Thursday, 26 December 2019

1770 Mens Frock Coat - JP Ryan

Pattern: JP Ryan "1770 Frock Coat"
Fabric: Cotton/wool blend brocade featuring  two shades of blue and cream "crosses" at the diamond intersections.

Measurements: As taken on the form.
Chest: 42/43"*
Back Width: 17"
Shoulders: 21"
Bicep: 15" max
Back Length (from collar seam): 41"
Sleeve Length (inside curve): 19"
Sleeve Length (outside curve): 26"

*This frock coat style is designed to be open at the front, curving away to show a waistcoat. The buttons & buttonholes are decorative only. This allows some ease in the wearer's size. 

Description: A mid 18th century men's frock coat, done in cotton/wool brocade featuring a raised diamond pattern with cross point. The coat is fully lined in buff linen. Horsehair braid interfacing reinforces the front leading edges, the collar, and other typically weak areas such as the tops of the skirt pleats. The buttonholes are hand worked through the surface and interfacing (not through the lining) in silk floss. They are decorative only. The buttons are made by hand, of white silk with a corded check pattern. The pocket flaps cover deep pockets.

The sleeves linings are slip-stitched over the armhole seam allowance. There are no exposed or raw seam edges in the coat. The skirt pleats are worked to face backward on the outside, secured inside with hand stitching. 3 pewter buttons secure the skirt vent closed. The back vent is open. 3 small covered buttons are placed above the pleat points. 

Construction Details

I didn't follow the assembly instructions included in the JP Ryan pattern very closely, but instead used a combination of techniques I've learned over the years, including those outlined in Norah Waugh's The Cut of Mens Clothes. The most notable change is the treatment of the front leading edges. I prepared them in such a way that the front leading edges are already turned in and secured to the interfacing with hand stitching, with the lining to be applied to that edge later by hand. The pattern calls for a straight "sack lining" method, which isn't the most historically accurate and, in my opinion, creates flopping front edges. It also requires you to have the interfacing in the front seam, which creates bulk in an area you want to be sharp.

(below) You see my first step, the interfacing laid on the front with the seam allowance cut away. The interfacing is fixed to the coat at this stage with wide hand stitches (I recommend using a contrasting thread for this). These stitches are just to hold the interfacing in place during construction and are pulled out later. Be sure not to fix them inside with knots or anything, because you will be removing these stitching from the outside. If you're using a fabric that is pin sensitive, like taffeta, make these stitches are only in places you know will be covered later by buttons, buttonholes, or trim. Otherwise the pin marks will show. 

(below) I folded over the coat seam allowance and whip-stitched it to the interfacing only. I forgot to take a picture of just that step. But, the next step, seen below, is the application of the droi-fil. This is a fancy term referring a strong, straight of grain material like linen twill tape. It helps to give stability to a curved area, keeping it from getting stretched out and misshapen. It is placed just over the rough edge of the coat fabric and will be hand stitching in places, down both sides, to the coat fabric seam allowance and the interfacing. These stitches should not go through to the outside. The lining will later cover this entirely.

Now the pockets! Following the markings on the pattern, which you should transfer to your pocket piece, wrong side, I placed the pocket to the front of the coat--right sides together--stitched, then cut open the pocket entrance. Then pull the pocket through to the inside and press the opening edges. You might also want to edges stitch around the pocket opening at this stage.

I then just folded the pocket up and stitched around the 3 open edges. The top of the pocket seam allowance should not be trimmed off after stitching. You want that length above the pocket opening so you can catching it later in the stitching that will apply the pocket flap. If you don't secure the pocket to the coat above the opening, the weight of anything you put in the pockets will drag the whole thing down like a bag, putting all the strain on the pocket opening seams--which are already weak because you have to trim them so closely--and ruin the shape of the coat outside.

The padding/batting. This step is not mentioned in the JP Ryan pattern. The purpose of the padding in this area to provide stability and "fill in" the coat in a place that tends to collapse on the body. Most of us have a noticeable dip in from the largest breadth of our chest up to our clavicles, and the coat would want to bend into this dip, creating a wrinkle. I used a piece of cotton quilt batting, 1/4" thick, and secured it to the interfacing and the coat fabric with tack stitches. Note that this kind of stitching can only be done on certain types of fabric, ones that have material for you to "catch" inside without it showing on the outside. Jacquards, brocades, and thicker wools are good for this. Something like taffeta, which shows every little pull and stitch, would not be suitable. In that case, I would recommend extending the interfacing wider to cover the whole area and fixing the batting to the interfacing.

Another thing I added, extra to the pattern, was a strip of interfacing at the back neckline. Brocades tend to not be very stable and will stretch on curved edges. This is to provide a firmer base for the collar being applied later.

Okay, now we're going several steps ahead, after I attached the collar assembled the lining and stitched them to the hem and vent sides. I followed the pattern instructions for most of this. The pattern calls for the lining being left oven on the edges of the back vent, so everything can be pulled right side out, but since I was doing the fronts and neck lining by hand, that was unnecessary.

The lining seam allowance is clipped and turned under along the front edges and neck. I then pinned the lining over the seam allowance all around and slip stitching the lining on by hand.

The Vent Pleats

I wish I could give a good tutorial on how to do these vent pleats, but they are a nightmare to figure out, let alone explain later. The fold lines on the pattern pieces are a loose guide at best. It's most likely the skirt vents will not want to hand in the way the pattern folds show they will, so don't panic. The best I can tell you is that the pleats end up forming a kind of accordion, with the open edges at the center and facing toward the back (the top of all these pleats will turned toward the front on the inside and fixed there by hand. Even if you use a light weight fabric, this will still be a thick pain in the butt area of fabric.

 As you can see, the pictures probably aren't much help in determining just what is going on. I've also read in multiple sources that these pleats were almost never pressed into shape. You also see lots of paintings showing the back of men's frock coats where this area is kind of...well...a mess. Billowing out and not forming nice sharp edges, so apparently that's historically accurate.


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