Saturday, 28 January 2017

1770s Work "Seersucker" Caraco Jacket - Blue & Red Stripe

Pattern: I draped this pattern myself, though I did take the sleeves from one of the Anglaise dresses shown in The Cut of Women's clothes. 
Fabric: 100% cotton, uncommon seersucker weave. There is much to discuss about this fabric choice, as seersucker is often dismissed as a purely 20th century fabric that did not enter fashion until the 1910s. The weave is actually much older and has documentation in Europe and the American colonies as early as 1694
Available on Etsy HERE
Chest - 38"
Waist - 32"
Hip - Free
Hem - 36" at front, 38 at sides, 39.5" at back (suited to medium or large bum roll)
Back width - 12" (armhole to armhole)

~The History of Seersucker~
I was tempted to write up my own history and sources, but the information relating to 18th century seersucker is pretty concise and  has already been put forth in an article on; "Tracing the Tangled Threads of Seersucker", by Ben Zimmer. In the article he notes cargo listings from the early 18th century in London showing that seersucker was being imported there, as well as references from 1730s Virginia about a "seersucker gown" being rescued from a house fire. It's clear that seersucker was being imported and used to making garments in Europe and the American Colonies throughout the 18th century.

Another source for pretty much the same information given in the Zimmer article comes from "Pucker up: The story of Seersucker" by Scott Huler: 
"Though the iconic seersucker suit has been around for only a century or so, the fabric itself goes back centuries. The first name we have for the fabric is shïr o shakkar, Persian for “milk and sugar” — milk for the white, sugar for the bumpy, granular stripes, though supposedly, originally, on silk instead of cotton. Various languages began corrupting the word, and by the time the British colonizers in India recognized that the pucker kept the fabric off the skin, thus improving airflow, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us they mentioned it in 1757 as called either sirsakas or, already, seersucker. The word showed up in the United States as early as 1736 in the Virginia Gazette (“a Seersucker Gown”) and in 1872 in Their Wedding Journey, though William Dean Howells describes not a suit, but a coat, worn in the cool weather of Niagara Falls."

In addition to the Zimmer and Huler articles, which give the best information on the earlier references to seersucker and its etymology, one can also find fictional references throughout the 19th century. John L. Motley, writing Morton's Hope, a fictional memoir of life at a German university in the early 1830s, writes:
"My uncle, attired in a bob-tailed seersucker coat, and pepper-and-salt small-clothes, was perched on a [horse]" (Motley, 29).

Another fictional reference appears in a short story in Godey's Magazine, Vol. 10, 1835. The protagonist of the story "in the evening...generally appeared in a seersucker coat. But he was invited everywhere." It's amusing to note in context that the protagonist is being described as socially accepted in spite of his bad fashion choices. Seersucker was not considered suitable evening attire, and was generally a fabric used for day-wear and work tasks. Since seersucker is easily washed, dries quickly, and does not require ironing, it would have been used mostly in working/day garments.

~The Jacket~
Okay, now that the history is out of the way, on to the construction.
The jacket is pretty simple. The pattern consists of a  front, side-back, and back piece; 2 cut of each in fashion fabric and lining. And, of course, a one piece sleeve with curving fit dart at the elbow. I took the sleeve from the 1775 Anglaise gown in The Cut of Women's Clothes. The image below shows a quick sketch just to demonstrate the general shape of the pieces.

I did a variation on sack style lining to provide some stability. It consists of sewing up the back and side backs first on the fashion fabric and lining, then putting those sections together first without the front.
1) sew backs together and CB seam
2) sew side-backs to backs.
3) Repeat steps 1 and 2 for lining.
4) You now have the "back section" of both the fashion fabric and the lining.
5) Pin lining back section to jacket back section, right side together, at bottom edge and neckline. Stitch all along bottom and along the neckline only. Leave side and shoulder strap area open.
6) Turn all to right sides facing out. Press. Stay stitch the open sides and shoulder strap area down.

(below) lining stitched to jacket back section at bottom and neckline.

7) Stitch fronts to back section at side seam.
8) Pin front lining to jacket front, right sides together, along front, neckline, and lower edge. You will leave the shoulder strap area open. Stitch.
9) Turn to right side and press. You now have lined fronts attacked the lined back section. The front lining is free inside along the side seam.
10) turn the seam allowance of the front lining under to wrong side along side seam. You will lay it over the side seam and whipstitch it down by hand.

~Inserting Sleeves in the 18th century manner~
At this point, you'll attach the shoulder strap lining long, right sides of the strap lining to right sides of the jacket lining. The fashion fabric shoulder strap is stitched to the lining strap at the neckline edge only.

Attach the sleeves along the underarm curve first. You'll do the rest fitting the sleeve top on the wearer or on a dress form. The sleeves is basically sandwiched between the lining and shoulder strap, with the shoulder strap then sewn down by hand.

~Front Closure~
The center fronts are curved slightly, allowing for a more natural and reducing the pucker lines you get when you have a straight, flat piece of fabric pulled over a concave front sorso. This means that when I turned the front edges to create the boning channels, I had to make two snips to allow the curve.


Motley, John Lothrop. Morton's Hope: Or, the Memoirs of a Provincial, Volume 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1839)


  1. thanks for the link to the podcast on seersucker. FASCINATING. Wondering about stripes, colors, polka dots... Great work.