The "Dotty Dress"

Last week over "Christmas Break," when I probably should have been digitizing patterns or catching up on bookkeeping (or taking a...break?), I decided to make myself a gown. I don't usually have time for such indulgences, but I will need a new 18th century outfit in 2017, so this was be best time to whip something up before we start our next big theatrical order.

I've had this Colonial Williamsburg cotton print sitting around for a few months. I will admit that I was not in love with this fabric when I received it. It was fine, but it wasn't exciting. So I went looking for inspiration in my costuming library, and that's when I remembered the close up of this gown in Historical Fashion in Detail (page 42)

Victoria & Albert

1780 Indian Print Open Gown at the Victoria & Albert Museum

The special thing about this gown is that the print has been over-painted with thousands of tiny gold dots. This isn't terribly clear in the online museum photos, but it is very clear in the book. I LOVE the dots. It adds overall texture and a bit of unexpected glitz to what is otherwise a pretty generic gown. I also love that this gown is Dutch, since I have Dutch ancestry. So I decided to try something...

Dotty Dress Process

After trying several methods and considering screen printing, I opted for medium-point Painter's brand paint pens in metallic gold. The nib was exactly the right size for the dots, and it allowed me to have more control over the project (plus then I wasn't sloshing gold ink all over my studio). I used a free graph paper generator for the grid which I then rotated and adjusted in photoshop until I was happy with the scale. I taped copies of the template to my 45"W pinnable cutting table, and push pinned the fabric in place for marking.

 I cut all of the dress pieces first, to avoid unnecessary dots. All together I think it was about 5.5 yds of dots on 42" wide fabric. There are about 9 dots/inch, so that comes out to about 75,000 dots! This took me approximately 18 hours, which is actually pretty good, I think. I watched a lot of Netflix. Once the dots were done everything had to be heat set with an iron, which is a surprisingly tedious and slow process just by itself.

I already basically had the dress pattern (left from a client who is practically a body double for myself), so that part was easy. The original pattern was draped on a form and based off of one of the gowns in Patterns of Fashion. I changed style lines in the back and seam placement on the sleeve but that was about it. On of my stitchers helped me fit a bodice mockup on their last day of work before break. I did change the front bodice point a little bit from the original, as I find a bit wider and longer point to be more flattering. The V&A very kindly recorded the width and length of the skirt.

The gown is made with a mix of modern and historical techniques. It is machine stitched anywhere that doesn't show. There is hand stitching on the shoulder straps and neckline, and the skirt was stitched to the bodice by hand after pleating. I did make waist tabs like the original, but I can't decide if I like them, so I left the off for now. The back point is boned with 4mm synthetic whalebone along the seams. There is an internal tie attached at the waist at CB which helps hold the back of the bodice close to the small of the back.

The thing about open gowns is they also need a pretty petticoat. I was originally planning to do an ivory silk petticoat, but then I found this berry pink silk in the fabric stash. This is a simple two panel petticoat, longer at the back and sides, with ties at the waist. I made a ruffle template out of paper and used a pinking rotary blade to cut the points. The ruffle is hand gathered and hand stitched.

Redthreaded Dotted Gown

I am wearing our 18th century stays in a standard size. The skirt support is a prototype of a false rump which I hope that Redthreaded will be able to start offering in 2017. I am also wearing a linen under-petticoat.

I still need to make a neckerchief for this era. The giant ruffley cap is not quite finished, but wearable as-is. I'm wearing Fugawee shoes and earrings by Dames a la Mode. I put my hair in small rag curled braids overnight with a generous amount of 18th century hair pomatum by LBCC Historical.  It was quite cold for photos, making me wish I had mitts!

I am quite happy with this outfit. I love how the dots add interest to this fabric, and I think it's a pretty flattering era for me. This one will be going to Costume College for sure!

Redthreaded Dotted 1780 Gown

Redthreaded dotted 1780 Gown

Redthreaded dotted gown



Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries, Avril Hart & Susan North
Fitting and Proper, Sharon Ann Burnston
Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction C. 1660-1860, Janet Arnold
Fashion, Kyoto Costume Institute

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