I’m making an 1813 dress for the challenge mainly because I found this amazing wool twill at Global a few years ago and knew the pattern was taken directly from early 19th century paisley shawls. I immediately thought of the Regency dresses made from paisley shawls, and snapped up the fabric, and then waited for an excuse to make it up.
When this challenge came up I did a quick inventory of my stash, and realised how perfect this fabric and project would be for the challenge. Well, almost perfect. The fabric isn’t exactly like a paisley shawl, which means that making it up is always going to entail a compromise between the fabric and what would have been done historically. It is, however, as close as I am ever likely to be able to find to an early 19th century paisley shawl, so for that reason I’m happy with it.
What are the compromises? For starters, the fabric comes in 1.5m panels, with a wide border along one selvedge, and a narrow border separating it from the next panel. I bought two panels and will have to carefully cut and arrange to get a 1813 ballgown out of the length.
The twill weave isn’t precisely historical either – it will give a lovely drape to the skirt, but will need to be wrangled into submission in the bodice.
The pattern isn’t quite right: it should have a single border of large paisley, rather than a large border topped by a narrow border. I thought about cutting off the wide border and piecing it to the plain end to create the correct border, but decided it wouldn’t look right. There are also example of Western designers playing with the paisley motif, creating borders (like the double border below) and combinations not found in traditional Kashmiri design, so the design is plausible, if not precisely accurate.
Finally, and the big one aesthetically: the colours are off. The red tones are perfect, but I haven’t been able to find an example of a paisley shawl, Kashmiri or Western, with a grey background. The closest I can get is the dark blue dress from a shawl in the 1811 Lefevre portrait of Salome Louise Coulmann. Still, the fabric didn’t come in any other colourways, and there is nothing I can do about the colours, so I’ll just live with them.
So things aren’t perfect. My aim with this dress will be to be as historically accurate as possible, and as close to the inspiration fashion plate as possible, within the limitation of the fabric.
To start, I carefully cut off the narrow borders which transect the fabric, and set these pieces aside to be used in the bodice.
Then I hand sewed the two long panels together to form the skirt – the skirt will be completely flat fronted, with the fullness pleated into the back.
While skirts were beginning to use gored side panels in the 1810s to create the desired cone shape, it’s clear from the fashion plates and extent examples that most dresses made from or inspired by Kashmiri shawls still had skirts made from rectangular fabric lengths, to keep the paisley border quite even.
Next: the bodice.