A Trans-Mississippi Jacket
by Christopher Daley
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response to hundreds of e-mails from my good friends who
find themselves portraying Confederates of the far west, I
looked into a few jackets to reproduce for our
Trans-Mississippi hobbyists. I have settled on producing
one from Don Troiani's collection. The jacket was
originally worn by a Brit serving in Confederacy who took
the jacket home with him after the war. He then donated
the jacket to the Royal Artillery Museum in 1905 until it
was later sent to the United States in the 1990s.
believe this jacket to be a product of mass production.
While the depot or contractor may never be known, the
jacket exhibits many construction details that lead me to
believe that it was more of a product of the ready-made
industry produced in large quantities rather than a
homespun jacket made by a sewing circle. With the
exception of some details like the buttonholes, the entire
jacket is sewn by a chain stitch sewing machine. Other
construction details like how the pockets were set, how
the jacket was hemmed and how the body panels were sewn
are all the result of tailors figuring out the
best/quickest way to put the jacket together. Time is
money in both the 1860s and the 21st Century and I'm sure
they were more concerned with making a bomb proof and
sturdy jacket in a time efficient manner, than making a
work of art.
jacket has a 4 piece body, but it appears to be a 6 piece
body as there is a dart under the arm that runs from the
hem of the coat to just under the arm. This
is typical of many 1840s frock coats I've seen where they
began to insert a dart into the side of the coat which
eventually evolved by the 1860s into a 6 piece body frock
instead of a 4 piece. The reason for the dart rather than
cutting a separate panel piece for this particular coat I
believe is yet another cost saving measure. All the body
panels are sewn, pressed to one side, then machine
topstitched for strength. This could have been done to
insure the life of the jacket given the unreliability of
some chain stitch machines in the 1860s. It must have
worked as the jacket is in GREAT shape today. The jacket
has a two piece sleeve and the rear seam is topstitched
like the body panels, but the front is just pressed open.
is one inside pocket which was set in sort of oddly. The
right side was set into the facing, the left into the dart
in the lining and the bottom was set into the hem. Another
cost saving measure to put in a functional pocket rather
than an esthetically pleasing one.
are several challenges in reproducing what would seem to
be such a simple jacket to produce. The pattern and actual
construction are simple enough and we've already drafted
the patterns, but the first challenge is the material. The
lining is a heavy, heavy cotton osnaburg which we are
having woven this month. The big fabric challenge is the
body material. It is a plain woven (tabby weave) with a
one over one weave. This means it's not a jean cloth and
nothing on the market today resembles this cloth. Both the
cotton and wool yarns are very heavy and could account for
why the jacket today is in such good condition. We've
found a weaver who is willing to take on this custom
project. The yarns are being ordered this month and
weaving should begin later this winter.
challenge is the machine itself. We just acquired a period
Chain stitch machine and have sent it off to be restored.
This may take a few weeks, but when finished it'll
replicate the stitch exactly.
challenge is the buttons. The original had cast Pelican
buttons on them, but there doesn't seem to be authentic
repro of this button out there and there doesn't seem to
be a button maker willing to make a small run of these
buttons. I'm still not sure what buttons the jacket will
come with. We'll keep working on this dilemma while we
await the fabric to arrive.
My goal is to
start the production later this winter. Of course our
newsletter subscribers will be the first to know when the
exact launch date is for this product.