A Striped Gown Anglais

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Blue and white striped cotton gown in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When my husband and I were asked to portray tavern owners at the Bachman Publick House Tavern Night, I knew we needed some new clothing.   Heretofore we portrayed militia and working class labourers so our clothing wasn’t haute enough for property owners like the proprietors of the 1753 Bachman.  

I decided to recreate the above gown in the collection of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Unfortunately, I started only with a black and white photo of the front of the gown (shown in Hersh Cloth Cumberland County).   The only description of the gown in that book is the caption of the photo which reads:

 

Later, my friend gave me photocopies of a paper presented at the Costume Symposium.   This paper included much more detail, but it still did not answer some of the questions I had about the gown’s construction.   The paper lacked a graphed layout of the gown pieces and neglected to describe the sewing techniques employed to assemble much of the gown.  

Since I didn’t have time to schedule an appointment at the Philadelphia Museum before Tavern Night, I “filled in the blanks” on this gown with information from a similar gown.   I used information from Baumgarten’s Costume Close-up and Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion as well as drawings in Bradfield’s Costume in Detail and photos in Hart’s Fashion in Detail.

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Fitting the bodice lining.   The first step to draping this type of gown is getting the lining right.   This lining was cut from 5.5oz linen based on a muslin mock-up my friend Mara fit on me.   Rule number one: Never Trust the Muslin.   The muslin is made out of different fabric from the lining and will react differently to handling, sewing, and the warmth of the body.   In this specific case, linen warms to the body and stretches, so the linen bodice lining was warmed with an iron and stretched on the mannequin over the shift and stays I will be wearing under the gown.   It was basted together and pinned this way for several days and smoothed and repinned daily.   When I was convinced it looked correct, I sewed the seams with backstitches and replaced it on the mannequin.

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The front edge of the gown is cut on the bias (the straight grain travels from just to the side of center front to over the shoulder) so cutting the front was a precarious business.   The stripes had to match perfectly.   After cutting the fronts, I lined up the stripes and basted them together along the center front edge.   This is where the gown opening will be, but the stripes must line up perfectly during construction.   When the gown is near completion, the front will be opened and stitched to the bodice lining.

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Pressing the wrong and right side of the basted front opening to set the crease.

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The basted front of the bodice pinned onto the lining.

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Now we move to the back of the gown.   A length of full-width fabric is pinned onto the shoulders of the mannequin.   The stripes are adjusted so that they are exactly vertical.   A little extra if left at the top in case of misjudgement.

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The back pleats are pinned in and pressed and then the back piece is put back on the mannequin.   I did this three times before I was satisfied with the placement and symmetry of the pleats.

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The pleats are then sewn down with tiny blindstitches and pressed.   Much to my chagrin, on this striped fabric, the pleats nearly disappear!

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The sideseams and shoulders of the bodice front are then stretched and pinned over the back to check the fit.   Fits like a glove…

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Next, the tedious pleating of the skirt.   Good thing I love pleats!   The striped fabric helped me immensely.   I pinned the tiny pleats into position…

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…then I took little backstitches over every single pleat to secure them…

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I did the same about 1½” down from the first row of stitching as was done in the robe anglais on the right1

 

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Kass in her gown (with pockets stuffed!) at the Bachman House’s Tavern Night, July 2002.

All pictures on this site taken by the author except photo of the original gown scannned from Hersh’s book.

Bibliography

  1. Linda Baumgarten and John Watson with Florine Carr. Costume Close Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790. 1999: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA.
  2. Tandy and Charles Hersh. Cloth and Costume 1750-1800. 1995: Cumberland County Historical Society, Camp Hill, PA.


© 2002, 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

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