Wednesday 2 December 2009

18th Century Underpinnings

The reading frenzy has passed for this time, and I'm sewing again.

Last night I finished my 18th century shift (dug out of the ongoing projects-box, half finished), after a couple of day’s intensive sewing. It’s made of fine, bleached linen, and sewed with waxed linen thread. No pattern was used, I just looked at all the pictures, and read all the descriptions I could find, and went from there. I had planned to add ruffles to the sleeves, but I like them as they are, so I won’t.

The shift is cut without shoulder seams, and width is added to the sides with gores, and with gussets in the sleeves. One of the side gores was pieced together from two halves, to save fabric – very period. All the seam allowances are folded in and sewn down, so that they won’t ravel when washed.

The fully boned stays (known as a corset nowadays) were made several years ago, and are a bit too large. They’re comfortable and give me close to the right shape, so they will work for now, but the new ones will be smaller. I’ll keep these though; I might (sigh) grow into them in the future. They’re made of cotton twill, and bound with cotton bias tape (so the materials aren’t period either), and completely hand sewn. Perhaps I’ll cover them in another fabric in future, and then they’ll look period enough.

It’s a bit of a project to lace myself into them; I can’t do it without looking in a mirror. My new ones will probably have front lacing as well as back lacing. Not as common in the period, from what I understand, but much easier to lace oneself into. I used a 1/8 scale pattern I got from one of my teachers in high-school, that I scaled up and changed to (hmm, somewhat) fit me. No idea how period the pattern is, but since I’ll never walk around in public without wearing clothes over my stays, they’ll do. The 18th century is not a period I usually do, anyway. Oh, and we all know what a push-up effect 18th century stays gives…. I exhaled in all the pictures so I wouldn’t look downright indecent. I have no intentions of showing of my eeeh… assets to the world. When I’ve finished the whole costume I’ll definitely wear it with a fichu tucked into the neckline for modesty.

The under petticoat was sewn a couple of years ago, and is made of a coarse, unbleached linen. Very simple, but the outfit I plan to make will be lower middle class at the highest, so I think it’s all right. It is mostly hand sewn. The front and back are pleated to two separate waistbands; the ties of the back waistband are tied in front, and then the front ones are tied in the back. This is a period way to close petticoats, and makes them very easily adjustable in case of changes in waist measurements, due to pregnancy, weight gain/loss, or a new pair of stays.

Now I have the underpinnings done, I’m really looking forward to making the rest of the clothes. I’ll need a pocket or two, an outer petticoat, a jacket, an apron, a more period correct cap (for the pictures I just took one I had lying around), and a pair of knitted stockings. The stockings are nearly done; I just need to find the inspiration to finish them. I’d like a straw hat and a pair of period shoes as well, but I won’t be able to afford that for a long time. Never mind, I don’t really have time to work on this costume right now anyway….


  1. VERY nice under clothes. You do agreat job.
    I really want to make this dress:
    but I don't know if it will look right with out the right underclothes. What do you think?
    I want shoes period for the civil war era. :( But they are so expensive.

    I want to start wearing historical clothes all the time, but I only have 1 historical dress and its for summer so. I really want to start making more dresses. SO that's one reason I want to make the above dress.

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks Brooke!

    I'm afraid it won't look the same without the stays... they give you a completely different figure than you normaly have, all flat in front, with a very high push-up. But if you want to wear it for every day, without making the stays, I can't see a reason not to make a dress inspired by that one, but made to fit over modern underwear. It won't look the same, but it could be pretty all the same.

  3. Wow, I really like those! Great job!

  4. WOW WOW WOW. You look perfect. I am amazed as always and sooo incredibly inspired by seeing your projects. I have been reading all I can about 18th century fashion and have the JP Ryan patterns for stays and the basic wardrobe; shift, petticoat, short gown, pocket and kerchief. I can't wait to make it, I've had the patterns for about five or six years. You look SO great! I wish I could start on my 18th century undies right away but unfortunately have some higher priority projects (not for me) :P to get done first.

  5. Wow!! Looks good! I think you are the one with a "Waist like a wand" too!!! lol :D I love that old fashioned look....

  6. Thank you so much, all! It's nice to have my work apreciated, most people seem to think that, unless it's silk and lace, powdered wigs and cleavages, it's not interesting enough :P

    But this is the 18th century I love: the modesty and simple elegance of the common people.


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