Raw edges

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IDEEDEE
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Raw edges

Post by IDEEDEE »

Not my usual period, but my interest has been sparked in the prevalence of "raw" (i.e unfinished) edges in British Army woollen uniforms, esp. 1770s to 1812ish (interest sparked by some original Continental Army uniforms seen on a recent visit stateside) and I wondered just how common this use of unfinished edges was (also, does this happen in other periods).

Having done some cursory investigation I get the impression that, for private soldiers at least, raw edges are far commoner than I had imagined (turn-backs, cuffs, collars, bottoms of greatcoats etc.). This seems counter-intuitive to me, even allowing for good quality wool and contractor cost-cutting, given the wear and tear on uniforms. However, I'm prepared to accept that my feeling could just be my "cultural baggage" cutting in (all of the clothes I've ever worn having been nicely hemmed etc.).

Also, I've never noticed this raw edge thing on the Napoleonic reenactment outfits I've seen (mainly, it has to be said, riflemen in beer tents) which have all given the impression of being very nicely "finished".

Thoughts/comment by folks better versed in these matters? Cheers.

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Neibelungen
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Re: Raw edges

Post by Neibelungen »

Raw edges on uniforms coats in the main, runs up to crimean period, and in many examples cases beyond to the 1900's. It's not specific to the uniform or rank, but to the quality and tightness of the weaving. 18th and 19th century fabrics are woven much tighter and with finer threads than later power looms . Because power looms ran faster and with more force than hand weaver, the threads needed to be stronger, and hence thicker to withstand the strain without breaking, plus constant breaking would reduce the spead and efficiency of the machines. What this means is that in the dressing process afterwards, the threads don't bind and lock so well, and hence ravel more.

Second to this, with the advent of machine sewing from 1860 onwards, the necessity of realy firm weave fabrics becomes less important as turning hems and edges becomes far less effort and cost effective. Added to this, post industrial revolution manufacturing, cost changes emphasis away from material being the most expensive component to labour. Sewing time becomes a major factor now

Todays finest fabrices (eg hainsworths doeskins and superfines) are just not in the same class as those made even 100 years ago. It's not that they can't weave them (they do, but it's termed piano cloth for cushioning the hammers and is sold as 1" wide strips), it's just that it's not economical. Some of the suitings in the 250 plus grades are akin to this kind of old style weave quality , but cost upward of £150 a meter. Not quite the same as your £6 a yard meltons.

I have in my own collection a mint un-nissue 1913 drummer boys tunic which is still raw edged on the skirts. Even officers tunics of that date still had raw edges.

To put it into context with other fabrics, Fine linen lawn (from a 1910 court stock and george 4th stock) were woven with around150- 200 threads to the inch. These days you struggle to find anything even in the 70 count range.


Modern re-enamect tunics are for the most part made by modern tailoring, and hence are made with a modern method. Mostly by people who come from theatrical backgrounds. That's still a whole different ball game as it's still modern dressmaking to look period. A lot learn, or try to learn the differences. A few don't. But then their selling to people who don't recognise or understand the differences either. Take any 18th centry or Napoleonic officer's/gentry coat and look for the canvassing and the padding inside. If it's not there and where it's meant to be, it's not a period coat, it's fancy dress. That said, there's a lot of theatre suff that's made a whole lot better than some of the abominations I've seen passed off as being period.

18th C and Napoleonics are particularly bad as even the tailoring (as much as it can be called that) is modern. Sleeve heads and collars are almost universally modern. Everybody seems to needs a paper pattern to work from... actual drafted patterns don't become used till at least the 1820's at the earliest. (eg, Hearn 1819? and Wyatt 1820/22)

It's most awfull in the gentry and officer's tunics. These would have been made by professional tailors and they worked on the body, canvassing, padding and stretching and steaming the fabric to fit. There's no pattern and no grading. There's probably not even a toile. What there are is layout diagrams and outline shapes, and the tailor would have worked with these , adjusting the cutting to the actual body, then making the cloth fit. Tailors pattern books don't give a pattern, they give the layout of style and position of button/ laces etc.

An officer's coat would have cost between £2,000 and £5,000 in todays money. If a re-enactor they spend £500 their pushing the boat out.

Soldiers uniforms were made in something like three sizes. Roughly a small, medium and large, but from reading accounts of the period, it didn't mean much and often the regimental tailor, or a company tailor who had the job of taking them apart and making them fit. Cost wise they were about £200 in todays terms, before lace & buttons.


What you see with re-enactment clothes is combination of modern dressmaking rather than re-construction, lack of knowledge of period tailoring, fabrics that can't replicate the way period fabrics worked and an unwillingness to spend money or time or effort getting it done properly.


It's one of my bugbears that there's a lot of shonky kit worn and dressed up as being authentic. Yes, it takes time and effort to learn, but a lot just don't seem to want to make the effort. Hopefully I've answered a few of your questions along the way and wound a few people up with the criticisms too.
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Lord Byron
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Re: Raw edges

Post by Lord Byron »

Neibelungen wrote:Raw edges on uniforms coats in the main, runs up to crimean period, and in many examples cases beyond to the 1900's. It's not specific to the uniform or rank, but to the quality and tightness of the weaving.

...

I have in my own collection a mint un-nissue 1913 drummer boys tunic which is still raw edged on the skirts. Even officers tunics of that date still had raw edges.
Modern red Guards tunics are still made with unfinished hems around the bottom of the tunic - used to own one that was about 10 years old at the time, and had suffered very minimal fraying in all that time.
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Re: Raw edges

Post by Havercake Lad »

Not much to add to the above observations. Though an added benefit of greatcoats etc without hems etc is that they dry faster as no water is retained by a hem at the bottom of a garment.
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IDEEDEE
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Re: Raw edges

Post by IDEEDEE »

Thanks guys - esp. Neibelungen, for an an in-depth and fascinating answer (and from someone with an obvious passion for their subject - great!).

Seems that (as so often) much of the answer "lies in the wool" (as per the old, how do you get your 15th century hose to fit debate) - andI certainly get what you mean about the cut and padding. I was trying on what was obviously a quality bespoke (for someone else, mark you) pre-war tail coat the other week. The cut and padding was such that it was immediatly flattering - even to my figure.

Many, many thanks.

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Neibelungen
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Re: Raw edges

Post by Neibelungen »

What a lot of people tend to forget, or not realise, is that even by as early as 1840, military tailoring was a completely seperate branch to civil tailoring.
Certainly by the 1890, it had it's own rules and methods for construction that were diferent, even if conducted by the same tailors. Sleeve-heads are different because they require a greater freedom of movement from the usual coat, even on elaborate full dress.

That said, if you try to make a uniform from an 1850's+ drafting instruction, you'll have a lot of dificulty making it fit properly to a modern figure. Few of us are brought up these days riding horses and fencing from an early age. So, while the basic human form hasn't changed, the overlying musculature is different, and our appreciation of whats comfortable and easy to wear is not the same. Much the same as corseting and victorian/edwardian dress, but more subtle.

Raw edges are there, not because it's quicker and easier, but because it wasn't neccessary to have turned edges. Their not laundered and washed in the same ways as today, so the fabrics don't suffer the damages. If you look at shirts, the stitching is very fine and all the edges are finished and usually felled closed. Linens get the full scrubbing and boiling tratment, so hence need the seams to protect the fabric edges from that. Linings in coats are often sewn in (at least the parts you don't see) much rougher so that they can be replaced and cleaned if required.

For me, this understanding of the why's (of construction), is the gap between accademic museum knowledge (the what) and the manufacturing (the how). It's the place that 'experimental archeology' and reconstruction/living history can attempt to fill. The academic mind can know everything about a sword, it's history and it's use it's manufacture etc. But if he's never swung it, tried to make it, or used it as it was intended, then there's some essential quality that is missing and is fundamental for the object.
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IDEEDEE
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Re: Raw edges

Post by IDEEDEE »

Just popped back to the forum. Again, massive thanks to Neibelungen - I've probably learned more about the principles of this period's clothes-making from the above posts than I did from several years of peering at museum cases and poring over "specialist" books/uniform plates/uniform guides in my Napoleonic wargaming/general interest phase of many moons ago.

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Re: Raw edges

Post by Dathi »

Lord Byron wrote:
Neibelungen wrote:Raw edges on uniforms coats in the main, runs up to crimean period, and in many examples cases beyond to the 1900's. It's not specific to the uniform or rank, but to the quality and tightness of the weaving.

...

I have in my own collection a mint un-nissue 1913 drummer boys tunic which is still raw edged on the skirts. Even officers tunics of that date still had raw edges.
Modern red Guards tunics are still made with unfinished hems around the bottom of the tunic - used to own one that was about 10 years old at the time, and had suffered very minimal fraying in all that time.

I have a 1950's OR Foot Guards Great coat and the bottom hem on the body was left raw. The coat is heavy as hell but windproof.... :)

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