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Learning Curves

One of the things I love, and admittedly hate too, about costuming is the fact that every project is different. I may have made things from the era before, but each project presents its own unique challenges, frustrations, and opportunities to learn. One of my current project is the perfect example. I’m working on a mid-1790s evening gown with a gathered front and high, narrow back. My love for 1780s and 1790s gathered front transitional gowns is pretty obvious when you look at my project history, but despite the fact that I’ve made five similar gowns, this project has been an interesting experiment.

I’m making the dress from green silk sarcenet I bought from Burnley and Trowbridge. I plan to embroider at least the sleeves and maybe the hem as well. Since I won’t have an opportunity to wear this dress until June, I’m hopeful that I can at least manage a simple motif on the hem.  As usual, I've collected some inspiration images on a Pinterest board.

To pattern the dress, I used my blue spotted spencer as a base, changing the angle of the back seams slightly, and moving the sleeves further back. Then I wasted days and ridiculous amounts of muslin trying to prefect the sleeves. I wanted the distinctive regency look where the sleeves are set far back on the shoulder and while they aren’t perfect, I’m happy with the sleeves for now. I may try to work on the pattern now that I have the dress constructed or I may leave it as is.


It’s entirely possible I’ve missed something, but I’ve yet to find a pattern diagram or good interior detail photos of this type of gown. All my construction decisions are just educated guesses, based on 18th century sewing techniques and what little information I could glean from staring far too long at museum photos, as well as construction details from other transitional gowns.  I decided to construct the dress by hand, first assembling the lining then mounting the silk on top. The lining is cotton lawn, and the front lining is fitted and pins closed. The front bodice and skirt are cut in one with a drawstring casing sewn under the bust. This time I used thin silk ribbon for the casing, to minimize bulk, but it caused a bit of frustration in combination with the slippery silk sarcenet. I think I ended up redoing the channel 4 times before I got it right, but the ribbon didn't hold up well with use. I replaced it with a strip of self-fabric. It was more work, but worth it in the end.


Originally, I planned to cartridge pleat and gather the back portion of the skirt and then whipstitch it to the back of the bodice. I had hoped this would create a nice line with the front bodice gathers. However, cutting the front in one, combined with lapping the side seam caused the side skirt join to become very awkward. Much fiddling and experimenting later, I decided to cartridge pleat the center back and use knife pleats for the rest of the skirt back. It smoothed the transition and I’m pleased with the final look, even if the interior of the join is far from neat and tidy.


In the end, I'm pleased with how my experiment is turning out. My only quibble at this point is the neckline could be lower in back and wider at the sides. Looking at portraits and fashion plates, most of their shoulder straps seem almost nonexistent, but there are a few with neckline shapes like mine. Also, I wish I had another length of fabric to add to the back portion of the skirt, as it seems a little skimpy, but there isn't any more fabric available and I'm not sure it bothers me enough to redo all the work, anyway.


Posted: 3/10/2015 8:26:56 PM by Aubry | with comments
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Project Details

Green Sarcenet Gown