Sunday, March 27, 2011

Renovating the Wrap Front on My Sheer 1795 Morning Dress

Study, photos, study plates. Study some more. Test, rip out, retest. Finally, I think I am on the road to the right dress neckline. A try-on will confirm, or send me back to fiddle some more.

Neckline Details to Achieve

A few days ago I caught a shot of the neckline of a favorite top in a mirror as the boys and I were heading upstairs. Hmmm, that's rather the shape I am looking for, I mused. The sharper curve in the top is created by a small tuck at the shoulder, the smoother curve by the shape of the chest.

Janet Arnold records a similar sort of tuck, achieved with a button and loop, in the late 1790s wrap-front half robe in her book Patterns of Fashion. If it comes to it, I might adopt this little trick, and it could look neat!

The lower rounded curve over the chest, like a barely there sweetheart neckline, we see in some fashion plates (see previous post 1795 Bodice Designs: Wrap-Front and V Necklines.

The other effects I wanted to achieve:
  • an avoidance of bunching at the shoulder line. My shoulders are broad, arms muscular from carrying boys, and I prefer the slope-shouldered look of the period.
  • soft, very small folds of the voile top fabric around the bust, and larger folds near the neckline itself. Almost a collar effect. Again, my previous post captures these effects in several portrait miniatures of the day, and in the text of the May 1795 Gallery of Fashion issue "Chemise of embroidered muslin; the collar and labels [lapels] of trimmed with lace". Yes, a chemise with collar and lapels. What that means I am not certain at all, but propose -- experimentally, of course, and without proof -- that there is a high neckline and tiny collar at back, with loose front fabric that folds over and loses itself in the rest of the font gathers. See the figure on the left below.

Here are two details from portrait miniatures that you are beginning to know (too) well:

The Draping Process

As you know, my original dress features an underbodice, which wraps and pins and provides support. On top is a dress lining, to which the fashion fabric voile is mounted. This is on the advice of Suzi Clarke, who pointed me to Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes book, in which a chemise dress is treated to this way of controlling gathers.

So, my job was to re-jigger the dress bodice to open up the neckline and narrow the shoulders. Mrs. C. gave some wonderful suggestions in a comment to the 1795 Bodice Designs: Wrap-Front and V Necklines post, and so I started with those.

Before slashing into the fabric, though, I decided to try just reshaping the neckline by folding in its edges and trying a tiny dart at the edge, and redraping and mounting the existing fabric on it, all the while trying to achieve the effects described above.

Here follow pictures of the process:

First, a shot from the side showing the stays, and the shape they give.

Second, showing a first reshaping of the neckline on one side. I have folded down the neckline to a depth of one inch, and have taken a tiny fold or dart, almost parallel to the neckline, at the edge, to force the fabric to curve at a stronger downward angle.

Now, I moved to the kitchen last evening, where it was warm and the light is very good, an set up the dress form. The form is NOT a good one, but it I hope will do its job. I set the stays on it, and added a wad of voile in what I fondly hoped was sort of the shape of my torso while wearing stays.

I started refocusing the gathers on this first side. I had taken off the sleeve and unmounted the voile. I now reset it by taking small gathers at key spots, lifting and draping to create curved folds where I wanted them. This is very much in the spirit, by the way, that Edwardian net dresses were mounted on their foundations.

Here is the result on the left side, over which the right side will wrap.

A shot, below, of the shoulder line. I used tiny pleats near the shoulder, then gathered the voile on a thread towards the neckline to create bouf.

Here is the right side remounted.

Here is the final effect, before try-on. I have also brought up the front waistline to a higher point, and will need to regather it and remount it to the bodice lining. I want to bring it up a tad higher still but have to have it on me to find the right spot.

Remember that that big mushy thing sticking into the neckline is my "bust enhancer".

The fabric still feels a bit flat, without that captivating Greek curve like the Classical chiton dress, but we shall see what happens when I try it on. Will it curve, will it bouf? Will I have my reference fashion plate look, or will I have to add fabric or resort to a giant boufy neckerchief, per Mrs. C.?

Don't know. When the try-on will occur isn't clear, for I have a busy day with the boys ahead and then have to work this evening...big deadline late this week to make.

Anyhow, some work accomplished. It was fun!


Jenni said...

The look is perfect! Bravo for figuring it out! Here's to hoping it fits as well on you...dress forms are always tricky.

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I admire anyone who can drape a gown w/o a pattern, and yours is looking very nice.

ZipZipInkspot said...

Thank you Val! Actually, Geneece Arnold made the original dress from the Sense and Sensibility crossover dress pattern. What I am doing is redesigning it, to take it to a more open look.

At this point, every piece has been or will be messed with...the back waistline is to be recurved and brought up, and you know all about the fronts...

So, it's a renovation rather than a true design :] I've only draped from scratch a few times. It has been fun and I am positive you can do it.

Very best indeed,