Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Making a Tudor Shirt, part 1 - the fabric

A few people have expressed interest in parts of the process of making one of these Tudor shirts, so since I'm making another one at the moment, I thought I'd write it up as a series of tutorials. For the purposes of this series I'll be talking about men's shirts (as that's what I'm making), but in practice there is very little difference between men's shirts and women's shifts. Generally women's were longer, but not necessarily; indeed, some of the extant men's shirts were long enough to perform duty as a modern maxi-dress!

The first thing to do is select fabric for the shirt. Thus far, all the surviving shirts I've seen have been linen. It's perfect to wear close to the body and it holds up to wear very well, so if at all possible go with linen. The drape and thread count varies depending on the purpose of the shirt. Shirts for boys were generally of finer material than shirts for grown men, and the fancier the shirt, the finer the linen was likely to be.


is a detail from a shirt in the V&A dated c. 1540. The fabric is so fine you can see the embroidery on the back through the front.

My shirt, however, is going to be a much sturdier piece. I'm making it to wear while I'm shooting, so I don't want to have to worry about catching it on a hedgerow while I'm hunting for arrows and ripping it. I'm not embroidering it, either, because I expect to have to wash it more frequently than my other SCA clothing.

The amount of fabric will vary depending on how big a shirt you want. (No, really, Captain Obvious?) You'll need the following pieces:
  • The body (a single long rectangle)
  • 2 sleeves (rectangles)
  • 2 underarm gussets (squares)
  • 1 each of collar front and back (rectangles)
  • 2 each of cuff front and back (rectangles)

The front of the shirt should be from the top of the shoulder to just above the knee, and the back should be a couple of inches longer. Ideally you'd have this as a single length of fabric (most of the extant shirts are), but it's still correct to have shoulder seams and two separate pieces.

I've cut mine so that the width of the fabric twice (for the front and the back) is about 10 inches bigger than my widest measurement. Too baggy is better than too tight - too tight will rip when you try and take it on and off.

The sleeves should be the same length as your arm from the wrist to the shoulder. You'll get extra length from the cuff and the excess width of the body fabric at the shoulders, which will create the poofy effect on the finished sleeves. I've been cutting the sleeves about 18 inches wide - it seems to create a comfortable fit for the various adults who have tried it on.

The underarm gussets on the shirts I've made so far are about 5-and-a-half inches. I'm rather well endowed, so had expected I'd need bigger gussets, but actually they are plenty roomy and allow more than enough movement to shoot in.

The finished cuffs should be exactly the circumference of the wrists, and the collar exactly the circumference of the neck. A little gap at the front of the collar is ok, but I've not seen any portraits with overlapping collars. For each cuff and for the collar you'll need two identical rectangles of fabric about 2.5 inches wide and as long as your body measurements require. The 2.5 inches includes seam allowance - don't forget to add seam allowances to the total length, too!

The only pieces of the shirt that need to fit precisely are the collar and cuffs. Everything else is meant to be baggy, so if your fabric is a little wider, there's no reason not to use the full width.

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