15 November 2015

Sukey Copley's Blue Gown

My "blogcation" is over...it's time to share research, photos and construction notes on the projects that have kept me uber busy this year and I'm starting with Sukey Copley's blue gown.

This fall I portrayed John Singleton Copley's wife, Susanna Clarke Copley, who went by the name Sukey, for a first person living history program at Old South Meeting House. This event called for making a new gown and I had to use the Copley blue silk from Sign of the Golden Scissors.

Inspired by this painting of Sukey with her family...
Detail from The Copley Family, 1776/1777
National Portrait Gallery 1961.7.1

... and the host of Copley's other ladies in blue, some of which are on my Sukey's World Pinterest board, I made a basic open front English gown. It took a bit longer than normal--about a month (one week of which was spent in the land of well dressed mice). Silk can fray easily and this silk is more of an investment than my other projects, so I wanted to take my time and get it right.

The fabric has a beautiful drape. It's much heavier than the plaid silk gown I made last year, but it's not so heavy that it's difficult to sew like an upholstery silk. It's also very forgiving when it comes to pin marks.

In terms of construction, it's similar to my other open front gowns which use an early version of the Larkin & Smith gown pattern. The robings are 1770s style, made separate and then sewn to the bodice from beneath so the stitching isn't visible from the front.

A peek at the inside. The stomacher is sewn in on one side to make it easier to dress quickly.

As you can see on the right, the prick stitches are smaller and more carefully sewn. I was afraid I'd run out of time which is why the stitches on the left are not as finely spaced.

This silk  is so nice! 

I continue to struggle with tucking enough fabric into the first two pleats at the center back. I cut the CB panel to be about 28 inches wide so there would be enough fabric to tuck, but I can't seem to get enough so the en forreau pleats are even.

Sukey wouldn't be seen in such lovely silk without flounces!

I used an 18th century-style lace that I found in at an antiques store earlier this year.

 An inside view of the inner flouce. The linen is gathered and sewn to the sleeve.

A view of the outer flounce. To save on fabric, it's pieced at the center. This flounce pattern was kindly shared from Mrs. B.

I sewed the sleeves and attached the flounces before I set the sleeves. One lesson learned: set the sleeves first, then attach the flounces otherwise they might end up backwards.
I added navy wool tape from Burnley & Trowbridge along the hem of the skirt panels to give it extra weight so it would drape well.
 A view of the in-progress gown from the back.

 Making a paper stomacher pattern.
Stomacher patterning.

Between persona research and program prep, I knew I wouldn't have time to make scads of trim but I thought Sukey's gown needed something extra. I paired the stomacher with this pink Georgian-style paste pin from Dames a la Mode.

 A pre-event selfie debuting the gown...and I was a little excited for the mic!
 Mrs. Winthrop, left, reviews Mrs. Copley's latest letter from her husband who is in Italy.
Mrs. Winthrop and Mrs. Copley.
When presenting a first person monologue, I almost always props to generate audience interaction and a cheat sheet to make sure I include all of the interpretative themes.

I also wore this gown for Liberty & Union at Old Colony Historical Society. 

 Gossiping with Mrs. C.
 Photo courtesy Mrs. M.

This project has another special aspect--the gown reminds me of Felicity Merriman's blue gown. I was fortunate to attend Felicity's debut in Colonial Williamsburg in the summer of 1991, which is when I first fell in love with colonial American history. I suspect that the American Girl creators based Felicity's fancy dress after Copley's ladies in blue.


  1. Beautiful blue color! I love it!

  2. That is a lovely satin indeed and a very flattering gown.


  3. This color looks so lovely on you! Would you mind if I shared the last photo on my facebook page? I love how the yellow contrasts with the blue :)

    1. Sorry I'm slow to respond! You are welcome to share the photo...I *love* that necklace!


Your feedback is appreciated. :)