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A Shapeshifting (Reversible) Hunting Coat for The Devil/Fox
Outline the story …
The Devil/Fox appears in folksong/story "The Little Black Fox". A rider complains that his foxhunt is ruined only by lack of quarry, and boasts they could beat The Devil if given the chance. A fox then appears, but with unusual colouring: “...fur... the colour of a starless night and... eyes like burning coal.” They chase the fox without success, whence it reveals itself as The Devil and proceeds to chase the terrified hunt back into town.
The song is by Graham Pratt, inspired by a Yorkshire folktale of a foxhunt-gone-wrong noted by Katharine Briggs. That tale isn’t online; the closest I found was Dartmoor story of a woman who manifests as a black-brush fox to similarly revenge herself on her killer. There’s also Reynardine, presumed-bandit-but-definite-rake in circa-1800 broadside ballads, later linked to anthropomorphic fox Reynard and interpreted as a shapeshifter with foxlike qualities. Foxhunts with hounds began mid-16th century, then increased popularity and developed recognisably mid- to late-18th century; late-18th century coincides with Reynardine’s appearance, which date I chose for my gentleman-fox/manifestation of The Devil.
My garment references gentlemen’s coats circa 1795-1810, with fox-like sleek silhouette and long tail, but colour palette of both red fox and hunting coat are reversed making it “night-coloured” with red lining. The lining uses a slightly different pattern referencing late-18th century women’s riding coats, which also makes the coat reversible/androgenous/ambiguous. Imagine it worn with a then-fashionable tricorn hat tilted forward to conceal the face, with two red cockades/rosettes giving the illusion of glowing eyes.
Outline the construction…
Funds allowing, I would’ve used dark velvet at least for a collar detail and black/red melton for the rest. Instead I used old bedsheet and curtain; they at least have structure, and the pattern on the purple curtain gives the impression of a cloud-smothered (starless) night. I don’t have any historical patterns or books, and libraries here have been closed since March 2020, so I eyeballed a pattern based on online museum photographs and unprovenanced Pinterest patterns scaled/adjusted to my measurements, then adjusted details that didn’t sit right to better match historical images and my own size. Starting from the smooth three-seam coat standard for circa-1795 menswear, I took a tuck out of each side panel to get the nipped waist/smooth torso usually achieved by a waist seam in circa-1805 riding coat (and more foxtail-like flare effect). I made the ‘female’ lining separately, eyeballed the changes from a Diderot pattern, added little ‘horseshoes of straight grain’ to reinforce the skirt splits (as described by a contemporary writer in Norah Waugh) before joining it seam-to-seam to the outer jacket for reversability.
Beyond the patterning challenge, I’ve never made a coat (or really sewn anything apart from hemming teatowels and some hand repairs), so that was... a steep learning curve. I discovered Costube in first lockdown, plus various blogs on Georgian- and Regency-era fashions, so I absorbed the general gist of how to put clothes together by osmosis/binging before starting. I sewed some seams on machine and did the rest by hand.