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!

7 thoughts on “c.1780 Italian Gown – Intro

  1. What an amazing project – I love both the styles you’ve picked and the fabric you’ve got is (nearly!) perfect
    The I’m new to this and I am just (rather ambitiously!!) starting to make my own Snowshill open gown – the same as your main pattern. If you are able to give any tips regarding the boning I’d be SO grateful.


    • Thank you, and good luck with your own project! With regards to the boning I’m probably going to skip most, if not all of it. Not all extant dresses have it so it may not be absolutely necessary for you to include it. I did make channels to bone the centre back seam, but kind of messed one of them up a bit. I’ll be doing a post soon about the bodice construction soon and will talk more about it there.


  2. I am grateful you’re breaking this up. I love and adore the long posts and deep dives, but I feel like I’m participating (and getting excited about) the event coming up. Which sort of makes you both the subject and the breathless reporter on this project.
    Bring on the tiny gathers!


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