Draping An En Fourreau Pleated Back For A 1770's Robe a l'anglaise - Sarah Lorraine, July 2006

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.

Inside of Bodice
Images reproduced from Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 , page 24-28

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.

Basic Toile Front
Basic Toile Back

To learn how to drape a bodice block, click here.

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.

Step 1. Take a piece of linen the width of your shoulder-to-shoulder measurement, and the length of my back (approx. three inches below the nape of your neck to about two inches below your waist). Note: It is not necessary to have a seam running down the center... I just used two scraps of linen sewn together.
Step 2. Checking my seam placement on the shoulder and side seams, and trimming my back piece so that it forms a point at the center back waist.


Step 2a. My shoulder piece wasn't quite wide enough, so I pinned a scrap piece of linen... Step 2a. And trimmed it to match.


Step 3. I split my 45" wide fabric in half down the center, so my back piece is 22" wide, and quite a bit longer than I need it to be, just in case.

I started by creasing the center (to help me guide the placement of the en foureau pleats) and pinning edges to the shoulders, and at center top and center bottom.

Step 4. I created a fish dart at the waistline, running from the side seam to about 2" to either side of the center back, keeping the fabric above it on grain as much as possible. This will be slit and become the waist seam.


Step 3a. Here's a better shot of the waist dart and the back in full. I've pinned the top of the muslin from the edge of the shoulder to about 4" from the center. This creates the excess fabric that will be pleated into the back to form the en fourreau back. Step 4. I started with the center back and made the first box pleat about 1" deep on either side, angling down to about 1/2" at the waist. The second "under pleat" is actually 1/2 a box pleat and takes the remainder of the excess fabric.

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...

Step 4a. Adjust the pleats at the bottom and then repeat for the other side. Step 5. Snip the waist pleat to about 1" from the outer en fourreau pleat on either side. Once you've made the cut, this becomes your waist seam, and the bottom fabric is pleated up in fine knife pleats.

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.

Step 6. Here's an aerial view of the muslin pattern laid out over the chintz. You can see it is essentially a long rectangle with an arching cut at the waistline. Step 6a. Here's the final shape of the bodice front.

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...

Step 7. Pleating the back piece as I did with the muslin. I hand stitched the en fourreau pleats using a spaced back stitch. Step 8. Pinning the bodice front, I pulled the side back seams around to the back, folding seams under and pinning down. These seams will be top stitch with a spaced back stitch. Repeat for other side and check fit.


Step 8a. The en fourreau pleats showing the spaced backstitch in blue silk thread. Step 8b. The inside, aka the money shot.


Step 9. A shot of the inside showing that the lining piece is still basically a rectangle, and that the top stitching on the reverse creates the shape of the bodice. Step 9a. The bodice front lining, which has been stitched down on the front edges and neckline, is turned to the back, pressed, top stitched and the side back seam using either a slip stitch or whip stitch.

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).

Step 10. Checking the fit over the corset & bumroll now that all the major seams are sewn down. The center front opening is pinned, right edge over left. Step 10a. The back looks good, too! Now the sleeves are ready to be set into the armscyes.

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!


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