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.


The Dreamstress said...

Oooooh...thanks! I don't have a quarter-backed dress on my sewing list (at least not for the next 9 months!) but this post is going to be so helpful when I do!

I love the blue dress on you - so flattering! I assume the buttons are to catch up the skirt? Could you post pictures of the corresponding skirt loops?

Lindsey said...

Thanks for posting these instructions! I'm looking forward to the step by step fitting instructions, too! Both of these gowns are so pretty! You're such an inspiration! ;)


Angela said...

Hello. I have been peeking when I can at your blog. I am a part of an 18th century group in California. However, this is the first time I have heard reference to a quarter-back gown. So, I am showing my ignorance here. Can you explain what it is? The striped gown, isn't that called a zone front or Robe a la turque? Please correct me if I am wrong. Do you know Ron Carnegie at CW? Tell him I said hello. Angela Grimes

ColeV said...

Basically you have three types of backs; sacque/Watteau/French where the pleats are loose, English where the pleats are fitted to the back and continue down through the skirt, and quartered where you've lost the pleats and gone to two seams and the skirt is completely separate. And, yep, the striped is a zone gown which refers to the front cut-away section (usually seen as a quartered back). Turques, from what I've seen, have a double sleeve to make it look more like two layered gowns. And I do know Ron Carnegie, but one certainly can't forget their own General! I'll wave hello from the crowd, but I doubt he knows me at all!

Raquel said...

Absolutely lovely gown! It remembers me Eliza De Feuillide in Becoming Jane.

Ron Carnegie said...

Very lovely gown, and I got your message Angela!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot! This is great! :) I'm a beginner costumer and I was wondering, how much fabric do you need to make a gown like the cut-away? or how do you estimate the yardage when buying your fashion fabric?

ColeV said...

I usually purchase 7 yards for a gown/petticoat with little or no trim. If the persons figure is fuller or they're taller I might up to 8 to be safe. English backs can take a smidge more sometimes. Just figure waist to floor four times (or two with no petticoat) and enough for a bodice when making a quarter-back.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! That's really handy :)

Anonymous said...

hi, how is your skirt attached on your striped cutaway? i see the bottom edge of the bodice finished, then the skirt layed on top but with what stitch are you sewing it with?


ColeV said...

I use a spaced back stitch to attach skirts on all of my gowns. In the case of quarter-backs, it blends in with the stitching line of the bodice. I usually whip the raw top edge to the bodice for extra strength. I didn't on the stripe because I thought it would fray too much, but I have to be careful with it not to stress that single line of stitching.

Caroline said...

You have such informative posts! For years I had never heard of quarter back gowns. I always saw them referred to as an anglaise, even in museum collections. Is it inappropriate to refer to them as an anglaise? Are they another type of anglaise? Or is it completely wrong to call them this? I'm so curious!


ColeV said...

The information I have in terms of what to call them comes from the Milliners at Colonial Williamsburg. The way I understand it is that quarter-back specifically refers to this style of multi-piece back and Robe a l'Anglaise or English back refers to the gowns with pleated backs that are stitched flat. I don't know what is referred to as what in the period (perhaps some time spent flipping through fashion plates is in order), but I trust their terminology. With museums, they have very general terms and dates that aren't always correct (ex. the Polonaise gowns).

Caroline said...

Thanks so much! That was so fast. I will be looking through my fashion plate books as soon as I get home :)