Here are two garments from the American Duchess Guide: one hand-sewn and historically accurate, and the other mostly historically-accurate, which seems to be my standard method. I do want to have a complete set of hand-sewn, period-correct undergarments eventually, so that was on my mind as I planned these projects. But I usually like to do the long side seams by machine because it’s fast and easy to keep it straight and even.
For both of these garments, I followed the book’s instructions and did not make any alterations. (My review of the book here.) I would share my scaled-up split bum pattern to give you a head start, but that’s a copyright violation. Sorry!
However, I am providing a 1″ square grid PDF that you can use to help scale patterns, from this book or any others you might have. I simply scanned the AD book at the highest resolution possible, then layered it over the 1″ square grid and scaled up until it was the proper size. If it wasn’t perfectly flat when you scanned you’ll need to warp/distort until the pattern and base grids line up. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to help with Photoshop troubleshooting so leave a comment if you’re stuck.
Admittedly the false rump is easy to scale by hand, and really you could wing both of these without a pattern. But digital scaling is great when you need to be as accurate as possible, like with the gowns, and the ability to lengthen and stretch the pattern before the first mockup is also a time-saver.
I was very excited about hand-sewing this split bum with period-correct linen and down feathers. It came together very quickly, which is no surprise as it’s half a skirt and two pillows. Basically you could sew two down throw pillows to a ribbon and call it a day! For a hand-sewing novice this was a great warm-up, and came together over the course of a week’s worth of sewing after dinner/little human bedtime.
I lucked out with this cream linen that was in the $1/yd remnant bin—don’t you love when that happens? To tighten up the weave and help prevent the feathers from escaping, I wash and dried on high to shrink the linen. It was noticeably softer and appeared to be a less open weave afterwards, but eventually feathers did start coming out. Granted I didn’t notice until after she had a ride in a suitcase on a bus, so that certainly could be a factor. I don’t feel it — there’s the shift, under petti, and split bum skirt in between — but it’s annoying to see them popping out. If you use down filling, I would recommend lining the pockets with scrap muslin or quilting cotton. Tightly woven quilting cotton instead of linen would also work for the split bum, and could solve the fugitive feather problem.
Since I was working with a remnant I turned the selvedge under and hemmed the sides of the skirt. I pleated the split bum skirt down, checking the width as I went, and then sewed it to the cotton tape.
Then the pillows got sewn up, clipped, and turned.
Now for feathers! I spent way too much time going to different thrift stores looking for down pillows. Even though I felt rather guilty about it, I ended up buying a new pillow to take apart. Since there’s a lot left, I plan on making a down-filled muff one day!
And yeah, it’s going to be as absurdly messy as you’re picturing.
There’s honestly no reason to be a stickler for accuracy with the pocket filling because really, who’s going to see inside? So using fiberfill is another option, and I think every crafter I know has half a bag of it shoved in the closet from that one project that needed it 3 years ago. If I make another one, I would line the pockets with muslin or similar scrap fabric.
Sadly I do not have a better photo of just the split bum, because now it has various bits of down poking through at all times 🙄 .
ticoats may not appear to change much in the Georgian era, but the construction and pattern adjusts to the hip structure a la mode. Small bumpads, side pocket hoops, grand panier, split bums—each adds volume to the hips in a different silhouette that alters how the skirt hangs. Mantua-makers kept fabric intact as much as possible, and folded down excess fabric at the waistline. This meant the petticoat could be remade or altered easily. (Keep in mind that not only were these fabrics worth a small fortune, they couldn’t be reordered if you needed more later.) What would they think of our lopping inches off the bottom and wasteful wide hems?
In the 1780’s the large hoops are now passé, and ladies are sporting ample rears thanks to down-filled rumps. No more turning sideways through doors! A seat cushion wherever you go! What’s not to love?
The volume goes from the sides to the posterior, and evolves from a hard, artificial structure to a softer, more naturalistic shape. However it’s still very exaggerated and can only be achieved with a split bum.
The Italian gown petticoat is pleated down to your waist measurement, and then leveled on the body instead of cutting. I did this on my dressform and I felt like Sisyphus because each time I thought it looked even, the other side got weird! Having a friend help you with this part is recommended.
Since my corset form is close to my size, but not quite, there was a long session of thinking it was perfect, then removing stays and petti from form to try on, only to realize it was off. Then unpin, repleat, and repeat. Also, I didn’t account for how much the ties of the split bum and the under petti would add to the waist measurement (taken when just wearing my stays and shift). UGHHH.
I’ve gotten a lot of use of both of these since making them, but I need to muster the patience to make another petticoat since I think everyone’s tired of seeing my only “fancy” petticoat! (And honestly, so am I.) Or maybe I’ll be lazy and just even out at the hem. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to some blue taffeta for Christmas 😉
It’s official! The NYC Historical Costumers will have our next get-together in October at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. This is a FREE event and anyone who has fallen in love with 18th century fashion is welcome!
The trio of formal gardens is, for me, one of the city’s hidden gems, and very peaceful since it’s a designated “quiet zone.” We’ll enjoy a potluck picnic again, perhaps in the Italian garden’s pergola with a view of the garden. Then we can stroll through the gardens and take some photos. There was a heat advisory all last week, and the thought of crisp fall air, apple cider, and perhaps a pumpkin pasty is so delightful. Hmm, now I’m craving butterbeer, too…
Suggested attire is 1750 – 1810 undress or informal wear, and it’s the perfect setting to wear a cozy wool English gown, a chintz caraco and mantle, or a “Mrs. Darcy walks the Pemberly grounds” look in a bonnet and pelisse. Those interested in some Outlander-esque photos can join me afterwards for a short walk to the North Woods. There’s a natural stone bridge and waterfall that will be perfect for some moody shots! The Harlem Meer is also very pretty when surrounded by golden trees, right next to the French garden near the north entrance.
I hope to see some familiar faces, and look forward to meeting new ones!
I’m not shy about admitting there was a lot of blog reading and Instagram lurking before I got the courage to try sewing costumes. And then, in fits and starts, I finally completed an outfit, but quickly realized only dressing up for Halloween wasn’t going to satisfy me. I daydreamed about flying to the Fetes Galantes with an entire wardrobe of extravagant gowns.
I still would love to go one day. But the truth is you don’t have to wait for a perfect Cinderella moment, just push up your sleeves and get started!
As I mentioned in my previous post, this picnic came about by simply reaching out to a local historic site and seeing if they would allow a small group in costume. Laura Carpenter, the director of Van Cortlandt House Museum, is a reenactor herself and kindly signed off on a group tour and picnic. There are plenty of talented costumers in NYC and I had a feeling that if I planned something, at least a couple people would show up. We ended up having over a dozen guests, from first-time sewers to experienced costumers— thank you to everyone who came!
One of the best moments of that day was when one of the ladies turned to me as I was pouring lemonade and asked “So how many times have you all done this before?” Because costumers are awesome — and despite mostly being strangers moments before — everyone started gabbing about each other’s ensembles, machine vs. hand-sewing, Burnley & Trowbridge workshops, and dear-god-my-stays-are-so-sweaty like we’d been meeting for years!
Lesson: nothing ventured, nothing gained! Why not set up your own event if you can’t find anything in your area? Keep in mind that many sites are fully or partially staffed by volunteers, and doing what they can to share the unique history of their house or museum through donations. They’re likely happy to have people help get the word out about their site, but make sure all your guests are clear on any restrictions. Of course, the original 13 colonies sort of have a monopoly on 18th century buildings, but you could always meet at a park, restaurant, community multi-use space, or an obliging member’s backyard.
If you’d like to take part in the next NYC-area meetup, join the Facebook group to stay in touch!
Meredith B. spread the word to her reenactor friends and they came together from New Jersey. You could tell this was not their first picnic! I need to follow their trick and find a small basket to hide my phone and other items. I forgot to tie on my pocket that day and really missed having a place to stash things.
I met Amanda (above in her Poldark cosplay) at the American Duchess event months ago, and then we ran into each other again at the Redthreaded Trunk Show! I later realized several of us were also at the American Duchess event through IG posts. It was nice to chat and get to know everyone a little bit.
I’m thrilled to have a nice photo of my outfit, but spot a lot of things to fix for next time. My stomacher is pinned too low, and my stay strap and shift are showing. It was so hot and humid that day that I decided to scrap my plans to curl my hair since it wouldn’t last a minute, and threw it up in a bun. Also, I need to make a linen jacket because holy hell a wool jacket is practically a death sentence over all those layers!
Liz self-drafted her striped caraco and paired it with a fab strawberry hedgehog wig. Meredith M. and Betsy both had very Vigee-LeBrun hedgehog-and-bergere combos and Halli used pink-tinted pomatum— Versailles chic! Amanda also had a great idea to add a curled hair extension. In other words, I need to step up my hair game!
Van Cortlandt House Museum
The Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park was named after this historic house built in the 1740’s by the Van Cortlandt family. The family had lived on the land since 1691, and their successful wheat plantation and grist mill led to their prominence in New York society. The house would remain in the Van Cortlandt family for 140 years before it was sold to the city, and it would be decades before it was registered a National Historic Landmark in 1967. Apparently one of its many uses before becoming a museum was as a dormitory for ranch hands herding buffalo!
You enter through the side door to do a self-guided tour and there are several floors to explore, including one furnished as it would have been during Gen. Washington’s stay. The restored formal dining room is elegant and beautifully designed in Wedgewood blue and cream. I have more photos, but I hope to entice you to go see it in person 🙂
You can get to VCHM by taking the 1 train to the last stop (Van Cortlandt Park-242nd St.), and walking about five minutes into the park. It’s a fun peek into New York’s past that’s off the beaten path. They also have a history summer camp for kids in August.
Looking forward to our next meetup, maybe I’ll see you there!
Hello all! Two months ago *cough* Hmm, make that almost three months ago (wow, it has been a while!) I attended my first historical event, the Seventh Annual Française Dinner in Alexandria, Virginia. I had so much fun at the dinner, even if things didn’t go according to plan (more on that in a moment). It was held at the historic Gadsby’s Tavern, where George Washington celebrated his birthnight ball two years in a row. They still celebrate with a birthday banquet every President’s Day weekend. I met lots of talented costumers, and I’m already thinking about how to be better prepared next year!
If you saw photos on Instagram back in March then you already know I ended up wearing my back up because I bit off more than I could chew. I wanted to challenge myself and I definitely succeeded at that at least! The attire guidelines are 1750–1800 formal wear, which essentially covers all the popular gown styles of the 18th century. Not helpful to the indecisive! I narrowed it down to a 1770’s Robe a la Française or a 1780’s Italian gown, and in the end a combination of fabric budget and complexity were the deciding factors.
I intend to do posts about the gown when it’s finally done, but everything went pretty well with undergarments and the petticoat. But the gown just didn’t get off to a good start. I had trouble getting the back pieces just right, then I cut out my sleeves without seam allowance (screw the poly taffeta, I’m still pissed about that linen! Argh), and couldn’t get the front to lay flat. So I got further and further off schedule. Until it was 3:30am and I had to admit that it wasn’t happening before my 5am bus to D.C.. I quickly packed, changed my clothes, ordered an Uber, and managed not to cry, although I may have been simply too exhausted to produce tears.
I had a moment of panic waiting for the bus in the cold at 4:40am, thinking “Why am I going by myself to an event where I don’t know a soul? This is stupid. You are stupid. Let’s go home and go to sleep.”
But you can’t go on adventures if you never leave home. This was actually the first time my son and I spent a night apart. We were both fine 😉, but kind of weird to think that we had been together every night since he was born—almost 5 years! I had to leave while he was asleep, and apparently the first thing he noticed the next morning was that the dress form was naked 🙂 “It’s gone!” he gasped. (When I came home he asked if I had fun at my princess party, how cute is that?)
I wasn’t able to check in to my AirBnB until the afternoon so I spent the morning at Union Station, and had a lovely view while I sewed on a few more eyes to my Claire jacket and sipped an absurdly large chai latte. Once I was settled in, I quickly unpacked to see what state my outfit was in and thankfully rolling everything up had kept wrinkles at bay.
I may not have finished my gown, but I did make a linen under-petticoat, mint taffeta petticoat, and down-filled split bumpad from the American Duchess Guide. Plus, I finished my shift which had been cut out for over a year and a quickie hanging pocket from scrap fabric. So a very productive stretch from January through March!
A long bus ride isn’t very glamorous, but guess what? They don’t check your bags so you can bring full size shears and an awl without getting tasered by the TSA! I packed my awl because I still needed to punch holes for my shoe buckles, since I was being a big wuss about messing them up and kept putting it off. (In my defense, permanent extra holes in your brand new shoes IS scary!) The American Duchess website has straightforward instructions — although don’t be a hot mess like me, marking the holes with eyeliner and hoping you don’t stab yourself in the hand an hour before you need to leave.
It was so much fun, and I got to meet many talented DMV area costumers that I’ve been following online. Everyone looked amazing! I didn’t want to have my phone out, so unfortunately I don’t have many good photos. Gloria of In the Long Run Designs and her husband Mike took photos throughout the night, and have been kind enough to share them with us. Thank you!
Gadbsy’s Tavern was built in 1770, and is now a restaurant and museum. The weird part is that despite many trips to Old Town growing up in Virginia, I actually saw the tavern for the first time here in New York. What’s that, poppycock you say? Truth is stranger than fiction: the original tavern ballroom was relocated to the The Met here in NYC in 1917 to preserve it and share with the museum’s visitors.
“The rich woodwork from the ballroom of Gadsby’s Tavern reflects the continuation of the Georgian decorative tradition into the early Federal period. Constructed in 1792–93, the ballroom originally stood on the second floor of the Federal-style City Tavern and Hotel.”
— The Metropolitan Museum of Art
• • •
I’m working on getting some proper photos of my new pieces so I can share them with you. They’re all made from the American Duchess Guide, except the shift which is Simplicity 8162, and I’m quite pleased with how everything came out. Fingers crossed for some sun!
I am currently trying to finish the gown for the Van Cortlandt House meetup/picnic I’m hosting in a few weeks. I had actually started a mockup for a swallowtail jacket to wear instead, which shows you just how much this silly gown scares me! Right now we have nearly 40 expected costumers, and be sure to follow me on Instagram (@lilredsquirrel) for updates.
It’s been a while, but I have a lot of things on deck! First up, I can finally share an event that I’ve organized for local costumers (read: thinly veiled reason to dress up and make friends).
I want to stress that I’m not an expert, and all skill levels are welcome. You don’t need come in a hand-sewn Robe a la Francaise, and since it’s a summer picnic you would probably be more comfortable in a jacket and petticoat or round gown anyway (although if you do, I will ooo and ahhh accordingly!).
You can register and find other info on Eventbrite:
**Please note: event is listed as free so I don’t have to pay fees. The Van Cortlandt tour is $5 at the door.
P.S. New Yorkers- you can see this Gainsborough painting “The Mall in St. James’ Park” at the Frick. Several of his other well-known portraits are also on display, as well as the Boucher room and other beauties.
Happy New Year! I hope your 2018 has been going well so far. Taylor of Dames a la Mode is kicking off the year with her #GeorgianJanuary Instagram challenge, although “challenge” isn’t really the right word as the only difficulty is trying to decide which photo to post each day. If you’re following @lilredsquirrel you’ve already seen my picks, but I love being introduced to new paintings or dresses through posts by other historical costume lovers. You can join in at anytime so take a look at the next batch of themes if it sounds like fun!
I’ve been reading a lot of “Me Made” 2017 roundups and 2018 sewing plans posts, and perhaps you’re in the same boat, but they make me feel incredibly inadequate. Which isn’t to say I’m not very happy with the progress I’ve made, but hot damn! I aspire to be one those prolific sewists with a closet full of awesome things that they’ve made (including the majority who aren’t blogging or gramming all their garments).
I am very good at making detailed lists of elaborate plans and then being hit by reality later like “In what world would you have 3 hours to sew every day to reach this goal?!” So instead of my usual “shoot for the moon!” — which ends up being “shoot for the new planet and wake up 90 years too early by yourself and proceed to ruin everything” — I am doing “rent a car and drive to a BnB.”
I decided last fall that I would like to make an 18th century gown by the end of the year and a TBD DC cosplay for NYCC in October. Both are big, multipart costumes, BUT doable over the course of several months. Also, that gives me time to look for deals and budget for my fabric and supplies. Fun, challenging, but not absurd– huzzah for 2018 me!
And then I did something totally crazy.
I got a ticket to an 18th century dinner in March!
I had seen photos of the annual Française Dinner (hosted in recent years by Jessica Jackson), but it never occurred to me that I could go. So when I spotted the announcement for ticket sales the “make all the things!” me took over and talked about it frequently for a few days, waiting for spousal eyebrow-raising and rejection. But it never came and here we are! I grew up in Virginia, and I’m very familiar with Old Town Alexandria so it’s not that big of a deal to travel there for the weekend.
And then last week Lauren and Abby of American Duchess announced they’ll be at The National Arts Club here in NYC at the end of February! Last year I bemoaned the fact that exciting things like Costume College were out of my reach and now two (Count ’em TWO!) cool events right out of the gate! However, there is the small matter of not having anything to wear.
Commence flailing and freaking out!
Once that was out of the way, I made a lot of lists and a rough timeline. (Okay, who am I kidding, there will be plenty of flailing during this project.) My first step was to put a pair of AD shoes on layaway. I was torn because I still want the Fraser heels for Outlander outfits, but I need something formal and in a later style for the Française Dinner. I choose the black Dunmore heels and I can’t wait to see them in person!
Next, I need to decide on a style of dress. Not as easy! The attire guidelines specify the last half of the 18th century, 1750-1800. Since there’s a firm deadline to meet and I don’t have a backup (a J. Crew cocktail dress isn’t going to fly here!), I don’t think I’ll be able to blog about the gown until it’s all said and done. BUT I’ll be sharing little bits on Instagram along the way! Sadly, my shoes and gown will not be ready for the American Duchess book event, but I think I’ll go in my Claire cosplay. It does feel kind of wrong to attend an AD event with modern shoes peeking out, but oh well!
Will you be going to these events? Let’s be friends IRL 🙂
What are you looking forward to in 2018? There are a few cosplays that I’m sure will be very popular this year, including Admiral Holdo and Rose from The Last Jedi, but also from the slew of upcoming superhero movies starting off with next month’s Black Panther, followed by Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Dark Phoenix, Aquaman, and even the animated Teen Titans Go! to the Movies and Incredibles 2. Plus, there’s A Wrinkle in Time (that trailer is bursting with Bjork-worthy costumes!), Solo (the Han Solo standalone movie), The Crimes of Grindelwald (aka Fantastic Beasts 2), Disney’s Nutcracker movie, and the Tomb Raider reboot. So many cosplays, so little time.
On the historical costuming side there will be Mary, Queen of Scots, to be played by Saoirse Ronan opposite Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, and Robin Hood with Taron Egerton as the Prince of Thieves. Granted, the world really doesn’t need another Robin Hood movie but I really like Egerton, and Jamie Foxx as Little John and Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet has me intrigued.
Do you have grand costuming plans or just a couple everyday garments in the works — or perhaps a mix of both? I’d love to hear what you’re planning for 2018!
I work in book publishing so it only seems fitting that I finally combine my love of books and sewing with a book review! Unless you’re new to historical costuming, you’ve likely already heard of American Duchess, the historical reproduction shoe company and popular blog founded by Lauren Stowell that, with the addition of partner historian Abby Cox, has been expanded in recent years to include sewing patterns through Simplicity Patterns and a sister company Royal Vintage, which features shoes from the 1920’s to the 1950’s for retro fashionistas. Now, they’ve added a book to their list of accomplishments: The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and it was certainly the case with American Duchess. They filled a void by providing period-accurate, affordable shoes to costumers and re-enactors stuck with the large investment of time and money waiting on a custom pair of shoes. Lauren and Abby’s combined expertise and background in 18th century dress, illustration, and design make them ideal authors to once again fill a gap in the costuming world, namely “I have a dress pattern and historically accurate fabric. Now what?” Or rather, how would a mantua-maker in the 1700’s have sewn this gown?
The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking focuses on four iconic gowns of the Georgian era:
The English Gown (1740’s)
The Sacque Gown (1760’s – 1770’s)
The Italian Gown (1770’s – 1790’s)
The Round Gown (1790’s)
If you go to their Facebook page they’ve done live sessions on each of these dresses leading up to the release.
Each chapter concludes with “How to Get Dressed and Wear Your ____ Gown” with step-by-step photos to show the proper order, with tips on how to pin your stomacher or adjust your back ties. Plus you’ll find tons of millinery and accessories to complete the look, including: aprons, caps, hats, mitts, and a fur muff that’s very appealing for our current weather!
However, what this guide does not include are patterns—only gridded layouts for the linings. All of these gowns require draping (and likely mockups), just as they would have been created by a mantua-maker in that time. They address this issue at the very beginning, and I agree with their decision because Lauren and Abby have crafted a comprehensive guide that bridges the gap between existing costume bibles with layouts of extant garments and a finished, authentic gown. There are plenty of commercial paper patterns already on the market, including the American Duchess x Simplicity patterns, JP Ryan, Reconstructing History, etc. Their newest release Simplicity 8578 is actually the Sacque Gown or Robe a la Française shown in the book.
The introduction breaks down the various kinds of stitches used in this era, and how they were used in dressmaking. I was really looking forward to learning about the quirky mantua-maker’s seam, but I have a hard time following stitch illustrations. I would have loved step-by-step photos instead, but I’m sure it will come together once I practice. Also, as the focus is “dressmaking” there are no undergarments included, and you’re expected to have the proper stays and shift for the decade you’re recreating. You’ll be fitting and draping over your stays, and admittedly some stages do seem like they’d be very tricky without a partner. One of the best resources is the illustrated fit troubleshooting guide that shows the many traps of the sleevil, among other mishaps.
From a publishing perspective, I’m very impressed with the quality of the book at this price point. The special binding lays flat, which is very helpful when directions carry over to the next page. It’s full-color with loads and loads of beautiful photography. However, the cover’s white text on the white gown is a little hard to read. It’s absolutely packed with historical notes, tricks of the trade, and fun side bars like “Ode to Wool.” If you are merely curious about 18th century fashion or looking build a Georgian wardrobe, you will want to have this at your side.
No patterns? Hand-sewing? Yes, I’ll admit it sounds rather intimidating, but you’ll be in good hands. If you start with the simple under-petticoat, which essentially a pleated, tie-waist skirt, and continue to the petticoat I think you’ll be in a good place to start on the gown. (And yes, this is what I’m telling myself as encouragement!) If you’d like more guidance then you should look into the classes coordinated with Jennifer Rosbrugh of HistoricalSewing.com that are in the works. Not everyone is lucky enough to be take a workshop with Burnley & Trowbridge or know someone with experience in historical costuming, and I know I’ll be consulting The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking again and again.
Who is it for? Intermediate sewist with a desire to follow historical dressmaking techniques to create four authentic Georgian outfits from head to toe.
What does it include? EVERYTHING! Seriously—this is a comprehensive handbook to sewing historically accurate ensembles enlivened with the warmth of Abby and Lauren throughout.
Cox, Abby and Lauren Stowell. The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking:How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style. Page Street Publishing Co., 2017.
*Disclaimer- I purchased my copy and am not affiliated with Page Street Publishing or American Duchess. Photos by little-red-squirrel.com, do not publish without permission.
Coming back to this series after a little break because SEASON 3! What do you think of Voyager so far? Me, I’m like:
The Print Shop was done SO well, although I wish they had held off on Jamie introducing Willie because it felt a little forced. I will keep this spoiler-free, but do yourself a favor and read Voyager and then Drums of Autumn! The Outlander writers excel at bringing the books to life, and making changes that don’t make the readers pull their hair out.
Even if you haven’t read the books, I’m sure you can gather that there won’t be a return to Versailles and all the extravagant gowns (although the French Revolution will soon put a damper on the royal dress budget anyway…), so why not revel in the S2 costumes a bit?
The last post covered Annelise’s macaron-colored ensemble from this scene in the formal gardens and now it’s Claire’s turn! Annelise’s jacket and petticoat earned the first 10/10 HA (Historically accurate) rating in the Top 7 Looks, and it’s an ideal foil for Claire’s anachronistic mocha and butter yellow gown. After looking at this gown more I realized that it’s essentially a redingote with a few modifications. The redingote was fashionable in the last quarter of the 18th century, and to me the look is synonymous with posh ladies strolling down cobblestone streets with walking sticks. Movies like Marie Antoinette and The Scandalous Lady W have some great examples of the redingote on film.
The redingote (derived from a French corruption of “riding coat”) is a cross between an overgown and a jacket, with a button front, oversized lapels and cape collar, long sleeves, and a long open front skirt showing the petticoat underneath. It’s sort of an overgrown riding coat that often has a cutaway front or a skirt that begins away from tabs at the center front.
Here are some fashion plates and extant examples of the style (click to enlarge):
Redingote fashion plate, late 1780’s.
Magasin des Modes, May 1788.
Claire’s version has a short standing or mandarin collar with 3/4 length sleeves, a horizontal bust dart paired with a solid yellow petticoat, with long yellow gloves and a bergére with flowers.
The silhouette is mostly true to the 18th century (I haven’t seen mandarin collars on extant ladies jackets, and there should be a point in the back seam) but the textiles are definitely modern. Also, you can see that there is lacing on the sides. Keeping in mind that these costumes have to be made before filming and final scripts, the maternity lacing is there to accommodate a bump and allow for varying size depending on what the production team decided. Granted, it’s hard to see a baby bump under all that fabric.
The hand-painted fabric is gorgeous and another instance of early 1950’s fashion influencing Terry Dresbach’s modern historical aesthetic. The large peonies, sprays of lilac and other flowers are dramatically oversized, and I’ve found some 1950’s and early 60’s dresses with a similar look, albeit not quite as large. The shirtwaist or button-front dress with a belt was very common, and you’ve likely seen this style in vintage shops.
Just as the Dior Suit has been re-imagined again and again, elements of this dress have been seen on runways as recently as this year. A floor-length, full skirted dress with definition at the waist and long sleeves is a silhouette that can reinterpreted endlessly— these are few modern examples:
* * *
How to Make It
If you’re an Outlander fan, you probably spotted that the petticoat is made from the same yellow silk-wool as the citrine robe a l’anglaise. Someone snagged the floral fabric from Britex and brought it to a small con to show fans.
Painting a floral design will require fabric paint in lots of colors, and a whole bunch of free time so this gown is not a quick and easy project! A solid redingote would be simpler and period correct. A false front petticoat could also be a way to cut costs, by using an inexpensive fabric for the back of the petticoat. This was common in the 18th century and earlier (such as Elizabethan gowns with open skirts), and even used on Outlander for the Citrine gown.
I discovered a very awesome pattern in researching this dress- a redingote pattern from LACMA created from an extant redingote in their collection! It’s a PDF that you can scale up so it does require little more work, but you can’t get more accurate than that! If you already have an 18th century dress block or a riding habit pattern that’s adjusted to you, you could use that as a starting point. A riding habit would be easiest since it already has a button front and horizontal dart—you can just lengthen the skirt or even use the pattern from a gown in place of the original. Unless the maternity lacing is necessary for your current body or you’re going for an exact Claire cosplay, I would leave it off.
Like Annalise’s tricorn and choker, the accessories really make this look so don’t forget about the bergere and gloves. Sometimes finishing the dress feels like crossing the finish line, but it’s the details like a wispy fichu or proper stockings that really make your outfit complete. Those smaller bits are often what makes your outfit stand apart from the crowd, even if the average person can’t quite put their finger on why it looks so nice!
Hand-painted Peony Gown
Type: Original design (Modified Redingote)
HA Rating: 6/10 (Although, in another fabric this could be 9/10)
Redingote- 6 yards Petticoat- 4-5 yds
Brown silk taffeta, hand painted with large floral design, or HA in solid silk taffeta or silk-wool blend
*Could also use poly taffeta or dupioni or shantung if not worried about being 100% period accurate
Hack a gown pattern to make overlapping button front and add collar
Alter a riding coat pattern to lengthen into a long skirt
I am just over the moon to share the completed stays! These stays represent many hours of sewing and I’m really happy that they are done and they fit. Lurking in the back of my mind was the possibility of them being abandoned in a frustrated rage, but I’m happy to say that the whole process was easier than I anticipated. However, it took me a loooooong time!
I tried out my camera remote for the first time, so prepare for the stays spam 😉
As you can see in the photos my shift isn’t finished because I got ruffle fatigue. I remembered this cute dress that I haven’t worn in ages because it’s so low cut and the lining always pops up in front… but it’s great as a shift in a pinch, even if it’s sleeveless! I like the visual detail of the tiny stripes, perhaps something to copy for a future shift.
Overall I was so pleased with the SimplicityxAmerican Duchess pattern and instructions! Seriously I did it, so anyone with basic sewing skills can definitely make this pattern. If you need that little push to jump in, this is me telling you Go for it!You just have to start. However, if you want your stays be more historically accurate you have to decide BEFORE you cut your fabric and follow a different order of construction. I will make note of these edits as I go along.
This corset form was such a sweet Craigslist find, and although our measurements are almost exactly the same, uh… some shapes are rather different. Yeah, that is some serious overboob. Part of the problem is people are rather squishy, but dress forms are not. However, this means I can drape a gown one day!
After I shared The Stays: Part I way back in January *cough* I was almost ready to move on to binding. Shortly after that we decided we would be moving, and apartment hunting and packing took over my life. I had a hard time jumping back in because it felt like I had been running and suddenly had to stop right in front of the hurdle, then somehow jump it from a standstill. Plus the unpacking and reorganizing of our new place became my priority.
I spent a lot of time looking at them and thinking about what to do, and then not choosing anything at all. Then putting them away and doing the same thing in a couple weeks. I can’t be the only one who does this during sewing projects, right? It’s like being stuck in this loop and you’re just not sure the best way to go so you just keep going around.
My conundrum was that I didn’t have enough fabric to fold over the CF edge since that’s not how the Simplicity pattern is constructed. But I wanted to be historically accurate, plus I was worried about the grommets tearing up my lovely fine linen lining. I even briefly considered pulling out the boning channel stitches and moving everything over so I’d have more allowance to fold over. Um, that’s crazy talk! My sane solution was to add some chamois leather to protect the linen and support the lacing at the front and straps.
Almost all of the things I’d do differently next time happen at the cutting stage, so there really wasn’t a way for me to incorporate them unless I started over. I was laughably naive when I first started! When I bought the patterns—a year ago this week—I was intending to have this Claire Fraser costume ready for Halloween. I thought if I buckled down I could make these in a week or two and have the rest of October to do the rest of the outfit! It’s like I forgot I have a job and a toddler And zero experience with garment sewing…
My advice to first-time staymakers:
First off, be honest with your measurements. It sounds easy, but we all know it can be harder in practice. Even if the numbers aren’t what you thought they’d be or wished they were, fudging them will only lead to unhappiness later when your garment doesn’t fit. I knew I was in-between sizes, but instead of making a size that matched my bust measurement and lengthening it, I took the easier route and regretted it later. (Using the size that matched my bust when I wear a generously-padded bra was not my brightest move…)
I also would suggest you make a mockup. This is such a vital part of getting any garment adjusted to your body before you start cutting into your fashion fabric. I skipped this step trying to stay on schedule, but it would have saved me the realization that my stays were too big after the boning was in and seams were already whipstitched down. 😦 Also, on that note, if you do skip the mockup remember to try them on properly before you get too far along.
Read as much as possible. This is part is fun for me, but even if research isn’t your jam be sure to look at photos of extant stays and learn about their construction. There are so many great bloggers who have shared their process (see blogroll) and American Duchess has helpful videos to go with this pattern.
Stitch the left lining pieces together, then do the same for the right side. You’ll recall I had to take in the back and remove the lacing there, so I also had to join the lining at the CB. When I took a closer look at the stays I realized that I had a) missed one bone on the side, b) whipstitched the seam allowance into that boning channel, and c) still had dozens of channel threads to knot. Blergh! So I undid the whipstitching, added in the missing bone, and stitched it back down again. I knotted off the channels and hid the threads in the interlining.
**HA edit: Before adding the lining and binding, sew ribbon or thin leather strips to the seams. Draw underarm guards and cut out from chamois, stitching to outside and over the armscye.
Then I cut two strips of leather (about one inch wide) the length of the lacing channel, as well as two circles. I sewed them on by hand, and then stitched the lining to the rest of the stays. Linen feels so nice, but quickly gets hairy so you might want to fray check the edges and let it dry while you gird your loins for the binding. (Loin girding instructions here)
Um well everyone says this is the worst, and I can’t say I disagree—but only because it takes so dang long by hand! Unfortunately, it’s fairly obvious which edge I started on as the bottom finished edges are kind of wonky, but the top binding corners are much neater. My center back tab has a pretty point from joining the back seam, but it’s a little too long. I’d shorten by 1/2 – 1 inch next time. Some tabs came out better than others, but I actually started to enjoy it after I had the first few under my belt. Hand-sewing hater no more!
Definitely read and reread this Foundations Revealed binding guide by the amazing Cathy Hay before you start. (I found this afterwards, but I know I’ll be coming back to it a lot.)
When I was shopping for bias binding I was looking for blue or eggplant, but both clashed with the yellow undertones in the damask. I spotted this bright olive rayon petersham ribbon on one trim store visit and kept thinking about it, so I eventually went back and bought some, thinking that if it didn’t work out I could use it as a pretty lacing ribbon.
I’m very happy with the finished result, and since it’s rayon it has a bit of shine that adds a little extra pizazz. If you want to use ribbon instead of cotton bias binding make sure it’s petersham. A lot of stores display their grosgrain and petersham ribbon mixed together since they are both ribbed, but the petersham has looped sides. The grosgrain has straight sides and is not flexible so it will make curves miserable. I used backstitch to make sure the front side was secure and the tiny ribs helped me keep my stitches neat! The color is similar to a quilted petticoat from the V&A, so it makes me feel like it’s somewhat authentic 😉
**HA edit: Extant stays have leather binding, which holds up to daily wear and stretches nicely along the curved edges. The same chamois leather I used for support is ideal for binding and can be found at auto stores. (I would have used it, but all cream stays felt too boring.)
**HA edit: Leave extra seam allowance along all tabs and the top edge to be able to fold over raw edges of interlining. This binds the edges before using bias tape or leather, and reduces the bulk of the edge for a thinner, yet durable binding. See The Fashionable Past for a tutorial on this method.
Since the lining is already attached you’ll want to fold it under and/or pin it out of the way as you go along. I used a mix of pins and clips for the binding, and often just used my left hand to hold things in place while sewing. After you’ve finished sewing the front side down, flip to the inside and whipstitch the binding down all the way around. This goes much faster, but just be careful you don’t go through to the front! These stitches don’t have to be pretty since you’ll cover them with the lining.
Do the same for the top edge, paying close attention to the corners where the straps meet the body. Once all your binding is done feel free to cheer, cry, eat a box of cookies, wheel of fancy cheese or your very own cheese pizza. Make sure to wash your hands to remove chocolate smudges, pizza grease, etc. before moving on to the next part.
The Lining, reprise
What again? Almost done with this bit- fold under the raw edges to just cover the binding edge on the inside and whipstitch all the tabs. I chose to slipstitch on the top edge to give a neater finish. Knot and hide the threads in between the main body and lining.
And then I smash it with a hammer!
This part is pretty straightforward—just start making holes at the marks you made from the pattern (front and/or back). You can do this with an awl and then widen the holes with a chopstick or similar object. The kit also includes a hole cutter which gives the exact size, but if your stays are very thick it can take a lot of whacking with the mallet to go through. Snipping a small X in the leather helped and then I just trimmed any extra away after I pushed the grommet through so the washer could go on smoothly. I chose to use grommets to save time, and I think that’s perfectly fine because they’re not visible to anyone but me and they’ll never wear out or tear.
The key here is to have the right tools. A snap/eyelet punch will not get the job done. You’ll need a grommet setting kit, which includes the setter, hole punch, wood block, and brass grommets, and a rubber or leather mallet. Do not use a metal hammer! You’ll get a smushed ugly grommet and eventually wreak your setter. I purchased this kit at a specialty hardware store, but you can order these kits online as well (just search for “C.S. Osborne grommet kit”). I actually left a blog comment for Lauren of American Duchess because the pattern notions don’t specify a size, and each size requires a different kit so I wanted to avoid buying the wrong one. She responded with alacrity and said to use size 00 or 3/16″ inside diameter – Thanks Lauren! I didn’t use the brass grommets that came with the kit because they’ll tarnish and possibly discolor the dress and chemise, although I do think the gold details would match better. My nickel-plated hardware came from here.
**HA edit: Use buttonhole twist to sew eyelets around the widened lacing hole. Periodically stretch out with the awl as you stitch if the opening gets too small.
Make sure that you do a few tests using all the same layers on your stays. If the stays are too thin, the shank on the grommet won’t fold over enough and can snag you or your shift. If the washer swivels around then the shank is too tall for the amount of fabric. You can always sew on a strip of chamois or a fabric scrap to thicken up that channel. Set up a cutting board on a sturdy table or the floor, and hammer away.
Ta-daaa! You have a pair of 1740’s half-boned stays! Get your lace(s) and admire your handiwork.
Thanks for reading this crazy long post—I hope you found this helpful! I’ve learned so much in this process and I’m already thinking about my next pair of stays- maybe a strapless pair or corset for a historical DC comics cosplay. I’d like to have a larger gap at the front so I can get more reduction on my waist—right now it takes off less than an inch total since the thickness of the stays adds to the measurement. Next time I’ll be sure to make a mock-up, and I think I can reduce the pattern to 3 sections on each side since I’m not curvy.
Hit me up with any questions in the comments or on Instagram @lilredsquirrel! 🙂
I love that moment when you see a costume and KNOW you have seen it elsewhere… and then have to hunt through the entirety of the interwebs to figure where it came from, lol. I did eventually find the pink jacket (left) in my Pinterest likes. It’s a casaquin c. 1730-40 part of the collection of the Musee de la mode in Paris.
Later I came across this portrait and *lightbulb*! The hat, ribbon choker, rounded square neckline, and unique split cuff sleeves match Annalise’s jacket exactly! Someone else recognized the resemblance of Annalise’s jacket to the Musee de la Mode casaquin and tweeted Terry, who confirmed that it was the inspiration and that they would have copied it exactly if they’d had more time to do the lace over curved edges. BUT no mention of this Gräfin Voss portrait, so feeling very pleased with my discovery. Don’t you love those behind-the-scenes tidbits, especially ones that confirm your fan theories?
Annelise’s outfit is period-perfect and the color palette makes me think of a box of macarons or blooms in a Parisian flower market. Very feminine and sweet. Her jacket is a brighter pink than the inspiration, although I wonder how rich the color was 200 years ago. Dupioni fabric has a beautiful texture and body, but a couple historical costuming blogs mentioned that silk with slubs would not have been used in this era. (I haven’t found any documentation on that however, so comment if you can point me in the right direction!) It doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t stand out like metal grommets or a hoop petticoat—you really wouldn’t think twice about it unless you happen to be an expert. BUT if you want to be HA, look for a deep pink taffeta, peau de soie or even silk-wool faille to have a similar low-shine look. There are some fabric options saved to the caraco Pinterest board.
There are a variety of jacket styles that were worn in the 18th century, including the caraco, pierrot, riding habit, and pet en l’air. Often the contemporary names given to the jackets and the way they’re worn varies, so the proper name for a jacket isn’t always clear. A caraco is a longer jacket, usually hitting mid-thigh, with a fitted back and 3/4 sleeves. The caraco bodice and skirt are cut all-in-one—no seam at hip—and flare over the hips. It was often worn closed, but also worn open over a stomacher, with a compere front (button-front with false stomacher), and with two or more flaps where a fichu could be tucked in. Sometimes the caraco is called a short gown, and that usually refers to the longer versions that go almost knee length.
I plan on going into more detail on the different types when I finish my own jacket for Claire’s Castle Leoch look, but there are links to good jacket explainers in the Sources.
The petals or basques of the casaquin remind me of similar segmented skirts on jumps, a type of undress bodice worn at home. I realize that sounds odd, but in the 18th century “undress” was used as a noun, whereas today we only use it as a verb (“to get undressed”). “Undress” meant anything that was not a formal gown or fitting for company, especially of a higher social class. If you’ve ever been to Colonial Williamsburg or a similar historical reenactment site, most of the interpreters you see are working class types in undress wear, such as linen or homespun petticoats and plain jackets. However, one woman’s imported chintz caraco and wool petticoat might be the finest outfit she owns, but everyday “undress” for an upper class woman with a couple of silk robe à la françaises in her wardrobe.
A jacket and petticoat outfit is less formal than a gown, and very versatile since you can mix and match with a new petticoat or jacket. The silk fabrics elevate Annelise’s combination, making it suitable for a stroll through Versailles and implying a higher social class than the plain woolen jackets and petticoats seen on the majority of the women in the Highlands. Of course, you can mix and match as well if you already have a petticoat that would go nicely with the pink caraco—pale yellow, sky blue, or even green would be nice.
Annalise’s outfit lets the jacket be the focus with an untrimmed petticoat. Undress ensembles favored quilted petticoats in the first half of the century, and then evolved to petticoats with flounces on the bottom third. Quilted petticoats usually had wool batting with a silk top and linen backing so they kept you warm and cozy in addition to supporting the skirt. Women always wore a plain under petticoat for volume and to smooth out any lumps from supports like her bum pad or side hoops, and the quilted ones continued to be worn as under-petties for their warmth after the fashions changed. I adore quilted petticoats and the incredible craftsmanship the designs required leaves me speechless. Definitely on my costume bucket list!
Linen, a fabric made from the flax plant, was used for lining women’s and men’s coats, and often with mismatched remnants from other garments. Although today linen is more expensive than cotton, cotton fabric wouldn’t be widely used as a cheap textile until the Industrial Revolution. You could also line it with an inexpensive poly lining or china silk.
How to Make It
This is certainly the most straightforward make so far! You can sew the jacket and the petticoat from available patterns without having to do any pattern drafting. However, you’ll definitely want to do a mock-up with the correct underpinnings as getting the front to line up and close neatly will probably require some adjustments. Annalise’s jacket has separate basques or skirt pieces, so mark the hip all the way around your pattern pieces. Then sew the jacket pieces together, stopping at that hip mark. Finish the seams of the basques separately and trim with lace. The covered buttons at the elbow and center back seam are such a nice detail so don’t skip them!
I’m currently working on my wool jacket using the JP Ryan jacket pattern, and I recommend using her pattern View A for this project. So far the shape is very accurate and the directions are clear, but an absolute beginner might feel overwhelmed. I’ll do a full pattern review when I’ve finished the jacket. If you want to copy the Musee de la Mode casaquin’s petal hem just a spend a bit of time with a French curve to get a similar shape.
The tricorn hat really makes this ensemble and I’ve seen similar hats from Frontier Milinery on Etsy. Talk about a perfect match! Personally I’d love have one like this—you could also wear the hat with a vintage outfit like a fascinator.
Type: Caraco jacket with closed front and petticoat
HA Rating: 10/10
Jacket- 3 yds. Petticoat- 4-5 yds (depending on size of skirt supports)
Silk (or poly) dupioni or shantung
Also: Peau de soie, silk-wool blends or similar low shine silk fabric
Scalloped edge lace
Notions: hooks and eyes, covered button kit
JP Ryan 18thC jackets, view A
Shift with lace trimmed sleeves or tacked on engageantes
Bum roll or pad or panniers
Undergarments (to be used for all costumes)
Paniers/Side Hoops: Simplicity-American Duchess 8411, Dreamstress Panier-Along tutorial OR Bum pad: Simplicity 8162
Stays: Recommend strapless stays with this neckline. See Corsets and Crinolines (Diderot and half-boned stays), Butterick B4254 (View A or B), Simplicity 8162, or Reconstructing History
Shift/Chemise: Self-drafted or Simplicity 8162
Purple or pink tricorn hat
Ruched ribbon choker
Brooch for choker
Leather or fabric-covered 18th century shoes (These dyeable sateen ones from American Duchess are on sale, and would be perfect as-is or dyed magenta or amethyst!)