A step-by-step picture tutorial for one method of creating a pleated back English gown of the 1770s. This popular style actually dates to the early 18th century, but was refined for a later 18th century silhouette around 1770.
A Question of Date: Since I don't have a definitive date for the Fragonard sketches, I was going on the ballpark estimate that they both dated from around 1760-1770ish. Also, Gown #3 in Costume Close-up is dated 1770-1785, and since it resembles the two sketches, I decided to go with the date of Gown #3. It wasn't until I started wondering about whether or not I needed a bumroll or side hoops that the issue of whether or not I'd gotten the date of the sketches correct.
The dress appears to be virtually identitical to the style of dress in the Fragonard Sketches. And it appears that the construction is fairly straight forward. I plan on draping the back of the gown on my dress form as Katherine did for her blue linen round-gown with a linen bodice as my base.
Since this is my first attempt at 18th century clothing, I am going to do the right thing and make a complete mock up. I usually skip this step with my 16th century stuff since I'm so familiar with the construction methods and fitting issues of that particular era. This time, though, I think it would be a good idea to make sure that everything works the way it should. And I can't start on the mock up until I have the right underwear... And the underwear is giving me a bit of a problem right now, as it is. So there will probably be no real updates on this portion of the project until I have a corset and some kind of support structure underneath.
In the time between this step and my next step (about a week), I was invited to participate in a workshop with Janea Whitacre, the supervising mantua maker at Colonial Williamsburg. After watching her drape and fit a robe a la francaise (aka sack/sacque back gown), asking a few key questions and getting a chance to inspect an anglaise gown she had brought with her, I changed my mind about how I was going to go about the draping process on my own anglaise. Kendra's toile was a good idea, though, because I'd need the same front bodice shape.
Liberating Thought of the Day: Don't try to make this into an exact science, because you will drive yourself insane. These gowns were draped to fit the wearer, so each and every gown is an individual work of art. Getting it to be visually correct is the key here... Not to reproduce an exact pattern every single time.
Note: The back pleating is different for everyone, depending on amount of fabric you're pleating down, your shoulder to shoulder measurement, etc. You have to fuss with it a lot to get it to look right. Remember, there's no such thing as precision perfect...
Here's where I goofed a bit... After examining some extant anglaises, I realized that I'd placed the waistline at the natural waist, as I'm accustomed to doing in 16th century gowns. The prevailing trend for the 1770's and 1780's seems to be to have a longer waistline that curves in at the waist and sits at the top of the hips. I didn't make this distinction until well after the pattern was cut out and the gown was mostly sewn, but I'm keeping it in mind for the silk taffeta version.
Now I've cut out the back of the gown from my fashion fabric. From the 22" piece I have left over from cutting my fabric in half down the center, I split it again in half and used it for the skirt at the side back seams. I cut another 22" piece for the front of the skirt (basically just a 45" wide panel split in half for the center front skirt opening), and a linen lining for the bodice front. It may be a good idea to use a gore at the side seams, but I skipped this step. I'll deal with sleeves later...
Shoulder Straps: The process for attaching the shoulder straps is basically the same as with every other seam on the bodice... My pattern has a shoulder piece cut in one with the bodice front, but it does seem to be a regular occurrence that the shoulder piece is entirely separate in extant gowns. Both are correct for this era.
Starting on the outer/fashion fabric, position the shoulder correctly and then turn the seam under and top stitch with a spaced back stitch. Turn the bodice inside out and repeat the process with the lining, using a slip or whip stitch to secure it to the back lining piece (you don't want the stitches to come through to the front).
A word about hand sewing... I did the bulk of the hand sewing in about a day (8 to 10 hours of sewing total). This is not to say that I'm a fast hand sewer, just that it honestly doesn't take that long to do. Plus, with this particular type of gown, machine stitching would ruin the effect. I'm a big fan of using machine stitching on inside seams that won't be seen, but I find I'm doing that less and less.
Click on the images to see the final product!
copyright 1999-20011 - Sarah Lorraine. Site layout based on Dreamweaver-Templates.net