spring green 1770s gown

aka the “why the heck did I start this project now” gown.

this is something I worked on a few months ago, early in the year.  the only real reason is because I got this lovely emerald green colored taffeta at a perishing $1.50 a yard on clearance, and I was itching to do something with it.  I had visions of a ball gown in my head.

This gown took me the better part of three weeks to complete, working on and off, and was sewn entirely by hand (mostly due to the fact that most of the time I spent working on it was in the middle of the night.)  it’s 1770’s-ish, but I didn’t use any particular pattern or go for a certain style.  I wanted to make “just your basic 18th century gown” – something really simple in style and construction.

these pictures were all taken back in February, when we had one chance nice day in the midst of a really long streak of crummy weather.  it was super windy that day, but it was the first clear day we’d had in months.  in fact, it was so clear that the sun blinded me and I ended up making derpface in most of the pictures.  (this outfit did have a hat, I should mention, but I had forgotten it at home that day.  in any case, the wind was so strong that I’m not sure it would have stayed on my head!)

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we went out to the DeKoven Center, which is a nice historic site in the area, for pictures.  I wanted to find an old historical house to take some indoor pictures, but unfortunately none of the ones around here are open this time of year.

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we didn’t really plan ahead to do photos that day, so my outfit was really thrown together.  the gown still needs a little more work.  like I said, I forgot my hat, and I don’t have any accessories, just a black ribbon I happened to have in my bag to tie around my neck.  how sorely underdressed I was!  my wig wasn’t helping either; it looked fine to me when we left the house, but it went flat rather quickly once I was out and about.  definitely needs more poof!

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I went a little ways into the woods for some pictures.  I quickly regretted that.  I am about shin-deep in show here; I put my boots on to go walking (you can see my laces in the second pic!) but that didn’t prevent my feet from getting soaked.


I’m doing major derpface in this pic, but it’s one where you can see my shoes.  these shoes are not at all appropriate for being outside where we were, but they matched the outfit, so I put them on for a few shots.  they’re mules that I scored at the thrift store and refashioned for this outfit, and they’re really quite cute; I want to get some pictures with them once this outfit is really finished.

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here are some shots where you can see the bodice of the gown.  you can see how bare I am under the cape – no jewelry, no engageantes, a fichu or anything.  it needs some work still – you can see the sleeve coming off my shoulder.  I’m not sure if that was because my stays were laced a bit tighter that day than they had been when I was fitting the bodice, because it was a little too loose at the waist, as well, and the center overlapped more than it should have.

now, for the construction:

sorry to say, I haven’t any pictures of the work I did on this gown.  as I said, this was kind of a project I whipped together in spare moments when I was bored, or couldn’t sleep, and just felt like sewing.

I didn’t use a pattern, just draped pieces on my dress form until I had a bodice pattern that resembled patterns of that era.  the gown itself was draped on my dress form, and is cut en forreau – with the back bodice and skirt in one piece.  it didn’t come out perfect – my pleats are a little skewed to one side.  the top skirt, you can see as well, is a bit shorter than the petticoat underneath.

the bodice closes at the front center with pins – I plan to go back and add hooks eventually, but I don’t mind closing it with pins.

the sleeves gave me some trouble.  the first sleeves I drafted were too tight; I couldn’t squeeze my arms into them (I have fat upper arms :O)  I removed those, and then drew up a sleeve pattern by studying the ones in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I, and ended up with a much better fit.

I know I posted pictures of my cape some time ago, but I never covered the construction of it.  it’s so simple that there’s not much to say.  it’s basically a long rectangle, pleated at the neckline.  the fashion layer is red velvet; it’s inner-lined with flannel, and the lining is a soft maroon cotton.  the fur is thrifted from a faux-fur coat I found at a thrift store some time back.  tacking on the fur trim was the most time-consuming part of the whole piece, which I started and finished in two days.


I’m not considering this gown finished yet – it needs some fitting work, and some accessories to really call it an outfit.  but I’m afraid I won’t have time to revisit it probably until summer.  I’ve got too much going on between now and June to do as much as I’d like… >_>


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