1790 gown with heirloom insert, modelled by Marie-Grace 1
The pattern I used was the 1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress by Thimbles and Acorns, purchased through Pixie Faire.
I modified the pattern by removing the gathered overlay from the bodice, inserting an heirloom strip at centre front and adding a lining to the skirt.
For the dress I used the 100% cotton pique that I bought from Australian Needle Arts School last year. It’s a lot stiffer than cotton voile at doll scale and unfortunately it frays easily, but otherwise I was happy with how it handled. I was very pleased to find that the half-metre I bought is enough for two doll dresses, so there will be another white dress somewhere along the line. Because this is a fairly substantial fabric I didn’t use the overlay pattern pieces, just the base. For the lining I used white muslin.
As usual, all stitching was by hand. I used Superior Threads Kimono 100-wt silk thread for the seams and single-strand embroidery floss for the overcasting.
I avoided gathers by having a plain bodice but I added lace and ribbon to echo the skirt embellishment. Making the bodice went well with no significant issues. The puffed sleeves are shallower than the ones in the previous dress and the gathers are concentrated into a smaller area of the armscye which made them more fiddly, but they are still very pretty.
Here’s what happens when I don’t pay attention:
I remembered to add 2 mm to the armscye of the bodice lining. This helped enormously and I was able to turn and stitch the lining over the sleeve seams.
The closure is off-centre, as is usual when buttons are used. I planned on using hooks for the closures rather than buttons, but I don’t like using the metal eyes at dolls scale because either they show or the hook has to be set so far back that the opening gapes. Instead I intended to baste a strip of 2 mm white ribbon to the proper right before stitching the bodice neckline … guess who forgot that step. Now I’m undecided between buttons (which will require buttonholes, and I hate making buttonholes at this scale) or snap fasteners.
I’ve wanted to do an heirloom-style insert for ages, even though it’s not really true to the period (it belongs to the late 19th / early 20th century). Rather than a true insert I chose to apply laces and ribbon to a fabric base, so instead of cutting one front skirt on the fold I cut a straight central strip to act as a base and then cut two side-front pieces. In retrospect I should have anticipated the slight shrinkage that happened while stitching all the lace to the base – an extra quarter-inch at each end would have made all the difference. I tried to remedy it by stretching it to fit the side fronts but there is a slight buckling that you can see along the seams. It ended up about 1/8″ short at each end, but the waist seam is covered and the hem is twice-turned so I don’t anticipate any issues.
I used various polyester laces that I’ve had for a while plus some ribbon beading and two puff strips made from the same white muslin that I used for the linings. My original intention was to use pink for the ribbon insert, with a wider strip of ribbon in the same shade on the bodice. The single length of pink ribbon I had was a bit too wide for the beading so I went up to Hobbysew and got what I thought was three pairs of ribbons: light pink, hot pink and pale green, all in 6 and 9 mm widths. Unfortunately the lighting in Hobbysew isn’t daylight spectrum and when I got home I found that the light pinks were slightly different shades. *sigh* The hot pink was too bright for the fabric and the green didn’t thrill me so instead I chose a 6 mm lavender ribbon that I’ve had for years … I could have saved myself the trip if I’d been sensible.
The actual stitching went together without any problems. Because I was making a skirt with a lining (rather than with a gauze overlay) I layered the skirt and lining wrong sides together rather than both sides facing up as directed in step 16 of the instructions. I made sure to overcast each seam as soon as it was done, and I pinned up the hems temporarily so fraying was kept to a minimum.
One thing I didn’t really like was the the two sides are different: the placket on the proper left is turned under but the proper right placket is finished first and then stitched with the raw edge at the bodice seam … I checked the pattern three times because it felt so wrong, but it’s definitely what the pattern says. It made a difference to the tightness of the gathers which I can see but I guess isn’t immediately obvious to the casual viewer. If I make this pattern again I’ll add additional fabric to the proper right so that I can turn the edges and still retain the modesty underlay.
The skirt back pattern is in two pieces in the document and I stuffed up initially by mistaking the joining mark for the point at which the centre back seam stops. I realised this when I came to put the dress on the doll so I had to remedy that– the lining made it a little harder but not impossible (and I had to fix the lining too). This would have been extremely difficult by machine so it’s one point in favour of hand stitching.
I added a small bustle pad, made from scraps of white fabric and some polyester stuffing. For this version I used a long half-oval rather than a rectangle, and made the outer layer larger than the inner, easing it in with not-quite gathers and a couple of pleats (rather like a biscuit quilt unit). The tie is 6 mm cotton twill tape.
Unlike the bib-front dress, this bodice is a fixed size and was very loose on the first doll I picked up (Felicity 2, the Pleasant Company version). I tried it on Addy, my largest doll — the bodice circumference was fine but the neckline stood away from the body when the bodice back was aligned (her shoulders are too square) — if I made the neckline fit, the bodice fastening was at an angle and the waistline ballooned out. The colours looked fantastic on her, though.
I compromised with Marie-Grace 1, who has a chest only 1.5 cm smaller than Addy, and it fitted reasonably well, but it’s not great — it’s way too loose around the waistline and the neckline is still a little proud. If I make it again I’ll alter the bodice pattern to fit a particular doll (and no, it won’t be Marie-Grace — I do have other dolls and I need to dress them all).
The length was good and the dress was fairly easy to get on and off. I’m very happy with the way the heirloom strip looks, and I may try another insert later on.
1. Any applied trim will have a shortening effect. Plan accordingly.
2. When choosing colours that have to match, make sure you have a daylight spectrum light source to compare the colours.
3. If you are making any changes to the pattern, make a note in the instructions so you don’t forget!
4. Bodice fit is important but a fitted bodice won’t fit most dolls.
Notes for future versions:
1. I really think that the shoulder seams in this pattern are too slanted for most American Girl dolls, who tend to have very square shoulders. I’ll reduce the angle by 1-2mm at the neckline and see how it fits.
2. The bodice circumference is fine for pre-Mattel dolls but not the newer dolls. I could make the bodice a little narrower or add a ribbon at the side seams to pull in the excess fabric.
3. I’ll add another quarter-inch to the proper right bodice back so that I can turn the skirt placket on both sides.