The next part of my latest 18th century ensemble is the closed-front robe a l’anglaise, with en fourreau pleats at the back.
The robe a l’anglaise was fashionable for an extended period of time during the 18th century. Literally, “the English gown”, it was characterised most generally by a fitted bodice, in contrast to the robe a la francaise which had a pleated-and-draped back that flowed free from the shoulders.
During the 18th century, the Anglaise often had a long centre-back panel piece, extending from the shoulder to the floor. This back piece was then formed into a series of sewn-down pleats on the dress bodice (the “en fourreau” back) which were then released to form fullness into the skirt of the gown.
Towards the later half of the 18th century, the gown began to be seen with a closed front bodice, even though the skirt could remain open revealing a matching or contrasting petticoat. The front of the gown could be closed with hook and eyes, or by long pins. The skirts could be trained, or pulled up polonaise-style, or left at the same length as the petticoat.
A robe a l’anglaise with an en fourreau back, shown over a quilted petticoat, c. 1770-1780, from Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.
The pattern I wanted to do for this dress was another of Janet Arnold’s patterns, in Patterns of Fashion 1. It has a closed front bodice, with an open skirt. The back is cut en fourreau, and the skirts are gathered up in a polonaise-style. The gown is shown over a quilted petticoat, whereas mine will be over a matching petticoat.
The pattern is made up of several pieces:
- Front bodice panel
- Front bodice lining panel
- Back (bodice and skirt) panel
- Back bodice lining panel
- Shoulder band
- Skirt Front
A few points to note: Janet Arnold’s patterns do not include seam allowances; and I always do a mock up of the bodice over the correct stays before I begin. In this case, I did a mock-up of the lining pieces so I had an accurate idea of how it would fit me and could adjust the pattern accordingly.
This gown is made with a printed cotton fabric and lined with white cotton broadcloth. It is entirely hand sewn.
Step 1: The first place to start seemed with the en fourreau pleats in the back panel. I happened upon a great article by The Merry Dressmaker (En Fourreau Back – The Lazy Dressmaker’s Version) and decided that this was a great way to do it.
The back lining piece had a curved centre back seam to allow for fullness at the bottom of the bodice for a false rump, so this seam was sewn first. Then I began pleating the back panel, making sure I had the back lining piece to use as a comparison of finished size.
Most of these types of gowns had 3 pleats on each side of the back bodice. The first pleat was generally pleated into the middle of the back, and the second and third pleats were turned to the sides, however there are some instances where they were all pleated in towards the back. They tended to be curved pleats, which accentuated the slimming look of the waistline. It took me quite a few tries to get the pleating to look right.
The en fourreau pleats have been pinned down to the lining. The first pleats are curved and have been drawn into meet at the centre back. The second and third pleats are straight and have been folded in towards the centre back. (You can also see in this picture that the front bodice panel has been pinned to the back panel at the sides as well.)
Then I laid the back bodice lining piece underneath (wrong sides together) and did a running stitch through all layers to secure the pleats. The pleats are secured down to where the skirts begin, and are then released to allow the fullness into the skirt.
Step 2: The front bodice panel was then sewn to the sides of the back panel. I did this by laying the outer-fabric front panel with the outer-fabric back pleated panel, right sides together. The front lining panel was put with the back lining panel, also right sides together. This created a seam with four layers. Then the seam was pinned and sewn through all thicknesses.
The front panel in the outer-fabric can be seen on the left. The front panel in lining fabric can be seen to the right. The seam (in the middle) is sewn through all thickness, which means the seam allowance is pushed towards the side.
This means that, once the front panels are placed together, the raw seam allowance is already hidden within the lining of the garment.
Step 3: The skirt panels were sewn together, front skirts to back skirt-bodice piece. I left a 10-inch gap in the top of the side seams for a pocket slit.
The skirts are then pleated and sewn (right sides together) to the outer fabric. The skirts do not meet in the front, as there is a large opening for the petticoat to be seen.
Interestingly, Janet Arnold comments that the skirts of her gown were sewn to the lining fabric and then the outer fabric was pulled down, the raw edges folded in, and then caught down to the waist seam (on the outside of the garment) with some stitches.
The skirt is pleated and attached to the bodice. You can see the second row of stitches that holds the pleats in position.
Step 4: Once my skirt was sewn on, the bodice lining was pulled down, with raw edges folded under, and stitched down with a slip stitch.
The lining is pinned down ready to sew. You can see the running stitches that secure the en fourreau pleats on the left. On the bottom right, you can see that the skirts stop very short of the centre front.
Step 5: The centre front bodice could be finished by folding the raw edges in and edge stitching. Instead, I folded the outer fabric over the lining and sewed it down with a slip stitch. I then inserted a very thin piece of boning down each side of the centre fronts. Boning in the centre front does not seem to be a common practice, however boning was often inserted in the backs of these bodices. I just thought that a more firm centre front bodice would help me with fastening.
Initially I had wanted the centre front to be fastened edge-to-edge with hooks and eyes, but I changed my mind when I couldn’t get the hooks and eyes to sit properly. I ended up making a bit of overlap on the left centre front piece so that the right edge could be pinned over the top, to match up the stripes more accurately.
The centre front closure, shown with right overlapping left, and closed with only two pins. I had used about 6 pins during wear.
Step 6: The sleeves were flat-lined with cotton broadcloth, and the sleeve seams sewn through all thickness. The seam allowances were then folded under and slip stitched down.
The sleeves were then attached to the bodice with a backstitch, ONLY under the arm. For an explanation of how to fit sleeves the 18th century way, American Duchess has done a great tutorial which I found very useful!
There is also a great video on how to pattern sleeves to have greater mobility in garments, particularly in fitted bodices. I found this a great video, as it explains to me why the shape of sleeves look so different in historical garment pattern pieces. I used this technique in this gown, and it greatly increased my arm movement!
Step 7: The sleeve head was then pleated to fit over the shoulder and the shoulder band was stitched on top. Once again, see the American Duchess tutorial for a great explanation of this technique.
The finished sleeve head.
The bottom of the sleeve was hemmed and finished with trim.
Step 8: The back top edge of the bodice in Janet Arnold’s book was finished by turning the raw edges in and edge stitching, however my en fourreau pleats were sewn to the lining and prevented me from doing this. I decided to cover it with a “back-binder” piece, common for gowns of this period. There is a gown in Costume Close-Up (by Linda Baumgarten) that is constructed in this way.
The back-binder piece
If you look closely you will see that the back binder piece does not join the shoulder band properly, however by that stage I was happy that it covered the raw edges!
The rest of the raw edges of the bodice (along the neckline and along the front of the waist) were turned in and edge-stitched.
Step 9: Finishing touches! The bottom edge of the gown was hemmed, allowing for a slight train if left down.
The front edges of the gown skirts and the neckline were finished with trim.
The trim around the neckline.
Four tapes were sewn to the inside of the gown skirts; two on the bottom of the back bodice, and two on the skirts at the back. These can be tied together to create a polonaise effect over the false rump.
The tapes sewn to the inside of the skirts, and tied up to form a polonaise.
Here are some of the finished pictures from the Jane Austen Festival Australia, 2016. This outfit was worn on the Georgian Day of the Festival.
The front view; I ended up wearing my pockets over the top of the petticoat, but under the gown. This meant that they could be easily reached through the front of the gown, instead of through the pocket slits.
The side view
The back view. When the polonaise is down, the skirt trains slightly on the ground. And sorry, but the fichu is annoyingly crooked!
The gown is shown here with my pair of embroidered lawn ruffles, my embroidered muslin fichu and my embroidered pockets (sitting over the petticoat but hiding under the gown). I am very pleased with the outfit overall!
Does My Bum Look Big in This? – Making an 18th Century Rump
Making a Robe a l’Anglaise: Matching Petticoat
Sources and Relevant Links
Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – on Amazon
En Fourreau Back – The Lazy Dressmaker’s Version, by The Merry Dressmaker
Setting 18th Century Sleeves the 18th Century Way – by American Duchess
How to modify sleeves for better arm mobility – video by Threads Magazine
Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790, by Linda Baumgarten- on Amazon
Classic Georgian Hairstyle – by Locks of Elegance