September 24, 2014

History and sewing!

Despite the fact that our route didn't take us to any of the historical weaving mills (another thing for my 'next time in Scotland'-list), I did come across something sewing-related. And purely by accident.

I already mentioned the "meet the Redcoats" event at Corgarff castle previously. What I didn't tell yet, was that we wouldn't even have known about it if the steward at Balvenie castle (which we visited the day before) hadn't mentioned it to us (this small, recently added event wasn't on the event calander. She also recommended the app, which did announce it).

Although the history of Corgarff castle goes back further, it now shows visitors how it would have looked in the 18th century when it housed a small garrison of Redcoats, English soldiers. They had been posted at strategically placed locations throughout the Highlands to keep the population under control after the Battle of Culloden.
One floor of the tower house has been furnished as a barracks, which it was at the time. But last week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, there were also three soldiers, an officer and his wife (there was joking about how the arrival of Redcoats might influence the referendum...). Members of Pulteney's Regiment (13th foot). (Which is part of a larger society of reenactors called Lace Wars. They also have a group of Jacobite reenactors, in case you were wondering.)

They all really looked the part and were very knowledgable about their era. Both about the overall situation and about the details of the everyday lives of their characters.
And there was sewing. Downstairs, in the officer's room, the lady was making him a casual coat. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures but we did have a nice chat about period silhouettes and the start of uniform regulations.

Then, we went upstairs and met the soldiers in the barracks room. They were happy to show the various tools of their trade and even to let visitors (it wasn't busy, we were the first visitors that day and while we were there, two other couple arrived) handle them.

And then I saw one of them sewing. Finishing pocket edges with a blanket stitch, to be precise. So, I wanted to know everything about the uniforms.
As it turns out, soldiers in the 18th century would be given uniforms but they had to care for them themselves. To save a bit on the cleaning and mending, they would only wear the full uniform for parades and battle. The outfit worn by the soldier in the picture with E and the musket was the normal look at the barracks.
These modern reenactors however make their own uniforms (not everyone has all the skills necessary of course, so people may make things for each other). This particular gentleman couldn't only sew, he'd also learned leather working and metalworking. 

These uniform coats are made from thick wool and lined with the material in yellow. Only the part of the bodice which doesn't show when it's worn is lined in a thinner, cheaper wool serge. The sleeves were lined with muslin but he explained it isn't known whether or not sleeves were lined at all. The coat was carefully tailored to fit him, which is why, as you can see, it doesn't fit E at all.
What I found very interesting is the way the coat functions: There are no separate summer and winter uniforms. These wool coats would be worn all year.  However, the yellow contrast bits on the bodice can be overlapped and closed for warmth in winter. The same goes for the tails which are normally connected at the corners (with a hook and eye) displaying the contrast lining but cover more when they are allowed to hang loose. 
I suspect one might sew such the seams which don't show on the outside by machine but this one was entirely sewn by had (he mentioned he had to because his sewing machine broke down).
The whole thing is trimmed in distinctive white and yellow tape. Which would always have to be applied by hand anyway.

So just imagine how much work must have gone into this coat. Part of the outfit of the regiment's drummer, the only soldier to wear the regiment's colours the other way round. 

And here is the soldier's coat, worn by its owner and maker, in action. The musket, by the way, is a modern reproduction and they are shooting blanks.

The meeting was quite interesting and a lot of fun. We'll definitely try and catch another event next time we travel to the UK.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, these are lovely. Men's & militray tailoring seems very hard. All that hand stitching? Have you read " The Victorian Tailor" by Jason Malochliann? I think that you would find it very interesting. x