Sunday, July 1, 2012


From the Kaskaskia Manuscripts Notarial Records found in The Village of Chartres in Colonial Illinois 1720-1765 pg. 807, K-342:

List of what was sent to me from Cahors, belonging to the late LaFrance, who died in the said place, 30th day of March, 1723.
One old gun.
One jerkin.
One poor pair of red leggings.
One poor pair of linen breeches. 
Some linen breeches that no one wants. 
One pair of leggings adjudged to Leveille-- 18. paid
One lined suit adjudged to Dessablons--    50. 
One Gun adjudged to Beausoleil--             46. paid

Page 926, record K-432:

Sale of (ms. damaged) Monsieur de Frenchomme, officer of this garrison, done at Fort de Chartres on the sixth of August one thousand seven hundred twenty-eight.
One pair of breeches of Petersburg adjudged to Monsieur de St. Ange at one hundred sols ... 5. 
One waistcoat and one pair of old black silk stockings, adjudged to Monsieur Chassin at nine francs ... 9.
One pair of leggings, one pair of shoes and one shot pouch of black kidskin decorated with porcupine quills, adjudged with one calico handkerchief to Monsieur de Terisse at ten francs ... 10.

There appears to be enough primary source proof in the Kaskaskia Manuscripts that leggings/mitasses were a fairly common item, so I decided to make a pair!  

The only color that I found when glancing through the HUGE (like 1000 pages huge...) Village of Chartres book was the set of red leggings listed above.  It would make the best sense to make a pair of red leggings, but wouldn't you know it, I have an excess of really nice indigo broadcloth.  So now I'm probably doing a "no-no" for a good living historian in trying to prove something that I already have as being correct for the time/place.  

From my initial research on the Pays des Illinois, many of the early settlers of the Kaskaskia area came south from Canada.    My assumption (yes, I know...) is that the Mississippi River provided a highway for the transportation of both goods and cultural ideas, so it would be expected that much of the clothing would resemble items worn by the French in Canada.  New Orleans in the south was not founded until 1718, so much of the cultural "sharing" in the early times of the Illinois Country would have had to come from the northern reaches of New France.

In short, if certain types of clothing and cloth is available in the upper parts of New France, then it probably would have appeared in the Kaskaskia area.  

From the introduction of The Equipment of New France Militia 1740-1760 by Steve DeLisle:

The clothing issued to the militia on campaign was no different than what a voyageur or any traveller from New France would have worn.  Generally speaking, it is a hybrid between a western French sailor's clothing and Amerindian clothing designs which were well adapted to the environment.  

From Costume in New France, 1740-1760: A Visual Dictionary by Suzanne and Andre Gousse, page 66:

Parish of Saint-Antoine-de-Longueuil
The body of a man found drowned in the Sault St-Louis opposite the house of Andre Lamarre; approximately five feet and a half tall, long auburn hair with a braid held against the head with a rosary, a shirt of common linen, a pair of breeches of homespun linen, a white short waistcoat, another brown one and a waistcoat fastened with a double row of pewter buttons, blue leggings

Now that I've researched and second-guessed myself into the ground, let's actually do something and make some mitasses!  

The first thing I did was cut the legs out of some old dress pants to use as a pattern before cutting up the good material.
Using a pattern before cutting the good stuff! 

Using the old pant leg, I wrapped it around my leg and safety-pinned it on the side of the leg where the seam was to be sewn.  It took a little adjusting and an allowance had to be made for moving/squatting in the leggings, so be sure to move around while fitting the pattern!  A far as height goes, I measured to mid-thigh.  

DeLisle's book mentioned above gives a great description of leggings on page 6.  There are measurements given that show how a Milice soldier was to cut apart his allowance of issued wool to make a pair.  Unfortunately, these measurements will not work for me as I am no where near the size of an 18th century Frenchman!  Custom fit with my makeshift pattern will have to do for now.  

It is mentioned, however, that "...leaving on the side an excess of material 'four fingers wide'.  They went up to mid-thigh."  A four-finger excess measures out to 2 1/2" to 3" and can be seen in my pattern.  The marker line is where the seam will be, with the excess material being the side flaps.  

Once the pattern is made, cut the wool to size.  On a straight cut of material, a period method was to pull a single thread from the cloth and tear at the area where the thread is missing.  Since the mitasses pattern is angled to allow a taper on the leg, I was unable to do this, but it worked well for making the garters to hold up my leggings near the end of the project!  

Cutting the broadcloth

After cutting the broadcloth from the pattern, I pinned the flap edges together and tried the leggings on for a final check before sewing.  Once the fit was right, a chalk line was drawn for my stitches to follow.  

Wool folded before pinning
Measuring the "Four Finger Width" for the side flaps

Leggings pinned for a final fit before sewing
Time to sew!  I used a medium-weight natural linen thread, waxed with beeswax to prevent fraying and make sewing easier.  The stitch was a backstitch, which can be learned by watching a youtube video!  

A tip to sewing is to use a length of thread that is about your arm's length and not longer.  This makes knotting less likely when pulling your thread through the material.  It is easy to start out with a long thread, thinking that you'll not have to finish and start new threads as often, but for me, I waste more time trying to undo knots and fighting the excess thread.    An arm's length from chest to fingertips works great!  

My backstitch.  Not pretty, but I'm practicing!
Stitch each seam on each legging and then it is time to add the garters that will be used to hold them up.  No one wants their mitasses on the ground.  That's just embarrassing.  

For the garters, I used the same broadcloth, tearing 1" strips by about 30" in length.  I figured they could always be shortened if too long.  The strip is then sewn just behind seam on each legging.  

Garter is 1" wide by 30" long

Garter sewn to back part of legging

Back side of legging, showing the rear of a backstitch and the garter stitching
That pretty much sums up my legging project.  I am open to legitimate suggestions, with research being a plus!  Additional research is most helpful to me.  Again, this is just a personal journey of a guy that really doesn't know what he is doing, but is willing to learn!  

The final set of leggings.  I may have strayed from my chalk line on the left legging... or I may have a weird bump on my thigh there.  I'm not telling which one is the case!  

If you wish to learn more about 18th century sewing techniques, I highly recommend the set of books by Kannick's Korner.  

The Lady's Guide to Plain Sewing is a great resource for basic stitches and just starting out in hand-sewing.  There is a second Lady's Guide in the series as well as a Workman's guide.  I personally find the Lady's Guides to be most helpful!  They are small books (around 30 pages), but show the details needed to construct 18th century clothing.  

Jeff Pavlik was kind enough to allow me to link to his instructions for brayet and mitasses construction.  Thanks Jeff! 

Jeff's main site,, has been an inspiration for my postings and direction in the hobby.  Be sure to view his work.  He is a very talented fellow!