Sunday, August 16, 2015

18th century, again

Or, The Bird Dress!

Currently still under construction, but I'd venture to say the bulk of the construction is done. (Trim is a whole different animal...)

I know it's not very impressive over my under-petticoat, but you can't see any detail at all with the matching one!

You see - I'm hosting an 18thc tea at the Indian King Tavern ("can my friends and I play dress up and have tea here?? Yes? COOL"), and naturally I wanted a new dress! Naturally. I particularly wanted a specifically white-backed chintz cotton print. Why? I dunno, I don't have one of those yet? There are some lovely reproduction prints out there, but they're all on the pricey end. So I scoured one of my favorite ebay stores, as I've bought lovely Indian block-printed fabric for Regency frocks before, and two most excellent shawls. And I came up with this fabric, which made me happy.

It's not totally perfect, as it's a bit densely printed for a 1770s dress I think, and I found a grand total of one chintz fabric with a bird.
But it did exist! And they're even a similar type of bird!
But it was in a much better price range, and as I like to cheerfully remind people, I am not a reenactor! So I deem it quite Good Enough For Me.

Did the petticoat first:
Do plan on a flounce, but need to be certain that I can get important things like sleeves cut out first...
And then had to decide, did I want a full-length polonaise gown, or a polonaise jacket? Waffle waffle...Mocked up and cut out the lining (as that would be the same for either gown or jacket):
All cut from linen scraps, hence the weird CF piecing
...and really couldn't go any further without finally deciding what I was making! Cassidy's survey of the Galerie des Modes provided me with a halfway point - the circassienne. Most circassiennes seem to have a particular type of sleeve (that I'm not making), so I'm hesitant to call it a circassienne. Not every single one does, though - and I don't think a polonaise with a slightly shorter skirt is that wildly out of the realm of possibility, considering all the dozens of slight variation in 18thc dresses!

Don't quote me, though. ;)

Took these shots before hemming/sewing up the skirt seams, and I look completely miserable, but I'm actually quite pleased!
I didn't take any pictures of the draping process, as this is my first polonaise-type-thing, and I wasn't entirely sure I was going about it in the right order. When I make the nice polonaise I have (striped!) silk for, I'll see if I can manage a step-by-step.

Because I've heard a lot about how scary polonaises are to make (which seems to be bourne out by the fact that hardly anyone seems to make them, relative to other styles)...but I think they're really not any more difficult than a sack gown or an en-fourreau English gown! With the caveat that you be fairly familiar with 18thc dress construction and be comfortable with a certain amount of draping. But really. If you've made a sack or an en fourreau gown, you can make a polonaise!

Anyway. So as you saw, I had a fitted lining out of linen - you can do that, or you can make a stomacher, or a separate back-closing sleeveless bodice, but I think over a simple fitted lining is the easiest - and I used three widths of 30" fabric. One went over each front, and the third I ripped in half, so as to have a CB seam. I did the backs first as they didn't require much actual draping, just "is there enough fabric in the back pleats? yes? excellent."

The fronts took a bit more fussing - I draped them on my dressform initially and pinned, then did another fitting on myself. One side was perfect, other needed a bit of messing around and repinning, but nothing too horrible.

The loose fronts feel a bit silly - they blow open when I walk, for one, but I think trim will help with least to some extent! After it was hemmed, I took a few shots on Mabel, who doesn't fit in it as well, but it's easier to take close-ups on her! Not that you can see much detail anyway, with this busy print, but hey, I tried!
You really can't see it, but there are two vertical(ish) tucks under the arm to fit the looseness of the fronts.
Yes, those two tucks release into uneven pleats! I'm uneven, is why.
I'm currently working on some fiddly trimmings of the fronts and skirt, but when I get tired of that I should probably put on some sleeves...


  1. Looking good! Yes, the Polonaise fronts are fussy, which is why you noticed so few people are afraid to make them. There was a lot of variation, though, with how loose or how fitted the front pieces were. With the very loose, much less fuss, and really quite a flattering line. It will all look fantastic and perfect once you get all pieces and accessories put together, even if it feels weird now. :-)

    1. Thanks! I guess I'm so used to an 18thc gown being fitted within an inch of its life, these flappy fronts feel silly, haha. I'm happy to represent, though - they're all over period prints and illustrations, and they're a nice variation on All The Anglaises, All The Time! :D