I can't remember if inspiration struck so much as that I wanted to get going on this project. The Modern Mantua-Maker's stunning Italian gown was definitely one inspiration, as was the Italian gown pattern in the An Agreeable Tyrant catalog. As much as I love the pleated back gowns, I wanted to try a new style, and the quarter-backed Italian gowns were all the rage this past year. So that's what I decided to do.
I started with petticoats, as I usually do. I hand-sewed the printed one, and machined the white taffeta one. I also misjudged skirt lengths and got not enough of the taffeta, so it is extra short! I've since added a ruffle that I can't decide if it looks silly or not.
Then it was time to make the dress. I again used Reconstructing History's 822 pattern as a base, and then modified it heavily using the gown pattern on Page 39 of Patterns of Fashion 1.
My mock-up was OK...
Aside from the stays issue. The grey cover shows where the stomacher-front stays hit on my body. I didn't want that much showing over top, so that's when I decided I needed a new pair of stays!
I'd made a custom draft from Stays & Corsets, but was really disappointed with the fit (the draft has you take off a minimal amount of circumference, resulting in a snug t-shirt fit and not a supportive garment). I'll write more about them in another post, but I ended up making the 1780s stays from a pattern originally provided by RalphPink.com, which I believe is a straight-up draft from Corsets and Crinolines. It is no longer available there.
And I was really glad I did, because the new one changed the shape of my bust! My original pair flattened my bust and pushed it up, this one pushes it more forward. This was the shape I wanted for this gown. I did have to add some width and height at the CF neckline to ensure overlap and modesty, but that was an easy fix. Then it was time to forge ahead!
According to the date stamps on my photos, this dress got picked up again roughly 2.5 weeks before Costume College. Nothing like the last minute to get started. Here's the finished back on July 11:
And my first on-me fitting with the proper bits on July 13:
I'm putting this unflattering photo in because of that whole "myth of perfection" series that ran around the blogosphere last year. Welcome to what I look like when I sew on days where the temperature reached +30C. For comparison, as I write this it's -35C, and I look much the same ;)
I was pleased with the fit, and the amount of overlap I had at CF. I ended up cutting a lot of it off, but I was grateful for it.
By July 15, the bodice had sleeves, so I moved on to the skirt. I used the POF gown again, cutting my panels the full height of the diagram, and shaped the front top edge before pleating. I used a full width of the duvet cover, and a little extra (which I machined on with cotton thread; by then I just didn't want to do another long plain seam; and also had to piece a tiny corner on at the bottom where it met the skirt). I cut and hemmed slits for pocket access and hemmed the front edges (thought I had while stitching the hem: were silk selvedges nice in the 1700s, and you wouldn't need to hem them? Brilliant!). Then I pleated forever, having to redo it at least once. I split the center back to accomodate the point at the back, but stitched it back up a couple inches. I had two layers of pins going on to keep everything in place, and semi live-blogged about the process on Instagram:
A note on the back construction: I used a technique previously known as "weird running whip stitch thingy" (Stay-ing Alive) or "the stitch with no name" (Burnley & Trowbridge; link goes to a YouTube video of how to do it) and is now known as the English Stitch (The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking). I LOVE this stitch, it makes a neat, tiny seam that is very secure, and gets your back sewn together with one pass of the needle. Very efficient!
I finished the bulk of the work in a week! I sewed mostly in the evenings after work, for 3-4 hours at a time, while watching RuPaul's Drag Race or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on Netflix, and the skirt was completed on July 15 by 6pm. My fingers hurt (really need to focus on proper thimble usage) and I was so proud of what I'd accomplished.
The petticoat and gown got hemmed a few days later, and I despaired on trimming. By this time, talk was going around the blogosphere about "millinery", a term I'd only heard applied to hats before but seems to have meant all the little finishing touches (so, kinda like a hat) like ruffles and accessories. I made a couple of little ruffles to go into the elbows of this gown but did not have the brain power to suss out a neckline treatment. So I cut a length of scrap taffeta with pinking shears and tied it into a bow to pin to the neckline, and cut a triangle of voile to use as a neckerchief and fill the neckline in. (I needed it anyway, the straps I added to the stays were totally visible on my shoulders.)
A few hours before the gala, I took a quick peek into the dealers hall, where a booth was set up with almost every kind of trim anyone could want. I picked out a pleated organza (certainly poly) and turquoise velvet ribbon and rushed upstairs to start sewing it on.
All in all, I'm really happy with this dress! It was definitely a challenging project, but it suited where I am in my sewing journey, and I'm looking forward to the next one.