Costume Diary: Civil War Uniform

(This pattern review is also posted on

This pattern is probably one of the worst I've ever worked with, although it did eventually turn out as a decent costume. In general, when working with historical patterns, you can expect it to be either reasonably simple, or accurate. This pattern is neither of the two. If you choose to use this pattern, proceed with extreme caution.

I made this for my husband Scott, and I originally made it when he was out of town, so I simply made it up to his measurements and planned to hem the sleeves and such when he returned. Well, the fit was so terrible that I ended up tearing apart the entire garment and starting over from ground zero. The second time around I made my husband try it on after every seam (and for the most part, every seam required an adjustment).

The big thing that I learned from this project was that if you do have to significantly alter something, alter the lining first. That way, if it really goes badly, you can just re-do the lining (rather than buying new fabric for the exterior). Plus, when you do alter the exterior shell of the garment, you can do so with confidence, since you've successfully made the changes to the lining and basically know what you're doing.

Here's a list of the major problems I had, or changes that I made to the pattern:

1. Scott measured as an XXL, but was really an XL. (I notice that other reviewers had similar fit problems.)

2. I lengthened the sleeves (that's a normal adjustment for Scott, he's pretty lanky).

3. I took the collar in (by which I mean it was too large for his neck, I'm not sure what the technical term is for this).

4. I altered the jacket front and back to make it fit with the collar alterations.

5. Perhaps the most serious problem with this pattern is that the sleeves have an excessive amount of ease. In fact, when made according to the pattern instructions, they actually end up as gathered sleeves. Now I don't know a huge amount about men's fashion in the mid 19th century, but I was pretty sure that Civil War uniforms didn't have gathered sleeves, so I spent some time with Google looking up historical photographs. After I had assured myself that there is simply no way a Union officer could have worn sleeves with gathering, I sat down to re-draw the pattern pieces. I don't have a huge amount of experience altering patterns, and none of my sewing books actually has an entry on this topic, so I just did what made sense to me. I didn't want to shorten the sleeves, so instead I folded the pattern up in the middle to make the sleeves basically "skinnier." This worked quite well, if I do say it myself. The end result was sleeves that actually fit the garment, and fit Scott's shoulders.

Ultimately, although the costume turned out nicely, I would say that I expended far more effort and mental anguish over this garment than it was worth. (Of course my peace of mind, knowing I had resolved the problem, WAS worth it.) I originally chose this pattern because I wanted something simple for Hallowe'en. I think in retrospect it would have been simpler if I had bought a historically accurate pattern.