The compere front of the pet

With the back of the pet draped, I tackled the false compere front.

I mentioned previously that I wasn’t sure that sewing on the compere front as a false front, sewed on to a solid bodice piece, was accurate.  I’m afraid I confused some of you, as you thought I wasn’t sure a compere front is accurate.  I know the aesthetic is right, I’m just not sure my way of doing it (creating a solid bodice foundation, and just tacking on the fashion fabric piece as a false front) is historically accurate.

Janet Arnold’s pattern for a compere front gown, based on this gown, has the dress and compere front made up completely separately, with the compere front sewn in last (almost as if if was a stomacher that was sewn in), and all the other examples of compere front garments where I can determine the construction seem to have been assembled this way.

So, sigh.  Mine may not be accurate.  C’est la vie.  I’ll get it right next time.

I didn’t take pictures the of the pet front as I was constructing it, but here are a bunch of detail shots which should give you a reasonable idea of how I put it together.

The front of my pet en l’aire with the false compere front sewn down

Little itty-bitty hand stitches (in cotton thread since I can’t source silk or linen in NZ)

The compere front with soon-to-be-replaced ribbons

A little hole in the silk from the obi construction – it will be covered by trim

The interior of the pet front – you can see the stitching line from the false compere front

Stitching lines at the side and false front of the pet (and still-to-be-set-in-properly sleeve)

Another bit of the pet where I am not at all sure of the historical accuracy is my fastening method.  My inspiration pet fastens up the front with ribbon ties.  I’m pretty sure the ribbons on the original are simply sewn into each side of the pet, and then knot/bow in front.  However, for both strength and practicality I thought it would work a lot better if I sewed loops into each side of my pet so that a single length of ribbon could thread through the loops from the back and then tie in a bow in front.  This seems a lot stronger, will really hide the stays under the pet, and will allow me to replace the ribbon when I find something better than the super bright and shiny synthetic satin (and I think I have and I’m so excited about it!).

The ribbon tape sewn down the centre front for the red ribbon to lace through to fasten the pet-en-laire

Detail of the lacing tape on the pet-en-l’aire

So, a compromise.  But the pet, while I took a lot of effort, is a very elaborate, loved, working toile.  So I’m OK with a few compromises while I figure out how to make one perfect.

Not all compromises are historically inaccurate though.  I had to piece the top of one bodice piece, and I think that just adds to the historicism.

A pieced band on the shoulder of the pet-en-l’aire

The front overlapping to the back, with the sleeves sitting over it

Another imperfection that I like is that the sewing is a bit wobbly and erratic.

Hand-stitching on the pet

The irregularity in stitching is partly because the silk is very tightly woven, meaning that it was a real pain to sew through.  It’s also because I kept setting the pet aside and then picking it up again – never great for a cohesive whole.  Finally, it’s because a great deal of the handsewing on this pet was done by the wonderful Madame O, who came and sat on my couch and hand sewed for hours in the frantic days before the Tea Talk, ensuring that the pet was actually done.  (not to imply that Madame O has erratic hand-stitching, on the contrary hers is much better than mine, which is why mine sticks out!).  Finally, the sleeves were sewn on by models as we got dressed to head to Premier House – not the best environment to ensure tiny even stitches!

There are some imperfections I am fixing.  For the first wearing of the pet en l’aire, at the Tea talk at Premier House, I hadn’t set a bone down the CF of the pet.  Naturally it ruched up dreadfully and just looked terrible.  I set bones in for the photoshoot with Theresa, and you can really see the difference it makes:

Brit looking lovely in the pet – except for the unfortunate wrinkling and schlumping of the front

Theresa also looking lovely – but with an equally lovely, smooth front


The tea gown: draping the bodice

With my design worked out and my fabric sorted, it was time to drape a pattern for my tea gown.

First though, I had to figure out how it was going to go together and fasten.

So here is my basic design (on the right):

Tea-gown of light silk with lace front (on the right). (1899) via the NYPL digital gallery

After confusing you all by asking how you thought the one on the left got put on (that’s easy – under the flap on the PL front) when I meant the right, and getting every possible suggestion on how it might go together, (my favourite being “drink the bottle labelled ‘drink me’, shrink to size, climb into the dress, and then eat the cookie labelled ‘eat me’ and grown until you fit it again”) I decided on what I thought was the most likely historically-accurate option.

My tea gown will have a basic bodice support which will fasten up the centre front with hooks.  The lace overbodice will be sew into the gown on one side, and will wrap over the bodice support and fasten on the other side with hooks, just under the edge of the over robe.  This is a very common construction technique in turn-of-the-century garments, you can see a similar example (though not a tea gown) here.  The strong under-structure will support the weight of the robe, and the lace over-bodice will hide all the fastenings.  The petticoat/skirt will be a separate piece, and the sash will hide the join of the two garments.

Is this accurate?  I think so.  It matches what is shown in fashion plates, it matches what I can see of extent garments, and it fills the essential tea-gown requirement that it be put-on-able with minimal help.

What about that separate petticoat?  I’ve read of tea gowns that were in two parts, with a skirt/petticoat, and a separate bodice with attached robe.  Constructing my tea gown in this way has two massive advantages (besides historical probability).  It makes putting the outfit on and fastening it very simple (put the skirt on, then the bodice, no tricky reaching around behind under the robe to do the skirt), and it means there is a possibility that I could make an evening bodice to go with the skirt later, thus getting the maximum use from my sewing time and the fabric.

Making an evening bodice and a tea gown at the same time probably isn’t historically accurate, or at least I know of no extent examples where this is done, but re-making garments is very historically accurate.  It is entirely probably that there were women who had tea gowns made of sumptuous fabric converted into an evening wear after a few years of wear as a tea gown.  I’ll just be compressing the process.

Right!  Thinking done, time for some draping.

First I draped the under-bodice, basing my seamlines and general shape on extent garments I have studied (alas, no tea gowns) and patterns in Janet Arnold.

Two front darts

I started out draping a high neckline, and cut it down later.

Curved back seam

Front darts and side-seam

With an under-support perfect, I draped a slightly pigeon-breasted bodice front pieces to go over it and cover the centre-front fastenings:

A little-bitty pigeon breast

You can see that I draped it right over my under-drapings.  That helped me get all the neck and sleeve lines to match up.

Matching side-seams. On one side it will be sewn-in, on the other it will fasten with hooks and eyes

Felicity found the whole process quite boring, but she was aware that she made the pictures more interesting.

So, drapings done, time to toile them up and see how they fit!

The 1900s tea gown – fabrics

When I decided to make a 1900s tea gown I also decided that I didn’t have the budget to go buy fabric for it.  Whatever I made was going to have to be stash-based.

I kept what I had in-stash in mind as I looked at designs.  My primary inspiration is this satin and lace extravaganza from 1899:

Tea-gown of light silk with lace front (on the right). (1899) via the NYPL digital gallery

I bought almost 15 metres of a really amazing poly-cotton sateen with a little metal woven through it in ivory last year.

Ivory poly-cotton-metal sateen

I know you are all gasping in horror and thinking “poly-cotton!?!  Ewwww!!!”, but really, this fabric is fabulous.  I’ve had dozens of fabric snobs inspect it, and not one has guessed that it has a synthetic content.  Most guess silk, or a silk-cotton or silk-linen blend.  I looks rich and sumptuous and not at all synthetic-y, and it acts rich and sumptuous and natural and not at all synthetic-y.

When I bought it I first bought 3 metres, and took it home and ran it through a number of tests, determined that it fits my exacting standards, and I could even dye it – granted only pastel tones, but I’m happy with that!  So I raced back to the shop and bought the rest of the roll at $10 a metre.

Metal lines running through the poly-cotton-metal sateen

The only thing I don’t love about the fabric is the metal content.  Because of it, the fabric never properly smooths out.  It doesn’t really wrinkle or crease (thanks to the poly-cotton), but it doesn’t press smooth.

I’m calling it a sateen for now, but you could call it a satin, because of the polyester.  What do you think?  Sateen because of the cotton, or satin because of the polyester?

Right.  So that sorts the over-robe.  I’ve been criticised in the past for sewing with too many whites and barely-there tones, so I wanted the front of the gown to be an actual colour, even if only a pastel.

I bought an amazing robins egg blue silk razimir at a 40% off sale at Global Fabrics a few years back.  I only bought 2 metres (they gave me an extra 20 centimeters, because they are wonderful) because it was so expensive, even on sale.  I’ve regretted that I didn’t buy more so many times since.  It would have been the perfect fabric for Emily’s dress, and a dozen other projects.  But I thought that I could just squeeze the front of a petticoat and a bodice out of the fabric, and it would be perfect for the front of my tea gown.

Robin’s egg blue silk razimir

It’s gorgeous fabric.  Soft and buttery with a slight rib and a delicious sheen.

My decision to go with it was made easy by the discovery of a few metres of vintage kimono silk in the same shade of blue.  There wasn’t a lot of it, and it wasn’t in perfect condition, but I thought I could get a lining for the robe out of it, so that you would get delicious glimpses of blue when the robe fluttered open.

Vintage robin’s egg blue kimono silk

I like the faint stripes and brocaded patterns in the kimono silk: just another bit of interest to the lining.  And Japonisme is so very appropriate for 1900s and tea gowns!

Stripes and patterns in the kimono silk

Finally, I needed some truly gorgeous lace to finish the tea gown.  Darn.  I do have some fabulous vintage spider-web patterned lace, but it is far more 1930s than 1900s.  It didn’t seem right for this, and I love it too much to commit it to something it isn’t right for.

Then, on a trip to the Fabric Warehouse  I found the perfect lace.  Darn.  I was not supposed to buy fabric for this project!  But it was so perfect, and I found everything else in the stash, and it was very reasonably priced (for lace).

Isn’t it perfect?

Embroidery on net cotton lace

Yum!  I love it!  And it has a border on both edges, which makes laying out the pattern pieces much easier.

The cotton embroidery

The embroidered motifs that covers the body of the lace

So, that’s my fabric.  It’s good to have a design come together!


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