Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quarter-back Gowns

Alright! Here it is, the instructional post on how to put together a quarter-back gown. I'll include a few asides on how to do the Robe a l'Anglaise, but I don't have any made to show images yet. You'll see two gowns in the images, both made slightly differently, but useful in showing that there's not a single right way to do this.

The first fitting is going to be for the front pieces, the back only if it's quartered, the sleeves, and knowing general petticoat/skirt length. I'll be posting a step-by-step fitting process somewhere in the future, so I'm not going to go into great detail on how to do that yet. Simplifying it, take the person and pin linen (or muslin) to their stays and start drawing lines where you want the gown to be!
After that fitting you'll be assembling the front pieces, sleeves, back pieces separately, and can start on finishing the edges of the skirt.
The front pieces: they should have longer shoulder straps than needed in the end for now (you'll fit that part in the third fitting). To assemble you'll use the under-hand stitch around the neck, front, and bottom to where your skirt will slip in (or all the bottom if you're laying the pleats on the lining like I did- more volume). Unlike modern techniques, you'll lay wrong to wrong side and pin baste some of the central area so they don't shift around. Baste the fashion fabrics seam allowance back first, then pin on the lining seam allowance.
The back pieces on a quartered-back are done just about the same. You can stitch the back seams up first with a back-stitch if you want or not. Otherwise, you'll assemble the four back sections individually just like the front, going around all four sides. *Note that you'll want to leave an extra 1/8" out of the folded edges for seam allowance later* So, make sure you know the back neck height during that first fitting. I also don't know a way to insert that skirt into a quartered back with this method, but the other styles make it much easier. If you want boning in the back of your gown, you'll either make casings on the lining before stitching down, or use the seam allowances for casings. You can see two bones CB in the striped gown. To assemble the back pieces, you'll lay right to right and back-stitch right next to the lining using that extra 1/8" we left out earlier. The side seams come after the second fitting, so don't worry about those yet.
*Side note: for other styles you'll do the pleating and apply that to a lining piece prior to second fitting, leaving the sides wide and not cutting the skirt loose yet or the neck line.

For the sleeves you'll back-stitch the seams, making linings separate from fashion fabric. The sleeve hem will be done with the same under-hand stitch. The armscye of both the bodice and the sleeve is left open and raw. I recently saw a woman's jacket where they used the bodice lining to hide the armscye seam, but it had very odd construction techniques (we're thinking a tailor trained person did it). The actual fitting of the sleeve in won't happen until fourth fitting. If you're worried about arm movement, keep the armscye high on the bottom of the bodice and leave extra on the scoop of the sleeve. You can always trim it down later.
The second fitting is where you'll find where to attach the front to the back. Pin the back to the stays, pin the fronts closed and smooth it around the body. Don't worry too much about evening the side seams until you get it off the person. Then you can measure out their placement and make sure it looks balanced. You'll topstitch the fashion front to the back (through both back layers) with a spaced back-stitch. The front lining will fold back over this seam to hide it and be whipped down. You can now finish the bottom edge and apply the skirt. To finish the skirt, just do a 1/4" roll on the front edges and whip down. The top edge should be folded down before pleating. *Make sure to leave extra length on the skirt to account for an optimal two inches folded down and the fact that it also overlaps the skirt by 1/2".* If you are putting in a pocket slit, follow petticoat instructions and insert it in the reverse portion of a pleat so it's well hidden.
*Side note: if you're doing an english back, you'll cut the skirt free (angle from side seam down to under the outer most pleat) before stitching the side seams. The lining should be left free at the bottom of the side seam to insert the pleated skirt into the bodice.
The third fitting is for placing the shoulder straps, which are attached just like the side seams.
The fourth fitting you can fit the sleeves. This is not only making sure they fit over the armscye and arm correctly, but balance correctly. So, make sure you mark where their seam(s) hit the bodice so the wearer won't have their arms sticking out forward or behind them! You can whip the raw edges in the armscye if you're afraid they'll fray or leave them as is. Same thing with the raw edge folded down on the skirt.
This finished front, while two pieces of fashion fabric, only has one piece of lining. The fashions were attached at the beginning and treated as one. It uses buttons to fasten, which is rare. Most gowns will use straight pins (great if you have a tendency to grow or shrink or lace your stays differently) or hook and thread eyes. Hemming should use as little fabric as possible. Either a 1/4" to 1/2" roll hem or face the hem with twill tape if the fabric is thicker.
Under the Red Coat- the jacket will come up in a later post on construction.