19th Century, Sewing

One less PHD – 1860s Engageantes

I’ve got a more elaborate finished UFO to show you for the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #8, but I haven’t managed to take photos of it yet, so for now here is a simple, soft entry, or a really elaborate, long-running entry, depending on how I think about it:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com
I’ve been struggling with engageantes (the false sleeves worn under pagoda  sleeves in the 19th century) for the Greek Key tea dress ever since I first made the dress.  My problem is that 1) none of the engageantes patterns explain exactly how one gets the engageantes to stay attached and up when wearing them, and 2) none of the engageantes patterns make up into something that looks like fashion plates depicting women wearing engageantes.  They just aren’t as full.

The second problem I’m ascribing at least in large part to exaggeration in styles in fashion plates.

The first problem…well, that’s a sticky one.

My most recent trial of engageantes (4 years ago) involved the pattern from Janet Arnold, scaled up slightly on the assumption that I’m built on a grander scale than the original wearer.  This is what they looked like as of last week:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

I had  them all sewn together, and used them on a model for the talk, basted into the sleeves of the Greek Key Dress.

There were two problems with the engageantes as they were: first, they weren’t actually done (too plain), and second,  basting into the sleeves was a headache: the engageantes were wider than the top of the sleeves, so we had to roughly pleat them to fit, and it was hard to keep the stitches from showing on the outside, and over time the basting would damage the outside sleeves.  So I do not think this is how engageantes were worn historically.

My best guess for historical accuracy at the moment is that they were basted to the chemise sleeves, but that’s not going to work very well for how I use and wear costumes, and at this point I think we can all agree that the Greek Key dress is not historically accurate.

So, in order to finish my engageantes, they needed to be made  both beautiful and workable.  First I sewed lines of van-dyked lace around the cuffs and the bottom of the engageantes, embellishing them, and adding volume to their poof.  Sadly, I only had enough for three layers around the cuffs, and two around the bottom of the sleeve: more would be better, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of this lace.

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

Then I worked out a system for attaching them to the jacket.  I sewed eyelet lace around the top of the sleeves, and threaded twill tape through it, so that they could be gathered around my arm.

Here they are ungathered:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

And gathered:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

Then I sewed loops in to the tops and bottoms of the jacket armscye, and ties on to the top of the engageantes in two places, so that they can tie to the loops on the jacket, but still be adjustable for length.

Here are the loops in the armscye:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

And the ties in the engageantes attached to the loops:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

And what they look like hanging down into the sleeve:

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

It worked like a charm.  They took mere minutes to attach and adjust, stayed up nicely, and were very comfortable.  The next pair I make will be fuller and longer (which will also make them fuller) but otherwise I think I’ve finally got the engageant problem sorted.

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

For me, there are two ways to look at this project: first, the PHD is the engageantes (and they really were a project half done, because they were sort of done – they just didn’t work!), and I’ve finally finished them – four years later.  The other way is to think of the whole Greek Key ensemble as an unfinished project, because it was never wearable without engageantes, and I had never managed to make reasonable, workable, finished engageantes before.

For the purposes of the HSF, I’ll count this PHD as just the engageantes, as it gets too complicated otherwise.

The Challenge:  #8  —  PHDs & UFOs

How long has this been a PHD?  :  Since June 2010

Fabric: No new fabric, but less than 1/2 a metre of self-striped cotton lawn originally.

Pattern:  Based  on the pattern for 1860s engageantes in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion  

Year:  1857-63

Notions:  3 metres of lace with a vandyke pattern ($2), 1.5 metres of eyelet lace ($2), 3 metres of twill tape (50cents)

How historically accurate is it?    Mostly not.  It’s machine sewn, which is a stretch for 1860.  The fabric is reasonable, the decorating technique and lace not, and my attachment method certainly isn’t.  So under 40%, but still worth it, because I learned a lot.

Hours to complete:  2.  Really easy except for sewing the lace rows so close to the sleeve gather.

First worn:  With the Greek Key dress for a hoopskirt themed photoshoot on Friday the 2nd with the fabulous Theresa, who is in town for a few days and made a photoshoot with me top priority!

Total cost:  $4.50 further in materials, and less than $2 original materials (so these would be a great entry in the Under $10 challenge)

1860s engageantes thedreamstress.com

And, of course, I’ll be showing you the full view of the photoshoot soon!


  1. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O122390/jacket-bodice-unknown/

    This suggests they were tacked to the armholes (although that would require the sleeves to be full length, which most engageantes I have seen aren’t… I do remember wondering about it too. With a lot of 1850s dresses, they have layers and puffs and f0lderols (not a historic term! I just like saying folderols!) on the sleeves which I imagine served to hide any tacking stitches –

    • I wonder if by “armhole”, they mean the bottom of the sleeve rather than armscye? Because that would make the fashion plates with the billowing undersleeves make more sense.

      • Both options confuse me, as like Daniel I’ve seen very few arm-length engageantes, and there are definitely fashion plates that show space between the engageant and sleeve hem, indicating that they weren’t tacked to the bottom of the sleeve either.

  2. fidelio says

    If you do plan more pictures, I’d love one with the jacket inside out, showing your rigging system.

    I love seeing the internal workings og things, clothes and otherwise!

    • Now included in the post! I was always planning to take them, it just got too dark before I had time.

      I’m all about interior shots as well. I wish more museums would do them!

      • fidelio says

        Thank you so much! I hoped it was just a time-pressure thing.

        I’m always happy to see the gritty insides, and I’m with you about the museum shots. Fashion history isn’t just the pretty dress…

  3. Do you ever show how you store everything? I’d love to see that because with the amount of sewing you do and the wonderful costumes you make, there must be some kind of storage plans involved, and I am sorely lacking in the good storage planning.

    • I haven’t shown how I store everything, but I did do a mini post about how I store my undergarments:


      Everything is either stored 1 outfit (with all the accessories, if they are only ever worn with that outfit) to a vintage suitcase or acid-free ‘coffin’ box, stacked artistically around the house or squirreled under beds, or in a closet, arranged by era. I keep the undies all in their own suitcases, and shoes in one place, and hats in another. Mostly it relies on a very good memory, and lots of tags!

  4. Do you ever show how you store everything? I’d love to see that because with the amount of sewing you do and the wonderful costumes you make, there must be some kind of storage plans involved, and I am sorely lacking in the good storage planning.

  5. The pair I made, I put a drawstring in to tie at the elbow – but now I can’t remember why! Surely I must have come across an instruction for this somewhere … But a lot of the period magazines show a long, fitted band at the top, and I’ve seen them discuss elastic being inserted into the top as well.

  6. HannahS says

    I volunteer at a Victorian living-history museum. The ones I wear with my costume have elastic in a casing at the top, though I don’t if this is accurate. And mine aren’t nearly as pretty and full as yours! I wonder, even if it is accurate, could elastic bear the weight of a really gathered sleeve without being uncomfortably tight?

    Also, I love your history posts; do you plan on doing one on the use of elastics?

    • Elastic was just being developed in the 1850s and 60s, and I’ve never seen a pair of engageantes that bears evidence of its use as a holding up method (and they would, as early elastics would disintegrate and stain and mark the fabric).

      I have seen drawstring ones, and one with fitted bands at the top, but plain tops seem to be the most common.

      I’ll add elastic to the list of posts to do 🙂

      • HannahS says

        Oooh ok, good to know! Thanks 🙂

  7. So the elastic on the top of mine isn’t accurate? Lol! I followed my pattern instructions on that one but as I was doing it, I was wondering if elastic had even been invented yet!

  8. Robin says

    I have always unapologetically used elastic on mine. I know it’s inaccurate, but as a period attired historic house docent, I often had to ready the museum and open alone, with no one to assist me in dressing and a narrow time frame to accomplish this.

    I said phooey to the drawstrings and put in elastic. I had absolutely no issues with it at all, they stayed in place like a dream. I have made mine very full by simply using a very wide rectangle of fabric.

    However, I have discovered I am not a fan of sleeves that are wide and full, as they are ‘in my own way’ and I prefer a narrower coat sleeve with either a cuff or narrower under sleeve.

  9. I love them! They’re gorgeous, and they go so well with the dress. They really complete the look.

  10. I like the lace, it’s charming. And you figure out a very useful and practical way of attaching these to the dress. Thank you for sharing!


  11. Un vestido muy bonito, con muchos detalles, y como siempre un buen trabajo. Enhorabuena!

  12. Enhorabuena por su creación. Le ha quedado muy bonito, y con detalles encantadores.

  13. Nice solution. I’m still puzzled though about if this is actually how they kept the engageantes from falling down. I tried pinning them to my chemise but it looked like it was going to tear the fabric of either the chemise or the engageantes. I tried the non-historically accurate solution of using elastic garters above my biceps.

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