1790s open robe construction

And we are finally at the reason I started a 1790s project in the first place! (Also, this post has literally been in draft since February. Which is also when I had a baby, which explains everything).

As I posted way over a year ago(!), Burnley and Trowbridge posted a few pictures on their Instagram of dresses made of amazing ikat (or warp print or chiné a la branchefabric.

I went looking to see if I could find anything remotely similar (because I do love a challenge of trying to find historically adequate 18th century fabrics) and came across this one:

My mother in law got me some for Christmas in 2020, and this outfit started coming together in my head.

First, let’s go over the ways that this is not a historically accurate chine/warp print fabric:

  • The way the fabric is made. This fabric is a regular satin (or taffeta? It seems to be somewhere in the middle. Not totally a plain weave, but not quite as smooth as a satin. The weft threads go over ~2 warp threads, rather than a single one for a plain weave). The patterned parts are made like a regular jacquard, except the pattern purposely skips over a thread here and there to make the edges look blurry. This is not the same way a warp print was made historically (which was way more labor intensive). But it’s a clever way to fake it!
  • The scale of the fabric. Those patterned stripe sections are around 6 inches wide, and the purple sections around 8″. It’s clear this is meant to be an upholstery fabric, rather than a garment fabric (compare to the much narrower stripes in the Met open robe, where they alternate ~1″ sections of pattern and plain). This meant I had to be a lot more wasteful with fabric in trying to place stripes where I wanted them or pattern matching, compared to a very fabric-frugal18th century seamstresses mantua maker. I could have used significantly less fabric if I didn’t go for symmetry, but that would have been way less attractive.

For the pattern, I did want it to be a little more earlier-in-the-decade-shaped so I made a new pattern piece by slapping some see-through packing material that acts remarkably like swedish tracing paper over the round gown on my dress form.

Higher at the back, and a less rounded armscye.
Direct comparison over the back piece of the round gown.

A mockup as always, because when you are working with the most expensive fabric you own, you double check the fit:

Using whatever scraps I hand on hand, which was some maroon cotton and some usual muslin
You too can hide a 7.5 month pregnancy with 1790s costume!

It fit!

With that, onto construction! Tldr; it’s basically the same as my round gown, except even easier because it doesn’t have a front to fit, just a band under the bust.

A billion photos ahead!

For the lining, fold down the seam allowance on fronts and straps, whip them down to the back piece

Flip it around, fingerpress + baste the seam allowance to the inside

Testing the train length (despite this ended up too short and I ended up piecing on an 8″ strip at the bottom)

no turning back now!
prepare for so many critical role gifs as I am finally coming up on the end of Campaign 1

I did a test run of pleating with muslin to get to something I approximately liked and to get a sense of how much fabric I needed, then went with the real thing.

Turns out there is a reason these extant gowns always place fabric at an angle at center back – if you pleated a straight rectangle, you would need to waste so much more fabric to get the pleats to go low enough as you travel away from center back. Turn your fabric on an angle, and the extra length is just there! Makes sense for a time when fabric is the most expensive part of a gown.

This is the basis of all 18th century garments – as long as your lining fits, you can do whatever you want with the outer fabric (and they did indeed do whatever they wanted, especially during a particularly transitional fashion time like this).

I ended up doing fewer pleats than this test in order to show off the patterned part of the fabric, which didn’t look as good hiding in the pleats. I even used two pieces of fabric here, you just can’t tell because the seam is hidden under the pleats

See also plain purple band to go under the bust on the left part of the garment

The side piece got a piece of fabric with the pattern once again. The seam allowance is folded under on both sides and topstitched down.

From what I can tell of museum pictures, it doesn’t look like open robe trains at the time actually had a lining or facing. But mine definitely got a facing at the bottom where it touched the ground, because I’m not dragging $$$ silk on the ground kthx! This is actually some purple polyester satin in a similar shade to the purple in the dress dress that I got for dirt cheap in the Costume College bargain basement years ago.

Long rectangle is loooooong. All the sides were turned in and hand whipped on.

Top of the train is pleated up and sandwiched between the lining and fashion fabric of the bodice

There is nothing I hate more than doing knife pleats. At least stripes make it fairly straightforward to be even on both sides. Hold this thought for later…

Raw edge of the lining is turned under and the pleats are whipped to it

Note that fringe-y bit is the selvedge – I decided it was a pretty design element and left that edge to show on the sides of the skirt.

Same happens on the outside

Spot the problem?

2 purple pleats on the left, 3 purple pleats on the right. No I didn’t bother fixing it.

Then figuring out the strap and sleeve pattern! Aka the absolute worst part. Open robes can have any number of sleeve variations; no sleeves, short, medium, long. I decided to go with the most difficult version and go with a full length long sleeve which buttoned at the wrist.

I put the robe on over the round gown to figure out where I needed to add a bit more to my sleeve pattern, because the open robe had the earlier shape of having a very square corner where the strap hits the back.

I stuck pins in the round gown to mark where the open robe hit and transferred that amount to the round gown sleeve pattern.

I’ll be honest, I could not even begin to explain the frankenpatterning that went on below. It was a combination of my open robe sleeve plus the shapes from a Janet Arnold gown while trying to match it to my measurements.

This went through several iterations and mockups.

I think the paper was my round gown sleeve made longer, turned into fabric, then the fabric was cut apart where I wanted to move the seam to?
I think this was me trying to add the forearm bit onto the pattern?

This pattern below is a fairly common shape for an 18th century sleeve, although it looks bizarre to the modern eye. Modern sleeves are often one piece, maybe with a dart at the elbow for a bit of curve. This results in a sleeve which is straight/unwrinkled when the arm is straight down at your side, but will obviously wrinkle up when you bend your arm. Whereas an 18th century sleeve is curved, such that the fabric is unwrinkled when your arm is slightly bent. I have no idea why this is the case.

It somewhat resembles a modern two piece sleeve (generally seen only in coats), except the tops are stuck together and you do the equivalent of a giant dart at the bottom. It’s pretty cool I think!

From shoulder-to-elbow is from my round gown pattern and the elbow-to-wrist part came direct from Janet Arnold
I ended up needing way more height at the shoulder. Making this pattern look exactly like Janet Arnold and nothing at all like the pattern I started with from my round gown, so why did I even bother with my own?!? At least I got there eventually.
Handsewed the dart up to where the buttons would be, and basted down the seam allowance there
what it looks like from the right side with the button overlap
The dart was also sewn into the lining, and the two pieces are put wrong sides together. For some reason I made the button extension a separate piece in the lining. This doesn’t actually save fabric, so I have no idea why I did this.
Pinning them together over a tailor’s ham to keep the curve
Weird-running-whipstitch thing around the button extension edges

And now a nifty way of putting together an 18th century sleeve with no raw edges. Pin the edges together, wrong sides together. But leave out *one* of the fashion fabrics edges. Sew up that seam. Then the fashion fabric that got left out has the seam allowance folded under, and whipped over the top of the seam you just did, to enclose the raw seam inside the sleeve.

Then the part I was dreading the most – handsewn buttonholes. Look, by this point I had literally handsewn everything else in the outfit, it would be silly to pull out the machine for buttonholes now. I practiced with a scrap end of green silk buttonhole twist, and things were looking decent (if not perfect) by the time I did buttonhole test #3 in ivory.

A nifty thing I picked up from Janet Arnold – the buttonholes are angled so that they are sewn on the straight grain. If you sewed the buttonholes parallel to the opening (like a normal buttonhole), they would end up on the bias, which would be a wibbly mess to sew. Sewing them at this angle makes them more stable, and is also a super cool looking design feature.

(Anyone reading this a tailoring expert? I have some very nitpicky questions about how to improve handsewn buttonholes)

Then some tedious button covering using whatever scraps I had left. I used the instructions from this Youtube video.

Small size for the cuffs, larger size for the back detail

Set the sleeves like any 18th century sleeve. The bottom is sewed on right sides together, the top is tacked onto the shoulder lining. Stick some fashion fabric over the top, folding under all the edge and hand sew that on.

It was so close to being the right length, so channeled my inner 18th century tailor and did some piecing on the shoulder strap rather than cut into new fabric.

After trying it on over the round gown, the difference in weights on the gown vs the open robe made the round gown poke out from the bottom of the train when walking which was not attractive.

So I ended up making the train SUPER EXTRA and pieced on an 8 inch extension. Which was teeedious (unpicking the hem, sewing this piece on, cutting another lining piece for the extension, and re-hemming all the sides).

This would have been way less noticeable if it was pieced at the top because it would have gotten somewhat lost in the pleats, but I was not about to redo all my pleating nope nope nope
whipping the old lining facing to the new lining facing together to finish off the inside

To finish it off, I added a narrow gimp trim from Palladia Passementerie around every edge and the cuffs. Matching purples is difficult on the internet, and this is way more blue/purple compared to my red/purple fabric, but pretty sure 18th century folks did not have the same color matching sensibilities as us so I YOLOd and went with it.

Note the pieced bit on the front strap. Or don’t, because it didn’t line up quite as well as I wanted. 5 foot rule is in effect here.
I left the selvedge fringe because it looked purposeful. Expensive fabric can sometimes have a pretty selvedge!
How much trim I had left when I finished! Since the trim had been ordered before adding the train extension, which required an extra 16″ yikes

And a couple of photos of the finally finished robe!

Piecing on both sides of the shoulder straps
long train is looooooong
The back, literally the point of the entire outfit

Ok, since this post is already internet-breakingly long and full of photos, actual photos of me wearing it are gonna have to wait until next time! (whenever that may be. Time is a fake human construct anyways).

This entry was posted in 1790s, Warp Print Open Robe. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 1790s open robe construction

  1. Pingback: 1790s open robe photos | Avant Garbe

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