I’ve been in a pretty serious relationship with this garment for the past three months so i’m really excited to FINALLY be sharing the process and finished piece with you guys.
This is going to be a really long post so i’ll start with an image of the finished product, hopefully that will give you the motivation needed to make it to the end!
Isn’t it beautiful?
Let’s go back to the beginning. At the start of 2015 I came across this painting of Sophie Marie Grafin Voss by Antoine Pesne and I fell in love. I’ve always been a fan of the structure and details on 18th century riding habits, but i’ve never seen an image of one that really inspired me until I came across this.
Although the beading and details are beautiful, they are also ridiculously impractical, as are the short sleeves and deep neckline. But that’s what I like about it. It’s very different from most of the riding habits* you see and it perfectly combines the traditional frills and details you’d find in an 18th century women’s wardrobe with the very structured menswear inspired design that riding habits are famous for.
So I decided to
make it something similar to it.
*This isn’t really a riding habit. I’ve titled this post that way because it’s the most common term for riding jackets which is what this garment actually is. Riding habits were a combination of matching garments worn for riding. This is just a riding jacket paired with a more traditional 18th century dress.
In December I finally began work on the piece.
The first step was drafting the pattern. This was surprisingly easy since I used the pattern I made for the bodice that goes underneath this jacket as a guide. I changed up the seaming a little bit, lowered the neckline, added larger seam allowances, lengthened each piece by a lot, and made the pieces wider to the bottom so the skirt of the jacket would have a lot of volume.
I also changed the pattern to have a front closure instead of back laces, since those obviously wouldn’t be appropriate for a jacket!
This is the altered front panel.
I did not make a mock up for this jacket. Mostly because I didn’t have any fabric around that was thick enough to create an accurate mock up (muslin does not lay the same way as heavy wool). But also because I was feeling pretty confident about the pattern since the bodice I based it off of fit really nicely. And since the jacket was patterned with 3/4″ seams I could let it out pretty significantly if it was too small, and I could always add gores to make the skirt of the jacket bigger.
So I laid all the pieces out onto my wool melton fabric and cut them out. I packed the pieces as tightly as I could on the material since I was a little bit worried that I might have to recut some of them and wanted as much material as possible to be left over.
And the back panels.
I sewed together the back panels first, backstitching and cutting the thread just below the waistline so the bottom eighteen inches of the seam was left open. The seam was pressed and the unsewed edges were folded inward by three quarters of an inch. Then I sewed the edge down so there was a finished slit at the back of the jacket.
Then the side back seams were done up. I was really pleased with the draping at the back, even though it looks a bit wonky on my dress form.
I pinned the shoulder and side seams up and did a quick fitting of the jacket overtop of the panniers and stays. It fit well enough but there was a lot of bunching at the waist since I hadn’t accounted for the angle of the panniers. This was easy to fix, I just added a horizontal dart to the waistline.
After another fitting I felt comfortable moving forward. The jacket seemed really large at the side seams but I didn’t want to take it in right away since I knew the embellishments on the front of the jacket would stiffen it significantly and change the ease and fit of the front panels.
I drew the trim pattern onto the front panels with chalk. Unfortunately I couldn’t get them spaced perfectly, or as far apart as they were in the reference photo.
After another fitting I realized the lace needed to extend farther down. If i’d noticed that initially I could have spaced them farther apart and made them look a lot better. But I didn’t. And by the time I noticed the problem my only option was to add a sixth strip of trim to each side.
Speaking of the trim! The one i’m using is from the seller LaceTime on etsy. It was four bucks for two yards and I used four yards in total. Traditionally braided trims and cords would be used on riding jackets but since this one is so fancy I decided to go with lace instead.
I should also mention that I chose to make the detailing of this jacket gold instead of silver (which is the color it probably was) because I thought it looked more striking against the red.
Here the lace is sewn on to one side, and pinned to the other. Since the spacing was off on my jacket this lace ended up being too wide. So I folded the edges inward to keep it inside the lines I marked.
I may have accidentally sewn some of this lace on upside down and not noticed until the jacket was almost finished. Oops.
Since the edges of the lace were folded over they looked really bulky. The lace also wasn’t super even since it was difficult to precisely fold the edges over. The end result looked pretty sloppy, and I wasn’t happy with it at all.
So I decided to add an extra step to the embellishment process. I densely stitched sequins around each edge of the lace and overtop of any gaps in the lace where the base was visible. I did this with red thread so it would blend in with the material and better integrate the lace with the fabric.
This took forever. So many sequins went into this. Each piece of lace took around two hours to embellish, that’s more than twelve hours of sequining just on the front panels! But it looked beautiful and added a lot of depth to the lace.
Then the beading began. For this I used two different sizes of gold seed beads and beige colored thread. I followed the pattern of the lace, stitching between the covered cord that makes up the design.
This is when the lace really started to transform. Above you can see the difference between the side that has beads sewn on and the side without. These really changed the color of the lace, and added a lot more depth and texture to the piece.
Once I was done beading the lace I tried the jacket on. Here it looks really bulky since I had tons of excess fabric pinned into the side seams but you can get a rough idea of how it was looking.
I also did a test for pocket cover placement, which is what that funny thing on the right side is supposed to be!
This fitting made me realize that I had to take the waist in by more than two inches and fold the front edge over by two inches instead of the planned one inch. Guess my worries about the jacket being too big were for nothing!
With the body of the jacket coming along well I drafted a sleeve pattern.
Then those were cut out and I used chalk to mark the trim placement on them.
The lace was pinned, then sewn on.
And sequined, then beaded with the same technique use on the front of the jacket.
Here you can see the beading part way done. Really shows how much the beading transforms this lace!
With the lace completely beaded I moved onto the tassels. On the left you can see the four different types of beads I used for each tassel. All these beads are slightly different in color and finish which makes the tassels look a bit more interesting.
On the right you can se the two different types of beads that were used on the lace.
Each tassel is made up of eight strands, which are a little over an inch long.
Finished tassels on sleeves.
And finished tassels on the jacket.
To hide the tops of the tassels I added buttons. I realize embroidered buttons are a lot more historically accurate, but I didn’t have enough coverable buttons left and I wanted to finish this project. I’ll probably end up replacing these in the future with something more accurate.
Then again glass seed beads aren’t very 18th century appropriate either but I used plenty of them, so perhaps it doesn’t matter too much!
Here are all the buttons sewn onto the jacket.
Now it was time to make the pocket covers. Which are, like everything on this project, just decorative. I used all but three inches of the gold lace on the jacket so I had to raid my stash for something that would work for the pocket covers. Luckily I came across a different gold lace, which was just the right shape. I used that as a guide for patterning the pocket covers, then cut the covers out from interfaced wool.
Then the lace trim was pinned and sewed on.
And the sequining process resumed. These took even longer to do than the trim on the jacket but it sure looks pretty!
I didn’t like the visible organza in the lace so I covered that with gold seed beads. Then I stitched clear montees into the circular loops of the lace.
I sewed the pocket covers onto the front panels and finished them off with a button.
Here is one of the finished front panels!
And all the beaded panels together. I think I spent more than eighty hours hand stitching beads and sequins onto this project. I was sick of it at times but for the most part I really enjoyed the process. I find beading really calming, and I would love to do more of it on future projects.
It also ended up being pretty convenient since I could do it in front of the TV. I worked on this through the first four seasons of Downton Abbey and a bunch of Top Gear episodes.
I did one last fitting before sewing everything together. I ended up taking it in at the waist a bit more, raising the sleeves at the shoulder, and taking it in at the shoulder. Then I sewed the side seams and attached the sleeves.
During this fitting I realized the jacket was wayy too long at the back, so I removed more than four inches of fabric from the hem. Then I turned the hem inward by an inch and sewed it in place.
The cuffs also got hemmed.
And so did the neckline. Shortly after taking this picture I lined the sleeves and secured the lining to the interior of the cuffs.
Now it looked like a proper coat!
I turned the front edge inward by two inches until I reached the waist, the rest of the front panel was only turned inward by an inch.
Then I sewed in the hooks and eyes. THERE WERE SO MANY. I used all the size two hooks and eyes I had, which was 19 in total. They aren’t spaced evenly, so they don’t look too pretty, but they line up perfectly so i’m happy.
At this point the coat was wearable, but it still wasn’t finished. I roughly pinned the lining in.
After making sure the lining wasn’t restricting the drape of the jacket I pinned it in properly.
And sewed it in place. This lining fabric isn’t historically accurate at all but it makes the jacket much easier to get on and off, and that’s what matters to me!
And the jacket is finished! I chose not to further embellish the neckline or hem, since I didn’t feel the jacket needed it, and i’m happy with that decision. I really love the way it turned out. I had so much fun beading this, and the fact that the fit turned out so well delights me to no end. I definitely think this is my most successful 18th century inspired garment that i’ve made so far, and it’s certainty my favorite from a visual aspect.
I’m really proud of it. And that’s a nice feeling!
Of course there are a couple things I would change. Mostly the spacing of the lace. It would have looked so much better and been way more flattering if I had spaced them properly and only used five pieces on each side. Then I could have used the full width of the lace and the wider lace would have made my torso look longer and more narrow.
But other than that I think it’s pretty great! Not exactly like my reference photo, but pretty great all the same.
Divots in the wool once again gahh. Luckily they aren’t all that noticeable when it’s worn.
Here is a teaser photo from the photoshoot I had with this project. This was my first time wearing the ensemble, and I was rushing because of the snow so I don’t think it shows the jacket in its best light. The bodice was slipping at the shoulders, which caused the jacket to sit lower on the shoulder than it should, and the sleeves ended up bunching. I think i’ve fixed the bodice to rest higher on the shoulders so it should wear much better next time!
I’m also going to (eventually) add buttons to the centerfront of the jacket. That was always part of the plan but I forgot to set aside buttons for it and used them on a different project by mistake!
So that’s it. It’s always weird finishing a project i’ve invested so much time in (ninety hours!) but i’m looking forward to starting new things. And this beauty has a proud resting place on a hook in my sewing room so I can look at it whenever I like!
I’ll be posting about the dress and the hat soon. Thanks for reading!