1880s Shirt


A gentleman’s shirt based on the instructions on Beeton’s housewife’s treasury of domestic information [Bee79] from around 1880.

This is a transtitional pattern between the shirts completely made from rectangles of the first half of the 19th century (and earlier) and the more structured shirts of the 20th century.

This pattern is probably good for a relatively wide range of dates: I’ve seen on the internet grainy scans of ads from the 1860 that seem to use a pattern like this one, and it should work up to the Edwardian era, but you will have to do some research on the appropriate shapes of the front opening and especially collar and cuffs for each era.

The same pattern can also be used for an early ladies’ Garibaldi Shirt [God40] (pag 29).

While assembling the shirt is a relatively easy project, the pattern instructions are from a vintage book (and not one of the best, either), so it will require more adjustments to fit the target body than usual for a modern pattern.

Before making this shirt in expensive fabric you will need to make a mock-up, and even when using relatively cheap cotton shirting you may want to make a mock up of the shoulder piece.

I believe that the original instructions assumed that this shirt would be hand sewn, but by the 1880s sewing machines in the home were most definitely a thing (and they are mentioned in a later chapter of the book).

If you want to use a machine, your options are to sew by machine everywhere the instructions say to backstitch and handsew everything else (this option looks pretty close to a fully handsewn garment), or to sew by machine the backstitched seams and topstitch every time the instructions say to hemstitch or applique stitch something; for historical accuracy buttonholes should still be done by hand, however, unless that’s not a concern.

The pictures in this page are of a shirt where the backstitching is done by machine, and everything else by hand.



  • About 2 m of linen or cotton shirting fabric;

  • 10 - 15 cm sew-in interfacing for collars and cuffs (optional).


  • sewing thread to match the fabric;

  • buttonhole thread to match the fabric;

  • 5 or more small buttons.



You need to take the following measurements:

height_neck_back_to_knee (A18)

vertical distance from the back of the neck to the knee;

neck_circ (G02)

circumference of the neck;

bust_circ (G04)

circumference of the torso, just below the armholes;

neck_front_to_waist_f (H01)

vertical distance from the front of the neck to the waist;

neck_side_to_waist_f (H05)

vertical distance from the side of the neck to the waist in the front;

neck_back_to_waist_b (H19)

vertical distance from the back of the neck to the waist;

shoulder_length (I01)

distance from the side of the neck to the tip of the shoulder;

shoulder_tip_to_shoulder_tip_b (I07)

distance from one shoulder tip to the other one;

arm_shoulder_tip_to_wrist_bent (L01)

distance from the shoulder tip to the wrist, following a bent arm;

arm_wrist_circ (L15)

circumference of the wrist;

refer to the diagram in Valentina Tape for how to take them, and the file shirt.vit is used by default by the pattern file and has the list of needed measurements.


Get the valentina file for the pattern, 1880_shirt.val.

You also need to decide the following measurements and set them in the table of variables in Valentina; most defaults in the file are sensible, but you probably want to change the shirt_width so that it fits nicely on your fabric with as little waste as possible:


usually equals height_neck_back_to_knee;


a bit shorter (8-10 cm) than the back;


the flat width of the shirt: historically this would have been the width of the fabric (something like 90 - 100 cm would be typical), and today using half the width of the fabric (70-80 cm) can work fine;


the length of the slit (and pleated part) in front: this can easily be as long as the neck_front_to_waist_f measurement


the finished width of the button placket; 2.5 cm or to taste;


the total ease around the chest, used to calculate the following two variables;


the width that is cut in the front for the slit: this should be at least 15 cm wide for a 2.5 cm button placket and the rest will be pleated;


the final width to which the material in the front slit is pleated / gathered: at least the width of the button placket;


the band that covers the pleats and gathers in the front: 4 cm, or to taste;


from the nape of the neck to where the yoke ends in the back, to taste;


length of the cuff: 9 cm or to taste, or 2 cm for a cuff band used with detached cuffs;


length of the sleeve: arm_shoulder_tip_to_wrist_bent minus half the cuff, or to taste according to how puffed you want the sleeve to be;


the basic width of the sleeve, before dealing with the gussets: this is often half the shirt_width;


the desired circumference of the sleeve at the wrist, before gathering it into the cuff;


the length of the slit at the wrist: 6 cm or to taste;


the height of the collar band, to be used with a detachable collar: 2 cm is usually fine;


the default sewing allowance, as small as you can manage, remembering that many seams are sewn and felled, so the fabric will have to be cut with double this allowance on one side: for hand sewing on thin fabric 4-6 mm, machine sewing and thicker fabric will require a bit more.

The valentina file also has a few more intermediate variables that are used to calculate the front_slit_width and front_gathers_width from the given bust_circ, shirt_width and ease: you can ignore them.

The file is set up not to print the front, back and sleeves details, as those are mostly big rectangles: you can get their measurements in Draw mode as follows:


a rectangle as wide as shirt_width (A – A2) and as high as shirt_length_back (A – A1);


a rectangle as wide as shirt_width (A – A9) and as high as shirt_lenght_front (A — A8);


the final sleeve shape is an isosceles trapezium with and height of sleeve_length (A – A25), a short base of sleeve_wrist_circumference (A28 – A29) and a long base that adds to sleeve_width the same amount that has been taken away by the other base (A30 – A31): the most efficient way however is to cut a rectangle that is as high as sleeve_length and twice as wide as sleeve_width, and adjust the sides with gussets as explained below.

This pattern also includes just a collar band, which is used with detached collars; you can of course add a full collar from any other source. There is however a choice between a straight collar band (as used in the book) and a more fitted curved collar band.


Pattern adjustments

Print the shoulder piece pattern and try it on; make any adjustments to it so that it lies nicely, the neck curve follows the base of the neck and arrives almost, but not quite, to the neck base in front, leaving the space for the button placket.

You probably need to make a fabric mockup for these checks, and then bring the changes back to the pattern to cut the final pieces.



While cutting, you want to be really sure that the rectangular pieces are cut on the grain: if the fabric allows it you can rip them, otherwise try to cut it by following a thread.

Cut the full rectangles for the front and back.


If you already have done a shirt in this size, and have the paper pattern for the armscyes, mark the seam lines on the front and back, and if you want cut them with a double seaming allowance.


If the fabric is non-directional and has no right and wrong side, the best way to cut the sleeves is as described on the book: fold the rectangle in such a way that the sides will meet precisely in the center and baste them together, then fold them in such a way that the distance a – g and h – c is the desired width at the cuff, and cut all layers of fabric along the fold.


After re-opening the fabric, you will get the shape in figure, and you will have to attach the small gusset to one side of the sleeve to complete the trapezium. Note that because of the sewing allowances this won’t be a precise match, but the tolerance in this pattern is enough for it not to be a problem.


If the fabric is directional or simply has a defined right and wrong side, you probably need to cut gussets from the wrist side of both sides of the sleeves and sew them to the shoulder sides, as in the above schematic.


The tongue can be cut from one of the small scraps that remain when cutting the shoulder piece.

Cut four of the shoulder pieces, two of the front bands, two of each collar piece, four of each cuff piece and two of the tongue.

If your fabric requires it, cut two or four cuff pieces also in interfacing, and one or two collar pieces if not using a simple collar band.

Keep all scraps, as you will need them later to cut some small reinforcement patches.

Collar and Cuffs


Put the collar band pieces right sides together, backstitch the sides and top, leaving the bottom free to attach it to the shirt.


Press the seam, clip the corners, turn inside out and press.


If making a full collar rather than a collar band refer to its construction instructions, and you will probably need to add one or two layers of interfacing.


Put two cuff pieces right sides together (with the optional interfacing on top), backstitch the sides and front (the shorter base of the trapezium), leaving the other base free to attach it to the sleeve.


Press the seam, clip the corners, turn inside out and press.


Prepare also the tongue for the front: with right sides facing backstitch all around the tongue except for the top, press, trim the corners and clip the curves, turn inside out and press again. Make a buttonhole in the tongue.


Cut the vertical and horizontal lines of the slit in the front.


On both sides, fold the width of the button placket (e.g. 2.5 cm) twice towards the front.


This will show the wrong side of the fabric as the button placket, and looks just fine with most shirting fabric that has no distinct right or wrong side.

If your fabric has a difference and the result doesn’t look good, you can fold the button placket towards the back and hemstitch it in place instead of applique stitching it.

Fold the rest of each half of the front in two or three pleats, pointing outside from the center of the shirt, so that each side measures half the front_gathers_width measured from the center of the placket (as the two plackets will be sewn on top of each other). Overlap the pleats a tiny bit to hide their seams.

Press everything.


Backstitch the pleats by following the crease line.


Hemstitch the right placket over the seam of the first pleat, hidden below the placket itself. Press back the placket flat.

On just the left placket sew two neat lines of backstitches, 4 mm from each edge.

Run two lines in strong contrasting thread 18 mm and 22 mm from the bottom horizontal edge of the slit for the gathers.


Put the tongue at the center bottom of one of the two bands, right sides together, and backstitch it.

Press all the sewing allowances of the front bands towards the wrong side.


Put the left placket on top of the right placket and baste it in place. Pull the gathering threads to the same length, pinning the excess thread from the wrong side, strike the gathers to make them neater.


Pin the band with the tongue on top of the right side so that it covers the slit, applique stitch it on the sides and top edge and hem stitch the bottom edge over the gathers, catching each gather in a stitch and sewing to the underside of the tongue when you reach it.


Pin the other band to the wrong side of the front and hem stitch it to the shirt on all four sides, again catching each gather in a stitch, so that the raw edges of the slit are fully encased.


Place two shoulder piece on top of each other, backstitch the center seam and press open. Repeat with the two other shoulder pieces.


Pin half of the collar to one shoulder piece, starting from the back, then pin them to the front in such a way that the collar ends right on the placket. Mark the position of the shoulder piece on the front and remove the collar from the assembly.


Sandwitch the front between the two shoulder pieces, right sides together, in the position measured above, and backstitch the two shoulders. Press up.


This isn’t the way the shirt was assembled in the original instructions, where the shoulder piece was attached to the back first.

This way you save one seam, and I believe that it also makes it easier to adjust the armscyes holes to fit.


Run two lines in strong contrasting thread 4 mm and 8 mm from the top edge of the back, starting and ending about 18 cm from the sides.


Pin the center of the back to the center of the shoulder piece, put the shirt on the intended recipient, pin the front and back sides together at the sides and adjust the back to find how wide the gathered part should become and how much material should be cut from the shoulder side for the armhole. Write this number (#armhole_width_back) in case you want to use this pattern again.


Place the back on top of the outer layer of the shoulder piece, backstitch the ungathered sides, press all allowances towards the shoulder piece. Pull the gathering thread and hemstitch or applique stitch the shoulder piece to the back, catching each gather in a stitch.


Press the allowance of the lining shoulder piece, hemstitch it to the back of the shirt. From now on treat the shoulder pieces as one.


Pin the collar band to the shoulder pieces, right sides together, backstitch one side of the collar band.

Press the allowances towards the collar band, fold down and press the remaining edge of the collar and hemstitch it into place to cover all raw edges.



Right sides together, put the gussets on top of their sleeve, aligning the edge of the gusset one seam allowance from the edge of the sleeve.


Backstitch the gusset to the sleeve, press the allowance towards the gusset, fold the sleeve allowance down to cover the raw edges and hemstitch it to the sleeve.


Fold the sleeve in half, right sides together, aligning one side at one seam allowance from the edge of the other side, backstitch


Trim a bit around the middle of the arm to smoothen the curve between the gusset and the sleeve, fold the double allowance down to cover the raw edge and hemstitch it to the sleeve. Repeat the same with the other sleeve, taking care do make it symmetrical (i.e. to fell the seam in the opposite direction).


Cut the slit one fourth of the way in, towards the back of the sleeve (i.e. closest to the hemstitched side), fold down the edges twice and hem stitch them down.


From the scraps of fabric cut two squares 3 cm wide, cut them on the diagonal into two triangles each, fold down their edges and sew them to the top of the slit on both sides, pleating the top so that the slit edges are adiacent and using an applique stitch on the outside and a hemstitch on the inside.


Run two lines of gathering thread close to the end of the sleeve, gather it to the length of the cuff. Press down the seaming allowance at the edge of the cuff and hemstitch it to the right side of sleeve, catching each gather with a stitch.


Hemstitch the cuff to the sleeve also on the wrong side, again catching each gather.


Add a button to the smaller side of the cuff and a corresponding buttonhole to the larger part.

Assembly of the body


Right sides together, align the back and front so that the back is 8–10 cm longer than the front at the hem (as decided when cutting) and the back is one sewing allowance from the front and mark a point 8–10 cm from the edge of the front: this is where the side seam will end.


Measure the top of the sleeve, measure an armscye hole that is about 2-4 cm smaller than the sleeve (total circumference) and mark the other end of the side seam.

Backstitch the side seams between the points just marked. Fold the double allowance down to cover the raw edge and hemstitch.


Hem the shirt: fold down the bottom of the front and back twice, mitering the corners and continuing up to the lower end of the side seam, and hemstitch.


Try on the shirt, close the front with pins and mark with chalk a reasonable line for the armscye on both the front and back of the shirt.


Pin and baste one sleeve to the shirt, right sides facing and with the sleeve one seam allowance out from the marked edge of the armscye, starting from the bottom of the armscye and roughtly gathering the excess of fabric of the sleeve in the shoulder piece.

Try the shirt on, check the fit, if needed unpick and baste again.


When the result looks good, place the shirt on top of a piece of paper, aligning the corner and sides, and use a pin or another pointed implement to prick the paper following the seam line where you basted for both the front and the back of the shirt. Clean the pin lines and cut the pattern.

Mark the points on the sleeve where the shoulder piece starts and end, save also this measurement on paper, in case you want to make another shirt in this size.


Unpick the basted seam, use the paper pattern to mark the sew line on both sides of the shirt.


Run two lines of gathering thread on the top of the sleeves, between the points just marked.


Even when doing straight seams by machine, it is probably easier and quicker to sew the sleeve in by hand, rather than having to baste and sew it, especially when working with a small sewing allowance.


Pin the sleeve to the shirt, again right sides facing and with the edge of the sleeve at two seam allowances from the seam line marked on the body.


Starting just below the shoulder piece backstitch the ungathered part of the shirt, then turn it outside, fold the seam allowance and applique stitch the top of the sleeve to the shoulder piece, catching each gather.


Trim the raw edge of the front and back, leaving one sewing allowance of fabric, fold the double seam allowance to cover the raw edge, hemstitch it towards the body.


Rather than sewing and felling the sleeve as the original instructions suggested, you may get a neater result by french-seaming it. Cut the shoulder piece with a double seaming allowance (if you want to change it in the valentina pattern it’s after point A and before point A67) put the sleeve in with wrong sides facing, backstitch at a bit less than the sewing allowance from the edge, press; turn the sleeve inside out, right sides facing, backstitch the straight part at a bit more than the sewing allowance from the previous seam, turn it right side out and hemstitch the gathered part catching each gather with a stitch.


From the scraps of fabric cut two squares 5 cm wide, cut them in half on the diagonal, fold down their edges and sew them as small gussets to the bottom of the side seams on both sides, using an applique stitch on the outside and a hemstitch on the inside.



Put a button and buttonhole on the collar band, and at least two more button and buttonholes on the front placket.

Done! you can now wear your new shirt, and start making the rest of the half dozen :)