I’m not sure how interesting this post will be – I took a lot of photos of the process, and have a lot to say about making this, but the garment itself is kind of boring. But it’s my most recent project, and i’m in the mood to write about it, so here we go!
Last week I decided to start on something new. I had just finished a few projects and wanted to make something simple before starting on the complicated projects I have planned (like the 18th century gown mentioned in this post, and an 1880s bustle dress).
During a clearance sale I picked up eight yards of striped yellow fabric (reduced down to less than two dollars a yard!) which seemed perfect for this season and a simple project. I browsed a few blogs for inspiration and eventually came across a scanned pattern from Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930* which depicts a “Round Robe” from the 1790s.
I don’t own the book this pattern comes from, but i’ve heard nothing but good things about it and frequently reference another pattern book by Norah Waugh, which is called Corsets and Crinolines*. So I had high hopes that this pattern would be easy enough to follow, and within a few days I would have a lovely summer dress.
Spoiler alert, that didn’t happen!
I resized the pattern in photoshop, then traced it onto newsprint. The pattern and reference photo i’m using can be seen here, on this blog. I added seam allowances to the pieces and made the bodice panels slightly wider. I also lengthened all the bodice panels by an inch and a quarter so it wouldn’t be as high waisted.
This is when I encountered pattern problem number one. The sleeve lining pattern was significantly shorter than the sleeve pattern, and a completely different shape. This is sometimes done with puffed sleeves to help hold their shape, but these are straight sleeves that wouldn’t require that. And since the lining was so much shorter, I couldn’t see how the sleeves would be sewn together…which makes me wonder why you would have a different pattern for lining at all.
Not to mention that the sleeves were weirdly long compared to the sketch shown on the pattern. I took more than an inch off of each pattern just to make them look right. I also made the cuffs wider and let them out at the shoulder.
At this point I probably should have realized the pattern might have some issues and made a mock up…but I didn’t do that.
I cut out the back panel, sewed the darts, and marked all the pleats with stitching.
The pleats were ironed, the pinned in place and sewn down by hand.
The pleated panel is supposed to sit overtop a layer of lining, which looks like this…
But the lining was too big to match up with the pleated panel, so I took it in by a half inch.
Then a bunch of things happened. I sewed on the straps, and stitched the pleated panel onto the back. I tried to finish the arm holes with lace tape, then turn them inward, but that was a disaster. The fabric had too much tension on it and puckered horribly. I ended up cutting the lace off and attempting to use bias tape as a facing.
That didn’t look great either, but it was better, so I moved forward and used more bias tape to turn the top edge inward. Then I did a fitting and it was bad. I mean considering I didn’t make a mock up it was okay, but it was pretty uncomfortable at the shoulder, and the arm openings were too tight so they dug into my skin.
Plus the thing looked messy as hell. I wasn’t very excited to wear this or proud of how it was coming along.
So I started over! Step one was making some pattern alterations. I cut down the arm opening and decided to sew the straps on with smaller seams (giving me an extra inch of room). I also let the sides out slightly and cut my seam allowances down to a half inch instead of three quarters of an inch. This makes changing the fit more difficult, but it should make the fabric less prone to puckering around curved edges.
This time I constructed things a bit differently. The straps were sewn onto the lining layer right away.
And I cut a layer of lining for the…uh, lining layer. Which totally makes sense.
These were sewn together with the right sides facing each other. Then I clipped the curved edges and turned it the right way out. I sewed around each edge with running stitches to prevent the lining from showing (the stitching around the neckline was done by machine, the rest by hand).
The end result was so much better. It looks clean and none of the edges were fraying or puckering like they were on my first attempt!
I remade the pleated panels using the same method as the first time.
But I finished the edges of this separately from the edges of the lining. The top and side edges were ironed inward by a half inch, and the curved edges were finished with facings.
I sewed across the edges by hand and gave the piece a good iron.
I sewed the front edge of this panel onto the guideline marked on Norah Waugh’s pattern – this was done with slip stitches. But I left the curved and back edges pinned, they won’t be sewn on until after the strap is secured (which I did much earlier on my first attempt but regretted since it made the bodice much harder to work on).
The bottom edge was finished with bias tape to prevent fraying. Here you can see the front.
And the back. My pleated panels were a different size from the lining on this attempt as well, so I had to add darts to the lining once again, which you can see on the interior.
The lining was almost done at this point so I moved onto the overlay for the front panels. These were hemmed by hand with the help of lace tape, and are pleated at the shoulder.
Once I pinned them in place for a test fitting I ran into a little problem…they were way too short. Since I’d made the strap longer without altering these (they were cut out before I decided to start over) I knew they might be off by a little bit, but one side was off by an inch and the other was off by almost two inches!
Attempt number two! I made these longer at the hem and let them out at the shoulder. I also decided to make them a bit wider since i’d let out the bodice pattern slightly. Then hemmed them, folded the side edges inward, and pleated the shoulder. This time they were the right length once pinned in place.
I sewed hooks and bars into the lining before attaching the front panels. The bodice was a bit large in the bust so I sewed the bars in on an angle – the end result doesn’t look very nice, but it works just fine.
I gathered the bottom edge of the front panels slightly (as shown on the pattern) then pinned them to the lining for a fitting. I’d planned on gathering the panels along the entire length of the hem, but after my fitting I realized that wouldn’t be possible since it caused the top edge to ripple horribly.
Since I couldn’t gather them down the way I wanted, I had to cut off TONS of fabric from both panels (you can see the pencil marks in this photo).
I gathered the panels a little bit more, then cut the bottom edges and finished them with bias tape. When I look at the pattern now I think the front panels should have been sewn to the skirt before being sewn to the lining (and then they gather down together with a drawstring…or something?) but it isn’t entirely clear, so maybe I did it right.
Here is the interior of these panels.
The panels are pinned so they look like this…
I sewed the bottom portion down with slip stitches which are pretty much invisible.
And the top portion is sewn down with large whip stitches.
Now the bodice looked like this!
The left side of the bodice secures to the lining with two snaps.
And the other side hooks in place.
Now I finally did up the shoulder seam – this was done with the wrong sides facing each other, then I covered the raw edge with the back panel. Sewing down the back panel was the final step. This method for construction went so much better than my first attempt, i’m really glad I started over.
However I don’t love the end result. I’m happy with the construction, but I think it’s weird that all the bulk is at the side of the bodice. I think it makes me look wider. I much prefer the way it looks on Waugh’s sketch, with gathering all the way across the front…but I don’t see how that’s achieved without disrupting the neckline. I’m actually pretty disappointed by the lack of gathering at the front – that’s what really attracted me to this pattern in the first place!
I guess this could have been avoided by making a fully functional mock up, but since i’ve had so much luck with corset patterns from this author in the past I assumed the dress patterns would be similarly successful.
I’m proud I managed to overcome pattern related issues, but i’m not sure it was worth the effort. Hopefully i’ll like it when it’s done – I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the sleeves and skirt will be easier.
Two notes: I ended up stitching down the pleats at the shoulder because they shifted out of place in the photo above. I also decided after a few fittings to wear this without stays, since it’s pretty comfy without one and fits fine. But I WILL be wearing it a chemise, I just have to make one that’s appropriate for this period!
And that’s it! My boring yet overly complicated, supposedly simple dress. Thanks for reading!