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The Costume Trunk: Don't just talk like a pirate - DRESS like one!

September 17, 2010


Avast ye lubbers and bilge rats, ye dandies and beauties! This weekend be the time of International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19th)!

Who among ye hasn't longed for a life of livin' free on the winds, away from the burdens of modern life, perhaps in a time when things were simpler?

Embrace that voice that whispers the promise of gold and adventure. Let your inner pirate loose for a while and feel unfettered freedom. Taste the salt of the ocean on your lips and a breeze on your face.

Even if ye be landlocked, there's no reason to let it limit yer spirit! Get yer mates together and sing a few shanties. Watch all yer favorite piratical movies all weekend long. Celebrate fun for fun's sake. And for the love of all that's holy, dress the part!

Seriously, I'm sitting in my office dressed as a pirate while I type this. It's silly, but it makes me happy. When people see me out and about today (oh, yes, I have to run errands at lunch), I'm sure many of them will think I look like a fool. But a handful will smile and remember that we need to make fun for ourselves (and sometimes of ourselves), every day. And those people are my people. Happy TLAPD, mates! May the wind always be at yer back!


 Now, on to the project!


A Semi-Demi-Historically-Correct Pirate Shirt - No Pattern Required!


If you look around online, you can find numerous fabulous tutorials on making an 18th century style shirt for a gentleman (this is the correct style for most pirates), often drawn from a wealth of historical sources. I have road tested many such tutorials and found every one to be worthwhile, though some are trickier than others. This version is made for me, so the measurements listed below are for a medium-sized woman. The shirt is loose, but not so engulfing as the ones I have made for my delightful spouse. Sometimes, ladies want pirate fun, too!

I will also confess - I have to qualify this as "semi-demi" correct to time period because while the layout and assembly of this shirt is more or less the same as it would have been back in the 18th century, I'm going with modern construction methods and changing up some of the measurements. Whereas a true 18th century man's shirt would be much longer, this one is shortened for modern convenience's sake. I even skip the traditional heart reinforcement at the bottom of the neck opening. Feel free to add it!

Here's what you need:

-2-3 yards of 58-60" wide fabric. Linen is lovely and will make for a fancy shirt. Muslin or broadcloth works fine for rough-and-tumble pirates. I like gauze because the shirts I make are often going to be worn in very warm climates.

- Thread.

- Needle

-Your sewing machine

- Optional interfacing: a small scrap of a woven fabric like muslin or broadcloth, about 18"x10" is plenty.


1.    1.  1.Measure across the shoulders, and add 12" to that measurement. This will be the width of your shirt. The length is twice the length you wish the finished garment to be, plus a few inches for hem and adjustment. I'm short, so mine is 60" long. (Alter to suit your taste, of course!)

2.    2. Cut 2 22"x22" squares. These will be the sleeves. (Again, these can be lengthened or widened to suit.)

3.    3. Cut 2 3.5" squares for neck line gussets. (If you're not sure what a gusset is, hang in there! You'll see!)

4.    4. Cut 2 6" squares for underarm gussets.

5.    5. Cut the collar 2-2.5" longer than the circumference of your neck, and 5" high.

6.    6. Cut two cuffs 2.5" wide and 10-11" long.

7.    7. Cut one piece 2.5" wide and 11" long for your neck opening facing.

8.    8. Cut 2 2" squares for hem gussets.

9.    9. Cut 2 7" x 3" pieces for shoulder reinforcements.

Lay out these measurements in whatever way makes the best use of your fabric. It will probably be useful to sketch things out on paper first. This is how mine ended up:





On to the stitching, mateys!

Create the neck opening:

-          - Fold the body in half or so it is slightly longer at the back. The fold will be your shoulder line.

         -  Fold or measure to find the center of your garment at the shoulder fold.




        - Cut along your first fold 9" from center to either side.

-          - Cut 8-10" down the center front to form front neck opening. If you're a more modest pirate, you can shorten this cut.


Set in Front Neck Facing:

-          -Cut slash in the center of your front facing to match your front neck opening.


-          -Right sides together, sew facing to front neck slash, forming a V at the lowest point of the neck opening.


-          -Turn facing to inside of garment and stitch down, turning under raw edges if desired.


Inset shoulder reinforcers and neck gussets (this bit's tricky!):

-          -Fold both neck gussets diagonally.


-          -Cut a 3.5" slit in the center of one end of each shoulder reinforcer.


I highly recommend basting this next bit. Once you see how it goes together, it is much easier to understand what's happening here.

-          - With wrong side of body up, lay triangle into place on one edge of neck opening, and lay shoulder reinforce over it, also wrong side up.


-          -Baste one side, pivot at triangle, and baste along other side. Once it's basted, turn and check. Shoulder reinforce should sit on outside of shirt.




         - Machine stitch over basting.

-          - Turn facing to outside and top stitch facing into place along shoulder line, folding under raw edges.


-          -You'll have a funky little fold/lip of fabric at the neck. Trim out these pieces to smooth neck line.


Apply the Collar:

-          -Fold collar in half along its length. If you are using a gauzy fabric, cut a piece of interfacing the size of the folded piece out of any non-stretch scrap you have handy. Broadcloth or muslin is excellent.


-          -Sew each end with a ¼" seam allowance, catching in interfacing if you're using it. Turn and baste interfacing to one side of collar.


-          -Mark the center and quarters of the collar.


-          - Mark center back of shirt neck. The centers of the neck gussets are your quarter marks.

-          - Gather neckline of shirt to match the collar and baste into place along interfaced edge of collar. (If you're not interfacing, just pick one side of the collar or the other.) Leave the gusset sections flat - do not gather. I usually use a needle and thread and a quick running stitch for this, gathering and basting all in one go.


-          - Once you've checked the basting seam and adjusted gathers as you like them, machine stitch with a ½" seam allowance.

-          - Hand stitch interior edge of collar into place, catching in raw edges of seam allowance.



Hem and Hem Gussets:

-          - Turn shirt wrong side out, folding at shoulder.

-          - Measure down 11" from fold and stitch the side seam, leaving a 4-6" opening at the bottom.


-          - Fold hem gussets into triangles.

-          - Set the gussets into the tail/hem slit by sewing up one side of the triangle, pivoting at the apex of the triangle (which should align with side seam), and sewing down the other. Here's a terribly fuzzy picture of the affair:


-          - Fold in raw edges of tail slit. Press and stitch into place.

-          - Turn up hem front and back and stitch, enclosing raw edges.


Assemble the Sleeves:

-          - Sew one edge of sleeve gusset to edge of sleeve piece (join at the part of the sleeve that will be the underarm area).


-          - Flip gusset out and stitch to other side of sleeve, continuing seam down the length of the sleeve, leaving 4-5" open at the bottom.




        - When assembled, your sleeve should look like this:



-          - Hem the cuff opening by turning in raw edges and stitching in place.


-          - Attach cuffs to sleeve using the same method you used to attach the collar to the neck. As before, interfacing with a lightweight fabric is optional.


Attach the Sleeves (it's almost done, I promise!):

-          - Mark top of sleeve (the fold opposite the point of the gusset), and quarter sleeves. Mark the correlated points in the sleeve opening.

-          - Gather sleeve to fit sleeve opening and baste in place.

-          - Check the fit and your gathers, and machine stitch into place.


Buttonholes (Sort of optional):

-          Since most pirate dress-up involves keeping things loose and rakish, you're probably not going to be buttoning your collar and cuffs anyway. If you're pressed for time or just don't feel like it, skip it! (You can always add them later.)

-          If you do wish to complete your look with buttonholes and buttons, stitch a buttonhole large enough to accommodate your choice of buttons on each back cuff edge, and two buttonholes on the left side of the collar (as you're facing it), one close to the base of the collar and one approx 1.5" down from the top edge. As always, play with these measurements to suit your fancy.


 There! You've done it!

Remember, being piratey means making your own way in the world. If you want to change up your shirt to suit your own style, by all means do so! Skip the hem gussets if you like. Make the sleeves shorter or longer. Add lace at the neck and sleeves. (Nerd note: historically, the delicate lace would be set into a fabric casing which was basted onto the garment openings. The lace could then be removed for washing to prevent damage.)

Chart your own course -- there's nothing truer to your inner pirate!




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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Holly Frey published on September 17, 2010 9:33 AM.

Halloween Yarn Party was the previous entry in this blog.

What We Love - September 18, 2010 is the next entry in this blog.

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