Monday, January 31, 2011

Robe a la Polonaise

Up this week is my new Robe a la Polonaise.  It was started in *surprise* another workshop through Burnley & Trowbridge.  This time the lovely Brooke Welborn taught the class during one of her trips back from Cairo; she has made an intense study of Polonaise gowns, beginning with her final project of apprenticeship at Colonial Williamsburg.  I'll try to talk more about the history of the Polonaise gown in my next post, but a quick description; it was a popular style in the 1770s and 80s defined by the separate outer front which drapes away from the body.  It can be a short jacket with no polonaising down to a longer gown (such as mine).
I chose an aqua silk taffeta for the main portion (petticoat and gown always match) and a yellow taffeta for the trim.  Silk gauze for the sleeve ruffles and kerchief.  Mine is worn over side-hoops.  The fitted front bodice is pinned closed.  All of the trimming is roll-hemmed at about 1/8", gathered with a whip stitch, and stitched down.
You can see how the outside fronts fall back, folding up a little over the hips.  The bow is separate and pinned on.

The back shows the satin ribbons which hook up in back to gather up the skirt.  You can also see two pleats taken in the front piece that are stitched down to the waist.  The gown hem just barely passes the trim on the petticoat, which was intentionally done.

Laid out the gradual widening of the trim becomes more obvious.  There are three thread loops along the side back seams of the skirt to help guide the gathers up the ribbon.  The hem is rolled at about 1/4" all the way around to the neckline.

Here you can see how the outside front is only attached at the neckline, armscye, and side-back seam.  The pleats are not stitched to the fitted bodice.

I chose to insert the top of the sleeves between lining and fashion fabric.  The shoulder area is stitched folded over on the sleeve with a spaced backstitch.  About half-way down the sleeve becomes exposed and all is stitched with a regular backstitch.  This happens at the shoulder seam in back and where a seam *might* be on the front shoulder area depending on the fit.

The back is a very simple two pieces.  The side-back seam is not done how it usually is on gowns, but with a turned, non-visible backstitched seam.  The two pleats on the front are done with visible spaced back-stitching however.

I put a great deal of fullness into my skirt since I had wide fabric and wanted to!  There are two pleats under the turn back on each side of the side-back seam (2" deep) and one under the center back (1.5" deep).  The seams which run down the skirt are finished with a mantua-makers stitch.  Hooks on the ribbons and thread eyes on the bows allow the polonaising to be released.

The petticoat is bound with linen tape and has about 3/8" hem.  The ruffle reaches just below the regular hem.  *Don't make the ruffle extend far below, it may seem like it saves fabric but you'll end up destroying the ruffle quickly with shoe buckles, mud, rocks, etc.  Patching or darning a small area under the ruffle will never be seen, but you don't want to damage the ruffle itself if possible.

I know this is a garment which exists mostly in fashion plates, so if there's anything you would like more pictures of or clarification on, just ask!

You can also find a post on the co-ordinating pair of stays here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brunswick Jacket 2

Brunswicks are considered to be a travel garment of sorts.  Something fashionable, but practical.  Much like Riding Habits can be worn.  It's much easier to fit in a carriage, go visiting, or shopping in something not full length.  The Brunswick jackets also come with the added benefit of a hood.  It can be a very warm outfit when traveling in a cold coach for a few hours.  It is more of an upper class garment, not surprisingly.

Silk is the most common in surviving garments, but that doesn't mean it was the only choice (it just means they were more "valued" and saved).  Many portraits look like taffeta, two extants are made from quilted satin (one, two), another is a watered silk, and I used a corded silk.


There is one portrait of a printed cotton and Barbara Johsons book of swatches shows a manchester cotton (small check).  The Colonial Williamsburg Milliners used a similar pattern in silk, which the amazing Susan Parris used as inspiration for one of her dolls.

While other fabrics, like wool, don't have any references it doesn't mean they didn't exist.  If you want a comfortable, easy, and warm fabric wool would qualify well.

It can be low or high neckline.

You can also decide how the jacket will attach to the waistcoat itself.  I chose to make a separate waistcoat which the hood was attached to.  The jacket simply pins to the front when wearing.  Another option is to make the waistcoat fronts and have them attach at the shoulder and side seams.  A final option is to make false fronts where the fashion fabric attaches to the jacket front seam.  The lining encompasses both pieces.  In the last two cases the jacket back is higher on the neck to meet the waistcoat neckline.

Cuff or Flounce.  You can see both in the images above.  I chose a cuff because my fabric had too much body for a flounce.
The bottom part of the sleeve is a very simple trapezoid that whips into the main sleeve.  The seam is left open at the wrist for a few inches so it can be more fitted.

It's no different than a cloak hood in patterning.  You can gather or pleat up the back (even put a bow on it, as Janea showed us).  It pleats into the neck line.

I lined the main body with linen to just below the waist, as well as the sleeves.  The lower sleeves and hood I did in a taffeta.  You can also line the skirt with a fashion fabric.

Usually out of the same fabric, pleated or gathered.  Although, I have seen a few portraits with contrast fabric or gauze.

They are all fairly heavily trimmed.  Around the hood, down the front, around the hem, on cuffs or flounces, sleeve hem, and up the center of the waistcoat.  You also see bows on the cuffs/flounces and center front on the low necklines.

There are many other details that you can find in examples/portraits which makes this garment so unusual and customized.  The hem can dip in back or run straight, corner or curve in front.  Wear it with a habit shirt, kerchief, or ruffles.  The hair tends to be done up in a very fashionable manor, occasionally with a cap or bow.  Granted, these are formal portraits and sitting with a fancy hairstyle is easier than traveling with it.  There's even a slight variation to the Brunswick with a full length skirt called a Jesuit.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Brunswick Jacket

The first inside and out of the year, my Brunswick jacket.  This was started, not surprisingly, in another Burnley and Trowbridge workshop.  I'll try to do the next post on the history and variants of this garment (there are a lot!).  What defines a Brunswick is a sacque back jacket with a waistcoat-like front, hood, and removable long sleeves.  Now, the waistcoat varies in appearance, as do the trimmings, cuffs, etc.  But, we'll get into all that in the next post.
I chose to make my ensemble out of a gorgeous yellow corded silk.  It has a rather stiff weight to it, so it works wonderfully as a winter garment.  I wore it outside for two hours earlier in December without feeling chilled (then my feet got cold).  It's lined with silk taffeta in the hood and lower sleeves.  Everything else is lined in plain white linen.

I made the waistcoat a separate garment (options!).  I wanted a little bit of extra warmth AND the option to use a stomacher front and quickly create a pet-en-l'air.  The trimming all over the garment is just pleated self-fabric.  I ended up doing death head buttons, despite promising myself I wouldn't (it's almost like an addiction).  However, the fabric just wasn't working well to cover buttons and metal seemed out of place.

As you can see here, the back is only one layer of fabric rather than two.  Lacing up the back allows for more adjustment in size.  Useful since the jacket is always adjustable.

You can also see the extra piece of fashion fabric at the back top.  The jacket neckline is lower so it wouldn't do to have white linen peaking out!

The jacket construction is just like a regular sacque back gown or jacket.  The laces across the lining in back keep the garment "fitted" to the body, although not so much as English gowns would be.  One of my ties apparently popped loose and needs to be re-tacked (oops).  The lining attaches to the fashion fabric just before it ends to keep from having too much of a sail on windy days.  I trimmed the separate sleeve cuffs with more pleats and silk ribbon bows.  The lower sleeves are separate and basted in.

The side pleats are a bit easier to see here.  Everything is double pleated and the side pleats do have pocket slits.  The back neck is finished with an extra piece that folds to the inside.  I chose to leave the skirts unlined since my fabric was weighty enough for all the pleating.  Much more would have been bulky, especially in back.

The trimming continues all the way around the hem.  The double back pleats (deep enough to just barely overlap inside) are tacked down on top for a few inches.  The lower sleeves have a few inches left open on the seam to get your hand through (they're rather tight) and possibly show off the lovely ruffles on your shirt.  The hem has a slight dip in length in back as well.

Pin the jacket to the waistcoat over a habit shirt with a cravat and pair with a matching petticoat and we're ready to travel! 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Although it's often the last, and seemingly most simple, step in making a garment, there are a lot of choices that go into a hem. How high? How much turned under? Taped? Faced? Growth tucks? Or even embroidery?

Height mostly varies by class (or some "character" choices) due to the way a garment is used. A silk gown worn mostly inside can be two inches off the floor, or even train in formal situations. But if you're outside working over a fire pit, it would be filthy, ragged, or even dangerous. The general "average" that I like for late 18th century is 3-4". It stays off the ground, only gets dirty when it's raining, but it still looks very nice. I would never go more than 6" up. Even George Stubb's Hayworkers aren't more than 3" up. You aren't going to catch a hem on your shoe that high, nor would it touch the ground when bending over slightly. Be practical, it's easier to hem something another 1/2" or 1" up if it is becoming ragged than to let down.
When it comes to a matching gown/petticoat I usually make the petticoat 1/2" shorter, although I'm sure some of the mis-matched pieces I wear are an inch shorter. Much more and you might consider polonaising the gown to make it less obvious. I try to make all of my petticoats in that range, whether they have a ditto gown or not, since I don't re-enact a wide variety of classes (the fabric would be different quality any way).
Now, early 19th century follows the same rules of class and use, but tends to be longer in length. Walking gowns rise to the ankle, while many afternoon outfits even have trains. Formals are commonly seen with longer lengths in back. Riding Habits are also very long (compared to 18th century habits of normal heights).

The actual hem amount turned under is generally very small. It saves fabric that way. But, it doesn't mean you can't have an inch deep hem, I just wouldn't go much over that. Mine are usually 1/4" or 1/2" turned twice. I'm finding a slightly deeper hem common in the early 19th century, but I haven't researched that too much yet.
Now, there are two exceptions to this style of hem. Binding the bottom edge with a wool tape, often seen on quilted or wool petticoats (even more often with riding habits) allows you to have no turn up or just one turn. If you have a petticoat you want to go back-and-forth in lengths with (two wearers or two personas) that would work well since you would only have to stitch up the shorter length when needed. Or if you cut something a little too short and need that last inch.
Exception two; Silk gowns sometimes have facings. Usually a "cheaper" plain taffeta that seams to the bottom and can fold up a number of inches. Very often seen with trained gowns since it prevents a lot of dirt and wear on the expensive fabric. Easy and cheap to replace this way.

Growth tucks (or pleats) are something seen on many children's garments of the 18th century. Growing children and sharing clothing make them very practical. In the very late part of the century when gauzy dresses are coming into style (already very similar to a child's dress) we start to see them appear in adult clothing. They last through the 1860s. Usually around an 1" deep you can find examples with between 2 and 7 pleats (more later on). On a woman's gown it isn't meant to be adjustable, you even see them on trained gowns. In the 1820s they begin to pad the pleated sections, creating a precursor, perhaps, to the cage crinoline of the 1850s onward. Note on my first link, the lady on the right appears to have pleats, possibly decor on her petticoat. Whether it's an artists flare, formerly a fancier ladies, or a way to make due with second-hand and no cutting I don't know. Might be a fun challenge to seek out more of those!

Now, there is an oddity to how to hem; embroidery. Not just decorating a turned hem, but actually finishing it. Sometimes with scalloping along the edge. Not the most practical to make, but very pretty. Once again, it seems to come with the gauze trend. You do see it on under-petticoats of the 19th century as well.

Don't just look at what other people have made, take the time to do a bit of research specific to your year, fabric, and character. While museum extants show types of hems, their length is obviously skewed by the mannequins used. If you want to see good examples of fashionable lengths, fashion prints are wonderful. For more common folk of the 18th century, John Style's Dress of the People has many paintings of that class you can't easily find online.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

With the turn of the year, I sincerely hope things will be a bit more predictable. I'm hoping to get a post out every week. Between my husband's deployment, my mother moving, sometimes working three part-time jobs, running a business, and beginning construction on our third floor I've hardly had time to breath! So, let me catch you up with the projects I hope to feature this year. And, by all means, if you don't see something you want to know more about, please request it!

I've begun spanning more than just the 1770-85 range, moving into the 1812 period and even Civil War this year. With the anniversaries of both coming up soon I've had work for others that took me this direction. I do want to feature a little bit about those time periods, but how much will depend on your interest and response. But, to the garments completed and soon to show.

I did a few less traditional 18th century garments as well as the old staples in the last six months. Starting with a Polonaise Gown, not a gown which was polonaised, but the loose-fit front type. Then on to a Brunswick Jacket, complete with all the pieces. And beginning a hand-made pair of shoes. Even a "pirate" costume, which is really a very accurate 1700 fitted jacket from an original print. Of course, throw in another pair of stays to help rescue my old well-loved pair, a long cloak, and a simple wool gown. I've also begun a full suit for my husband.

As I posted about before, I made a simple 1812 gown and corset earlier in the year. I'm just now finishing up a more formal gown and an unusual undergarment to go with it. I've also got a riding habit planned and at least one more gown for that period.

I did get the opportunity to make a few 1860s clothing items (and even a 1840s gown for Dolley Madison), but they really aren't mine to post. However, between the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Williamsburg and the inspiration from said garments, I am looking to make a number of pieces from this time period as well. Right now, it looks like mainly the basics: chemise, corset, drawers, and hoop. I'm thinking of making a summer gown and a jacket ensemble, but we'll see as research progresses. I'd forgotten how hard it can be to start learning about a new time period!

What I would like to hear from all of you are the topics you're interested in. I will certainly do an inside-and-out on all of them, and I'm hoping to do an article on choosing proper fabrics. If you want to see more detailed instructions or research on any of the aforementioned items, let me know!