c.1780 Italian Gown – Intro

A couple of weeks ago I started a new, large-ish historical project: a c. 1780 ‘Italian’ style gown with matching petticoat although. This is very like a robe a l’Anglaise except that it has a completely separately cut bodice and skirt – so no ‘en fourreau.’

The reason for doing one of these now is another Gadsby’s Ball on November 12 that’s 1780s-themed. Hooray for not being Regency! As much as I love it, I’m getting Regency-d out. Most of the balls around here have been for that period over the past year and I recently finished a c.1800 ensemble I still need to post about, so I’m very ready to do something different. I’m pretty excited since I’ve never done 1780s before! Bring on the pouf!

Anyway, my fabric for this is an iridescent rust silk shantung – a very smooth one. I bought it from Fabricmart during one of their silk sales wherein it was described as silk taffeta and looked very smooth in the photos. When it arrived I discovered it was actually shantung – a very smooth one, but nonetheless not taffeta. This had happened once before with a silk purchase from them so I sent them an email to let them know there was an issue. I didn’t ask to return the fabric because it’s gorgeous all the same but wanted them to know it made me wary of ordering from them in future. They sent a kind reply saying they’d gone back and amended all the relevant listings on their site and sent me a $10 gift certificate by way of apology.

So, that’s a long-winded explanation for why I decided to just go ahead and use shantung for this instead of actual taffeta.


It’s pretty scrummy, shantung-ness notwithstanding.

For this ensemble I’m doing a bit of a Janet Arnold mash-up. Essentially, I’ve combined 3 of her late 18th century patterns:

The main one is this 1775-85 gown in the Snowshill collection (now at Berrington Hall). I’ve done research there, pity this one wasn’t on my radar at the time to check out in-person.


However, there are a couple of photos of it online via the National Trust.

These also helped confirm that I needed to use the rust silk for this project:

Open robe polonaise National Trust Inventory Number 1348722.1 Date 1780 Materials Card, Linen, Metal, Shot silk, Silk, Taffeta Collection Snowshill Wade Costume Collection, Gloucestershire (Accredited Museum):

p59 JA 40. Petticoat - 4.5 widths. Flat pleated towards sides. Top edge bound linen tape, ties both sides. Deep self flounce all round hem:

Kind of meant to be, eh?

I used the pattern of this dress for the bodice (minus sleeves) and will replicate its trimming.


However, I chose not to use it for the skirt or sleeves. This skirt appears to be box-pleated which:

a. I didn’t want, I specifically wanted to do the tiny, tightly packed knife pleats so prevalent at this date

b. they pinged me as non-original construction. I’ve never seen an 18th century dress with a box-pleated skirt as original construction. I’m not saying it can’t be, but I just think it more likely to be a later alteration. I’d need to examine the dress in-person to be sure – hence why I’m so sorry I didn’t think to check this one out on either of my trips to Berrington Hall. Oh well, I definitely will next time!

Instead, I used the pattern  for this skirt as the guide for mine:



I didn’t actually cut it with all the little pleats delineated as on the pattern. I actually just cut the waist edge straight and angled the hem edge to have a slight train. To get the overall curve along the waist edge I’ll turn down the fabric after it’s been pleated – I’ll post photos showing this when I get there if this doesn’t make sense to you now.

I muslined the sleeves of my inspiration dress pattern but just didn’t care for them. So I used the sleeve pattern of this dress (which I would also love to make some day – that vandyked collar is just the most!):

2016-10-26-07-48-33 2016-10-26-07-48-50

I made a couple of slight alterations to this pattern as well in not using the sleeve head pleats indicated (I’ll fit it directly to the dress) and not bothering with the little tuck at the inner elbow, I curved the sleeve a little more instead.

And, I’m aiming to replicate this kind of sleeve cuff/decoration. I’ve always been fascinated by this cuff style and am keen to see if I can do it myself. I’ve already gotten some very good advice on the Historically Accurate 18th Century Sewing facebook group about this. Wish me luck!


I’ve decided to cover this project over a few posts. I’m not going to go through the construction step-by-step, but I will document several stops along the way and thought it best to separate the main elements (ie, bodice, skirt, trimming, foundations) so I didn’t end up with an enormously long single post. I hope that’s ok with you!

Mini Gala at My House

Last weekend I hosted my first party at our lovely, historical row house here on Capitol Hill. The idea was for it to be like a mini little version of the Costume College Gala to give local people an opportunity to dress up in periods they may not usually get to (if they were so inclined) and for me to be able to make some new friends and continue getting to know others. As such, it wasn’t period specific, people were encourage to wear whatever took their fancy/don’t get to wear often/made them feel fabulous!

So I thought I’d share some of the photos taken since everyone looked so fabulous!

In keeping with the date of the house (1908) I had been on the lookout for some time for classic-looking champagne coupes and finally got a set of 12 (from I’ve already forgotten where) a month or so ago. I really wanted them in time for this party!


I also brought out our little chocolate fountain


Photo by Kat

Yes, those are stained glass windows in the dining room. It’s going to be a wrench when we have to leave this house in a couple years!

And no, this isn’t all the food there ended up being – quite a bit more showed up after this, I’m still working through the left-over baking!

I didn’t make anything new for this, instead opting to wear a c.1912 style evening dress I made for a Titanic-themed dinner in 2012 (before I started the blog). I also thought it apropos that it suits the age of the house.



photo by Kat

Unfortunately, it’s gotten a little on the snug side. Good thing I’ve started running/exercising again!

Jess came in an adorable 1920s dress.


Photo by Kat

And to be fair, she wasn’t the only one who was double-fisting wine and champagne at some point.


Photo by Kat

Gloria and Mike – I loved Gloria’s Victorian Catwoman cosplay, it was fabulous!


Photo by Kat

Although my favourite may have been Glynnis’s A-mazing Robe de Style. It was just divine!


Photo by Kat


Photo by Kat


Self-portrait by Kat

Sahrye in a Victorian fancy dress costume of a raven that was really wonderful


Photo by Kat



Photo by Kat



Photo by Kat



Photo by Kat


I think this is when Taylor was showing me an image of a parrot bathing in a chocolate fountain.

Oh, and her headpiece is something new she made, a beautiful carnelian bead one to match her necklace. Hopefully she’ll be offering more like it in her shop.

Maggie’s beautiful ensemble with the jacket she cleverly eked out of 1 yd of fabric!

So much pretty!


The ever-fabulous Jenny Rose

Glynnis also had just perfect hair and hair accessories for her dress




Kat brought cards and a booklet of old games for some high-class gambling ;o) (aka, an old candy she had in her bag and a drawing of a tiara done on a napkin).

Tarisa was exquisite in her regency eveningwear


Kat’s seriously epic 1830s hair



A small-ish gathering but lots of fun (3 bottles of champagne certainly helped with that) and fantastic outfits!

Thank you so much to everyone who came and helped make this house even more beautiful!

My hope is this will be just the first of many for the remaining time I get to live in this gorgeous house!

2016 Summer Frock Parade – Vintage Bedsheet Dress

This is a second dress inspired by this vintage early 60s (?) one with the button tab shoulders:

1950's Floral Print Sun Dress:

You can see the first one I made here.


As you may have guessed from this post’s title the fabric is a (vintage?) bedsheet I found at Value Village probably 2-3 years ago.

I used the same bodice pattern as before, modified from this early 60s one:

2016-07-14 13.17.28c

The skirt is selvedge to selvedge panels of the bedsheet (yet another nice thing about using bedsheets for sewing is that they usually have pretty nice selvedges!). Since I wanted as little left over of the sheet as possible (and I think it was a twin size?) I cut 3 panels for the skirt, each 1.65m wide making nearly 5m in this skirt – it’s a lot of skirt! And sometimes makes finding the pockets difficult, lol. To make my life easier, I used my ruffler foot to pleat/gather it all up at the waist.


As opposed to a couple of the last dresses I posted that had flat piping at edges, this one has actual proper piping around the neckline/armholes and waist.


I only ever wore this dress with the white pumps and purse for these photos but I’ll have to make sure I have occasion to do so next year, they’re the perfect accessories for it!


A detail of the waist piping…


And the button tabs. I played around with a few button options (at first I was sure these orange ones in somewhat abstract flower shapes would be perfect) and ultimately decided on these blue ones that match the piping. At first I ruled them out as being too small but discovered I liked the effect of them in pairs.


Another exposed zipper using a vintage blue one because it’s what I had!


The dress interior (are you getting tired of these yet? I feel like they all look basically the same):


So much skirt!


for added stability I stitched-in-the-ditch around the piping of the frontwards facing tab on the right side – you’re seeing it from the underside here.


Such a happy dress!


And this is the last dress (so far) photographed by Taylor. Next post will be about what I did for her in exchange for playing photographer for me. Hint – we’re going back to historical sewing.

2016 Summer Frock Parade – Light Grey Cotton

When I finished this dress back in early summer it was actually a UFO from the end of summer last year and who doesn’t love getting a UFO off their hands?

This is the pattern I used for the bodice, only I made it sleeveless and brought the neckline in a bit as I didn’t want it quite so wide. For the skirt I just cut 2 selvedge to selvedge panels and pleated it up into the waist.


And voila!


I’m not sure but I think the fabric may also be vintage. There’s something about the weave and the soft crispness of the hand that you just don’t really see in current fabrics. Also, it was narrow-ish (about 40″ wide) and has the most beautiful selvedge (haha, how much of a sewing nerd must I be to admire selvedges!) that’s perfectly smooth and clean, which you hardly ever find on modern fabrics. I got it from Value Village a few years ago, so who know?


I feel really happy having used this fabric for this dress, like the textured grey cuts down the sweetness of the collar and full-ish skirt.


While at the same time making a neutral colour so interesting!

I changed up the skirt pleating from my usual a little by leaving it flat for a few inches across the front and then knife pleating it all the way to the centre back. I think it’s definitely something I’ll do again.


Unfortunately, it appears I may not have shortened the bodice back quite as much at the waist as I ought to have done but at least I’m usually completely unaware of it, not being able to see it myself! Lol It’s tough to tell from the photo but I did a rather nice hand-picked zipper for this one, too.


A couple of detail shots, and once again, photo credit to Taylor (we had a whirlwind photoshoot day back in August)



And a look at the insides:


In addition to those awesome selvedges – which you can see at the side seam allowances – the best part about the insides of this dress is the polka dot binding.

It’s actually the reason why this dress became a UFO last year. I had not grey or white binding at the time, found this polka dot one on etsy, ordered it, but it never showed up. I eventually contacted the seller who very graciously sent a second cut of it. But by the time it all got sorted I was deep into Fall sewing and so left this until Spring/Summer.


The bodice lining fabric is leftover bits from a thrifted bedsheet I intended and cut to use as lining for a Victorian dress but ended up changing my mind about. It’s a thin cotton sateen with printed white pin dots that feels just wonderful as bodice lining!

The final awesome thing about this dress is that I believe I may be able to wear it year round! Although it’s awkward to try and wear a sweater over it I can wear long-sleeved tops under it and with a slip I have I can wear tights with it too!

Do you tend to make your you-sewn clothes be year round too or ever had it happen as a happy coincidence?

2016 Summer Frock Parade – Flamingos!

While the border print dress of my last post may actually be the most beautiful dress I made this summer I do believe this one is the most fun, because:



I saw this (Michael Miller) fabric on facebook on the We Sew Retro Show Show & Tell page one day and immediately went and ordered 2 1/2 yards for myself. I HAD to have it, because:



And lookit, another border print!

Funnily enough, while the dress has a decidedly vintage kind of look to it, there’s nothing vintage here at all! The pattern is a bodice from one of my Burda magazines that I altered to have the cap shoulders (I just realized I don’t know the proper term for this, well that’s new!) and the skirt is just a rectangular length of the fabric knife pleated into the waist.


I added flat piping again, this time to the seams of the midriff band.


A close-up of the awesome fabric


A close-up of the back showing the hand-picked zipper I decided to do this time.


And while this pair of shoes wasn’t purchased specifically for this dress, it is the one they seem to go with best, and in coral suede they are equally impractical as the lavender ones. But I’m not sorry, with the lavender, corals, aquas and ivories my summer shoe collection is starting to make me think of a modernized version of this and I love it!

And the dress insides:



Once again, photography credits go to Taylor Shelby of Dames a la Mode whose coral bead necklace and earrings I’m wearing with this dress!

Have you ever seen someone else’s fabric and decided that you just had to have it too?

2016 Summer Frock Parade – Vintage Lavender

This is probably my favourite of all the dresses I made this summer, I just love how it turned out.

This was the happy result of a vintage dress inspiration and the right fabric coming along at the right time.

Here is the original dress that happened along my Pinterest feed and set the ball rolling:

Vintage 1950s Dress / by TuesdayRoseVintage:

It was love at first sight and I decided I *needed* a border print dress. I took to Etsy (I really prefer their platform to eBay’s, I find it much more user-friendly) and scoured the listings for a border print I liked.

And I found this:

Vintage Floral Border Print Cotton Fabric // 3 yards 33 in by 37 inches wide > purple, yellow on white- dress, skirt

I know it’s not exactly the same but it was more than close enough for me! I snapped it up immediately and eagerly awaited its arrival.

I looked through my vintage pattern stash for the same style of bodice as the original dress and decided on this one:


I just modified it slightly to omit the button-front (though I’d like to include it another time I use this pattern, I think it’s super cute!)

And here’s how mine turned out:


A big thank you to Taylor of Dames a la Mode for playing photographer for me for this dress, the last dress post and a few more to come!

The border print was only along one edge so both skirt and bodice were cut along it to get this pattern placement effect.


While the 4 yds of fabric I got (that’s all there was, it’s an actual vintage piece of yardage) may seem like a lot, the bodice took nearly a whole yard of the border print leaving only 3 yards for the skirt. This may still seem like a lot, but I would have loved to be able to put a full 4 yards into the skirt to make it *really* full!


However, I’m really not gonna complain too much!


I decided on an invisible zipper up the back to be as unobtrusive as possible while still providing a back closure (I believe I’ve mentioned how much I dislike both sewing and wearing side dress zippers) – and I happened to have one in my zipper stash (yes, I have a zipper stash, I have stashes for just about everything sewing related – it’s better than drugs, right?).


The pattern doesn’t match at centre back, I didn’t want to waste any of the print, but it’s busy/full enough that it’s not jarring, thank goodness.


When the fabric came I went through my grosgrain ribbon stash (see what I mean?) to see if I had a colour that would both go with the print and resemble the shade of the original dress.



I also found in the bias binding stash (yup, seriously) another not-quite-the-same-as-the-ribbon shade that matched the print well and used it for a flat piping. If you aren’t familiar with it, flat piping is basically like piping without the cord in it. You sew it exactly the same way, just omitting the cord part – another sort of lazy trick. I think the original dress has white, proper piping, but I liked the look of the lavender better for my dress.


And, confession time: I bought these shoes to go with the dress. I hummed and hahed about it for a few weeks because it seemed so silly to buy (not cheap) shoes in an impractical colour/material (lavender suede – I may be able to wear them about twice/year) but they were just so perfect for the dress! And…..don’t hate me, but they’re Ivanka Trump shoes. That was another reason for hesitating but again – just too perfect! I console myself with having eventually gotten them for almost half off so there was significantly less profit made from them. Credit where credit is due, Ivanka Trump has some pretty great taste. Now I need to make more pieces to go with these shoes to help justify them a little more, lol.


According to these photos this dress may not be that absolutely most flattering on me but I don’t care! I think it’s beautiful and I love it! Though maybe I should wear something like a longline bra under it to get a nicer, smoother fit to the bodice.

A couple interior shots:


I did my usual bodice-only lining of cotton voile, in white. The only downside to this dress is no pockets – I didn’t want to cut up the border print any more than I had to so it’s got only one seam at the centre back, finished with white cotton bias binding. The hem is a nice 2+ deep one so that the print begins close to the bottom edge of the finished skirt.


Tub Chair Slipcovers

About 2-3 years ago, as part of the ongoing effort to adult-ize our furniture situation we got a pair of inexpensive Tullsta armchairs from IKEA during a sale:


I chose this one specifically because you can buy different coloured, fitted slipcovers for it. Not that I wanted to use the IKEA slipcovers, but getting one and picking it apart gave me a ready-made pattern to make my own.

I bought fabric and even cut the slipcovers out shortly thereafter.

And then it all sat in a bag until this past spring. I had been meaning to make them up numerous times, but never had anything I quite liked enough for piping – which I knew I really wanted to do. However, this past spring I realized I finally had just the thing – the leftover fabric from making the piping for my loveseat slipcover!


We were also having a houseguest for a weekend in…..was it May? and that made it seem like the perfect time to finally get these done. Here’s the result:


The most serendipitous part of this is that the fabric colour – chosen 3 or so years ago for a completely different room – works really well with the colouring of our current sitting room/parlour/drawing room (seriously, I’m convinced this rooms was used as an actual “withdrawing room” in the evenings back when the house was built in 1908; there are pocket doors in the doorway behind the chairs in the above photo).




A couple details:


There’s a zipper in that piped vertical seam


And I decided to finish the bottom edges with elastic so they’d hug the bottoms of the chairs. I really didn’t feel like making a skirt-type-thing.


I also made contrast/co-ordinating cushion covers that I just love! The below photo is of the back of one of them – I spent a ridiculous amount of time working out the pattern matching of the side of the cushion you don’t see. Everyone has their little OCD quirks, right??



What’s kinda funny is the we’ve since got another loveseat-type-piece that’s actually now where the chairs were – and it’s in a print that’s similar to the cushion covers!



Do you do home décor sewing or are you all about the clothes?