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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, c. 1770-1780, from Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.

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.

Pattern

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
  • Sleeves
  • 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.

Construction Steps

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. (You can also see in this picture that the front panel has been pinned to the back panel at the sides as well.)

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 panels are pinned to the back panels.

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.

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.

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 closed with two pins.

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 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

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.

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.

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

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 side view

The back view. The fichu is a little crooked!

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!

Related Posts

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

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A robe a l'anglaise, with a matching petticoat, from MET Museum.

A robe a l’anglaise, with a closed front and a matching petticoat, c. 1785-95, from The MET Museum.

This year I have had a long list of costumes planned to make, but a Robe a l’Anglaise was not one of them. However, I quickly changed my mind when a friend decided to make one and it became convenient and easy to work on the project together!

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.

A gown cut en fourreau, from MET Museum.

A robe a l’anglaise, with the back cut en fourreau, c. 1776, from The MET Museum.

The Anglaise saw many different variations through the 18th century: open and closed bodices; long and elbow-length sleeves; worn polonaise style; etc… During this time, 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 end of the gown’s popularity, the bodice was cut separately to the skirts and attached with a waist seam.

Another transition in this gown was with the front. Gowns that had been worn open to reveal a stomacher earlier in the century, began to be worn closed, either pinned or closed with hooks and eyes. The skirts could also be closed in front (called a “round gown”), or be worn open to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat.

For this particular costume, I decided that I wanted a petticoat to match the gown, and with a pinked flounce. It also needed to have pocket slits so that I could wear my new pockets!

The petticoat

The petticoat, c. 1775-1785, in Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.

Pattern

In looking for a suitable pattern for a petticoat, I went with one in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 1. It is dated 1775-1785 and is part of a matching petticoat/gown set. It is a very basic skirt pattern, made up of a large rectangle of material (pieced where necessary).

The FINISHED WIDTH of the front panel of my petticoat (not allowing for seam allowances) was 62 inches wide (and then made as long as I needed it for my height). The back panel was exactly the same as the front.

This gown is made of a cotton printed material, and is completely handsewn.

Construction Steps

Step 1: After you have cut out the large rectangles that make up the skirt, sew the side seams together. I had to piece several pieces of material together to get the required width, but I made sure I had two side seams to make allowing for the pocket slits easier. The top 10 inches of the petticoat side seams were left open for the pocket slits. All seams are either on the selvedge or flat-felled.

Step 2: Pleat the top of the front panel onto a waistband. My pleats start from the centre front and go out to the sides. Pleat the back panel in the same manner with a second waistband. Often petticoats of this era could also be attached to a length of twill tape as a waistband.

Step 3: After finishing the waistband, attach ties to the ends of both the back and front waistbands. I made an eyelet through each end of each waistband and then tied a length of cotton tape to it.

The two halves of the waistband, with ties on each end.

The two halves of the waistband (back and front), with ties on each end.

Step 4: Hem the bottom edge of the petticoat. I inserted some cord into the hem to help it stand out better.

The hem, with a length of cord threaded through the hem casing.

The hem, with a length of cord threaded through the hem casing.

Step 5: Using pinking shears, pink the flounce with a scallop at the top and a zigzag at the bottom. Attach the flounce. My flounce is 9 inches deep, and twice the length of the bottom of the petticoat. It is box-pleated to fit the petticoat, and it should only just overhang the hem.

The flounce, box-pleated to fit.

The flounce, box-pleated to fit.

Step 6: Add any trim. My trim is just a piece of plain gimp-like braid with a ribbon threaded through it at intervals.

The trim; a length of gimp-like braid with ribbon threaded through it.

The trim: a length of gimp-like braid with ribbon threaded through it.

The finished pictures!

The front, shown over my hip roll.

The front, shown over my hip roll. The front half is tied around the waist first, and the back half is tied around the waist second.

The side view. Because the petticoat is not shown with my stays, you can see the pocket slits in the side.

The side view. As the petticoat is not shown with my stays, you can see that it doesn’t quite fit the dummy. There is normally a bit of an overlap between the front half and the back half. The pocket slits can be seen in the side.

I was quite pleased with the end result, though I do think I need another plain petticoat underneath (over the hip roll) to help with the skirt’s body.

Look out for the next post in this series, the closed-front gown to match. – coming soon!

Related Posts

Does my Bum Look Big In This? – Making an 18th Century Rump

An 18th Century Robe a l’anglaise – a very early and non-historical attempt!

How Heavy is Too Heavy for a Dress? – about a quilted petticoat

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Robe a l’Anglaise, c. 1785-95, from The MET Museum

Image Source: Robe a l’Anglaise, c. 1776, from The MET Museum

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – on Amazon

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Regency spencer sleeve, c. 1815.

Regency spencer sleeve, c. 1815. The bands that are tucked inside the sleeve head appear to have been piped.

Finding ways to reproduce elements of historic clothing can be difficult, particularly when it is unusual or when viewing or handling the garment is impractical or not allowed. Sometimes historic handsewing has produced more tricky or fiddly aspects on a garment, which can be harder with a sewing machine. And sometimes it is all about learning something that you haven’t tried before!

This weekend I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to do multiple strips of piping together to form a band. I have been keen to use this on a garment I am making but working out how it might have been done (and then figuring out how I might be able to reproduce it) was quite difficult. I have detailed my efforts below.

Step One

Cut a wide bias strip in the fabric you want to have piped. Cut another strip of fabric on the grain for lining. Position your cording along the inside of the bias strip in the same way that you would for normal piping. Pin your lining strip underneath, right sides together, and sew using a zipper foot.

The material to be piped is on top, with the cording pinned in place. The lining sits underneath to be caught in this first line of stitching.

The material to be piped is on top, with the cording pinned in place. The lining sits underneath to be caught in this first line of stitching.

Step Two

The lining strip is then turned under to form the “underlayer” of the band. The raw edge of the lining should be trimmed and turned inside to meet the other raw edges.

The remaining raw edge of the lining is folded to the inside of the band.

The remaining raw edge of the lining is folded to the inside of the band.

This raw edge will be caught in the next line of stitching.

Step Three

Pin the next line of cording inbetween the lining and the outer fabric and sew, making sure that the fabric and cord is pushed close to the first line of piping to form a ridge.

The next row of cording is pinned in position ready to sew.

The next row of cording is pinned in position ready to sew.

The underneath should look like this:

Under the piped band

Under the piped band before sewing the second row of piping.

Continue on in the same way, sewing the desired number of rows of piping until you have reached the last one.

Push the cord close to the previous row of piping to get that characteristic bulge in the material.

Push the cord close to the previous row of piping to get that characteristic bulge in the material.

Step Four

Once you have reached the last row of piping you will need to trim your material. Lay your cord against the material to give yourself a guide of how much may need to be trimmed. Once the excess is cut off, fold the material over the cord, tuck the raw edge into the edge of the lining, and handsew it in place.

Handsewing the last row of cording in place

Handsewing the last row of cording in place

The band of piping is now finished!

The finished band should look something like this.

The finished band should look something like this.

Piped bands make an interesting addition to a hat.

Piped bands make an interesting addition to a hat.

I really like how it turned out, especially because it looks different to the normal things for sale in dressmaking and craft shops. This decorative band can be used as a thicker alternative to ribbon or as a trim on hats or costumes. I will be using this band on the new Regency spencer I am currently working on. I also plan to use something similar on this late Regency bonnet.

Related Posts

How to use Ribbon to make Decorative Trims

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: from Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

How to make and attach your own piping

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