Love the look of the en fourreau (pleated back) gown, but don’t know where to start? In this tutorial, I walk you through the steps of how to drape an this iconic 18th century style.
Originally published July 2006. Updated November 2014.
Images reproduced from Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 , page 24-28
I plan on draping the back of my en fourreau 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.
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 française (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).
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.
Finished product (July 2006):
To see more images of this gown, click here.
This gown was updated in 2009. To see the diary, click here.