18th Century

Pleating the back of the 1780’s chintz pet-en-l’aire

After creating the basic bodice support for my 1780s chintz pet en l’aire, figuring out the general measurements and sewing together my panels of Japanese block-printed obi silk, it was time to pleat the bodice back.

Bodice under-structure all laid-out

First I needed to find a lining fabric, as I planned to completely flat line the silk, as it was so thin.  Thin, crisp unbleached linen?  Sounds perfect.

Cutting the linen lining

Then for the pleating. My main inspiration garment, the cotton pet from the Manchester City Galleries, has multiple narrow back pleats.

Pet-en-l'aire jacket, 1780-90, cotton with silk bows, Manchester City Galleries

I don’t like it.  It’s kinda ridiculous.  The Met pet has a much better back.

Caraco jacket, late 18th century, cotton, Belgian, Metropolitan Museum of Art

So that’s what I went for with my back pleating.

Pinned in pleats

This is also when I found out that the silk is kind of evil to work with.  It creases, but doesn’t pleat easily and lay nicely.  It’s rather like frizzy hair – you press it down and it just springs back and heads off in its own direction.

Recalcitrant pleats

To get it to work I actually had to unpick some of the panels so that I had less fabric to work with, and iron in the pleats to get them to stay before I stitched them down to the back bodice.

Ironed-in back pleats

With the pleats finally all figured out and sewed down to the bodice support, and the panels re-attached, I ended up setting aside the pet for a few months while I worked on other stuff.

When I came back to it again I realised afresh how ridiculously difficult the silk was to work with, and how the crisp linen lining really wasn’t helping.  Grrrr.  I considered continuing to fight with it for the rest of the construction, and how the garment would never look right, and I sighed, bit the bullet, and unpicked the whole thing.  Hours of hand-sewing down the drain.

Then I relined it in a soft cotton with a much better drape.  It sucked, but I’m sure I won’t regret it.



  1. Zach says

    All of those tiny pleats are pretty ridiculous, aren’t they? I like the option you chose much better! I can’t wait to see it!

  2. Lynne says

    Well done. A hard decision, but the silk is so right for the pet, that you would have been really cross with yourself if you had kept on with the linen and always known it was sitting wrongly.

  3. You know, it truely is a comfort to us newbies when we hear someone of your experience and knowledge base struggling and repicking. Not that I wish you aggrivation. Its just comforting to know that it happens to pros too and my struggles are not a sign of being an idiot.

  4. And I’ll be contrary and say I love those tiny pleats.
    But I love how your version seems to be turning out as well. The fabric is fabulous!

  5. Yeah, the pink pet’s pleats look not only ridiculous but make the whole thing look a little…dinky. Instead of nice and structural, you know?

    I love crisp linen until I hate it…it’s awesome for holding its shape when that’s what you want, but then again it’s a cranky working partner if you want it to bend to your will lol.

    A full sacque is on my to-do someday list, so I’m watching your progress eagerly!

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