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!


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