A 1780s Embroidered Italian Gown – Finally

Most of my 2020 was spent in working on – and finishing! – UFOs or “unfinished objects.” I completed my 1760s Sunset Silk Robe a la Francaise, an 1890s linen jacket, a couple 1930s dresses, and the 1630s Bumble Bee Bodice.

In the new year, I decided to start with something new. I pulled out a beautiful embroidered silk taffeta I bought years back in the LA garment district. It had been marinating in The Stash for long enough. Why I decided to make yet another late 18th century gown I do not know other than perhaps it felt comfortable and familiar after more than a year of uncertainty.

I love you

The design is very simple based on this hand-painted 1780s silk dress at The Met:

The Met, c. 1780, 1976.146a, b

When I found my taffeta it reminded me of the original gown even though, well, it really looks nothing at all like it. Still, ivory, purple, pink, pretty, yes.

I had to do some careful cutting to get the embroidered stripes in the right places, and there was no room for error. I under-bought yardage, as usual. Since the design was not mirrored throughout the fabric, I used an 18th century trick of flipping the fabric upside down to be able to somewhat create the mirrored serpentine effect. I chose to cut the front pieces relatively on the straight to get the pattern how I wanted, even though I knew it would result in wrinklage on the bodice fronts. Compromise!

Cutting the bodice fronts on the mostly-straight to get the pattern right, but having to also live with the resulting wrinkles.
Layout of the embroidery on the back and side back, but you can also see my permanent creases from the tucks I removed.

I made a bit of a mistake (er, decision and then un-decision) on the center back, trying a method of tucking to make falsie side-back seams. I didn’t care for it, so removed them, but it left creases I can’t get out of the silk for love nor money. They don’t bother me, though, as creases are as common in Georgian originals as piecing. “Creases ‘n Pieces.”

I gave extra width at the neckline of my pattern to allow for stuffing with the kerchief for that prow-front look. Unfortunately my edge-to-edge drawstring is causing trouble, though.

A new-to-me technique I wanted to try was the drawstring neckline. These are very common in the 1780s and help make the prow-front silhouette as well as making the gown adjustable around the neckline. I like the look of the huge neckerchiefs tucked in as well. Oddly, this simple drawstring has its tricks! I did the opening on the edges of the bodice, but this means the top can’t be overlapped for pinning. Georgian mantua-makers had this problem, too. Here’s one way it was fixed:

The Met, 1785-95, 2009.300.647

I haven’t yet fixed the issue, but this little triangle looks like a good solution to me.

Coming up – skirts, shoulder straps, and sleeves. Stay tuned!


  • Quinn Burgess

    May 18, 2021 at 5:18 PM

    Yay! It’s fun to see a new project! The fabric is lovely. Creases and pieces made me laugh out loud. 🙂 Great wording. I haven’t noticed drawstring necklines on these dresses before (aside from dresses like chemise gowns that are gathered across the front anyway), but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing your musings and ideas about how to solve the issue of butting front edges and a drawstring.


    • Lauren @ American Duchess

      May 19, 2021 at 12:08 PM

      Thanks, Quinn! I need to find some scraps to do the piece at the front, although I’m also considering just poking a hole a bit back from the edge on one side, too. No idea if that’s period accurate but it would solve the issue 😉

  • Anna

    May 20, 2021 at 4:55 AM

    I notice how lovely the bodice was paired with the grey petticoat; the fabric would make a lovely waistcoat besides the gown.

    I can’t make my hands do pinning for the life of me; maybe I don’t have the right kind of pins and I’m unsure how to do it correctly – from the underside or from the topside, is it one big pick-up or does the pin go in and out, in and out? Ah well, I fudged my 1740s jacket and put in hooks and eyes in the front instead.

      • Anna

        May 21, 2021 at 5:07 AM

        OMG! I’ve been trying to pin vertically, duh (smacks forehead). Thanx for the video clip, makes perfect sense. Now to order some correct clothing pins from B&T. From your much-cheered up friend in SW Virginia.

  • Rose

    May 29, 2021 at 8:12 PM

    So pretty! l love the fabric! Slightly off topic, but I’ve been wondering, is it historically accurate to wear just an Italian gown bodice with a separate, non-matching skirt?

    • Lauren @ American Duchess

      June 1, 2021 at 12:05 PM

      Thank you so much! To answer your question, if you add a little peplum, tail, or short skirting of some sort to an Italian gown bodice to turn it into a jacket, it’s perfectly good to wear with just a petticoat, and the petticoat certainly does not need to match. 🙂


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