Eighteenth Century DressMarch 7, 2011
Dressmaking at the time of the American Revolution was an amazing feat. Using an authentic pattern and material designed from a dress found in a period painting, I’ve been creating my own dress to wear on author visits and presentations and when I give tours at the Van Wyke Homestead in Fishkill, New York during the summer season.
When I purchased the pattern they advised buying one size larger than I needed since women wore stays under their dresses during that time period. I adjusted the length of the pattern and added a little more in the width when I cut it out.
One of the interesting features of the pattern is the construction of the bodice. The shoulder seams are off the shoulder and down the back, just over the shoulder blades. Today we place them on the top of the shoulder for the most part.
In Colonial times, women made a pocket to hold valuables. This was tied around the waist under the petticoat. Women accessed the pocket through a slit in the dress and petticoat. My dress, called “Robe Polonaise”, opens down the front to display the petticoat.
I can’t claim that this dress is truly authentic because much of the sewing, I did on the sewing machine. However, I had to hand-sew the bodice to the dress on the outside. Doing this helped me understand first-hand, the work it took to make clothes during the American Revolution.
The dress fastens in the front using snaps. I found I had no choice but to put in a few of the stays required in the pattern. Today’s stays are light and come already covered. I made my own pockets to hold the stays. Although the lace I used to enhance the bodice neckline and decorate the sleeves is modern, I found a lace that seems to blend with the style of the period.