After a ton of work, and many learning curves, I have finally finished the whole project, including a chemise, a pair of stays, a bumpad, two petticoats, a gown, and a stomacher. Although there are things that I could adjust, or would do differently if I did it again, I am still proud of how it came out.
The patterns that I used for this, the American Duchess patterns, were very good, but there were a few things that I wasn't thrilled with. I ended up drafting my own chemise pattern, since theirs was not very historically accurate. The patterns were easy to follow and understand, which was very important for such a large project. The instructions were simple and to the point, and I was never thrown for a loop about what to do. I loved the bodice pattern, and it looks very historically accurate to me according to dresses from the 1740s. If I made this pattern again, I would probably adjust the sleeves a bit. They were slightly more loose than I would have liked, and the darts were up quite high. The dart at the bottom of the sleeve is to fit the sleeve to your elbow, however they don't go down to my elbow, as you can see in some of the pictures. I also adjusted the stays quite a bit, but I was expecting to do that, since stays can be very tricky to get the fit right, and I was using cording and not boning, so I was not surprised when there were a few slight fit issues. Other than these unimportant little complaints, I loved the patterns and I would definitely use them again, just with a few 'improvements'.
This ensemble took me about four months, starting in late September, and finishing just a few days ago. I used Ikea fabric for the undergarments and gown (a muslin and a thick cotton), and a cotton sateen sheet for the over petticoat and stomacher. The lace on the stomacher is a gorgeous vintage lace that was given to me as a gift. The stomacher was finished off with a ribbon 'flower' that I made, and some hand crocheted lace at the top that I have had for a long time.
I had an incredible time creating this, and I feel like my sewing skills have improved from before the project to now.
Now for the fun part.
I’m going to focus on two specific parts of 18th century fashion; the 1740s, since that is the time that my gown is based off of, and the late 1700s. I find the late 1700s and the early 1800s fascinating fashion-wise, since so much changes in such a short amount of time. A large amount of that change is thanks to Marie Antoinette.
By the 1740s, fashion had changed quite a bit from the beginning of the century, but the basics were the same. Court dress did not change in most countries for a long time.
An everyday outfit for a woman would include a chemise and stays, bum pad or small panniers (boned ‘baskets’ that were tied around the waist to create the popular shape), multiple petticoats, and then the top gown or skirt and top worn. A state of ‘undress’ in the 18th century is not what undress is now. Undress was just a more casual outfit that was worn during the day. It was an everyday look, versus an outfit for a formal occasion. It normally included a short jacket with a skirt. Outfits were often finished with stockings and shoes (Louis heels were very popular at the time), an apron, and a hat and gloves to leave the house. Fashion in the 1740s was more about adding width to the hips. This look was achieved with panniers of various sizes. For court dress, or full dress, panniers were much larger than any other event. Court dress in the 1740s consisted of a mantua, which was a stiff bodice. A mantua changed with the times later and became a more loose bodice. Sack-back gowns started in this era. A sack-back gown is a bodice with pleats in the back, making it very loose and flowy. This started as a undress fashion, but as the fashion changed through the century and became more casual, the sack-back became part of full dress fashion. Another more casual look that was created around this time was the sacque. This had the loose pleats of the sack-back with a unfitted front, and was a welcome change from the stiff court gowns that used to be in fashion. Sleeves were quite wide during the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Fabrics that were used more often were velvets, silks, damasks, and other heavy textiles for formal garments, and linens and cottons for informal and undergarments.
As the times changed and more wars were fought, the style became more relaxed. Lighter fabrics were used, such as Indian cotton and silks, and the colours that were popular were pastels. The gowns were less formal during the late 18th century. Sleeves more more fitted, and bum pads were used more than panniers, shifting the weight more to the back than to the side. Decorations became more light and frothy versus the heavy beading and embroidery that was popular in the first half of the century. Another change that came near the end of the century was different textiles from other countries (such as silk from China and cotton from India and the colonies), as well as changes in how the fabric was made.
Marie Antoinette had a huge hand in changing the styles from very formal to more relaxed. Since the European countries often looked to France for style advice, any changes in French gowns moved throughout Europe.
Marie Antoinette was said to have hated the stiff styles of the court at the time. The most well known change in fashion that came directly from Marie Antoinette is the Chemise a la Reine. It was a big deal when she started wearing this at the time since it mirrored undergarments, since it was normally made out of a light linen or muslin, and it was quite unstructured compared to earlier styles. The Chemise a la Reine is related to the styles of the early 19th century (think Jane Austen), and it is said that her clothes were the inspiration to the new, simple style that came in after the French Revolution. This is actually very ironic because the whole reason that the fashion changed so drastically, so quickly, is because everyone was trying to follow the extreme ideas that the French Revolution was based on. The ideas were fully against the luxurious and wasteful way that the monarchy was living, however the clean style was created by the woman who was hated for her lavish spending.
The style of the late 1700s was quite a bit different from the early 1700s, and much of that adjustment was because of the Queen of France. Hemlines raised to about the ankles, and the gowns were more classic and uncluttered. The Round Gown became popular, as well as the Robe a l’Anglaise, which was worn either the English way (with the skirt down), or retrousse (with the over skirt drawn up to create a more fluffy look). The colours that were used were lighter, closer to our vision of Rococo today, with the pastels and elaborate hair styles. Although Marie Antoinette made the gowns themselves simpler, she also created the crazy 18th century hair, which huge hats, ships, and birdcages, as well as anything else you feel like putting in your hair.
Before I show you the finished project, I must talk about what was going on in the world at the time. The 18th century is a fascinating era to look at.
I love researching history, and seeing how fashion is influenced by current events. For example, during World War One, the skirts became shorter and slimmer since there was less fabric. The same thing happened in World War Two, and we can see the celebration of the end of the second world war in the 1950’s, when the New Look became popular, with the wider, longer skirts.
The same things happened during the 18th century.
First, let's talk about some of the major events of this time.
The French court became a huge power in the 17th century, and it thrived under the rule of Louis XIV, The Sun King. He made France the dominant country on fashion and the arts. This power continued on into the 18th century with Louis XV, who came into power in 1715 after the death of the Sun King. With the new king, Baroque left fashion and Rococo became the style. It's delicate, feminine style is still popular to this day. The Classical style took over in the last half of the century because of international trade. Asian influences are easily seen in dress and design in the late 1700s, when the best silk made it's way from China to Europe and the new world. The boom in textile trade and the creation of new technologies in the latter part of the 18th century was the start to the Industrial Revolution.
Back to the beginning of the new century- although Louis XV continued on with France's art and fashion industries, he was not successful in actually leading the country. He was passionate about hunting and women, and he didn't even try to govern France. He racked up debts by continually engaging in wars, and his efforts in lessening the people's depression were never successful. When he died in 1774, he was one of France's most hated kings.
Louis XV’s grandson, Louis XVI became the next king, along with one of France's most infamous royals- Marie Antoinette. The pair were not fit for ruling a country: he was apathetic in unfit for his role, and she was frivolous and immature. They were also very young. King Louis XVI was only 20 years old when he got the throne. He was also handed a very difficult job, since the last king left debts and a country full of people who were learning to hate the monarchy.
In the late 1700s, France agreed to help America revolt against Britain. This was a way for France snub Britain, but it ended up being far more costly than they thought. This pushed France down the rabbit hole and their debts grew. The American revolution also put ideas into the French soldiers heads about rebelling against the throne. The soldiers came back with these dangerous ideas in their heads and that, along with the increasingly high prices of necessities such as bread, were the beginning of the brutal and bloody French Revolution. The people of France succeeded in dethroning their King and Queen, as well as beheading them. France's turmoils did not end with the century, but instead continued on until the rise of Napoleon in 1804.
France wasn’t the only country with issues during the 18th century. In fact, the UK might have actually been worse off at this point in time. Britain had many issues with power, starting with Bonnie Prince Charlie. If you read or have been watching Outlander, you would be pretty well informed of the issues that went on in Scotland during this time. During the 1740s, Scotland tried to get the ‘true king’, Charles Edward Stuart, on to the British throne. He was part of the second Jacobite rebellion. Both of the rebellions failed, and Scotland went through a horrible time of drought and brutalities. The English soldiers stormed through the country stealing and raping, and thousands of men who were suspected of being a part of the Jacobite rebellion were either imprisoned, sent to the Americas, or hanged.
Many Scotts went to the Americas, and were a part of the American Revolution 40 years later. After losing the Americas after the revolution, Britain was in a pretty bad way. They suffered through debt and droughts, and taxes went sky high until the end of the century, when a war with France brought up the price of tin, copper, and many other things.
This turbulent time made people become more creative when it came to what they wore, so we have some very interesting clothes that came out of this. I will talk about how all of this affected fashion in the next post.
After a long slog, I have finally completed the the base of the project. This was the toughest part of the project, since it included many difficult pieces. The hardest part of the whole costume so far has been the stays. I am already pretty far in the process of creating the actual gown, and it has been much easier and quicker to put together than the parts that I have finished, mainly because I don't have to do any boning or boning channels. The cording on the stays was very difficult, since I have never done that much cording on something before, but I am pretty pleased with the final result.
I didn't finish the chemise until after the stays, since I wanted to use them as a way to measure where to cut the neckline of the chemise. I wanted to make sure that the chemise was low enough that it wouldn't be visible from underneath the dress, but I also didn't want it to be too low and wide that it would slip off my shoulders. The neckline is a bit wider than I would have liked, but it works perfectly with the stays.
As I have mentioned before, I did not make the stays exactly as they would have been made in the 18th century. I made some adjustments to make it a bit easier for myself, since I have never made anything like this before. First of all, I used cording instead of boning. This made the garment less stiff, so it is much easier for me to get used to it. Wearing fully boned stays take a long time to get accustomed to, and I wanted to not only make it a bit easier for me to sew, but also easier for me to actually wear.
The petticoat is 8 pieces, overall. The front and back are just pleated on to the waistband. The top petticoat will be made the same way, just in a blue cotton. The skirt is made so that there are two slits in the side so that if I make pockets for myself, I can reach them. The gown and top petticoat will also have these slits, to make sure that I could easily reach anything in my pockets. I will not be making pockets for this project, but I may later on, and I would like to keep that option open.
Next post I will show the details of the mock-up, and the finished bodice.
I have finished the under garments of my project, and am well on my way to being finished the bodice of the dress. Before I show you the final products that will be worn underneath the gown, here's the petticoat in progress.
And here is a sneak peak of all the undergarments on. This was taken before the skirt was hemmed. I am also wearing the mock-up of the bodice in this photo.