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The Seminole Longshirt
The Seminole Longshirt
The Seminole Longshirt

by M. E. (Pete) Thompson
and Rick Obermeyer

in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
Rick Obermeyer ~ Editor


IT IS VERY MUCH EASIER if you finish the bottom, front, and back of a longshirt after Step C "Sew Panels Together" and before attaching the cape and sewing the top together. It is VERY MUCH EASIER if you finish the cape before attaching it in Step G.

There are three kinds of finishing touches: ruffles, straight strip applique, and complex applique. After the 1920's or so, bands of patchwork were used instead of complex applique.


Every longshirt has ruffles. They are always in some places, such as the cape edge and the body bottom edge. They may or may not be in other places, like on the cuffs, across the shoulders, and where the sleeves are joined to the body.

A narrow ruffle went all the way up both edges of the front opening prior to 1860. After 1870, the front ruffle stopped about halfway up, at or slightly higher than the hip ruffle. By the 1980's, this ruffle again goes all the way up the front.

After 1870, there is always a narrow 2"-3" ruffle running around the longshirt at about hip level, and occasionally a second narrower ruffle a few inches above that. The second, higher ruffle never appears without some kind of complex applique between it and the hip ruffle. The diagonal ruffle suggested in the instructions exists on only one known example (Sturtevant, 1956).

To make all your ruffles, simply tear the fabric into strips of desired width. Don't waste your time cutting or hemming the edges. It's the same way the Seminoles did it!

(See also Appendix *2* Pleats) There is more than one way to attach a ruffle:

(A) Simply lay the gathered ruffle edge over the edge of the cape or coat. Sew down. This raw edge may be left visible, especially on the body of early 19th century longshirts, or the edge may be covered with straight applique.

(B) Lay the gathered ruffle back to back against the cloth edge. Sew together, open up, and fold the hem back against the front of the cloth. Cover with straight applique.

(C) Lay the gathered ruffle face to face against the cloth edge. Sew together, and open up. When sewing straight applique up against the ruffle, be sure to also sew down the hem on the back away from the ruffle.


Every longshirt has straight strip applique. Commercially made single fold bias tape is excellent to use for this, especially when the applique is narrow enough to be piping. There are always three of these straight narrow 1/4" to 1/3" strips added inside the edge of the ruffles on the cape and two or three above the bottom edge ruffle, and up the front edges and up the back seam above the tail slit. After 1870, two or three always appear above the narrow hip ruff, and also above the second waist ruff if there is one.

After 1870, there might also be as many as five above the bottom ruffle and up the tail slit and rear seam for about a foot. This bottom straight applique usually seems to run a little higher up on the rear seam than up the front opening, where it rarely extend past the top of the front opening ruffle. In the back, it may or may not be squared off at the top, (but this is usual in post-1980 longshirts). In modern (post 1930) longshirts, the straight applique can continue up along the rear closed seam to the middle of the back, or even almost up to the shoulderblades.

Colors used tend to be limited to white, red, black, and gold, with turquoise and other colors occasionally included (see Appendix *3* Straight Applique Colors).



Most, but not every, pre-patchwork longshirts have complex applique. Pre-1850s long shirts that had this seem to have had not much more than a crossed zig-zag pattern. One set of continuous V's were sewn down, and then crossed by another set of V's in contrasting colors. In a couple of examples, threads were pulled loose off the lower edges of these strips to make a very short fringe.

McKenney-Hall's portrait of Tukosee Mathla shows three strips of what has to be simple cut and stitch applique along the bottom of his coat. The leftmost figure in Sturtevant, 1962, has what could be a diamond applique strip sketched along the bottom of his coat.

Post-1870 examples have very nice applique patterns with a lot of variety and widths from 2" to 4". It is the rare longshirt that does not have some kind of complex applique between the bottom ruffle and the hip ruffle, and many have another narrower, less complex applique band above the hip ruffle.

The authors know of only two or three longshirts with commercially made rickrack, and none later than on the cape in a 1940 photo taken by Deaconess Bedell. Do NOT use rickrack for any applique shortcuts.

Two to four layers of material might be used in a complex applique design. Applique patterns are created with cloth cut open and folded back to expose an underlying contrasting fabric, or cut to shape and sewn down on top of a contrasting color. Almost all fabrics are solid colors, and the colors are usually the same as those used for straight applique (see Appendix *3* Straight Applique Colors.)

There is an option that's much easier than ripping strips of material that must be pressed before using. It is craft ribbon, found in craft shops and the hobby section of many fabric stores. They come in 1" to 3" widths, and are highly starched, which makes the fabric easier to fold over for sewing. The starch washes out later on.

Meanwhile, don't be too annoyed if your cuts and edges are not precise. Most Seminole examples definitely show a free attitude toward "floating" edges with the pattern.




Early 19th Century Finishing

Late 19th Century Finishing

Late 19th Century Applique
Patterns Not drawn to the same scale.

Return to Longshirt Introduction

Return to Longshirt Pattern & Construction

Go On to Longshirt Appendices & References

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing

Contributed by Rick Obermeyer E-mail:
From the book 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
© 1991-2000 Sherwood F. Obermeyer Jr., 2124 Miscindy Place, Orlando, FL 32806

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