Robe à l’Anglaise, quickly

I’ve been dipping my toes in the 18th century lately, starting with with a simple plaid pierrot jacket, petticoat and all the necessary underthings and accessories about a year and a half ago. I have several friends who do 18th century re-enactment, which is, in all honesty, one of the main reasons I started making things for it. I love hanging out in other eras with my friends, and I want to be able to tag along on the 18th century stuff. Also, I love trying out drafting and construction techniques that are new to me. Making historical clothes is even more fun than wearing them.

So when Isis of Isis’ Wardrobe asked if I wanted to come along to an 18th century picnic in the heatwave Sweden is enjoying right now, I did some quick and extremely optimistic mental calculations and decided that I could probably produce a plain 1780’s robe à l’Anglaise in a cooler cotton fabric from my stash in two evenings. I could, as it turns out, mainly thanks to the really excellent patterns Isis gave me and helped me fit the last time around. The jacket pattern fits very well over the 1780’s corset I made for the first ensemble, and I simply used it as it is, attaching the skirt instead of the tails of the jacket.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about making the jacket the last time around was how incredibly simple and efficient the period technique for putting together a lined jacket or bodice by hand is. Assembling the lining and outer layer separately demands a very high level of precision when sewing, especially if, as is the case here, the lining also functions as a stabilising and supporting interfacing. They have to match up exactly, which is time-consuming work. The 18th century technique I used, as described by Koshka here, makes use of the simple fact that when handsewing, you can switch between sewing through all layers or just some of the layers whenever and however you like, so the lining pieces are attached along with the connecting bodice seams on one side and left free on the other and along any edges that are to be hemmed. This makes construction fast,  easy and precise; you just press, pin down the loose side of the lining pieces where it needs to go with the edge folded under and whipstitch it in place when the  outer layer is complete. It honestly is pretty much as fast as machine-stitching it, because it’s so much simpler and smarter.

So the one thing I did do on the machine was the straight seam connecting the two lengths of fabric the skirt consists. That’s faster on the machine, but the rest just isn’t.

I’m pleased with the anglaise and enjoyed wearing it, even in the sweltering heat we had yesterday. I bought the fabric a few years ago and originally intended it for some sort of everyday summer garments, but the jacquard stripes and deep brown sateen base always seemed too rich and ornate for a simple summer dress, in spite of the cotton content. As a 1780’s gown, however, the richness feels completely natural, not at all over the top. The next 18th century project is adding some sort of trim to it, making another linen petticoat and a new shift with narrow pleated ruffles along the neckline and sleeves, but I’m a little burnt out on fast historical sewing now and plan on laying low for a while.

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