Happily, I have decided on a design for my gown. I am primarily drawing inspiration from a February 1838 fashion plate, but rather than doing an exact reproduction, I'm making a similar gown, the way someone in the time would have been likely to draw inspiration from a fashion plate. Here it is!
"Jaconet" or "Jaconette" is some sort of muslin, which in the 19th century was a sheer or semi-sheer fine cotton, quite unlike modern utility muslin. My initial impression is that Jaconet muslin seems to be a crisp sort of muslin, but my textile books are only just now coming in, so there is more research to do. Nevertheless, as I am not trying to do an exact imitation of the fashion plate, the main issue is to look for an appropriate fabric for the style: a sheer or semi-sheer striped cotton, or possibly silk if I find just the right material. It's also possibly that I could get by with a fabric with a softer hand, but that would be highly inconvenient.
I am planning to change the flounce to actually go all the way to the hem of the dress, as I prefer that look, and all images I have been able to find of extant gowns from this period with skirt flounces extend all the way to the floor, so it is certainly a well-documented style - though, interestingly, considering the preference of self-fabric ruffles and flounces on skirts in late 1830s fashion plates, they show up in remarkably few extant gowns. There were none from the period in Johnston, Arnold, Bradfield, Rothstein, Beaudoin-Ross, or Fukai, though Fukai had a couple of 1820s skirt flounces, and Johnston had one with a tuck and one slightly earlier gown with applied trim and rouleaux.
A great deal of fabric went into creating flounces, so they would have been an expensive adornment, but many of the gowns in these books are highly elaborate and expensive. One of my thoughts on the comparative rarity of flounces in extant garments versus fashion plates, beyond the element of extravagance, is that I'm looking at a very brief window of time, and many of the gowns of this period were in fact earlier gowns that had been made over - and there would not have been yards of extra fabric lingering with which to make flounces. I did some hunting online, particularly using the wonderful Demode Real Women's Clothing Directory, and did find some flounces, so that reassures me, because I really want one! Especially since I'm planning on using striped fabric. A bias flounce is a beautiful thing.
I was particularly excited to discover this wonderful c. 1836-38 muslin gown on the Manchester City Galleries site:
This image is, er, borrowed from the museum's site, and is hopefully not bothering anyone - I just want to look at it! I was extremely excited to find it, because it has quite a few elements in common with my chosen fashion plate. d!
This decision on gown design means that there is absolutely no point in buying a pattern, because neither of the patterns on the market are crossover bodice designs. In fact, none of my books with pattern diagrams have crossover bodices for this period - except for the Workwoman's Guide, so that will be a truly authentic patterning experience! I can assure you that it will be more draping than geometry, but I can likewise assure you that I have learned a newfound respect for math.
After deciding that I wanted to make this style of gown, I realized that I would need to somehow calculate the yardage needed to make the bias ruffle, and had no idea how to go about that. But my wonderful magical friend Charlotte drew me diagrams, wrote equations, and made me an excel doodad that calculates everything for me, with numbers input in response to perfectly comprehensible questions! Who knew I would actually need geometry?! I always swore it was impractical, but I am now convinced otherwise. Even though through the grace of friendship and technology I am not actually doing the math myself, I respect what it has to offer, and may actually try to learn/relearn a little geometry at some point.
Incidentally, if anyone had ever pointed out this potential use to me in high school, I would have been far more cooperative. Education needs to be relevant! But that's a whole other rant...
Anyway! My magical bias strip calculator has informed me that I will need close to four yards of fabric for it, in a 44"ish width - bit that includes two triangles that would together make up an entire 44" square, which I could piece into the strip, or use for the bodice or sleeves. So between that and the four yards needed for the base skirt (I would do four panels for Civil War, but I think three is more reasonable for this period), I'm already up to eight yards. I plan on getting eleven, to make absolutely certain that I have enough for everything, especially since there's so much tricky bias, and stripes to be pieced, and so forth.
I'm hopeful that I'll find something nice tomorrow, during my expedition to Springfield with Madeleine, to Osgood's, which comes highly recommended in the "Sources" list in the back of Lynne Zacek Bassett's Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850: A Workbook of Swatches and Information, published by Q Graphics Production Company, a division of Sally Queen and Associates, in Arlington Virginia, in 2001. I believe that the whole series is out of print by now, but it is an absolutely amazing resource. In the back, under "Sources," Basset writes that "Most of the fabrics presented here were purchased within my local area, including at national chain stores such as Hancock Fabrics. Osgood Textile Company in Springfield, Massachusetts, a fabric warehouse catering to professional as well as home sewers, and the home decorating and theater trades, offers many fabrics suitable for reproduction historic clothing. They are particularly strong in wools and silks" (p 47). Since the business still exists and is only THIRTY MINUTES away from where I live for school, I was unspeakably excited to discover this. There was hopping.
The next big question is: should I try to dye my white cotton sateen tan for the lining of my quilted petticoat? I can't afford polished cotton, and I think that the sateen will serve well (though I intend to try to pull together specific documentation), but I'm not sure about the white. I'm also not sure how on earth I'd go about dyeing anything without my own washing machine. I suppose I do have a large stewpot...!
My shopping list, at the moment, looks something like this:
-11 yards of sheer or semi-sheer striped cotton for my gown
-more fine needles (I only have a couple left, and have quite a lot of hand-sewing to do)
-cotton thread in fine and mid weights in white, and in dark red mid to heavy weight for my quilted petticoat, and fine to match my gown
-cotton twill tape for waistband ties for my quilted petticoat
-cotton or hemp cord for stiffening my stays and the hem of my quilted petticoat
-cotton batting for my quilted petticoat
-jewelry-making jump rings to reinforce the handsewn eyelets for lacing my stays
-heavy-duty cable ties to do a mock-up of my stays (from a hardware store)
-lacing cord for my stays
-possibly 3-6 yards (depending on width and garment style) of white cotton sheeting, so I can make one of my three white petticoats in a fabric with more oomph than the batiste I have on hand, and will be using for most - it's not a very fine batiste so it's fairly sturdy, but doesn't have as much body as I would like
-silk for a bonnet outer, lining, and ribbons, if I come across good deals, which I might, because I only need yard-ish pieces for each - but I need to do some color research!
-possibly silk thread, for the bonnet
Oh boy. Really must do up some things to sell on etsy so I can afford to sew AND eat this semester!
It's spring break now, and I'm staying on campus all week to sew - which I am unreasonably excited about! Lots to do, lots to do...
And just because I have been admiring it, here is my inspiration quilted petticoat:
And the circa 1840 reproduction printed cotton I ordered from Fabric.com to make my own:
It's to be here on Monday, and I'm very excited indeed!