Tuesday, June 23, 2009

18th century pocketbooks

The eternal question of 'what to do with all these scraps?' had many answers in the 18th century when little went to waste.
As a modern businesswoman and seamstress I tend to stash tiny bits of silk, trim & brocade because I can't bare to throw it away when I paid so much per year... after all, I just know I'll need that 1/8 yd or 2" strip of whatever eventually. When I accumulate so much scrap that it becomes clutter, it's time to get sewing!

A very good thing to do with small pieces of fabric (aside from patchwork quilts) is to make accessories.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries men and women carried pocketbooks or silk purses. Important documents, money, love letters, scissors, sewing kits, etc. were kept in these tiny works of art.
Most were heavily embroidered and highly prized. They were given as gifts by very close friends, or purchased for important occasions such as housewarming or wedding gifts. Not everyone had a pocketbook.

Most commonly, pocketbooks had two main pockets with a 3rd or 4th sewn on top and a flap covering the added pocket. There could also be another pocket sewn on top of that to hold scissors, penknives or calling cards.
They could be made from silk, brocade or linen and were trimmed with gimp, silk ribbon or finished with cut edges and embroidery.

Men kept their pocketbooks in the breast pocket of their inner-most waistcoat. Women kept them in their pockets. These accessories were similar in function to a modern safety deposit box.

They are approximately 4" x 7" when closed and 8" x 7" when open. They can be larger or smaller, depending on the intended use or the available fabric.
If you decide to make or buy one, make sure it will fit in your coat / pocket.

A good place to see (or buy) historic examples is Vintagetextile.com. She has 3 lovely high-end examples at prices that are similar to other vintage sites.

This is a basic pattern without instructions (because there are too many variations).

This is relatively easy to make.

It's all approximates, you will have to look up historic examples and decide on the individual details of your pocketbook.

Bind all raw edges and be careful that any hand sewing doesn't come through on the inside of the pocket.

Remember to stitch the "bottom" edges closed or you will lose things in the far corners of the pocketbook. This won't be a problem if you bind all the way around, but if you only bind the sides you will have to do a narrow stitching line on each end.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

1775 English Gown: The Pumpkin Coach Dress

1775-80 English Gown

I made another English Gown or Robe A l'anglaise from The Cut of Women's Clothes. This one is made from burnt orange cotton with the same color embroidery in a pinwheel floral design. The petticoat is a linen/rayon blend that is the exact color of the embroidery and just a step away from the gown fabric (it's affordable, and matched perfectly... also safe around fires).
Now pictured here are the wider green silk ribbon ties (that I finished last week), I have decided against the ruching on the sleeves, at least for now.

I have made pockets & a fichu and will make hip & bum pads to go with this gown. It seems to want them, unlike the white gown, which didn't really need them as it was made for a lady with a very full figure. I'll also make a pair of lightly boned stays... most likely in a cream color and a matching cap with one of those huge puffy tops and a green ribbon for accent.

I keep thinking of Cinderella's pumpkin coach when I look at this, which is why I wanted the green accents. In my head, I've shortened it to "the coach dress," though it really has nothing to do with travel.

The back can be worn down or bustled up A l'polonaise with 2 ties (see picture below), and can be worn with or without a fichu.
If you have a plain shift, wear a fichu with it.
If you have ruffles on your shift, let them show at the neckline and nix the modesty cloth.

It is for sale on my web site.
Bust: 38"
Waist: 30"
underarm - waist: 9" (with hip pads).

This dress would be lovely on a small lady with brown or gray eyes & dark or olive skin.
Someone with blue eyes or very pale skin would have to wear a modesty cloth to prevent the color of the gown being reflected on your face, but just about anyone could wear this without too much trouble. Very light blondes would have to take care not to be overwhelmed by the strong colors, but a honey-blonde would look fabulous in this.

Recap on the history of the English Gown:

This gown was worn throughout the 1700's. It started life as the Mantua in the late 1600's, and slowly evolved along-side the sack back gown into what we see here. As the century progressed, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between English & French gowns unless one can see the pleating in back. The Robe A l'anglaise finally disappeared in the early 1800's, being replaced by the Empire dress. It wasn't until the 1840's that a similar cut was seen again.

The English Gown changed very little through the century. The shape of the bodice evolved a little, and the bustling method & sleeve decoration changed with the times.

Early in the century the center front of the English Gown was deeply pointed, and later on it became more rounded and shallow.

Here you can see the 1730-40's styles, worn with aprons & modesty cloths. They can have rounded fronts, stomachers, open or closed skirts, sleeve flounces or cuffs (flounces were most popular through the century for wealthy ladies, cuffs were most popular for working-class, though both styles were worn by everyone).

Group Portrait of A Family By A Lake And A Classical Pavillion

The English Gown can have a V neck & stomacher, or a closed round bodice (both seen in The Polite Maccaroni). 1770's.

Both ladies here are wearing their gowns A l'polonaise, which means they have tied them up into various styles that increase the folds of the fabric, keep the skirts out of the mud and give them that "milk-maid" look that was so fashionable in the 1770's.

Both ladies also have contrasting petticoats, the wealthy one with a ruffle on hers, and the working girl with a quilted petticoat (most likely from a consignment shop).
Note that the wealthy woman's petticoats are longer and cover her ankles, while the working girl's petticoats are above the ankle to avoid draging in the mud.

*Flower sellers who worked for shops were not the dregs of society. They were usually working class daughters or young wives who needed extra coins. Occasionally they were prostitutes who used both jobs to earn their living.

At it's latest incarnation there was an inverted V from the bust to the waist with a contrasting color at the bottom front. (Mari Antoinette & Her Children, 1780's). There is another name for this gown... Turkish robe I think, but I'm not sure. It is the same cut as an English Gown of the times, the main difference is in the color contrast & double sleeves... you can see the red sleeve above the white.

The most common decorations on the English Gown were pleated cuffs, sleeve flounces, lace and ruffles. Ruching was used at the cuff & the center front of the skirts. Bows and puffs were also very common on all gowns.

Not all gowns were decorated. The more decoration, the higher the social class. (note the difference between the flower girl's dress & the lady next to her and then look at Mari Antoinette's gown).