Making a Linen Robe à l’Anglaise: the skirt, sleeves and the fichu

So after the body was done (praise the lord), I got to move on to the other elements. I always struggle with bodice fit a lot more than with anything else, so it was pretty smooth sailing.

For the sleeves, I wanted simple elbow sleeves. I already had a pattern drafted using Elizabeth Friendship’s Creating Historical Costumes from my last Anglaise (photos of this costume are here).

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The sleeves were pretty straightfowards: they had a small dart on the bottom edge and one at the elbow. The excess fabric at the top was pleated into three tiny little pleats.

I cut out the pattern from the linen and from plain white cotton to line them with. I sewed the darts on each sleeve individual, then flatlined the pieces together.

I finished the bottom edge by turning the outer fabric and the lining inwards, and sewing them together with small running stitches, effectively finishing the edge with one stitch.

You can see the bottom here with the raw edges turned under.

Then I did up the side seams with french seams.

I pinned and basted the sleeves into the armhole, taking the excess into the small pleats. Then I sewed the sleeves in by machine.

For the skirt, I just used all of my remaining fabric, which was around 4 meters, divided into two panels. I sewed the panels together with french seams, leaving a gap of about 10” on the top edge of one of the seams. This would be the closure on the skirt. I measured out the centre front. I left a ten inch gap at the front, and then started pleating outwards until I reached the back. I had to fiddle with the pleats a little until it fit my waist measurement, but I really wanted the pleats to be small. I ran over the pleats on my machine.

Then I sewed on some herringbone tape to help stabilize and secure the pleats, sort of a sham waistband.

The gap in one of the side seams.
The tape on the centre front.

Figuring out how to attach the skirt to the bodice was… fun. It was mind-boggling, trying to attach a side closure skirt to a centre front closure bodice. But! Thanks to Angela Clayton’s recent post about a similar 18th century dress, I was able to figure it out! Her post is here. Basically, I only sewed the skirt to the bodice from the end of the gap on the right hand side, to the side closure on the skirt on the left side. This left the front flat bit loose (however as the skirt closes taut, it doesn’t sag). I added a snap just where the pleats start on the left side, to help keep the loose edge in place.

I tried it on my dress form first, as I was confused by how to sew on the tip.

It looked okay, so I sewed them together by machine, leaving the back tip free and sewing it down by hand, with a backstitch.

I attached a hook and eye and some snaps to the closure. I tried the skirt on, over my bum pad and petticoats, and marked the hem. I wanted it to be just a little bit off the ground at the front and a little longer in the back, a bit like this (I know most 18th century are actually ankle length, but because I don’t have appropriate shoes at the moment I preferred this. I can always rehem it in the future).

And that was it for the dress! Or so I thought. When I tried the dress on to mark the hem, I realised the sleeves were quite tight. So I undid the French seams and shabbily added a sleeve gusset.

I finally started giving accessories a little more thought. As my American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Sewing had just recently arrived, I tried using their tutorial for the fichu. It was originally paired with an 1840s look in the book (but hopefully it also works for later decades).

The fichu is basically a huge triangle of fabric. I used a mix of white silk and cotton (WHICH IS BEAUTIFUL AND IT FEELS SO GOOD, literally my new favourite fabric and I wish I could afford to make everything out of it).

I love this fabric.

I cut out the big triangle. Then, you fold it in half and iron the long edge a few inches in. There, you cut a small slit. This helps accommodate the fichu around the neck.

I did a small rolled hem by hand on the slit and all the way around.

To finish the clipped point on the slit, I sewed over it (kinda like a button hole kind of thing!).

I used the same fabric to make two small decorate flounces for my sleeves (flounces isn’t really the right word). The sleeves ended up being a tad too short, so this was a nice way to add a little decorative element and also make the sleeves look better. I didn’t want them to be complicated though, I wanted to keep the simple and plain feeling of the dress, so they were only very lightly gathered. For these, I cut two long rectangles, approximately 0.7x larger than the bottom edge of the sleeve. I finished all the edges by hand, with a rolled hem. Then I sewed a gathering stitch at the top and gathered them down to the right length. Then I hand sewed these to the sleeves. Ideally I would’ve done this while I was still making the sleeves, so that it was sandwiched between the lining and outer fabric for a better finish, but this worked out fine too!

I actually really like this dress. I like how simple it is. I’m still upset with the bodice but in the end I like the look of it and love the fabrics. Hope to have some worn photos soon!

Needs some ironing