Admire, Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing, Textiles & Costume

A new 18th century fichu – HSM 2018 #5

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

I always try to have a bit of handsewing on the go, so I have something to work on while sitting in a waiting room, or whenever else I have a tiny bit of down-time (an all too rare occurrence in my life at the moment, sadly).

My last handsewing project was another 18th c fichu – a twin to the one I made back in December, because it’s easier to cut a square and divide it into two triangles than to cut an individual triangle, so you might as well make fichu in pairs!

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

I finished my fichu on the flight to Sydney, just in time for Theresa to wear it for my talk and our photoshoot at Old Government House in Parramatta, Sydney.

There isn’t a great deal to say about the fichu’s construction.*  I cut it at 80cm/31.5″ along the straight edges, which creates a 132cm/52″ angled edge.  The little slit in it is 12cm/4.5″ long.

A reproduction 18th century fichu,

The slit allows it to sit nicely and snugly against the back of the neck.

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

The dimensions were based off of a few museum examples, and the width of my fabric.  It made sense to me to use a measurement that corresponded to a fabric width, which is, I’m sure, how historical fichu were sized.

The sizing sits very nicely around the neck and across the shoulders, and is long enough to just reach the waist in front, perfectly hiding any glimpses of blue stays under the ribbon ties of the pet-en-l’aire.

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

The fichu is made of the same voile weight linen that I made the 1780s cap from the American Duchess book out of.

A reproduction 18th century fichu,

It’s hemmed with very, very tiny turned hems.

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

Sadly, I got an ink stain on it while working on it, and my best efforts to remove the stain have not succeeded.  Luckily the stain doesn’t show when worn tucked in, and if I ever needed to do a lower class impression, a few marks would only add to the verisimilitude.**

It’s not a particularly exciting item, but it’s an excellent addition to my 18th century wardrobe, and is helping to create all the details that add up to an authentic impression.

A reproduction 18th century fichu,

And it perfectly qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly 2018 Challenge #5: Specific to a Time (of Day or Year).  Fichu were worn primarily with daywear, to cover the neck and chest and protect them from the sun.  They were also, generally speaking, more informal wear.  Court dress, and other extremely formal garments, would be worn with an exposed chest and shoulders.

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

What the item is: a 1780s fichu / neckerchief

Material:   linen voile

Pattern: based on extant exampels

Year: 1780 (but probably appropriate for most of the 2nd half of the 18th century)

Notions: silk thread

How historically accurate is it? I’m not so sure about my tiny pressed hems rather than true rolled hems, but it still can’t be very far off.

Hours to complete:  3 or so – lots of little stitches!

First worn: For photos at Old Government House, Parramatta, Sydney, 26 May.

Total cost: $10 or so based on the amount of fabric I used.

Theresa with a Fichu at Old Government House Parramatta,

* So yes, this post is really just an excuse to show off a bunch of photos of Theresa looking gorgeous 😉

** My current favourite word. Theresa was most impressed by how lightly and fluently it trips off my tongue 😛


  1. Lynne McDonald says

    Beautiful! That linen voile is a lovely weight. Do you remember where it came from? Fine linen is a bit special.

    • It was from The Fabric Store in Wellington, about 5 years ago. I wish I’d been able to afford more when I bought it! Unfortunately it must have been given a very strong acid treatment, as it’s already beginning to fox. 🙁

    • If you’re able to order from the uk, Whalleys of bradford do a fine transparent ramie which is very ncie for such things, though perhaps not so soft (ramie has a certain stiffness).

  2. Karen in Michigan says

    Have you tried hair spray to remove ink marks? That’s what we used to use in the tailor shop and it’s always worked for me.

  3. Nice fichu, and beautiful photos!

    What a pity about the stain… In case it’s ballpoint ink, baby oil seems to work.

    • Elise says

      Swell photos!
      As for marks, well…teaches you the zen, I guess!

      • Thank you! Yeah, I’m pretty philosophical about the marks – they don’t affect most uses, and could be helpful for others 😛

    • Thank you! I shall try the baby oil if the hair spray doesn’t work. I have hair spray in the house but not baby oil 😉

  4. Magdalena says

    Ah, yes, verisimilitude! What a wonderful word. It makes one seem quite erudite, doesn’t it?

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