This week I want to walk you through the Tudor-style shirt I made to be worn under my chain shirt when adventuring as my Black Knight character in the UK LARP system Fools and Heroes. Given that my knight’s underlying kit was inspired by Tudor costumes and working with the typical colours of her Order, I decided to invest time in a version of a shirt I made for banquet wear. With a laced closure and made of durable fabric, so far this shirt has survived the punishment of being worn under my chain shirt.
So, join me as I walk through a variant of Shirt A from Simplicity’s #4095 pattern.
The reasons why I chose to make my own shirt rather than use my usual LARP shirt are two-fold – one) I wanted to incorporate the knightly order colours into my kit and two) I didn’t want to end up with a grey shirt after wearing it under my aluminium chain. My OH has a shirt which has been worn under his steel chain and my aluminium chain shirt over the course of his previous characters and what was once crisp white is now sadly turning grey, no matter how much it gets washed. As I am very fond of my natural coloured LARP shirt I thought it was time to bite the bullet and attempt a piece of kit I’d not tried before – shirts.
The material I chose for this black shirt is drill cotton because whilst linen is a lovely cloth, I was nervous that it would pull, catch or tear when worn under the chain rings. I did not like the idea of wearing the garment for most of a day only to find a gash opening up when I took off the armour, or tearing the shirt as I shimmy out of the chain shirt. Those of you who wear this type of armour know what I’m talking about and the fact you usually end up bent over at the waist shaking your shoulders and arms trying to dislodge yourself with no control over what the chain shirt may get caught on. It’s exhausting, and I’m not even in the proper steel chain! Drill cotton is also sturdy, can take a reasonable amount of wear and tear and, my usual concern, is machine-washable.
Making the Shirt
As you can see, here are the main tools and materials I used to make my shirt (excluding my sewing machine).
After popping the cloth through the wash with a bit of white cloth to check for bleed (to then re-rinse it to check that the cloth has finished bleeding dye) I ironed it flat and folded it in half. Having read through the pattern (and having made a red ruffed shirt previously – talk about ambitious!), I knew that most pieces require multiples of two or to be placed on a fold, so I prepared my cloth for use. Then I folded it up gently to make the length more manageable and so I could store the uncut cloth should I be interrupted.
After checking I had all the pattern pieces for shirt A of the pattern (the one with the lace collar and cuffs), I began to cut all my pattern pieces out. All of them, including facing and interfacing. As I was cutting I marked my notches and dots on the INSIDE of my cloth so that I can match notches and dots as I work. Sometimes before working on a section I have to remark the marks due to wear whilst handling, but marking everything in the beginning gives a mark to work with later.
Working through the instructions I stitched the front yoke pieces together, reinforcing the point where the shirt splits with a couple of passes back and forth over the point with my sewing machine. I then attached the front to the back at the shoulder seams, which as you can see gives the ghost of the upper portion of the shirt. I then did the same with the inner facing – a similar piece which will be sewn over the join between the yoke and the main body of the shirt so that the seam is smooth against your skin and keeps the raw edges hidden.
I then prepared the front and back shirt sections to be gathered.
I owe my shirt to Sarai Mitnick’s sewing book, because when I read the word “Gather” several times during my first read through of the pattern I had a minor panic so I surfed the internet looking for a quick how-to-guide. Luckily, before I worked myself in a nervous wreck given my time constraints (note to self, start projects way in advance before deadlines!), I remembered I had my sewing book that I had purchased from Colettrie as a learning aid and lo and behold there was a nice, easy explanation amongst its pages.
Without copying directly from these pages, I will try to explain how to sew gathers using a sewing machine. Be prepared for threads snapping and having to start the process all over again if you rush through it – both my shirts were done in a hurry and I may, or may not, have lost my temper when it came to gathering the shirt fronts and backs and sleeves. I think I have gathers down now though …
I sewed three lines of loose threads – one on the seam line, and another pair either side of this – and left the tails long. Turning the shirt over I then began to pull on the threads, slowly working the pleats towards the middle of the shirt piece. Once I had all the pleats made I began to ease the pleats back along the length as I pinned the shirt pieces to the front and back of the yoke, pinning as I worked.
Once these pieces were sewn together I had something that looked like a shirt. I could then remove the gathering stitches as these were no longer required. I then pressed the lower seam allowance of the facing inwards, pinned it to the front and sewed the whole lot together at the arms and collar, before sewing up the sides.
I then had to slip stitch the facing to the front at the lower seam to enclose the raw edge of the gathered cloth.
I had applied the interfacing of the collar and cuffs earlier in the process, so I pinned the prepared outer to its facing, turned and pressed it before pinning it to the collar. As I only wanted a plain collar I ignored the instructions for applying the lace as I did not want to risk pulling any delicate adornments, and for something that will be a serviceable garment I don’t think it needs frills.
Once the collar was sewn onto the front, I slip stitched the facing in the same manner as the yoke facing to enclose the collar seam.
I then prepared the sleeves – first by sewing the arm seams down from the armpit to just above the cuff split, sewed a short folded hem along the open split at the cuffs and added the gathering stitches for the shoulder and cuff. Once this was done I prepared the cuffs by sewing the interfaced outer to its facing; and prepared to gather each sleeve. This was not as troublesome as the great length of the shirt body, however it still provided me with some frustrations – the trouble with working to a swiftly approaching deadline is that every hiccup feels like a major setback …
Once the shoulders were gathered I sewed the sleeve to the body, pulled out the surplus thread and trimmed the seam. I then slip-stitched the facing closed on the cuff and prepared to sew the button hole on the cuffs. These cuffs are similar to the cuffs on a man or lady’s shirt and would close quite snugly against my wrist when fastened with a single button. My sewing machine has a set of settings and a button hole foot to make buttonholes, so I find that I can quickly do a couple of these with minimal fuss. I could attempt to sew these by hand if I chose, but at the time I was trying to work to a self-imposed deadline. Alas, it was at this point my seam-ripper snapped …
After stabbing myself a couple of times with the broken end as I tried to cut open the button-hole, I resigned myself to leave the whole garment until the morning and came back to it later – added the buttons and prepared to seriously deviate from the pattern.
Because this shirt is designed for a man, the split front of the yoke is a little low for me. Whilst this could be fixed by adjusting the pattern, I haven’t yet attempted to do so, but instead came up with an alternate solution – lace up the closure. The pattern has a couple of ties at the collar, my red shirt having a couple more for modesty, but I didn’t want to be messing around with delicate ties when struggling into my armour in a hurry. Instead I added 7 x 0.5cm button holes running perpendicular to the opening on either side of the shirt and laced a short bootlace through the holes. When I put the shirt on all I need to do is unlace the upper two holes and either leave them open or re-lace them to hold the shirt closed.
I then hemmed the lower edge of the shirt by folding the edge to the seam allowance, then folding this cloth again to enclose the raw edge in the seam before running a simple straight stitch along it.
And there you have it – one Black Knight shirt in a Tudor-style to be worn under armour.
Estimated time for completion ~ 4 days.