Today begins a series of tutorials on constructing a Federal Enlisted Frock Coat, as was used during the American Civil War. I’ve made about a dozen of these coats in the past year, with more under way as you read this. In this post, we will mainly discuss the tail facings, preceded by some cutting photos. While I’m working specifically on a military styled coat, these techniques will be useful for many other types of period coats.

Laying out the pieces

Here are a few photos of the frock pieces drawn out on the fabric. I’m using Hainsworth‘s superfine wool broadcloth, in navy blue. This fabric has a very pronounced nap, where the fibers are raised and brushed in the same direction. The nap gives the fabric an almost shiny look to it, and besides looking really nice, aids in repelling water and dirt. Because of the nap, however, care must be taken to lay out all of the pieces in the same direction.

Chalked line on fabricNext we have a close up of a chalk line on the fabric. Nothing really useful about it, I just thought it was a neat picture. One thing to note is to always cut on the inside of the chalk line. The chalk line is about an eighth of an inch in width, so cutting on the outside would add too much fabric, affecting the fitting of the coat. I use a tailor’s chalk available from B. Black & Sons called “Jem’s” Tailor’s Chalk”. As long as you keep it sharp, unlike in this next photo, it is great for drawing lines, and comes right out with a little brushing.

Chalked out pattern piecesHere’s one last shot of the pieces laid out. Try to minimize the waisted fabric, and get the pieces as close together as possible.

Coat pieces cut outFinally, here are all the pieces cut out. You’ve actually been seeing two coats laid out on the fabric. Took about three yards of fabric total.

I’m keeping a very accurate record of the time I spend on each step. From laying out all the pieces, chalking around them, and cutting everything out, the total time was 55 minutes.

Tail Facing

The first step in actually constructing one of these coats is to make the tail facing. We’ll be working with the two back pieces of the coat for this step, as illustrated in the photo.

Back piece for frock coat

Chalk out the seam lines near the center back pleat. In my case, I’m using .5 inch seam allowances.

Seam lines are chalked out

Cut on a diagonal from the corner, to the intersection of the two chalk lines. Be careful not to actually cut the line, remembering that the chalk line has it’s own width to it.

Clip the corner to seam allowance

Now fold the seam allowance down towards the tail, and press. If necessary, you may baste this before pressing.

Press seam allowance down

Next, whip stitch the seam allowance to the tail, being very careful not to let the stitches show through to the right side.

Whip stitch the seam allowance down

Now on to the actual facing. Determine how wide you want the facing to be. I prefer 7/8″, as it gives enough weight to the facing to keep the tail from blowing around too wildly, while not being too bulky. After you have determined the width you want, double that, and draw a chalk line along the edge at that width. That would be 1 3/4″ in my case.

Baste the facing allowance over to the line, and press:

Baste and Press

Whip stitch the facing down and give it a final press:

whip stitch the facing

Here’s what it should look like from the right side of the fabric. No stitches showing through, nicely pressed, and sharp looking edges.

Right side

Here’s one last photo showing the actual stitches. Another cool close up. Strive to make your stitches perfectly even, and small. Also, do not pull too tight, or the fabric will pucker, and make sure it doesn’t show through to the right side.

Total time for this step is an average of 45 minutes. Next time, we’ll discuss assembling the body of the coat.