures.

“18th Century Garters” on larsdatter.com – The best Renaissance database on the web offers 18th century sources, too!

The Garter Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Merchant Gentleman’s Coat

Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #1:
The __13 Challenge

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My sexy circa 1713 man’s coat

I know I swore I wouldn’t post the challenges for the HSF here, but this is an exceptional case. The first challenge for this year-long saga of stretching my sewing skills involved celebrating a fashion from a year ending in __13 (e.g. 1913, 1413, etc.). Most folks would have done something pretty and simple, like Edwardian or Regency.

Me? I’m a glutton for punishment and men’s fashion.

So began the 1713 man’s coat.

Before I go on, I have a large confession to make: I have a horrible, irrational fear of the sewing machine. It’s not like I’ve never used one– I own one in fact– but I hate machine sewing and have since I was little. A whole dissertation could probably be written about whatever weird psychological phenomena prompted this distaste, but for now, just remember that I refuse to machine sew anything other than a straight line. This is an important factor in the insanity that follows.

So, I live in Carlsbad, NM, a town out in the middle of the Chihuahua desert. I am fortunate that, even though we are in podunk nowhere, I have access to a fabulous craft emporium chock full of the finest fabrics and patterns at deeply discounted prices.

So, I trooped into Walmart to find 1713 coat patterns and some cheap, suitable fabric. Many Walmarts have done away with their fabric sections, but thanks to a steady crafting community, our smarmy Walmart still dedicates a tiny corner to quilting cotton and the “China Specials” (those fabric bolts marked “contents unknown/variable” with the texture of a felted plastic bag). When I finally found time to get to this Subway-scented wonderland, it was a week into the challenge already, leaving me only a few hours after work each night to sew.  Fortunately, the Fates of Fashion were in a good mood that day, and I emerged from the polyester muddle with the only heavyweight natural fiber available in any sort of feasible color: 6 yards of brown cotton canvas duck ($5.49 cents a yard). Walmart was discerning and refined enough to furnish me with a historically accurate pattern as well:

Aw, yeah! Simplicity 4923.

I’m not joking about the historical accuracy, at least of the actual coat silhouette itself. Jack Sparrow wannabe aside, this pattern is actually good for achieving an early 18th century look as long as you don’t need something perfectly accurate, method-wise. In fact, I’m going to go back and buy the large size version so I can make one for my barrel-chested father. I chose to make an xsmall this time around because I wanted something smaller and therefore quicker to sew. Also, thanks to an excellent sports bra, I happen to fit in the Simplicity man’s xsmall and will provide evidence as soon as I find/make something other than jeans and t-shirt to wear underneath.

The sewing saga began Thursday night with the cutting of the pattern. The envelope back said the coat would take 5 7/8 yards of 45″ fabric to make a coat. My cotton duck was 60 inches wide, but I figured 6 yards wouldn’t hurt (room for mistakes). I ended up using only about 3 yards, so I have enough left over for another, if I choose. The directions and pattern pieces were all straightforward and easy to piece together, minus the darn interfacing which I cheaped out on and just used some more cotton duck, so it’s a little too bulky. However, the directions are mostly common sense, except the sleeves. I had to perform some serious sleeve voodoo on those things just to get them to line up properly!

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An accurate, scientific portrayal of what occurs during sleeve voodoo.

So, did I mention I hate sewing machines? I felt rather accomplished pushing my needle in and out of the cloth over and over and over and over. I sewed 100% or this coat with my own hands and only stabbed myself once (with the back of the needle, of all things). I started out at about 10 stiches per inch on Friday, but by Sunday morning, I was booking it at something a little closer to 5 or 6. My mother walked by on Saturday night with a horribly concerned look on her face and offered to machine sew the monstrously, terribly, god-awfully long 84 inch strip of interfacing. But I was in too deep. I soldiered on. My irrational fear and pride at least keep me industrious to a fault.

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The irony of the hole in my pants does not escape me…

My favorite part of the project was the 27 buttons. Walmart has almost no trims besides wired ribbons and plastic buttons, but I found one hanger of 3/4 inch brass buttons at a frugal 97 cents a pack!

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Plus, they totally say “Le Bouton” which makes them French and fancy. Yeah.

The little brass buttons were inspired by this early 18th century  illustration of a military officer:

“Studies of Two Gentlemen” by Luca Carlevarijs, circa 1700-1710

I’m a sucker for gold and brown, plus buttons are fun, so sewing that long front row was satisfying. I ignored the pattern’s suggestion for paired-button placement and went for a dense, evenly-spaced line. Most civilian English and French coats from 1700-1720 had cloth- or thread-covered buttons all the way down the front, but the major inspiration for this coat in the first place was this illustration by the same artist:

“A Man Wearing a Yellow Coat” by Luca Carlevarijs, circa 1700-1710
In addition, there is a later coat made out of a linen/cotton fabric that helps me rationalize the cotton duck.

The buttons appear to stop just below the waist line at pocket-level, so that’s where I ended my buttons– a fortunate happenstance considering that I used up every single brass button in a 150 mile radius! The pocket flap design on the original Simplicity pattern is way too big, ungainly, and ill-placed (they are way too high and I recommend completely ignoring it and making your own), so I cut the shape to resemble this drawing’s pocket flaps and attached them in a more historically- and aesthetically-pleasing place: where the sleeves end.

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I love late 17th and early 18th century men’s fashion! It’s fussy, but not so fancy that a modern man would feel threatened by it, yet it’s all so over-the-top with gargantuan, heavy wigs, buttons everywhere, and fluffy skirts (yes, gents, you too can enjoy the glory of a full-circle spin in this triple-godet, 134-inch hem coat).

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134 inches of swirly, manly goodness.

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Note: While you can’t see them thanks to me having to wrangle this man’s coat onto a very, very female dress form, this pattern has historically-appropriate angled shoulder seams that fall over the shoulder blades instead of sitting on top of the shoulder.
Also: obligatory cat hair.

Historical Sew Fornightly: Just the Facts!

Italian Man’s Coat, circa 1713
Fabric: Walmart Special Brown Cotton Duck
Pattern: Simplicity 4923 with modified pockets, man’s size xsmall (32″ chest)
Year: 1710-1730
Notions: 27 brass buttons, thread
How historically accurate is it? 65% total, but it’s 100% handstiched because I have a horrible, irrational fear of the sewing machine…
Hours to complete: 38 Hours
Total cost: $25 for fabric, $9 for buttons, $1.26 for thread
For more examples of non-pirate interpretations of Simplicity 4923:
18th Century Men’s Outfit” on Just Blame Jane (uses the breeches pattern that I am saving)
A Pattern is More Like a Guideline, Really…” on Sempstress (uses multiple modifications to create a variety of looks for the fab musical 1776. She makes a good notation about sizing, too!)
For more info on hand stitches, here’s a handy little guide: “Hand Stitching” (also includes tips for sewing with fur!)