The last time we updated you on the Barbara Johnson gown the project was still in the fitting stages with a muslin mock-up. I’m excited to report that over the past couple of weeks, in between other sewing projects, I have finally finished the c. 1781 red and white chintz gown that may have been in the style that Barbara Johnson had made for herself when she purchased the original fabric and lovingly pasted the swatch into her album.
If you recall in the last update I shared with you some of the details of gowns in a
handful of fashion plates dating to 1780-1783 to reference for this gown. As I worked with the lovely printed fabric I instantly knew that I wanted long sleeves to fully show off the beautiful print and the changing style seen over the early 1780s. I also knew right away that I wanted full gown skirts that could be stylishly “rucked up” or worn down long on the ground almost like a train, as seen in the watercolor by Anne Frankland Lewis for the “Half Dress of Year, 1782”.
I first cut the bodice pieces and began construction on them right away using the 18th century techniques I learned through the Burnley & Trowbridge YouTube channel and the Larkin & Smith patterns. Once the bodice was basically finished I cut the petticoat panels, opting to use only 2 yards to ensure I’d have nice full gown skirts like I had originally planned. I next cut my sleeves from the 1 yard remnant from which I cut the bodice. Having forgotten that I had wanted to have long sleeves I put aside the rest of the fabric almost a full 4 yards for the gown skirts. It was at that point I realized I’d have to do some piecing to get the sleeve length I wanted.
I pieced in the top of one upper sleeve cap, thinking it would be more easily disguised
with the shoulder pleats and less likely to be at a stress point than if I tried to hide it in the underarm piece. The sleeves were made using two pieces, upper and under arm, and were self drafted using directions from the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. I was so surprised at how easily they went into the armscye and how comfortable they are to wear. I fitted the bodice really so the underarm is right up in my armpit, but not digging in, and yet I have a full range of motion! I love it!
After the sleeves were set it only took me a couple of hours to pleat the gown skirts and attach them to the bodice. I managed to save myself some time by using the selvage edge for the hem (plus the other selvage side provides a nice and sturdy side to attach to the bodice) and only had to narrow hem the sides of the skirts. Go me for working smarter, not harder. So shes finished and completely wearable as is, but I can’t help to think that Barbara would have some stylish all white accessories to pair with this new gown and let’s be honest, I’m a glutton for punishment.
I decided that I really wanted an all white ruffly apron and handkerchief as seen in several of the early 1780s fashion plates to pair with this gown. I ordered the sheer cotton muslin “mull” from Burnley & Trowbridge and have already cut out the apron, handkerchief, and SIX YARDS of ruffle fabric. SO MANY RUFFLES.
I also can’t imagine Barbara Johnson wouldn’t have an updated cap or pretty silk hat so a new cap is in the planning stages – toss up between organdy or silk gauze, and a straw hat is currently being covered in white silk taffeta, to be trimmed with white moire silk ribbons and white silk gauze. Nothing says the 1780s like white frothy confections on top of the head!