Making an 18th Century “Undress” Costume – The Jacket

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I was busy enjoying a break from social media obligations, but I’m back now and happy to be writing again! I have a ton of projects to talk about – both ones in progress, and ones I completed last year and never wrote about.

But I’m going to start the year off by talking about the first project I’ve completed in 2017: An 18th Century “Undress” Ensemble. It sounds a bit scandalous, but in this case “Undress” is used to refer to informal garments from the 1700’s, rather than anything that goes underneath them.

I decided to start on this after flipping through reference books in search of inspiration. The patterns for “undress” appropriate jackets in Janet Arnold’s  Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses* caught my eye – and a quick search through my stash showed that I had almost everything I needed to make one…plus a matching skirt and some knitwear accessories inspired by Outlander.

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I’m really happy with material selection for this – I used 6 yards of a checked brown and black fabric from the Plaiditudes collection (my favorite), 2 yards of loosely woven polyester, and a yard of purple sweater knit. I don’t think any of these are historically accurate, but I love the textures they have.

I did have to buy two buttons, two yards of interfacing, a yard of muslin, and two packages of embroidery floss (which came to a grand total of $8) but everything else was from my stash.

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To get started I scanned, then resized the jacket pattern from Janet Arnold’s book and copied it to paper. When doing this I changed the scale from 1″ to 1 1/4″ – which meant my pattern ended up being considerably larger than the original one. This was intentional, since I knew it would be easier to size it down than size it up while trying to preserve the pleats in the skirt.

The end result was way too long waisted for me, but the width was almost perfect. I raised the waistline by an inch, changed the back curve, and added a dart to the bust, but otherwise it was good!

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Here is the mock up I made. This jacket is meant to be worn with a stomacher, but a pattern for that wasn’t included. So I pinned a piece of cotton to the front of my stays, then drew the shape I thought the stomacher should have onto the cotton.

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The stomacher was actually the first part of this costume I began work on, and one of the things that attracted me to this project. I was going through hand sewing withdrawal and wanted something I could work on in front of the TV – hand embroidery seemed perfect for that!

I browsed through a lot of stomacher patterns but most were more eleborate than I wanted (and could manage with my meager embroidery skills). So I freehanded my own design that was simpler.

I drew the design right onto my pattern, then scanned it and made a few changes in photoshop. The design was mirrored, then printed out and taped together.

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wanted to traced the design onto my fabric, which would have made embroidering it way easier. But the weave of the fabric I chose was too loose – pencils didn’t mark it, and ink would spread down the fibers and be visible in the end.

So I used the method I usually use for sequins: Trace the design onto interfacing, then ironing the interfacing onto the back of fabric. I used basting stitches to bring the design to the front, then got to work!

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I didn’t take any progress shots with my “blogging” camera, but I did post a couple on instagram. I used a split stitch to outline everything, then filled sections in using a satin stitch. I tried to pick colors for this design that had the same level of depth as the purple and brown fabrics I’m using for the rest of the costume.

Here it is finished, right out of the hoop.

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And after being ironed! I’ve attempted a few embroidery projects before but this is the first one I’ve finished. Considering that, I’m really happy with it. It isn’t as symmetrical as I would like, but the inconsistencies aren’t too major either.

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I cut the embroidered piece to the right size, then sewed it to canvas and cotton with the right sides facing each other. After turning it the right way out the edges were neatly finished. Plastic boning was inserted between the cotton and canvas to help it sit nicely, then I tacked the layers together by hand.

I added a ruffle to the top edge for a bit of interest, and tabs of ribbon so I can pin it to my stays. And that was it!

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The rest of the jacket pieces (except for the sleeves…more on those later) were cut from the brown checked fabric. The bodice of the jacket was assembled by machine with half inch seam allowances.

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The “skirt” of the jacket was hemmed by hand. Looking back I wish I had bag lined with instead – doing those points was fiddly, and this fabric frayed so much that I had to do a double hem. The end result is really bulky and the pleats didn’t set as much as I would have liked.

But in the past I’ve bag lined the bottom of jackets and the lining was visible and looks awful. I guess the answer would be facing the hem with fashion fabric, then sewing lining in…but I didn’t have enough fabric to do that. Sometimes it feels like you can’t win!

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I ironed the pleats in place and marked the pocket placement with basting stitches.

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The waist seam was sewn – this should have been easy, but getting the point at the center back symmetrical was a huge chore and still isn’t perfect. After redoing it four times I gave up.

With the skirt on, I turned the front edge and neckline inward and sewed it down by hand.

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Then the lining was sewn in. The lining is made using the same pattern and made from lightweight cotton. It has two bones at the side seams and center back, along with a bone from the dart at the front down to the waistline. These help support the points at the front and back of the jacket as well as the eyelets.

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Here it is after all those steps.

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Next up – the eyelets. Annoyingly I couldn’t find brown thread that matched, so I used black instead. These were sewn by hand.

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And on to pocket flaps! I traced the pattern onto cotton, then pinned the cotton to my fashion fabric and sewed around the line I traced.

I cut a generous slash in the back so I could turn them the right way out, then topstitched around the edges by hand.

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Messy on the inside, but the front is what matters, right?

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I sewed them on over the basting stitches with tiny whip stitches.

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I really splashed on the buttons for these. They were a whole 60c.

(I bought and sewed these on after finishing the rest of the jacket so you won’t see them in the next few photos)

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Now it was time for sleeves. I was not excited about these. My instant success with the fit of the jacket did not extend to these – I found the original pattern for them way too wide in the cap of the sleeve, too curved at the elbow, not curved enough at the armscye. They didn’t sit nicely or fit at all.

After a ton of alterations I got something I was happier with. And I freehanded a cuff pattern to go with it.

Originally I was going to make the cuff a different style, but I didn’t have enough fabric for my first choice. And by that point I was too lazy to size the pattern up again just to trace the cuff out so I made something up.

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Everything was cut out. Then I marked the pintucks onto the top of the sleeves.

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These were pretty fiddly to do…

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But offer a smoother alternative to pleats or gathers, which I like.

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Then the side seams were done up.

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And I repeated the process with a silky lining. Not accurate, but makes getting a costume on way easier.

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I sewed these together at the cuff, then turned them the right way out and basted along the top edge.

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The cuffs were backed with interfacing, then sewn together. I used stitching to make guidelines a half inch away from each edge, then turned these edges inward by hand.

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I lined the cuffs with a heavyweight twill to help support them.

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Then I made a ruffle from the same fabric I used for the stomacher. Originally the tops of these were supposed to be visible over the cuffs…but that looked bad.

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After some trial and error I decided they looked best pinned to the interior of the sleeves. I neglected to finish the top edge before sewing these in place. The end result is hilariously messy. I’m kind of ashamed.

BUT I was an hour away from finishing this costume and really impatient, so I pressed on. I do plan on fixing this later, but it would have been a lot faster to finish them in the moment. I don’t know how my brain gets so excited to spent 15 hours embroidering something but can’t take an extra 10 minutes to neatly finish a raw edge.

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Luckily it looks nice from the outside.

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I sewed the sleeves onto the bodice, and that was it!

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Aside from a few details in the finishing (the point at the back, the hem, the interior of the cuffs…) I’m really happy with this. The fit is pretty great, I can get into it on my own, I love the fabrics, and it’s a bit different from what I usually do.

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Here is a crappy picture of it worn.

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In case the dirty mirror makes that photo too horrifying to look at – here is a photo of it worn with the skirt!

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And that’s it for today! Part two should be up soon, but I have a fabric haul to share first.

Thanks for reading, and I hope your year is off to a good start!

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Making an 18th Century “Undress” Costume – The Jacket

  1. Marilyn says:

    Angela, your talent never ceases to amaze me. Love that jacket. Thanks for sharing. Wishing you and yours a blessed,healthy and happy 2017.
    Marilyn

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