Category Archives: Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble

Chalk It Up To Experience (Remade Robe a la Anglaise)

I recently met up with friends from the Massachusetts Costumers to attend a colonial faire. It was a cold, damp, day so we had the opportunity to pull out warm clothes and accessories like mitts, muffs, and cloaks.

Here we are!

I wore the 1780s green striped robe a la anglaise I made last September, but I changed some things in an effort to make the ensemble look less costume-y.

Last year, for comparison.

First, I made a matching petticoat out of the remaining bit of striped fabric I had. I had enough to make the front stripes run vertically, but in the back the stripes are only vertical for about 12″ and then I hd to do lots of piecing to even have enough fabric. Right above the vertical stripes are stripes that run horizontal, and above that are remnants of my green 1900 skirt from Newport. And I really do mean remnants! There are 3 rows of pieced in remnants, some of those are even pieced together with vertical seams to be wide enough! Of course, you can’t see all of the crazy piecing, since the skirt of the anglaise covers it. And I was rather in a hurry while doing all of this, so I have to confess that I did not iron any of my seams… or my hem… Bad behavior, I know!

Robe a la anglaise worn a la polonaise.

Second, I decided to wear the anglaise a la polonaise. I did this in part to keep it out of the mud in the fields we would be wandering through, and partly because I found multiple examples of striped robes a la anglaise with matching petticoats that were worn a la polonaise.

Robe retroussee dans les poches. KCI. c. 1780. French.  In “…the “retroussée dans les poches”… [The] gown’s hem is pulled out from slits in either side, and draped on the back.” (From KCI) Okay, not actually a polonaise, but very similar.

Robe a la polonaise. KCI. c. 1780. French.

Third, I decided against wearing the straw hat I wore last year. The shape of the brim is good, but the crown is too high for the 18th century and the ribbon wasn’t sewn on in an 18th century decorative way. I thought of adding that same blue silk ribbon to my 1912 ivory mushroom hat since that hat shape also appears in the 18th century… but it seemed a bit too much to have an ivory silk hat to wander around muddy fields. Plus, after completing my hair style, I realized that I hadn’t made my hair big enough to support the hat (and I didn’t want to cover up the rolls I had attempted in the back!).

Bun roll hair.

Fourth, I attempted a new hair style with rolls in the back. I don’t think I quite made it, since it kind of looks like edible buns on the back of my head… But it was an experiment, and I learned some things, so it wasn’t a total bust. I separated the hair on the front part of my head and brushed it out and hair sprayed it upside down to add volume. Then I actually put it into a pony tail on the back of my head, which I pinned in place to create the poof in front. I then separated the pony tail into those three sections and rolled them individually. I took the remaining bottom section of hair, brushed it out a little, and pinned it up so it would fall from the bottom roll, rather than the base of my scalp.

Rather sad petticoat, but fabulous new muff!

Fifth, I wore my new 18th century muff! The muff is from one of the classes I took at Dress U this summer, with Stephanie Pool. It’s stuffed with 100% down and is super warm. The blue silk cover is removable, so I can make lots of covers and have interchangeable muffs! I was hoping to have the blue silk ribbon on my head to complement the muff, but that didn’t happen. Incidentally, muffs make rather good pockets… I was able to put a little bag with my phone, money, etc. in it as well as my camera inside my muff!

You can see the down filled pillow inside. The two ends have a silk ribbon running through a channel. You simply pull the ribbon to gather the ends and then tie them to secure the gathers. You simply have to untie the ribbons to loosen the gathers and change the cover!

I did sort of give up and not try super hard for accuracy when I was getting dressed. I decided not to wear stockings, because I didn’t want them to get dirty. I couldn’t find any shoes that were remotely 18th century-like. I clearly need to make some under petticoats and readdress my bum pad/roll situation (I had also made my bum pad smaller, since it seemed so large last year… but this year my skirts looked a little sad and droopy… so maybe I went too far?). I need to actually hem the silk tucked into my bodice, so it’s not a full square of fabric… Oh also, I guess I need to make some simple pockets, until I learn embroidery and make some fancy embroidery pockets as I mentioned earlier this year.

At this point, I am going to freely admit that I rather failed at creating an outfit that is historic clothing, rather than a historic costume. Certainly, there are some aspects of this ensemble that are correct. For example, I’m very pleased that I cut my sleeves so that the stripes go around my arm, not vertically. I think my trim is well done and really makes good use of the fabric I selected. And I like the scale of my stripes, but feel that the fabric is really not the right choice for a piece of historic clothing, rather than a historic costume. In addition to that knowledge, I have learned a lot about the construction of 18th century clothing, which I did not know when I made this last year. For example, I now know how to make petticoats the correct way, and how to construct the bodice of the robe the correct way, and how to sew the shoulder straps the correct way. I plan to make more 18th century things in the next year, so I will be sharing these sources with you as I go so that you will be able to gain this knowledge as well.

In the end, I’ve chalked this green anglaise up to experience, as every seamstress has to do, now and again. We all have to start somewhere. It’s pretty rare that the first thing you make from a totally new era is as correct as you want it to be!

Here’s a few more shots from the day, of me and my companions. Enjoy!

New caraco and quilted petticoat.

New jacket! In a day! You can read more at Jenni’s blog: here.

I really enjoy this pond. That willow on the right is the very same one we took pictures at last year!

It was chilly, so we stopped in the tavern at the inn to warm up a bit.

In front of the real fire! It was really pleasant.

Of course, I took this picture to be silly. There was a lot of picture taking and iphone-ing

Shoe shot! With our “chaperone,” who was obviously not wearing historic clothes.

Oh yes, and I’ve realized I don’t have any shoes that are remotely 18th century-like. So I need to deal with that too… I want yellow ones!…

Gallery

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part VI: Open Gown and Petticoat

This gallery contains 20 photos.

I constructed this 1780s ensemble to wear to various 18th century events. If you remember, I decided in the beginning of September to construct a robe a la anglaise and accompanying undergarments. Most of my commentary can be confined to … Continue reading

Gallery

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part V: Completed Stays

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Wohoo! My 1780s stays are complete! I think they turned out quite well. They certainly resembles my inspiration image. You can see that image and read more about the construction of these stays by reading this previous post. I made … Continue reading

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part IV: Construction of Stays

c. 1780 Corset at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

As I mentioned in my last post in this Project Journal, I decided to make a pair of stays like the one to the right. I like the unique features of these: specifically the use of colorful fabric, the fact that this is fully boned, and the cording in each seam as well as the absence of shoulder straps and tabs. I adapted a pattern from Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh. The pattern I started with had straps and tabs but I eliminated those elements to reproduce the pattern of these inspirational stays.

Cane boning

I decided to use cane boning for these stays for a few reasons: 1) I wanted to try a new material for boning 2) cane boning is period correct for the 1780s 3) given the amount of boning needed for a fully boned pair of stays the cane boning was much more cost effective (you can see the quantity on the left–it was about $15 from Wm. Booth, Draper) and 4) the cane boning seemed like it would be super easy to manipulate and, most importantly, to cut (and it was! normal scissors easily cut the correct lengths needed and it was easy to round the ends a little bit as well!). I actually only wound up using approximately half of the cane boning that I bought, so that means that I have plenty to use for another future project!

The silk that I decided to use as my exterior fabric is a fabulous damask. I originally thought about stitching my boning channels through the exterior fabric (as in my inspirational piece) but decided against that idea on this fabric, because it would really have just been way to much going on with the pattern and so many stitch lines. You can see the silk pattern a few pictures father down.

Stitching the boning channels

I didn’t want to stitch boning channels through my silk so I started the construction process by stitching the boning channels through two layers of cotton. You can see that I drew lines on the fabric so I could make nice, straight lines. The nice this about this is that I covered the pencil marking side with the silk, so on the inside of the finished corset all you can see is the stitching with no indication of pencil lines!

You can see the pencil guide lines on this side of the corset

On this side there are no pencil lines!

I did want my silk to roll around the center back opening on each side and then be included in the seam attaching center back to the next piece, so I stitched those silk pieces into the seams of the cotton. I just kept the silk out of the way while sewing the boning channels. Then, once the boning was complete, I stitched the remaining silk pieces to the flapping center back pieces and turned the whole thing so that the silk was on the outside with the seams facing the side of the cotton that had the pencil lines drawn on. Thus, the silk is just a covering for the cotton, it is not actually attached into the seams of the cotton except on the inside at the side back seam. You can see what I mean in the pictures below.

Stays with the boning channels sewn (you can see that only the center back silk pieces are attached at this point)

Stays with the cane boning inserted, before the silk is sewn on

The silk has been attached (you can see the cording and the pattern on the silk in this picture)

At this point the stays are almost finished! The last few tasks are to bind the edges (I’ll be using bias strips cut from the same cotton as the cording and lining) and work hand sewn eyelets along each side of center back. More pictures to come!

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part III: Undergarments and Sources

I’ve decided to build a Robe a l’Anglaise, in addition to a chemise and pair of stays to wear under it. You can look at this post to see pictures of the Robe a l’Anglaise. The style of stays that I plan to use is the one below left: no straps allow ease of movement in the upper body, which is more suitable for dancing. The corset on the right is from the same period: I include it for informational and comparison purposes. Many stays at this time were either made of patterned or colored cloth, as these two are, and I enjoy the use of color on the undergarments.

c. 1780 Wool and Linen Corset and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

c. 1780 Silk Stays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The chemises that were worn under these stays were fairly simple and almost always constructed of linen. Here are a few examples.

c. 1780 Linen and Cotton Chemise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1780-1800 Linen Chemise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1790-1810 Linen Chemise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I’ve collected some interesting (and sometimes conflicting) information regarding clothing from this period: these sources below were most helpful.

One of the best resources for this project is The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh. This book has images, patterns, contemporary quotes and construction details. It’s a great reference book to have access to for historic projects. Another wonderful reference book is Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860 by Janet Arnold. This book is great supplement to Norah Waugh because it has an abundance of great drawings to explain the construction of garments. Another book that I know would have been useful to have is Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail by Avril Hart and Susan North.

This website is also a great resource: La Couturiere Parisienne. It includes a fantastic collection of fashion plates, paintings, construction and pattern information, as well as fabric and color research for clothing from the 1400s through the 1900s. (Just a quick note that it can be viewed in English or German, and if you suddenly find yourself viewing it in German look to the top right for a little icon that you can click to switch it back to English.)

In terms of the materials needed for these items I found a great source for this project and future projects here: Wm. Booth, Draper. This website has all sorts of great things. For example, low prices on yardage of linen, cotton, and silk (in 18th century patterns and colors) and cane boning for corsets.

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part II: More Research

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have decided to attend 2 events this month that will require clothing from the period 1775-1799 which I do not currently own and from a period I am not intimately familiar with. Thus I began this project in a flurry of research. After thinking of the popular styles, Robe a l’Francaise, Robe a l’Anglaise, Robe a la Polonaise, and Skirt and Jacket combination, I am left with one more possibility that was particularly popular in the late 1780s and 1790s: the Chemise Dress or Chemise de la Reine.

Les Lavoisiers by Jacques Louis David, 1788

The Chemise Dress is a descendant of the style of dress first worn by Marie Antoinette, called the Chemise de la Reine. This quote does a fantastic job of relating the social values surrounding this style in a quite amusing fashion! Aren’t you as amused as I am by this quote?

1784. When down dances my ribbon white, but so bepuckered and plaited, I could not tell what to make of her: so turning about, I cried, ‘Hey, Sally, my dear, what new frolic is this? It is like none of the gowns you used to wear.’ ‘No, my dear,’ crieth she, ‘it is no gown, it is the chemise de la rein’. ‘My dear,’ replied I, hurt at this gibberish, which I was half ashamed to own I did not understand; ‘What is it? You know I am not like you, master of French; let us have the name of your new dress in downright English.’  ‘Why then,’ said she, ‘if you must have it, it is the queen’ shift.’ Mercy on me, thought I, what will the world come to, when an oilman’s wife comes down to serve in the shop, not only in her own shift, but in that of a queen. (From Lady’s Magazine: Printed in The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh)

Well, at first I was thinking “Ah! This is the dress for me! It is fairly simple (and therefore quick) and looks very elegant.” But then I thought about three big deterrents: 1-the similarity of a simple white gathered dress to the clothing from the turn of the 19th century, when afternoon dresses were white and somewhat similar in character and style, 2-the amount of extra fabric needed for petticoats to achieve the soft draping of the skirt and 3-the two events I plan to wear this to (#1: a vintage ball, for which an elegant train would be entirely impractical and #2: an American Revolution colonial fair, for which I would be cold, have a train that would just get dirty, and a style of dress that is about 15-20 years in the future). Those arguments eliminated this style as a possibility, but I wanted to share it with you anyway, because I think it is lovely.

Here are some more examples of Chemise Dresses in various other paintings. (Also, take a look at the hats, aren’t they fabulous? They remind me of the scale of hats in the early 20th century. Can you see the resemblance?)

Comtesse de La Chatre by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, 1789

Mme Seriziat by David, 1795

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part I: Initial Research

I’ve decided to attend 2 events in September which require clothing from the last quarter of the 18th century (1775-1799). This decision is rather at the last minute when it comes to building new historic clothes: I now have exactly three weeks to make a decision about what to wear, pick out fabrics, make patterns, and complete the construction of the garments. Yikes!

So I’ve been busy researching this period because it is not within the realm of my previous historic clothing projects, which have generally focused on the 19th century. Unlike women’s clothing in the 19th century, for which I can recall silhouette, construction details, pattern shapes, and fabric choices and colors with far less research for each garment (because I’ve already done all that research and it’s all in my head…), I really need the research to be able to consider reproducing historic clothing from the 18th century. Here are some inspirational images I thought I would share!

Here’s how this conversation went in my head: “Where do I start?” I asked myself. “Silhouette?” I replied. “Ah, yes. That sounds good. But… what is the silhouette during this period? Hopefully not panniers!” because panniers, you see, require a lot more effort to produce and a lot more fabric to cover. “Well, let’s start by looking for some images,” I suggested. And here we go!

c. 1770 Silk Robe a l'Francaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Now, you can see by looking at the above image that these gowns require panniers to achieve the exaggerated hip shape. You can also see that these gowns are Robes a l’Francaise, meaning robes in the French style. This style of gown has the characteristic pleating at center back that falls from the back neck line to the floor in one piece. This style, with the panniers and the Robe a l’Francaise, is not what I have the time to make in three weeks. So we move on!

1770-1775 Silk Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In contrast to the Robe a l’Francaise, I am actually interested in the style of dress on the left: the Robe a l’Anglaise, or English style robes. This style evolved from the Robe a l’Francaise: over time the side back seams of the Robe al’Francaise were cut close enough together that the characteristic pleats were no longer used.

Below, you can see another two examples of gowns in the style of a Robe a l’Anglaise. These two are from the 1780s and you can see that the width of the hips has diminished from the 1770s. Note that all of these gowns have open fronts that show the petticoat underneath.

c. 1780 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

c. 1780 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1780-1785 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1780-1785 Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

There are other options for this period as well: there is the style Robe a la Polonaise, which has a characteristic  bunching of fabric across the back side as well as the skirt and jacket combination. I’m not interested in making a Robe a la Polonaise at this point, but a skirt and jacket combination is a possibility. You can see these styles below. There is another style as well: the Chemise Dress, but you’ll have to wait for my next post to see and read about it!

c. 1780 Linen Robe a la Polonaise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

c. 1785 Silk Jacket at the Metropolitan Museum of Art