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The Mantua Maker of Gloucester

For the Foundations Revealed competition for 2021, “Once Upon a Time,” I expected to have a harder time deciding on a piece of literature and a character to base my design around, but when I pulled a copy of Beatrix Potter’s, “The Tailor of Gloucester” from my bookshelf, I immediately knew I wanted to do some sort of 18th century outfit based around the cherry-colored coat and embroidered waistcoat the tailor creates in the story.

If you haven’t read the story, its available online here:

Quilted Petticoat (May-December)

Supplies:

I knew that the quilted petticoat would be by far the most time consuming part of the project, so I began work on it back in May. To start, I researched what extant 18th century silk quilted petticoats look like in terms of their construction. I learned that they were constructed in panels, which were then stitched together, then quilted. Quilting (especially for expensive, fancy silk petticoats) would often be done by professional quilters. They would have quilted it on a frame, rolling it as they progressed through the design. From the extants I’ve seen, it looks like a small running stitch was most common, although a back stitch was used (quilters would be paid either by length of thread used or what they produced, so their stitch choice would have been determined whether they wanted to use a lot of thread or go as fast as possible).

My most used resources were Patterns of Fashion 1, Costume Close Up by Linda Baumbgarten, and 18th Century Embroidery. I used my own height for the length, but for width and number of panels, I sort of went for an average of all the different patterns.

The next part was to plan out the design.

I drew elements from different parts of the illustrations in the story:

Once I figured out the pattern, the next step was to figure out what fabrics I wanted to make it out of.

I decided that I would use a silk taffeta rather than a satin mostly because of the price difference. Although both were used in period, satin is far more common in the extant petticoats I found. I do plan on making a more historically accurate quilted petticoat at some point, and next time I would definitely just invest in satin. For the hours upon hours I spend embroidering this thing, it would have been worth the splurge to get the fabric I really wanted.

For the batting, wool was the most common option, and so I sourced a really nice, floofy (technical term, I think) wool batting from Observatory Hill Farm in WI. It was much thicker than the commercial wool batting I had seen, and really helped give the petticoat that trapunto effect without actually having to do trapunto work.

The backing was just a basic worsted wool I’ve had in my stash for years. A lot of the fancier silk petticoats would have used a glazed wool, but since no one would see it anyways, I went with what I had on hand.

Once I had all my supplies, it was time to prepare all my panels! I’m pretty sure that historically they would have sewn all the silk and all the wool together, and then quilted it as one large piece on a frame, but since I was planning on hand-quilting it and it would be living on our couch for months on end, I decided to do the panels individually. This made attaching the panels at the end a bit trickier (and bulkier) than it would have been otherwise, but I honestly don’t think it would have gotten done if I had to maneuver a giant quilt around while watching TV.

To transfer the pattern onto the silk, I read that in period they would have used either graphite or something like cinnamon in a pounce. Since I had a white silk, it was easy enough to see the pattern through and just trace with a pencil.

Once the pattern was transferred, I basted around the right and left sides. Then, I pulled the wool out so that there was a good 6″ at the top without batting- this was done historically because it would have added a ton of bulk around the waistline, which was definitely not wanted!

Then I basted it all over out of it, and started stitching away!

Not going to lie, the hand quilting took FOREVER. I started in early May, and finished in December. I worked on it at least a little bit most days, and it even came with us on our honeymoon!

Finally, in December all 6 panels were finished. Putting together the whole thing ended up being more challenging than I expected. Costume Close Up had a really nice diagram of how the seaming was done, but unfortunately the way I had done the panels meant this didn’t quite work out.

The big issue was that in order to match the pattern on the silk, the panels had to sit flush next to each other. That meant that the wool batting had to be trimmed away so it would sit flush as well. This was tricky to do because I was REALLY nervous about accidentally snipping the stitching, and it wasn’t always exactly clear where the pattern ended.

So basically what I did was trim away the excess batting, pin the silk and wool layers focusing on matching the pattern, stitching the seam, trim one side of excess wool fabric, then fold the longer side over to cover the seam.

After all that, I felt the seams were still a touch messy, so I covered them with twill tape.

I left slits at the sides for pockets, and attached a petersham ribbon for the ties. The bottom and pocket slits were bound in white silk taffeta ribbon.

To make the hem level, I adjusted the front and back to be shorter to accommodate the wearing of pocket hoops. This adjustment was done around the waistband rather than the hem itself to avoid messing up the quilted pattern (this was a period practice as well).

Stomacher (November – January)

Supplies:

  • Silk Taffeta, in tapioca, from Silk Baron
  • Cotton Canvas
  • Synthetic whalebone
  • 1/2 inch cotton twill tape
  • Au Ver a Soie Soie d’Alger Silk Thread
  • Very thin silk ribbon
  • Buttonhole twist
  • Green chenille yarn
  • 3/4″ Bone buttons from Burnley & Trowbridge

The design for the stomacher was really inspired by the waistcoat in the books, which was inspired by this waistcoat that Beatrix Potter actually studied at the Victoria & Albert Museum:

To start, I made a general the grid for the squares in Adobe Illustrator, then printed it out to trace on my fabric.

From there, I started embroidering using silk embroidery floss and thin silk ribbon. I had taken Denise Hendrick’s class on ribbon embroidery, so I wanted to give it a try, and it turns out its way faster than regular embroidery so that was an added bonus! You can find the link to the class on her website.

Once the design was embroidered, I had to do buttons and button holes. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve sewn a button hole, but despite loathing them before, I actually enjoyed them? Maybe my tolerance for tedious handwork has increased significantly thanks to this project.

After that, all that was left was to stitch it to a layer of thick canvas, and add some bones for support- and to make the note left for the tailor by the mice reading “no more twist.” I will confess, it took me farrrrrr longer than it should have, but its hard to write so small and try to mimic the handwriting in the book.

Pet en l’air (December-January)

Supplies:

I’m not really comfortable with my pattern drafting skills yet, so I decided to go with an existing pattern that I already had in my stash- the JP Ryan Pet en l’air pattern. I used this in conjunction with the American Duchess 18th century sewing book to use more historically accurate construction methods. I also used Ruth Watkin’s articles on Foundations Revealed to make adjustments.

The first thing I did was make a mock up of the foundational bodice. I went ahead and added a little but of length before even starting since I typically need to do this on pretty much any pattern. As it turns out, I ended up shortening it just a smidge from what I had added in.

So these were the changes I made to my pattern. I also added a bit of length on the shoulder strap so that the back of the neckline would sit a bit lower.

For the real thing, I used a tightly woven linen I had in my stash. The coat in the story mentions a lining of yellow taffeta, so I thought this linen appropriate as it was described as a yellow when I bought it…

I did end up adding darts on the front to reduce wrinkling, apparently I didn’t quite take enough out the first time.

Next, I added a piece of cotton canvas on the shoulder strap to prevent stretching from the weight of the gown (this would be more problematic with a full-sized gown). Next, I hemmed the back gap and stitched down the back ties.

From there, I followed the AD guide for constructing the gown over the bodice, and the pleating directions from the JP Ryan pattern. I was really surprised just how easy the pleats were- they look so intimidating but really the hardest part was just keeping the pleats on the grain.

I wish I had taken more pictures of the process, but I was worried about how long everything was taking and the FR contest deadline was fast approaching!

One thing that was really useful in constructing the gown was that I was able to put my stays on it, and pad out my dress form to my measurements. I really do need a pin-able one, but learning how to pad it out to my measurements was really useful.

Next came the fun (or tedious) part…trim!

I knew for sure I wanted to do yellow trim to mimic the look of the coat in the book.

I got a yellow silk taffeta for the robing and cut out in scallops with scalloped pinking shears, to look like the pinking punches used in the 18th century. Then came the only machine sewing I did in the entire project- the gathering stitches, done on the longest stitch length possible. I then gathered them and pinned them onto the gown.

After a long wait on their way from China, the trims arrived! I tried to choose ones that looked kind of fly fringe-ish, but also really wanted to find ones that would include the flower element from the coat, which is described as “embroidered with pansies and roses.”

I just kind of played with it until I found something I liked, and then it was just a lot of pinning and tacking down. And that was it! The final part of my competition piece was done!

The final ensemble

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