Posts Tagged ‘eighteenth century fashion’

Embroidered suit, with matching breeches, waistcoat and coat. c. 1780’s

I have wanted to make an 18th century men’s suit for a while, and my eye had been drawn to the amazing embroidered court suits popular during this time.

During the 18th century, the men’s suit consisted of knee-length breeches, long waistcoat and full-skirted coat. Suit ensembles could be made from matching fabric, with either coordinated breeches and coat and a contrasting waistcoat, or sometimes all three items matching.

A sample of embroidery, from the early 19th century.

Clothing that was worn to court was more elaborate than other clothing, and the embroidered mens suits generally fit into this category. Some ensembles were truly elaborate in embroidery, but others were much more simple in design and sedate in colour.

Suits were embroidered in panels, and then sold uncut to the customer. A tailor would then be employed to make up the panel into clothing.

The detail from an 18th century waistcoat.

The Pattern

I have always been a bit scared of embroidery, as I used to often start a difficult project – outside of my skill level – and then feel disappointed in the result. My trick to combat this has been to plan the embroidery pattern well (with sketches), to plan the types of stitches I will use, to practise the stitches on a scrap sample, and to make sure that all (or at least most) of the techniques are within the scope of my skill.

The first sample, practising stitches, colour placement, size, etc…

Sometimes I have stepped out of my skill area for a small part of an embroidery, to stretch myself, so that if only a small part goes awry it doesn’t affect the final result as much. As a result I feel like I have really improved in my embroidery skill over the past 7 years!

A second sample once the design had been decided on. This was to practise spacing, how large it should be, and how long it would take to do one repeat of the design.

Understandably, I was quite daunted taking on this type of project, but I searched for embroidery patterns that I thought were manageable for me, and looked for stitches that I could complete with a level of proficiency.

It was also important at this planning phase to get “approval” from my husband for the design. (I did want him to feel comfortable wearing it!) Embroidered coats of the 18th Century were very flowery, which is not something that necessarily appeals to the modern man. In the end, my husband really wanted a much more monochrome colour palette (compared to some of the coats of the time) and was happy with some flowers, but not heaps.

The Materials

The stitches I have used are chain stitch, heavy chain stitch, backstitch, satin stitch, beetle stitch, colonial knots and feather stitch. I also used spangles and beads as part of my design. I used cotton DMC for the embroidery, and the fabric was a polyester taffeta that I have had great success with in the past.

The Process

I decided to firstly do a mockup of the coat on my husband, to make sure that the pattern pieces were the right size. I used, as a starting point, the three-piece suit in Costume Close Up, by Linda Baumgarten. Once the pattern pieces were finalised, I would then be able to embroider in a panel, rather than embroidering the separate pattern pieces or the finished coat. (As you will see in future posts, there are problems with each option!)

The finished panel, showing the two fronts at the top, the pocket flaps on the right, the buttons, and the cuffs at the bottom. The picture is not very clear, but I did want to try and get one photo with the whole panel in it!

My finished panel included the two fronts, the two pocket flaps, the two sleeve cuffs, and a whole stack of button shapes. I decided to leave the collar until the coat was pretty much fitted and then draft and embroider the collar last.

The detail of the embroider on the centre front.

The embroidery took two months to complete (for the coat alone), and I embroidered almost every day for around 5 hours a day. It was unfortunate that I was sewing to a deadline, as it created much more stress than my other embroidery projects had! It also meant that there were some elements of the embroidery that I had to change so that it could be completed in the time frame.

In the end, I was pleased with the way the embroidery looked! The grey and blue was a really nice colour combination. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, making the coat.

Related Links

Making a Stomacher (c. 1700’s-1770’s)

Making an Embroidered Stomacher, from 1725

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Embroidered Suit, c. 1780s, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Image Source: Embroidery sample, early 19th century, at Met Museum

Image Source: Embroidered waistcoat, 18th century, at Ruby Lane.

Costume Close-Up: Clothing, Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790, by Linda Baumgarten – buy on Amazon

18th Century Men’s Coats, by 18th Century Notebook – a list of extant 18th century men’s coats available to view online.

The Lives of a Man’s Eighteenth Century Coat, by National Gallery of Victoria – an interesting article about repurposing clothing in the 18th and 19th centuries.










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A pair of Dresden sleeve ruffles, embroidered with whitework (see below for image source).

The only thing my caraco jacket ensemble needs now is some lawn ruffles.

During the eighteenth century, it was common for ladies to tack several layers of white ruffles to the sleeves of their gowns or jackets. These could be made from lace, such as Mechlin or bobbin lace, or embroidered with whitework on cotton lawn or muslin.


In making this pair of lawn ruffles, I used the pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 as a guide to the dimensions they should be. Altogether there were four ruffles, an upper and lower ruffle for each arm. The ruffles are asymmetrical – as was common in the eighteenth century – and were both 13.5 inches wide. The lower ruffle was 8 inches deep and the upper ruffle was 6.5 inches deep.


Once I had traced out the pattern on some ivory lawn with tailor’s chalk, I then used a scalloped embroidery stitch on my sewing machine to finish the bottom edge of the ruffle. Then I traced a pattern onto the ruffles to embroider with whitework.

The one at the top is the upper ruffle, and the one at the bottom is the lower ruffle.

The embroidery consisted of a small chain stitch with eyelets at intervals. The eyelets were made with an awl and then stitched with an overcast stitch to keep it from closing.

The embroidery detail

Once the embroidery on each ruffle was completed, I sewed each ruffle seam and gathered each top edge separately. The upper and lower ruffle were placed on top of each other, arranging the scallops so they were lined up evenly, and then they were sewn to a band. This band can now be tacked to any garment and removed for separate cleaning.

And the finished product looks like this!


I am really pleased with them! I haven’t had enough time to embroider them as much as I had planned to, as I am going to wear them this weekend. However, I would like to come back and try some pulled work on them later. I think pulled work in embroidery is so pretty and effective. It seems to be the closest thing to lace that I could fairly easily make!

Embroidery is my cup of tea!

Related Posts

A Caraco Jacket

Making a Stomacher

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Embroidered Dresden Engageantes

A large selection of links to both lace and embroidered engageantes

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Whitework Sleeve Ruffles – with some background information on sleeve ruffles in the mid-eighteenth century.

Ruffles in cotton with whitework embroidery

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After recovering from the disappointment of my robe a l’anglaise being too small, I busied myself with making a caraco jacket.

Like my robe a l’anglaise, this jacket was also made from a curtain I had found at a second-hand shop. It had been in my stash for a while and, whilst I loved the grey stripes, I was unsure of how to use it because there was not enough material to make a full gown. That is when I had the idea of making a shorter 18th century jacket, commonly used for daywear.


A matching caraco jacket and petticoat (c.1770-1780), from The Victoria and Albert Museum.

After doing a bit of research, I found several useful patterns in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, which gave me a good idea of how much material I would need and how jackets like these were constructed during the eighteenth century.

Caraco jackets were styled in the same way as a gown but the skirts were trimmed shorter, usually about mid-thigh length. Other types of jackets were trimmed even shorter than this. The jacket was then worn over stays, panniers or a false rump, and usually a matching petticoat.


Janet Arnold gives some basic directions for assembling a caraco jacket (c. 1775-1785) in her book.

First, I completely unpicked the curtain and measured it before cutting it. I knew that I had to take into account that the pattern would need to be made bigger to fit me, and that I needed to match the obvious stripes in the material.

Then I basically sewed together the centre back and side seams of the fabric and lining separately, and then sewed the two layers together around the neckline. Then I attached the sleeves, which I ended up deciding not to line. I deliberated on how to adjust the front so that I could include a stomacher, and all that was left to do was to sew a bar across the top of the back and side pleats, hem the bottom, and attach any trims.

The Finished Result:

Here is the finished result, shown with the petticoat that was made to match my robe a l’anglaise, and the embroidered stomacher that I have just completed.

The front

The back

And for some of the trimming detail…

The trim detail

For a remake of second-hand curtains, I think this outfit has turned out very nicely! Now, I just need to finish embroidering a pair of lawn ruffles to go around the sleeves.

Related Posts

Making a Stomacher

An 18th Century Robe a l’anglaise

Panniers: An 18th Century Reproduction of a Sacque-backed dress

Sources and Relevant Links

Caraco jacket with matching petticoat (c.1770-1780), from Victoria and Albert Museum

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon

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Early on, I had decided that I needed to make a new stomacher to match my 18th century robe a l’anglaise. The original one I had made 12 years ago was completed using quick and easy ribbon embroidery and appliqued lace motifs, mainly so that I could wear it immediately to a ball. But once I found out that the dress no longer fitted me, I decided to make a caraco jacket.

An embroidered stomacher (c. 1700-1729), displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum. (Image source below.)

Caraco jackets were worn as day wear in the last half of the eighteenth century. They were styled similarly to a gown but the skirts were trimmed off at mid-thigh level, with a petticoat worn underneath. Some would meet in the middle, fastened with hidden hooks and eyes, but others were worn open and had a decorative stomacher displayed at the front. Since I really like the idea of a pretty piece of handiwork displayed on the bosom, I decided to make another stomacher that would match my new jacket!

Stomachers were often worn during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, though they did change shape a little throughout the period, depending on the fashion. They were triangular shaped pieces of material, either boned or unboned, usually pinned in place at the front of the bodice. They were often elaborately decorated, using many different methods and items such as embroidery, bows, pleated ruffles, braid, lace or sequins.

My Pattern:

Using a stomacher pattern in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 for inspiration, I drew out a pattern on tissue paper and cut out two pieces of calico and one piece of outer fabric. I researched common embroidery patterns for stomachers and drew out a pattern for this on the tissue paper.

The pattern


The two layers of calico were placed together and boning channels sewn through all layers. As you can see from the picture, the stomacher is fully boned. Once the embroidered outer layer was completed, it was laid on top of the boned layer and the edges bound with satin bias binding.

The back of the finished stomacher


After a lot of deliberation, I decided to stretch my embroidery skills to long and short stitch, and try embroidering a carnation with some buds in true eighteenth century style! The V-shaped border and the stem of the carnation was done with a whipped chain stitch, and the scrolling curves at the sides were done with backstitch. The leaves were done in a satin stitch, creating a groove where the stitches met in the middle of the leaf.

The front!

I am VERY VERY pleased with the result! I have never been good at embroidery, but I have spent a lot of time practising with very simple plain stitches to create some good effects on my costumes. I never thought I would be able to do this so well!

Now all that remains is to finish off my caraco jacket!

Relevant Posts

An 18th Century Robe A l’anglaise

Stays from the 18th Century

Sources and Relevant Links

V&A Stomacher Image from In Jane Austen’s England

Embroidered Stomachers, c. 1700-1729, from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Embroidered Stomachers, c. 1700-1725, from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their Construction, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon

Long and Short Stitch Tutorial – on Youtube

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Detail of the trimming

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.

The front

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 back

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.

Front view of corset and panniers

The back view of corset and panniers

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.

So now it is on to the caraco jacket, and a new stomacher!

Related Posts

Panniers: An 18th Century Reproduction of a Sacque-backed Gown

Sources and Relevant Links

An example of a robe a l’anglaise at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Undergarments in the 18th century

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A example of a Marseilles Quilted Petticoat

I found this funny pair of letters in an historical fashion book the other day!

The Purefoy Letters No. 447, July 15, 1739.

H.P. to Anthony Baxter, London

I desire you will send me … fine thick printed cotton enough to make two wrappers for my Mother, they must be of two different handsome patterns. You must also send a neat white quilted calico petticoat for my Mother which must be a yard and four inches long.

The Purefoy Letters No. 448, August 5, 1739.

Henry Purefoy to Anthony Baxter

I received all the things in the box and have returned you the Marseilles Quilt petticoat by Mr Eagles, the carrier. It is so heavy my mother cannot wear it.

Quoted in: Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold (1984)

I have yet to discover how heavy this type of garment is! The things we women suffer in the pursuit of fashionable clothes!

Sources and Relevant Links

More about Marseilles Quilted Petticoats

Make a Quilted Petticoat – by Rockin’ the Rococo

Patterns of Fashion, by Janet Arnold

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