An 18th Century Cardinal Cloak

A woman wrapped in a red cardinal cloak steps away from the camera in a winter landscape

I have never really focused much on winter-wear. Santiago was temperate. Brisbane was warm. The Atacama Desert was dry. But here in the Pacific Northwest, things are different. We experienced an atmospheric river a few weeks ago. Right now we’ve got what they’re calling an arctic outflow. The terms are very romantic and picturesque, but what they mean is that Vancouver is wet. Very very wet. And cold. Quite cold, really.) I am nothing if not adaptable, however, so my first 18th Century priority here in the Northern Hemisphere was a cloak – an 18th Century Cardinal cloak long enough and thick enough to protect me from the cold and my costumes from the wet when the arctic outflows start running like rivers all over Vancouver.

A snowy path is overhung by bare winter trees

Possibly, in the fullness of time, I will need several cloaks. But to begin, I wanted a simple red cardinal cloak that would cover my 1790s costumes and anything else that didn’t have extra biggity skirt supports.

The Cloak:

I sewed this 18th Century cardinal cloak from a fine red wool melton from Atex Fabrics in downtown Vancouver, and I lined the hood with a faintly blush-pink silk dupioni from Dressew. (Dressew is located directly across the street from Atex. It makes for very convenient historical shopping.)

I took the proportions of this 18th Century Cardinal cloak from the cloak in the Costume Closeup book – the shape is a half-circle with straight-edge rectangle added in at the center back. Measuring was simple – dropping a tape measure down to the floor from my neck over my shoulder, I measured 62 inches from neck to floor, and that was pretty much that. I reckoned to start with a cloak 62 inches all around. I’d mark the actual hem later on.

My fabric was sold as 60 inches wide, but actually came in at 58 inches. There was a good half-inch-wide brown stripe along each selvage, and when you took into account the depth of the neck-hole in the cloak, I knew I would have to piece.

Red wool melton marked with a chalk neckline for an 18th Century Cardinal Cloak

As the cloak is made up of a very large half-circle, the best way to mark the curve of the cloak was with a very long straight-edge. Strangely, I don’t own a 70 inch ruler, but a friend came to the rescue with a very long piece of slender wooden molding!

A long stick traces out a curve on a length of red wool

Marking my lengths on the very long stick, I used it to mark my big long curves onto the wool.

An 18th Century cardinal cloak is in progress on a cork floor, surrounded by rulers and yardsticks

I managed to restrict the piecing to a band across the lower hem – three pieces, joined together, and sewn as a long panel to the bottom of the cloak.

The wool melton was mildly prone to fraying, so I folded a half-inch hem down both center fronts. I basted the hems down, and then secured them with a line of herringbone stitch. I have seen this technique used by the Dreamstress on her Red Riding Hood Cloak – like her, I don’t know that the method is strictly accurate for the period, but it does seem like a sensible way to both bind and secure a rather heavy wool!

close-up of herringbone stitching on the hems of an 18th century cardinal cloak

The Hood:

I took the hood for the cardinal cloak from the Cardinal Cloak pattern by With These Hands I Dream. This hood was pretty large, but I wanted something that would be large enough to go over the highest 1790s hairstyle I might ever wear underneath it, so I made it extra big, and then kept embiggening until I had a hood that was 36 inches from collar to collar and went with THAT.

After cutting my hood and hood lining, I pressed down the seam allowances on the two long edges of the both pieces. I did the same on the silk lining, then laid the two layers against each other, raw sides together, and secured the silk to the wool with rows of whip stitching.

The hood of an 18th Century Cardinal Cloak sits on a table - silk lining side upward

I made sure to fold a slightly wider seam allowance on the lining than on the wool, so that the pale silk would not overhang the wool layer. A small 1/8′ set-back looks elegant and neat.

Along the front edge of the hood I took care to take very precise stitches, burying the float thread between the layers of fabric and making sure that the absolute minimum of red thread showed against the pale silk.

On the center back seam, however, I took fast and rough quarter- inch stitches. I didn’t fret over this stitching- it would be buried in the center back seam and as long as it was tidy, I wasn’t particularly fussed.

close-up of loose whip stitching attaching a silk lining to a wool hood at the center seam

To construct the hood, I joined the two halves of the hood for 9 inches along the center back seam with a tight whip stitch. I folded the rest of the center back into two matched sets of cartridge pleats and secured them.

A 24 inch neckband seemed to be the average consensus between all my sources – ancient AND modern – and a 24 inch length set the neckband resting where I wanted it on my collarbone, but I was a little worried about the weight of all that wool dragging it down, so I settled on 23 inches. Sodden winters are cold enough. I didn’t want to worry about a wind chill on top of it.

To attach the hood and cloak body to the neckband, I marked the center of each piece, and pinned them together at edges and center point.

The hood was lighter, so i attached that first. Pinning at the center points, I pinned the hood to the neckband, pleated the excess hood fabric into a couple of knife pleats around the center back point, and stitched the hood down to the neckband.

The hood of an 18th Century cardinal cloak is pleated and pinned to a neckband

Next I pinned the body to the neckband. Rather than gathering all the way around, I pleated the excess fabric in the cloak body down into knife pleats for about 2 inches on each side of the center back point.

I don’t like the feel of wool melton against my skin, so I cut a strip of the silk dupioni for a neckband lining.

Neckband of red cardianal cloak

When you’re whipping a neckband lining over multiple layers of thick fabric, pre-measuring often leaves you with a lining that is too small – you haven’t accounted for the bulk of fabric beneath.

So – first I graded the cloak seams and pressed them inward to the center of the neckband

I cut a lining a little wider than the neckband. I pressed down the seam allowance of one long edge of the lining and whip-stitched it to one of the long neckband seams.

Then I pressed and pinned the lining down over the lumps and bumps of wool beneath, and finger-pressing a fold into the other long edge of the lining, I pinned and fidgeted it until the finger-pressed fold matched up with the other neck seam

I whip-stitched that second fold into place, and then I folded in the seam allowance of the short ends of the lining, and I whipped them down as well.

Close up of the silk neckband of a red 18th century cardinal cloak

And there I was. I almost had a cloak. Only two things left to do –

The first one was easy. First I sewed on a heavy-duty hook and eye (Burnley & Trowbridge has a nice selection!) to secure the neck.

Second, I stood on the floor in my flat 1790s slippers while my mother-in-law marked the hem. She marked it where it touched the floor all the way around, and then, at last, this cloak project got REALLY creative.

The hem is marked on an 18th century cardinal cloak

I smoothed the great cloak out on the floor, and I took all the chalk markings that ran in and out and up and down the bottom of the cloak, and I rationalized them into a regular curve. Anyone who’s taken a physics class in school and has had to create some sort of line graph out of the sort of experiment where you’re bouncing a ball or rolling a little car down a slope, bouncing it a hundred times while you’re changing the slope that the little car rolls down and you’re doing it under the most scientifically unsanitary conditions of raw, hopeless, prurient interest in just how utterly graphically meaningless your results are going to look –
Anyone who has had to massage a data set that is nothing BUT outliers into something your teacher is going to recognize – or at least give a grudging grade for effort –

They’ll know what hemming a circle cloak is like.

I must say, it’s a lot more fun when you’re the one doing the grading. I awarded mine two gold stars, a pint of haagen-daaz icecream and a box of after-8 dinner mints.

After that, I all I had to do was fold the cloak in half and check that both halves matched, and where they didn’t match, make them.

Once I had a my line, I adjusted it upwards to just above my ankle bones, added an inch for seam allowance, cut it,

Excess fabric is cut from the hem of a cardinal cloak

pressed it, hemmed it –

And then it really was done – an 18th Century Cardinal Cloak.

Tabubilgirl walks toward the camera wearing a green 1790s round gown and wrapped in a red cardinal cloak

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