The Great 18th Century Scramble

antique clock found on Pinterest, no information

By now I bet you’re wondering how my pull-it-together dash toward the 18th century is going. All in all, not too badly.

The apron is just a simple rectangle and went quickly, but I think I may have selected a not period-appropriate print. More on that later.

I next wanted to tackle the quilted “under” petticoat, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. I don’t want a lumpy mess. So I was deliriously happy when I discovered this: easy-peasy-quilted-petticoat on Dressed in Time. What a lifesaver! So I took my light blue WalMart quilted cotton and cut in half with the diamonds running vertically. Yeah, it has the cheesy knit backing, but it will do. Besides, I will be wearing this under my “petticoat” – it’s mainly for warmth.

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Then I started picking out the stitching from the top 2 inches. It went a whole lot faster than I thought (thanks to a “Big Bang” marathon weekend). After the stitching was undone, I tied off the threads on each side of each piece. One. By. One. (Or two by two – depending on how you look at it.)

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Then I got this worried notion that the knots weren’t going to hold. I couldn’t shake it, so (after a test spot) I put a dot of FrayCheck on each knot, front and back. It dried perfectly clear and I feel better about the knots staying tied. (Of course, they must have used a FrayCheck equivalent…tree sap/resin…pine tar…something, right? OK – no.)

The next steps are to sew the sides together, leaving the top sides open for pocket access, pleat the front and back sections, and sew on the twill tape waistband and ties. For expediency’s sake, I’m using the machine on all the hidden seams. I want to get as much of the exposed seams done by hand as I can, but time is tight so…I’ll do what I can do.

Selecting fabrics for the undergarments was easy, but choosing for the outer garments was tough. I want to be as correct as I can, but budget is a reality. Hence the foray to WalMart.

I read as much as I could find and nearly went blind looking at fashion plates and photos of extant garments and fabric remnants on Pinterest. Then I found a treasure trove of period portraits, paintings and engravings showing everyday working class women and their dress. With colors. And prints. Yay!

Now I’ve got etchings, engravings, paintings…I’m in fat city. I can see the elements of dress and the colors. However, artists being the artists they are, I ran into this:

These are both 18th century paintings by Robert Henry Morland. Notice anything? Like the same work table, the same iron, the same pose and, I believe, the same model. But two different styles of hair and dress. It’s not unusual for artists to do this king of thing – creating a “base” then adding different elements to each creation. But it’s a pickle when I’m trying to learn what was real. Who’s a girl to trust?

One thing for sure – I’m not going as “low” as a scullery maid or oyster seller. Talk about cheap fabric. To make matters worse it was most likely rough and didn’t soften up until it rotted off. Yuck.

Anyway, I went through hundreds of bolts at WalMart and finally settled on these. They’re obviously not 100% correct. But at this point if I can evoke a sense of proper dress I’ll be happy.

This is for the short gown (dark navy blue on white) and the petticoat (a very dark green, goes over the light blue quilted petticoat). The pen is there for scale.

And this is where going to WalMart helped – women of this class did not have fine fabrics to use for clothing, so not buying the best stuff worked out relatively well.

The blue and white fabric is a rough weave, which works. The print is too heavy, but the subject (curling vines with flowers) is headed in the right direction. The green is just cotton broadcloth, a bit rough but not terribly so.

Which brings us back to the apron. When looking at the visual art, it quickly becomes apparent that women (especially of higher status) weren’t afraid to use color. Bright colors. Odd (to our eyes) color combinations. Layers of color and pattern that shouldn’t work, but they do. The working class was more subdued, since they couldn’t afford the fabrics with the more expensive colors and prints.

I do have a lot of somewhat rough brown cotton, but I wanted to try the color zap thing with the apron. So I got some orange cotton with a stripe design of printed red and gold (not metallic) squares set on point. I don’t know how horribly incorrect it is – and do let me know if I’ve lost my mind on this one – but I liked the three together. Brace yourselves.

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I sincerely hope no retinas were lost in this viewing.

The diamond shapes are a rusty red. The circles are a golden gold – again, not metallic. The orange isn’t really that “electric” and bright, but the camera refused to give me anything that was more toned down.

Now it’s your turn – opinions, please: Is the orange apron straying unreasonably far from acceptable? Am I better off going with the plain brown? It’s just an apron, after all. I really like the orange, but your opinion counts and if I’m way off I want to know.

I can always use the orange for something else. Like maybe cover a pair of shoes…?

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4 thoughts on “The Great 18th Century Scramble

  1. Hello! I like what you did for the quilted petticoat … great fix, and it’ll be easier to wear. And more flattering. Yay.
    I would stay far away from the printed cotton for the apron. Brown is a safe and correct bet. That print, with the small diamond shapes, seems more accurate for late 18th/early 19th century. Striped, checked and printed aprons were around, but I don’t think that pattern is accurate.
    I have a hint for the two Moreland paintings, too … they appear to be 1760s/70s (the woman in the low cap) and 1780s (the puffy cap). I’d check the dates; trace the work back to the museum or owner to be sure. You may be looking at a theme the artist liked and just re-painted with updated fashions ten or twenty years later.
    Can’t wait to see the whole outfit! 😀

    • Thanks you for the color information – that’s what I needed to know. I had my suspicions, but it’s nice to know for sure.

      Funny thing about the Moorland paintings – I was looking at them again this morning and it occurred to me that the model looks older in one painting than she does in the other. Add that to the style change and that changed my perceptive – probably just a reflection of time passing. Good catch with dating the clothing – I’m not there yet. (So much to learn. Yay!)

  2. I have no idea if it’s period correct, but if you want a costume that shows up well at a distance, that combination will. 🙂

    And I can remember one FrayCheck equivalent: hot candle wax. I think you’re covered.

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