Who doesn’t love to watch a magic trick? I think they can be a lot of fun, at least as long as I’m not the volunteer from the audience. Especially for this trick!
To pull off any Perfon’s Shirt without undreffing him or having Occafion for a Confederate.
This trick requires only dexterity, and nevertheless when I performed it at the Theater-Royal in the Hay-Market everybody imagined that the person whom I had tricked out of his shirt was in a confederacy with me.
The means of performing this trick are the following, only observing that the cloaths of the person whose shirt is to be pulled off be wide and easy.
Begin by making him pull off his stock, and unbuttoning his shirt at the neck and sleeves, afterwards tye a little string in the button-hole of the left sleeve; then, passing your hand behind his back, pull the shirt out of his breaches, and slip it over his head, then pulling it out before in the same manner, you will leave it on his stomach; after that go to the right hand, and pull the sleeve down so as to have it all out of the arm; the shirt being then all of a heap, as well in the right sleeve as before the stomach, you are to make use of the little string fastened to the button-hole of the left sleeve, to get back the sleeve that must have slipped up, and to pull the whole shirt out that way.
To hide your way of operating from the person whom you unshirt and from the assembly, you may cover his head with a lady’s cloak, holding a corner of it in your teeth.
In order to be more at your ease, you may mount on a chair, and do the whole operation under the cloak. Such are the means I used when I performed publicly this trick.
–PHYSICAL AMUSEMENTS and DIVERTING EXPERIMENTS, 1784
That kind of describes what it feels like when I’ve tried to change clothes in the car. Actually, I think this trick would require a good bit of dexterity, as well as a few practice runs. But still not as much as was required to make this little boy’s shirt. A lot of stitches went into it; decorative backstitching on the collar and cuffs measures about 32 per inch. The simple hemming was 12-14 stitches per inch and seaming (like shallow overcasting) was up to 20 per inch!
The boy’s shirt is made like a man’s shirt. There were 20 parts in a “gentleman’s” shirt:
The body, two sleeves, two wristbands, two binders, two shoulder-straps, one collar, two sleeve-gussets, two neck gussets, two side-gussets, two wrist gussets, one for the bosom, and the frill.
This one, however, was made with without the shoulder straps (a strip of linen along each shoulder), binders (lining next to the armscye), wrist gussets, or a “bosom gusset.” It did have a frill and an inserted pleated front made out of finer linen
It was interesting to see that the two separate ruffles were both sewn to the wearer’s left side, and hemmed folded in the same direction, making them look correctly worn when both are folded over toward the right and exposing the pearl buttons. On all the other shirts I have or have seen, the ruffles are hemmed with each side’s hem folded inward toward the front opening.
The SHIRT TRICK was republished in other books over the following decades. It even showed up as late as 1870, but by that time the cut of a man’s shirt was more fitted and complex, and I doubt the stunt would work as easily. Maybe the little fellow who wore this had a copy of the The Boy’s Own Book (1828) and had a go at it? I can’t imagine the maker would have appreciated seeing her work handled so roughly and the “person who was unshirted” might have had to conjure up an explanation!
2 thoughts on “The Shirt Off His Back”
On the other hand, it does look sturdily made, for all its fineness. Maybe such rough handling was anticipated?
Absolutely! With stitches so close and tight it could take some wear. And it had to survive the laundering, too, which could be pretty traumatic. 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person