So, picking up the saga from my first post on sewing an 18c outfit ...
I decided I needed a shift (the sleeves on my cotton medieval chemise were far too full to fit inside the very fitted ones of an 18c gown), basic stays (I planned to make a cardboard mockup as phase one of fitting for “real” ones, and I’d heard of at least one person wearing the mockup to an event, so that couldn’t be so bad, could it?), an under-petticoat made over from an old linen skirt, and a basic gown and matching petticoat. I’d purchased some linen, both white and natural, on sale a few months ago. I was working from plans I’d found online at a source recommended by those experienced in the hobby of period reenacting. This meant no pattern as such, just measurements taken on myself and then translated to lines, angles and curves on a folded length of fabric. (I found the shift instructions on marariley.net. Great site overall for information on period dress!)
|First attempt at cutting out the body of the shift|
I’ll spare you the bulk of the story, but my first attempt at a shift resulted in a garment that was absolutely HUGE. A fellow seamstress very kindly gave me a piece of linen she’d purchased then found unsuitable for what she’d wanted, so I tried again. Much better—the neckline is still too wide, but I realized the directions are intended for use of a drawstring, which I didn’t plan on doing. (There’s actually less provenance for a drawstring neckline than a plain, flat seam.)
Coming up with a workable cardboard stays mockup was also interesting. Using a JP Ryan pattern for mid-18th century stays, I cut each piece separately, minus seam allowances, the boning lines parallel with the corrugation, then taped them together.
(See how the tabs stick straight out, especially along the back and sides?)
Wearing them was both easier
and harder than I expected. Easier, in that I expected the support aspect but
they weren’t as constricting as I was afraid they might be. I could move around easily, although they
certainly make you sit up and pay attention to your posture, which was their intended
purpose. Harder, in that I experienced some cramping across my hips after
wearing them for longer than 20 minutes. I kept reminding myself I only had to be
able to wear them for a couple of hours, and that real stays would, by all
accounts, be much more comfortable. In search of a better fit, I cut new pieces—shorter
this time, and made them front-lacing with a stomacher (a separate, roughly
triangular piece for the front), which didn’t work very well. In desperation, I
reinforced the front sections, which had buckled a little in the fitting, and
made it more closely laced in front, then with lots of tape reinforcement across
the tabs to make them lie down, called it mostly good.
|First stays mockup, taped and ready for laces|
|The first stays mockup--so long! So awkward!|
|My second mockup, shift, and petticoat|
Finally, it was time to take the plunge on the gown. Using the JP Ryan pattern for a gown l’anglaise, I first did a bodice mockup in unbleached muslin (right now it doubles as the lining—I might redo it later in linen). The fit was decent enough, so with much fear and trembling, I began cutting on the fabulous lightweight worsted wool suiting I’d found online. It’s described as “maroon” but depending upon the light, it looks cranberry or claret. Regardless, it was wonderful to work with. The bodice went together fairly well ...
... and then came the skirt, with its yards of hand
pleating, and eventually sewing—by machine, because it’s an area that won’t
show. I did have to redo a bit of the seam, near the point of the back, since
it puckered and bunched the first time.
|Pleating the skirt before attaching|
|That point is awfully bunchy ...|
Once I had the lining mostly in and put together the matching petticoat, I had to try everything on again. I pinned the front with a few long florist’s pins, and my daughter helped me mark a hem. That was just a couple of days before the conference ....
The gown wouldn’t really be “finished,” but I did manage to get white linen sleeve flounces put in. At the last minute I decided to go with pinning the front closed, and guess what? It was also easier than I expected to weave the pin in and out, and make it secure. I felt a strange new fellowship with the women of the eighteenth century ...
So, I wore my gown for the ACFW conference and had a fabulous time, but after about three hours, my hips and lower back were in some moderate pain. I sadly exchanged the ensemble for a hot shower and comfy modern clothes. By the time I left the conference, I’d decided to get at least the skeleton of a pair of real stays finished by the time my book launch party rolled around—they couldn’t be any worse than the cardboard mockup—but that’s a tale for another segment!
|The lovely Beth Goddard & I at ACFW|
(Since I came home from conference to the news of a job offer out of state for my husband, and an impending move, my attending the author signing at the November reenactment is currently in question, but I promise to finish with either a recap of that or a review of what I’ve learned about this particular brand of research! Thank you all so much for your patience.)