09 October 2013

What Cheer: c.1800 Gown

My third attempt at a c.1800 gown is done--the first attempt was this green gown and the second was August's 1795 work gown.

As you may remember, I had to make a compromise with the quality of thread and a modification on the sleeve that I had originally intended to use--both of which I was OK with. But there's something about this project that doesn't seem right when I wear it. Below are photos showing the completed gown and a bit on my frustrations with the empire era.

As a whole, the gown came out OK...at least when I'm not wearing it. For the purposes of my What Cheer Day first person persona I think it was very appropriate. I portrayed a maid seeking employment with a very wealthy family. I would have worn my best gown, which would theoretically have been nice but not as chic as we see in extent fashion plates.

To show this, I used the drawstring back, which I think of as less formal...

 ...and added little pleats at the skirt. I'm quite fond of these pleats and the fullness they create.

I based my bodice pattern after this Augusta Auctions gown.

There's a drawstring across the bodice top's square neckline which ties on the inside, just like it appears the extent gown has. There are a few little pleats at the bottom of the bodice...

 ...and it has the world's smallest shoulder strap, much like the original.

 Given that the gown has a shoulder strap, I used my 1780s sleeve pattern and set it in the usual 18th century way. (Many thanks to Sharon for helping me fit the last part!)

 The inside of the bodice has very few finished seams. I'm not crazy about this but when I washed it on the gentle cycle everything "seams" fine as it's not terribly fraying. : )

Still I'm convinced that something about this bodice doesn't fit right. 

When I tried the gown on as I was making it, it seemed OK.

 I tried it on a few days before the event, and it again seemed ok.

 When I wore it the day of the event, it didn't seem OK. Here's where I think I may have went wrong: 
  • I do not yet have all the right undergarments. Strike one.
  • The bodice is shaped more like a "bandeau" top which, if the drawstrings are tied too tightly, isn't flattering partly because it creates a bit of bulk in the fabric. And this particular neck handkerchief added to that bulk. Strike two.
  • When I made my mock-up, I had to fit it on myself. Strike three. 
To improve:
  • No more drawstrings! The drawstring creates too much variation in how the gown can fit, depending upon how tight or loose it's tied. I want something more reliable.
  • Get help with fitting the bodice.
  • Make better accessories: a chemisette would work better than a neck handkerchief for this style. (And an easy Regency hairstyle wouldn't hurt.)
Other suggestions for improvement are welcome...I'm determined to make another gown this fall. Before I start my next c.1800 gown, I need to work on those empire undies!


  1. Dear Sew18thCentury,

    The stripes make for such a pretty effect on this gown! I've been reading all about What Cheer Day through Kitty Calash and have really enjoyed learning how you all put the event together. Sounds fantastic.

    You wonder about causes for the fitting issues? Having made and worn several different c 1795-1800 dresses, here are a few ideas. Please accept them as tentative ones, and I hope they might be of assistance!

    -- Stays would help a great deal. Right now your dress appears to be doing most of the work of supporting your chest. This puts extra downward stress on the bodice fabric, including the drawstring, and makes it pull from the straps and everywhere else, accentuating the bandeau look.

    -- It appears that the bodice front drawstring may go all the way to the armscye, if not in gatherability, at least in how it's held. That means that the bandeau line continues all the way to the sleeve, again accentuating the bandeau look.

    - Depending on the look you are wanting, you might go with either a 1790s shelf-style set of stays -- for instance the stays that Jen of Festive Attyre just made, or those that the Mouse Borg also just finished. Or, if you wish the up-to-the-minute look, make up a short set of stays with a busk. Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 has done good research in this area and has several stays designs you can work up.

    -- You might consider adding interior flaps to the front of the bodice that cross over each other and are pinned to the stays. Many dresses of the era had them. They acted like an excellent lining, supporting and staying the dress fit, and allowing the outer fabric to relax and drape a little.

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY
    A Frolic Through Time

    1. Natalie, thanks for the feedback and sorry for my delay in responding! I will be referring to your comments as I continue to work on better understanding this era and start new projects!

  2. Proper undergarments are essential to getting the Regency look. My square neck dresses actually have a slight curve up toward the sides in the front: imperceptible when gathered, but allowing the fabric to fit nicely over my bust. I referenced one of the dresses in Janet Arnold for the general pattern. You might try that if you do attempt a square neck again. The shape of your sleeves looks good, but perhaps they need more bodice/strap between the current strap and where the sleeve begins. Right now the sleeve starts so far in the center front direction that it draws attention to the severe squareness of the bodice. It also looks to me like the back waistline dips significantly lower than the front, which might also make the silhouette look a little off.

    Hope that's helpful, and not overwhelming. Fitting yourself is super tricky, and I do think you have a nice dress despite your concerns. :)

    1. Thanks for your comments Quinn and sorry for my slow response! I'm determined to get this era right and I appreciate your insight. Hope to see you sometime soon...maybe at sacque sewing?


Your feedback is appreciated. :)