Eight Hours = Half A Gown!

I’ve begun work on my new linen gown. I’m making it out of a $5 linen tablecloth I picked up from Goodwill a while back. I had re-dyed it to get rid of the crazy neon watermelon color, and it turned out a sort of burgundy. After a lot of soul-searching (red is not an easy color to wear, when it’s a whole gown and I only have red shoes to go with it) I decided to go for it.

I’ve spoken with a self-taught expert in 18th century dyes, and I showed her a swatch of my burgundy linen. I asked her if this color was an easy thing to achieve with natural dyes, and she looked at me kind of funny, as if I had asked if we were living on Earth. So yeah, this color is something that would have been around. Whether it was commonly made into everyday clothing is another story – I still can’t answer that question.

This dress will be a 1780s everyday sort of thing. I’m making it in my super-simplified pattern, all handsewn with linen thread. I’m also timing myself for fun. Here’s what I got done in 8 hours.

* Everything got ironed (I think two hours went to this … oh the joys of ironing huge pieces of linen …)

* The mock-up is fitted. I actually made a real throwaway mock-up this time, but not intentionally. I meant to use some leftover white linen for my lining, but after I had cut my lining and tried it on, it fit horribly – so badly that I wouldn’t be able to reuse the linen. So I scrapped that (haha) and used my beautiful checked linen for the lining – not what I had wanted, but that fabric has such a nice feel, it made a perfect lining. Whatever.

* The exterior fabric pieces are all cut and most of them finished: sleeves are done but not set yet, and the front skirt is cut.

* The back pleats are laid and sewn down, and the back half of the skirt pleated to the body.

* Of course, I had to watch Scarlett O’Hara wear a dress made out of a curtain while I sewed a dress out of a tablecloth.

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My favorite part of sewing a gown. Before these pleats are laid, it looks like a jumble of scraps. After these are pleated and sewn, the dress is suddenly right there and I can almost see it finished. Also, these pleats have got to be the prettiest part of 18th century gowns. I love how they fall – so graceful. 

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Hideous lighting, photography, etc. … but hey look, half a dress. You can see my huge mistake of cutting the neckline too low in the back.

What I have left to do:

* set the sleeves and finish the cuff (that will take a few fittings, but only a few minutes of actual sewing)

*Attach the front skirt and hem/flat fell all that crap (I believe a Godfather marathon is planned for those hours)

* fix something for the back of the neckline – I cut it too low accidentally, and wasn’t planning on putting a very large binding there, but it looks like I will have to now. That will take some putzing.

In sewing this gown, I figured out a cool way to do sleeves. I’m not sure if it’s correct as far as 18th century gown construction goes, but it does save time and uses very little thread, two things that seem to factor into 18th century sewing. Here’s my method.

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Cut sleeve and lining together. Fold under and iron/press the cuff edges and one of the edges for the seam that will run up the inside of the arm. For this sleeve I turned under and pressed the right vertical edge.

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Tack the cuff edges, starting at the corner of the two turned-in edges (shown).

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Roll the sleeve up as it will be when finished, and sandwich the un-pressed edges in between the pressed ones. You can leave your needle on the thread used to tack the cuff, and sew this whole thing with one piece of thread.

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Sew up the inside of the arm with running stitches or a back stitch, catching each piece of lining and exterior fabric with one row of stitches. All the selvedges will be facing the same direction inside the sleeve.

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Well, my camera isn’t good in the low light I have, so you’ll have to take my word for it: here’s the semi- finished sleeve! The front of the cuff will get tacked up to shape the elbow later. Somehow these sleeves look too wide at the lower end. Going to tackle that issue later, I guess …

 

 

 

 

 

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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