This got me thinking of what specific part of the 1800-1820 time period would be easiest to create with minimal cutting. I decided on a neoclassical/very early 19th century- inspired design. I figured a neoclassical look would be the best to minimize cutting given that the focus was more on drapery than a tailored look. In fact, the ancient garments from which the early 19th century drew inspiration were often made up of more or less complete lengths of fabric woven to size, and, when cut, were made with little to no waste fabric.*
*I think there may be an interesting discussion of this in Dorothy Burnham's Cut my Cote, which explores the history of clothing cut to loom widths in various cultures (and has DIAGRAMS!). I can't remember if there was any mention of Classical Antiquity in it, but a very good book either way.
I had three panels of fabric, one of a full width and two of half widths (a single full width which had been cut in half and hemmed on the resulting raw edges). These I decided to arrange in a format more or less like this:
|NB: Diagram is not to scale|
To control fullness in the back, I decided to pleat it. Although I haven't seen this technique used on any gauze gowns (and so far I have only found them on open gowns), but pleating was a fitting technique used in this era, and not only did it make the most sense for me in terms of cutting less fabric, but it is also a very pretty look.
|Left: silk gown, 1795-1800, V&A acc. no. T.116-1938; Right: painted cotton gown, 1795-1800, V&A |
acc. no. T.121-1992 These are both open gowns, unlike mine. Notice also the pleated [?] treatment of the shoulder straps on the left example. These two gowns are also featured with line drawings in Hart and North's Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, for anyone interested.
I basically eyeballed the pleats and pinned them in, so that they were more or less equal, like this:
My pleats ended up oriented the opposite way from the V&A examples above. I figured though that by pleating them this way the skirt poofs out a bit more in the back. The gauze was very difficult to pleat- this fabric actually has a lot of stretch, especially if the pleats are at all angled off the grain, like mine were. I had to iron it several times to get the pleats to stay flat, and it took many pins to keep them in place during sewing.
To assemble it all, there was lots of last-minute-sewing-an-hour-before-the-event, but it got finished, and worked reasonably well throughout the ball (I had to re-pin the train in the back a couple of times, but nothing worse than that). It also turned out to be very pretty... I may just be a convert to Empire styles!
On another note, I discovered while I was in the middle of making this gown that The Hungarican Chick made a very similar pleated crossover dress some years ago, which looks absolutely lovely (and hers also has an underbodice, which probably makes pleating much more exact)! She also has a tutorial on how she made hers, so if you're interested, go check out her site!
So, now onto what you were all waiting for... More finished pictures! (And Historical Sew Monthly entry, for anyone who follows that).
What the item is: Directoire gown
The Challenge, and how this item fulfills it: It is made up of three big rectangles of fabric shaped by pleating (in the back) and a sash in front.
Fabric/Materials: A whole lot of cotton gauze (I'm not sure how much, but I think it started life as a curtain)
Pattern: my own draping
Year:1795-1805, neoclassical look.
Notions: dark blue thread & wax, a silk scarf for the waistband
How historically accurate is it? I'm going for plausible with this. I sewed it all using stitches that would have been known at the time, but I didn't really do much research on the design. However, I've seen examples of pleated backs on over-gowns from this era (and am presuming it was still a widely- known technique given the pleated backs on late 18th century gowns). I'm supposing that this might have been a very expensive (given the material and colour) and fashionable dress for the time. As far as it's being sleeveless, there doesn't seem to be much evidence for sleeveless gowns worn on their own in this era, but I ended up wearing this over a short-sleeved chemise, so that there was some sort of sleeve. Actually, I recently found a portrait of a woman wearing a sleeveless overgown (I.e. layered over something else) that vaguely resembled this, at least from what was visible in the painting. I'm not sure though whether this was styled only for the purposes of the painting (as a deliberate classical reference) or as a real garment (also the picture had no provenance with it >:( ) I was very inspired by how ancient Roman/Greek dresses relied on full rectangles of material (obviously with a different treatment of the fullness than I have used here) so hopefully I get an extra point for neoclassical inspiration!
Hours to complete: maybe 7 or 8. There was lots of scary last minute hemming though.
First worn: April 8th, for a ball at a 19th century inn as part of the Toronto Jane Austen Weekend.
Total cost: $3 cad for the material several years ago