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.

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!