Tuesday, November 2, 2010

18th C. Child's Shirt from Wyman Collection

A child's shirt

Firstly I would like to apologise for this photo. It has no scale or visual reference to its size. So let me explain, this shirt would have been for a very small child, perhaps the size of a one or two year old today. It is 33cm from the top of the shoulder to the bottom of the hem, and 49 cm form one end of the sleeve to the other. When I first received this shirt, from the descendant of Mrs. W.H. Wyman, it was sewn together with 2 other garments, to a paper label which read: "Hand-made lawn shirts, and knitted shirt - 1702. Exhibited by Mrs. W.H. Wyman. Olvondale or Orondale S.." I could not quite make out the spelling, does any of the family know which it is? Unfortunately the label does not state when or where the items were exhibited, but the family may know when Mrs. Wyman lived at Olvondale.

The shirt had been stored for many years sewn to the label, and has some heavy creases in it, and this would be the first time for many a time, that it would have been seen lying flat like this.

The label states that the two shirts are lawn, but I have my doubts about that. The fabric this shirt is made from has a rough hand, that feels more like linen than cotton. It may be a very worn, fine linen, that has the weight of a cotton lawn.

The shirt is very finely sewn, completely by hand. The shirt pattern pieces are rectangles, cut like an English countryman's smock, or a Japanese kimono, from a length of fabric without any waste. This was a time when fabric was valuable, and often still woven on hand looms.

Both sleeves are delicately pleated, with the pleats sewn in place on both the armhole and the narrow cuff. I want to make a shirt for myself with sleeves like this, I think it would be wonderful. The cuff has two buttonholes, rather than a button and buttonhole. Do any of my academic darlings know how this cuff would have been fastened?

The shirt is skillfully made, there are no raw edges, all the seams are finished beautifully. The collar is a single layer of fabric, illustrating to us again, that his shirt was made in a time when fabric was extremely valuable and expensive.

Did you notice the leaf green top stitching around the neckline and cuffs? At first I thought it was a simple row of running stitches. However as I looked more closely, I saw it was a couched thread. This garment is sewn differently to anything I have seen before, it is an absolute delight, and I think it is possible that it could be dated to the early 1700's.

The Underside of the Shirt


  1. Wow amazing to see it opened out. I guess the green 'couching' stitching would have been for aesthetics. It is so tiny and must have taken a lot of time to do. It looks like it is a shirt for a male child, and in that era male children were highly valued. I feel a bit sorry for the child who would have worn it because if you say that the material would have been expensive I bet he wasn't allowed to play freely when wearing it. And it is really clean for its age. It was probably worn only on special occasions. I love the fine pleating on the sleeve too. It actually would have been a great design for play clothes as it would allow easy movement in it.

  2. I agree that it does appear to have been made for a boy. the shirt pattern is very similar to smocks that were worn by men at this time. I will do a blog about them, they are cool.

  3. What an utterly delightful garment. I'm so envious of you right now!

    I wonder if the decorative couching stitch is to preserve more expensive thread, or because the green thread was too thick to be pulled through the fabric?

    The double button cuffs fasten with a ribbon - you just run it through both holes and tie it.

    Linen makes much more sense as an 18th century fabrics. Cotton was still very, very rare until the late 18th century, especially plain, fine cotton.

    And that's all I know! I really, really would love to see this in person!

  4. Thank you Leimomi for that information. If you would like to see the garments in person, I am sure that could be arranged when you are in Tauranga.