The Creature Reborn - Retrimming the Pink Polonaise

Apr 17, 2018 7 comments

Once upon a time I made a pink taffeta polonaise and trimmed it in organza, a very 1770s thing to do. At the time, I tried hand roll hemming and found it tedious, incredibly time consuming, and even painful, so I sinfully machine hemmed all the edges of the *miles* of organza that went onto a gown I started calling "The Creature."

I wore The Creature to a day at l'Hermione and Costume College and really quite loved all the floof. This was several years ago now and I was unashamed of my very poor machine hemmed gauze. It was more important to me then to have a finished dress I felt pretty wearing rather than a dress made with historical techniques.

The first time I wore the polonaise in Virginia, visiting the Hermione. It doesn't look bad from a few feet away but the edges of that organza trim were *JANK*

Fast forward to 2018 and my how things change! Over the past couple years, and especially since writing The American Duchess Guide, I've learned so much about construction and technique; my personal goals for each gown I make have changed. Other things have changed too, most notably my measurements, so the selection of wearable 18th century gowns in my closet has, well, shrunk. :-(

With a book-signing event this month at Lacis in Berkeley, I wanted something to wear besides the same yellow Italian gown I've been sporting since August. I'm a big fan of re-wearing gowns, so in the spirit of the Georgian milliner, I pulled out The Creature.

What I like about the polonaise is that it's very adjustable. It was easy to pick out the false waistcoat and re-position it for my current size. The bigger challenge was pulling off all the organza and re-working it.

Now one of the nice things was that I used *way* more organza the first time around that I would need to hem in the re-trimming. I used a modern 1:3 gather/pleat ratio, but for most 18th century trim a 1:1.5 ratio or a 1:2 works just fine. (I deviate from this on the deep petticoat ruffle where I used a 1:2.6 gathering ratio because I wanted a very full look to cover the pink cotton extension). It took me several days to hem the organza but I used a roll hemming technique that made it loads easier and quicker than what I tried before. I've very happy with the result.

The hand rolling technique I used handled angled edges just fine and the resulting hem is quite fine. It was fast and easy, which made the project considerably less daunting.

The resulting hand-hemmed organza, gathered instead of pleated, has a much lighter, airy feel and gives a very different look to the gown.
I've also made some design changes. The biggest is changing the knife pleats to gathers on the front edges of the gown. I also switched the stacked cuffs to one big sabot cuff, which - not gonna lie - took *forever* to get on the sleeves. What a pain! I love this cuff style by my goodness they are fussy!

Sabot cuffs - they're fun once finished, but it took an age to get them on the sleeves. I'd like to try sabot cuffs again with a different shirring design for other effects.
Lastly, I tacked the front edges of the gown to the stomacher so there's less of an open cutaway look and more of a structured zone front. That and a waist tie from the center back help hold the back of the gown in position.

Getting dressed for our Q&A at Lacis this past weekend
Signing books at Lacis this past weekend - we were so honored to be invited to speak here!
Although this re-trim project took a long time, I'm most pleased that the result is a gown I loved before and can wear again with pride instead of apologies. Re-trimming an old gown was such an 18th century thing to do...consider it Georgian upcycling. I encourage you all to think like a milliner and see if you can update an older gown with new trims - it's a very satisfying feeling!


  1. Wow, it's looking gorgeous! So much painful work I'm sure, but the result is amazing. I adore the sleeve cuffs - though I kind of wonder, since I've never tried making them, what was the challenge in sewing them onto the sleeves? How many hours did it take, approximately?
    Btw, it looks like you had so much fun signing the books, so happy for both of you! You deserve the spotlight:-)

    1. Thanks, Rosa! The sabot cuffs took about 5 hours to complete and get on the sleeves. Part of my issue was that I was working in-the-round on sleeves already constructed. It would have been much easier to do flat. Aside from that it was just a ton of stitching, lots of hemming and gathering stitches that all needed drawing up and arranging together.

  2. Gosh that's amazingly different and better. The first one (only in comparison and in hindsight!) looks like a costume from the original Poldark, which had a distinctly 70s vibe. Your new one really does look like the biz.

  3. I always liked the original trim configuration, but the new look is so light and fluffy! Love that you both went with such different ensembles for the signing, you both looked great.

  4. The Creature looks great!
    I'm trying to wrap my brain about doing hemming left-to-right, the way it is in your book and wiki-how link. Some of the tutorials I've found are by "lefties" who show the stitches left-to-right, but my hands refuse to comply and I'm stuck stitching right-to-left. Is there a secret I'm missing, or does it just come with practice?

    1. Forgot to specify, I'm right-handed, it's only some of the tutorials that were by lefties.

    2. I used to hem left to right as well but then Abby beat it out of me. I actually prefer hemming right to left now because you can control the fabric with your left hand as you sew along. The stitch made is also much more "protected" when you go right to left, so it doesn't snag as easily - very useful for hems that might drag or be close to the ground.


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