Thursday, 2 November 2017

Flannel undershirt c. 1800

 I made an undershirt!
A few weeks ago I saw this on pinterest and thought "that looks like the coziest thing ever, I need one." And so I started one, and just finished it today.
 Undershirt belonging to Horatio Nelson, c. 1800, National Maritime Museum. 

Part of the description reads:
"The shirt is made of lightweight cream-coloured wool flannel. The skirt is of a heavier gauge wool flannel. The body is of four panels, the seams are finished with a combination of cross and herring bone stitch in white silk thread. The right sleeve is cut short and the edge is finished with blanket stitch. The collar is edged with linen tape. The shirt fastens in the front with seven dorset buttons which are supported by a strip of linen tape. The buttonholes are stitched into a wide stripe of cotton/linen tape. The right cuff is edged with narrow linen tape and fastens with a dorset button."
Back view of the original shirt.
 Amazing! Wonderful! I don't know how I hadn't noticed this shirt before, as I'd saved it on my undergarments board quite a while ago. (There's also another one from around the same time that's made of knitted wool fabric, but sadly I don't have any such materials.)

I based my pattern loosely on my frock coat pattern, as it's cut much more like a coat than a shirt. I found it surprising that it doesn't even have underarm gussets, but the range of motion is not too bad.
 Sadly, I have no wool flannel, so I cut my pieces from an old cotton flannel sheet. It was a very nice thick sheet, and pilled a bit but not discoloured at all. I used linen for the binding.

I didn't cut the skirt separately as I only had one weight of flannel, but I have since bought some flannel yardage and will make more warm undershirts!
 The main seams are sewn by machine, but there's a huge amount of hand finishing. Both the machine and hand sewing are done in silk thread. Like on the original, I left all the seam allowances on the outside and finished them with a herringbone stitch.
Back view of the shoulder.
It doesn't show up very well in this photo, but there's a lot of herringbone stitching here.
 The linen bindings are all machine sewn to the edge, and then turned down and whipstitched. The narrow strip the buttons attach to is entirely whipstitched on.
Buttonholes are also done by hand.
I made Dorset buttons from linen thread and tiny plastic rings. I love thread buttons! And in my opinion they're the very best activity to do while watching movies or television shows.
 The cuffs are bound in the same way, with another bit added on to the other side of the buttonhole opening.
I attached the linen first, and then cut the buttonhole through the flannel layer and sewed it.
 I was trying to be economical with my linen scraps, so I used two short strips for one cuff vent, and patched the end with another little rectangle.
 It's done! And it's warm! I love my new undershirt!
I've been more excited about this project than any other garment this year,
which I think is a pretty good sign that I need more warm clothes.

Lovely fitted sleeves that I can bend my elbow in.
 I do plan on making a few changes to the pattern before I cut out my next one though. It needs to be a tiny bit broader across the chest, a bit lower in the front of the neckline, and a few cm shorter so it's not so bulky and difficult to tuck in.
All in all I am thrilled with my wonderful flannel undershirt!

Update: It has proven comfortable enough to sleep in! Which I wasn't expecting from something so fitted.
I also put on a regular shirt over it today, and was VERY warm. I look forward to wearing this in the coldest part of winter.


  1. Yea... it looks nice and warm and cosy and not too costly. I love the buttons. Real beauties.
    Hugs, Mamoo

  2. That looks fantastic! If I were still up North, I'd definitely try making a few of these. Great job!

  3. Exquisite buttons ! Your flannel undershirt is just perfect with the cold weather coming . The history is so interesting . Well done for recreating your historical garment !