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:
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.
My latest – very frantic – make, is an 1876/77 Natural Form day or reception dress in striped silk taffeta and plum cotton sateen.
It was made to wear at a Victorian Christmas tea I hosted at our house last Saturday. A big part of the reason for the tea’s Victorian theme is that I’d started missing Victorian sewing over the past few months, nearly all the historical events and activities around here have been either 18th century or regency. I know, I know, life is so rough, huh? I swear I’m not complaining but I have wanted a little change of pace. I’m also still deeply into a Natural Form phase and had started planning out this dress at least two years ago so I was delighted to have a reason and opportunity to finally make it a reality!
Now I can finally show you the whole look of my new 1780s ensemble all put together!
(In case you’re just tuning in and/or would like to revisit the construction posts I wrote about this here are links to the bodice, petticoat, and skirt + finishing)
(and I will still be doing a post about the sleeve cuffs, some of the underpinnings, and the wig, which I will link to here when it’s done and up)
Taylor (aka Dames a la Mode) graciously volunteered to do a photoshoot for me last Friday. The location is St James church + yard just up 8th street from my house here on Capitol Hill that’s done in an atmospheric faux-gothic-Jacobean mash-up style. I kinda love it!
And now on to the show!
A quick re-cap of the original dress/pattern in Patterns of Fashion and how I modified it:
the original dress has a box-pleated skirt but I wanted the tight, narrow knife pleats so common for this period.
(Also, here are links to my posts on making the bodice and petticoat)
So I used the skirt pattern from another dress in Patterns of Fashion as a rough guide.
Although I still did things a little differently from either. I cut my skirt as two full-width panels of my fabric with a little bit of a train at the back but completely straight along the top. Instead of cutting the waist edge with a curve I just sewed it with one – you’ll see what I mean in a moment.
The style of the petticoat is based off the original one that goes with my primary dress inspiration/pattern in Patterns of Fashion:
Although to make it I simply cut 2 panels of my fabric, with the back slightly longer than the front to help accommodate the false rump that’s going under there. I also pleated mine differently from the original since it appears to have been done according to an older style where the pleats all face towards the side/pocket openings – another clue that the ensemble *may* have been an earlier one altered in the late 1770s/early 1780s. During the later period petticoat pleats tend to all face towards the centre back similarly to dress skirts, although the pleats themselves tend to be larger than on dress skirts.
To re-cap, here is the bodice pattern I was using from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion:
I did make and fit a muslin first but am not going to bother with that here, let’s get right to the fun stuff!
**Warning: Long and image-heavy post ahead**
A new fashion exhibition has just opened up at the Daughters of the American Revolution museum here in DC, ‘An Agreeable Tyrant’: Fashion After the Revolution. It explores Americans’ various relationships with prevailing fashions during the early Federalist period of 1780s to 1820s. Over the past year I’d been assisting the curator, Alden O’Brien, with the exhibition. First, with some late-stage planning and design, then with drafting scaled down patterns of several of the garments going on display, a little bit of photography, and finally mounting the garments on their mannequins including making adjustments to the mannequins themselves and also making some of the underpinnings needed to properly display the garments. Most of this was on a volunteer basis but I also wrote one of the essays for the catalogue (on fashion and thrift) and that was on a professional level. It was very exciting for me because its the first time I get to see my name in print this way!
FYI: The exhibition runs until April 29, 2017 and the catalogue is available to purchase online here – and they do ship internationally.
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.
A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to kill several overdue birds with one stone: finally wear my blue silk spencer and olive green shako hat in a proper ensemble, get some proper photos of me wearing them and visit a new-to-me historical site. All of this courtesy of the lovely and wonderful Taylor of Dames a la Mode who invited me for an afternoon at Ft McHenry in Baltimore the Sunday of the July 4th long weekend!
With us came the delightful young Melissa, in her beyond charming blue dress and accessories. Melissa had been interning at the DAR museum for a month and I’m so glad timing worked out that she was still in town for this (or maybe Taylor planned it that way, I was actually away most the time Melissa was in DC, so I don’t know these things).
We met up with Taylor’s friend (Taylor – remind me of her name so I can put it in here!) who works for the fort as a living historian and she took us on a little behind the scenes tour before we went wandering the grounds on our own.
Taylor brought her awesome DSLR and so lots of photos were taken mostly by Taylor (although I’ve done some editing to the ones she sent me), here are just a few. Admittedly, they are mostly sort of me-centred, but you get some of Melissa and Taylor too!
Shortly after I moved to DC I was told about this fabulous event called The Francaise Dinner. It’s an annual dinner organized and attended by people who just like doing this sort of thing! Last year and this year it was held at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria – hence, very local to me! So this year (in March) I got to go to my first one!
Of course, I needed to make a new dress for the occasion. 1. Because I nearly always need to make a new dress for nearly any actual “occasion” because reasons; and 2. Because I didn’t have anything really appropriate for this event. The date range did go up to c. 1799, but I really wanted to go more full-on 18th century rather than Neo-classical. It was also a perfect excuse for specifically making a historically accurate francaise – something I hadn’t done since the big crazy reproduction project during my MA – none of which pieces I kept (all donated to the university).
Not to mention I had THE PERFECT fabric for it – behold!