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 Post subject: Seamless Felt Overcoats
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 9:10 pm 
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Posts: 162
Friends,

I wanted to share with everyone that I have finally discovered how seamless clothing was made during the war. The description comes from a book published in 1859 and gives the entire felt-making and clothing forming process as used at the Seamless Clothing Manufacturing Company of Matteawan (now Beacon), NY.

The description in the book is in mid 19th Century terms that I am still interpreting but the entire process seems to be VERY long and complex. The short version might go something like this...and believe me, this IS the short version!

"Wool rovings are sorted, made into a web via machine, then run back over itself at alternating angles up to 30 times, agitated and pressed by a heated vibrating iron plate to lock the fibers together. Then the garments are cut using patterns twice as large as normal, edges are carded together by hand then these "seams" are put under the iron plate to agitate the fibers together. The garments are then scalded in hot water and left to shrink to regular size, then placed onto hollow copper forms and continually steamed from within, dried, and steamed again until the garment shrinks to fit the form. Once dry they are removed and bound with tape and trimmed with buttons/buttonholes, folded, packaged, and sent to the company's New York City salesroom. Garments intended for foul weather or shipboard use are treated with lanolin grease or alum waterproofing agents before finishing. Ta-da!"

Since there is no way on earth that I can replicate these coats in the same manner without a time machine, I believe that some of these procedures can be simplified enough to make at least a very small number of them a reality. The modern fiber art technique of needle-felting, for instance, will allow two pre-felted pieces of cloth to be "pulled together" via barbed hooks. This can be done by hand or by using a special machine. Once the "seam" is carefully brought together, the area can be further agitated, steamed, and then pressed with techniques similar to the original method (I would likely fabricate a specialized iron). Since the modern felt is already adequately made into a thick material there is absolutely no need for all of the boiling and shrinking on hollow sheet copper forms! With some practice and luck I will be able to produce an acceptable reproduction seamless felt overcoat.

Because the felt itself is so expensive, and the felting methods very time consuming, it will be a while before I am able to post more on this. I have seen two original seamless felt garments from the war, so if anyone has questions about them I am more than happy to discuss that. Once I get the materials and equipment set up my intention is to document my project and share it here. I have absolutely no idea if these will be worth reproducing for anyone else simply due to cost; right now my own mess is clamoring for seamless overcoats and I haven't even made one yet!

As I said, it will take a while but stay tuned!

_________________
Brian White
Wambaugh, White, & Company
http://www.wwandcompany.com
----------------------------------
Randolph Mess, U.S. Sharpshooters


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 9:54 am 
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Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:33 pm
Posts: 252
Location: Old Northwest (Michigan)
Brian,

Having read both your posts (forum and private) about the Seamless Clothing Co. products, it was enough to make my eyes glaze over. I tried to visualize each step of the manufacturing process, and despite my visits to Henry Ford Museum, examining 19th century wool and clothing illustrations in Harpers Weekly, etc; this whole discussion left my head spinning. I am curious what sorts of business connections Hiram Berdan or HAV Post would have had in New York City for the former contract with Seamless to make overcoats for the USSS. The process sounds extremelly detailed and expensive. I also noted with interest the application of lanolin or other substance to waterproof the coats.

This is the only account of the Seamless Clothing Mfg. Co. I have found regarding the Berdan contract overcoats. They are in Marcot's book, Chief of Sharpshooters-Hiram Berdan-MIlitary Commander and Firearms Inventor.


Camp of Instruction
Washington
October 22, 1861

General McClellan:

Colonel Fenton contracted with the Seamless Clothing Manufacturing Company in New York, to supply my 1st Regiment with gray overcoats, gutta purcha buttons, and with green trimmings. The dark buttons and trimmings I deemed important for my Corps.

The manufacturer stated to me at the time that he had several hundred overcoats on hand, trimmed with red metal buttons which he wished me to take. I declined, and after much delay we recieved 300 or 400 (coats), trimmed as per (my) contract.

I have now recieved the balance of the order trimmed with red metal buttons. We are very much in need of overcoats and would like to keep those we have until the mistake is redmedied.

H. Berdan



C.A. Steven's recalled:
Quote:
We wore for a time, principally on outpost duty or in bad weather, gray round hats with wide black visors. But after our first appearance before the enemy the following spring, they were discarded, as endangering fire from the rear. Certain gray felt seamless overcoats were likewise abandoned, although they were good rain shedders (as they became) wet (the became) stiff as a board
.

Now I am curious. Did the run 'few hundred' overcoats that were already on hand at the Seamless Clothing Mfg. Co. and destined for the 1st Regiment treated with lanolin or other waterproofing? Or, because they weren't constructed with an eye for sea-born duty, this feature was left out of the order?

We have found with the tent d'arbri/shelter halves that the sizing in the fabric from when the the tents were first issued successfully kept the rain out--but as the tents were repeatedly folded or used, the sizing/starch wore off and then water soaked through the fabric at an increasingly steady pace. Did the overcoats have initially similar properties that gradually became degraded through use---hence the transition from rain shedder to 'board'?

It is highly unlikely, unless we can locate Mr. Peabody's, Wayback Machine, to ever collect the combined raw materials and manfacturing resources to recreate a overcoat based upon the exact same methods used by Seamless Clothing Mfg. Co. However, Brian has thoughtfully developed some very creative alternatives/short cuts that would capture most of the features of a SCM Co. original. Brian has also studied in some detail a surviving SCM Co. overcoat in Don Troiani's collection. So the basic research is completed--now it comes down to purchasing the necessary machinery and felt to take the next step.

Bill Skillman
Randolph Mess
Hudson Squad-USSS


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 29, 2010 1:02 pm 
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Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2008 11:18 am
Posts: 162
Friends,

I was lucky enough to have recently obtained three excellent photographs of a mint condition, original seamless wool felt overcoat that sold at auction in November 2008. This garment belonged to Lt. Dwight Divine of the 143rd New York and, believe it or not, was purchased and used by him in 1864. The photos are pretty self explanatory....these truly are one piece, specially formed garments.

What I am having a hard time with are the pockets. From the outside it looks like there are pocket slits on the sides of the coat in the middle of the decorative tape trim. But on the inside there is no visible pocket bag. I think that there might actually be a pocket there but we can't see it because it's felted to the inside of the coat.

Also note the buttonhole reinforcements on the inside; I examined this up close at the auction and these are felted into place and the edges are cross-hatch stitched to add additional reinforcement. The little round "dots" behind the buttons are attached in the same manner as well. You can see them around the neck line under the collar which is to allow the removal of the cape (this was evident in the USSS variety as well).

Even though this is an infantry officer's seamless coat, it's not hard to imagine what the Sharpshooter variety would have looked like. Gray wool felt, single breasted, with a detachable cape, flapped pockets with the pocket bag felted to the inside, no lining in the body or sleeves, dark green or red worsted tape trim on the edges, and rubber eagle or red metal (copper) buttons.

I'm still working on finding a needle felting machine that could give me results like this. If that does not work I don't think that these can be reproduced accurately unless a bag of money falls from heaven.

Image

Image

Image

_________________
Brian White
Wambaugh, White, & Company
http://www.wwandcompany.com
----------------------------------
Randolph Mess, U.S. Sharpshooters


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 17, 2010 11:13 pm 
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Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2008 11:18 am
Posts: 162
Major developments on the seamless overcoat front for those of you who are interested!

A few days ago, thanks to Google Patents, I discovered several very important patents related to the production of seamless clothing in the 1850's. Not only did descriptions of the production of wool bats for felting turn up but the patterns for the seamless overcoats themselves, and even more thrilling was the patent for the hinged wooden formers they were shrunk and stretched on. To keep this quick and painless, I am more confident than ever that I can produce highly accurate seamless overcoats using the original patterns and methods of joining the garment edges, sleeves, etc. using the modern needle felting process.

The original seamless coats were formed from processed wool bats with the pieces greatly enlarged and basted together at key locations with a non-shrinking thread. These basted edges were then "jiggered" together using a vibrating iron plate that interlocked the scales on the wool fibers. Once this was completed, the coats were then wetted and placed on wooden forms for drying; during this process the wool fibers would shrink and stretch the coat over the form, giving them a somewhat shaped appearance. Once sufficiently shrunk and "felted" the basting stitches were removed and the coat was trimmed and finished with worsted tape, buttons, pockets, et cetera. Going against everything I expected to see in original 19th Century clothing, the finished coats were entirely unlined.

To avoid the lengthy process described above, I have located about 75 yards of 100% wool felt in a silver-gray color. The felt is 70" wide which will allow me to cut the bodies in one piece. Simple tubular sleeves will be needle-felted on the out-seam and steam pressed to permit the fibers to interlock and shrink together. The body will be formed in an identical manner. To replicate the unique formed silhouette of the originals, I believe that the coats can be wetted in hot water and placed on modern mannequin torso forms until dry. Capes will also be once piece and made with buttonholes on the neck edge to allow them to be buttoned under the coat collar. As per the originals issued to the sharpshooters, they can be trimmed with either dark green or red* worsted wool tape. I plan to offer each overcoat with rubber eagle buttons that I am developing in conjunction.

I hope to have my prototype seamless felt overcoat finished by the end of September, photographed in detail, and posted here. If they go together as well as I think they will, I do plan on a limited run for anyone interested. I can't think of a more unique and novel Sharpshooter-related item to have on display at the upcoming 150th anniversary events!

More to come....

* Yes, red trim! Seamless Clothing Manufacturing Co. did not have enough green-trimmed coats produced to fill their contract, thus delaying 300 of the garments. Berdan ordered them to send the balance which turned out to be gray coats trimmed with red tape! Company D, 1st U.S.S.S. was noted to have been issued a portion of the red-trimmed coats; those in the 2nd U.S.S.S. who were without either the green or red trimmed overcoats appear to have been issued standard sky blue infantry overcoats.

Seamless Overcoat Pattern: http://www.google.com/patents?id=9BJYAA ... &q&f=false

Seamless Overcoat Forming Block: http://www.google.com/patents/about?id= ... xy_is=1865

_________________
Brian White
Wambaugh, White, & Company
http://www.wwandcompany.com
----------------------------------
Randolph Mess, U.S. Sharpshooters


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