18th Century

Rest in Pieces: Remaking a Pink 18th Century Gown circa 1783

It has been a while since I’ve posted (thanks, finals and graduation and summer procrastination), but I have a large project to share. I’ve been sharing pictures and peeks on my Instagram, but not here. For my senior prom, I decided to make an 18th century gown, but I realized that I didn’t have time to make something completely new, so I did as a mantua-maker and decided to remake my old pink silk gown. My main inspiration from this project came from Lauren of American Duchess, who remade an English gown into an Italian gown for Costume College, and from Carolyn of The Modern Mantua-Maker, who also remade an English gown into an Italian gown to back up her doctoral research into 18th century dress remodeling (she also gave an interview about her research with the ladies of American Duchess on their podcast; I highly recommend listening!).

In addition to the historical costumers mentioned above, I also got inspiration from the Pinterest board I created for this project. Creating and editing this board helped me narrow down the year of my remake to 1783/’84. Having a specific year in mind when starting a new project is very helpful for nailing down details – for example, I was inspired by a 1784 portrait of Luise Auguste von Augustenburg to add puffed trim to the neckline ruffle.

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My other source of inspiration for the trimming was the 1783 portrait of Marie Antoinette with a rose by Louise-Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

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My Pinterest board also served as inspiration for my hair styling et cetera, and for the cap that I’d one day like to make to go with this dress, to more firmly ground it in the year 1783 and to make this dress better for day wear.

Anyway, on to the actual construction of the dress.

Before cutting apart my old dress, I decided to get a head start on roll hemming the ruffle for the petticoat, which was a good idea – if I remember correctly, my ruffle was 18 inches wide by 4.5 yards long, meaning that I roll hemmed about 10 yards of silk gauze. After congratulating myself and resting my hands, I folded the ruffle and put it away until I had a petticoat on which to put it.

Next came the fun part: cutting apart the old gown! I did this carefully, preserving the sleeves and unpicking one by one my stitches holding down the pleats at the back of the gown.

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The pleats from the back of the gown were pretty firmly ironed in place, and are still visible on the new gown, but some extant examples exhibit similar pleating, illustrating previous remaking, so it’s not inaccurate.

Somehow, the above photo is one of the only photos I have from the unpicking process. While deconstructing the old gown, I tried to reserve my pleated silk gauze trimming for the remake, but I realized that when I made the original gown, I didn’t know how to properly roll hem, so those scraps of silk gauze have been tucked away to be reused at a later date when I can redo their hems.

My next step was recutting the back bodice from the existing back bodice. However, when doing this, I made a mistake and didn’t include enough seam allowance, so the seam allowance on the fashion fabric of the back of my dress is really tiny, as are my stitches – I don’t want it to fray! The lining of the back of the bodice was cut from fresh linen, as the back lining of my old gown was not really suitable for my new gown, especially with a back point as dramatic as mine.

The back of the bodice was constructed with an English stitch per the American Duchess Guide, and it has two boning channels at the center back to keep the back point of the bodice stiff.

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Next, I cut out the new bodice fronts and their linings. The bodice fronts on my old gown were too small, so I cut these pieces from some of the silk that I had left over from making the first gown, and the lining from fresh linen. I’m glad that I had so much fabric left over from the first time making this dress; it’s a good reminder to get an extra yard when possible. You never know when it will come in handy!

The bodice front lining was felled to the back lining, and then the bodice front was attached overtop, also with felling stitches.

Next, I finished the bodice all the way around the bottom edge and front edges with small stitches. I had to be especially careful around the back of the bodice because of my tiny seam allowance.

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It took me a few tries to get the length of the front of the bodice right, and it was re-pinned and tried on several times.
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Basting made finishing the bottom edge much easier.
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Basting in white linen thread and itty-bitty stitches in silk thread at the back point of the bodice
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The interior

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As you can see in the photo above, I cut one bodice front slightly wider than the other – this was to ensure that when I pinned the dress closed over my stays, the overlap would be even.

My next step was to cut out and attach the “zone front” of the bodice. This portion of the bodice functions mostly as an overlay, so it was unlined. Once I cut out the zone fronts, I hemmed the front edge, held them in place with basting stitches, and felled them to the side seams. The bottom edges of the zone fronts were folded under and basted in place.

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The zone front before the side seam was felled into place

Next, I added shoulder straps and fitted the sleeves (which remained unchanged from the old version of this gown). The fashion fabric for the shoulder straps was cut from one of the bodice front pieces from the old gown.

I then finished the neckline of the bodice with small running stitches, treating the zone front and the main part of the bodice as one. The of the back of the neckline was later bound with a scrap of silk.

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The back

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The center front of the bodice

I decided to trim the bodice before it became too cumbersome to handle with the skirts attached. Around the neckline, I gathered down some delicate lace from PenelopeTextiles on Etsy, and then I added a double-ruffle of roll hemmed silk gauze as a tucker.

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Working on lace placement (the petticoat had been finished at this point – more on that soon)
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Attaching the silk gauze tucker to the inside of the neckline

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I also added moire ribbon in light green to the neckline. Each puff of ribbon was gathered down and then attached.

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Next, I trimmed the sleeves. First, I shortened them a few inches, which seemed to be more in line with the portraits I’d looked at for inspiration. Then, I roll hemmed and gathered some silk gauze around each cuff. I attached some of the lace left over from the neckline to the edge of each cuff, and then I finished it off with a small green bow.

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The inside of the cuff

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At this point, I had already made the petticoat, but for the cohesiveness of this post, it makes more sense to discuss its construction now. I cut the petticoat from the few yards of silk I had remaining from when I made the first gown. The petticoat was constructed in the usual way which Lauren of American Duchess details here. However, before pleating the petticoat to the linen tape waistband, I added the gauze ruffle.

Attaching the ruffle was far more work and far more time-consuming than I had originally expected. First, I gathered my large roll-hemmed rectangle to a length of linen tape the length of the petticoat’s hem. I attached the ruffle with varying linen thread, pink silk thread, and white silk thread, because I had expected to cover the top of the ruffle with puffed trim (which I may still do).

Next, I stitched the linen tape with the ruffle to my petticoat. This will make it easier to remove if I ever want to use the ruffle to trim a different petticoat.

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I wrapped the petticoat around the edge of my dining room table to keep it taut as I sewed on the ruffle.

I realized as I was attaching the ruffle that it was about two inches too short. I suppose that I could have placed the ruffle so that the gap was at the back of the petticoat, but then the seam in the middle of the ruffle would have been visible at the center front of the petticoat, so I decided instead to take in the petticoat side seam.

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The petticoat hem after it was taken in
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No ruffle gap!

After that was resolved, the petticoat was pleated to a linen tape waistband over my skirt supports to ensure that the hem was level, and the petticoat was thus completed.

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The front waistband interior
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The back waistband interior

Now, back to the main gown – all that it needed at this point was a skirt. The skirts from the first iteration of this gown were still operational, so I ended up just re-pleating them to fit the bodice of the new gown. I put the bodice and petticoat on my dress form and pinned the skirts in place so that the hem was level, after which the skirts were attached with whip stitches.

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I had to do a little fiddling to hide the lining at the tip of the bodice back, but once that was accomplished, the bodice looked quite cleanly finished from the outside. The tops of the skirts are raw on the inside of the gown, but that is also seen on extant gowns, so I’m not going to worry too much about it.

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The center back of the bodice

Once the skirts were attached, I sewed in some ties so that I could pull up the skirts à la retrousée. With that completed, the gown was done, and just in time!

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A bit messy, but it works

After consulting with some friends, I determined that I would not wear a cap. Instead, I used pomatum, powder, fake flowers, and ribbons to emulate the hairstyles I’d seen in portraits on my Pinterest board. In hindsight, I should have gone for a bigger hairstyle, but I can do that next time I wear this gown. I accessorized my gown with earrings, a locket, a bow at the center front, and a corsage (this was my prom dress, after all!).

Now for the photographs!

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The back
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A close-up of the back – the pleats from the first iteration of this gown are very visible, which is totally fine!

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No (gown) guts, no glory!

While there are a few things I’d like to change (adding puffed trim around the petticoat ruffle and possibly the cuffs to match the neckline, attaching a panel at the center front to make it fit a little bit better), all things considered, I am positively thrilled with how this dress turned out. I got to learn about remaking 18th century gowns in newer styles, just like the mantua-makers of the 18th century, I breathed new life into an old favorite gown, and I got to wear a dress that I loved to my senior prom. If you are considering remaking an old gown or suit, I highly recommend going for it!

Thank you for reading! Hopefully, I’ll be better at updating this blog in the coming months.

18th Century

Hand Sewn Stays from Costume Close Up: An Update

Remember when I wrote that I had decided to hand sew a pair of 18th century stays? Well, I’m still stitching, and they are coming along. I’m going on vacation soon, so I hope that I can get some stitching done on the plane, but I figured that I’d write about my progress to this point in order to keep myself accountable.

After figuring out a pattern, I cut out each piece in heavy natural colored linen, medium-weight white linen, and a light-to-medium weight wool (the natural linen and the wool are from Burnley and Trowbridge). Each pattern piece was basted together with the natural linen on the bottom, the green wool on the top, and the white linen sandwiched between the two. After the pieces were outlined, I commenced stitching channels 3/16 inch apart.

After that, I started stitching…

…and stitching…

…until each side looked like this:

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The front panel
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The tabs of panel three

As you can see, I also stitched eyelets in the back panels and added the cane boning for stability. Legitimate eyelets make it easier to lace the stays during fittings.

Before stitching the channels on the fourth panel from the front (the most problematic, fit-wise), I whipped the stays together for a quick fitting. They actually fit quite well!

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After that fitting, I recorded my notes, ripped apart the temporary whip stitching, and continued stitching channels until every panel was complete. Since then, I have been outlining each panel with longer backstitches, which will make it easier for me to whip stitch the seam allowances at the next step. As of the time of writing, all but one panel has been outlined.

I hope to finish these stays soon, because I’m so excited to wear them! I’ll continue to share progress as it happens. Thanks for reading!

18th Century

Red Wool Jacket Ensemble, 1790: Photos

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted… Hopefully, I’ll be able to sew (and write about it) more this summer. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos of my 1790s red jacket, as well as explain a few of my choices in styling it. When I first thought about writing this post back in November (!), I had intended to make it very research-heavy, but honestly, I don’t have the time for that. Maybe I will this summer. What I will share are some photos that are a rarity for me: snow photos! In the Pacific Northwest, we rarely get more than an inch or two of snow, but in early-mid February, we had an occurrence that has since been monikered “snowmageddon” (or “snowpocalypse,” if that’s your thing). My neighborhood got almost a foot of snow! So, I decided to take advantage of the freshly fallen snow one morning and get some photos of my red wool jacket ensemble in the snow. Without further ado…

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I also decided to try out my red cloak against the snow. With the possibly-inaccurate scrap silk lining, it was very warm. I ended up wearing it over my ordinary coat as a second layer when walking around in the 21st century, which was a success! I intend to better incorporate cloaks into my wardrobe next winter.

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Featuring my cotton cap

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A detail shot of the hood pleats

Thank you for reading! Hopefully, I’ll be better about updating in the coming weeks. I have some exciting projects planned!

Uncategorized

Plans for 2019

Going with last year’s precedent, my post about my plans for 2019 is late once again; my bad! Also like last year, I’m going to divide this by era, though I think my plans for this year will be somewhat less structured than last year’s. Without further ado…

Medieval:

I’d really like to make a medieval Hogwarts cosplay for Costume College this year. This would be somewhat very much outside of my usual costuming wheelhouse, so I’ll have a lot of research to do, but I think I’ll do a 14th century gown in gold and red with an appliqued/embroidered Gryffindor lion.

Finding resources for medieval dress construction is quite difficult, so I don’t know how accurate I’ll try to be with my dress. There are plenty of secondary and tertiary sources available online, which I may reference, but I think my main source will be the book Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland, published by the Museum of London.

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The above painting, supposedly of Italian origin from c. 1380, is a good example of the silhouette I’m going for, though that may change. Regardless, I think it should be a fun project.

17th Century

Another new era for me! I’ve recently been quite inspired by Samantha of Couture Courtesan‘s early Jacobean ensembles, and I’d like to try making such an ensemble for myself. I have little interest in making an early 17th century court gown (though I am in awe of those who do!), but I’d love to try making a more everyday ensemble. I believe that this will entail making a smock, a kirtle, a partlet, a cap, and perhaps a petticoat and a jacket. I need to do far more research, but my main sources for the above mentioned garments will be The Tudor Tailor by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes.

18th Century

Most of my sewing plans this year are for the last third of the 18th century (are you surprised?), though those plans that are for ensembles post-1795 will be described under “Regency.” I don’t want to enumerate my plans so specifically as last year, because that seems like a sure way for them to not be achieved, but I do have a few definitive projects. Firstly, I’d like to make a c. 1773 cap out of a fine cambric linen based on the plate below, from the British Museum.

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The content of this plate is ridiculous, but I love her cap.

My other concrete plan (probably more concrete than the cap plan) is to recreate the ensemble seen in the 1782 portrait A Girl Gathering Filberts by William Redmore Bigg. I absolutely love the color combinations, especially her green bonnet and yellow gown. I think that I will even try to make a lilac silk quilted petticoat, which should eat up no small amount of time, which is why I’ll likely try to make this ensemble after Costume College.

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Beyond those two projects, I’d like to remodel my pink silk gown in the latest style c. 1783 and make some fancy early 1790s menswear for Costume College. I think that the menswear will include an embroidered waistcoat, which will be a fun challenge.

I’d also like to focus this year on expanding my collection of millinery and improving my fine hand sewing. Hopefully, this will include making several more caps and perhaps some fine aprons and other “floof.” It may also include making a new hat to go with my redingote. Out of necessity, this will also likely include making another linen shift or two, projects on which I’d like to practice narrowing my felled seams.

While completing the above new projects, I’d also like to work on some of my “UFOs” (unfinished objects) from last year, including a green English gown, a pair of stays, and a checked linen shirt. Lastly, I’d also like to devote some time to remodeling my redingote to fit me better.

Regency

I think that I will be attending the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky again this year, but I’m pretty happy with my regency wardrobe and I intend to re-wear much of what I wore last year. However, I would like to make a colorful bodiced petticoat to wear under my white round gown, to achieve a look similar to this one, but with a blue petticoat:

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From Pinterest – I can’t find the source, but “an 7” in the upper lefthand corner indicates that this plate is from 1798 or 1799

In addition to a bodiced petticoat, I might try to make some new accessories, such as a new cap and reticule, but I don’t intend to devote too much time to more regency clothes.

20th Century

One of the other new eras I’d like to try this year is the 1910s – particularly 1915-1917. I purchased the Wearing History Elsie Blouse pattern at Costume College last year, along with a tracing of an original skirt pattern from 1916, which I’ll probably use as a base for my ensemble. I also happen to have an original 1910s corset, which I intend to use as a base to pattern my own corset.

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I quite like the ensemble of the woman on the center right. This 1916 illustration is from Lauren of Wearing History‘s blog.

I also found an advertisement for women’s overalls from 1918, and I really want to make a pair – they’re so funny!

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From the Vintage Dancer blog

To be honest, I kind of want to make some early 20th century garments to wear on an everyday basis. I think that they’re modern enough to wear in public without generating too many odd looks, but they’re still unique and flattering.

I’ll also probably make some 1930s and 1940s blouses, dresses, skirts, and pants, but I usually don’t document those here because they tend to be boring to look at while constructing, but I’ll probably share them on Instagram.

In addition to sewing, I intend to continue blogging about some of the books I read that pertain to the subject of this blog. I don’t know how frequently I’ll be able to do this, but I aim to write at least 8 book-related blog posts this year.

Thank you for reading!

Uncategorized

A Look Back on 2018

Happy belated New Year! 2019 is upon us. I have many plans for the new year, but I’d first like to take some time to look back on what I sewed in 2018. Looking back, it never seems like much, but when I actually considered it, I realized that I made a lot of costumes this year. I made quite a few everyday articles of clothing as well, though those won’t get featured here. I may have a post up about that soon, but we shall see.

I’m going to organize my creations not in the order they were made but in the order they were worn. Without further ado…

One of my largest projects this year was my redingote based on an extant example at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It took a while to sew, but the effect was well worth it. I learned a lot about 18th century dressmaking and more specifically the construction of menswear-inspired ladies’ garments, and I look forward to using those skills in future projects (and to possibly remodel this redingote).

My next project after the redingote was preparing for the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville Kentucky. I made so many garments for the festival in a surprisingly short amount of time. Between mid-April and mid-July, I made:

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The next major event after the Jane Austen Festival was Costume College. Nothing I wore at Costume College was new per se, but I did wear my remodeled Robespierre ensemble with a new shirt and a new coat. I debuted my floral Italian gown and gauze cap, but they had been completed a long time previous and didn’t feel particularly new. In addition to the ensembles mentioned above, Costume College offered a place to re-wear my redingote and my regency ensembles.

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My next major costuming adventure was my trip to Williamsburg, where I wore my floral Italian gown and debuted my blue round gown and linen cap.

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My final complete costume of the year was my Halloween costume as a member of the Parisian mob. The apron, brown petticoat, and jacket were all new when I wore this.

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The time between Halloween and the end of the year always seems especially busy for me, and particularly so this year, so I didn’t complete many historical projects, but I did start a few, including a 18th century shirt for my father, a set of stays based on the ones in Costume Close-up, and an English gown (about which I will likely blog soon).

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English gown in progress

All in all, I’m pretty happy with what I accomplished this year. In the coming year, I will likely renovate some of these garments (such as my redingote and my 1790s stays), but it’s nice to look back and see how much I sewed, even if my completed projects weren’t perfect. Each mistake is a lesson learned, I suppose. I may not have completed everything I wished to in my post about my plans for 2018, but that doesn’t bother me too much.

Thank you for reading, and keep an eye out for my next post about my plans for 2019!

18th Century

Red Wool Jacket, Circa 1790

For my Halloween costume (yes this post is going up very late), I decided to dress for the French Revolution. Rather than pulling a Marie Antoinette and dressing in silk and extravagance (too expensive and time-consuming), I decided wear what I believed a Parisian working woman, perhaps a member of Pauline Léon’s Société des républicaines-révolutionnaires, would have worn. Instead of dressing as a member of the peerage, I dressed as a member of the mob, if you will. It should be noted that Parisian women played a huge role in the French Revolution, but that is a tale for another time.

I’ve always been enamored of this red jacket from the Kyoto Costume Institute. It was made in 1790s France, so it seemed like a perfect base for my own ensemble. However, no pictures of the back of the garment are available online, as far as I am aware. Fortuitously, this Instagram account posted a picture of a surprisingly similar extant jacket that featured pictures of the back of the garment. Based on the pictures he posted, I judged that the extant jacket in his collections was similar enough, time-period-wise, to the jacket at the Kyoto Costume Institute that I could probably use it as a source of inspiration.

Once I had my inspiration, I patterned and cut my jacket. The pattern is a modified version of my basic 18th century block, and the fabric is scraps of linen and red wool. I did a very 18th century thing and repurposed an old red skirt that I’d made for the jacket, though luckily I had saved the remaining fabric from making the skirt, so I had enough to piece the entire garment.

I constructed the back of the jacket first, using an English stitch for the center back seam.

Then, I constructed the sleeve linings. I decided to try to use up some of those scraps of linen that I think everyone who sews historical garments has: the bits of “cabbage” that result from cutting out oddly shaped linings. I then stitched along the outer edge of the sleeve lining.

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I messed up on cutting the lining for this sleeve, so it got a fun cuff lining.

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Next, I pieced the sleeves from the fashion fabric, and stitched the outer edge. The wool sleeve was then layered on top of the linen sleeve, both of them inside out and with the inner parts of the sleeve facing each other, and the inner seam of the sleeve was sewn through both pieces of fabric. I’m sorry if that’s confusing; I believe its called the tailor’s method for sewing sleeves if you’d like to look into it further. It’s my go-to.

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Once the sleeves were constructed, I hemmed them and turned back to the body of the jacket.

The lining of the front of the jacket was whip stitched to the back of the jacket.

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Then, I sewed the fashion fabric of the front of the jacket to the back of the jacket with whip stitches.

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The front edges of the jacket were then finished with the edge stitch described in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. The tabs in the front of the jacket were created by slashing the fabric where the tabs were to be.

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Next, I finished the tabs with more edge stitches. The tips of the slits were reinforced with buttonhole stitches.

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Buttonhole stitches

I attached the shoulder strap lining to the back of the jacket and then set in the bottom portion of the sleeves with spaced backstitches.

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Next, I set in the top of the sleeves, each of which has two small pleats at the shoulder to make them fit in the armscye. Then, I covered all the raw edges with the wool shoulder strap (up until this point, it was unattached to the back of the jacket), finished the neckline with edge stitches, and bound the top of the back of the jacket with a scrap of wool.

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Then, I sewed eyelets down the center front for spiral lacing.

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I didn’t have time to add the ruffles in time for Halloween, so I wore it at this stage. I paired it with my 1790s cotton cap, a tricolor cockade, a new brown wool petticoat, and a new pinner apron.

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After wearing the jacket for Halloween, I put it away for a few months before adding a wool ruffle at the neckline and cotton ruffles at the cuffs. I may remove the wool ruffle; I need to see how it looks with the rest of the ensemble, but I have a feeling it may be too much.

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Hopefully, I’ll get some better pictures of the ensemble with the completed jacket soon, at which point I’ll probably write a blog post detailing my choices in styling the outfit.

Thank you for reading!

Reading My Way Through the 18th Century

Liberty by Lucy Moore

I’ve recently completed another book for my blog series about reading my way through the 18th century. Liberty by Lucy Moore, an exploration of the French Revolution through the lives of women spanning the social spectrum, is different from the other books that I’ve read thus far in that it follows the actions of women, not men, and how these actions shaped the revolution. Liberty follows the lives of six women: Germaine de Staël, Pauline Léon, Théroigne de Méricourt, Thérésia de Fontenay, Manon Roland, and Juliette Récamier.

Germaine de Staël was the wealthy daughter of Jacques Necker, Louis XVI’s sometimes-Minister of Finance. Married to a Swedish diplomat, Germaine de Staël’s salon was the center of social life for liberal nobles and some young bourgeoisie men. Her salon apparently attracted such notables as Thomas Jefferson and the proto-feminist and intellectual marquis de Condorcet. Germaine herself was highly intelligent, and her salon (and the conversations she led there) helped shape the politics of the early revolution. Of all the women in this book, Germaine de Staël’s story seemed to most truly span the Revolution: she was an important player throughout.

On the complete opposite end of the social spectrum was Pauline Léon, a chocolate-maker and sans-culotte. Léon formed a political club for female revolutionaries that was dissolved by the Committee of Public Safety in the fall of 1793. During its short existence, Léon’s Société des Républicaines-Révolutionnaires argued for women’s rights to bear arms in defense of the nation and lobbied for the passage of a law that women, like men, be required to wear a tricolor ribbon to indicate that women, too, had political voices. Though Pauline Léon faded from the historical record by 1794, I’m glad that the author included her story. Reading about commoners such as Léon gave some context for the Revolution that can be hard to find in most biographies. I’d love to do some more research into women like Léon when I have the time.

Théroigne de Méricourt, drawn by Jean Fouquet, 1792
(via)

Théroigne de Méricourt was a rather tragic figure, but it was her biography to which I looked forward the most when I picked up this book. She is a prominent secondary character in one of my favorite books (Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety), so I was excited to learn more about her. Théroigne de Méricourt attended many political clubs, including the Jacobins, and like Pauline Léon, she founded a club as well. Théroigne, a former courtesan, apparently associated the revolution’s “rejection of the paternal authority of the monarchy” with her own “personal rejection of any type of masculine domination and exploitation” (Moore 115). Her idealism is made all the more poignant by her tragic end: after being attacked by a group of female revolutionaries, she suffered a mental breakdown and was moved from asylum to asylum (little more than prisons at the time) until her death.

Thérésia de Fontenay, a fantastically wealthy heiress, exemplified the extravagance of the Directory: the wife of one of the Thermidorians, Jean-Lambert Tallien, Theresia was known for throwing parties and, along with her dear friend the future Empress Josephine, was one of the most fashionable women in Paris. What I found most interesting about Theresia was her role in the Thermidorian Reaction. Her imprisonment and impending execution were mentioned in Ruth Scurr’s Fatal Purity as reasons for Tallien’s denunciation of Robespierre and his allies, but I appreciated Moore’s description of the context of Thérésia’s imprisonment and her own agency during the Thermidorian Reaction.

Manon Roland in the Conciergerie Prison, her final prison stay before her execution (via)

Marie-Jeanne “Manon” Roland was the wife of a minor bureaucrat before the revolution. Upon moving to Paris with her husband, she began hosting gatherings of liberal politicians, journalists, and lawyers who would eventually be categorized as “Girondins.” Manon saw herself as “inspiration and support for the men who would destroy the crumbling edifice of the ancién regime and create a new, free France” (Moore 86). However, her association with the Girondins was her undoing, and Manon was arrested in 1793. In prison, Manon wrote her memoirs, which are available for free on the internet (search “Manon Roland memoirs”). She was executed in 1793. Personally, I found the chapters about Manon to be the most interesting – her life story almost seems like something out of a novel, rather than history, and her conflicted views of herself (she wanted to participate in politics because she believed that she would be a good policymaker, but did not believe that women should be politicians) made her very compelling as a character.

To be honest, I don’t know why Lucy Moore included the story of Juliette Récamier, a young teenager when the revolution began. She seems like an interesting and intelligent woman, but she didn’t do much in the context of the revolution, especially when compared to the other women examined in the book, which leads me to my next comment on this book. I think that there are women who could have been included in this book but weren’t. For example, I was expecting a chapter on Charlotte Corday, though I understand why she only received a few paragraphs; there is very little information about her in the historical record. However, Moore frequently referenced Olympe de Gouges and Lucy de la Tour du Pin, but their stories were glossed over. Then again, these women weren’t the focus of the book; I just found their biographical snippets somewhat distracting because they were just that: snippets, not fleshed-out biographies.

That complaint aside, I think that Liberty is an incredible book. One of my favorite aspects was a glossary of secondary figures, which was very helpful for the historical figures who popped up throughout the book. I also appreciate how Moore explained the events of the revolution in the context of the lives of the women described in the book. If you are new to learning about the French Revolution, I think that this book gives a great overview of the politics of the time in addition to biographing the six main women. Moore also explained the Thermidorian Reaction and the Directory more clearly than other books I’ve read, which was a plus.

All things considered, I’d recommend Lucy Moore’s Liberty to anyone interested in history. I’d especially recommend it to historical costumers interested in the fashion of the 1790s, because Moore explains the political and social context in a way that I think would be helpful for those looking to recreate the fashions of the ’90s.

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