27 April 2014

c1800 Silk Gown

To prepare for the Newport Quakers letters program last month, I needed a gown that could pass as early 19th centruy Quaker. And I needed it in short order--so nothing too complex to pattern or fit.

c.1800 Silk Gown, The Met Accession Number 1979.346.37

I chose this c.1800 gown from The Met as the basis for my pattern...

 Morning Dress 1806-1819, The Met Accession Number 1977.293.2

...and this morning gown as documentation for the color. Thanks to The Met's awesome zoom feature, and a lucky day with a cooperative three year old, I was able to pattern the bodice in about a day.

Here's some background about its construction, the shortcuts I took and lessons learned...

True to the transitional style, this gown has a drawstring along the top of the bodice and at the waist. It ties closed in both spots, though I pinned it closed as well. (I couldn't not stand in front of the board without the peace of mind of using a few straight pins!)

Since this gown is supposed to represent a Quaker and it won't be trimmed, I used a spaced backstitch when sewing the drawstring's casing to add some visual appeal.

And to make sure I didn't catch the drawstring when I attached the lining, I whip stitched it in place over the spaced backstitches.

The sleeves on my gown are baggier than The Met's brown silk gown, but less baggy than their gold gown.

I chose to line the sleeves, which I probably didn't need to do, and I sewed them with a spaced backstitch to echo the top of the bodice. I'll admit, it took three attempts to correctly fit the left sleeve. Thank goodness for facetime with Kitty Calash to help with this when time was running short!
The wrist of the sleeve fits very closely. I left it open about an inch, and added a hook that closes with a loop made from embroidery floss as there's a gown at my work that closes with this feature.
The shoulder strap.

I loved the red stitch along the lining fabric's selvedge, so I used this inside the shoulder strap.

To sew the lining to the drawstring along the waist, I used more whip stitches. I did the same with teeny whip stitches to attach the skirt panels. However this drawstring along the waist doesn't have much fabric to gather. I intentionally did this so it's, hopefully, a bit more flattering and less like a maternity gown.

This is how it looks from the front.

The back is the best part. I hadn't made inverted please on a gown before. It's a detail that I find very transitional.

I had a little easing issue when sewing the skirt panels to the bodice. I tried resewing it twice, but gave up due to time constraints. Looking at it from a distance you can't really tell, so I'm not planning to fix it.

I had a bit more fabric on the skirt panels than I needed so I added two little tucks along the sides, which you can see here on the left.

 A look at the inside construction.

The extant gown has pocket slits. I chose not to make these because it seems like trying to wear a high waisted pocket is a waste of time. Or should that be waist of time? : )

Overall I think it's a good addition to my growing early 19th century wardrobe and I'm looking forward to wearing it the next time we offer this program.


  1. I'm very, very new to historic costuming and re-enacting, but I do have an observation about the pocket issue. I felt pretty sure that the intrepid ladies living on the Missouri frontier in 1800 or so probably would not have given up pockets entirely in favor of dainty little reticules around the farm. So, while I chose a reasonably up-to-date high-waisted dress, I went for drop front so I could have the side openings (and dress myself). I made a pocket, which I do, in fact, tie around my natural waist. That's not only gravity-friendly--I can't imagine trying to keep one tied around my ribs--but most convenient to reach. As the pocket goes under my petticoat, which also has a side opening, no one need ever know exactly where it's tied and it's easily hidden.


Your feedback is appreciated. :)