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The Pattern | Cutting and Sewing | Finishing Touches


The doublet is the standard male upper body garment. Its shape and its details vary during the sixteenth century, but, whatever you're aiming for, the garment can be constructed in a fairly standard manner. The garment illustrated is really only suitable for the last three or four decades of the sixteenth century - notes for an earlier period doublet will follow. But, once you've got the hang of the concept you'll be able to tweak your pattern to make pretty much any garment you like.

The doublet is the male equivalent of the bodice and, apart from being unboned, is constructed in much the same way. So if you're struggling to understand these notes, it's worth looking the page describing bodice construction to see if that helps. Like the bodice, this is a wool garment lined with linen; and, like the bodice, the first stage is to craft your pattern.

What you'll need

  • One male torso, preferably the one the doublet is intended to fit, plus another pair of hands to help with the fitting.
  • One old shirt, of the sort worn for school uniform. This must be made of non-elastic material, and it helps if the collar size is about right. It doesn't matter if it's long or short sleeved.
  • Pins.
  • Scissors.
  • A pen.
  • A length of string or knitting wool.
  • A sense of humour.
  • Two pieces of thin card, of the sort used in schools to mount kids' art-work.

Getting started.

My hapless victim is shown to the left. Before getting started, it's worth having a good look at him to see how his silhouette differs from the Tudor ideal.

The first, and most obvious, distinction between Tudor and 21st century clothing is the fit. Modern clothing is typically much baggier than it's literally tailor-made Tudor equivalents. This bagginess is called the ease: modern garments are a minimum of two inches larger than the body that they're intending to fit, and t-shirts such as our model is wearing may be very much bigger than that. Doublets, on the other hand, were made to fit snugly. So, if the garment is fitting correctly, it may feel significantly tighter than you're used to.

The second difference isn't that obvious in this picture, because his tshirt and jeans are both very dark colours. But modern clothing is cut with the waistband slung well below the natural waist, sometimes as low as the hips. The Tudor figure is different. The doublet finishes at the natural waist - alarmingly high to modern eyes - although the front may drop to a point beneath it. This difference is important: make your doublet too long and, not only will it not look right, it'll bunch up uncomfortably. That happens because the male body widens slightly below the waist, and there isn't enough space in a tightly fitting doublet to lie smoothly over that.

So the first stage in getting a pattern is to strip off, eyeball your torso, and find your natural waist. This is typically the narrowest part of the body, and it's the point you bend from. To find it, bend to the right and put your right hand in the point at which you crease. That's your natural waist. Tie the length of string around your body to mark this point. I've done this in the photo to the right. It should be obvious just how much above the waist-band of my model's trousers that this point is.

Making your pattern

The traditional method of draping a pattern involves taking large rectangles of fabric and pinning them to shape around the body. I tried this once and, other than the obvious pleasure of having an excuse to wrap my arms around my beloved's body, it sucked. I found it really difficult to figure what went where, and the pattern ended up an uneven mess that needed plenty of adjusting to get it right.

Recently, a friend suggested using an old shirt as a basis for the pattern. I tried it, and it worked brilliantly. A shirt is already in the right ball-park, it's obvious which end is up, and the thing can be unbuttoned and taken on and off for adjusting really easily.

The first stage is to cut the sleeves off. You don't need these, so they can be discarded. Then take a close look at the collar. It should be made of two bits: the collar itself, and a strip of fabric about an inch wide joining collar to shirt. Cut off the collar, leaving that strip intact.

Our model is wearing the shirt in this state. Now, there are several problems with it right now. The first is that it's as unflattering as hell, but I'm not concerned about that. The second is that it's far too loose, and it's that that needs to be fixed first.

It's here you get out the pins. Using the side seam of the shirt as a guide, pin up left and right til the whole thing fits rather more snuggly. Our model doesn't look overly happy about me waving pins at him, although I can't imagine why that would be. It's important to keep left and right as even as possible. You'll never be able to get that 100% correct, but the more even you can keep things at this stage, the less correcting you'll need to do later on.

In the picture to the left, you can see the back-view. The folds where I've pinned the excess are clearly visible, and you can also see where I've begun to correct the second problem. The shirt was much too long. I've hacked it off so it's an inch or so below the bit of string I've used to mark the waist. I'll shorten it a bit more later but, for now, it gets the gross excess out of the way.

I've done a similar thing at the front. I want this doublet to have a point. I don't want it to be anything like as extreme as this but at this stage I don't want to remove too much, because it's difficult to put the fabric back later. The left hand picture shows the shirt with just one side adjusted; the right shows it when both have been cut to match.

If you compare the left and right sides of the picture to the left, you may be able to see another difference. The original shirt, once the sleeves had been removed, stuck out quite widely across the shoulders. The next stage is to reshape the armholes. I do this by drawing on the shirt with a biro, taking it off and trimming it to my line, then replacing and rechecking it. The armhole should be relatively snug fitting, but shaped so it doesn't interfere with the movement of the arm. It'll tend to settle into creases where it's in the way; those creases are a good guide to where you need to trim things back. The back of the shirt will need trimming in much the same fashion but, because most people stick their arms forward more than they do back, it won't need to be trimmed so much.

If you look at the image above and right, you may be able to see another problem. The front of the shirt is settling into folds which are just perfect for a pair of man-boobs. The picture to the left shows a closeup of the same thing. Although I could make our model a pair of falsies to fill the space, I'm not sure he'd appreciate it, so, instead, I need to get rid of that excess fabric.

I do this by putting a seam at the top of the shoulder. That draws up the excess fabric and removes that ugly fold.

My shirt already has a shoulder seam, but it's in the wrong place. It's sitting an inch or so in front of the shoulder but I want my seam to be right on top. It's just a question of pinning the fabric together til it looks right.

The image to the left shows one shoulder pinned. The difference should, I hope, be obvious. The left hand side fits smoothly over the body and doesn't collapse into that ugly fold. Now, though, it's obvious that the armhole will need curving a little more if it's not to get in the way of him bringing his arm forward.

Once one side is finished, I adjust the other side to match.

The bulk of the work is done. It's now a question of tweaking things, really, until they're correct. I start by trimming the back of the doublet until it lies precisely on the cord that's marking the natural waist. Again, it's clear just how far that is above what we're used to thinking of as the waist. Next, I shape the bottom front of the doublet. I do this by drawing in how I want the point to fall and then cutting along that line. I cut the bulk of the excess fabric from the side seams and repin them until everything looks right.

Once I'm happy, I draw over all the seams with a biro. Remember the seam has two sides - one on each piece of fabric - and it's important to mark both.

At the shoulder things are a little more complicated. Again, draw along the pin-line on each side of the fold of fabric you've made. You'll end up drawing two lines - one on the back of the shirt and one on the front - that meet at a point where the shirt meets the collar. Draw a line from this point across the width of the collar and right-angles to its edges. This line is important, later, when you come to cut the collar out.

Take the shirt off and trim the pieces along the lines you've just drawn. You'll end up with three pieces: a back, a left-front and a right-front. The back piece is finished. On the front pieces, you'll need to seperate the collar from the body of the shirt.

The paper pattern.

At the moment, your pattern consists of five slightly ratty pieces of shirt. That's not ideal either for storing the pattern, or for cutting the fabric out accurately. So the next stage is to transfer the pattern onto card.

Start by laying the front pieces on top of each other. In an ideal world they'd be identical, but, alas, life is rarely that simple. Note where they differ: the aim is to produce a pattern shape that is half-way between the two. If they're pretty close then place one shirt piece on a piece of card, draw round it, and adjust it by eye. If they differ too much it may help to draw around one, then place the other in the same place on the card and draw around it, before marking a third outline between the two. The greater the adjustment neccessary at this stage, then the less accurate your pattern is, and the more likely you'll need to adjust the fit of the doublet further along the line.

Next, repeat the process with the back panel. Here, you want the left and right hand sides to be equal. I find it easiest to do this by drawing around the entire back panel, cutting out the card replica and folding it in half lengthwise. Then I can eyeball where the two sides differ and trim or add to my card template to match.

Finally, draw around the collar front part.

At this stage, you're trying to make an exact cardboard duplicate of your shirt bits, with left and right side discrepancies ironed out. At no stage do you need to add seam allowance. If you don't know what seam allowance is, don't worry - you don't need to.

When this is done, you'll have three pattern pieces: a back, a front, and a front collar piece. The back collar is attatched to the back piece and is cut with it. My pattern pieces are shown to the right, in roughly the positions relative to each other that they'll end up in in the finished garment. Note that the back piece is for half the doublet back. When I come to cut out the back of the doublet, I simply flip this pattern over and mark out a mirror image.

Finally, I write the garment, date, and pattern piece on the bits of card so, if I ever want to use them again, I know what they are!

The hard work is done. The next stage is to get out the fabric and start on actually making the doublet.