1790s round gown – construction

A round gown is so-named because it had the skirt attached all the way around the bodice, in contrast to so many 18th century gowns which were open in front to show the petticoat underneath.

(If saying “round” makes you think of the End of the World flash video, congratulations you are exactly the same generation as me:)

By 1790, a round gown was very common (maybe even more so than an open gown?) and you could easily layer different things on top to change up the look. A few examples:

Woman’s dress of lime green silk, trimmed with pinked strips of the same silk and handsewn in a darker shade of green silk thread: British, about 1795 – 1800. National Museum Scotland.

Portrait des demoiselles Flamand by François Dumont the Elder.

They closed in front where the lining is pinned over the bust, and the outer fabric then tightens with a drawstring (making this extremely size adjustable, and therefore fantastic to mock up during pregnancy when the bust size is a changing target).

You can even see the open front in this portrait!

Portrait of the Duchesse D’Aiguillon by Adelaide Labille-Guiard⁣

This dress went through two false starts before I actually got a functional pattern. First I started with my vaguely regency pattern which was altered from a modern sloper, figuring I could change the lines to be more 1790s ish. It wasn’t cooperating, so it got thrown into a corner while I scaled up the 1790s pattern from the American Duchess book. Then I remembered that I am totally not the same size as any standard pattern, so why did I think that would work?

Finally I girded my loins and took a pattern off a ~1770s dress that I started in a workshop with the mantua-maker from Colonial Williamsburg (it’s been sitting unfinished in a bin for years now, but one day I’ll finish it up and show it here). 1790s dresses pretty much evolved from earlier decades to have a higher and higher waistline until it hit under the bust, so I just chopped a whole bunch off that pattern. And whaddya know, it was pretty close on the first try! I did a little tweaking on my Beatrice dress form and draping the shoulder straps. Since support garments don’t change the fit of the upper back or shoulders, this was going to get me pretty close.

While later regency dresses use a rounded armscye and typical sleeve insertion, earlier dresses still used the 1700s technique of sleeve insertion where you have a sharp corner next to the shoulder strap.
Normally I would rotate out that wee bit of fullness on top into the underbust dart, but since this was going to close with a drawstring the extra fabric didn’t matter.

Once I had a functioning pattern, time to put it together. 1790s construction is weird. It makes sense once you do it, but it’s so different from modern construction that it takes time to wrap your brain around. It was also a very transitional era, meaning there is no One True Way, and basically as long as it works, you’re fine.

I was originally going to follow construction instructions from the American Duchess book, but partway through I realized that also wasn’t going to work as well due to some of my design choice (e.g. I wanted the fronts to be all one piece, and not a separate skirt and bodice piece). So, I turned to the amazing construction writeups/tutorials from Koshka the Cat (things like this are why I still love blog posts, and try and maintain my own blog and not just instagram) and more or less followed this.

I used a lightweight linen for the lining (I’m pretty sure this is leftover from making my husband an 18th C shirt, no he still does not have any of the rest of this outfit) and a sheer spotted cotton/silk voile I bought on sale for $4/yd from Fabric Mart back in 2014(!). While sheer cotton dresses are historically accurate, and silk dresses are historically accurate, and spotted dresses are historically accurate, I can’t guarantee the combo of all of these is. But it certainly looks good, and huzzah for using a 7 year old stash fabric!

Here is the wrong side (or side touching my skin) of the lining. The seam allowances of all the shoulder and side pieces are folded under and fell-stitched on to the back piece. I did this all by hand with linen thread because the seams are so short (also not having any deadline, I was having fun with handstitching). The neck seams are also turned towards each other and stitched together using le point a rabattre sous la main, which is a very fancy-sounding name for a stitch that is half whipstitch half running stitch and has no english name equivalent.

if it looks like an octopus, you are doing it right
If you squint, you can see the visible top stitching on the neck edge. Historical folks did Not Care if you had visible top stitching. Not in love with how my fabric is so sheer it shows my clips into the curves, but there was no way around it.

Flip the whole thing over, mount the side pieces onto the lining, fold under the seam allowances, and topstitch them onto the back piece. I used a spaced backstitch since these are under a little bit of strain going around the body.

You can also see how I stopped stitching about an inch from the bottom, to give myself room to fold the waist seam allowances towards each other. This gets finished, and later the skirt will be whipped onto here.

A quick try-on before attaching the fronts:

Yes, I’m wearing a balconette bra over a chemise as my foundation garment.
Must lower the neckline of this chemise, or only ever wear this with something covering the back…

The front is one big piece of fabric. I laid the front pattern on the fabric, and cut out my fabric following the top of my pattern, but extending the bottom into a skirt, and extending the front into what will be gathered up over a drawstring, making it so the sides of the skirt are selvedge-to-selvedge. This hopefully makes more sense in the next photo, where I apparently had already sewn a tuck for the underbust drawstring casing and rolled over the neckline for the neckline drawstring casing.

Since my front is all one piece instead of two, I cut a slit and narrowly hemmed in to give the drawstrings somewhere to actually exit.

I agonized whether my underbust tuck should be on the inside or outside. I ended up doing it inside, which in retrospect was a mistake because it made for some serious wonkiness at the side seams where the skirt backs attached, which wouldn’t have been an issue if this seam was flipped the other way.

Here’s where you can see a small mistake – while my lining pattern is only two pieces (a back and a front-side combo piece), my outer fabric actually needed to have a separate side piece (due to not wanting the underbust drawstring to go all the way around to the back and needing it to stop at the sides). But I forgot about that when I was cutting the fronts. Having different patterns for lining and outer fabric is a very common 18th century thing. As long as your lining fits the body, you can do whatever you want mounting the outer fabric on top.

This is not supposed to overlap the entire side piece! Had to chop that chunk out.

The front piece has the seam allowances turned under at the sides and stitched on top of the sides, sewing through both the outer fabric and the lining. But, it’s left completely separate at the fronts (including the neckline and underbust seam) as the front lining and front outer fabric have separate closures.

Then time to attach the skirts at the back! My original plan was to cartridge pleat (which I love, because there is no fudging pleats to fit. Just move pleats over to cover the area) but my fabric was so light and sheer that the cartridge pleats didn’t take up enough space, and would have been massively gappy in the back.

See how spaced those pleats would have to be to take up the whole back? Uuuugly.

So I sucked it up and made some knife pleats (which I hate). And then I ended up with too much fabric left in the middle, so I did just turn the middle bit into cartridge pleats. I’m pretty sure this combo is historically accurate, and it ended up looking decent.

The skirt top is just folded down and the edge left raw, but it’s not going to get a lot of rubbing. If it really started to fray I would whipstitch over the edge (the OG form of serging). Then the folded top of the skirt and the finished edge of the bodice back are whipstitched together.

Definitely decent from far away. Have I mentioned how amazing my Beatrice dress form is? The shoulders are actually narrow enough to put my dresses on!
Exceedingly meh from close up. I wish the knife pleats were about half this width, but I was not about to redo them.

One more try-on to see how it’s looking, and it’s looking fabulous!

Looking slightly pregnant, but while I *am* pregnant here the shape is more coming from the gathers under the bust. This is 100% dead-on the fashionable silhouette and makes me so happy in its ridiculousness.
It’s maybe a smidge lower cut than I intended, but hey some extra cleavage isn’t the worst (and I can wear a chemisette to fill in the neckline for daywear)
A train! Aka the reason this will never be worn before Covid is over because sheer white silk train is pretty much an indoor-only thing 😭

Then onto sleeves!

Ugh, that means I needed to fit a sleeve pattern.

I pulled the sleeve pattern from my Eliza Schulyer dress as a starting point, knowing that they needed a higher sleeve cap (in their current incarnation on that dress they really really pull the shoulders down off my shoulders. One day I’ll piece in some fabric to fix those…)

Not shown here, me going through about 3 mockups here to fix them. They were made slightly easier by the fact that I wanted these to be short-ish sleeves ending just above the elbow, meaning I didn’t need any curved shaping around the elbow.

Once again, if you want to know how to set an 18th century sleeve, hit up Koshka’s lovely tutorial! TLDR; you attach them right side to right side at the bottom, but then partway up they just sit on top of the strap lining and are pleated to fit. Then topstitch a strap of the outer fabric on top, covering those seam allowances.

Here’s a test sleeve basted on (right sides together at the bottom, then pinned on top):

The top of the sleeve edge on top of the shoulder strap lining. Those raw edges eventually get covered.

Note the seam allowance of the shoulder strap was basted down to help hold it in place. This will be removed at the end.

Same test sleeve from the back. It flips from folded under to not-folded right where it will be covered.

And once the real sleeve has been backstitched into the armscye on the bottom and basted on top, a rectangle of material is cut and draped on to cover all the raw edges:

View from the top.

Fold under all the strap seam allowances, and topstitch this piece on! I either used a running stitch or a spaced backstitch (or maybe a combo? Don’t recall.) as this piece isn’t taking a ton of strain.

And the dress was done! And as usual, no pictures of me wearing it because I ended up going straight to the open robe in anticipation of wearing it to a friends costume tea (and then lol ended up not actually wearing it for other reasons like weather). So just a dress form picture:

The underbust is less wobbly on me.
This will be a great base layer for tons of fun accessories!

And showing how the closure works:

Next up is the whole reason I made this dress to begin with – the open robe – aka cutting into the most expensive fabric I’ve ever worked with :O

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