Late 1780s Cutaway Front Anglaise + Hat of Unusual Size (H.O.U.S)

This dress is the first off the list of 2017 historical sewing projects. Hooray for crossing items off lists, I love that feeling! (if you’d like to, you can check out the full-ish list here)

This is something I had planned/wanted to make for some time – basically ever since I bought the fabric a few years ago. It’s a scrummy silk taffeta in irregular micro-stripes of light robins egg blue and ivory and I the moment I saw I had late 18th century visions. In fact, I loved it so much that after first buying 6m of it I went back to the store (it was on sale at Fabricland) and bought the rest of the bolt for a total of about 12m!

After making my quarter-back Italian gown in the fall I really wanted to make an Anglaise with an en fourreau back. Initially I thought I would do the regular kind, just with the late 18th century quite narrow en fourreau. But then I saw this and I was instantly won over:

Robe à la Polonaise Date: ca. 1775 Culture: British Medium: silk, cotton:

I had actually seen one (or two) other such dresses in-person in the UK as part of my research so I knew it wasn’t a complete one-off-outlier and I think it’s just such a neat twist on the en fourreau style I had to have it!

I was also keen to try a cutaway front bodice (often referred to as a “Zone front” but as that’s a modern term I try to stay away from using it) and so put all of these elements together in one dress.


I started out by making the bodice lining and then mounted the silk to it. For this I made things easy on myself and just used the bodice pattern pieces from my Italian gown since I already knew they fit. I only changed the centre back piece a little to give it a deeper point at the bottom.

The first part of the silk I worked on was the back en fourreau – although I did make a mock-up first! I took the pattern piece I used for the lining and combined it with one of the 1770s en fourreau dresses in Patterns of Fashion. I wanted to see if the regular en fourreau piece could just be pleated in the opposite direction to get what I wanted – and it worked! Imagine how happy I was to find out it really was just that easy!

So I went ahead and cut out the silk and pleated and pinned it to the back lining using my inspiration image as a guide:

Then I stitched it all down with combination back-prick stitches, cut the bodice sides of the silk and mounted them to the lining with the same type of stitches.

For the bodice front I used my pattern piece as the starting point and just changed the cutting/style lines to get the two layers of the cutaway front look. I mounted the main bodice pieces to the lining and finished all the way around the front contrast pieces before starting to tack the skirt.

Here’s what it looks like underneath (fyi – the skirt is pleated here but the waist seam is not yet sewn)

I then pleated up the skirt with small knife pleats that are 1 1/4″ total but show only 1/4″ on the outside. And thank goodness for the stripes on this fabric – teeny as they are – that helped me keep my pleats straight!

I sewed the waist seam right sides together with backstitch for sturdiness – but only with the silk layers together. I had sewn the silk bodice layers separately from the linen for the bottom 2″ or so:

In order to be able to do a clean-finish inside the waist! I actually got this idea from looking through my research photos of the interiors of 1780s dresses. I was so tickled when I saw this technique on one of the dresses, I think it’s just so clever and is really so easy to do!

So here’s an in-process pic of the finished back and waist seam – I was so pleased with how it turned out!

Next up were the back neckline yoke/binding and the sleeves. These are both done in a way that’s kind of a holdover from mid-century construction techniques but which were still used sometimes later in the century.

A couple shots of the finished dress with the petticoat made from the same lightweight silk I used for the bodice contrast layer:

I thought the dress looked rather plain on its own so started playing with ideas for sashes:

I really like how this looked overall but didn’t like to cover up so much of the back pleating as it’s pretty much the best feature of the whole dress!

So I started playing around with faux-sash ideas that went across the front only:

Oh – and I added a ruffle to the petticoat hem as well. I wasn’t totally sure how I’d like it at first but I think turned out great and really adds something to the whole look!

I did ultimately end up choosing the black – it’s this gorgeous scrap of vintage/antique satin back silk velvet ribbon. It’s a strong contrast but I planned to wear it with my black Dunmores and add a few other black touches so I figured that would help it harmonize better.

BIG-ASS HAT (aka H.O.U.S.)

You may be wondering what the impetus was behind making this new gown at this time (or maybe not, because do we really ever need a particular excuse to make pretty dresses?).

Well, it was to wear at a specific event that I was so very excited about: The Big-Ass Hat Tea. Yes, that is actually what it was called.

So, to complete my look I needed a hat. And not just any hat. A Big-Ass Hat.

I made the hat within only a few days of the event so don’t have very many in-process pics but I’ll show you what I’ve got and try to fill in the blanks.

Oh – and after debating for a couple weeks what kind of late 18th century style hat I wanted here is the inspiration I settled on, proportions and all:

 Magasin des Modes, June 1787. 

1787 - Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français:

Hee hee hee.

To make my hat I started from the edge of the brim and worked upwards. I took some millinery wire and determined the circumference I wanted. Then I took a straight strip of buckram, sewed it to the hat wire circle and then slit it at regular (approx. 5″) intervals so I had a whole series of flaps attached to the hat wire. I overlapped them at the top until I got the size I wanted for the base of the crown. I also bulged out the overlaps a little to create some curve to the brim like in the second image – although I think I did this a little too much and would make it a much gentler curve if I were to do it again. Then I stitched all the buckram flaps together to get a solid shape:

As you can also see from the photo above, I covered the underside of the brim before the outside. I used scraps of sage/olive silk taffeta left over from my Natural Form Tea Gown. It’s just a tube that’s the same circumference as the brim’s outer edge and just gathered up to the inner edge.

I did the exact same thing to cover the outside of the brim, using some of the leftover fabric from my dress (I still have something like 6m left). Of course, it was only after I’d done this that I realized I needed some wire around the inner edge of the brim for stability. Fortunately, it was easier to add than I feared it would be:

I used the outer fabric to bind the edge of the brim and cover the raw edges of the lining. I did this by sewing it right sides together just inside the underside of the brim and then flipping it up and around the outside of the brim – if that makes sense!

The crown is made from 2 big circles of cotton organdy and a really pretty translucent (rather than transparent) ivory silk organza from my stash. The organdy circle is a little smaller than the organza to enable the latter to puff and drape about it a little more freely.

Inside the crown is a shallow tube of white linen with a drawstring in it for adjustability. This does not allow it to sit on the head securely, it’s actually meant to keep help keep the hat as high on the head as possible considering how large the brim is. In future I will likely need/want to use a hatpin in it to hold it more firmly to my hedgehog wig – if I can ever find one long enough! Ha!

I trimmed the hat with the gold figured ribbon I had earlier experimented with as a sash – without cutting it! It’s all puffed and gathered and made into the bow at the front just by folding and pinning. I had some other black velvet ribbon scraps that I made into accents tucked and pinned into the bow and voila!

So, how did it all look together? Here are a few photos from the Big-Ass Hat Tea (for which I was unfortunately sick but was encouraged to come anyway and I’m so glad I powered through and did!)

The following photos are courtesy of Dames a la Mode:

The Hat inspired some shenanigans :o)

It ate other hats:

provided the base for a hat tower:

Provided exceptional shade from the sun and a place to pretend-pout:

A few more courtesy of Robin:

A few other people tried on The Hat

The inspirational Cynthia of Redthreaded had fun with it (btw – those gold dots on her dress that really set the whole thing off? She added those individually BY HAND!!!)

Taylor looked totally bitchin’ in it!

And then last week Taylor (aka Dames a la Mode) suggest a photoshoot at the National Arboretum – which was just inspired! Such a beautiful place and so perfect for taking pretty pictures!

Not keen on the wrinkling happening at the bottom of the cutaway cause by the bias-cut of the fabric, so this is something to tweak.

Also – the back pleating/stitching is slightly marred by all the ties around my waist of petticoats and 3 layers of false rump. Another tweak to make: add boning to the back seams to preserve a smooth line.

Just after this photo I noticed a big old tree a little ways off, so we went to check it out

That’s just a portion of the trunk:

Is this epic, or what!!??

Look, something actually dwarfs The Hat!

This is definitely a new favourite place to take photos.

Overall I’m very happy with this outfit but there are a few tweaks to make, which I’m going to list here for my own reference:

  • add boning to the back bodice seams so that multiple waist ties don’t create an unsightly bulge and distract from my hard work on it
  • a set of slightly longer stays. I’ve been thinking this for a while anyway. I think I need ones about 1″ longer. I’m short-waisted as it is, I don’t need this emphasized by too-short stays. I think this will help the bodice sit better and help decrease the puckering of the cutaway front
  • I may also tack down the cutaway parts closer to the edges to help keep them from stretching out
  • while I do like the black faux sash at the front waist I think this particular one is too wide for my frame – that whole short-waisted thing again
  • and I’m feeling tempted to replace the current sleeves with the two-piece style that was so popular in the last couple decades of the 18th century. I think those would look cleaner and sleeker
  • I think a bow/breast knot at the top of the neckline at centre front could be a nice addition

25 thoughts on “Late 1780s Cutaway Front Anglaise + Hat of Unusual Size (H.O.U.S)

  1. This is fabulous! I’m curious about the pleating on the back of the gown. I have one in mind with similar pleating. When you cut the center back piece to separate the bodice from the skirt, did you need to do anything special? Most pleats go the other direction and the end of the cut can be concealed under the outer most pleat. How did you keep that area “clean” without raveling? Does this make sense?


    • I totally get what you mean because I had the exact same concern myself! Short answer: be very careful and precise with your stitching, particularly at the juncture point. I would recommend tackling this portion when you are feeling very patient, lol!

      I would also recommend beginning the skirt pleating as close to the juncture point as possible so that you get the closest to a concealing pleat as you can. Then just be very careful with the stitching. Sew the same with the bodice side up so that you can best see and control what’s going on. Oh, and that juncture point should be very close to the centre back, there should only be a very small space of the en fourreau that’s smooth. This helps the centre back en fourreau pleats and skirt pleats to kind of visually blend together when viewed as a whole.

      I hope that makes sense and was helpful! Good luck with yours, I’ll be looking forward to seeing it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I thought you looked FAB! And the en forreau pleats are so lovely and tidy…I admit I didn’t give them more than a passing glance in person, but in my defense I was distracted by That Hat. 😉 I love 1780s styles, I think they’re so elegant!


    • Thank you! And I can totally understand being distracted from the pleats by The Hat, lol. I’m deeply in love with 1780s at the moment too. So elegant, as you say, and so much variety, too! I thought you looked absolutely exquisite at the tea – perfection in every way! I just tried to comment on your blog post but I think Blogger ate it :o/


  3. Beautiful dress – the work that went into those pleats is fabulous. I love the hat and yes it is indeed LARGE! I see that tree in the forest and wonder how many damsels stood under it (although it would have been much smaller) in their similar clothes enjoying the view many, many years ago. Definitely a perfect location for your photos!


  4. So gorgeous!! I love head-eating hats when they are as spectacular as this one. And the pleats on your dress are divine!! I think the tree wears the hat well 😉


  5. Your work is inspirational as always (ho hum, brilliance, ho hum) and the hat shenanigans are deelightful.
    The tree is going to have to go into all your photo shoots. That is amazing.
    Which begs a question: how far was this tea? And…uh… how do you travel in that style of dress?
    Do you and ensemble travel separately (you get dressed there)?


  6. Hello again! How did you find the groups of like minded women that appear in your Christmas and H.O.U.S. parties? The reason I’m asking is that my sister and I share custody of our great grandmother’s 1899 wedding gown. At first we thought we would donate it to a museum in the area where she lived, but no one was interested without extensive research on our part. I think we would just like to know that it found a good home with someone who would enjoy wearing it (or at least looking at it). We took it to Julia Brennan at Caring for Textiles and she put it in the freezer for two weeks to kill any bugs, did one or two tiny repairs, and then packed it in an archival box. Unfortunately, Julia didn’t have a dress form small enough to display it, so I don’t have any decent pictures.

    Since I live in North Arlington and work in Georgetown, I was delighted when I found your blog and discovered that you were nearby!


  7. Mmm, what a gorgeous dress! I love the back pleats and the lovely pleats of the skirt as well. The hat is, well, giant! 🙂 What a stunning tree! I think you could take all sorts of photos there!



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