18th Century · Mrs. Ann Bamford

Words – and why they’re hard…

The inventory of Mrs. Ann Bamford lists “A Black Bombazine Negligee and Pettycoat”, and being naive and eager, I decided that this would be a nice spring project for me to fiddle with inbetween exams and applying for jobs.

Famous last words…

Do you know what a negligee is? I mean, when I hear the word “negligee”, i picture something like this:

Jean Harlow! The epitome of old Hollywood glamour!

Now, I know that this is more 1940s than 1770s, but still… a negligee, that has got to be some sort of dressing gown or morning robe, right?

Perhaps something like this?

This 1740s-60s banyan, currently at the V&A Museum.

I like the 18th century dressing gowns and banyans, they’re fun and cute garments, and I wouldn’t mind having one of those!

Now, the fabric was new to me. Bombazine? Never heard of it. However, my google-fu is strong – bombazine is a twill woven fabric, woven with a silk warp and a wool weft, often black and popular for Victorian mourning wear.

I mean, I’ve heard of a morning gown – but never a mourning-morning gown! I was full of questions. Did Mrs. Bamford own a dressing gown she only used for mourning? Did the Georgians mourn the way the Victorians did?

As I was falling into a pit of despair and bad research, I was saved by my American Fairy Godmother: Rebecca Olds of Timesmith Dressmaking! She knows so much about 18th century dressmaking, and could tell me that a “negligee” (which I had interpreted as a sort of dressing gown) in the 18th century, was in fact what we today call a sackback gown, sacque gown or robe a la Francaise!

You know – one of these bad girls!

So suddenly, my simple spring project had turned into the making of a complicated and elegant classing 18th century gown!

Apart from the obvious challenge, that this would take a lot more time than a fairly simple dressing gown type garment, there was another problem: I had already ordered my fabric.

I could not find bombazine. I was torn for a while between choosing a different period fabric or try to find something that resembled bombazine, and I finally decided on the latter. Mood Fabrics had a beautiful “Jet Black Silk Wool“, which looked promising. They could not tell me how it was blended, but I still chanced on it and ordered 8 yards.

8 yards is about enough for a petticoat and a simple dressing gown.

8 yards is just about enough for a sacque gown, even without the petticoat…

My change of plans meant I would have to think VERY carefully about how to cut this fabric!

However, the fabric arrived and it is stunning! And it is really as close to bombazine that I think I can get, without commandeering a textile mill and force them to reproduce the 18th century thing for me. It’s got a shiny and a matte side, it is a twill weave, and the only difference that I can spot is that there seems to be wool in the warp and silk in the weft, rather than the other way around, but I can live with that.

I had ordered 8 yards, as stated. What I received (after having spoken to the sellers at Mood) was three pieces, all between 2 yards 11″ and 2 yards 15″. So, in addition to having to be very clever with my cutting, I also have to use the pieces I have been given…

To avoid cutting my precious fabric (who doesn’t procrastinate that from time to time?), I went ahead and made myself a mockup of the bodice lining, based on the pattern I made for my Italian gown last summer.

I did a few alterations. The back lining is cut in two pieces rather than in four, and I lost the point in the back, as that won’t be necessary for a sacque gown…

This whole area will be covered in luxurious pleats, and doesn’t need to be pointy.

I also took away the front, to make room for a stomacher. I made a few fitting changes as well. I wasn’t completely happy with the armholes on my Italian gown, they were a little too big, so I raised them a little, and also took it in a little bit at the sides.

Happy with my mockup, I cut the lining from a sturdy white linen. To keep the gown close to the back of the body, while still allowing the back pleats to flow elegantly away from the body, the linings of sacque gowns often have lacing or ties at the back. To make room for this, I cut away a panel at the center back of my lining, hemmed the opening, and attached four pairs of cotton tapes.

I then pinned by fronts to my backs and my shoulder straps to my bodice, and tried it on!

(Because I am not a good selfie-taker, I elected to take my pictures while the lining was on my dress form. I still tried it on myself afterwards.)

Excuse the wonky angle and my crazy background. My sewing nook is tiiiny, and designed for being useful, and not a decorative backdrop.

Happy with the fit, I pressed the seam allowance of the side seams towards the back, and stitched the front to the back from the “right side” (what will become the inside of my gown) using small whip stitches.

I then folded up and basted all the seam allowances along the neckline, front opening and waistline.

This is the dress bodice so far, and I’m really happy with the fit! I will probably have to do something to the shoulders, but that’s a job for later. Now, I just have to get over my fear of cutting my fancy-fancy and all too scarce fabric…

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