I have always admired the simple elegance of 18th and 19th century riding habits. They were practical, sturdy garments but with undeniable air of sophistication and grandeur. Especially the 18th century ones- How can a girl resist one of these?
sir Joshua Reynolds, Lady Worsley, 1776
riding coat, Victoria and Albert muesum, around 1760
More habit pictures across the ages on the Pinterest board…
So when I stared learning how to ride side-saddle, I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to make one. My heart was set on the later 18th century one, found in Victoria and Albert museum.
It was made in glazed red wool, lined with glazed linen and faced with wool.
Since I intend to use my habit for hunting, red wasn’t the best option – too similar to the pink coats of the hunt service folks! Dark green was the second best choice.
The materials I used were:
Thick wool for the jacket – 2 m- I chose to make the jacket thicker than the skirt mostly because of the temperatures one faces during winter hunting
2 metres of left over wool for toile
4 metres of regular wool for the skirt and waistcoat
6 metres of silk taffeta
0.5 metre of linen for the waistcoat
16 buttons for the waistcoat
35 buttons for the jacket
Gold metallic braid for the decoration ( I used up about 6 metres)
Gold metallic thread and some embroidery silks
Silk and linen threads for stitching.
The whole outfit was hand stitched – but obviously if you prefer modern techniques, machine can be used to save up on time!
That was the easiest part. . I made mine out of a big rectangle of fabric, lined with silk and cartridge pleated to a narrow waistband. You can fins detailed instructions in my article on the 17th cent banqueting gown – I used the very same techniques – though I made the hem folded deeper and lining is shorter. (http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/historicalperiods/medievalrenaissance/417-a-banqueting-gown
I could not actually see much of the waistcoat worn with the original habit, but I found images of a very similar one and used them as my inspiration. Apart from the collar, both waistcoats seem to be double breasted and the cut wouldn’t be that different.
riding habit waistcoat around 1790 victoria and albert museum
riding habit waistcoat back
It was relatively easy to work out the pattern from the pictures I cut toile first, experimented with it and amended it till I was satisfied with the fit. I wanted mine to fit me with or without stays, which was a bit tricky. I decided to line the front layer with wool as well – as it can get quite cold on longer rides! The back is made of two layers as well, though this time of linen .
I started work on the back first – stitched the top and lining layer together at centre back ( leaving about 4 inches undone – that’s when the two parts will be joined later) and bottom hem, turned over and pressed. Repeat on the other half of the back. Once ready, stitch them together at the top and worked the eyelets in linen thread. Lace them together – it is easier to work with the bits being laced instead of flapping around.
Next, add the two fronts on each side – only the top layer first, on both sides. Try it on and make sure the front is flat and the lapels are even.
Add the collar – I interlined mine with buckram to make sure it looks and is as still as the original seems to be, and lined it with wool. Once the collar is in place, you can line the front with another wool layer. Finish off the inside seams and the hem, put it on and mark the position of the buttons and buttonholes.
Buttons are a story into itself.
I couldn’t find any decent metal buttons that would be correct for the period, so decided to cover and embroider my buttons for both the waistcoat and the jacket. In the hindsight, I should probably have allowed for a more time – they do take quite some time!
I used the same cloth I made the waistcoat and skirts from. I divided it into small squares, each big enough to cover the button plus some extra, and stretched it on a tapestry frame
button making, cloth stretched on a tapestry frame
button making, cloth stretched on a tapestry frame and divided into squares
I worked in stages
- Make a loop using a thick gold thread – make several in one go. My loop was long enough to go around the button twice.
- Couch the loop down with silk thread – took me ages!
- Embroider the stems with green silk thread
- Embroider the flower in yellow silk thread
I worked on several buttons at the same time – I would make around 6 or 7 and then start the process all again.
looping the gold thread to form the outline of the button
loops, couching and embroidery
cloth taken off the frame
When the embroidery is finished, detach the fabric from the frame and cut the fabric along the lines. You now have lots of squares with embroidered bit on it. Put your button (I used flat wooden ones) on the left side of the square, covering the embroidered bit. Trim the rest of the fabric so that there is enough left to cover the button. Now you have a circle of fabric – use it on other square pieces so that you do not need to measure things up every time. To cover the button, sew a running stitch near the edge, place the button inside and pull on the thread. Stitch the edges together. More detailed instructions can be found here:
Work the buttonholes and sew the buttons, and the waistcoat is ready.
I had to be bit creative with the pattern. I did not have access to a detailed pattern for a habit from that period, so decided to adapt the slightly earlier one from Janet Arnold. I simply changed the front by adding lapels and adapting the shape of the skirt.
I must add that originally, working strictly from the picture, I couldn’t see any waist seam – so I cut my jacket without one. However, 400 Years of Fashion, presenting the V&A collection states that there is a waist seam… which means I will have to remodel the jacket. Oh well…. If you want to make skirts separate, just follow the pattern from Janet Arnold!
As always, cut out the toile first. – I this instance it was even more important than usual, as I wasn’t using a pattern I was familiar with or a commercial pattern – I had to check if the fabric hung and fitted correctly. That was why I decided to use a thicker fabric for the toile – calico toile would no doubt make it easy to see the fit, however it could not mimic the behaviour of heavy and stiff wool. To achieve that, I used bits of older, low quality wool I had. And it worked! I basted the pieces together – I included the sleeves since I wanted them to fit closely but somehow allow me quite a lot of freedom of movement – and checked the fit. It needed some adjustments, so I undid the relevant seams, corrected the cut and basted the seams again. I had to repeat the procedure twice before I was satisfied, and then I simply undid the basting and used it as a template for cutting out the top layer and the lining.
I started with top layer, stitching first the back and then the sides and the shoulder seams. I left the skirts un-pleated – I will do the pleating once the lining is in place.
hand sewn side seam detail
Lapels- you have a choice how you want your lapels and buttons done: you can either have real buttonholes on them and sew the buttons to the jacket, so that they do button back – or have a fake buttonhole/button arrangement and secure the lapels with hooks and eyes. Mine are the former.
I market the buttonholes and the line for the braid decoration. I cut the line – just enough to allow for the button – and worked around it to prevent fraying. Then I added the gold braid decoration. Having finished with the lapels, you can now sew on the buttons.
The next step was to make and add the sleeves I stitched the two part sleeve together, right sides together, leaving the cuff part unstitched at that point. I turned the sleeve out, with right sides up, and then finished the cuff – so that when it is turned back, the good side of the seam shows. Proceed to add the buttonholes/button decoration – again, you can have either false ones or the functional option and I opted for the functional way – real buttonholes and buttons on the main sleeve. Repeat on the other sleeve and when finished, set it into the armhole.
The pockets were next. Start with the pocket itself – mines are from silk. Cut out and stitch the two layers together. (pic.26) Mark the position of the pocket on the skirts, and cut the opening matching the opening of the pocket. Turn the pocket out, so that the left side is out, and set it into the slit, carefully securing the silk to the wool
Pocket flaps – cut them out, making sure they are a bit longer than the actual pocket slit, line them, it you want to, and add the buttonhole/ decoration. Pin it in place and stitch them to the skirts with a strong linen thread.
sewing the pocket in…
Lining – stitch all the lining together – back first, then front and sleeves and set into the jacket. Pin carefully and let it hang together for a while. Adjust the pining at the hem if necessary and sew it in – at the front, neck hem, the cuffs (or rather before the turn back cuffs start).
Collar was next – again, I made a mock up collar first and experimented with it until i was satisfied with the way it looked together with the lapels. I stitched it to the jacket, lined with another layer of wool and worked the buttonholes so that it buttons down to the jacket.
All that remains now is pleating the vents – I did it precisely as shown in Janet Arnold, and secured them with the buttons and then added buttons at the top, purely for decoration.
Your habit is now ready – all you need it the undergarments, boots, gloves and a tricorn – and a –hunting you can go!
Here pictured at End Audley Hall – it was rather frosty on the day, with minus temperatures, and yet the wool kept me warm and snug.
This article was originally published in Your Wardrobe Unlock’d over a two years ago – and looking back at it from the time perspective I think i need to make another one, updated…. maybe the earlier version? still have enough of the green wool to make a 1760 jacket…. 🙂
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion, Macmillan, New York, 1984
400 Years of Fashion, V&A Publishing, London, 2010
Craftpudding, http://www.craftpudding.com/2007/06/covered-button-tutorial.html [accessed 28/01/11]
V&A museum online: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/ [accessed 28/01/11]