18th Century Suit Buttons

Here is a close-up of a button from the inspiration suit:

18th century suit button

Detail of button from inspiration suit

The button is made of embroidered fabric wrapped around a flat disk.  All the embroidery on this suit appears to be chain stitch, with the exception of the little circles, which are similar to small sewn eyelets.  The button is bordered by chain stitch in two shades of pink.  Then the row of circles, and a small flower in the middle. The waistcoat buttons are smaller, but almost exactly the same. However, the border of the waistcoat buttons is navy blue rather than pink, which ties it together with the coat quite nicely.

Three of the waistcoats in the Martha Pullen DAR book also use chainstitch embroidery.  I stitched out some samples, and they look very passable for machine embroidery.  One of the patterns is sprigs of rosebuds and forget-me-nots, perfect for the suit I want to make.  However, none of the patterns are as intricate as the inspiration suit, and will need a lot of layering and positioning to give the same effect. Still, it’s a wonderful start.

I decided to start with a button, since it is small and is a bit of immediate gratification.   There was a promising circle motif from one waistcoat, and the rosebuds from a second.  Using embroidery design editing software, I was able to separate the rose from the sprig it was on, add the leaves back in, and shrink the design while trying to keep stitch count and density reasonable.  The circle involved two rows of machine chainstitch, and I was able to insert a color change between the two rows.  This enabled me to make the outer ring a darker shade than the inner, just like in the inspiration photo.  Finally, I combined the rose and the circle into one design, and combined colors for ease of stitching.  I didn’t like the first test run; the rose was too small and choppy, so I tweaked it and stitched it out again.

Here is the sample button, stitched on the blue silk taffeta, embellished with spangles, and wrapped around a chipboard circle:

Blue taffeta button with pink rosebud

Sample button of silk taffeta, embroidery, and spangles

Up close, it is obvious this was stitched by machine, but a few paces away it gives a very reasonable effect.  It also takes a small fraction of the time to create.  I am not sure about these exact colors; they were what I had on hand.  I want a distinctly pink rose, but this veers a little too far towards berry.  I think I’d like something closer to salmon, without getting quite as peach as the inspiration suit.  The spangles are exactly what I wanted to replace the small embroidered circles, and will add some nice sparkle to the finished garment.   This is very close to what the finished buttons will look like.


18th Century Men’s Suit – Inspiration

The Kyoto Costume Institute publishes the most beautiful books, with detailed pictures.  Utterly dreamy.  My favorite suit is pictured in a couple of their books: the expensive Revolution in Fashion: 1715-1815, and the more reasonably priced 25th Anniversary Fashion.

Navy blue satin court suit

Men's Court Suit from the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute

This is a stunning example of 18th century clothing. I love the richness of the silk, the roses, the swags, the way the embroidery is carried through both the coat and vest, with subtle differences.  I would love to create a suit like this.

The vision: To create a man’s court suit using the above image for inspiration.  As much as possible, I’d like to stay historically accurate in regard to pattern, fit, fabric, embroidery, etc.   The outfit will include shirt, pants, waistcoat, and outer coat.  I will also pull together accessories – wig, shoe buckles, etc. – to complete the look for photographs.

Fabrics:  I plan to make a blue suit with ivory waistcoat, both embroidered and accented with silver spangles, and possibly silver thread. The shirt will be fine handkerchief linen trimmed with Valenciennes lace at the cuffs and collar. Lining will be linen or cotton. I have some ivory double-faced silk satin and forget-me-not blue silk taffeta left over after making an 18th century-inspired wedding dress.  The fabrics are gorgeous, and better yet, they are already paid for.  The blue is lighter than the navy in the inspiration photo, but the color is period-appropriate and I’m not going for a 100% accurate replica.

Embroidery: I can do simple hand embroidery, but this is far from simple. However, I do have an embroidery machine. My plan was to search the web for a small rose & rosebud design that I could manipulate to get the effect I wanted.  The biggest hurdle is that much machine embroidery looks very modern, so I will have to choose carefully.  Luckily, before I really started the search, I ran across the new Martha Pullen book and embroidery CD’s from the DAR Museum.  The book contains several waistcoats from this period, complete with digitized embroidery patterns!  This is as close as it gets to replicating period embroidery by machine.   I’ll use the machine to do the bulk of the work, then accent with hand-stitched details and silver spangles. The original suit has small circles embroidered around the buttons and edges, and I will probably use spangles instead of embroidery.  The inspiration suit doesn’t actually have any silver on it, and I want a bit of glitz.  Other period suits have similar motifs worked in silver instead of thread, and I like the effect.

It’s a big challenge, but I think I can do it.  I have nearly a year until the deadline.  Of course, I hope to make a woman’s outfit as well…