1790s Cotton Round Gown: Reconstruction

In my previous post about this dress, I noted that I would likely reconstruct the front of the dress because the neckline was too square and too low. You may have noticed that in my pictures from the Jane Austen Festival, my dress looked different from the pictures in the original construction post. This is because before leaving, I redid the front panel of the dress. It now fits better and more comfortably, and I think that it is much more flattering.

When I first completed the dress, it looked like this:


My first step, therefore, was to remove the front panel and its buttons. I then unpicked the “belt” holding the gathers in the front panel and set it aside.

Part of the problem with this dress was the lack of a side panel in the skirt, which made the front panel pull awkwardly to the side, perpetuating the square neckline. To remedy this, I inserted two gathered panels at the side. These were mantua-maker’s stitched to the back panel of the skirt and then gathered down and tacked to the sides of the bodice.

Sewing the mantua-maker’s seam
Tacking the gathered top edge of the skirt to the bodice

Next, I turned my attention back to the front panel. I removed the gathering cord from the top channel and made a slit down the front of the bodice, about 8 inches long. This slit was hemmed so that the channel at the neckline remained open and…channel-like. Then, I sewed a second channel at the waistline of the dress.


With that, I put drawstrings in both channels. These tighten from the center front slit.

img_2410.jpgNext, I attached the front panel to the rest of the dress. The top part was whip stitched to the bodice, and the skirt of the front panel was stitched to the side panels of the skirt. The top of the front panel is now level with the shoulder straps, which I think is more accurate.

Then, I leveled and re-hemmed the hem. Then, I stitched around the “belt” so that it looked neat. Lastly, I added eyelets to the bodice lining because I’ve found that they make these dresses so much easier to wear.

Here are some pictures of the completed dress:

Side of bodice
Here, you can see the front panel stitched to the bodice.
Center front opening (one can see the inner-bodice eyelets here too)


In the following photo, one can see the fit of the bodice. The neckline is much higher here, and it curves, rather than being unhappily square.


Thank you for reading, and keep an eye out for my next post.

18th Century

Maximilien Robespierre: The Coat, Take II

My first coat for my recreation of the 1790 portrait of Robespierre was, to put it delicately, less than ideal. The collar fell down, the lapels were too low, the back of the coat didn’t have a vent, and the entire thing was thoroughly uncomfortable because it fit poorly in the shoulders. Therefore, for Costume College 2018 (post forthcoming soon) I decided to make an entirely new coat, with which I am much happier.

I started by changing my fabric. I didn’t have enough of my original taffeta left to make a new coat from the same cloth, so I ordered 3 or 4 yards of corduroy from Wm. Booth, Draper, but in brown and orange (which I don’t think they carry anymore). I had searched for striped silk taffeta in the proper colors to recreate the jacket, but I was unable to find it available online, so I settled for corduroy. I’m unsure that corduroy was used for coats in the late 18th century (it was used for breeches and waistcoats, apparently), but the colors were right. However, I may once more remake my coat once I find the perfect taffeta (which I have discovered to be available in the LA garment district and at Renaissance Fabrics and probably in the NYC garment district), but I’ll save hopefully-not-hypothetical Take III for a different post.

Once I had my new fabric, I sliced and diced my previous pattern, did some mockups and alterations, and eventually got a much better fit. It could still be improved, but the fit now is astronomically better.

Before I started sewing, I did a bit more research, consulting Linda Baumgarten’s Costume Close-Up and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Men’s Clothes. Waugh includes an excerpt from a 1769 article on tailoring written for an encyclopedia which I found particularly helpful. At the Jane Austen Festival, I received advice from Zach of Pinsent Tailoring and Hannah of Fabric and Fiction regarding collar patterning, construction, and pad-stitching. Their advice proved to be infinitely helpful because my biggest complaint on my first coat was the way the collar did not stand up; therefore, many thanks to them.

Once I had done some research, my first step was to line the back panels of the coat. My first coat had not had the vent that most 18th century coats had, so I was determined to change that this time. I lined each panel individually, and then I sewed them together. I basted the back together so that I could fit it more easily later.


Exterior of vent
Interior of vent

Next, I prepped the front panels. I made buckram with gum tragacanth and B&T’s Osnabrig linen and catch stitched the buckram to the fronts (the lapels and the place that would eventually support the buttons and buttonholes). The lapel portion was pad stitched to make it curve outwards.


Then, I added pockets. The pocket bags were sewn from scraps of silk and cotton and inserted in slits in the front of the coat. The pockets are quite roomy, which is always a bonus.


I then made the pocket flaps by stitching corduroy to buckram in the proper shape. A fun lining, made from scraps of my first coat, was then tacked in as an homage to my first interpretation of this coat.


A very snazzy pocket

Once I had finished the front panels of the coat, I faced them with cotton corduroy from the lapel all the way around to what would become the waist pleat. I did this with whip stitches.

Next, I began work on the sleeves. These were constructed in the manner detailed here, but I left the sleeve slit open for my eventual cuffs (which I did last).

Then, I sewed the fronts of the coat to the back of the coat. I made a small slit at the waist of the back of the coat and turned under that seam allowance. Then, I pinned my turned-under seam allowances to the sides of the front of the coat, essentially creating a lapped seam.

About to be snipped
Pinned in place

Then I sewed the shoulder seams of the coat, so I essentially had a long vest with four long “tails,” because the front “tails” were not yet tacked to the back “tails”. Next, I pinned in my sleeves and checked their fit. To make them fit the armscyes without pleats, I had to cut off part of the sleeve head, but they still fit.

The excess trimmed from my sleeve heads

I think that next time, I’ll make a duct tape model of myself on which to fit my coat, because tailoring requires so much pinning and fitting to the body (this seems like it should have been obvious to me but it wasn’t). Fitting sleeves would be much easier on a model, but I digress.

Once I had a constructed coat, I pleated and tacked the side seams. In the late 1780s coat in Costume Close-Up, the pleats at the side aren’t fully stitched down, but instead tacked in place with a few thread bars. I tacked my pleats in place in a similar manner, though I think that next time, my thread bars should be longer. I also added a button at the top of the pleat (for reinforcement) and at the bottom of the pleat (also for reinforcement). The buttons are the flat brass buttons from Burnley and Trowbridge that I originally featured on my first coat and promptly cut off as soon as I realized that I would remake that coat.

This was taken after the coat was finished, but it shows the pleats at the sides well.

At this point, I also finalized the back seam by pinning it so that it fit well across the back and replacing my basting with back stitches. This is another area where a mannequin would have been helpful, because my back seam is very curved, which causes the fabric to wrinkle.

Then, I began the collar, with no small amount of nervousness. My first collar had been a disaster, and I wanted this collar to work out. I followed Zach of Pinsent Tailoring’s advice and made the bottom seam (where it attaches to the neck) of the collar curved, which was actually what I did on my redingote as well, I now realize. I also used three layers of buckram in the collar stand, per his advice.

First, I catch stitched the buckram layers to the individual collar pieces.


As you can see in the above picture, the neck edge curves down from the center back of the collar (on the right in this picture). The additional layers of buckram in the collar stand were placed under the single layer of buckram lining the entire collar. Apparently, its often unnecessary to add a buckram interlining to the collar fall, but the lack of crispness of the cotton corduroy made it necessary for this collar fall to be lined in a single layer of buckram.

Once the buckram was catch stitched to the collar, I pad stitched only the collar stand so that it curved inwards, like a collar should. Once both collar pieces were pad stitched, I turned in their seam allowances and then tacked a layer of cotton corduroy to the buckram, covering all raw edges. The collar at this point was in two pieces: the left side and the right side. Both pieces had no raw edges except for the neck edge. These then had to be sewn together at the center back. I could have sworn that I had a picture of this process, but apparently I do not. I’ll try to document it better on my next coat.

Next, I attached the collar to the coat. This was a pretty simple process, and I once more neglected to take pictures. I then had to line the coat, to hide the raw edges from the collar edge and the facings. This was incredibly fiddly and took far longer than it should have, so my stitches weren’t as nice and neat as I’d have liked. I also had to piece in a bit of lining because my lining did not cover all of the raw edges.


In the example in Costume Close-Up, the seam allowances of the sleeve heads and armscyes are hidden by the lining, but I was unable to do this on my coat. Hopefully I’ll be able to do so next time.

At this point, all that was necessary was for me to finish my cuffs and add buttons and buttonholes. Thanks to Bernadette Banner’s fabulous video about hand-worked buttonholes, I was able to make mine look good! Seriously, if you want to hand sew nice-looking buttonholes, check out her channel. Actually, check out her channel regardless of your buttonhole ability, because her channel is fabulous.

First, I added three buttonholes to the front of the coat, and then placed buttons for these buttonholes on the other coat front. The double breasted appearance of the coat was created by my adding three non-functional buttons on the other side of the buttonholes.IMG_E3081IMG_E3080IMG_E3083

Next, I made my cuffs. These have lined packets to support the buttonholes, made from corduroy, buckram, and lined in silk taffeta.


I sewed three buttonholes in each placket and then stitched them on to the ends of the sleeves, overlapped slightly by my decorative cuff. Buttons were then added, and the coat was finally finished.


The only pictures I have of this coat on me are from Costume College, taken at night, and lit horribly, so my apologies. Hopefully, I’ll take proper photos of this coat soon!


Such a bad angle and weird pose, sorry!
A shirt visible below my waistcoat! What a faux pas! I clearly needed to pull down my waistcoat before taking this!


That’s all for now; thank you for reading!


The Jane Austen Festival + Regency Ensemble Photos

Naturally, I’ve waited a month to write about the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, but I’m finally writing about it! If you didn’t know, the Jane Austen Festival is a three day event at Locust Grove, a historic estate that was home to some of the members of the Croghan and Clark families (as in William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition). There are workshops, presentations on Austen’s work and on life during the Regency period, a grand ball, afternoon tea, shopping, and more. It’s quite fun.

This was my first time in attendance, but luckily for me, my dear friend Marlee of The Threaded Thistle was also there! As you may suspect, Louisville in July is very warm. It was especially warm for a Seattleite who considers anything above 70º F to be too hot. However, on the first day there, I found a drinking fountain inside the museum portion of Locust Grove that had ice cold water. I found that as long as I was hydrated, I wasn’t too uncomfortable.

The festival began on Friday afternoon, and Marlee and I arrived in time to get the lay of the land. We also did a little shopping. I had decided to purchase a straw bonnet from Virgil’s Fine Goods because making straw bonnets is currently beyond my capability. I chose to buy the “Anne Bonnet,” suitable for 1798-1825, and I love it. It’s quite comfortable and airy and the shape is beautiful. That evening, we went to the practice for the grand ball, which was very helpful, if rather exhausting (I hadn’t slept the previous night because I had been on an airplane). If you go to the festival and get ball tickets, I’d recommend going to the dance practice, because English country dancing is difficult and it’s fun to dance at the ball.

The next day Marlee and I arrived around noon. That day, I went to the afternoon tea, which was quite fun! I love tea parties, and I would recommend the afternoon tea at the Festival for anyone. The food and tea were both plentiful and delicious. Marlee went to a Regency perfume making class, which I gather was quite enjoyable. Her perfume smelled wonderful.

That evening, we went to the grand ball, which was a good experience, but I don’t think I’ll attend again next time. I got to talk to Zach of Pinsent Tailoring at the ball, and he gave me some valuable tips about the collar on my new 1790s tail coat (I’ll write about it soon).


Everyone at the ball (and the rest of the festival for that matter) looked incredible, so one reason in favor of attending the ball would be the opportunity to see all of the ensembles. However, I don’t think that the meal was worth the price. Perhaps next time I will go to the ball and get dinner elsewhere.

Sunday was the last day of the festival, and luckily it was a bit cooler. I took a workshop presented by Sir Brandon of Strano Books on bookmaking during which we made “waste books,” or little booklets that a bookmaker would make out of scraps of paper left over at the end of the day. It was quite interesting, and I would love to try making more books in the future! After the workshop but before I left, I found time to buy a Redthreaded busk (it’s incredible) and see the Duel Between Gentlemen, which was quite interesting! Nobody was actually shot, and they put on a good show (they even had a fake bloody handkerchief!).

I also managed to take a few photos on Sunday! Here they are:

Abi of Humble and Worth looked fabulous every day, but I only got a picture of her on Sunday! You should totally check out her blog and Instagram; her work is incredible!
I got to meet Hayley and Brittany of The Dutch Milliners! They are so kind and their ensembles never fail to be gorgeous.
Jane Austen
Here is Marlee, looking fabulous as always in her tunic and hat.

While at the Jane Austen Festival, I managed to take pictures of all of my ensembles with the help of Marlee and Katie (@diystopia on Instagram). Therefore, this post will also contain those pictures!

On Friday, I wore my cotton round gowngreen silk spencer, and matching silk bonnet. I also wore a linen chemisette, which was quite comfortable.


Because Saturday was Bastille Day, I wore my Virgil’s Fine Good’s straw bonnet trimmed with a blue silk satin ribbon from the 96 Fabrics tent (where I also got my new favorite scissors) and a revolutionary cockade. I paired this bonnet with my printed cotton spencercotton round gown, and a neckerchief.


To the ball, I once again wore my cotton round gown with my 1790s Neoclassically-inspired headpiece and overdress. Marlee was quite helpful with my hair, which I styled in an elaborate up-do/ponytail thing that was reminiscent of some of the portraits and fashion plates I’ve seen. It made me grateful that I had been able to wear hats every other day of the festival: 1790s hair styling isn’t easy. I took these photos towards the end of the ball, so my hair had melted and frizzed a bit, but the gist is there.


On the last day of the festival, I wore my yellow open front gown, a petticoat, my straw bonnet, my chemisette, and my not-a-Corday cap. The linen was quite cool and comfortable, but the ridiculous train on that dress got a bit muddied.


Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about the festival, do leave a comment! It’s great fun and I highly recommend it to any costumers and Jane Austen fans.

reading my way through the 18th century

Fatal Purity by Ruth Scurr

A few days ago, I finished another book for my “Reading My Way Through the 18th Century” project. Originally, I had not intended to read Ruth Scurr’s Fatal Purity, but something about the description had me quite intrigued.

Fatal Purity

My interest in this biography turned out to be well-deserved. Though it is not in the collections at my local library and it appears to be out of print, I managed to find a used copy on Amazon. As soon as I cracked it open, I was hooked. What drew me initially to Scurr’s work is her note in the introduction that “[she has] tried to be his [Robespierre’s] friend and to see things from his point of view” in her biography (page 9). She later adds “but friends, as he always suspected, can be treacherous; they have opportunities for betrayal that enemies only dream of” (page 9). While she may be his friend, Scurr does not gloss over his many flaws, but instead paints a detailed portrait that allows her reader to come to know Robespierre quite well.

Additionally (and this is what makes this such an incredible book), Scurr describes the events of the French Revolution as they unfold around Robespierre. She mainly focuses on the events in Paris, explaining the political maelstrom that was Revolutionary Paris to a level of detail that I found lacking in Liberty or Death by Peter McPhee. Even if one is not interested in Robespierre, I’d recommend this book for its explanation of the French Revolution itself.

Fatal Purity II
So many tags

If you’ve read my other posts about “Reading My Way Through the 18th Century,” you may have noticed that I try to include quotes that stick with me from throughout the text. It is a monument to how amazing Scurr’s biography is that my copy of this book has 48 tagged quotes. I try to be very discerning in my tagged quotes – Candide by Voltaire had perhaps 5 tags in it (it was about 200 pages shorter, but still). It will be impossible for me to mention all 48 of my favorite lines here, so you’ll just have to see for yourself Scurr’s compelling prose.

The first section of this book focuses on Robespierre’s life before the Revolution as a child in Arras, a student at Louis-le-Grand in Paris, and a lawyer back in Arras. Most of her documentation comes from the memoirs of Robespierre’s sister Charlotte, whom Scurr acknowledges as a problematic source. Nevertheless, Charlotte’s recollections are fascinating: for example, from Charlotte’s writings Scurr claims that “before she [Robespierre’s mother] died she found time to teach him [Robespierre] to make lace skillfully” (page 20). Apparently, he also kept “some sparrows and pigeon…as cherished pets,” which contrasts later claims made by his enemies that he spent his time decapitating birds as a child (page 21). Personally, I’m somewhat skeptical that Robespierre’s mother would have found the time to teach him to make lace before her death: in the six years between Robespierre’s birth and his mother’s death, she had four pregnancies resulting in three children. Furthermore, it strikes me as unlikely that a six-year-old would have the dexterity to make lace “skillfully.” Nonetheless, it is a fascinating vignette that stands in stark contrast to the person he later became.

As a young lawyer in Arras, Scurr claims that Robespierre “preferred to represent the poor.” This becomes a running theme in the biography: in the Estates General, the National Assembly, and the Jacobin Club, Scurr emphasizes that Robespierre argued for the rights of the poor in France, which is laudable until it became a reason to send those deemed as “aristocratic” to the guillotine. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

The second section of the book focuses on the beginning of the Revolution. Scurr explains clearly the rather confusing process of election to the Estates General. It is impossible to understate the importance of his election to the Estates General in the course of Robespierre’s life; if the Revolution hadn’t happened and he hadn’t been elected to represent the nation at Versailles, he likely would have continued in anonymity as a provincial lawyer until his eventual death. While describing Robespierre’s departure from Arras for Versailles, Scurr mentions that which Robespierre packed: the highlights include “a bag of powder and a puff for his meticulously maintained hair” and “a satin waistcoat (probably pink)” (page 76).

Robespierre II
According to the Chateau de Versailles collections website, this was painted in the 1840s by Pierre-Roch Vigneron, but was based off of an original. In most places, one sees it described as Robespierre dressed in the uniform of the Third Estate, which is why I am including it here. Notice the unbuttoned/missing button on his waistcoat and the speckles of powder on his coat (an eternal struggle).

Robespierre himself didn’t do much (compared to later in his political career) while a member of the Third Estate at Versailles, so in the chapter devoted to the Estates General, Scurr gives a thorough overview of the politics of the early revolution, explaining among other things the formation of the National Assembly and the famous Tennis Court Oath.

The third section details the National Assembly’s efforts to draft a new constitution, which eventually became the Constitution of 1791. Throughout this section, Scurr discusses how Robespierre argued for the rights of the poor, noting that “he passionately opposed the plan to divide French citizens into two groups, active and passive…limiting the franchise to active citizens” (page 117). In contrast to his later policies, Robespierre was at this time also “insisting that the time had come to abolish the death penalty altogether” (page 148). However, she also notes with trepidation that “even at this comparatively early point in the Revolution, Robespierre was…suspicious of ‘spies in every quarter of the city, and murderers assigned to assassinate patriots'” (page 127). In a speech defending freedom of speech and of the press, Robespierre also suggested that “libel suits…should be adjudicated not on the legal merits of each case but on the general character of the litigants concerned” (page 152). In short, the third section of Fatal Purity paints a compelling portrait of the provincial lawyer’s rise to prominence in the National Assembly, but also augurs the dark turn his policies would take only a few years later.

The fourth section of Fatal Purity describes the failure of the Constitution of 1791 with the outbreak of war in 1792, the royal family’s flight to Varennes the same year, and the King’s trial and execution in 1793. One of the most interesting, and chilling, details was Scurr’s description of how Robespierre came to identify himself with the Revolution: “In Robespierre’s eyes, one overwhelming conclusion followed from these flawless revolutionary credentials: those attacking him…could only be enemies of the people” (page 201). The “flawless revolutionary credentials” in question are those that Robespierre himself described in his newspaper, Le défenseur de la constitution, and are quoted earlier on the page. Robespierre, as you can see, was not exactly what one would call “humble.” As Scurr later explains, this identification with the Revolution itself would become Robespierre’s justification for summary execution of his personal enemies in the name of protecting the Revolution. What is really chilling, however, was that which Robespierre did during the September Massacres. At a time when mobs of enraged sans-culottes were murdering prisoners without proper trial, Robespierre tried to “get his opponents – Brissot and Roland – arrested and taken off to prison” (page 221). In my mind, in September 1792 Robespierre crossed a line that he was never able to uncross. In a later speech, he discussed the September Massacres, asking the crowd, “‘Citizens, do you want a revolution without a revolution?'” (page 238). As Scurr demonstrates, to Robespierre, the word “revolution” had clearly become synonymous with “bloodshed.”

The fifth and final section details the Terror phase of the French Revolution until Robespierre’s own death. Scurr begins by describing the expulsion of the Girondins (the faction opposing the Jacobins) from the National Assembly and the passage of the Constitution of 1793. The Constitution of 1793 was radically liberal for its time, and Robespierre was one of its supporters. However, in a dark portent of the Terror to come, Robespierre argued that “the very same rights sought and promised by the Revolution could also be suspended, if necessary, in the Revolution’s cause” (page 270). Indeed, as soon as the Constitution of 1793 was ratified, it was suspended, and executive power passed to the Committee of Public Safety, which was to act as a “provisional revolutionary government until peace was achieved at home and abroad” (page 272).

Scurr describes the progression of the Terror and Robespierre’s actions to increase the “efficiency” of the Revolutionary Tribunal’s dispensation justice (or lack thereof). When the trial of his political enemies Brissot and the Girondins came in October 1793, Robespierre proposed a “trial by conscience” (page 288). The twenty-one Girondins were declared guilty and guillotined. Scurr argues throughout that Robespierre’s reason for condoning and accelerating the Terror was his obsession with creating a republic of virtue, “a prim society of patriotic, uncorrupted, dedicated equals” (page 303). The purpose of the Terror, in his mind, was to purge France of those who would be obstacles to the creation of a republic of virtue. Unfortunately for Robespierre’s friends Camille Desmoulins and Georges-Jacques Danton, opposition to the Terror in the form of calls for clemency after the execution of the Girondins were viewed as counterrevolutionary. Danton, Desmoulins, and many of their supporters were guillotined on April 5th, 1794.

The final chapter of Fatal Purity, aptly called “Robespierre’s Red Summer” begins just after the deaths of the Dantonists. Scurr details how Robespierre became further unhinged in his quest for the creation of a republic of virtue. She also describes in great detail Robespierre’s obsession with the worship of the “Supreme Being.” He planned the first Festival of the Supreme Being on June 8th, 1794, and Scurr notes that “it must have seemed to Robespierre that the optimism if the early Revolution had been revived” with his Festival (page 328). However, in the next few days, the Committee of Public Safety passed the Law of 22 Prairial that allowed for summary execution as punishment for “enemies of the people” (page 328) Well over a thousand people to be executed in forty-seven days. Scurr argues that the goal of the Festival of the Supreme Being and the Law of 22 Prairial were the same: “together, they aimed at realizing the republic of virtue that Robespierre dreamed of” (page 329).

Scurr describes the last month or so of Robespierre’s life in a way that sums up its entirety. Several days before his execution, there was an opportunity for the Committee of Public Safety to compromise with its less powerful counterpart, the Committee of General Security. No compromise was made. Scurr claims that Robespierre viewed compromise as “the betrayal of his absolute principles” (page 343). Mirabeau, an early figure in the French Revolution had once said of Robespierre that “‘he will go far because he believes everything he says'” (page 138). His inability to unite with the rest of the Convention proved to be his downfall. He and his supporters were arrested, and after some rather futile resistance, they were guillotined.

Scurr’s description of Robespierre’s last moments is quite powerful. With his execution, he knew that his hopes for the creation of a republic of virtue were no more. She somehow manages to make her reader feel badly for Robespierre. This is what makes Robespierre such an interesting character, I think: he is complex in the way that only the best villains are, and Fatal Purity sheds light on Robespierre’s villainy while nevertheless telling his story “from his point of view” (page 9). If you want to read a biography of Maximilien Robespierre, read Fatal Purity.

Thank you for reading a ridiculously long post; when I like a book I generally can expound on it for hours. Keep an eye out for my next post!


A 1790s “Corday” Cap – Or Is It?

After reading the title of this blog post, you may be wondering, “What even is a ‘Corday’ cap?” I think that most costumers today would define it as a late 18th century cap with a large and rather droopy caul and a row (or more!) of large ruffles that are fullest around the ears.

Here are some of the numerous examples:

Francis Wheatley’s The Oyster Girl (1747-1801)

Based on the deflated skirts, loose hair, bangs, and cap in this painting I’d date it towards the last decade of the 18th century, which makes it a viable resource for my “Corday” cap research.

Corday cap
Penelope Pigtail; The amorous gauger, 1790, via
Telling fortune in Coffee Grounds, 1790, via
Corday cap II
The Venus de Medicis; The consular artist, 1790, via
Corday cap III
Folly of an old man marrying a young wife, 1790, via
The Frail Sisters, 1794, via
Portrait d’Emilie Serizat et son fils, Jacques-Louis David, 1795

I’m hesitant to include David’s painting because it appears that the ruffle on her cap is lace, not fabric like in the other plates, but the style is similar.

Now, what about Corday herself? If you don’t know, Charlotte Corday was a young woman who assassinated Jean-Paul Marat in his bath in July 1793. She had grown up in Normandy and was a devoted Girondin, one of the factions opposed to the Jacobins (of whom Marat was a prominent supporter). She was executed soon after Marat’s assassination. She was unknown before her killing of Marat, but ever since she has been the infamous pretty girl who killed “l’ami du people” in his bathtub.

Because of her brief time in the limelight, there is only one authenticated portrait of her done while she was alive. However, her fame caused her to be the subject of many artists in the centuries after her death. Jean-Jacques Hauer sketched Corday in her cell before her execution (he later painted a portrait based on the sketch), and that sketch is currently held at the Musée Lambinet. Apparently, his is the likeness off of which most other portraits of Corday are based.

Portrait de Charlotte Corday, Jean-Jacques Hauer, 1793

There is one other portrait of Corday that intrigued me. The problem with most of her portraits is that they were painted long after her death, and therefore cannot be used as dress history resources. However, there is one posthumous portrait, also held at the Musée Lambinet, that depicts Corday wearing a cap similar to the others in plates above and may be a usable resource for my research.

Charlotte Corday, Ecole Francaise, 18th century

If the museum’s provenance is correct and this painting was indeed made in the 18th century as a likeness of Corday, that gives it a timeframe of 1793-1799. The cap is similar enough in date and style to the caps in the other plates I’ve found that I’m willing to classify it in the same stylistic category of what we would now call “Corday caps.”

However, should we call them “Corday caps”? I suspect not. If a reenactor/costumer is portraying someone from before July 1793, it is nonsensical to call a large cap with droopy ruffles a “Corday cap”. Before July 1793, Charlotte Corday was unknown. In France from July 1793 until the fall of the Jacobin regime in 1794, identifying one’s headwear with Charlotte Corday would likely have been reason enough for trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal (people were condemned for less). Additionally, most of the examples I found (all of the ones here with the exceptions of David’s painting and the paintings of Corday herself) are English, and many that I found are from the year 1790, before the term “Corday cap” makes sense. Furthermore, none of the plates I found described the subjects as wearing “Corday caps.” While I know that the absence of evidence does in no way indicate the falsity of a claim, I personally would be wary of terming a large cap with droopy ruffles from the 1790s a “Corday cap,” at least if one is doing first-person reenacting wearing such a cap. Until I have evidence of the use of the term, I will stick with using a different title for these caps.

Connected to all of this research is my own rendition of this style of cap, made from the Country Wives Beribboned Caps pattern from Wm. Booth Draper. I used the pattern for View E as a base. The pattern for this view is based off of a plate from 1795 in which the ruffle closest to the face is actually an ungathered layer of sheer fabric or mesh. I chose to instead make a double ruffle with the lower ruffle slightly wider than the upper ruffle, like in the above “Penelope Pigtail; the amorous gauger” plate from 1790.

I didn’t take any pictures of the construction of this cap, but I used mainly techniques described in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. Each individual pattern piece was roll hemmed, which I did while on a 12-hour road trip with some friends. I didn’t roll hem the entire time while in the car, and I had a little bit left to hem when I returned home, so I’d guess that the roll hemming took me about 11-12 hours in total, which is pretty good. I then added a drawstring to the back of the cap, gathered the caul to the band, and gathered the ruffles to the band. I attached first the bottom ruffle and then the top ruffle, which I would recommend against next time because it made it a bit difficult to attach the top ruffle.

I debuted this cap at the Jane Austen Festival with my yellow 1790s open front gown and a bonnet that I purchased there from Virgil’s Fine Goods, whose wares I highly recommend. The David portrait above was my main inspiration for wearing a bonnet over my cap, which is partially why I included it here.


Here are some pictures of just the cap:


Caps look bizarre off the head.

Now that I’ve worn it a few times, I’d like to connect the ruffles on either side at center front. Right now, they are two separate ruffles (for a total of four ruffles with the top and bottom layers), and I think it would be more accurate if they were connected (top left ruffle to top right ruffle and bottom left ruffle to bottom right ruffle if that makes more sense).

If you have any insights into the term “Corday cap,” please feel free to leave a comment. It’d be interesting to learn more! If my research shows any developments one way or the other on the terminology, I’ll be sure to write about it here.

Thank you for reading and keep an eye out for my next post! I have many things about which to write and post, and I have many pictures to share from various events!


A 1790s Silk Bonnet

I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed it here, but I am obsessed with love the color green: sage green, emerald green, leaf green, forest green…The only shade I dislike is neon lime green (but who can blame me?). As such, when I saw in a fashion plate a sage green bonnet decorated with a pale lilac ribbon, I fell in love. This was before I had a specific interest in regency fashion, and I think that my decision to attend the Jane Austen Festival and make myself some 1790s ensembles was mainly influenced by seeing this bonnet. It’s just that gorgeous.

Journal des Luxus und der Moden, 1798 (I’d love to recreate that dress too!)

I’ve also seen this same print in a navy blue colorway, which is interesting because it suggests that different illustrators/colorists were able to influence fashion from their own political backgrounds. Perhaps the illustrator/colorist for this version of the print was a Royalist, because during the French Revolution, green and purple were some of the Royalist colors. While Royalism was probably less dangerous by 1798 than it had been earlier in the decade, if the colors in this plate are indeed a political choice and not merely an aesthetic one, I imagine it would have required boldness to publish a magazine with a bonnet of this color. Anyway, I digress.

Looking at the plate, I noticed that the brim was roughly the same width around most of the top of the face but that it quickly tapered off around the ears. I also noticed that it looks as though the brim ends very close to the back of her head. When drafting my brim, I tried to achieve both of these shapes. For the caul, I used the caul used in the “Charlotte” cap in the Country Wives Beribboned Caps pattern from Wm. Booth Draper (side note: this is an awesome pattern, especially if you’re like me and don’t like drafting caps). This was a mistake. The caul was too small and too round, so it didn’t puff up towards the front of the head. (This caul works beautifully if used as it is intended: as a cap caul; my cap made from this pattern is adorable and I will blog about it soon). I think that the bonnet caul needs to be more egg-shaped, with the fuller end towards the front of the head. I will probably remake the caul at some point, but once I had realized that it was too small, the bonnet was already practically done.

Once I had a brim pattern I liked, I cut it out of pasteboard. One of my friends recently visited Colonial Williamsburg, and she said that the milliners there use pasteboard in the bases of their hats, so that’s what I decided to do too. However, because I didn’t have access to pasteboard, I glued two cereal boxes together. This worked very well, because cereal boxes have set creases in them, so doubling up allowed me to offset the creases and prevent a creased brim.


Now you know what kind of cereal I eat. I never would have thought that I would share that here.

While the glue was drying between the layers of cardboard, I turned my attention to the caul. I cut out the pattern in both cotton organdy (for stiffness) and silk. Then, I sewed a little eyelet in one end of the organdy to later serve as an opening for a drawstring channel.


I used a whip stitch that was invisible from the outside to attach the organdy to the silk. Then, I made a little channel for the drawstring, catching the ends of the drawstring in my stitches creating the channel.


Once the caul was done being constructed, I turned my attention back to the brim. I glued a layer of fabric to the inside and outside of the brim, and then I used many paper clips to sew a layer of fabric to the outside of the caul.


Then, using a similar technique, I lined the inside of the brim so that no raw edges were showing.


Then, I turned in the fabric on the caul-facing edge to the best of my ability, trying to hide all raw edges. This worked mostly, but luckily, the ribbon around the bonnet has the ability to hide a multitude of sins.

Once the brim was done, I began putting the cap together. First, I used a whipped gathering stitch to gather the caul to my desired length. Then, I carefully stitched the caul to the inside of the brim, making sure that I caught each gather with my needle. The way I had gathered the caul left a little bit of fabric in the back (unattached to the brim) that was gathered but not part of the drawstring, which is a bit odd, but it works.


Next, I dyed a ribbon to match the color of that in the illustration. I used the Rit Dye color formulas and some math to make a half-gallon of dye bath that would dye my ribbon purple. If I had used anything less than a half-gallon (which is definitely too much dye for 2 yards of ribbon), the amount of dye I’d have had to add would have been ridiculously small. I used a white silk ribbon from a local craft store and I let it soak for 15 or 30 seconds until I had the perfect shade of light lilac. I also dyed some thread to match.

Then, I hemmed the edges of the ribbon and made a four-loop bow at the front. In the illustration, it looks as though the ribbon is sewn on at the back and tied in a bow around the front of the bonnet, but it made more sense to me to make a sewn-in bow at the front and have the ribbon tie around the back, to give the bonnet a bit more adjustability.


I tacked the bow to the front of the bonnet, and at this point the bonnet was complete.

I wore it on the first day of the Jane Austen Festival, and I didn’t have to do my hair at all, because it was covered by the bonnet.


Here’s a side by side:

This bonnet isn’t perfect, but overall, I’m pretty happy with it. I hope that I can change the caul at some point and try out other styles of hat making. Millinery is quite fun.

Thanks for reading!


reading my way through the 18th century

Candide by Voltaire

After the Jane Austen Festival (pictures are coming soon, I promise), I’m back with another post about reading my way through the 18th century! This time, I actually read a book published during the 18th century (Candide was first published in 1759, with later edits being added in subsequent publications).

As I think I wrote in an earlier post, my main focus for now is French literature. Because Voltaire is a bit older than Rousseau, I chose to read Candide before reading Rousseau’s works. Additionally, Candide was first published a few years before The Social Contract and Emile, so chronologically it makes sense to read Candide first. I should also note that I am reading these books for content and to gain an understanding of French Enlightenment philosophy, so I am reading in English. I’d one day like to read Candide in French to understand the original prose, but for now I’m reading a translation. The translation that I chose is Theo Cuffe’s Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition 2005 translation of the 1761 edition. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


This translation includes three appendices: an alternate version of chapter 22 (the Paris chapter) from the 1759 edition, Voltaire’s poem “The Lisbon Earthquake” (translated by Tobias Smollett), and several entries from Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary (translated by Theodore Besterman). In addition to the wonderful appendices, this translation includes some adorable illustrations on the cover and cover flaps, including a small illustrated dramatis personae. There was also a section titled “A Note on Names” which explained the various slang words that could be extrapolated from each character’s name.

Now that I’m done raving about this translation, I can discuss my thoughts on Candide. Or should I rave some more? This was a pretty awesome translation.

Anyway…Candide. I loved it. It was quite amusing and I was able to finish it in just two or three days, which was refreshing after my previous book for this 18th century reading endeavor, which was a bit of a slog (I have read other books in between these two books, I just don’t blog about them). I found the way that Voltaire attacks Leibnitz extremely amusing. His satire is quite dry, and I absolutely love it. For example, in chapter 3 Voltaire describes the horror of war, saying that “the bayonet proved sufficient reason for the death of a few thousand more [troops].” The juxtaposition of the dry satire and description of massacre rebukes Leibnitz perfectly, and the cherry on top is Candide’s later assertations that this is nonetheless the best of all possible worlds.

Another thing I found interesting was Voltaire’s description of Eldorado. In Candide, Eldorado is Voltaire’s version of a utopia, and by definition a utopia does not exist. What interested me in particular was the fact that in this utopia, there are women in the royal guard (see chapter 18). Candide is a product of its time, and I consider it rather misogynistic by today’s standards. Nonetheless, in this Eldoradean utopia, there is at least a hint of gender equality. Does the fact that gender equality exists only in Voltaire’s utopian society indicate that Voltaire believed gender equality to be a dream never to be attained, or something for which to strive? Perhaps when I have more time, I will look into this.

I’d like to include two quotes from the third appendix of this edition, the entries from Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. In “Bien (Tout Est),” he writes after listing the various forms of suffering that humans endure: “Is this really the best lot that was available? This is not too good for us; and how can it be good for god? Leibnitz realized that these questions were unanswerable: so he wrote thick books in which he did not agree with himself.” This rebuttal of Leibnitz amuses me greatly and I think it illustrates the main reason I’d recommend reading Candide: Voltaire is funny. Secondly, in “Destin,” Voltaire argues that fate cannot be altered, and he writes that “Man can only have a certain quantity of teeth, hair, and ideas. A time comes when he necessarily loses his teeth, his hair and his ideas.” Regardless of whether you agree with him on the nature of fate, he argues with satirical wit that I think most people would enjoy.

Lastly, if you choose to read Candide, I would highly recommend listening to the “Optimism” episode of the podcast Philosophize This! This is one of my favorite podcasts to which to listen while sewing and the host has some great insights about Voltaire’s philosophy and its application in everyday life. He also has some great episodes about Leibnitz which make for very helpful background when reading Candide.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon with some sewing-related content.