The English Gown Project

Posted by Donna on 10:39 AM with No comments
A few weeks ago, I took part one of a two-part English Gown workshop with Hallie & Steph using their brand new Larkin & Smith pattern. The end result will be a fully authentic, hand-stitched gown ready to wear for the Patriot's Day activities in Minute Man National Park this April.

I had a fabric design in mind, something I'd seen in Colonial Williamsburg (of course) and spent hours trolling boards on Pinterest, historic and costuming blogs and other sites featuring gowns of the 18th century looking for something to document my decision.

The workshop was held, fittingly enough, in the parlor of one of the historic buildings in Minute Man National park. Six women sewing in stays must have been an interesting sight. I left the class with the back skirt pleated (it’s one piece incorporating the bodice and skirt), sleeves complete and front bodice pieces cut. Doesn’t seem like much for a 6 hour class, but trust me, the pleating alone was tedious, and everything – I mean EVERYTHING - is done by hand.

In the days since, as part of my “homework” in preparation for the second workshop on March 8, I’ve finished the 4 skirt panels and attached the front bodice. Sleeves, cuffs and robing are ready. And a beautiful, complimentary light blue chintz petticoat to wear with it is nearly complete.
English gown back

English gown sleeves

My historical clothing vernacular has expanded, or more specifically, gone retro, as I’ve taken on more of these 18th century projects. I’m used to a Victorian wardrobe and glossary after spending years with the Hackettstown Historical Society, whose focus was the small NJ town’s Victorian heyday. Underthings included bustles, chemises and corsets. Now I’m wearing a bum roll, shift and stays.
The Victorian petticoat was an explosion of frills, and ruffles, the ultimate symbol of femininity in the era. It was worn under the dress, and depending on the decade, it was expected to have several swishing beneath your skirts. One would think that with such attention paid to the detailing of a Victorian petticoat, with their crisp white fabrics, beautiful eyelet embroidery and delicate lace, they would be an outer, not under garment. The highly visible 18th century petticoat was worn as part of the gown (not dress) or on its own. And, of course, a Victorian woman would never leave the house in her bed jacket or apron!

Examples of Victorian petticoats from the Metropolitan Museum

Considering this is my first 18th century gown, I am very impressed with how it is coming together. Of course, I’m already planning my second gown and ordered 6 yards of tow & white striped linen from William Booth, Draper, (along with material for my bedgown, but that's for another blog) even though I’ve told myself I need to finish my stays before I start another gown. It's a bit like the parental negotiations to get your child to finish their dinner before they get dessert.

Wait! I am the parent…