(Ou en francais: Robe a la Francaise)
The sack I am making is a sort of combination reproduction:
The bulk of the pattern (gown and petticoat) comes from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I : a “sack dress with a matching petticoat and a buttoned ‘compere’ or false front; c. 1770-75 Snowshill Manor” (now at Berrington Hall); pg 34. I was very silly and did not think to examine this particular example when I visited Berrington, so am muddling through as best I can with the pattern as laid out by goddess Janet.
The other influence for this ensemble is a dress in the Museum of London’s collection: accession #53.101/14; a pale blue sack dress c. 1760-70. I will be trimming the reproduction in the same manner as this dress with ruched, padded, and pinked strips of self fabric. Other elements from this dress that I’m replicating are: the lacing in the bodice centre back seam to allow fitting adjustments; double as opposed to treble flounced falling cuffs; making a separate stomacher (now missing from the original garment) instead of a compere front.
The sketch below illustrates this amalgamation. It is a copy of the sketch in Patterns of Fashion for the pattern I used, with the addition of trimmings and stomacher (as opposed to compere). The trimmings around the neckline, down the robings, and down the skirt front edges are taken directly from the gown at the Museum of London.
The stomacher and petticoat trimming are projections of my own based on other artifacts I observed during my two months in England. If you think this is a sketchy form of practice and too close to “made up”, let me know – especially if you have any alternative suggestions for me. The reason I have chosen not to leave these plain is that, from what I have seen and read so far, these components of a 1760s ensemble would have been made and trimmed to match the gown. But do give me your two cents!! I will not be trimming for a while yet as I am waiting on a scalloped pinker for finishing the edges of the self fabric strips that make up the trimmings.
– pale blue tabby (plain) weave 100% silk taffeta
– bleached plain weave 100% linen
– Gutermann 100% silk threads in white (col. no. 800) and pale blue (col. no. 143)
I cut out the gown pieces (back, bodice fronts, and skirt fronts), sleeves, bodice lining pieces (fronts and backs), and sleeve lining. I started with 8 1/3 yards of 60″ wide silk taffeta – we’ll see how much (if any) is left after I’ve finished all the cutting.
I sewed the long seams of the gown (centre back and skirt seams) including adding what would have been fabric joining seams. Silk fabrics of the 18th century were typically 18″-20″ wide, and panels were sewn selvedge to selvedge. In order to make the dress fit neatly into my fabric’s width, I added seams for a fabric of approx 19″ width.
The centre back fabric joining seams were sewn with small running stitches
As you can see here, I created the fabric joining seams by simply folding the material into a 1/4″ tuck. The reason I did not actually cut the fabric is because in original garments these would be selvedge edges, not raw and requiring overcasting to keep them from fraying. If I had cut the fabric extra time that would not have gone into original production processes would have been taken up in finishing the raw edges, or an inaccurate type of seaming would have been required.
The edges where the gown back and skirt front join are cut at angles, and thus have raw edges; this was a common feature among dresses I examined at the Museum of London. For these seams I turned under the seam allowances twice, tucking the raw edges in, then sewed with small running stitches again.
As you can see, I hemmed the dress as well, by folding the raw edge over twice into a narrow hem and slipstiching it. I also finished the front edges of the skirt in the same manner.
My lesson from Day 1: small running stitches take longer than you think – especially when you’re doing long seams of them!
In between Day 1 and Day 2 I realized that I had been a goof and forgot to leave the skirt side seam in the dress (where the dress back and skirt front are joined) open for pocket slits – D’oh! I therefore unpicked said seam to the length of slit given on Janet Arnold’s pattern, and finished the edges of the slits thusly:
Once the pocket slits were out of the way, I sewed the ‘fabric join’ seams in the petticoat front and back in the same manner as for the gown (refer to the first photograph).
Next I sewed the seams in both the silk and linen lining layers (say that 10x fast) of the sleeves. I have already pinned the two layers together along with the shoulders pleats, and don’t want to undo them. Therefore the photos show the sleeves roughly put together. The seams in the silk are lapped and sewn with what a running stitch that is long at the back and very small, almost like a ‘stab’ stitch on the right side. The seams in the linen are also lapped, but sewn with small slip stitches.
I then sewed the side, back shoulder, and centre back seams of the bodice lining. The first two of these seams are lapped and sewn with small slip stitches in the same manner as the sleeve lining seams. The centre back seam is sewn with backstitch, and only for 4 1/2″ from the top edge. Below this is left open; eyelets will be sewn to the edges for lacing.
Finally I pleated and pinned the back of the gown to create the sack-back for which this style is named, and the sides of the gown skirt. The former was done mostly because I wanted to see how it would look, the latter in preparation of sewing on the bodice fronts.
Because I was tired at the beginning of the day, I felt it was safer to start with simple sewing; so I sewed the side seams of the petticoat – remembering to make the pocket slits this time! These look very similar to those in the gown photographed above. Because I just couldn’t wait, and wanted a feeling of achievement, I then pleated up and basted the waistline. Here is what the petticoat looks like so far:
The next major achievement of the day was to sew the bodice fronts to the gown back. This meant sewning both a side and waist seam around a corner on the same piece. The side seams were lapped with the seam allowances facing towards the back of the gown and sewn with the same type of running stitch used on the sleeves.
The side seam was pretty straighforward. The waistline seam was a little trickier, but not as fiddly as I was expecting. I essentially mounted the bodice onto the skirt with the seam allowances facing upwards and sewed the seam with quite small slip stitches. Because the slip stitches are too small to go through all layers, I also basted the pleats together and down to the waist seam allowances with back stitches. The raw edges of all of this will be covered up by the bodice lining.
After this I began mounting the gown onto the bodice lining. I started by draping the bodice lining on my Judy, then I pinned the gown to it at the back neck along the sack-back pleats. I took this as my point of reference for the rest of the bodice. I smoothed the gown over the bodice lining, pinning it down as I went. Once this was done I took the whole thing off of Judy, basted the back pleats to the lining along the top edge where the stitching will eventually be concealed by the back neck yoke, and stitched down the pleats to the bodice for 4 1/2″.
Finally I stitched a line marked on the pattern that creates the fitted appearance of the gown despite the free flowing back pleats. Here is what I mean:
At the end of the day I just couldn’t resist putting the whole shebang together to see how it looks so far. I have to say it’s encouraging and I’m pretty excited about seeing it all done! Have a look-see yourself, and (as always) feel free to give feedback. There are likely some adjustments to make, I will fit the whole thing on a body in stays before continuing with the sewing that attaches the gown to the lining and sewing on the sleeves.
Well, I thought I didn’t have a set of 18th century stays in my size. Evidently it pays to keep track of what it in one’s “tickle trunk” (aka big corrugated carboard appliance box), because I was rummaging around in there the other day and found a pair I had completely forgotten about! So now Judy is sporting a set of stays, albeit of a slightly later period than the dress (c. late 1770s-80s). I think these suffice (despite not fitting Judy properly in the bust since her’s isn’t malleable) for now. Before I finish the ensemble up completely, I ought to have a proper set of stays, and will find a real body to put the whole thing onto; my own if need be.
I started with the sleeves today, but got myself a little mixed up. I misread a notation on Janet Arnold’s pattern and ended up trying to set one of the sleeves in backwards. Oops! After resolving that little issue, it still took a couple tries of pinning and placing to get them in properly.
Eighteenth century seamstresses used a particular procedure to set in sleeves. First they would sew the underarm portion of the armhole seam using backstitch. (I am going to go back through my artifact photos to double check just how much of a seam allowance should be left. At present it is 1″ but that is too much, at least for all the way round the armhole)
Then they would fit and pleat the sleeve head as necessary on the actual client (who would be wearing her set of stays) and tack them down to the linen lining shoulder piece with running stitches.
Finally, the robing would be laid over the shoulder to hide all the stitching, and was sewn to the back of the dress bodice, I used slip stitch for this.
Before I sewed down the ends of the robings to the dress, I lengthened them by piecing small scraps of fabric to the ends with backstitch, as I had found them a little bit short.
Once the sleeves were in and the robings stitched down I realized I had entered the finishing stage! The next step I took was finishing the back neck with a small triangular yoke, as is common on these garments. I folded under the edges 1/4″ and appliqued the yoke directly over the back neck edge with slip stitches.
My final task for the day was finishing inside the front edges of the bodice. I observed at the Museum of London and elsewhere that the linen lining was often folded under in such a way as to create a narrow sort of flap. I also noticed that this was frequently dotted with pin marks (as opposed to stitch marks, which look different), which strongly suggest these were used to pin stomachers to the bodice so that the silk itself would not get damaged.
I therefore replicated this in the linen lining of my dress, as well as tacking the underside of the robing to one of its own folds to help cleanly finish it (another practice I observed in artifact garments). All of this sewing was done using small running stitches.
This is how the bodice front is looking now.
I realized that there was in fact a number of things I could still do towards finishing this dress before my pinking tool arrives (hopefully soon, I’m getting antsy).
I started off by doing some cutting – of the top sleeve flounces and the stomacher pieces (silk and linen lining).
Then I got to some sewing. I finished the inside front edges of the bodice, sewing the lining to the insides of the robings and over the shoulders. This consisted primarily of turning under the raw edges of the linen lining and slip stitching them to the undersides of the silk. Some of this stitching shows on the right side of the garment, but only on the robings where it will be covered with trimming (if my pinking tool ever arrives).
Next I finished up the waistline seam of the bodice lining using small slip stitches to sew it to the seam allowance in the silk.
Next came the sleeve hems. These were finished by turning under the raw edges of both the silk and the linen towards each other, and sewing the bottom edge shut with small-ish running stitches in the blue thread. This ( and the finishing of the bodice inside front edges) was done in accordance with many (if not all) of the artifacts I examined. White thread was used for seaming the lining pieces together, but wherever the lining was sewn to the outer fabric of the garment coloured thread matching it was used even if it showed on the lining fabric.
That was most of the sewing for the day. I spent the rest of it cutting out strips for the bodice and skirt trimmings along with a piece that will be used to create the decorative flounce on the petticoat. The only other sewing I did today was piecing the trimming strips.
Oh wait, I almost forgot about the stomacher! (I literally did, thought I was done for the day and then remembered it *palm-to-forehead slap*)
I also apparently forgot to take a picture of it (*’nother smack*). I’ll try to get that done asap.
Although this says ‘Day 6’, it’s actually over 2 months later. Hence, my pinker has long since arrived and I’ve been working on pinking the decorative strips and flounces 1/2 hour per day for the last couple weeks.
Thus, today was the day to start trimming the sack – finally the really fun stuff!
I started with the trimming that runs down the front edges of the dress skirt. I began by gathering up the strips like so:
I then running stitched the trim to the skirt edge along the gathering line closest to the edge
I next pinned out the spacing of the ‘pouffes” that characterize the trimming of this ensemble. I had a feeling this wasn’t quite a period technique, but it’s what I could think of at the moment.
I then took small hunks of wool batting left over from the quilted petticoat (this is why you get extra of stuff) and stuffed them into the 1 1/2″ long spaces under the side of trim not yet stitched to fill out the central channel.
I finished it off by running stitching along the other gathering line to the skirt.
Now, I had started by sewing down each ‘pouf’ individually – stitching the fabric down between each ‘pouf’ – but soon found out this wasn’t necessary (thank goodness, because it was horribly tedious!). I discovered that I only needed to pin between each ‘pouf’ then stitch along the gathering line – the poufs hold themselves in place and separate – whew!
finally I scalloped the outer edge of the trimming every 3 pouffes.
With all the figuring and playing around with it the first side took 4 hours to do. Luckily, the other side took only 2 1/4.
Once the skirt front edges were done and trimmed, I moved onto the petticoat flounce. I was dork and forgot to take pictures of the process, but it’s really just the same thing as the front skirt edges.
Here’s how they both look all trimmed up and pretty!
As my last task of the day I sewed on the front waistband of the petticoat – however it appears I was a dork again and didn’t take pictures of this. I did take pictures for the back however, so the process can be seen on the next day.
As you may surmise, the first thing I did today was finish the petticoat waistband.