Finally, an 18th century gown! I started foundation garments for this era two years ago – really, my first foray into historical costuming at all – and then ran up against a big mental block and never cut into my fabric. (It’s okay, the fabric wasn’t a good choice anyway.)
I was invited to Gloria’s 18thc tea (which took place this past Saturday), and figured that now was the time to buckle down and make something. I only had about two weeks, so it was going to be rough – not as well researched as could be, well-sourced, and maybe not quite as well made as possible. But a fair attempt was made, and I think the end result looked pretty good!
I looked through my available quick fabric sources, and found a striped cream silk broadcloth that looked to me to be fairly 1770s/80s. Looking through my ‘Historical Checks and Stripes’ folder, I found several c.1775 gowns that looked to be exactly what I was aiming for. The one below left especially resembles my fabric, though it’s probably a taffeta (and has weird flappy bits??).
I couldn’t attend the Fort Frederick Market Fair a few weeks ago because I was finishing up the semester, but my dad did, and kindly bought me the J.P. Ryan English Gown pattern. While I would have loved to make a gown en forreau, I couldn’t depend on having a helper, so I decided to make it Italian style – i.e., a separate fitted bodice and open skirt.
I referenced the American Duchess book several times before finally deciding that I might as well just follow most of the instructions. I ended up referencing almost the entire section on the 1780s Italian gown, including the split bum, cap and petticoat. (Or maybe it was the 1740s petticoat? Either way – their instructions on leveling skirts were great.)
The J.P. Ryan gown is built to go over pocket hoops, as far as I can tell, but I figured that making a split bum would be easier for the short time I had.
I started out with the bodice lining, in unbleached linen from Jo-Ann’s. It fit me almost perfectly; I only needed to angle in the strap seam where it met the fronts, and I had a great block. (The sleeves were another matter, as I discovered later – the caps are far too high, and in general they’re almost too tight. They do fit, but next time I’ll add an inch or more to the width.)
It is worth pointing out the comparison over different stays: I tried the lining on over the two that I own and got very different results in the chest and length.
The yellow were made for me by HistoricalDesigns on Etsy a few years ago, and were taken from the 1770 Diderot pattern. The red I made myself from the original AD stays pattern. Neither fit perfectly; the yellow are a bit small, and while they look amazing under the lining here, they compress my chest and I can’t wear them for very long anymore. (Fully boned.) The red are partially boned using the 1776 boning chart, and while they’re incredibly comfortable, they’re also too small in the bust by several inches, and not quite high enough.
I went ahead with AD’s split bum pattern after that, knowing that I shouldn’t bother with petti or skirt until I’d figured out the supports. This was a pretty easy pattern to follow, and I just stuffed them with polyfill since that’s what I had on hand. I still don’t understand why the half-skirt bit is necessary underneath – anyone care to enlighten me? It mostly just serves to get in the way when going to the bathroom!
I made the petticoat after that – finally, taffeta! So easy to work with. The fabric itself is striated in two shades of brown – pretty sure that’s a modern thing, sadly, but it looks fantastic past five feet and it was languishing in my stash, so it got used.
I leveled it with the AD instructions – by myself, too! and it worked pretty nicely.
Once I started cutting the silk for the bodice, I realized just how light and slippery silk broadcloth is. It’s NOT ideal. Certainly not as bad as habotai or charmeuse, but I was cursing it pretty soon in. I decided to flatline it onto some stiff cotton, and I’m not sure if that made it any better. It made the lining more difficult to turn under, and it was barely any easier to sew. The back doesn’t look as nice as it should. 😦
The skirt was a lot easier; I cut the panels according to AD rather than JPR and went ahead and hand-sewed the edges down. I knife-pleated it and pinned it to the bodice over the other foundation garments, and then leveled it from the floor while it was on my mannequin.
Once that was trimmed, I went back up to the waist. I cut down the middle and folded everything back, and then did about three different handstitching passes to both secure it to the bodice, and to tack the folded pleats down. I’m sure I didn’t do it correctly, but it works, which was the important part for this dress.
I stitched in the lining (and pick-stitched the edges to reduce the bulk) and then admired the butt for a while. A+. Time for a little bit of decoration!
I wanted engageantes, but didn’t have time to find good lace, and didn’t know if my dress was going to be fancy enough for self-fabric versions. I’d bought some linen for a new chemise and accessories, so I roughed out the shapes and went for it, pinking the edges.
I also used The Pragmatic Costumer’s tutorial for ruffled trim – it worked like a dream. Thanks!
You can tell that I got a bit lazy/desperate – I should have stitched the trim down to the silk, and then put the linen inside so that it was removable for washing. But as I noted before, the sleeves are a bit tight, and I was reluctant to put anything else inside them. Outside was fine! So I ended up sandwiching the engageantes between the sleeve and the ruffle.
So that was the gown done. I knew that I needed something at the neckline, because while my stays are much lower at the bust, the straps do show. AD suggests a neck ruffle, but I liked the idea of a nerkerchief. I checked through a few blogs to find average sizes for extant examples, and wound up cutting a triangular one, with its square edges of 35″. I also put a slit down the middle for neck ease.
Once this went on the dressform, I realized it was all coming together. Such a good moment.
I made the linen chemise at this point, making sure to have the shortest sleeves that the gussets would allow. (I have an older cotton chemise made with elbow length sleeves, but they rumple up under these sleeves and makes it all the tighter.)
The last steps were for a cap and a hat. I figured that I might as well use the 1780s AD pattern since that seemed to be the theme! I was running short on time by that point, and unimpressed with the teensy pieces, simply roll hemmed it all with my machine. Not the most quality of historical construction, but my god: even with the machine it took three hours to make the thing. I was so done. (I left off the larger caul ruffle – it was a bit much for me.)
Best thing about that cap, though: I could just pouf my hair a bit at the front, braid the rest, and be done. Excellent.
I bought my hat blank from PennyRiver on Etsy – much easier than trying to make my own. I looked through a bunch of extant bergère hats and just did a simple ruffle at the crown with two opposing five part bows (AD again – 1740s hat). I’m sure I’ll redecorate it more appropriately in the future. I have got to stop using the same seafoam ribbon for my hats…
The day of the picnic arrived (it had turned into an indoor tea because of rain), and there was an amazing spread. We had made an apple cake, cucumber sandwiches, and lavender earl gray scones (when I say ‘we’ I mostly mean @ban_ana_bread over on IG made them while we vaguely helped or watched, because she is amazing).
Kristin came in her 1799 best, and I lent her a set of coral jewelry that I made a while back for Regency wear. I accessorized with a gorgeous pair of earrings from Dames A La Mode… (I have three pairs, and never got to wear them for events until now. I wear them to work all the time, haha!) and cream Frasers from American Duchess.
I had a wonderful time with everyone – I’m so happy to have met more DMV costumers! – and I can’t wait for the next gathering.