CONSERVATION OF A MILITARY TUNIC INCLUDING THE USE OF GUIDE THREADS FOR POSITIONING REPAIRS
JAN VUORI, & ROBIN HANSON
2 2. DESCRIPTION
The tunic is constructed of a fine, red, 1/1 plain-weave fulled wool (24 weft/cm and 32 warp/cm). After the cloth was woven, removed from the loom, and scoured to remove the oils used in spinning, the fulling process was carried out both to felt the cloth and to shrink it. Fulling involved the use of an alkali solution and mechanical action and was a British specialty (Mann 1971; Jenkins 1972).
The tunic has an eight-button center front closure, standard at the time this tunic was worn, standing collar, fitted waist seam, full skirt with center back vent opening, and two-piece tailored sleeves. The collar and cuffs are constructed of 1/1 plain-weave fulled wool (22 weft/cm and 22 warp/cm) in the regimental facing color of navy blue. All seams appear to be hand-stitched.
The tunic front opening, collar, cuffs, and slashed panels on the cuffs and rear vent all are finished with piping made of an off-white, balanced, 1/1 plain-weave fulled wool (22 weft/cm and 22 warp/cm). The cut edges of both the red and white fulled fabric in the interior of the tunic and along the bottom of the skirt are not turned under or finished in any way. There is no need because the cut edges of these heavily fulled fabrics do not ravel.
The collar is constructed of three layers, an outer facing layer of navy blue wool, a middle, stiffening layer of leather, and an inner layer of dark green silk. A layer of dark green-brown wool-cotton fabric, added on the inside, appears to have been a later replacement because the stitching is not as fine and the same attention to detail is not seen here as in the rest of the garment. Specifically, the lower edge of the collar facing does not end where expected but rather extends into the torso area of the tunic lining.
Eight domed, silver-plated shank buttons measuring 2.6 cm in diameter are attached along the proper right (PR) center front of the tunic, and eight corresponding hand-stitched buttonholes appear along the PL center front of the tunic. The buttons depict, in relief, a crown at the top, the royal cipher of Queen Victoria (VR) in the center, and a garland of laurel leaves around the lower circumference. The back of the buttons contains a maker's mark: Struthers & Carlisle/St. Catherine's (Ontario).
A metal hook-and-eye closure is located at the top front of the tunic where it joins the collar. By the mid-1860s, this tunic would have been worn buttoned all the way up with the hook and eye fastened. It was not considered fashionable to have the shirt showing, and the presence of the hook and eye would have ensured that the shirt did not show. Three buttons are attached to the slashed panel on each sleeve cuff as well as to the two slashed panels on either side of the rear vent. The functioning buttons along the front opening are stitched with thick thread through the red wool of the tunic, which has been reinforced with a piece of the same red wool (1 cm in diameter) inserted beneath. This feature is not apparent on the purely decorative (i.e., nonfunctioning) buttons on the cuffs and rear vent. A smaller button (2 cm in diameter) bearing the same design is attached near the collar at one end of a shoulder cord on the PL shoulder. This shoulder cord consists of a braided red silk cord that extends from the armhole seam to the neck seam and serves to keep the sash, another part of an officer's uniform, in place.
Silver lace decorates the collar, cuffs, and rear vent. Only on close examination does it become apparent that two different silver laces with very similar weave patterns have been used. One pattern of silver lace outlines the collar and cuffs and forms a three-pointed decorative element around the buttons on the slashed panels on the cuffs and rear vent. A second pattern of lace outlines the slashed panels on the cuffs and rear vent and forms a second row on the cuffs. The two lace patterns are illustrated in figure 3, the PR cuff, and are labeled A and B respectively.
Proper right cuff before treatment, trimmed with two patterns of silver lace, labeled as A and B. Courtesy of Canadian Conservation Institute
The two patterns of lace are attached in slightly different manners. The cut ends of lace A are incorporated into the seams, whereas the cut ends of lace B are folded under and terminate at the seam lines. This fact provides evidence that the tunic was altered during its useful life to reflect a change in rank of the wearer, most likely to that of captain from lieutenant. When the rows of lace indicative of a captain were added, presumably the lace used initially was no longer available, and lace of the same width but of a different pattern was substituted.
Sewn into the waist seam on the PL side of the tunic is a large (3 cm long) metal hook. The presence of only one hook is common. Because a belt would have been worn over this tunic, the hook serves to support the belt and is located on the left side where the officer's sword added extra weight. The hook therefore keeps the belt from sagging. A small pocket is incorporated into the waist seam on the PR side of the tunic.
The interior lining of the tunic is constructed of several materials (see fig. 2). The upper body is lined with an off-white, twill weave silk (44 weft/cm and 70 warp/cm), which is quilted in a grid (0.9 cm) pattern to an underlayer of batting, identified by microscopy as cotton. This quilted lining contributed to the tunic's barrel-chested shape, characteristic of the period. An area measuring 23 by 13 cm in the center back at the waist lacks the layer of cotton batting. Both the PR and PL tunic front panels (from neckline to waist seam) are faced in red wool. The silk lining is attached to the inner edge of the red wool facing from the neck to the waist. The lining pieces are cut to the same dimensions as the outer wool pieces. The PR and PL front panels of the tunic also contain a linen interlining. An inside pocket is located on the PL inside front, where the lining is joined to the red wool facing. The skirt is lined with the same off-white fulled wool used for the piping and is stitched to the red wool along all edges.
At the waist, two pieces of leather (3 cm wide tapering to 2 cm) are stitched on top of the lining. Although much of the leather is missing, the remains of stitching indicate that these leather strips originally extended on both sides from the piping at the outer edge of the tunic to the curved back seams. Their function is to prevent the waist from stretching (Devere 1866). A piece of red pile-weave textile (10 cm long by 3.5 cm wide) is stitched to the tunic at the center back waist, where there is no leather. Given the downward direction of the nap on this red patch, it would appear that its function is to keep the wearer's shirt from coming untucked. It is not clear whether this piece is original or a later addition.
In general, this garment is very tailored and made of high-quality materials. Because no tailor's label exists, it is impossible to determine where the tunic was made. Most likely the wool fabric was manufactured in England, as was the lace. Canadian militia uniforms were usually ordered from London tailors and closely followed patterns laid down for the British army (Ross and Chartrand 1977). The buttons, manufactured in Ontario, could have been sent, along with the wearer's measurements, to a military tailor in England. By the mid-1860s, however, there were military tailors in such cities as Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, and Toronto, so it is also possible that the tunic was tailored in Canada, using imported cloth and lace.