Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Late 18th Century Underthings

I had hoped to get my basic 18th century undergarments done before Thanksgiving but I didn't quite make that deadline. With some out of town (and some in town!) guests I ended up not finishing up a few little things until late this past weekend. While I now have to lay aside this project until after the New Year I am so glad to have a basic foundation to build upon when I can return to it. Always before I have cheated with borrowing petticoats and shifts from other eras but this time I won't have to!

I had almost no budget to dedicate to these foundation garments so most of it is repurposed material and supplies or taken from my stash. The only new thing I had to get was a chamois cloth to use for binding my stays but otherwise nothing was purchased. While I kind of wish I could have spent money on really nice fabrics, it does feel good to still be able to create perfectly serviceable things that only cost me my time.

I am going for an early to mid 1770's silhouette and want the impression to be fairly low class. I have been researching an ancestor of mine who served with the 6th Virginia in 1776 and from all I can find out about him, he was not an upper class kind of guy. My goal is to create a versatile ensemble that can be dressed up or down with different accessories and can be used throughout the later 1770s and into the early 80's. I know styles and silhouettes changed during that time but if I make my basic garments simple and conservative enough, I hope they work for about a 10 year span. We will see. This is all so new to me.

Speaking of which, thank goodness for the new book on 18th century dressmaking from American Duchess! I received my pre ordered copy last week and can already tell it will be such an enormous aid to me as I figure out how to build my dress. I also plan to make some mitts and a cap from the instructions in the book and maybe, just maybe, I can get those done in spare minutes here and there during December.

So anyway, I made three garments during the past few weeks, starting with:

The Shift ~

I made this shift based on the wonderfully indepth article and instructions from Sharon Burnston. Using her guidelines, I cut my shift to have a later-century neckline and the later-century square sleeves. While I did not have enough width to gather my sleeves at the shoulder and only lightly gather them at the cuff, they are square and are plenty roomy enough while still being narrower than earlier shift sleeves, to better fit into the narrow sleeves of the 1770's and 80's. My neckline came out a tad too big so I put a narrow tape into it, to draw it up just enough to fit nicely with the stays. I didn't want a drawstring, and they don't seem to have been common, but they did exist so, I have a drawstring.

My shift is made out of . . .an old sheet. I felt really bad about using an old cotton sheet rather than linen but it's what I had and although it was beastly to sew, it made up into a nice sturdy garment. It has a high thread count and is smooth and fine. From what I've read, the linen we have available to us today isn't really as nice as the linen they used for undergarments in the period. So a nice cotton sheet seemed an ok compromise. For me, a necessary one since my other option was just to not make a shift at all. So, it's a sheet.

The only unfortunate incident with the shift occurred when I was fitting my stays mock up and accidentally pinned the mock up to the shift. When I went to remove the mock up I found I had left a pin and it caught and tore a hole in the front body of the shift. After staring at it in dismay I decided to just patch it since I had put so much work into sewing the darn thing. So, it's patched. But it works and no one outside of the pictures here will ever see the mend anyway.

The Stays ~

I was so glad I kept the 1775 stays pattern from Corsets and Crinolines that I had made up about four years ago! It gave me a good place to start with these. I had to adjust them a bit and I shortened the waist about 1/2" since my last ones were a bit long and dug into my hips. I also redrew the neckline. But it saved me a lot of time to have that pattern!

Stays in this era are so different from the Victorian corsets I am used to.
Instead of nipping in the waist and creating an hourglass, they give more
of a conical shape. In fact, these stays not give any waist reduction while they do reduce the bust.
Sort of the opposite of Victorian styles!
The stays are half boned and only very lightly boned since I had a limited amount of zip ties to work with. They are boned in all the crucial areas, though and seem to hold up quite well to wearing. The stays are made with 3 layers; an interlining of heavy cotton twill, an outer layer of heavy linen and a lining of blue and white cotton. The interlining and outer layer have the casings for the bones and the lining was slip stitched in after the rest of the stays were complete.

For these, I tried leather to bind the edges since my previous attempts with fabric binding have been less than attractive. I was really pleased with how well the leather conformed to the curves, especially around the tabs, and how it was so easy to cut and stretch into shape. It was fairly easy to sew, too, but it was slow going since I had to use jewelry pliers to pull the needle through in some areas. The leather is top stitched onto the stays on the outside, then folded and slip stitched to the inside.

I covered the seams in strips of leather. Probably not necessary, but I wanted to see how it would look. It was harder to sew these strips into place than it was to do the binding!

I love the finished stays. They are incredibly comfortable. The only thing I wish is that the lacing gap at the back was bigger. The stays came out a little larger than I would have liked.

Lastly, I made

The Petticoat ~

This took me only a day to make and was the easiest project out of all 3. Probably because the fabric was not so dense! This petticoat is made based on instructions from JP Ryan, the book Everyday Dress of Rural America 1783-1800, Katherine's petticoat tutorial, and illustrations in Costume in Detail. 

The petticoat is 2 rectangles of fabric, sewn together at the sides, leaving the top 10" open. The skirt is narrowly hemmed, the side slits hemmed and then the front and back waists pleated into just over half my waist measurement. Ties at the waistband edges finish the petticoat. It was the easiest, quickest petticoat I've ever made! I am so happy to be able to pleat a petticoat instead of gathering it by hand! So much easier!

The back ties come to the front to tie, and the front ones tie at the back. This makes the petticoat so adjustable. Love it. No worries about petticoat waistband slippage or little hooks falling off or having to work buttonholes.

The fabric for this came from a cotton/linen blend curtain panel. I had just enough for a petticoat 100" at the hem, with a little bit left over.

I have 5 yards of dark striped linen for a gown, which right now is tentatively planned with the back a la anglaise. I really want to do a round gown, but an open gown may be better with another petticoat in a contrast color to wear over the under-petti. I have a little time to think on it some more and decide, and, as always, research!

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