Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stays Original

Just a quick add-on to my stays postings.  I took a tour around the Dewitt Wallace Museum today, and lo and behold they had the stays I'm building up in the Quilted Fashions exhibit.  There's not much light, but you can get an idea:
It's a bit hard to see, but you might notice the lack of boning casings showing.  This pair was originally made of silk, but must have worn too much because it's been covered over in cotton.  So, I will still be making mine visible.  The binding is green silk ribbon.  I'll probably use cream so it doesn't show under any of my clothes, but maybe I'll use a color to lace the front for fun, since I can always change it out.  The difficulty will be finding a good cording to lace the back.  Now that I got a glimpse of those and was able to examine a few others stored in back, I'm going to pick back up on my pair and start stitching channels.  I had been concerned with size since the original channels are all 1/8", but they were baleen.  Oak won't hold up to that, and even though I've managed to find spring steel that size, I'm afraid it won't have the resistance to permanent bending I need.  So, seeing a late pair of stays with mixing of 1/4" and 1/8" channels today I feel confident that I can mix in 1/4" steel correctly.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cut-away Gown History

Due to unforeseen events this weekend (my now fiance driving up from Charleston to surprise me, in costume, with a proposal at a ball) I don't have quite enough time to make a full post on my cutaway gown, but I will at least try to get a basic history section!
Here is the infamous portrait by Ducreux that shows a beautiful example of the style.  While this gown was most popular in the 1780s, it did actually show up in the colonies in the late 1770s and continued to be worn throughout the '90s as well.
Obviously, most of the gowns seen in portraits are made from silk taffeta, but a cotton print would be lovely as well.  For some reason, I seem adverse to linen, but I can't give a particular reason why.  Both solid colors and smaller stripes are acceptable.  The large 2 or 3" stripes seen earlier in the century would have been out of style by this point.  You can also choose a contrasting fabric for the leftover zone in front and even the petticoat.
In terms of the actual cut, there are a number of different looks to the front and to the sleeves.  At this point the back would have usually been quartered rather than an English style.  You could cut the CB pieces flat on bottom and connect them to the skirt to give that illusion of continuance without actually pleating the bodice if wanted.
Above you can see three examples of both front cut and sleeves.  Simplifying it, you can choose a straight angle or to curve it away.  From there, whether it will be a split zone piece or not.  And if it will be whether you fasten by pins, hooks, or buttons.  You can also add a tab, as I did, across the top of the front.  The sleeves can be the regular elbow length style, full length (you may choose to have the wrist area button since they're tightly fitted), or even cap sleeves over a contrasting long sleeve.  It gets more complicated when building, but that will come later.
The back, as talked about, is shown with two different styles of quartered backs.
Of course, in this period especially, accessorizing can make all of the difference.  Be it through a sash or ribbon around the waist, a crossed over kerchief, lace, or the ever popular hedgehog hair with ribbons, feathers, or over-the-top hat.  It's easy to see, from some of the portraits below how this style of gown evolved into the separate over-gown near the end of the century.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stays History

I decided to go ahead and sketch out some of the types of stays from the 18th century:
This is what I consider a very common layout style for stays.  I've seen patterns using anywhere from two to six pieces, but 4 or 5 seem the most common in the later half of the century.  The arrows show the direction of the boning.  If fully-boned you fill it all in, flaring apart to go into the tabs.  Piece 1 shows boning following the CF line, but later periods can angle all but the very center bone(s) to go in line with the other seam to give more bow to the front bust.  If making the stays lace in front, simply leave a small space between the first and second bones to add eyelets.

This shows an example of lines for half-boned stays.  It also shows how you combine pieces 1 & 2 for a four piece stay.  You can see how most pieces follow the same line as the fully boned above, but only the essentials are left in.  The front has horizontal bones to help with lift.  This are achieved with a extra piece of linen across the top front.  You can't do this with front-lacing stays since there's so much stress in the center.

1740s half-boned stays that use only two pieces.  This would also require an extra linen layer for the horizontal bones, since they intersect and cross-over rather than butt up.

A later period style which is mostly boned.  The front has small spaces between some of the bones, while the other three are full.  You can also see how the front has a zig-zag pattern of bones which seems more decorative than functional, but probably does assist in the same manner as other horizontal bones do.  These are starting to look similar to the later corded corsets with decorative angles and curving of channels.  Also, the front is not technically a full lacing.  Where the eyelets stop the front pieces attach to each other.
Here you can see the side-view difference between the flat fronted earlier style and the thrust of the 1780s and 1790s.  The waist also raises up in back slightly, but the last piece will still be long to keep from stressing your back (even if there are no tabs).
Two basic front views.  Straps or no, a narrow front tab or a wider/flatter style, a cut-in waist or a gentle/comfortable curve over the hips.
Showing how you can create a false stomacher style front and add lacing eyelets to the second piece (you leave the first 1/2" or so of piece 2 loose, so adjust for a wider piece 1).  You can also permanently stitch ribbon in the same pattern in that seam for the illusion of lacing.

This is the pattern that I am currently building.  There are very few bones, so the ones extending into the tabs will be metal to keep them from stressing too much and breaking.  Notice the unusually wide horizontal bones, used instead of multiple bones.  The top front is also laced, but purely decorative.  The bottom half is still attached CF.  I'll place a gusset, like in men's breeches, behind.  The shoulder strap is also built in.  Since the waist is set high, the stays would try to slip down without them.

On a side-note, since this was brought up recently, front-lacing stays (partial or full) don't really allow you to breast-feed.  There are pregnancy stays with lacing on the side to expand the waist, but opening the boned front of stays is just not comfortable.  Some images exist of women pulling up above their stays, but most probably wore un-boned jumps or a quilted waistcoat.  Yes, formal events demanded formal stays, but most of that class probably had a wet nurse.

Monday, December 1, 2008


At this point, I'm just going to cover the patterning and fitting of stays.  As my pair progresses I will post on-going instructions on construction.
First, measuring the body.  This is best done in just a shift, but can also be done over a well fitted pair of stays (but make sure you love them!).  As you can see in the image below, measuring tapes didn't come with numbers like they do today.  These were long, thin strips of paper where the tailor would cut out notches to signify the specific measurement.  This image is of a Diderot plate where you can also see patterns for men's wear.  Stays, despite our modern view of them as "underwear", were fitted and built by men.  Your local tailor, or sometimes specifically stay-maker, would supply them.
Your most essential measurements are of your bust, waist, front and back length desired, and how wide you want the tops to be. Remember that we are not trained to stand correctly, so be very aware of how you should stand.  Once you have these you can enlarge any stay pattern and adjust it accordingly.
There are tons of instructions for how to adjust a pattern for a corset out there, which are far more in-depth than I could manage here.  It's not terribly different, just remember there should be a 2" gap in back for lacing and the tabs will need to be resized (or maybe even add/subtract the number).

Once you've finished your new pattern pieces it's time to cut. You'll basically be hacking through six layers of fabric so you don't have to lay out the pieces twice.  Four layers of lining and two of fashion.  Now you'll separate your layers to have a right and left side with the fashion on top and two linens below.  Trace around your pattern onto the fashion fabric (lightly or temporarily since the seam might change).  Baste on the inside of the line (still on it, NOT to the inside of it) through all three layers. 
Fold over the seam allowances (not around the top or bottom) and baste making sure the outline is centered on the fold.  The center back (unless CF lacing ONLY) is stitched folded with a pretty spaced back-stitch far enough from the fold to fit a boning piece between (ex.  if 1/4" boning, go slightly more from the edge or it won't squeeze in!).  This is the only boning that gets put in before the fitting.  Trim back one of the lining layers seam allowance (on the back ONLY) to the outline basting stitch before folding to reduce bulk.

Lay your pieces out to make sure you get them put together correctly (check up vs down!).  To stitch pieces together lay them right to right side.  Quickly whip over the edges just deep enough to get through all layers (including linings).  It's just temporary.
At this point, you'll need someone you trust with a needle to stitch you into your stays!  Use a big needle and a double thread and spiral lace up the back.  Remember that they should probably fit above where you would think.  All those years of low-rise pants can be deceptive!
"Fluff" yourself and see what needs to change.  Here are pictures of my second fitting.  I'll try to sketch out what the final ones will look like soon:

As you can see, you don't split into the tabs yet.  Nor did I cut away any seam allowance.
I had to take a wedge from the center front; 2" at top down to nothing (pictures are post-adjustment).  The bust was too big and the straps sat out too far, so we took it in to help both.

My back is also too high, but that's an easy fix.
Make sure the side-back piece is centered over those love handles.
You can see the later period "thrust" compared to the flat as a board look of earlier stays.
Straps can also be patterned at the same time.  You can have it lace front or back with eyelets.  Keep your outer-garments in mind so it doesn't show later!
These are all pictures taken at the Burnley & Trowbridge stays workshop.  I can't recommend them highly enough.  This is my third workshop with them and I'll keep going back for more!  The stays version runs every couple of years since it's so popular.

A few tips and tricks:
Make sure you can still sit down.
Don't suffocate yourself!  It's not a corset, we aren't going for a massive waist reduction.  No broken ribs please.  You want structure and shape, not a waspy waist.
Unless you have a maid (ha!), a friend, a SO, a well-trained child, or flexible arms to lace you up in back, consider putting in front lacing in addition.

I know it's far more complicated than one can express here, but this post is meant to aid rather than to be your only resource.  Nothing is ever better than a knowing instructor to show you how it's done, but they are a scarce group.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Coming Soon.....

Hello again!  I am finally managing to get out from under the process of moving and back to the clothing.  Unfortunately I don't have much to post today, but things will be coming soon.  I'm finishing the trim on my Caraco, still working on a Robe a l'Anglaise, looking for buttons for my 1790s jacket, and should get to a pet-en-l'air by Christmas.  I'm also attending two workshops this month:  1780s gowns in two weeks and stays the week after.  I'll make sure to take lots of notes and pictures and try to get up some comprehensive information and instructions soon after.  
On a side note, I did get to attend a lecture by Caroline Weber on her book "Queen of Fashion".  Slap me on the wrist, but I haven't read it yet.  I promise I will soon!  I was impressed to find that she has origins in French history and self-taught the fashion history just for this book.  Listening to her rattle off French terms made me very glad to have minored in it!  Some of the most interesting information she discussed were the Poufs.  That oddly wonderful three foot tall hairstyle which acted as a 18th century billboard.  Now, I've seen images of women with ships on their poufs, but that was only the beginning!  Those were termed "Poufs de Circumstance" having to do with current events or politics.  On the other side are your "Poufs de Sentimente".  This could be A la Trouche, with ostrich feathers, or even A la jardinier, with vegetables!  She mentioned one headdress made of a cabbage surrounded by root vegetables.  I can't imagine the weight of that!
There was much more discussed on Marie Antoinette's phase with wearing men's riding wear, the infamous portrait in the gauze gown, the colors of the revolution, her fashion designer Rose Bertin, and her final days in jail.  I was told, if you speak French, to check out the book "La Modiste de la Reine".  Now, if I can just find it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bodice Assembly

When putting together a woman's jacket or a bodice for a gown, the assembly techniques are generally the same.  I've already shown in a previous post how to lay out the front pieces and stitch them together.  Leave the seam allowances at the ends un-sewen (shoulder seams, side seams) so you can fold it over later.
When stitching the back seam I generally use a back-stitch on the fashion fabric.  The lining can be done the same or with a butted edge.  For that you fold over the seam allowance on both sides, put wrong to wrong side and do a very tiny whip stitch.  Grab just a few rows of the weave each time.  Don't stitch too tightly, but do keep it snug.  When finished you pull the two sides apart a bit and the seam should be able to lay out flat (hence why not too tight of stitching).  This same technique can also be used on selvages and I've seen it on shirt seams like that.  If you're doing a jacket, you can put the fashion and lining backs together and stitch around the neck and bottom hem up to seam allowances.
The sides can also be done a few different ways.  I like the method I found in Costume Close-Up.  Fold over the front fashion fabric and line it up on the back pieces.  You will stitch a spaced back stitch very close to the edge through all three layers.  The front lining will then be folded towards the seam and stitched down, enclosing the raw edges.  You can also use the same technique explained for the back seam, but use the back stitch on the fashion fabric seam instead.
Sleeves use the same techniques as the side or back seams (underhand whip the hem) and I've seen the armscye left raw and whipped, with all allowances sandwiched in the sleeve, and where it's inside the bodice.  It's all up to you and whether your fabric frays and if you want to see stitches externally (and where).

Exterior of a side seam for a 1790s jacket I'm building.  Shows the spaced back stitch on the side seam (horizontal in picture) and the underhand on the bottom hem.

Repeat imagery of the ever so useful backstitch I keep mentioning.
The overhand stitch.  Same usage as underhand, but shows up as a small dot on both sides.  Just up and down with the needle very close together.
Similar to over hand, but as a seam.  Resembles the spaced back stitch in form and function (just doesn't back up on the small visible stitch).  Use for side seams or armscyes.
The butted and whipped seam.  Not the prettiest of examples, but it would be the lining anyway. (Also used to piece together stays, but I'll be doing a workshop on those in November).

Just like modern stitching you need to find a technique that works for you.  Every extant garment is different and there are probably many stitches we haven't ever seen!

My caraco is nearly completed (one more cuff, then some details).  I'm hoping to do a pair of mitts soon, a 1780s gown workshop, a stays workshop, and eventually a riding habit workshop in January.  I move in two weeks, so if I disappear for a while I promise I'll be back!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Caraco 3

I apologize for the delay, things have been hectic with preparing to move soon.  Hopefully I will have more time for projects once October comes around.

I have nearly completed the caraco and hope to try it on and take pictures this weekend.  In the mean time, here are a few up-close images of construction techniques.  These can be used in any style of jacket or the bodice of a gown (or anywhere else you can imagine!).

This shows an interior shot of how to lay the lining to the fashion fabric.  In case of a jacket, you would use this along the exterior edges; front, neckline, bottom hem, and sleeve hems.  Simply fold over the fashion fabric at the seam allowance line, lie the lining on top and fold back the edges a small amount (1/16") past the fashion fabric.  I usually pin the lining in the middle area to make sure it doesn't shift.  The other edges I baste together flat (temporarily in some cases).
Here's a shot of how fold the corners.  I recommend the right side (where the fashion fabric shows more) used at the bottom as the front and as the neckline on top.
This shows the small "whip" stitches I described in one of the previous posts.  You can also do a spaced back stitch leaving a long stitch on the wrong side or do it pretty and make it look like a dot on both sides.  I recently did a workshop on hand stitching at work and will bring my book home this weekend to post up here.
In the near future I will try to post from the workshop, more comprehensive instructions on my caraco, roll hemming kerchiefs, and soon to start patterning and building my next pair of stays!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hand Sewing Techniques

I'm going to try to cover some of the basic stitches and their uses.  There are so many other stitches and I really recommend purchasing Kannik's Lady's Guide to Plain Sewing books.  I'm mainly covering the types that I'm going to be mentioning a lot.  I noticed that one of the hardest things to find information on is what stitch is proper to use where.  I'll try to mention a few of the most common uses and they'll come up later in instructions.

One of the best tips I have gotten about 18th century hand sewing is that today we stitch a seam and open it up.  Back then, they would most often fold the seams then stitch.  I'll explain it more further on.

Running Stitch
The most basic of stitches.  Up, down, up, down.  That's it.  On average, there would be about 8-10 stitches per inch.  That depends mostly on how much work the seam will get.  If you're doing a side seam for a petticoat, you can run a little longer.  This can be used in open seams or as a basting stitch.  Yes, I did just say they folded then stitched, but some seams like petticoat sides or center back on some jackets couldn't be.  However, in both cases, I'd recommend a back stitch or a combination stitch for strength.

Back Stitch
Probably the most useful stitch to learn.  You come up a stitch length past your last stitch and then go down meeting with that last stitch.  It creates a very strong seam.  Again, about 8-10 per inch on average.  If you do a few running stitches, then one back stitch it's known as a combination stitch.  Combinations are great for petticoat side seams where you want speed and strength.  Back stitches can easily create open seams or lapped seams.  For lapped seams you spread out the stitch showing a short "prick" on the outside and a longer stitch inside.  Fold over the seam allowance on one piece and lay it on top of the other then stitch near the edge (1/8").  If you're doing a lined piece you can fold the outer layer on one side, lay it on both layers from the other side, stitch, then fold the last lining piece over to hide the edges.  I'll show examples when I get to jackets.  The spread out back stitch can also be used along edges to keep them from rolling, attach skirts on gowns, or stitch on trim and robings.

Point a Rabattre/whip stitch/plain hem
Whatever you call it, this stitch can be used just about anywhere.  You can use it to hem, roll edges, and stitch in linings.  I show two uses below, the first as a way to stitch a lining in at the edge and the second as a rolled edge.  I'll expand on the lining use at a later point.  Keep in mind this stitch is small as well, only showing a small prick on the outer side.  
If you roll two layers together and make sure to go through both on the prick stitch then it's a Mantua Maker's seam which is a fast way to seam and finish edges at the same time!  
If you do a back or running stitch with the two edges off set, fold over the allowance twice then whip it down to one side it's a flat felled seam.

There are many more combinations of these three stitches as there are many other stitches.  Again, I recommend the Lady's Guides.  They're inexpensive and probably the most useful books you will own if you want to hand stitch your clothing.  I'll be referencing the use of these stitches in all of my instructions.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Caraco 2

A new and better picture of my Caraco mock-up.  I added in the tabs and cuffs as well.
I think I'm going to alter the front piece slightly to get rid of the puckering under the arms, but it might just be the light-weight muslin not offering enough resistance.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Caraco 1

Here is the first of my on-going project updates.  This one is a caraco jacket which is featured in Fashion in Detail.  What makes it unusual is that the back (skirt and all) and the sleeves are all one piece.  That's right, no shoulder seam.  The back is formed by tucking, according to the book.  I took the idea to the Milliner's shop at Colonial Williamsburg and mostly got "good luck!" from Janea.  After starting to drape it, I realized that my 45" wide fabric wasn't going to cut it.  Despite always hearing about how narrow fabrics were, there were apparently a few over 45".  So, I slipped an invisible seam in the tucks on the skirt area.  Looking at the print, Iit definitely is one piece, so no misunderstanding there.  I used that as a basis for angles in draping as well.  All in all, the mock-up went well with only a few alterations I'll mention below.  I have no clue if I did it correctly, but it looks right.

First off, my front was a bit too large, so that's been pinned in.  I still have to shape the stomacher, tabs, and cuffs.  The robing is also gaping at the shoulders, but I have alterations to do in back that will fix that.  The hem line is also too low in front.
The back neck line will be lowered, fixing the gap issue on the robings.  I'm also moving the "dart" that creates a waistline to more of an angle.  The side seams are also getting a new curve, but it's hard to see that issue here.  I had to cut out the excess fabric on the upper back seams since the amount pleated into the skirt was too bulky to hide further up.  That's my only question of authenticity at this point.
I've got the printed cotton (see petticoat in previous post) and am just waiting on getting a lining material before cutting.  I might take it into work tomorrow to have it checked over before going on.

To go with this I'll be making a kerchief for modesty's sake.  Since it's a caraco, I have the option of using the tabs in front to tuck it down, making a separate stomacher optional.  I'll gather some more info up on caracos for a later post.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Perfectly Pleated Petticoats

Yet another essential part of the 18th century woman's wardrobe was the petticoat.  You can't go around wearing breeches after all!  They can be made from linen, cotton, or silk.  They can be made to match a gown or as a separate piece.  They attach at the top by splitting in half
 (also allowing for openings to reach the pockets) and the front and back have ties which wrap around the waist separately.  The most complicated part of a petticoat is its pleating.  Up until 1780 I'd recommend 1/2" pleats, which is what I use in the formula below.  After that, you can choose to do smaller pleats.  The same progression occurred with the gown as I'll talk 
about another time.
The first step is do to some measurements. Put on your shoes for this.  First, you'll need your waist.  Next measure from the center front of your waist line to the floor, then side, then back.  There might not be much difference there, I'm only 1" shorter in front.  Dipping down the top before pleating means I don't have a curvy hem.  Particularly useful when wearing hoops and the difference is great.
When purchasing your fabric, the first thing you need to know is how many panels you will require.  Most petticoats use either two or three widths of fabric; 100" to 120" is a good normal range.  A finished petticoat should be about 3" off the ground and the hems were often narrow (1/4" turned twice) or faced with tape.  If you're going to be working in the petticoat (ex. cooking over the fire) a couple inches shorter is fine.
Once you've purchased and washed the fabric, it's time to cut the panels.  Cut across at the fabric the panel length we determined earlier (side to floor minus 1").  If you have three panels, this process will be a bit different, so skip ahead to your own section below.  Otherwise we need to curve the top.  First, find the difference between the front and side measurements.  Mine are 39" and 40", so I have a 1" difference.  Find the middle point at the top of one panel.  Mark down that difference and mark half-way between the center point and the side at top.  You'll create a curve as shown below.

For two panels, you'll stitch up the side seams stopping 9" from the top.  By hand, I use a combination of running and occasional back stitches.  The top 9" you'll fold the seam allowance back, then fold the edge under to hide it (like a roll hem).  Use small whip stitches to tack it down.  I also recommend putting a thread bar at the bottom of opening to keep the stress of the seam.

For three panels, stitch all the way up all three seams.  By hand, I use a combination of running and back stitches.  One seam will sit at center back and the other two will end up on your side fronts.  Find your center front point at the middle of the front panel.  Match the center back and center front points.  Lay it out flat and the folds should lie where your side openings will be.  Mark and cut a 9" line straight down from the top and these points.  Roll and hand-stitch the raw edges back.  Around the bottom do a hand button-hole stitch and a thread bar.
Next comes the pleating.  Find your waist measurement and also measure the front or back half of your petticoat.  Before you start, is this to go with a gown or is it separate?  If you're going to use a gown, you'll have a 5" pleat at center front.  Otherwise, I recommend a 3" pleat.  You'll see two different formulas, the first one for the 5" and second one for the 3".

"Waist" is your total measurement
"Fabric" is just the front or back half of your petticoat
Round to the nearest 1/8" for "per pleat"

Waist = _____ / 4 = _____ - 2.5 = _____ x 2 = _____ pleats     (gown)
Waist = _____ / 4 = _____ - 1.5 = _____ x 2 = _____ pleats    

Fabric = _____ / 2 = _____ - 2.5 = _____ / pleats = _____ per pleat
Fabric = _____ / 2 = _____ - 1.5 = _____ / pleats = _____ per pleat

Place pin center front (CF).  Place a pin on either side either 2.5” or 1.25” out from CF.
Next pin goes ______ (per pleat) further out.  Place one 1/2” in from last pin.
Repeat until correct number of pleats has been marked.  The last 1/2” should be at the very end.
If the last pleat doesn’t end in the correct place, determine the amount off.  It should be less than amount per pleat, but more than 1/8”.
Subtract or add 1/8” to pleats working from the end in until it evens out.  (If you’re 1/2” over, the last four pleats need to be 1/8” less than originally planned.)
Fold pin to pin with pleats facing out, leaving larger CF pleat as measured.

Waist = _____ / 2 = _____ pleats
Fabric = _____ / 2 = _____ / pleats = _____ per pleat

Place pin CB.
Next pin goes _____ (per pleat) further out.  Place one 1/2” in from last pin.
Repeat until correct number of pleats has been marked.
Adjust the last pleat distance to 1 1/2” including the 1/2” marking.
Move sets according to front directions to correct.
Fold pin to pin with pleats facing inward.

Do a running stitch 1/4" from the top to fasten the pleats down.
Cut two strips of 1" tape (cotton twill or linen) half of your waist size plus two tails of 30" each.  Fold it in half over the raw edge on top and stitch down.  Make sure to roll and stitch the ends of the tape.
To hem, try it on and make sure it's even with the floor.  If not, have a friend go around and mark 3" above the ground with pins.  Leave 1/2" past your finished length.  Roll and stitch with a slip stitch so you won't catch it on your heels.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Today I'm going to give instructions on building a pocket.  They are probably the most simple of 18th century garments, so this would be a good place to start or to practice hand stitching.

This would serve as the purse for most 18th century women.  There are sachels or baskets, but this is still a very essential item.  You can make a simple pocket out of left over linen or you can embroider the top layer.  The size of extants varies widely, so you should think about what you're going to be putting in the pocket.  On average, I'd say about 18"x 12".  I wouldn't recommend going too large unless you're going to have hoops as well, since anything big (like a water bottle) will show through.  I think my pockets are just over 12" tall, but I don't put much in them.
Once you've determined size you can rough out a pattern.  Just use a straight edge and round the bottom corners and it will look fine.  You're going to need three layers; one of fashion fabric and two of a sturdier linen.  You'll also need some 1/2" cotton twill to bind it and 1" twill for the waist band.  You can bind in a fabric as well.  For fabric binding use 1" and turn the edges under 1/4" each.

After you've cut out the three layers, take the top two and cut a slit down the middle ending about half-way (not more than 9").  I'd recommend basting around those two layers before cutting so they don't shift around.  Next, you'll bind the slit with the 1/2" twill leaving the ends raw.  Combine all three layers, baste and bind around the outside edge.  Finish the top with the 1" twill.  The length should be enough to comfortably tie around your waist.  Make sure to finish the ends of the tape by rolling them 1/4" twice and stitching.

If you're doing two pockets, measure out the twill the same.  Tie it around your waist and determine how much space you need in the back between the two pockets.

This is a great project to take with you when re-enacting so you can practice embroidery or hand stitching.  No one has to see it but you, so it's fine if it's not pretty!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Shift Assembly

At request of a friend, I'm going to go more in depth with assembly instructions.  I think I'll continue to split the patterning/cutting and the assembly for most garments.  So, once you've decided what style you want, washed the fabric, and have cut out your pieces (but not the head hole) you can begin here.  If you aren't hand stitching or closing off raw seams, surge all edges except hem and sleeve end.

1.  Begin by seaming the skirt gores to the body.  This can be done as a normal seam or as a flat fell.
2.  If you have shoulder seams, stitch those together here (seam or flat fell).  Stop 5" in from edge.
3.  Next you will fold along the shoulder seam and stitch up the side seams.  Stop where the gore will begin.  Figure this measurement by adding the finished gore measurement down from your arm pit.  On me it comes to about 10" with a 4" gore, but I'm fairly small.  I probably wouldn't put the bottom point of the gore below the bottom of your bra.  Use a french seam or mantua makers stitch if hand sewing.
4.  Stitch your gathering lines on the sleeve head stopping at the seam allowance.  
5.  Stitch the sleeves into a tube leaving the finished gore measurement plus one seam allowance open at the end.  (French or mantua)  If you are cuffing the sleeve, leave 2" open at the other end as well, then roll that 2" and whip down.
6.  Attach the gore to the sleeve.  Mark the stitch line corner on the gore to get it matched well.  (French or mantua)
7.  Next you'll attach the sleeves to the body.  It's best to mark out the top center on both as well as the location on the body where the gore/sleeve seam should be.  Gather up the sleeve head evenly to fit the space given.
8.  Now it's time to fit.  Cut a small hole just large enough for your head to get through at the neck.  If you have a shoulder seam you can curve the opening slightly.  Try to keep the curve close to the center just in case you want more shoulder seam sewn up later.
9.  Draw a rough neckline remembering it will gather up later.  I usually place the CF bottom between bust point line and underbust.  Back is around 3" above front.  Clean it up after laying it out again and cut open.
10.  At this point you can finish off the neckline a couple different ways.  Your two options for the channel are cotton twill tape (1/2") or bias tape.  Twill tape is more accurate of course.   If you are choosing to stitch tiny eyelets in the CF do that first, if not, fold the ends of your tape under and butt them together CF.  Stitch your ruffle between the tape and the fabric, or make it "removable" and place it on at the end.
If using twill, stitch it to the right side of the shift with a 1/4" overlap (more if you think you need it).  Fold the tape to the inside and stitch  (back stitch) along both sides of the tape.
Bias you'll open and stitch in the ditch with right to right edge.  Fold the tape and stitch along both sides of the tape.
The stitching at the top of the tape keeps the gathering tape from wearing at the linen.
11.  If you are placing the channel at the end of the sleeve do it just as the neck.  If you're doing a cuff, cut a strip of fabric 2" wide and comfortably long enough to go around your arm (including overlap for button).  Fold the strip in half length wise, and fold the edges in again to make 1/2" bias tape (don't cut it on the bias) and fold the ends inside as well.  Gather up the sleeve and insert it into the tape.  I'd recommend a spaced backstitch here.  A very small buttonhole about 3/8" from the edge and an equally tiny button will finish it.
12.  Finish the hem and possibly the sleeves with a roll hem.
13.  Run a 1/4" twill tape through the channels and leave enough so it won't disappear.  Make sure to tie a knot in the ends so they won't unravel as much.

Congratulations!  You should have a finished shift at this point!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Since the shift is the main item of an 18th century woman's fashion, I'll begin there.  It was not only worn under day wear to keep the outer clothing clean, but as a nightgown as well.  The only time you took off a shift was to put on a clean one!  They were always made out of linen.  The finer the linen, the more expensive.  Keep in mind how sensitive your skin is, since we aren't used to wearing rough clothing!  I recommend 6 oz. or less unless it's tightly woven, then up to 8 oz. is fine.  Now, how much do you need?  Really it depends on you and the width of your fabric.  The traditional way to cut a shift, shown below, is to take a full length and cut a hole in it.  Now, their fabric was always less than 45" wide, so they couldn't do the halves side by side.  You probably can.  Just make sure the width of the fabric is comfortably more than your widest part.  Make sure to read through the instructions before cutting, you have many options!  So, here's one of the basic ways to cut a shift:
*mind seam allowances!!
Width: Usually either full width of fabric or half.
Length:  From shoulder to at least knee.
Skirt gores:  About half the length and as wide as you like.
Sleeves:  Loose around arm unless last quarter of century, then comfortably fitted.  Gathered to armscye.  Should reach past elbows comfortably.  
Sleeve gores:  About 4"x4"
Neck hole:  Leave at least 4" of shoulder and the back should be 3" above front.  Best to mark on you keeping in mind it gathers up later.
Neck ruffle:  Optional.  The best formula for length is 1.5 times and about 2.5 inches finished.

Once you have the pieces cut, assembly is fairly simple.  If you aren't trying to be completely accurate you can finish the edges and seam it all together.  Otherwise take the time to french seam, flat fell, or use a mantua makers stitch (right to right edge and fold 1/4" twice then slip stitch through both layers).  Around the neck you will make a channel using twill tape.  Either fold the ends under and butt them CF or stitch two small eyelets CF.  If you decide to add a neck ruffle, here would be the place to stick it in.  The sleeves give you options as well.  Assuming you have looser sleeves you can place the channel at the end or add a 1/2" wide buttoned cuff.  You'll finish the hem and possibly raw sleeves with a roll hem.
Here is an image of the shift I made:

Notice the differences between it and the pattern I drew?  First, mine tapers at the body top.  My fabric was wide enough compared to me that I was able to cut the gores from the top half and apply them to the bottom.  Perfectly allowed if you want to save fabric and have enough width.  My sleeves are fitted tighter, so they aren't gathered in.  I also have shoulder seams.

Since this is my first experience with instructions, please feel free to give recommendations or talk about problems.  I'm sure there's something I missed!

Saturday, July 12, 2008


One of the first things to remember about the 18th century is that fabric is expensive, but labor is not.  If you aren't looking to portray the upper class, stick with linens, cottons, or wools.  My recommendation is to check with sutlers if you don't know what to look for.  Most places (like Wm Booth Draper and Burnely & Trowbridge) will gladly talk to you over phone or email about fabric choices.  If you are going high class, silk taffeta is your best bet.  Dupioni, while cheaper now, isn't correct.  The safest bets are solid colors, rather than prints.  There are many incorrect prints out there that take a trained eye to spot and there are some garments where prints aren't always correct.  Here is a basic list of garments for men and women.

Shift: the basic linen undergarment which allowed for easy cleaning and kept outer clothing clean.
Stockings:  over-the-knee socks held up by garters or ribbons.  Came in many colors, some with decorative clocking.
Stays:  not a corset.  These gave you a conical shape without crushing you.  Half or fully boned, straps or no, front or front/back laced.
Pockets:  hanging pouches tied on around the waist, separate from the other garments, accessible through slits in the petticoat.
Side Hoops: sometimes called paniers in modern terms, give you the wide hips without the fuss of a large hoop petticoat.  Very popular in the '70s.  You could also use these as large pockets.  Replaced by bum and hip rolls in the '80s.
Petticoat:  pleated skirt that would be worn under the gown or jacket.  Under-petticoats were made of less expensive material and could add warmth or hide lines from hoops.  Usually about 3" off the ground.
Jacket:  there are many different styles of jacket.  These were most commonly worn by both working class and upper class, though in different styles.  Some fitted, some unfitted and held in by the apron.
Gown:  worn by every class.  A robe a l'Anglaise has a fitted back while a robe a la Francaise has a loose or "sack" back.  More money meant more trim.  All classes used ruffles or kerchiefs around the neck for modesty.
Cloak:  worn by women and men for warmth.  Made of wool and came with or without a hood.
Mantelet:  a shortened cloak usually made from satin, silk, or lace.  It was used for warmth, but often indoors or on cool days.
Robe a la Polonaise: a particular style of gown with gathered up skirts, loose fronts, and false waistcoat.  Many styles of gowns have polonaised skirts, but are not this specific style.
Brunswick: a sacque-back style jacket, often used for travel, that has a hood and removable long-sleeves.
Riding Habit: ensemble of petticoat, riding shirt, waistcoat, and masculine jacket.

Shirt:  similar to today's shirts, but with a front slit rather than fully open.  Always loosely fitted and often long enough to serve as underwear.
Waistcoat:  Buttoned vest worn by all classes.  Some have sleeves which could be sewn in or tied on.
Jacket:  Similar to waistcoat in cut and length.  Often had sleeves, but not always.  More practical than a full-length coat for work and often worn over a waistcoat.
Breeches:  Knee length pants that buttoned down to a buckled, buttoned, or tied cuff on the leg.  The top was also buttoned and usually had a fall-front.  The back was looser to allow for room to ride a horse.  It also laced closed in the back at the waistband to allow for adjustment.
Coat:  Knee-length, full-skirted (narrowing with time).  Worn over waistcoat by all classes.
Cloaks & Stockings:  generally the same as women's wear.

Shoes:  Men's are usually made of leather, exception in some dance pumps and slippers.  Women's could be fabric covered or leather (remember leather is the cheap option at this point).

There are a lot of items and terms I haven't covered, but this gives you the basics.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Constructed pieces 2

The second and final installment of my previously made items.  Next time I'll try to give an overview of what an 18th century outfit for men and women would involve.  After that, I'll go from the skin out with full descriptions and instructions.

1780s cut-away front Robe a l'Anglaise.  Made from striped yellow silk taffeta.  It's patterned from a closed front style.  The trim is two layers of box pleated silk (one yellow and one sage silk) and a layer of gathered, pinked sheer.  The same sheer is used on the cuff ruffles.  The hat has since been re-done to be more 1780s, as well as the wig.  I'll post images of that some other time.  I'm using side hoops (paniers) as well.  They're made from muslin and reed.

First full outfit that I built in 18th century.  Everything is completely hand sewen.  The jacket is a cotton print lined with linen and laced with silk ribbon.  The mitts are left over linen pieces.  The outer petticoat is linen which I dyed.  The cap has a split ruffle and is also of fine linen.  There is also an underpetticoat of a tighter weave linen, a bum roll, and a fine linen shift.  All of these pieces will have instructions coming later.  The hat, while period correct, is of a color that is not verifiable as accurate.  Black and brown survived, but navy, if it existed, did not.

Pair of fully-boned stays.  Made from three layers of linen.  Outer two form channels while inner is a loose linen sewn in last.  This allows the wearer to replace the most easily soiled layer.  Boning is all reed.  All stitching is done by hand.  Channels are made using a point to point back stitch and seams are top stitched.  The binding is linen tape.  I'm currently fixing up these stays to be bound with leather as well as shortening them to fit more appropriately.  I will eventually go back and do a full step-by-step instruction on this project or possibly on a later pair of stays.