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Making an 18th Century “Undress” Costume – The Skirt & Accessories

Today I have the second making of post for my 18th century undress costume to share! I’ll go through making the skirt and matching accessories. If you missed part one, it can be read here, and talks about making the jacket and stomacher.

I originally planned on making the skirt for this costume very simple – three panels of the brown material knife pleated down to fit the waistline. But the more I thought about it, the more concerned I was that it wouldn’t have enough volume. So I decided to make an open front skirt, with a petticoat made from the stomacher fabric underneath. Except I didn’t have enough of the stomacher fabric to make a petticoat. Which meant the dress needed to have a fake open front, which made it way more complicated.

Anyway, step one was measuring from my waist to the floor while wearing the proper foundation garments, which in this case were a *new* bum pad (new year, new bum pad, that’s what I always say) plus a cotton/tulle petticoat. Not accurate, but way lighter than quilted petticoats with less bulk at the waistline.

I wrote down the center front, side front, back front, and center back measurements, then used those to figure out the dimensions of each skirt panel. This was pretty easy to do since they are rectangular, with a sloped waistline.

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I didn’t take any pictures of the skirt panels in this stage because they were just giant rectangles. But here is how much fabric I had left after cutting them out – I quite literally cut it pretty close!

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Before doing much with those panels, I cut out and assembled the front panel. This was made from a forty inch wide piece of the woven polyester, with horsehair sewn into the hem to prevent it from rippling in the front.

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Then I cut out a thirteen inch long strip. The top edge was cut with pinking sheers and left raw, and the bottom edge was turned inward twice and sewn down by hand.

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I gathered the ruffle by machine, then pinned it to the other panel, an inch above the hem.

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The ruffle was sewn on by machine as well. Since the ruffle was so dense the stitching wasn’t very visible. The sides of this panel were fraying a lot, so I finished them with bias tape that was sewn on by machine.

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Now back to work on the brown panels! I cut them so two 40″ wide panels would make up the back. The remaining panel was cut in half, with one half on either side of the ivory panel.

I interfaced the front of these panels with 12″ wide strips of medium weight fusible interfacing, which helped a lot with the shape. However I should have also lined the panels, because the interfacing looks terrible when the front panels flip back (something I struggled with when photographing this costume on a windy day).

The front edge of these panels were folded inward, then I sewed the folded edge to the ivory front panel.

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I thought this looked okay at first, but it was one of those things that looked worse the longer I left it on my dress form. It was very obvious from certain angles that the skirt was all one piece, rather than an open front gown with an underskirt, which was the effect I wanted.

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See? It was worse on this side for some reason.

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So I ripped out the stitches that secured them together. Then I sewed 20″ wide panels of muslin onto either side of the ivory panel, and evenly gathered the top. This time my plan was securing these panels together at the side seam, which prevents tension from being put on the front edge of the brown panels. Luckily, this worked and I could move forward!

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I turned the top ten inches of the side edges inward by hand, twice, to neatly finish them. This will be the point where the skirt opens.

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Then I figured out a pleating pattern I liked, and sewed the pieces together with french seams.

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The top portion of the sides were left open, these allow me to get the skirt on and off. I much prefer this to back closures, but it requires costumes with skirted bodices or jackets…otherwise it can look a bit awkward.

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The brown portions of the skirt were hemmed by hand. I turned the hem inward by a half inch, then an inch and a half.

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The finishing touch was binding the top edge of the skirt. I didn’t have enough brown fabric left to make bias tape, so I used the ivory material instead. Not the nicest finished, but it won’t be seen when it’s worn.

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I sewed a single eyelet into each end of the binding (so four in total, two on the back, two on the front) ribbon can be threaded through these to tie the skirt in place.

And here you can also see the back pleating pattern. The pleats on this were very finicky – I spent a lot of time redoing them on the dress form until the looked right.

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That finished up the skirt and jacket! Here it is worn.

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But it isn’t done, don’t be silly. Have I made a costume in the last year that doesn’t have some sort of accessory? Why would this be an exception?

Though I couldn’t find a style of hat that would pair well with this, I did find some knitwear accessory inspiration through the designs Claire wears in Outlander (side note; the designer has a really great blog that I would highly recommend). And I just so happened to have an interesting purple knit fabric collecting dust in my stash!

I decided to make a pair of mitts, and a shawl. The mitts were made using a pattern I found online (located here – but it appears to have been taken down), which I would recommend. But if you’re using knit fabric, don’t add seam allowances! That was my one big mistake, parts of it ended up too big.

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I finished the edges by turning them inward by hand, and left the mitts unlined.

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I wasn’t super happy with how the laid on my hand (probably because I added seam allowance and they looked silly!), so I folded the pointed edge back and sewed it down with a button as decoration. This was actually very common during the time, and a convenient fix for me.

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Next accessory: A shawl, which could also be tucked into the neckline and used as a fichu/neckerchief. This was super easy, I cut it out from a corner of the knit material, then turned the edges inward by a half inch and sewed them down by hand. I didn’t do a rolled hem because this knit was fine enough that it didn’t fray much or unravel (thank god).

In the photos below I used one of my great grandmothers brooches to secure it in place.

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And that’s it! Here is the finished ensemble. I’m very happy with it. I really love the color palette and textures in this project. The fit of the jacket, the drape of the skirt, the embroidery…it all turned out even better than I expected, which is a rare and wonderful thing!

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I’ve already photographed this project and have a costume spotlight video filmed that goes into more detail. But it will probably take me a week to get that edited and posted. In the mean time, here is a little teaser.

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That’s it for now! Thanks for reading!

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