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From open robe to round gown? Late 18th Century dress in transition. Part 2

I hope that you have read Part 1 of this blog, and my comparison with Kelly's open robe and Nancy Bradfield's sketches of the same.

Now we come to the sewing required to finish this dress, approximately 220 years after our Georgian lady left it.

The sewing is not difficult for a competent hand sewer. But a sewing machine should NOT be used under any circumstances! You will need to follow Bradfield's sketches to make a 'true' finish, and have a basic understanding of a late 18th Century, early Regency dress construction. And you will need to have neat, simple hand stitching skills [running stitch, back stitch & slip stitch], in order to finish it exactly as it should be.

The skirt:

In Part 1 we learnt that the bodice is exactly as it should be, a combination of features from an open robe and a round gown. Nothing to do to the bodice at all.

The skirt has been attached to the bodice around the back and through to the sides. From these points, each side of the skirt hangs loose, and I have pinned it to show you a 'sort of' open robe appearance.

My good friend Rosemary [The Knicker Lady] thinks it may have been in the process of alteration due to the lady being pregnant. This also makes a lot of sense.

The back of MY dress, the skirt sewn to the bodice as far as the sides.

In this image, I hope you can see that I have pinned the right side to meet the bodice edge, and simply tucked under the large amount of excess skirt fabric underneath at the left hand side. [The petticoat is Victorian, just used for display purposes, and not included in the sale]

Here, you can see that my pins have used the original pleat lines of the skirt top.

Bradfield shows us the type of double pleating used for the skirt. [Below]

In the bottom left hand corner, see the double inverted and box pleating used. Luckily, all the pleating marking are quite clear on the skirt of my dress.

However, our Georgian lady removed the skirt completely, and then began to re-attach it from the centre back to sides. When she did this, she incorporated some gathering of the fabric, in addition to the pleats.

And, she left some pleats out!

If we continue with the theory that she was making a round gown from an open robe, then it explains why she did this. She needed more fabric of the skirt to go all around the front, thus to make a closed skirt all around.

If you want to keep the gown as an open robe, then I recommend you remove the skirt again, and simply follow the pleat marking to re-attach it all around to each side front, leaving an open, centre front panel for a petticoat to show. This is by far the easiest of the two options and would be totally accurate. You could also leave the sewn parts alone and just continue sewing the sides if you don't mind too much about total authenticity! The sewing stitches that attach the skirt are back stitches. Quite large one's too! These cannot be seen at all so do not need to be neat.

The skirt is completely unchanged and exactly like Kelly's, except that it is not trained [Kelly's will be later, and moving into the early Regency period.]

Gently rounded to the hem, the skirt is untouched. These skirts were rarely lined, giving an ephemeral appearance.

The pocket slit was tacked closed with large tacking stitches, so I simply unpicked them. See below:

Here the pleating is in place to reveal the pocket slit in the side seam.

The skirt all done, with no further work needed, here is the only other sewing task. It is difficult to explain so I am using Bradfield's sketches again:

These sketches are from earlier gowns, but are very clear. On many 18th Century dresses, the shoulders had a separate piece of fabric that was sewn from front to back.

Here you see both back and front view.

I think it originated from the earlier 'robings', used to decorate a dress.

These short sections on my gown are missing the top silk fabric. But we have the fabric! Here it is:

Two piece of the same fabric, each with a central seam but patterns matching, and with a shaped section, that fits into the sleeve seams.

Why do I know this? Because, when the dress came to me, these two pieces were partly attached and tucked into the sleeve seams, all with original Georgian stitching. But I had to remove the stitches, because as you can see, the pieces are not cut down to size, and it was impossible to photograph the dress with two large panels of fabric overlapping the bodice fronts!

So, in image 1 you can see that the shoulder sections are not covered, with the linen showing below. In image 2, my daughter held one of the spare sections of fabric next to the sleeve seam, where the fabric tucks into the seam.

This is where good, simple, hand stitching is required. Running stitch for the neck edge, in silk or similar thread. the pieces tucked into the sleeve seam can be simply sewn internally.

And there we are! Skirt seams and shoulder seams to sew. Then you have an original late 18th Century dress ready for Jane Austen to wear!

Thank you for reading and sharing this investigation with me. 'Til the next time.

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