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!

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.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Constructed pieces 1

First posting of previously constructed pieces.  I'll continue to add to this over the next few days.  Some will return later to be used in full explanations and instructions of that particular style of item.  If there's something you want me to go more in depth on sooner, please ask!  In addition I should start posting in progress projects soon.

Embroidered pockets.  Two layers of linen bound with cotton tape.  The embroidery was designed and converted by me and  done on machine.  Pockets can be a range of sizes, but follow a similar tapered shape.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


To begin with, I'm going to cover the list of projects to come.  Hopefully I'll get all of my photos of previous projects posted very soon!

In process:
Close-front Robe a l'Anglaise...... ready for trimming
1790s silk jacket...... cut out
Cotton Robe a l'Anglaise...... fabric purchased

Cotton gauze embroidered petticoat
2nd pair stays
Masquerade gown a la Hannibal crossing the Alps
Riding Habit
1780s gown from Workshop

I'm going to start compiling tips and tricks as well as instructions from previous projects soon.  If there's anything you want to know, please ask!  If I don't know, someone I work with will or I'll just go to Linda Baumgarten!