Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Making my 1770's English Gown

It's been over a month now since I completed this dress and it's about time I get it properly blogged about so I can consider it officially completed. 😁 While this dress turned out to be a very basic, plain, common example of a dress from the era I learned so much while making it. For quite a few years I've wanted to make a dress from the Revolutionary War era and have researched extant examples, looked at paintings and illustrations, read accounts, joined Facebook groups dedicated to the recreation of styles from this era, read a lot of books and tried to prepare myself mentally for someday making this. But still, when it came down to actually making it I still felt woefully unprepared! I feel much more confident now and know that the next dress I make from this period (whenever that may be) will be a smoother process and come out better!

Most of my in-progress pictures I took on my phone as I hand sewed this gown over a period of about a week sometime in mid July. So, those pictures are not the best quality but hopefully give a decent look at how I went about constructing this. I followed the wonderful tutorial from The Fashionable Past quite closely. The dress in the tutorial is made, of course, with robings and a stomacher and mine is closed in the front but otherwise I followed the instructions as well as I could. While they didn't make a lot of sense when I read through them before starting, by the time I got to the end of construction they made a LOT more sense! For additional immediate guide and help, I also had my copies of Costume in Detail and the AD 18th Century Dressmaking open and in front of me the whole time. 

Stitching the lining together.
The first thing I did was to drape a basic lining pattern. This took a few tries but I ended up with a shape I was happy with. The finished pattern I made has a back, a front, and a shoulder strap. Once that was done, I cut my lining out of some medium weight linen and laid out the back lining to cut the main back fabric piece, as per the instructions at The Fashionable Past. 

Cutting out the back panel.
I now wish I had narrowed the extra material at the back a bit. The instructions call for placing the lining about 5" from the folded edge, to give you a total of 10" of extra fabric to make the characteristic back pleats of the gown. I found this amount of material to be a little much. Even making my pleats as deep as I possibly could, my back pleats still came out a lot wider than I wanted them to. Next time, I may try placing the lining 3.5" from the folded edge for a total of 7" extra width. I think that would make pleats more to my preferred look. 

The back panel cut and pinned into place on the back lining!
After that, I pleated the skirt portion of the back panel and stitched it to the lining at the waistline. On the outside, the main fabric at the waistline was turned under and stitched down over the pleats, enveloping them between the lining and main fabric. Then, it was time for the back pleats! These I eyeballed until they looked ok and then stitched down with a spaced backstitch. 

And with that, the back panel was completed! 

After that it was time to add on the side front skirt panels. I sewed these to the back panels, leaving the selvedge as a natural finish. The selvedge is fuzzy, but, oh well! 

After that, the side front panels were pleated to the waistline and stitched to the lining. 

The front bodice pieces were then mounted to the lining by turning all the seam allowances in and pressing them down, and then placing the front bodices on top of the lining, overlapping the back bodice at the side seams and lapping over the top of the pleats. The front bodices were stitched to the lining with a spaced backstitch down the side seam, along the waist line, up the center front and around the neckline. 

And with that, the bodice portion was done!

Time to move on to the sleeves! For these I used the elbow length sleeve I draped for my early 1800's round gown, modifying the sleeve head a little to fit into the armscye of the 1770's bodice. I cut the pattern from my linen and used a mantua maker seam to sew them together and hemmed the edge with a narrow hem. I used the sleeve setting tutorial on The Fashionable Past to set them and to my happiness, they set quite easily! Basically, the bottom half of the sleeve is set in the normal way and the top half is smoothly pinned, and possibly pleated the back shoulder, to the shoulder strap. The lining is stitched to this top half of the sleeve, and then the shoulder straps, seam allowances pressed under, are placed on top, covering all the raw edges, and then stitched down to secure it. 

Before straps are placed.
After straps are placed and stitched down.
And with that, the dress was complete! Well, all except for the hem anyway!

I asked about a proper hem length on the 18th Century dress group on Facebook. Hems in this period and especially for my social class/impression were quite a bit shorter than other periods. Ankles could be flashed! Shoes and stockings, if worn, were certainly visible. I hemmed my petticoat to go to a few inches above my ankle bones and the gown was hemmed to be just barely longer than the petticoat. This seems to be a good length for me after having had the chance to wear this at Blue Licks a few weeks ago. It is easy to wear both with shoes and also going barefoot, for carrying around a large-ish small child and for chasing kids up and down hills. 
These shoes are black leather tie shoes from Fugawee - I got them last winter
for an incredible deal on eBay (I think $60?) and they were a half size too small. 
All winter I wore them around the house from time to time, soaked them in hot water a few times
and wore them with thick socks til the shoes were dry and had to reglue both heels. They fit
like a glove now, though! I still prefer to be without shoes but at least I have proper
ones for when I need them. 
After my dress was done Judah took some photos for me at a nearby nature area. After wearing this dress a little, I have a few things I'm not totally happy with. #1 the fabric is linen and so, stretches. The sleeves loosened up some with wearing and the bodice stretched enough where I had to overlap it more than I wanted to to get it to fit. #2, the curved bustline of my mid 1770s stays and the straight fronts of my bodice do not play well together. I get bad wrinkling across the front torso when I do any amount of bending or lifting. It is helped a little with pinning to the stays and at the base of the point, but not much. So, my options to fix this are to curve the center front of the bodice to match the curve of the stays, curve the side seams of the dress to pull the center front in where it needs to be smoothly fitted, or to just wear it and not give a crap about the wrinkling. For this particular dress I will probably just leave it for now. Eventually, I may make it into a dress with robings and a stomacher since that would probably be easier to get to fit smoothly but for now. . .eh, it's fine. And with a big neckerchief, no one can really tell anyway!

So, there is my first proper 18th century dress! While I made a 1780's dress a number of years ago, it was definitely a rushed project and not constructed with proper techniques. So I feel that this dress is, indeed, my first serious attempt at this era. I am so looking forward to wearing it to many events and getting a lot of wear and tear on it while doing what I love! 



  1. It looks great! I love the striped linen! And you make actually making the gown look very approachable. I have all the materials compiled to venture into 18th century, now I've just got to actually do it. I'm dragging my feet when it comes to stay making. . .

  2. You did a great job without a pattern and the gown is lovely. Dont worry about the wrinkling and stretching, that's just what happens with linen.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!