Making an 18th Century Inspired Summer Dress

Making an 18th Century Inspired Summer Dress

Have you ever just really wanted to wear a
beautiful period gown but also wanted to be a little socially acceptable? This is a dilemma I struggle with daily, so
I thought I’d do a little experiment in bringing historical silhouettes into modern fashion. Because let’s face it: history has done some
pretty stunning things that we seem to have forgotten all about, and I think it’s high
time we change that. The weather is warming here in merry New York
and I think it’s time for a new summer frock; based, of course, on the styles of the eighteenth
century. You cannot convince me that these bit pleated
skirts and the little peaked bodices aren’t ridiculously flattering. So I started with a sketch based on this eighteenth
century-style printed linen I picked up when I was last in England. For the pattern I worked mainly from Janet
Arnold, primarily this gown. There are quite a few in this book with similar
piece shapes, but I’ve worked with this pattern before and I felt like for this project, it
would be nice to go with something that I know. So this is the fabric that I’m using, and
I’m lining it with this plain linen I picked up a while ago from somewhere on 39th street. Historically the lining layer would probably
have been treated with wheat or rice starch in order to stiffen the bodice. But since I won’t be wearing a protective
layer of stays and chemise, and I’d like this dress to be washable, I decided to add a layer
of medium-weight fusible interfacing instead. This gives a similar stiffness to the bodice
without the whole lining needing to be re-starched after every wash. Since I’ll be wearing this dress without stays,
there are a few structural things I should address. Firstly I did make a mockup of this pattern
beforehand, just to fit the pattern correctly. I had to change some of the proportions of
the original pattern slightly, like re-setting the shoulder straps and armscye, and re-positioning
the neckline since I won’t have stays pushing my bust out of its natural position. The extra layer of interfacing and the fitted
nature of the bodice should provide some support in terms of giving the dress that sleek eighteenth
century shape, but I don’t plan to add any additional support garments. Quick side note disclaimer that I was actually
in medical stays for many years growing up so my proportions are slightly more unnatural
than the average modern figure. So it’ll be interesting to see if this garment
holds the same historical charm outside of its eighteenth century context. Okay, so now that the bodice is cut out, I’m
going ahead and fusing the interfacing to the lining layer. Only the net pattern is stiffened, with the
seam allowances left soft to turn more easily. I’m now cutting out the skirt panels. The original pattern has six skirt panels
with a seam at center front. But since my fabric is wide enough and I’m
not trying to be strictly historical here, I decided to just cut the front panel on the
fold and eliminate that seam. And so here I have all five of my skirt panels
cut out. I’ve done this tricky thing where I’ve made
sure to have one selvedge edge to every seam, so you’ll see later that finishing the edges
of the skirt seams will be super simple. Also just for the sake of historical amusement,
I’ve shorn off the fuzzy bits to have a nice clean selvedge, just like on historical handwoven
fabrics. This isn’t necessary but I thought it just
looks nicer. And so here I’ve gone ahead and pinned my
interfaced lining layer to my outer fabric layer. You can see it’s got quite a nice stiffness
to it so far. These two layers will get pad stitched into
place so that both are secured together as one. Yes, theoretically you could just make up
the bodice and lining layers separately, stitch them together at the edges and bag them out,
but that’s a bit too modern a technique for my taste. I’m going to use the more historical method
of treating both lining and fabric layers as one, and finishing the raw seams separately,
the process of which you shall see shortly. The pad stitching is effectively just a basting
stitch. It holds the two layers together so they don’t
shift around during the assembly process and will be pulled out once the layers are in
a secure enough state. If you need a little tutorial on pad stitching–or
any other historical stitching technique, for that matter–I recommend consulting any
of the three V&A books on 17th century dress and doublet patterns. They all have a quick introductory page on
various historical stitches, and are how I refreshed myself on this one since I had inevitably
forgotten how to do it. As I’m stitching, I’m gently working the bodice
into the curved shape I want it to sit in when worn against the body. Sort of pre-programming it to hold more naturally
to shape. This is a technique I learned from period
men’s tailoring, but it’s quite a useful tip to apply to any structured garment, I think. The next step is to finish the outer edges
of the bodice. These are the edges that won’t be finished
in a seam, so the waist and neck edges. This includes the edge of the shoulder strap
that makes up part of the neckline, and it’s done by tucking the seam allowances between
the layers and slip stitching them together. The waist curve is clipped to ease around
the curve, and you may have to clip some of your pad stitching if you also got a little
bit over enthusiastic with it and went too close to the edges. The slip stitch should catch only the seam
allowances and not actually prick through the outer layers. There is a quarter-inch tuck in the center
back panels of the original pattern, a style feature on gowns of the late eighteenth century. It’s a nice little historical detail that
I wanted to include, so I’m just marking out the lines for this onto my pattern with transfer
paper. I did do some historically accurate pouncing
in one of my previous videos, which I shall link here if you’re curious. I’m now going to backstitch this seam into
place by hand with waxed linen thread. Since it goes round a curve, I find that hand
stitching is much easier to control and the result is much neater. But then I’m way more adept at hand work than
I am on a machine. If you’re super comfortable on a machine and
tiny curved seams don’t scare you like they terrify me, then by all means go right ahead. I’ll meet up with you in about 20 minutes. Next it’s time to assemble the bodice. I promise, I’m going to do this by machine. So here I’m just pinning together the center
front. I should note that the original gown closes
with eyelets up the center front, but because we’re being all modern here, I’ve decided
to zip it up the center back instead, so I’m going to leave that open for now. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to preserve the
center front seam. Now it’s time to assemble the skirt. Yes, I know my seam allowances don’t match
precisely since I cut them by eye, but since I’m stitching along my marked lines and will
be clipping the seam allowances later, it doesn’t really matter. All the skirt panels are now stitched together
except for the center back seam where the zipper will go in later. I’m now pleating it onto my dress form. Since the center front panel is cut with a
tricky curve at the waist edge, Janet suggests doing the pleating on a form in order to ensure
that everything hangs correctly; and I can attest that this is definitely a good idea. I pleated it flat for the mockup and there
was definitely some wonky business that ensued. My pleats here ended up to be about 3/8 of
an inch wide, but it’s up to you to decide what you think looks best. Smaller pleats are more historically accurate,
and can go as small as a quarter of an inch if you have the patience, but can also be
1/2 to 1 inch or more if you prefer. It’s your dress, so do what makes you happy. The pleats are quickly secured with a basting
stitch before the bodice is added and pinned into position. Then I’m attaching the bodice to the skirt
with a secure backstitch, being careful only to catch the lining of the bodice so the stitching
is invisible from the front. If you don’t mind a bit of topstitching and
you’re neat with it, you might try topstitching the skirt on by machine; but be warned that
this isn’t a very eighteenth century detail. Now that the skirt is secure, you can remove
your basting thread and trim the excess skirt fabric. Historically, this edge was left raw and I
understand why: hemming would create a bulky edge right at the waist–right where you don’t
want bulk. If you have an overlock machine, you can finish
this edge discreetly that way. But since I don’t have such a modern contraption,
I’m going to crawl back into my history hole to finish my edge here using some rabbit skin
glue. You can still buy this at art supply stores
since it’s used for canvas sizing, but it was also used frequently historically to finish
off raw edges. This stuff is quite potent so be sure to keep
the wet edges away from your other fabrics until it dries. Though I hear there’s also this thing called
‘Fray Check’ that sounds like it’ll work just as well. Off camera, I inserted a 19 inch invisible
zipper into the center back seam. And now it’s time to finish off the inside
seams. I’m just trimming the under layers of seam
allowance, then the uppermost layers are folded over the others to encase all of the raw edges. Then this is felled, or whip stitched, into
place, catching only the lining layer and not going through to the front of the bodice. After trying on the dress and repositioning
the straps appropriately, I’m now going to sew them onto the bodice for real. I’m stitching them with the lining sides facing
so that the seam allowance faces to the front, but leaving the fabric layer free. You’ll see later, I’m going to attempt a little
eighteenth century trick at setting in the sleeves. But first I’m going to procrastinate the sleeves
by making some ruffles. I picked up this 1 inch wide double faced
satin ribbon that I’m planning to box pleat and attach to the neckline and cuffs, a common
decoration technique on eighteenth century gowns. Okay fine, I’ll do the sleeves now. These are left unstiffened, with just the
layer of fabric and linen lining. I actually nicked the pattern for this from
a different gown in Janet’s book, since the sleeve pattern to this gown wouldn’t fit into
my adjusted armscye and all my attempts to reshape it proved unsuccessful. This sleeve was a much closer fit to my bodice,
and only required slight adjustments. Once I’ve inserted the lining into the sleeve,
it’s time to finish the cuff edge. I’ve clipped into the seam allowance, since
the pattern curves round the elbow, just to make the line fold smoothly. Then I’m running stitching it into place,
since I plan to cover this edge with ruffles and it won’t be seen in the end. Come to think of it, I could have also just
done this on the neck edge as well since that will also have frills, but oh well, what’s
done is done. So after the sleeves are put together, it’s
time for the moment of truth in setting them in. Just kidding, I was determined to make these
work after my, like, seventh sleeve mockup. Since the armscye is shaped roughly like a
semi-circle, you stitch the bottom flat edge down first. I’m doing this by hand with a backstitch,
since it’s a tricky spot to manoeuvre and I just find it easier. But again, if you’re a machine wizard and
feel comfortable doing this by machine, by all means, go right ahead. Then the upper curved edge is pinned on top
of the strap lining, taking a pleat or two where there may be any extra fullness. The fabric layer of the strap then gets folded
and stitched on top of the sleeve to hide all of the raw edges. Next I’m pinning my lengths of ribbon pleating
onto the neck and cuff edges of the dress and tacking them into place with a running
stitch. Now all that’s left is to finish cleaning
up some raw edges. First I’m trimming down all but the topmost
seam allowances on the armscye, then folding them in and felling them into place. Then I’m finishing the center back edge by
tacking down the extra flap of the zipper to hide those raw edges. And finally, I’m finishing off the skirt seams. If you remember, I intentionally cut one edge
of each pair in the seams on a selvedge, so I can just fold the clean selvedge over the
raw edge in a neater, flatter seam than having to turn it twice. Alternatively, again, if you have access to
an overlock machine, that’ll probably save you the hour and a half of hemming, but if
not I assure you that this method is just as effective. Finally, I put the dress on the stand to even
up the hemline, then put in the hem by hand–and filmed none of it, so here she is in all her
finished glory. I hope you enjoyed watching this little experiment,
and that perhaps it’s inspired you to create your own new historically-inspired summer
ensemble. If you do, I’d love to see; leave me a comment
down below or tag me on Instagram, and perhaps we can start a trend. #historicalsummer, anyone? Anyway, best of luck to you if you’re off
to do some sewing now. I read that I’m supposed to remind people
to subscribe? So, do that, if you like, and I shall see
you next time for some more historical sewing adventures.

100 thoughts on “Making an 18th Century Inspired Summer Dress

  1. Including that footage of the busy city street in the beginning with the dude cruising down the street on his hover board was an amusing juxtaposition to the topic of this video lol

  2. I watch a lot of historical fashion and hair (and cooking) videos for someone with no interest in wearing these styles. That and the fact that the last time I tried to sew some thing I had to have a sewing needle surgically removed from my foot.

  3. Wonderful dress! I too would buy such if you went into business.
    By the way, how did you see the box pleats on the ribbon before you sewed to the dress?

  4. I want to do things like this but as a size 18 us girl is it even possible to do this sort of thing with my frame. I mean make a historical corset, dress etc. With a size 44 inch waist since its usually half that.

  5. And while talking about being socially accepted a person rolling with that electrical skate i don't know the name of appears and that thing is socially acceptable.

  6. I love your work but could you speak a bit slower, when you are using specific terms it begins to be hard to follow and it's saaaad 🙁

  7. If you do a basting stitch over and under the line of cap of the sleeve, then pull the threads, easing the sleeve into the armhole is a breeze. There, advice from an old fashion designer! Btw, love your videos.

  8. "Have you ever just really wanted to wear a beautiful period gown but also wanted to be a little socially acceptable?"
    YES!!! I've always loved the look of the 40's and 50's and in the last 3-4 years I've slowly built up a collection of tea dresses and party frocks (I love that word!). I've even made a few myself.
    Your dress here is utterly stunning.

  9. your final product turned out so well! I'm a terrible seamstress but would LOVE to make one of my own vintage dresses, maybe after I get out of high school and save some money up ? keep up the good work!

  10. I've dreamed, for a long time, about making my own clothing. Your channel is beyond wonderful as a treasure trove of inspiration.
    However, I am lost. I don't understand a lot of the terminology. Lots of sewing videos don't get into it and just assume you know what to do.
    I was hoping, quite desperately, if you'd consider making a simple (hand stitched! Sewing machines are the bane of my life, and another reason I am coming to adore you) dress where you explain terminology so somebody who knows very little can follow along.
    An experimental tutorial. :3

  11. imagine complimenting her dress on the street and asking where she bought it just for her to tell you she mostly hand stitched it herself

  12. I’ve been binging all your sewing videos for art reference and at this point I’m 100% convinced that you’re actually an 18th century seamstress who time traveled to present day to impart your amazing knowledge to us.

  13. One time I sewed a pair of gloves. I had no idea what I was doing. I would put a scrap of fabric around my finger or palm and sew it into shape. I would continue this until my whole hand was covered in rags sewn together in a huge mess of thread and that was the day I realised that I couldn't sew neatly for shi…

  14. Lately, I've been very invested in researching the 16th to early 19th century fashion, but I get lost in the research and don't even know where to start haha

  15. I can only imagine the exquisitness of a wedding gown you'd create for yourself, Bernadette! Magnificent I'm certain.

  16. I wish i knew about this when it was uploaded would of been perfect to watch and gets inspiration for my major textiles work for school

  17. "Socially acceptable" has not apparently been in my resume. I have worn black BDUs for three decades now and black everything else for the most part. You, on the other hand, would be socially superior in a gunny sack– yes, with a mere few openings for your head and arms.
    This was fascinating and the super red box ruffles are distractingly beautiful.

  18. I wish I could sew, I’m hopeless, my poor costume teacher, we had to take one of every tech. I completely jammed the surger

  19. the people constantly commenting on her videos about how she should do have a clothing brand or merch or whatever are delusional. one of the main topics of her channel are how historical clothing is superior to modern clothing in quality because modern clothing is cheaply made in mass production. they’re basically ignoring everything she says on mass produced clothing or they greatly underestimate the cost of handmade clothing and i wouldn’t be surprised if they undervalue original works by artists of any kind on a regular basis (“oh that’s a nice oil painting you spent about 20+ hours on, can i have it for $20?)

  20. I told my husband if we dont have more guests in the guest room I'm tossing the bed and doing a whole sewing setup! I miss sewing, I was taught as a child, and you inspire me to sew more than just mending.

  21. I love the fabric, sleeves and neckline. I’m not going to copy the bodice, as it looks too much like a costume (although the dress is very beautiful and I love it) but I’m definitely taking some inspiration from your dress for next summer’s dresses. Thanks !

  22. Hello Miss Banner! I had stumbled upon your channel purely by chance, and I am just absolutely mesmerised by the technique and effort that went into making this! I'm a cosplay photographer who admittedly appreciates the handiwork that my cosplayer friends put into their costumes, and seeing a making of video like this is so fascinating!

  23. I had no idea you could make a item of clothing with hand sewing. I prefer hand sewing over using my machine but I just thought it was such a massive job why bother. You have inspired me to give it a try. What do I have to lose? Thanks for sharing.

  24. I would love to sew a dress like this! But with skirt ruffles overtop the bodice and ruffled sleeves like in colonial times !

  25. Gosh the dress looks so gorgeous. I have actually been wearing a lot of summer lolita dresses lately (that i bought), I would really love to learn to sew so I can make something like this.

  26. I’ve never seen any of these types of videos. I don’t even know how to sew. This is amazing. From the research to sewing and fabrics. So talented. Which I was good at something like this

  27. Just found your channel and I just love your work. Quick question re this dress: did you wear stays underneath? This type of 18th century gown is my absolute favourite and I love the idea of making a modern version inspired on it!

  28. Glad to have found your channel.
    I often find myself attracted to old-fashioned inspired dresses and have always wanted to make one for myself. Someday, when I am a little more established than what I am at the moment, I will get myself a dressmaking mannequin and make my own pieces of clothing.

  29. the dress is beautiful and i love the way that you made it! just a tip on your audio tho it sounds a bit like its clipping, one sentence then a clip of pause into the next, not sure how to fix this but thought i would let you know

  30. Oh my word. Your dresses are so cute. I love sewing and making my own creations. For now I'm sticking to small Halloween costumes and pajamas for my little girl. Hopefully I can work up the courage to move in to something bigger like this.

  31. Wonderful recreation. I have found that by lining the skirt I get a much more pronounced silhouette. And it keeps the skirt from looking limp. And … yes, you're giving me ideas. I might actually have to start sewing outside of the 16th century. Thanks.

  32. The dress is absolutely stunning. Very beautiful pattern and the little boxed ruffles are so cute! And you look really beautiful dressed in it.

  33. Hi Bernadette. I love seeing all your wonderful videos❤️❤️❤️This dress you made is just soo beautiful. I always imagine you living in a romantic old English country house or maybe in an Victorian town house, and I always get so distracted by the fact that you live in New York. These two things are just not compatible in my mind and I know it is so silly of me, because of course it is?But I will dare the question if you ( and Horatio) in some weak moments are dreaming about living a more quiet and romantic place like for example Beatrix Potter?

  34. ok. woah! just watched you sewing the skirt panels together and i have never seen anyone remove pins like that! so efficient!!!! i have sewn the better part of my 50 years (grandma taught me as a kid with barbie clothes and parents gave me my mom's old electric sewing machine as a gift in about 5th grade). how did i never learn to do that?? i don't sew anymore, but i thoroughly enjoy watching you and a few others do it.

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