Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Proper Look at the Check Gown

This is an older project but one I realized, after a recent Facebook discussion on 18th century crossbarred gowns, that I have not properly shared. This post has actually been sitting, unfinished, in my draft folder for quite some time so I figure it was about time to complete it. Also, it has been a while since my last non-vintage post. I first blogged about my blue and white crossbarred gown here. And you can read a little more about my research here.

The  inspiration.
The black and white print, Native Meltons, by British artist Richard Houston (c.1721-1775). Which is based on the painting, The Oyster Girl, by French artist Philippe Mercier (1689-1760). The original painting by Mercier was sold by Christies in 2013.

Painting - "The Oyster Girl" by French artist Philippe Mercier (1689-1760).
Print - "Native Meltons" by British artist Richard Houston (c.1721-1775) Fitzwilliam Museum
Second print

A young woman standing beside a window at a table, a basket by her right elbow, opening oysters and putting them on a plate in front of her, looking up towards the veiwer, wearing a wide-brimmed hat over a frilled cap; after Mercier.
Print - "The Fair Oysterinda" British Museum
"The oysters good - The Nymph so fair! Who would not wish to taste her Ware? No need has she aloud to Cry'em Since all who see her Fare must buy'em.' "

The fabric.
You will notice that my fabric has one extra vertical stripe so it's not a perfect match to the print/painting. Pretty darn close though! As I mentioned in my first post about this gown, I bought the fabric long before I found the painting/print. Here in New England there used to be an annual gathering called the Women's Winter Weekend. It was a chance for the ladies to get together for a couple days and share research, period recipes, patterns, and various 18th century sewing and crafting skills. It was also a chance to purchase fabrics, trims, books, etc.

Gown construction.
I had made a few gowns before this one, but mostly with solids and one with stripes. I feared the checks on this fabric would be difficult to work with but found the opposite to be true. Plus the linen itself was a dream to work with. It didn't hurt that I had some very talented ladies helping me out! A very large portion of this gown was constructed during a Hive workshop with the ladies that run Larkin and Smith. This gown is made very much like their new gown pattern.

The lining is constructed first using a firm linen fabric. The back of the gown has a center back seam and the side seams are lapped. Next I cut the panels for the center back and skirt, having measured from the base of my neck to a few inches above the floor, and from my waist to a few inches above the floor. The skirt panels were seamed with the long running stitch and then set aside. It's important to note that if you plan to wear any kind of hoop or bum roll under your gown you need to take those measurement over them. Since I planned to use this gown for a gowning class impression I didn't bother with either of those.

Setting the sleeves.
You can set the sleeves of an 18th century gown yourself if you have a dress form, but it's certainly easier if you have someone to help you. This is a nice close up showing the pleats and basting stitches on the sleeve head. This area is then covered with the robings.  

This is a good photo showing the gown front before the robings were adding. You can see the little darts that help shape the bodice at the bust and also the placement of the sleeves. I was wearing my old stays for this workshop. The gown fits a little differently over my new ones.

Adding the robings
The robing are just stripes of fabric sewn into a tube and then tacked to the gown fronts. On some surviving examples the robings are only sewn to the shoulder area and left floating. We did a pretty good job of lining up the stripes. :)

Adding the gown robings.

Here you can see the neck facing being pinned in place. The edges are mitered to meet the edges of the robings.

Adding the back neck facing
Pleating the skirts.
Here you can see all the pins holding my pleats in place. The gown bodice and pleats are first basted in place. Then the pins are remove. Basting is an extra step but it makes sewing the pleats so much easier and you don't need to worry about pricking yourself.

Pleating the skirts
 Side view

The finished gown. My first outing with this gown was a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.

This has become my favorite gown to wear for events. Because it's linen it is cool and comfortable. I enjoy wearing it with a striped petticoat and printed neckerchief just to mix things up a bit. One of these days I'd like to get the materials together to actually reproduce the print this gown is based on.


  1. How wonderful that there was someone to pin things in place for you. No one in the family understands me when I ask for help.

  2. So pretty! Love the pleated back, it looks so nice with the striped fabric.

  3. Beautiful!! I love the checked fabric, and the style is gorgeous! Those pleats are just perfect!


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