Sunday, September 25, 2011

1780's Printed Cotton Gown.

We have been planning to go to the Jubilee Colonial Trade Fair for a while, but it wasn't until Monday we decided that we were going to dress up for it instead of just wearing our modern clothes. So, after years and years and years of thinking about making an 18th century dress, I finally did it. We had a marvelous time at the fair and I will have pictures to share of the event but in the meantime,  here are a few of my finished dress. 

We decided to go for a 1780's look since the years being portrayed at the fair spanned 1750-1790. Since I didn't have much time to make clothes for us, I wanted David to be able to use the breeches and shirt and waistcoat he already has; the ones he wore to the Jane Austen festival this past summer. I have always liked the 1780's so it wasn't very hard for me to decide on the 1780's. :) 

The dress is a simple round gown, with a 2 piece back and a front bodice that wraps around to the meet the curved back seams. I have always thought these dresses would be hard to fit, but I was surprised to find it wasn't hard at all. The pattern for the dress I draped over my stays. As the day wore on, I did find that I started to get a few wrinkles across the abdomen. I think it is because I was wearing my full-gathered 1860's petticoats underneath this dress which made the abdomen protrude in the front a bit instead of lying flat. If I had flatter-fronted petticoats, I think the dress would not have wrinkled as much. The dress closes with pins. 

I love the long, fitted sleeves of this decade so much. I drafted the sleeve based on a diagram in Everyday Dress of Rural America: 1783-1800 by Meredith Wright and fine tuned the fit with a few mock ups. The way the sleeve is cut puts the lower arm on the bias so you can get a really tight fit on the arm that is still comfortable to wear. The back of the sleeve is very tall to fit into the very cut-away armscye on the back bodice. This gives a ton of flexibility in movement and is very comfortable to wear. 

The skirt is 3 rectangular panels of fabric pleated to fit. The gown has a drop or apron front to the skirt, and the bodice closes over that. The skirt is longer in the back than in the front. I hemmed the dress to be just above the floor but found that it was really too long when I wore it whilst walking through grassy fields. On hard, level surfaces the length is okay. 

I didn't have any time at all to make any fun accessories for the dress so had to make do with repurposed items from the other eras I do. I wore my cotton voile kerchief tucked into the neckline and refashioned my 1860's neck bow to wear pinned on the bodice. I tied a black ribbon on my neck earlier in the day but found it distracting so took it off after a while. I used my new paisley wool shawl from Aldridge Clothiers. I wasn't sure if paisley shawls were worn in the 1780's but some quick google searches turned up statements that paisley shawls were popular fashion accessories from 1780-1870 so I decided to use it and I'm glad I did, as it was chilly! I wore my 1860's bum pad under the dress. I think next time I would like to make a larger bum pad that curves around onto the hips to give more side fullness to the skirts. I basted some white cotton lace to the ends of the sleeves. I don't know if the lace is correct (I'm guessing it's too "chunky" and square) but it gave a nice visual look from a little distance. I love touches of white on an otherwise, plain, dark dress. :) 

My one grave embarassment of the day was my hair. :( I was too ambitious, I suppose, and attempted to do my hair in a poufy frizzy, curly "hedgehog" style following an online tutorial. However, although the style looked nice after I finished it, it almost immediately began deflating and flopping and my curls went from tight to loose and I just looked disheveled and unkempt by the time the day was over. : / I was *so* mortified. Next time I will definitely go for a different hairstyle and will make a proper cap to cover up my head. 

All in all it was a hugely fun experience and I am a total fan of 1780's styles! I can't wait for opportunities to wear this dress again!



  1. Sarah, Such a sweet picture of you and your sweetheart!
    Love the dress and marvel at your fantastic talent to sew.

    God bless,

  2. I think your "cheveux en désordre" lends you a wild romantic style...I am put in mind of Kathy from Wuthering Heights.

  3. Oh my gosh! Your hair is so adorable! I do wish it would have stayed up right for you. :( Your dress is positively stunning! I love it. :D

    I'm so glad you had a good time. :) We missed you at Danville tho. :P We had alot of fun. I got pretty tired as the day worn on, my physical therapy from the day before was still getting to me. Anyway. We were kinda dissapointed at the dance cause there was seriously like no one there. We made up like over half of the dancers I think. They stopped it an hour early just because no one was there(altho there was actually alot of reenactors there for the event). So that was sad, but looking back I think it was one of the funner dances I've done. :D We were like laughing the whole time so it was good... :D

  4. Sarah, the gown is beautiful and I love your hair, even in a state of dishevelment :) And that last picture of you and David is beautiful :) You look so lovely in the clothing of every era I've seen you try!

  5. I love that dress! It suits you so very well! Simple but absolutely stylish :)
    the pattern ist great and the bow on the bodice just does the trick!

    I can't find any fault in your hair I would call it "à l'enfant" this was an expression for simple, romantic hairstyles
    On portraits you can also see that not every lady did wear a mushroom cloud on her head ;) But a little acessoire (like a kind of aliceband, which was already worn with this or a big cap I would recommend for next time (it is so releaving if you have a cap at hand, so you are under no pressure to make a hairstyle - at least you need not to care for your back-head and some curls in the face are sufficient)

  6. Thank you ladies! I am glad my hair wasn't a complete flop, but I did feel so scuzzy walking around like that,especially when the other ladies there had their hair in neat, tidy buns. I felt like a wild woman! :P

    I will definitely make a lacey cap before next time (since there are so very few of these events around here, most likely I will not need to wear this again til next year, but who knows opporunities for dress up will present themselves before then?) and I will obtain a straw hat as well. It will be fun getting all the little details together.

    Brooke, I am glad you had a good time at Danville! I missed seeing you, but I must say I am glad we went to the fair instead of the Civil War reenactment. My friend Laura moved to Ohio, so that was the last straw for me. I can't ignore the fact that lately, I have really hated Civil War reenacting and Laura was the only thing that made it fun and interesting, and now she is gone. :( There was another gentleman at the colonial fair who was also skipping out on Danville in order to go to the fair. Apparently there have been some major political issues/battles lately and many insults and offenses have been endured, which has succeeded in just pushing people away from that event. So sad, since Danville is a great location for an event and has so much potential.

    Brooke, will you be at Princeton? I will probably go this year; it will be our last event of the season and since it is newly come back I am curious to see it. Otherwise I don't think I will do many mainstream events anymore. There is so much time and effort that goes into preparing for an event that it is not worth it to me to go to farb fests anymore. :(

  7. That's a beautiful gown, and lovely choice of color. I like the additional touch of color in the bow.

  8. Sarah, that's sad Laura moved. :( I do understand why you haven't enjoyed events lately....I have a hard time with all the people that don't care the least bit about accuracy and such (even in my own little circle, but I'm really trying to get the girls to think progressively and I think we've made alittle progress. Like my friend actually got a repro fabric, had me copy an original, and wears petticoats ;D)....We are planning on going to Princeton (only on Saturday tho. My sisters and I have a living history presentation to do somewhere else on Sunday). I do hope we can make it so we can see you at least one more time this year. :)

    I hope your having a great day,


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!