Thursday, March 6, 2014

Making the Butterick 1890 Men's Shirt Pattern

Around age 10 or so when history became a tangible concept to me that I wanted to recreate, the first period that I automatically keyed in on was the 1880s. Not sure why, it just happened. And although most of the periods I have worked to recreate have been earlier, the drive to experience the material culture of the very late 19th century is still very much alive in me. So, a year or so ago, I ordered Past Patterns' reprint of Butterick's men's shirt pattern from 1890:

This is a straight reprint of the original with only the original instructions- not a modern pattern intended for modern sewers. The first time I opened it up and spread it out, I was overwhelmed and put it back away for months. But not too long ago, I got it back out with a more patient and determined attitude and could not be happier with the result:

So happy that if I don't make a couple more soon, this one is going to wear out- it gets incorporated into my day to day wardrobe as often as possible.

Two major things you need to know before getting started- the pieces are not labeled and the instructions are not legible enough and are too squished together to expect to be able to follow them effectively while making it up. They are also not as complete as a modern sewer may prefer so it helps if you have made a yoke back shirt before (in my case it was the 1920s repro pattern from EvaDress, which is also outstanding, but its instructions are actually much less complete).

My solution was to, first, transcribe the instructions with logical breaks to make following them more manageable (I will be happy to forward my transcription to you if you are undertaking this project). Luckily, there is a list of pattern pieces at the beginning, so it was just a matter of matching from there. The most major unexpected part of this for me was that, instead of grading one pattern piece for the different neck sizes (15, 15 1/2, 16), there are separate pieces for the top portion of the shirt front. You match the appropriate top with the one front for your size:

(Notice- they also lay opposite ways.) There is also a separate yoke piece for each size. For the collar band and the top portion of the collar, there are notches to indicate where to fold them over to achieve your size. I only applied the collar band as I wanted to be able to attach separate collars, but I found that the piece needed to be folded in another 7/8 of an inch in order to fit in the space provided (and my neck). 

Making tacks at what were perforation points on the original pattern is essential but do not cut the notches at the edges of the top piece or yoke piece- with the seam allowance being only 1/4", the cut out portion will not be enclosed in the seam. These notches are also not at all necessary for matching the pieces effectively.

The instructions for the front placket piece are impeccable and should be followed exactly. Also repeated for the similarly shaped piece on the sleeve.

For the cuff piece, I used a 1/2 inch seam allowance at the top instead of the specified 1/4 inch because it made it more closely correspond to the the dimensions of the cuff on the extant piece featured in William Brown III's Thoughts on Men's Shirts 1750-1900 and another extant piece on loan to me from a friend. Each extant garment also guided me on button placement for the cuff, which is set slightly back from center (for more observations on that, see this post on my other blog):

I also used these two extant shirts to determine how I fit the cuff to the sleeve piece- both had a small gathered portion in the center and pleats on either side. Fitting the yoke is better explained, which only involves a gathered portion on each side:

You see here, too, that I also added a button hole in the center back for passing a stud through to attach separate collars. There should also be a buttonhole on each side of the front of the collar band.

Here are some of my collar studs- on the left are a pair that were a Christmas gift from Amy from Mr. Alan Jeffries Fine Gentlemen's Apparel  and on the right are some of my antique china pieces.

I used advertisements from the 1890s to determine a common quantity of buttons on the front (3 seemed reasonably standard) and placed them accordingly. They are all antique china buttons:

If you are intending to use separate collars for this shirt, I recommend using either Timeless Stitches TSM-716 Collars and Cuffs for Men:

Or one of the excellent collars offered ready made from Amazon Dry Goods (which I am wearing here, accompanied by Fred the cat):

If you have a few shirts under your belt, I highly recommend this pattern. Beyond the great result, it is a wonderful experience knowing that you are working with the same resource that stitchers in the 1890s were. If you have any problems, please drop me a line!

Yours &c.

The Victorian Man


  1. Hello Victorian Man, It was fun to read your comments re my 1890 man's shirt pattern and how you adapted it to fit. The envelope has been typed so that the text is now clear. Thanks, S., dba PP

    1. Thank you so much Saundra! I always enjoy working with your patterns, both new and reprinted. This one was especially rewarding!