Historically Accurate Highlander Shirt

Creating 16th Man’s Century Scottish Linen Shirt

My client is a true Highlander. VERY tall [6’4”], very broad and muscular 55” chest, and extremely muscular all over. He requested a period correct Scottish linen shirt to wear with his favorite kilt [his family tartan]. 

The project began by researching and reading and reading and putting the information into the perspective of the life of the wearer. Long dangling sleeves would prevent you from doing regular work. As a result, I researched more and found samples of similar shirts for the common person.  Then came the conundrum of sourcing top quality linen made in Scotland.  That in itself took quite a while and the price was worth the results! 

My research began with the reference book, Old Irish and Highland Dress by H. F. McClintock.  This book has more primary source documentation for Gaelic clothing (Ireland and Scotland as well as some on the Isle of Man) for the pre-seventeenth century period than any other source.

The original garment of the Gael was the léine. The word “léine” has been translated from the Gaelic as “shirt” in addition to “tunic”. As a result, I knew we were talking about a longer shirt that covered more when worn with a kilt.  Made sense to me as men wore nothing under their kilts and the léine would provide more protection and warmth.

I went back to several reference books on the subject [not many around]. I wanted to ensure he had accuracy and comfort, and something would last a long time. The ENTIRE shirt was stitched by hand using waxed linen thread.  The wax is beeswax that is then ironed/pressed into the fibers of the thread giving them more strength.

SO…. using the client’s measurements, I drafted a toile [sample garment made first to work out details].  As the shirt has two buttons on wrists, I found hand cast custom pewter buttons. 

Custom cast pewter button
Hand Bound Button Hole
Practicing Hand bound buttonhole.

Each seam was finished on the inside of the shirt as well [turned under and fell stitched].  This helps the shirt last longer and look neater.

When thickness was a potential issue such as the front neck opening, I chose to interface with silk organza and facing made of the linen. This was pinked [cut with pinking shears – a scissor that creates tiny triangles on the cut edge to prevent fraying of the fabric].  Then was stitched in place with tiny stitches that are basically invisible. 

I am fortunate that I was properly taught to use a tailor’s thimble and hand stitching goes more quickly for me.  If you are interested, look up properly using a tailor’s thimble on you Tube, your sewing will never be the same!  Even so there is more than 60 hours of labor in this project and a good deal of that is in pressing. When sewing, pressing is a key component to quality results. 

The linen was a joy to work with. It DOES wrinkle, but we all know the benefits of linen and as a natural fiber is in line with my goal of ONLY creating sustainable clothing. 

Unfortunately, I had cut the seam allowances a bit small and it made my task far more daunting. However, the final is spectacular. [IMHO]

Creating 16th Man’s Century Scottish Linen Shirt

Our hours are by appointment only. Especially during these days of the plague.  In this way we have sanitized the studio and provided N95K masks.

In addition my service dog the Mighty Thor is in the house.  An active puppy who loves everyone, so be prepared.