Thursday, February 14, 2013

18th Century Trade Fabric madness!

 So...... a little over a year ago, I had a request from the Dear Patient One for an 18th century Native American trade shirt.  This is a shirt in the style of those worn by the men of European descent (otherwise known in our house as a "Happy Shirt") but made for trade with the natives. From what I have read, initially they were mostly white, but some were made from "India" cloth that was block printed in a technique that has changed very little over the last 3 hundred years, and that colored cloth became very popular for trade. They traded the cloth itself with the Native Americans, but also the garments. I have made many 18th century shirts, mostly from white cotton or linen.

An assortment of well-loved shirts. The two plain ones are linen, the checked one is cotton. The two linen are completely hand sewn - the cotton one has machine sewn side and sleeve seams seams, but the rest is hand sewn.
The DPO's Illinois Regiment of Virginia military shirt. He's not an officer, so no ruffles here.

We do 18th century re-enacting, but we don't do native portrayals, and I don't pretend to be an expert. However, a little over a year ago (sheesh, maybe two?) I was asked by a friend who works at a local historic home to make just such a shirt for their hands -on museum display. He had purchased the appropriate fabric on behalf of the site, and gave me some pointers on the necessary changes to make to the basic European design. For instance, there would be ruffles on the front and on the sleeves a la the English officers, but no buttons anywhere. Also, the shirt would not be the knee length preferred by the Europeans and European/Americans, but a shorter thigh length, which I imagine would be more practical for roaming the Eastern Woodlands.

Not great resolution, but you can see the ruffles on the sleeves.

Here again, the white shirt is easily seen.
A modern painting of Native Americans in their European style clothes.

The DPO  helped me by trying it on a few times, and I was not surprised when he announced that he would also like to have one for himself. He wears his "Happy Shirts" quite frequently at home, although some of them are now in a very delicate condition, and have to be treated gently so that they will be there for living History purposes. By the way, in the hobby, we call that delicate condition, "patina".

Happy shirt AND a turkey leg! Too much happy!

I called up our friends at Regency Revisited, the lovely Walt and Jan Dubbeld, and Jan sent me some sample fabric pics on Facebook. The DPO, chose what he liked (we got two) and I told him I promised I would get them done ASAP. Then,later that same year,  I said I would have them for Christmas, and so here I am in February, cutting them out. Because they are for him, they will be mostly done by hand, maybe with only the long seams done on the machine. This means finding a good series to watch in Netflix while I hand sew.

The top two fabrics will become the trade shirts, using the best of shirt patterns available. Kannick's Korner patterns are well documented , have great pictures and instructions and the pieces always fit together well. The fabric on the lower right is leftover from the shirt I made for Historic Locust Grove and also came from Regency Revisited. It is in the process of becoming an apron, hence the twill tape. The shirt on the left belonged to my first Tai Chi teacher, and I asked him to give it to me when he was tired of it because the print and the colors were so perfect. It's beautifully soft and worn and will make a lovely period something or other once I cut it up.

Off to the cutting table now, before I have to clear it for a Valentine's Day dinner with my sweetie!

Thanks for reading,



  1. Lynn, I never heard the word 'patina' before coming out here- where does it come from? (also I know the shirt at LG you are talking about :-) )

  2. Patina refers to the greening of bronze or other metals as it ages, or to the darkening of varnish on paintings, etc.. I guess it has just been extended to the worn look of items used by re-enactors - the aspect that makes the clothing and paraphenalia look "real", and that is usually acquired in the hobby by actual use. Thanks for asking. Hope that answers your question!