When you’re a historical costumer going to Europe, obviously you have to take at least one costume for dressing up in front of castles in!
So, what’s the historical period with the combination of prettiest clothes and least heavy layers?
Back in 2020, at the end of New Zealand’s first lockdown, I found an amazing ramie-cotton blend fabric with an adorable pineapple print on it:
The print is not accurate of course. However, it is perfectly in keeping with the late 18th and early 19th century obsession with pineapples, and it’s so tiny that from even a slight distance away it looks like a plaid or geometric print.
The fabric is also not accurate, but is a feel and type of fabric that seamstresses of the era would have recognised. Ramie like this (made from Boehmeria nivea from Asia) was unlikely to have been used in the 18th century, but European nettle cloth (from Urtica dioica) was widely used in Europe until the late 19th century. It can be difficult to tell nettle cloth apart from linen once woven, so some items identified as linen in museum collections are likely to be nettle cloth.
Very helpfully for travelling, the fabric is extremely lightweight, not prone to creasing, and not so see through that it needs lots of layers. Most importantly, the fabric makes me happy!
For the pattern I settled on a mash up of this dress:
And this fashion plate (yes, that’s a pineapple on the turban!):
I also heavily referenced the famous ca. 1797 wedding dress from the National Museum in Denmark (often called the Tidens Toj dress), and looked at 1790s dresses in Patterns of Fashion and The Cut of Women’s Clothes for more guidance on the cut of the sleeves and bodice, and accurate skirt widths.
With help from my wonderful sewing friends (and, of course, Felicity), I developed a pattern, fitted a bodice toile, and began sewing.
First the lining goes together:
Then the outer fabric gets applied:
And then sleeves get sewn:
And inserted in to the under-armscythe:
And pleated over the strap:
And then I sewed a channel for the front skirt drawstring:
And made lots and lots of tiny pleats in the back of the skirt:
And then basted them all in place. It’s ALWAYS worth the time to baste things in place, because it means you get the final sewing right, and when you don’t get it right, you can unpick and re-adjust without things moving about.
Did I mention unpicking?
I whipped the skirt on to the bodice while flying from Wellington to Sydney:
From Sydney to Dubai I finished interior skirt seams and hemmed:
The white areas are places where I had to piece in scraps of fabric. There is SO MUCH piecing under the arms of this dress. I don’t have a scrap of fabric bigger than 2cm x3cm left!
So I unpicked, adjusted the bodice end line, and re-set the skirt. Three times…
But at least I had the most gorgeous sewing spot in the world to do it in!
And finally, finally, it was done!
I got to wear it at Kina Slott at Drottningholm in Sweden:
And at two different locations in Czechia:
And I’ll be blogging about all those places in due course!
There’s a few things I’d change about the dress if I made it again (as there is with almost everything I make except Scroop Patterns, which I test so obsessively), but it’s fun to wear and was easy to carry around Europe.