I didn't actually plan to make this dress. I knew I needed a new 18thC dress for an upcoming dress talk at a local library, and I had a few things up on the drawing board, and one by one, those things started to prove more involved than I anticipated. I was actually about halfway through a new caraco before I decided to switch gears and make this. The caraco just did not want to cooperate. I used the Janet Arnold pattern, the same one I used for the Curtain Along Caraco, as my guide, but absolutely nothing went right. The bodice wrinkled in weird ways, the skirtings didn't want to sit right, and with just three yards of fabric to work with, I had absolutely no room to rework any flubs or mistakes that might have been made. I decided that, instead of hammering away at it and trying to squeeze it in before a tight deadline, I would set it aside and take my time reworking it when I didn't have to have it finished in time for an event. By the time I came to that decision, it was only a couple of weeks until the talk, and I still didn't have anything to wear!
I hit all the local fabric stores, but things either didn't work or were too expensive. (Another reason I sidelined the caraco - I couldn't find a red satin for the petticoat that matched the fabric I was using on the caraco.) I was on the verge of using something in the Stash that I'd earmarked for something else, when the clouds parted and a beam of light shone down on a bolt of fabric in Walmart. Yes, Walmart.
I had seen it before and knew that I wanted to use it for something 18thC, but I didn't know quite what. Thankfully, there was just enough on the bolt, about 8 yards, to eek out a gown if I made a contrasting petticoat.
I dug out the last bodice pattern that I made that worked and used it to cut out a lining from plain cotton muslin. Then I started on the gown, making an en forreau pleated back and fitted front. Since I actually had a decent amount of fabric to work with, I could actually make the skirt as full as I wanted, rather than simply scrimping by.
Before completing the rest of the gown, I decided to switch gears and work on the petticoat. I took a swatch to the store and began holding it up to fabrics to see what worked, and fell in love with a mustard colored cotton. I bought enough to make a nice full petticoat to go over my new panniers.
With that finished, I went back to working on the gown. I finished the front, added the sleeves, and finished the straps.
I spent the day before the lecture finishing the trim and stomacher. The trim was hemmed and gathered on the machine, but tacked onto the dress by hand. For as little time I had available, I'm really proud of how much
hand-sewing went into this dress. The long seams on the inside and the
hidden seams in the bodice are sewn on the machine, but the pleating on
the back, the shoulder straps, the trim, and the lining at the bodice waist is all done by hand.
I literally finished this dress about 5 minutes before I left for the lecture. I'm actually super happy with this dress - it fits perfectly, looks great, and is actually 100% complete, unlike most of my gowns, which usually have some quick fix in the stomacher or no waistband on the petticoat or something.
I also had to make all new undies for this outfit, which also cut down on the amount of time I had to work on the gown itself. I made a new pannier, a new under-petticoat, a new shift, and new engageantes out of this fabulous embroidered net lace that I found at one of our local fabric warehouses.
The dress talk went incredibly well. I hate public speaking, but it was a subject I was really comfortable talking about, and I had a great audience that came loaded with tons of questions. They were super interested in the clothing and beauty trends of the 18th century, and even though it was just a general overview of fashion, I feel like people went away knowing more about a period that I love and that's very popular in television and film right now.