Ninya Mikhail, the ‘Tudor Tailor’ at work recreating Thomas Coram’s coat
We got in touch with Ninya Mikhaila, the ‘Tudor Tailor’. Co-author of the best-selling book The Tudor Tailor: reconstructing 16th century dress, published by Batsford in 2006, she is a maker of high quality reconstructions and replicas of historic dress, working to the individual needs of heritage sites, museums and private clients. Clients include Historic Royal Palaces, The National Trust, English Heritage, The National Archives and the BBC.
Ninya aims to create museum quality garments and accessories, with each item handmade in appropriate materials with fastenings and trimmings reconstructed to be as close to the originals as possible and we knew she would be the right person to help us.
As Coram’s portrait is painted from the front, Ninya had to decide what was most likely for the back of the coat. She found a picture of a greatcoat that was held in the Royal Ontario Museum that is very similar to the one Thomas Coram wears in his portrait so she could see what the back of that was like. She also used her many books that had coat patterns from the 18th Century, and was able to find a likely template for the coat in the portrait.
Ninya drew around the pattern pieces onto broadcloth material, using tailor’s chalk and then cut them out. She said:
The high quality of this fabric means that you can just cut the edge completely raw and it won’t fray. It also means it hangs really beautifully because it doesn’t have turned bulky hems. – Ninya Mikhail, the ‘Tudor Tailor’
To sew the pieces together, Ninya used unbleached linen thread as “with period garments that survive we can see that the constructional seams that are going to be hidden away on the inside of a garment are always sewn with this undyed linen thread which is very strong and very functional”. Matching silk thread was saved for visible stitching, such as the button holes, and sewing on trims, the more decorative aspects.
For the button holes, Ninya uses a button-hole cutter. The holes look long, but only a small section is functional. “First I’ve sewn around a little box of running stitches to hold the layers of the facing and the top fabric together, and then the hole is cut, and then the functional button hole is worked and then the decorative part of the button hole is worked and that doesn’t have any opening at all”.