Monday, January 28, 2013

You Spin Me Round-Gown, Baby, Round-Gown

Warning to folks who have real lives and can't be bothered with huge blog posts with too many pictures: You may wanna skip this one. Or take a Xanax and listen to some Yanni first. You've been warned. 

To recap, for the second Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge, I decided to finish up an abandoned late 18th century round-gown. This gown from the Met is one of those dresses that just HAD to happen. It was inevitable. Like gaining weight on a cruise or making questionable midnight internet purchases during exam week. I've been happily gloating over the picture for a few years, uncertain of when I would ever make it. But then, fate intervened. My mother gave me about 4.5 yards of gold silk brocade* last year as a "thank you" for making her that epic blue dress/jacket combo. (I love being thanked with fabric.) By the time I got home with the brocade, I KNEW what I would be making with it. 

What's up, you Incredible Hulk of a Dress?

This dress was uncommonly well suited for the material I had. The green material from which the original gown is constructed was almost certainly salvaged from an earlier dress. (I'm thinking 1740-1750ish, but feel free to weigh in!) My gold fabric is very similar in size and scale of pattern, though the motifs are more organized than on the original green. The fabric would have been perfect for a 1750's Fran├žaise (saque-back) gown, but I simply didn't have enough. Plus, I have absolutely no need for a pre-Revolutionary war wardrobe. Not that practicality weighs heavily in my life choices, but, ya know...

Using my c. 1750's fabric for a later dress was the most logical thing to do and luckily, the lovely ladies of the latter 18th century felt the same way. American women had very restricted access to imported fabrics during the years of the Revolution. Many were driven by necessity as well as patriotism to refurbish their mother's and grandmother's gowns, rather than buy what imported goods were available. Aside from the fashionable set, the middlin' class had long been keen on re-purposing outmoded garments (purchased second-hand often times) to augment their own wardrobes.

In other words, using not-quite-enough 1750's gold silk brocade to make a 1775 dress is a great idea and everyone should do it. My minuscule yardage meant that every cut had to be perfect the first time, and that piecing was needed in places. Just like the original.

Construction was handled in much the same way as the blue linen Anglaise I made last year. The main difference in construction is that no pattern was used. I draped the individual shapes of the bodice by referencing photographs (and the Met zoom feature... mmm). Since I had NO extra fabric, I took particular care with the draping and fitting process. The brocade and lining were cut 3/8" larger than the mock-up and folded back-to-back, turned in 3/16", and closed using point a rabbatre sous le main. The same technique was used to attach each finished panel on the inside, while the outter edge of the panel-to-panel seam was closed with a quasi-blind stitch.

It's everyone's favorite mock-up fabric!! I used the largest remaining bit for the sleeve mock up, which went shockingly fast after I quit trying to recreate the seam lines of the original. (Omitted here is the week of my life that I lost trying to draft the original sleeve. Damn you, 2-part sleeve...) This sleeve is an all-in-one design with a nip at the elbow to create the late 1770's "cupped" shape. It's very similar to the overall look of at least one of the Janet Arnold sleeve patterns, though I did not refer to the divine Mz. A at all for this project. 

 The lining method was the same that I used for the, picked up from Katherine's flawless tutorial. Green cotton plaid "homespun" from the killing fields of the H*bby L*bby fabric department formed the lining. (Another leftover from the Jehossee project.)

Attaching sleeves: The bottom of the sleeve is sewn to the bodice and high back of the dress and then pleated at top to fit my arm. A band of fabric covers this (and many other sins), and is stitched to the pleats after fit is checked. 

Stabba stabba! A needle for every job. I used my super-deadly darning needle to back-stitch the linen tape to the pleated skirt fabric...

 ...But relied on a #12 gold-eye for the majority of the seams.

Note to self: Need to buy more linen tape. 

Engineering is always sexy. The Met round-gown skirt is overlapped back-over-front. I wanted mine to close the same way, but it was a learning curve. I purposefully close ALL of my 18th century petticoats with the front overlapping the back. The addition of the bodice complicated things for my feeble brain. (I'm a simple creature.) As it turns out, once you're dressing yourself, it makes perfect sense.

Two views of the back. The fabric didn't have a true mirror-image selvedge, so I had to fake the matched center back panel by using two complimentary sides of the repeating pattern. (I hope to get some full-length shots this week or next, so the pattern of the dress will be easier to see. ) Since the Met gown has a very odd, not-quite-symmetrical pleated skirt, I was free to be as lazy as I wanted with my pleats. All told, they really aren't as rough as they look in these pics. (I didn't arrange the skirt very carefully on Headless June.)

NONE of my undergarments are of an equable quality to the dress. (Also, pardon the ridge from my stays. I used the lower, later-style front closing stays under the dress in the picture. Poor choice.) Even though this is truly meant to be a during-the-war "make do" kind of gown, it's way more luxurious that my shift and stays are meant to interact with. No a super-big deal, but it is something that I keep in mind.

And we close with the ONLY full-length shot that I got today. My poor neighbors.

Facts! And then MORE facts!
The Challenge: #2: Unfinished Object (UFO)
Fabric: Completely amazing remnant of silk brocade by way of my mom. The lining is a mix of vintage cotton print (gift) and stash remnant homespun. (A special shout-out to the 80's print faux-linen of insanity that somehow managed to get involved in the sleeve making process. )
*I had some doubts about the content of the material originally. (I thought it was a cotton/silk blend) Apparently, it's 100% silk. 
Pattern: Draped directly onto Headless June as a pink polyester mock-up and cut after a lot of feverish prayer. 
Year: 1775-80. Based on a dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1775 and intentionally created to look refurbished from an earlier garment.
Notions: Yet again, I have no notions. Unless you count the straight pins to close the front? Yes? 
How historically accurate is it? As close as I could get. The construction techniques are consistent with extant garments and the materials used were available at the time. The material is probably heavier than most brocade used for garments, though possible acceptable as-is. The lining material is the most questionable, but it is at least historically possible. I rate this an 8/10 on accuracy. 
Hours to complete: 50+
First worn: January 27 for pictures on the lawn for the delight and horror of passers-by.
Total cost: Special trip to Hanc*ck Fabrics to get thread: $6.00. But I needed the thread anyway... so basically free.


  1. Looks great! I can't wait to see the full length photos. Don't keep us waiting! And as always, your writing style is a joy to read :-)

  2. MORE PICTURES PLEASE. It's a good thing I don't know where you live or I'd come steal this dress, not withstanding I'm too fat to fit in it and would have to adoringly ogle it in the corner of my bedroom, oh well. It's gooorgeous...both the fabric and the construction...amazing job! And I'm overjoyed (horrified?) to see the mock-up fabric rear its multicolored head again. I'm pretty sure it was designed by Picasso during his little-known days on crack.

    1. Quit being funnier than me. It's rude and unacceptable.

      This stunning textile played into a hellish scenario late last week. I was informed by a friend that she is *SURE* that her mother had fabric very similar to this...


      Granted, it was the 1980's and the car was some flavor of hatch-back. But this is America and things like that just aren't supposed to happen. Can you imagine driving around in that? It would be like living in an institutional cell where the walls were padded with discarded pairs of M.C. Hammer's pants.

  3. I love it! Beautiful job! And what gorgeous fabric :)

  4. Great job!

  5. I am aghast with admiration! Especially at the beautiful hand stitching, and the sleek elegance of those front pleats in the skirt being held in check by the bodice front. Woah. Can't wait to see more!
    Auntie N

  6. < speechless from delight >

  7. I am far too lazy to make anything half so beautiful. Wow. More pictures soon, please?

  8. You guys are seriously sweet. Thank you all for the very generous comments. If I were capable of normal human emotions, well... actually let's not go down that dark path.

    I possess phenomenally, freakishly long arms, but alas, this is just too much dress to solo-photograph while I'm in it. Headless June's bazooms keep the gown from closing properly on the dress-form, and most of the interior shots I took from the front were *really* dark and grainy anyway. (It was night. I could tell because I was awake.)

    So for your picture-viewing pleasure, I promise to get gussied up and trot around in my yard this weekend, or sooner if I can bully someone into cooperation.

  9. That looks so beautiful. Color me extremely, extremely impressed.

  10. This is really great! Here's wishing I had the fabric and talent for this kind of project.

  11. Am mustering up courage to tackle a round gown. Have made several jackets and skirts, capes and shifts.....Looking for a pattern.....or at least one I can modify to a round gown. I only have the Mill Farm Pattern 13. Any suggestions on how to proceed. I have made one childs gown size ten which was not that difficult....Carmen Morales Board, Bakersfield, CA

    1. Hi, Carmen! A lot of round-gowns also fall into the "en fourreau" or "robe a l'anglaise" catergory. You may try modifying a pattern that identifies as one of those terms. I very rarely sew with patterns simply because draping is easier for me. I'm sorry that I can't offer you better advice, but I'm really glad you're thinking of making a round-gown! They are a lot of fun, and frankly, if you can make a jacket, you're WAY ahead of the game on a round-gown.