Thursday, November 13, 2014

Late 18th Century Ensemble - Butterick #3640 "Making History" OOP

This was my first foray into late 18th Century attire.  I must admit that I was a bit intimidated.  Where to begin or even how to begin were just a few of the stumbling blocks, but I needed something to wear to the upcoming San Diego Costumer Guilds “18th Century Picnic”, so a commitment I did make. 

Like many of us, I started poking around on my own 18th Century Pinterest board for ideas, both for research and inspiration.  The volume of information on Pinterest in general is a tad overwhelming, so I began with just narrowing it down to the style of gown I was going to make – mainly, what I am going to call, a “Caraco” style.  There are a few of these Caraco style gowns out there, not many, but enough so that I felt comfortable using this pattern as my starting point. 

My goal in sewing is to make something to the best of my ability that I am proud to wear.  Something that reflects my original inspiration of the era.  Is it always “Historically Accurate/HA” or “Period Correct” – no, but, it is as close as I can make it.  I set myself very high standards, in that if it is going to take me days and or weeks to create, if I am going to give up days of my life, it had better be as great as I can make it.  I do not sew to impress anyone or to measure up to any persons expectations or restrictions except my own.  When I am done, I want the garment to speak for itself.

This era was always my most intimidating for a few of reasons, one being the amount of fabric needed, the correct type of fabrics and trims, the amount of hand-sewing involved, and even the technical aspects of the historical garments themselves. 

After looking around at research, fabrics, and patterns, I was ready to make that first fabric cut.  I had purchased a pair of huge curtains a few months ago, 10’ x 15’ for each one.  Over nine yards of fabric for each curtain, and wasn't that a lot of fun to try washing!  It was a beautiful red and gold striped cotton.  There were several documented gowns in stripes, and with that I set the pattern pieces and started cutting.  Worse case, I figured if I made a mistake, I had a whole other curtain I could start over with as backup!  The fabric is a medium weight decorator cotton and has a good drape to it.   I made “Gown A”, and just squeaked out the 9 1/2yds needed with a little bit left for self fabric trims.

The petticoat went together quickly and was actually a lot of fun. You will need pocket hoops for this look, and the pattern does compensate for them.  I elected to utilize the existing curtain seams and simply had to figure out seam placements.  Lots of fast pleating for the front and back panels.  I used grosgrain ribbon for the waist ties, so it would not slip once fastened.  The petticoat took all of maybe two hours.

So, on to the actual Caraco.  The bodice front is “pieced”, meaning on each side of the front opening there are TWO pieces of fabric, as opposed to the HA “ONE” piece.  Also, the pattern itself is of  Modern Design, as the cut of the sleeves clearly indicate. (Thank you to the ladies that helped me learn to see this pattern in a more realistic manner, in that it has a great look, but not exactly HA)  I did find several examples of “Front Closing and Pieced Bodice” historical garments, and this is my Pinterest Link: 

I wanted to make sure that I was actually seeing a seam line, and not a channel groove for boning.  So, I went into each picture to see if I could trace it back to it’s original location.  My favorite to use is at The Met, as it has an absolutely amazing “zoom” feature that lets you get right down to the seam line, and the clarity is amazing.  To see what I am talking about, try this link, click on the photo, to bring it up in a new page, and zoom into the seam line: 

Once I had several confirmed originals, I felt better about the pattern as a whole, in that it gave me the “Look” I was going for, and the “Look” was Historically based.  I also poked around these originals and noted that oftentimes the sleeves were not lined, so I did not line my sleeves, only the body of the Caraco is lined with a dark red cotton.  The lining is boned throughout and at the front closures. There was a lot of hand sewing involved, and for me that was painful, both literally (finger pokes) and figuratively (would it never end)!  So, I would pop “Dangerous Liaisons” with Glenn Close or “Marie Antoinette” with Kristen Dunst  into the DVD player to help keep me inspired and entertained.  (side note: have you ever noticed the tennis shoes in the shoe scene for MA? LOL).  The Caraco took less than ten days, as I would work a few hours each day.  The yards of 1” pleating all around the waistline was worthy of a glass of wine or two, as were the fourteen pairs of size 3 hooks and eyes all hand sewn.  Lastly, as with most things we make, the sewing is the easy part, it’s the fitting that can really get you!  Fitting my self is a challenge at best, but I finally pulled the external and internal fabrics into some semblance of a fit that I was happy with. 

My "Painted" photo
Next up was decorating!  The fun part of every sewing project that makes all the pain and toil worthwhile.  I wanted to keep it simple.  I knew I was going to an outdoor picnic, and I did not have a lot of fabric from the first curtain left over, so just a couple of yards of 1” ruching was used for neckline and sleeves over a 2" black netting.   All hand-pinked, but machine sewn, and thank heavens for the ruffler foot!  I also made a self-fabric “choker”, and finished off with black 2” grosgrain ribbon as a bow for the center front, and as a sash.  The red wide-brimmed hat was a great find, as was the black swans down feathers for decorating the hat.  I had the medium-sized “big hair” at only 7” high and used that to anchor the three hat pins that kept the hat on my head!  Jewelry included a pair of sterling silver drop earrings of pear shaped garnets and marcasite chips, a vintage sterling silver sash pin,  plus a wind-up 1” skeleton watch on a vintage pin at the waist front. 

Frilly Pocket Hoops

Lastly, here is the link to the “Pocket Hoops” that I made for this ensemble:

I have three more late 18th century ensembles on the construction schedule for the upcoming months, and will post notes as I progress through them.  Thank you for stopping by to read up on this.  Feel free to “join” this page for future posts!   


  1. Trudy, this outfit is a delight! One of my very favorites that you have made. It was even more beautiful in person! Perfection :)

    1. Thank you Cindy! I have a couple more 18thc gowns scheduled for 2015!

  2. I have to admit I took more photos of you and Gina at the picnic. It was by far the most eye catching and you did a beautiful job on it.
    I guess I'd better get my blog on this done too now.

    1. Thank you Val! It was a very challenging project and I am glad it turned out as well as it did!

  3. Love this look, fabric and pattern( I knoe!!! Typically I don't say that about many patterns from the big three but it always went together so easy!)
    Anyway you look stunning!

    1. Ms Musings, thank you for your post! I had a little problem with the sizing and had to take it in everywhere, but finally got it to fit. I like the way it turned out as well, and I have fabric to make the full length version next!