Sunday, May 20, 2018

1770s Fashionable Gown - In Progress, Part 1

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, I have jumped head first back into historical sewing. The fabric, pattern and bodice mock up had been sitting in the stash for over a year now. So when my friend planned a sewing weekend with some of our reenacting friends early this spring, I figured it was a good excuse to pull out the project and get back to work.

I'm using the 1770s Fashionable Gown pattern from Sign of the Golden Scissors. This pattern is fantastic and has needed only very slight alterations to make it fit. While some may raise an eyebrow at the price of this pattern, keep in mind you are getting A LOT for your money. All Smith and Larkin historical sewing patterns are essentially one of their two day sewing workshops in an envelope. It's not just the paper pattern for the gown and bum roll, but historically accurate sewing instructions, notes on fitting, fabric choices, stitches, etc. as well as historical information on the particular garment you are going to recreate. Included is a colorful documentation card that you can carry with you if you choose. The instruction booklet for the 1770s gown is 35 pages with color photographs to help you with each step. 

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When making an item of historical clothing, it's important to make a mock up. Especially if you have never used the pattern before. I've made a few 18th century gowns before so I'm pretty familiar with the steps involved. However, the fit of this particular gown is very different from my other gowns. First off, it's important to note that this style of gown is high fashion for the mid 1770s. The neckline and placement of the shoulder straps reflect that, as well as the looping of the gown skirts. This gown would not be appropriate for my normal middling class or British camp follower impressions. I'm not making this for any particular event, but rather more of a "just because I can" kind of project. And yes, it's going to be entirely hand sewn for the same reason.

Fabric choice is super important, I went with a lovely striped silk taffeta that is similar to what I've seen in period portraits and original gowns.


I used some miscellaneous fabric in my stash for the mock up. There are two sizes in each envelope so I cut the 34 bust as it seemed closest to my size when wearing my stays. The only adjustments I found were needed were to shorten the shoulder straps a bit and to lower the arm holes just a touch. After that I moved on to cutting out my lining and silk bodice.

During my friend's sewing weekend I completed my bum roll, assembled the linen lining, minus sleeves and shoulder straps, and cut out all the pieces for the silk bodice. I even finished sewing the pleats into the gown back pieces.




The side seams of both the linen lining and the silk are constructed with lapped seams. The sleeves use the same period technique but require an extra step to whip the lining into place. For those that have the new American Duchess kind to 18th century sewing the lapped seam in shown on pages, __.

Here is what the sleeves look like prior to stitching. I posted a live video on my Facebook page talking about this if you would like more details.



I spent one evening cutting out the panels for my gown skirts. Originally, I thought would skip the step of cutting my silk into period correct widths and save a little sewing time. The gown skirts are made up of two front panels, two sides, and one center back panel.

As it turned out, given the actual width of my silk and not wanting to waste any, it was actually easier to follow the instructions and cut multiple widths and then tapper the lower edge of each panel as needed. (Because bum roll!!) The instructions called for each panel to be 23 inches wide, as that matched the width of the original gown the pattern was based on. My silk was 50 inches wide so my panels are actually 25 inches wide. I will be able to incorporate the selvedge edge of the fabric into the gown fronts which will be nice. And of course I had kitty "help" because no sewing project would be complete without it!

With help from my husband, I tired the linen lining on to test the fit again. Then had him help me pin the silk on top, again to test the fit. Something just seemed wonky with the fit but was excited to see the gown taking shape. I suspected the fit issues had to do with the waist placement so I consulted the fitting section of the American Duchess 18th Century Dressmaking Guide. Turns out I was correct so I will need to bring the lower edge of the waist up just a bit before adding the skirts to get rid of the bodice wrinkles. Once I attach the skirts the weight of the silk will help smooth things out as well.

So, my next steps with this gown will be to pleat the skirts (SOOOOOOOO MUCH PLEATS!) Make my adjustments to the bodice and reattach the linen shoulder straps so the skirts can be attached. Then assemble the bodice lining and fashion fabric. Once that's done I can set the sleeves (again with help from the husband) and add the silk shoulder straps. The only thing left from there will be hemming and trimming! 

FITTING NOTES!!
  • This pattern was created as a one for one copy of an original in a private collection. The bodice fronts were pieced on the original gown so a pattern piece is included for the "bodice front extension." Instructions for the gown trim are also based off the original.
  • This gown is designed to wear over period correct undergarments i.e. shift, 1770s/80s stays, bum roll and, if you wear one, an under petticoat. Pick you pattern size based on your measurements while wearing proper undergarments.
  • This style also requires a bum roll to help give the gown it's "fashionable" shape. The pattern and instructions for the bum roll are included.
  • The shoulders may feel very restricting at first. I found when I first tried the mock up on that I had to rotate the whole bodice further back then I thought. Then the neckline, which is lower and wider than my 1750s/60s gowns, sat where it needed to which should be just above the top of the stays. 
  • The arm holes are meant to be high and snug and the sleeves should fit closely as well. You will want to make sure your shift is a mid to late 18th century style with close fitting sleeves to eliminate bulk.
  • The lower back section of the bodice is not meant to sit flat against the back, it needs to have some "space" if you will, to fit over the bum roll.

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