The 1780s chintz pet-en-l’aire

I’m making a 1780s Indian chintz inspired pet-en-l’aire.

I’ve been holding off on telling you about this project, because I didn’t want it to turn into one of those things that takes 8 months to make (and maybe never quite gets finished at all) and is difficult to follow as a reader.   But I’m determined to have it done in time to be worn for the Afternoon Tea talk (which has sold out!) just over a week from now.  So I hope it’s safe to start blogging the story!

The pet was inspired by this fabric:

Block printed Japanese silk habotai, recycled from a vintage obi


It’s block printed Japanese silk habotai, and when I bought it, it was an obi.   I just couldn’t resist.

It was just so, so, so perfect for a late 18th century garment.  The colour scheme, the small scattered floral, the slight imperfections in the print.  It would be even more perfect if it was cotton, since Indian and Chinese silks were usually hand painted, rather than block printed, but I’m willing to settle just a little.

Because it started out as an obi, which yields about 4 metres of 15″ wide fabric, I didn’t have enough to make a full robe and petticoat.  Instead, I decided on a pet.  Something like this:

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

And this:

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

The print is closest to the Met pet, but I’m using the shape of the MCG pet as my primary inspiration for the cut of the garment, mainly because I love the front stomacher with its contrast bows (can’t you just imagine dark red silk bows?).

To start with I constructed a little bodice to support the structure of the pet:

Bodice with back lacing to adjust

Sometime between sewing the channels to hold the back bones and working the eyelets I decided I was going to handsew the entire rest of the pet.  So everything but the side seams and the boning channels is hand sewn, with varying degrees of skill and elegance.

Hand-worked eyelets

This is not my best eyelet effort ever.

The bodice centre front

My support bodice includes the centre-front stomacher, so the pet will basically have a false stomacher, with the effect achieved by stitching down the side pieces over the stomacher.  I don’t know if this is accurate or not.

Rough shaping of the pet

With the support done I figured out the best use and layout of 15″ wide panels across the shape of the pet, and cut the rough lengths needed and sewed them together.

Next: Pleating the back and attaching it to the bodice support.  But first, more images of the fabric for you to drool over:

So pretty! Like little strawberries!

Did you know that yellow and black were worn in support of the deposed monarchy in Revolutionary-era France, because they were Austria’s colours? This fabric is like the cowards version: add a little red and white, so that it works with the tricolour too!

An interior seam

Timeless Beauties at Dr Sketchy

I’ve just realised that I was very remiss, and while I shared links to Dr Sketchy photos on my facebook page, I never properly blogged about it.  This is mostly because I was sick with a cold on the day of Dr Sketchy, and can barely remember what happened, much less what I said!

I almost ended up not having photos from Dr Sketchy due to my foggy brain, but it’s also to thank for getting them in the first place.  I was so sick in the run-up to Dr Sketchy I forgot to ask the divine Sarah if she would come and take photos.

In an odd quirk of fate though, as the models and I, all dressed in stays and petticoats, and laden with their costume changes, rushed to the venue we bumped into Sarah taking photographs of the street.  In my virus fugue I completely forgot that I hadn’t asked her to take pictures, and assumed that she was on the way to Dr Sketchy to do just that, which I proceeded to chat to her about, much to her bafflement!  Being an extremely good sport, Sarah didn’t tell me to go stuff it, and instead dropped her afternoon plans and came along as the photographer.  Did I tell you she was awesome?

She got some awesome photos (and even found time to do a bit of sketching of her own) too!  Here are my favourites.

The timeless beauties get a rundown of the schedule

Chiara and Megan double check their poses

Racheal & Shell as pretty 18th c 'peasant' girls

Chiara and Shell demonstrate spiral lacing

Megan in an 1870s bustle

Rachel Rouge of Dr Sketchy in 1880s and Chiara in 1870s

Racheal in the 1890s corded corset

Four of the timeless beauties

Rachel Rouge in 1880s and Megan in 1870s

Racheal in the 1890s black corded corset

Shell in 1900s and Chiara in 1910s

Rachel Rouge in the 1900s 'briar rose' corset

And my very favourite of all:

Chiara in 1870s - with a scottie dog!

Sarah wasn’t the only one to help me out at the last minute that evening.  Due to my cold I couldn’t wear a corset, so Joie de Vivre stepped in with less than 24 hours notice and provided most of her own costume.  She wore the black and white ribbon corset, but sadly there are very few pictures of her in it from the event (but you can check out her much more modern, burlesque-y photoshoot here).  Megan also subbed in when my original model couldn’t make it.  My models are not only timeless beauties, but just place awesome and sweet!

For more pictures of the event check out the Dr Sketchy event page, and make sure to browse Sarah’s livejournal.

Favourites of me from the photoshoot

These are my favourite photos of me from my photoshoot with Theresa.

She got some wonderful images, and it’s great to see the Japonism dress in action.


In other news, we’ve had crap, cold, grey, wet windy weather since this photoshoot, and I have too much to do and am feeling a bit flat (unlike my bias silk crepe seams, which is part of the problem). So sorry if my posts aren’t as perky as usual.

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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