Thursday, June 5, 2014

HSF Challenge #10: Art - the skirts for the 18th century court gown

The 18th century court gown project is coming right along.  After this, it's just the bodice and the wig that's left and it'll be done!  The skirts on this monstrosity took a bit of thinking, actually.  There were several different ways I could have done it.  The major decision here was how to do that open front.  I had originally thought that it would be the most fabric-conservative if I just simulated the appearance by applying the fur trim.  But then I worried about that looking TOO false.  Even if I shortened the hem on the center panel and layered the fur, the whole piece would still move as one when I walked.  On the other extreme, making a full under petticoat seemed wasteful, and there was NO WAY that I was using up any more of that silk than I absolutely had to.  

So to compromise, what I ended up doing was making a single panel and attaching it to the ivory petticoat.  The panel is single width (45") wide and flat-lined with some of the leftovers of that lurid pepto pink cotton sheeting that I used to make the panniers.  I've given myself permission to machine sew all of the internal seams on this project, so that sped things up quite a bit.  I also basted the two layers together under each of the fur swags with a zig zag stitch on the machine.  This helped avoid puckering of the silk since the two layers were feeding under the machine's foot at a different rate.  The whole panel was then inserted into the waistband on the ivory petticoat and is currently held out with safety pins, although I'll go back and tack stitch it in place once I've decided just how much it needs to be stretched.  The panel is heavy, and is sagging  bit here on the dress form, but when I wear it over stays, there's enough waist-to-hip contrast that it stays up nicely.

The next decision had to do with cutting panels.  The ivory petticoat was cut in four panels, then pleated to curve up over the humps of the panniers.  The silk is so light, I was afraid of putting any vertical seams into it.  I could have flat-lined it, but then I'd have lost that lovely flowy feel of it.  So instead of cutting 46" long panels and sewing them together (2" longer than the petticoat), I just cut one long length of 45" wide fabric and wrapped it around.  Luckily, the pattern of the jacquard is intricate and not terribly direction-specific, so no worries there.  The cut ends were faced with 3" wide strips of cotton sheeting and red silk - the silk to keep it pretty if the ends flap open and the cotton to give me something weighty to attach the fur to.  This left me just a touch short on length.  One of the patterns that I had been playing around with was of the 1751 coronation robes of Queen Louise Ulrica of Sweden (as patterned out in History of Costume, From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century by Blanche Payne).  In this dress, there was a keyhole-shaped piece of fabric that went over the top of the panniers that the panels were sewn into.  S and X being the front and back at the waist and V being the most lateral point of the hips.

I set up the panniers and petticoat on the dress form, then took the single length of skirt and made a narrow hand sewn hem along one selvedge.  I then pinned the piece to the petticoat adjusting so that I had an even hem all the way around.  I took a piece of scrap cotton and laid it over the gaping holes above each hip and outlined the shape of the piece that I needed to fill it in.  I cut a pair of these out of the silk and used a narrow strip of fabric to face a slit just a bit forward of the center of each piece so that I could access pockets.  The narrow ends are for wrapping tot he front and were faced with silk that had been flat-lined with the cotton.  These are the bits where the vertical strips of fur will hang down from and, as they'll just be pinned to the stomacher, they needed to be finished.  The larger, sweeping curve was left with 1/2" seam allowance as it'll be sewn into the back waist of the bodice.

Instead of making large box pleats, like I did on the petticoat, I gathered all of the excess fabric over the hips.  I turned under a narrow seam on the keyhole piece and basted it in place, then pinned it to the skirt panels so that it only just covered the narrow selvedge and the entire thing was whip stitched into place.

Showing off just how much narrower I got the panniers to go by tightening the internal ties a bit.

And the specifics for the Historical Sew Fortnightly:
What the item is: the skirts for my 18th century court gown project
The Challenge: #10 Art
Your inspiration: portrait of Queen Maria Carolina, painted by Francesco Liani, ca. 1770s
Fabric: red silk jacquard with leaf and scroll pattern, "grizzly" synthetic fur, some of the pepto pink cotton sheeting leftover from the panniers project for flat-lining and facings.
Pattern: none/draped
Year: 1770s
Notions: cotton thread
How historically accurate is it? Pretty damn close
Hours to complete: around about 14, me thinks
First worn: it's for the gala at Costume College
Total cost: $150-ish

Also, holy crap, these things are HUGE!  I was as wide as the kitchen.  I know I'm not the only one showing up to the Costume College gala in a court gown, so I just have to wonder.  Has anyone thought about how on earth we're all supposed to sit down for dinner?  Will everyone in a hoop skirt be sorted to the left to sit at the tables with chairs spaced farther apart?

I suppose that if we get kicked out of the hotel for partying too hard, we can always camp out under it.  ;)


  1. I ended up choosing not to make one, because time ran away from me, but I am looking forward to seeing how everyone fits in the room. It's going to be hilarious.

    1. I just picture us with our skirts folded up with the sides stacked on top of our neighbor's. It ought to be interesting, for sure.

  2. I'm so glad to see someone else still making a court gown! It seems like so many people have given up on them for this year. You can look at my progress on my LJ if you like:

    1. I was so stoked to get to be a part of a group project my first time going to Costume College, too. I'm sure there are more of us still plodding along than it seems, but still. And thank you for the link. It's nice to see how other people are tackling the project. I wasn't impressed with my attempt at engageants, either. I think that there's just no good way to fake that delicate look without going for the really pricey materials and I've got to draw the expense line somewhere.