Pet en l’air Jacket

The pet en l’air is a jacket that is basically just a short version of the sack dress.  According to (goddess) Norah Waugh in Cut of Women’s Clothes (pp 68 & 70) this type of garment was called a casaquin from the early part of the 18th century until about the 1740s.  The length of this garment was originally to the knee, and shortened gradually as the century progressed until the skirt of it resembled what we would call a peplum around 1780.  The pet en l’air I am making falls somewhere in between these two as befits a date of c. 1750-70. (I haven’t fully decided on how to decorate the stomacher yet)

(Once again I have appropriated one of Janet Arnold’s sketches for my own purposes – I like consistency that way)

The pet en l’air was part of a series of garment types that were considered “undress” (deshabille in french).  This means they were informal articles of clothing worn inside the home, but presentable enough to wear while entertaining.  One would not go out into public in such a garment.  Pet en l’airs and other jackets could be worn with either a matching petticoat, or a quilted one in a solid, contrasting/co-ordinating colour.  The example I am making will be paired with a dark cream coloured quilted silk satin petticoat (watch out for it in the upcoming weeks!)

The pattern for the example I’m making has an interesting “provenance”.  I drafted the pattern from a jacket in the Museum of London’s collection.  What makes it interesting is that the style of the jacket dates to the 1770s-80s, but has every appearance of having been made from an earlier sack dress of about the 1760s.  There are a few vestiges of the earlier style left: the original length of the sleeves are merely hidden under an attached cuff; the jacket is still open-fronted; the compere front appears to have been altered from a stomacher; the original vertical seams of the back and the skirts appear to have been left intact, including the pocket slits.  Using this information and comparative information from other garment artifacts and written sources I am taking this jacket back in time about a decade from its present incarnation.

Materials:

– tan, or “fawn” coloured shot silk tabby weave taffeta

– bleached plainweave linen for bodice and sleeve lining

– fine twist silk thread to match the fabric

– white linen thread for lining sewing

                                                                                          

Day 1

I started the day by enlarging my draft of the museum jacket.  Takes a bit of time when one is still half asleep, lol.  I then cut all of the silk pieces.  Instead of cutting the linen lining pieces (for which I had not drafted specific pattern pieces – oops) I started sewing.

The silk fabric I used also has a bit of a story to it that I think augments this whole process.  It’s actually from a bedskirt I found at the Goodwill or someplace like that.  I had unpicked the whole thing several years ago (this is another fabric from my own stash).  What I ended up with was one fairly large piece, and a couple of very long, but not very wide (less than 18″) strips.  I think there was only one selvedge edge.  This means that although I was able to get the entire body of the jacket out of the larger piece, I had a number of raw edges to piece together.

I first started sewing the long seams of the jacket back by turning the 1/2″ seam allowances under twice and slip stitching them.

I realized that I needed at least the back lining piece for the next step, but didn’t have a draft for it.  To make one I pleated up the jacket back, and pinned the pleats down to the waist.  Then I simply traced out the fitted shape that was created, added seam allowances, et voila!

The back lining is cut in two pieces, and before sewing the top of that seam, I pinned each piece and the silk together.  The reason I needed to do this is because there is one outer edge pleat on either side of the back that is stitched down to the lining as far as the waist.  This pleat is also concealed by another directly on top of it, so this stitching needed to be done before the rest of the back pleating was tacked down in place.  There is also an additional line of stitching tacking the silk to the lining that is underneath all of this.  Hopefully this photo helps it make sense.

After all this stitching was done, I unpinned all the pleats, flipped the whole thing inside out and stitched the centre back seam closed for 4 1/2″ from the top edge using backstitch.  I then re-pleated up the back and basted along that top edge, as can also be seen in the above photo.  The photo below shows the interior of all this stitching.

The last task I completed on this first day of the pet en l’air saga was to sew the other linen lining pieces to the back.  I lapped the seams and sewed them with slip stitch.  (all seams that are linen-to-linen are sewn with the linen thread)

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Day 2

The first task of the day was to sew the bodice fronts to the back.  But then I realized that before I could do that I needed to seam the front and back skirt pieces together and finish the pocket slit edges since I found that they all sort of need to go together.

So once that was done, I pleated up the skirt back side of the seam.  Then I lapped the seam of the side bodice piece and sewed through the lining layer as well using a running stitch that is long on the underside, and very short like a prick stitch on the right side.  However, before I got to the end I folded under the seam allowance of the waisline edge and pinned it to the top edge of the pleated skirt front piece.  I then finished the vertical seam, and started on the waistline seam using small slip stitches.  Before I got to the end of the side bodice piece I lapped and pinned down the front bodice seam to the side bodice and stitched most of it in the same way as the one before it.  (are you confused yet?  I was very bad and didn’t think to take photos of the details of this process – will try to remember for the next one I have to do this with) Again I stopped before getting to the end so I could continue with the waistline, and finished it off once the waistline seam was all done.  Here are photos of it all done. (whew!)

And what it now looks like on the inside

After all of this came the oh so fun hemming of the skirt!  I turned under the raw edge twice to form a neat and narrow hem and stitched it with small running stitches.  A definite advantage to hand sewing is easily being able to ease around curves.

So here is the overall impression so far, looks like it will be nice!

(I realized that the curve of the bodice front edges was too much, and will be cutting them to be more straight as better befits date(s) it’s meant to be an example of)

                                                                                         

Day 3

Today I started by sewing the back yoke piece to the top edge of the back bodice pleats using a running stitch that is long at the back and looks like a prick-stitch on the top side.

This jacket was the only example I saw of a back yoke adding to the length of the garment.  From what I have seen (thus far) the back shoulder seams consist of the end of the robing being sewn to the back pleats, and the yoke applied over the area (see the sack dress Day 4).  I have feeling the construction technique used in the jacket with regards to the yoke is a result of the remaking from an earlier dress.  Perhaps greater length was needed at the back for the person the jacket was made for.  Despite this I have chosen to replicate the jacket as it was made since I can’t know for sure, and it would still seem a legitimate practice for the general time period.

I did decide to lengthen the back shoulder ends of the bodice fronts by 1/2″ on both the silk and the lining.  The armholes seemed a little implausibly and awkwardly small otherwise, and I attributed this more to a slight innacuracy in my drafting than that the garment was actually shaped so since this was a particularly difficult area to draft.

The extensions to the silk were sewn using small backstitches, the lining with small slip stitches.

I then sewed the corresponding back yoke linen lining piece to the top edge of the back bodice lining with small slip stitches.  In retrospect, I think it may have been more appropriate to have sewn this on first and then have sewn the silk onto it.  I was, however, unwilling to undo all my work and start over so I left it as is.  I wonder how often this may have happened in the 18th century as well, and how much this may account for the variences in construction techniques observable in surviving garments?

I then sewed up the back shoulder seams of the boice lining, again using small slip stitches. 

This was followed by sewing the corresponding seam in the silk using the running stitch that is long at the back and very small on the top.

The next task was to finish around the outside edges of the jacket.  However, I first needed to sew down the waistline edge of the bodice lining at the front, which I did with slip stitches.  I then turned under both the silk andl linen layers towards each other and sewed the lining to the silk with slip stitches that look like small running stitches on the silk layer.

After this I switched gears a little and started working on the sleeves. I seamed the sleeve linings first using small slip stitches.

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In a further effort to demonstrate some of the variety of construction techniques I have encountered both at the Museum of London and in readings, I sewed the sleeves of this jacket onto the sleeve linings.  I did this simply by encasing the lining sleeves in the silk, lapping one edge of the silk over the other and stitching through all layers with the same running/prick stitch used elsewhere.

In the picture above, the bottom sleeve edge is already finished (forgot to take a pic before, no cookie for me).  This nifty feat was achieved by leaving a small portion of the sleeve seam undone before the bottom edge, with the thread left hanging to pick it up aftewards.  The entirety of the sleeve hem was then sewn by turning the raw edges of both the silk and the linen lining towards each other and sewing around with running stitch.  The sleeve seam was thereafter finished.

Once the sleeves were all sewn up, there was nothing for it but to set them in.  Probably one of my least favourite sewing tasks in general.  As with the sack dress, it took a few tries to get the positioning and shoulder pleats to work how I thought they should.  Now, contrary to most of the sleeves from this time period I have seen, these are actually set in all the way round.  I was consistent with other stitching techniques such as using backstitch for the underarm portion of the sleeve, and here used smallish running stitches for the remainder.  I chose to completely set in the sleeves based on two findings: the jacket the pattern is taken from has them, although that could possible have to do with the slightly later time period.  However, there is also a jacket in the museum’s collection dating from 1730 (it has a handwritten note with it saying “this jacket was made for me in 1730 on the occassion of a trip to Carolina” or something like that – SQUEEEEEEEE.  If only they all came with such gold nuggets!) that is now missing its sleeves, but has stitch marks left from them.  The shoulders of that jacket are constructed similarly to the pet en l’air and there are no robings to conceal any top stitching of sleeve heads onto the shoulders.  Additionally, riding jackets and men’s clothes were made with set-in sleeves.  Between all of this, setting the sleeves in seemed a reasonable and justifiable thing to do!

                                                                                          

Day 4

The work of today particularly impressed upon me the effect details can have.  It was only a half day of work, but feel to have moved the garment disproportionately forward.  It’s a good feeling!

Today was about sleeve cuff ruffles.  And stomachers…well, one stomacher.

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The order of constructing these lovelies is as follows:

1. Seam them up with smallish running stitches

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2. Hem the bottom scallped edges by turning under twice and securing with running stitches.

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3. Fold under and baste the top edge of the cuffs. (Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this step – d’oh!)

4. Pull up basting stitches to fit around the bottom edges of the sleeves and tack in place with running stitches.

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So the sleeves are done and fabulous looking – just you wait and see!

Next it was on to the stomacher.  I’m starting to run out of my linen fabric for lining, and so decided to piece the linen for the stomacher lining, which I did with fairly small running stitches (I think I’m improving at getting small stitches, yay!).

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Luckily I did not have to piece the silk.  I then turned under all the raw edges of linen and silk towards each other and stitched them together using running stitch in the silk thread that matched the colour of the silk fabric.

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If it looks like the stomacher isn’t precisely symmetrical that’s because, well, it isn’t.  However, if you’ve ever seen a historical example/artifact you’ll know that those aren’t either, so I’m not going to get very fussed about it!

So here is how the ‘pet’ it looks now, pretty much all that’s left is the trimming!  Although I am still debating whether to make robings, if that would be more appropriate for the period prior to 1770.  Hmmmm. 

I am totally wanting to make one of these for myself!  Who else wants one?

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Day 5

After having got to the point where the pet en l’air was all put together I decided that as a mid-century piece it really needed robings.  The version I examined at the Museum of London did not have them, but I’m pretty sure that’s because its current style is 1770s and afterwards, when robings were no longer used.  So this is one of a few places where I danced on the line between reproduction and reconstruction.

First task of the day, therefore, was to cut and sew up the robings.  They were sewn up into tubes using whip-stitch, then pressed so the seam would be in the centre back of the robing pieces.

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I then pinned the robings onto the jacket, only to discover that I had really made them too short – they just looked plain funny.

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There was nothing for it, I’d have to lengthen them.  I don’t mind, though, when I have to do a bit of piecing on these.  Since it was such a common practice I feel that it adds an additional air of “authenticity”.  I lengthened the robings by about 2″.

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I was then ready to sew the robings to the jacket, which I did with slip stitches – taking care not to let any stitches show on the outer side of the robings.

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The final step was to sew eyelets into the centre back edges of the lining for the lacing that provides the fitting.

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In the end I decided not to sew on any ruched trimming because what I observed on the Museum of London example was also a 1770s or later addition.  I did observe several mid-century dresses with the robings left plain, and thought it would be nice to have one piece that didn’t cover them up.

Unfortunately, I was dork and didn’t take photos of the front all finished before it went on exhibit.  Ooops.  I do have a shot of the side-back, however.

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Studio-setting Shots

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7 Comments »

  1. Koreen Dowdell aka. Mummy Said:

    Question: How much time is envolved in producing this jacket?

  2. Gail Said:

    Hello,
    I saw your article in the Herald today and found it very interesting, way to think outside the box. Every book I read, these fabulous gown just appeared and as a seasmstress myself it’s overwhelming to think of the work involved in those conditions.
    I have made 1000 costumes in my day and owned The Costume Shoppe (then Fairytale Creations) I have ordered patterns from museums etc. and truly enjoy the process as you do.
    Goodluck!
    I will take the time to read thru your site and enjoy your process.

  3. Rebecca Said:

    I want one!
    Absolutely love your website, and the high quality images, careful explanations, and superbly detailed yet clear and easy to follow descriptions of what you’re doing and why. Thank you so much for such a fantastic project.

  4. Kara Leistyna Said:

    How long does it take for you to complete such a project? Where did you learn? I’m so impressed and in awe.

    • brocadegoddess Said:

      Thank you Kara,

      This reproduction project in its entirety (not including putting together the exhibition) took approx 5 months working 30-40hrs per week. The exhibition took an additional couple weeks to prepare and set up. At the moment I’m not sure how long each part of the project took, some garments/ensembles took longer than others.

      My sewing skills are a combination of some formal training, a lot of self-teaching, and a lot more practice. I’ve been sewing for over a decade. While I had never performed even close to this much hand sewing before, I knew the different stitches, so it was more a matter of deciding to dedicate myself to this much of it.

  5. […] a large bedskirt I found at a thrift store once upon a time.  I had used the main amount for this mid-18th century pet en l’air about 4-5 yrs ago.  I don’t recall any major issues with this pattern.  I probably just made […]

  6. Camilla Said:

    Just amazing how labour intensive this is. Congrats to the outcome! That is real authentical sewing…
    almost feel ashamed using the electrical sewing machine after studying your blog…


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