Monday, December 10, 2012

Holidays at the House and a Festive New Gown

With the holiday season in full swing now I think it's time I finally wrote a post about my favorite event of the year at Woodville Plantation . It's called Holidays at the House and is held every year in late November.
 Special candlelight tours are given by costumed guides and it's all about how Christmas was celebrated at Woodville in the late 18th and early 19th century. This year I was asked for the first time to give tours myself. so of course I needed a new gown! I had been hoarding the perfect fabric for the past year. it's actually a Christmas print by Moda called fa la la la la la. But it looks almost exactly like extant late 18th century cotton print.

My very festive fabric.

  I knew I wanted a 1790's open robe but wasn't quite sure what style at first i was considering a crossover bodice style.

Originally I had something like this in mind for my gown.

But after looking at many images of extant garments I decided to go with an earlier transitional style, with a lower waist and tight bodice and long sleeves.

Pink silk dress, American, 1790's.
The original open robe and petticoat I based the look of my new gown on.

 This was my first foray into the actual 18th century. I've done late 1790's styles before that are very much like the later regency styles in construction, but I had never done any early to mid 1790's. So I needed to draft a patten. I had this extant open robe in mind but of course there was no picture of the back or anything, so I needed to figure something out. First I started out with my late 1790's open robe pattern thinking I could just elongate the lines to make the bodice longer.

My late 1790's open robe

But that did not work out so well, as early 1790's bodices are cut with straighter lines than the later more curved lines that I am so familiar with.

the first of many pattern I drafted for the robe bodice.

 So I poured over my costume books looking at patterns and line drawings of late 18th century gowns in Patterns of Fashion and Costume in Detail. I decided on a combination of several styles from Costume in Detail and set to draping a new bodice pattern.

The drawing from Costume in detail I based the back of my gown off.

I I haven't fully draped a pattern in a long while and it was kind of fun. I have always preferred draping to drafting but since all I usually do is make small alterations to already existing patterns I rarely drape anything new.

The first draped toile.

 For the sleeve I figured I could just use the sleeve pattern I had just drafted for Erin's new 1790's round gown. But they turned out to look too baggy with the style I had in mind . So i did some serious pattern re drafting for the sleeve to make it more narrow and make the sleeve head more shallow.

The re drafted sleeve toile

It was a long process of draping, drafting, toile making and adjustments, I lost count after 4 bodice toiles. But after several days of  fiddling I had a spiffy new pattern.

One of the earlier toiles that didn't quite fit

The final paper pattern, ready to cut out the lining.

the final toile with one sleeve

Rather crooked back view

Cutting into the very busy patterned fashion fabric was a bit taunting. I wanted to match up the pattern as best I could at the center back and center front so that when worn the pattern would match up perfectly.

The final pieces all cut out

Bodice front

Bodice back, there's actually a seam at the center back can you tell?
  After the bodice was put together to my satisfaction I set in the sleeves. I usually gather the sleeve head but this time i decided to pleat it like the extant gown I was basing the pattern on. I like the less puffy look of the pleated sleeves and it fits really well.

Bodice with sleeves set in.

I managed to match the pattern quite nicely.

 I only had just enough fabric left over to make the open skirt with the tiniest of trains. The skirt is box pleated to the bodice matching up the pleats to the seamlines of the bodice giving the illusion of en en foreau back.

Showing off the pleating in the skirt back.

The bodice is closed with pins and one hook and eye at the bottom to hold the overlapping ends together more securely. I finished the open robe the day before the event and now had to make a mathcing petticoat in a day, I had ordered 6 yards of high quality red glazed cotton, which was very popular in the last years of the 18th cnetury.

Robe (England) ca. 1795 - 1800 Block-printed glazed cotton, lined with linen
Original printed cotton robe and glazed cotton petticoat ca. 1795 from the V&A

It turned out to be just a bit too shiny for my taste it was so shiny it looked like pleather! So I gave it a gentle was in cold water which reduced the shine a bit, I'm still not sure if it it's not a bit to shiny but oh well.
The petticoat is a simple skirt gathered to a waist band which  that has grosgrain ribbon as suspenders as was common in the period. When the waistline started creeping up the petticoat which usually would sit right at the waist needed to be held up, this was achieved by either adding a small sleeveless bodice or like my petticoat with simple straps that went over the shoulders.

The petticoat with the shoulder straps showing.

To give the skirt some more visual interest and volume I added a scalloped ruffle at the hem that I cut with my fantastic new scalloped pinking shears and and gathered with my pleating foot. Because time was running out  the petticoat is all machine sewn instead of my usual practice of hand sewing all visible seams. I simply was not willing to hand sew that super long ruffle to the hem by hand at midnight the night before the event. Perhaps i will take the ruffle off one day and re attach it by hand, but probably not....

Finally done late at night!

The next morning I got up extra early to get all dressed up. I paired the new robe with my new big ass sheer cap and net fichu. My lovely Kensington shoes and American Duchess clocked stockings.

My puuuurrrrty shoes and stockings

And as a extra touch of luxury I wore my new Georgian reproduction garnet earrings!

Beautiful Georgian reproduction earrings

 Oh and let's not forget my curly wig!

Erin and I in out new finery

Honestly I thought I looked like a younger version of Mrs. Claus, or a very festive French Revolutionist. I think it's the cap next time I'll wear a turban with the outfit so I feel less frilly. But overall I was quite happy with my new get up and I got tons of compliments.

Lottie and I, she loves dressing up.

I took Charlotte along this time and she got to wear her red cloak . To make her regency gown look more 18th century I used a cotton neckcloth crossed over her chest and knotted in the back and but my small cotton cap on her head. I had to sew a wig clip on the inside of the cap so it would stay on her head! She also wore her new linen pantaloons and really sweet brown leather ankle boots I scored at Target on clearnce last wineter! She loved dressing up and everyone was charmed by her.
Erin got to wear her new dress and rocked a turban with huge ostrich plume. I think we all looked every dashing, and had  a great time at the event.
I gave my first tour together with Erin and I think we did quite well as tour guides. In between tours we took the opportunity to take some pictures in the cande lit house. Susan a fellow volunteer had her fancy camera along and took some really lovely pictures.


Being contemplative

Erin and her husband Mike

Isn't that a fantastic banyan?

18th century cool

Toasting the holiday season.

The Athey's

Shadow and light.

There's just something magical about being in this old house by candlelight while wearing period clothes, it's the closest we can get to having a time machine. What a marvelous way to start off the holiday season!


  1. Klasse! Von der Entstehung bis zum fertigen Ergebnis, einfach eine wunderbares open robe!!! Ich hätte hier auch gern so tollen Stoff, wie es ihn bei euch zu kaufen gibt!
    Sei ganz lieb gegrüßt aus dem verschneiten Deutschland!

  2. Danke Kerstin!.
    Wir haben villeicht den besseren Stoff aber ihr in Europa habt die besseren Kulissen um dan das fertige produkt zu tragen ;)