A Cotton Print Gown, 1775-1780
Ashley at Colonial Williamsburg, March 2011
The pattern: The bodice of the gown was draped by me directly on Ashley. The curve of the back neckline was a feature I found on the gown on page 36 of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1; since all of Ashley's other English gowns have the pleats cut straight across the back, I thought the curve would be a nice and unique way to change things up a bit. I borrowed the sleeve pattern from the same gown in Arnold, since I still haven't mastered the technique of draping these late-period tighter sleeves that need to curve over the elbow. The slightly longer sleeves that fully cup over the elbow and extend a bit further onto the lower arm help to date the gown to the very late 1770s and early 1780s.
Detail of the back "en fourreau" pleats.
After trimming the back panel to match the lining shape on the sides, I draped the front bodice pieces in the linen lining fabric and then cut out the cotton fabric using those as my pattern. The front pieces were then lapped to the back and sewn down using spaced backstitches; their lining pieces were folded under and whipstitched into place inside to finish the seams and enclose all raw edges.
Interior of the bodice, showing the linen lining.
The tapes used to drape up the skirts are also visible.
The sleeves came next. Their undersides are first sewn onto the gown using a backstitch. I then had Ashley put the gown on so that the top halves of the sleeves could be pleated to fit directly to her shoulder. The interior seam of the armscye is left unfinished, in keeping with extant examples.
Interior view of the unfinished armscye and lapped front lining.
Detail of the back neckline, "en fourreau" pleats, and the
shoulder strap and sleeve.
The Fabric: This is a reproduction of an original early 1780s cotton print held in the collection of the DAR Museum. Most unfortunately, it is now out of print and extraordinarily difficult to find. I was lucky and caught an auction on ebay and bought everything the seller had left, which turned out to be exactly enough to make the gown, with literally no more than a handful of scraps left over. How period appropriate was that?!
The original "document" colorway of this print has a lighter coloring overall and is thus very typical of cotton prints from the late 1770s and early 1780s, with its cream-colored background and subtle greens, blues, and red/oranges.
The document colorway, reproduced exactly from the DAR original.
As quilting lines tend to do, the print was reproduced in its original colorway and with three additional color variations. The one I found is quite similar to the original, with the one exception that the background is a darker tan "tea-stained" shade, as opposed to the original cream. Documentation for tea-stained grounds during this period is sketchy at best, but I decided to use it anyway because the fabric is in every other way a true reproduction, from the scale, to the approximation of block printing techniques with the slightly off-set coloring, to the weight of the cotton. As the 1780s progressed, darker grounds on fabrics were becoming increasingly popular, so a tannish background is possible once you move later into the decade.
The slightly altered colors of the variation colorway I was fortunate to find.
Finishing the Look: Ashley wears the gown with a solid rust colored cotton petticoat; the gown's skirts are pulled up "a la polonaise" to reveal a bit of the petticoat in the back. It is worn over a linen shift with tight, elbow-length sleeves (to help accommodate the more narrow sleeve styles of the last quarter of the century), fully-boned stays, and a linen underpetticoat.
Colonial Williamsburg, March 2011.
The outfit is accessorized with a linen neckerchief to fill in the low, wide neckline, a cotton lawn cap, and a straw hat be-ribboned with aqua silk satin.
Colonial Williamsburg, March 2011.