The Town Crier Project

 

While I was busy with another big project (Hotel California), I was rung up by a gentleman called Gez Clarke, the new Town Crier of Lenham.  Gez was after a new town crier's outfit to go with his new post, and while the budget was limited, he accepted that to do a proper job would take good quality work and need a bit of research...

I put out a call on a number of news groups, some of which had helpful suggestions, some of which did not, and one of which seemed totally moribund!  In the end we settled on an outfit based on a gentleman's' coat of about 1750.  I found some patterns that looked good, and the right fabric, and started ordering...

I bought the patterns from Patterns of Time, and they were reasonably fast and efficient in their dispatch, and it wasn't their fault at all that one of the patterns was a complete lemon in the instructions department!  The other two made up for it by being excellent in all but one particular, and that was easily sorted!

The fabric was a treat to buy, and Abimelech Hainsworth a dream company to order from!  We Bought 6 meters of their scarlet barathea, and 2.5 meters of black dress barathea.  When I ordered it, I was told it would be here 'a week next Tuesday'.  I was ordering on Thursday afternoon, so that was no problem: Easter weekend was coming up, and I had things to do...  I came back from a trip to town the following Tuesday (the one BEFORE Easter weekend!) to find the parcel waiting for me on the front door step.  It was filthy!  It was extremely well wrapped by AH, but had been flung around in a dirty van, and was more black than white by the time I got it!  It had also been abandoned on my doorstep, with the delivery note stuck into (but not all the way through) my letter box.  This was 150 worth of fabric, so I wasn't best pleased with the carriers, I'm telling you!  I had to wash the parcel before I dared open it!  Inside was my lovely black barathea, but the scarlet bit was...  KHAKI!!!  AAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!

I got on the phone to AH straight away, and the nice gent I spoke to was very apologetic, and didn't know how he'd come to make the mistake, as he remembered our conversation when I ordered it quite clearly!  He promised to send out a new bit of the right colour by Thursday, and it duly arrived.  The carrier took back the khaki bit, and I had the replacement for the error BEFORE the fabric was due!  WOW!!  AH were really nice to deal with too, so despite the error I shall have no problem dealing with them again.

I ordered the Lining for the coat from Sidtrim, a nice company in Leeds, who have forgiven me for forgetting to send them a cheque for the parcel!  The lining for the waistcoat was some of a piece of heavy polyester satin backed dupion that I got from Hartley's Mail order, and the hair canvas came from Croft Mill.  We weren't going for a totally authentic look, but we wanted something that was a lot better than you usually see on a town crier.  As it also has to withstand some fairly heavy wear, I felt that a good compromise between all traditional 18th C sewing techniques and modern machine stitching was the way to go.  It worked, so Gez and I were both happy!

This is how I did it!

dscf0004.jpg (58862 bytes) This breeches pattern was the correct style for what we wanted to do, but it had some major faults.  The sizing had  obviously been applied by computer to a hand drawn original by a person who didn't know how to use their drawing package, and it was a bit crude.  None of the pieces has a grain line on, and there is no cutting layout to guide you.  The drawings had been done by someone who had no drawing skills and couldn't sew!  Thanks to some very helpful advice gained over the internet, coupled with considerable sewing skills of my own, some imagination, and a wild leap of faith, I made a decent fist of it in the end!  I will never buy another pattern from this particular pattern company again, I swear!
dscf0006.jpg (70169 bytes) The coat was an altogether different experience!  The pattern had been properly sized, the instructions were clear in all but one particular, and the diagrams were excellent.  Though the copy I had wasn't big enough, it was an easy job to add where I needed to.  You can see my 'cut and paste' efforts in the picture!
dscf0017.jpg (137905 bytes) I added a piece of hair canvass and some pad stitching to the front to give a little more support for the very heavy buttons, and the lacing we were adding...  These are my fingers at work on the inside of the front of the coat!
dscf0016.jpg (83491 bytes) Finished pad stitching on the inside of the waistcoat: we needed the same level of support throughout as we were using the same large buttons everywhere!
dscf0005.jpg (83532 bytes) This experimental stitching was an attempt to make what looked like hand stitched buttonhole stitch by machine.  With 240 stitch patterns at my disposal, the ability to flip them in both vertical and horizontal planes, and to re-size them almost infinitely, there had to be something I could use!
Back Vent stitching.jpg (54689 bytes) And this is where it went!  The back vent had a raw edge left on the outside, and the instructions for dealing with it were missing.  I emailed the pattern producers, and they were VERY helpful: this bit was usually finished with either a buttonhole type stitch, or covered by braid.  I think my 'mock buttonhole stitch' works just fine, and it went through all the layers, fixing them together, and is much stronger than a hand worked stitch.  To tidy up the inside, I sewed a patch of barathea over it by hand and pressed it flat.
dscf0014.jpg (91371 bytes) Edge stitching the waistcoat pocket flap: precision sewing!
Pocket flap.jpg (94129 bytes) The pocket flap in place!  I did the buttonholes later, but it might have been easier to do them in the pocket flaps before they were attached.
dscf0020.jpg (82814 bytes) Sewing on all the lovely Naval Rank Tape we got from the Wyedean Weaving Company, who make all sorts of tapes and insignia for the military, and for re-enactors all over the world.  Another very helpful company with charming staff.
Braided coat.jpg (69774 bytes) The coat, finished except for the buttons!  I never did put buttonholes in the coat, as it was never intended that Gez button it!  I followed advice from historical sources, and put a couple of hooks on it at chest level to stop it flapping in the breeze.  Gez and I both felt it made sense to try this option first, and do buttonholes later if we felt they'd be better.
dscf0025.jpg (135457 bytes) The Buttons!  These are beautiful Celtic knotwork pewter things about 2.6cm across!  They weigh about 12g each, so by the time I'd sewn them on, the coat was half a kilo heavier than it started!  They came from a lovely lass called Jo Cooper, who cast them for us in a special rush as we were in a hurry and she didn't have enough in stock!  Well done, Jo!  There will be a picture of them in situ soon...
hat.jpg (91691 bytes) We has hat problems!  Eventually we had to order a hat from the USA.  It's a very nice hat from Smiling Fox Forge, and it looks very good with the braid on.  It cost $40, plus another $20 to get it airmailed, and then 12.50 in duty!
Piping the hat.jpg (28366 bytes) After sewing all this braid round the edge, I had to reshape the hat a bit, to fit Gez's very oval head, and to get the brim to curl the way he liked it...  You can do wonders with a steaming kettle!
shirt.jpg (48590 bytes) The shirt was a doddle after all the hard sewing of the other pieces!  The pattern consists of a lot of rectangles... and two triangles!  The instructions were easy to follow, and well illustrated.  This was no great surprise, as it came from the same company as made the coat pattern.
Shirt frill.jpg (38542 bytes) The frills were done by rolling the edges on the serger!  NOT good practice for a period piece, but durable for a large town crier!

I will post pictures of Gez in his natty suiting as soon as:

1: I get the pictures!

2: I have the photographer's permission!

I believe there were some done for a local newspaper, so it would be nice to use them if I can.  If not, I'll drag Gez up here, and we'll do some in the church yard!

This whole project was experimental for me, but it was also a lot of fun.  It didn't really feel like hard work, as using such good quality materials was so nice!  All the companies who supplied goods for this project are or will soon be on my Fabric List.  If you don't see them, just ask and I'll send you the details.

Happy sewing!

Kate

May 2002

 

Help!  a whole FIVE YEARS on and I've just found a picture of Gez in his natty suit!  Here you go:

 

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