I know the 1813 Kashmiri dress is done, but I wanted to share some of the construction details to explain how I did it (and as a reference for anyone trying to make a similar dress).
Today I’ll focus on the skirt construction.
My skirt is based on two rectangles, each 136cm/55″ wide and 135cm/54″long as they were cut. The skirt lost barely any width in the sewing, but has a very large hem and top turning, so the finished measurement is 133cm/52″ wide and
Kashmiri shawls of the early 19th century are usually between 100-110″ long & 50-55″ wide, so my finished dress dimensions are an almost exact match to what a period seamstress would have been working with. The major change in design/fabric area is that I have an extra area of patterned fabric to construct the bodice out of, and don’t have the lovely narrow side borders to use as trim.
Skirts based entirely on rectangles were very common in the first decade of the 19th century, but in the early 1810s skirts with gored side-back and back pieces become more common, as the skirt shape evolved from a slim column into a slight inverted triangle, with the gores helping to create the wider hem. However, entirely rectangular skirts were still seen in the 1810s, and all the examples made from kashmiri shawl that I can find clearly used the full width of the shawl. It would make sense that seamstresses would want to maximize their fabric usage and take advantage of the finished selvedges of the shawl for their seams. Using the full width also helps to keep the paisley border even.
And, for the final proof that I was right to use straight rectangles, look how similar the fall of my skirt is to this fashion plate (and no, I wasn’t trying ti imitate the plate, the similarity in poses is a total coincidence!):
Right, back to the construction:
While Regency seamstresses had lovely finished selvedges for their skirt seams, I did not, so I had to combine historical techniques for my two long vertical skirt seams. Remember I started with two panels with a wide border running along the selvedge and a narrow border running across the fabric. I cut off the narrow border to use in the bodice:
Because my fabric was in panels, with the pattern running right to the edge on one side of the panel (where I cut off the horizontal border) and ending before the edge of the fabric on the other, my seam allowances weren’t even. I sewed my skirt seam very close to the cut edge, with the longer un-patterned edge hanging off. I used a running stitch with a backstitch every 3 or 4 inches. My stitches average between 10-12 stitches per inch.
Once the seam was sewn I had to deal with the wool, which frays terribly. My solution was to cut my wide seam allowance down to about an inch, and fold it over my narrow seam allowance to create a sort of interior flat felled seam which finished both edges. I then sewed this down with the same running stitch I used on the seam. I started with a whipstitch, but it didn’t work well in the fabric and was a pain to do.
I’m not sure this was a historically accurate seam finish. I’m sure I’ve seen similar finishes (the catch being similar), but I can’t remember where. It was, however, the most obvious solution to the problem, and the most obvious solution is often the right one. It will certainly be a very strong seam!
I’m using a cotton thread to sew. I’m not actually sure when cotton thread became common and widely available, but assume it was in the early-mid 19th century. Nor am I sure of what type of thread would be most accurate to sew a wool gown in 1813. Cotton? Linen? Silk? The only Regency era gowns I’ve been able to examine in New Zealand were cotton, sewn with cotton thread.
With the two skirt panels sewn to form a tube I hemmed the skirt. By the early 19th century skirts were usually hemmed in the modern fashion: attached at the waist and then hemmed up (as opposed to hemming and then straightening the hem as you pinned it at the waist). However, as seamstresses making a dress from a kashmiri shawl would already have a finished hem, they had to have been hemming from the waist.
My hem is just a simple turn and turn. I kept it very wide to preserve as much of the fabric, and because the weight of the hem will help the skirt fall properly. It’s not precisely historical, but the idea of preserving as much of your fabric in case the dress ever needs to be re-made certainly is.
I attached my skirt to the bodice by folding over the top few inches to bring it to the right length for dancing, and then topstitching down the fold.
This is another place where I have sacrifised historical accuracy (confession: I’ve never figured out exactly what the proper historical skirt to bodice attachment for a Regency dress is) to the needs of the fabric. The topstitched attachment is just much more secure on the wool, and prevents sagging and pulls in the twill weave. It would also be nearly impossible to do the pleats in the skirt with any other attachment.
The skirt pleats are simple knife pleats. I’ve seen similar pleats on extent dresses, and the effect they gave matched the back views in fashion plates of ballgowns like the one I featured above.
I did trial a few other pleat options, including narrow cartridge pleats and gathering, neither of which worked due to the bulk of the fabric.
To create the pleats I pinned them in, sewed the skirt to bodice, catching the pleats just in the last few cm where they are visible on the outside of the skirt. Then I turned the skirt inside out, and secured the long ends of the pleats that are hidden underneath each other. This keeps the pleats neat and flat, without creating a huge amount of bulk in the skirt-to-bodice attachment.
In order to get in to the dress I cut a slit in the centre back and finished it with a self-fabric binding:
Because the column of the dress is so narrow, and the pleats are so deep, the skirt seams are placed all the way back in the pleats, entirely hidden in the valley of the third pleat from the dress sides. Even as the pleats fall away from the body and angle out, the seam is quite hidden, which is a good thing, because I didn’t match the pattern going around the dress (mostly because I forgot to think about it while cutting, but also because the pattern wouldn’t match if you made a dress from a real paisley shaw).
Whew! That was quite an epic post! I’ll tell you about my bodice and sleeve construction in another post, probably on Monday.
It would certainly be fun to try to recreate one of these “shawl” gowns! Thank you so much for sharing!
The back is stunningly good! I haven’t commented on the dress as a whole yet because I can’t make my mind up about whether or not the sleeves look better up or down. I think the answer might be ‘it depends’. But the drape of the back! Keeping the fabric to make the deep hem will have helped that.
Most interesting – thank you. I do love close-ups of how the seams went. And of the clear signs of a woman with a cat who dares to sew dark colours! 🙂
Stunning and brilliant as usual. Thankyou!
I am okay at sewing but some of the techniques used in garment construction are quite confusing without lots of explanations and photos so your post is very helpful. I have been looking thru the rest of your posts and there is lots of helpful information. Thanks for such a informative site.
You’re welcome! Thank you for letting me know you find it useful!
Like Lynne, I’m of two minds about the sleeves. I quite like the way they look in the last photo, but wonder how that looks from the front. The skirt back looks delicious!
I’m chiming in with my two cents again about historical accuracy.
1. the felled/self bound skirt seams are absolutely accurate, I’ve been seeing lots of them. Granted, this is mostly on 18th century stuff, but more and more it looks to me that construction techniques/practices didn’t change much from late 18th c to early 19th c. For future reference, it’s also quite common to see more than one skirt seaming technique on the same garment. Seaming at selvedges was certainly preferred, but the frequency of piecing also meant not selvedge edges as well, which might be self-bound/felled, or even just left raw.
2. Typically, waist seams were done the opposite of what you did, the bodice was mounted to the skirt with a lapped and fell stitched (spaced whip stitch) seam. I have seen mabe a couple of instances where the skirt was mounted to the bodice, but I think those might have re-makes/alterations. Also, it appears that in the early 19th c they started doing waist seams the ‘regular’ (for us) way – right sides together, and backstitched, no lapping or felling. This is in no way a criticism of what you did!
Beautiful job, as usual! You always make me feel itchy to do some historical sewing. I will hopefully be starting some soon – using the Fortnightly to help with scheduling! There may actually be some activity on my blog again in the not-too-distant future!
Yay! Thank you! I knew I had seen felled seams, but didn’t have the time to go through all my notes and figure out when/where, so I’m thrilled to have your stamp of historical accuracy.
Thanks for the tips on bodice to skirt construction. I realise in retrospect that I knew both of those (it would be very odd indeed if the 18th century bodice-to-skirt technique hadn’t carried over, and I’ve clearly seen the ‘modern’ right-sides-together technique in period garments) I just couldn’t figure out how to make them work properly for this one.
And I don’t feel criticised at all about the waist – I was aware that what I was doing was not entirely historical, I was OK with that, but still felt it was the best thing to do for this garment. I just wanted to make sure that any future reader didn’t think that was a Regency construction technique. And I’d rather say I don’t know something if I’m not sure of it than claim to know something where I might be wrong, thus disseminating more inaccuracy on the internet 😉
Oops, I hadn’t got to the post below when I commented. I still agree with Lynne on the sleeve swags – I think up or down depends on the situation. What about somewhere in between – tacked or pinned to the linen sleeves?
Thank you so much for posting these construction details! I love getting to see what your hand stitching actually looks like, and inside shots are always helpful too. Gotta love all the Felicity hairs on it, too…that’s what my gown is looking like now, but brown on blue instead!
Thank you! I thought of you as I wrote this, knowing you’d like all the gritty details!
Yeah, evidence of Felicity is everywhere! If I tried to de-Felicity this gown as I sewed it it would have been a Historically Sew-Annually 😉