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1780s Plum Satan Gown

No, that’s not a typo, this project really was that awful. Ever have a project where you love the fabric so much, and are just so excited to work with it, but then it all just goes to hell? Yeah… I won’t recount every painful detail of how this dress fought me, but there were three different bodice iterations, I redid every seam multiple times, and I still ended up with something I’m not thrilled with. Silk satin is beautiful and gorgeous and evil. But enough whining, on to construction!

The dress is made from a beautiful wine or plum colored silk satin from Burnley and Trowbridge, lined in lightweight linen. For styling I wanted a mid to late 1780s style, with a narrow back and exaggerated back bodice point; something simple that would let the fabric shine, and that could also work as a day dress or evening dress depending on the accessories. For patterning and construction, I mainly referenced the 1780-1790 gown on pages 42-43 of Patterns of Fashion 1, and Diagram XXII of the Robe a l' Anglaise gown in The Cut of Women’s Clothes. I also spent A LOT of time staring at extant dresses to get a good understanding of the construction and placement for the back seams, shoulder seams, sleeves, etc.

The dress is entirely hand sewn in a similar manner as my 1790 blue figured jacket. The back was assembled using “Stitch with No Name” or the English stitch, where the edges of the outer fabric and lining  are turned in and then the pieces are whipped together. The edges of the front bodice pieces were then finished with the Le Point a Rabattre Sous La Main stitch, and were fitted at the side and finished with a lapped seam. All the back seams were boned with narrow artificial whale bone. Finally, the shoulder straps were fitted and the sleeves set (so much sleeve fiddling!).  The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Clothing  wonderfully illustrates the construction steps for a gown like this, which I didn’t follow exactly, but definitely used as a reference point. It was nice to have something new to augment what I have already learned about 18th century dress construction over the years.

The skirt panels were stitched together, pleated at the top, and then leveled and shaped to fit over the false rump and match the curve of the bodice, with a split in the center back to accommodate the point. They were then attached to the finished bodice bottom with a spaced backstitch, and I added a row of catch stitching a few inches down the skirt, to keep the pleats in place. To save fabric (since I kept messing up on the bodice), the top of the back petticoat panel was pieced with a coordinating silk taffeta.

Originally when I made the dress in the spring of last year, I added some antique lace around the neckline and sleeves, like you see in so many portraits of the mid to late 1780s. However, I didn’t like it in the end, so I when I wore it to Costume College this year, I paired it with a collared chemisette (more on that in another post), simple sleeve ruffles, and sheer kerchief tied around my hair. I also added hoop and pearl earrings from Dames a la Mode, and some vintage silk flowers in my hair. You see this sort of simplified, relaxed styling in a lot of portraiture, particularly French, and it’s a look I find very appealing and very natural. I hope to wear the dress again to get more photos, maybe tweaking some things on the fit, and refining the accessories.

Posted: 10/25/2018 11:32:02 AM by Aubry | with comments
Filed under: 1780s
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Project Details

Mid 1780s Plum Satin Gown