I have been trying to finish off some projects that I have left untouched for numerous years, and here is one of them.
Twelve years ago I made an 18th century open gown out of an old curtain I found at a second-hand shop. I had also made a petticoat out of a piece of faded material that sort of matched. Whilst I had worn it, I had never finished it off with the trims that I wanted to.
After hauling it out of the back reaches of my cupboard, I decided to discard the petticoat and make a new one, and then I could use some of the same material for the trims. After spending ages beading, pleating and handsewing the trim to the dress, I tried it on and discovered that it didn’t fit! No matter how much I tightened the corset…
In fact, I had to reduce my dressmakers dummy down to the smallest it could go in order to make it fit even her! (Doesn’t she look tall and skinny!) It makes me wonder how it ever fitted me in the first place!?!
The gown is probably closest to a robe a l’anglaise, though the bodice is cut much more like a modern bodice would be, with a bodice and gathered/pleated skirts attached. It is shown pinned over a stomacher, which is just an unboned piece of taffeta, or something similar. It had been a quick attempt at embroidery and decorating so that I could wear it dancing, and I had planned to make a new (proper) stomacher until the discovery that 12 years and 5 children have changed the shape of my body! With the new petticoat, the stomacher doesn’t really match very well anymore. I had also intended to make some embroidered lawn ruffles to wear at the sleeves.
I was really disappointed about it not fitting… mainly because I love this material, and I had worked hard to cut it out as economically as possible so that I could make this dress.
Luckily, because I have made the petticoat afresh, it fits! So now I plan to make an open front caraco jacket to go over the top, just so I can wear it! This means that the new stomacher and lawn ruffles are also back on the list of things to do.
And if you were interested in seeing what goes under this ensemble, here they are.
Undergarments: This was the first corset I ever made. I drafted it from a picture of different undergarment patterns that I found in a book about constructing theatre costumes, so it is a pretty basic corset. It has a line of hooks and eyes down the centre front, and a little “skirt” at the bottom to imitate the 18th century tabs. The panniers are just a half cylinder of fabric held in shape by boning, and then tied together with some cord that runs through a casing at the top.
Sources and Relevant Links
An example of a robe a l’anglaise at The Metropolitan Museum of Art