This dress currently resides in the Metropolitan Museum. I found a research paper written by the conservator of this dress. Apparently, this dress was styled in silk taffeta during the 1780's from another dress that was made during the 1760's. This was common practice at that time because silk was expensive and had to be imported from the Orient. The conservator went on to describe how the dress was originally a standard mantua that was made into the zone front gown we see today.
This is the dress I intend to make. I don't do pink, however so I found a dark red stripe in the same approximate size. I literally bought the last 9 yards in stock from Renaissance Fabrics.
There are two main challenges with this dress. First is how to make the bodice. I found a pattern that has a tabbed stomacher that looks very similar. The problem is the slanted zone sides hook to the stomacher. I dislike hook and eye closings as they don't allow for fluctuations in size and they are just a pain in the rear. Most zone front gowns at the time fastened in the center front. The "zones" on the bodice--the slanted pieces--were mock closings and stitched flat allowing the wearer to just use straight pins at the center front. I think I'd like to make this dress like that. Here are the patterns I have to work with:
The pattern on the right is the correct style except it shows the sleeves cut with the stripes going horizontally. The original dress above has them running vertically which I prefer. The stripes on the stomacher on the pattern run horizontally whereas the ones on the original dress run vertically. I like the vertical stripes better and I'll probably run the stripes on the zone front more diagonally. I think I will draft a new bodice using the J.P. Ryan pattern on the left, creating a sewn down zone front and tabs at the center making it more of a mock stomacher so my first task will be to do a mock up of the bodice. Once that's done, I'll be good to go on cutting and sewing the gown.
The next challenge is the pinked scallops you see on the petticoat ruffle and hem and the sleeve cuffs. Cutting scallops like this with pinking shears is a no go. Fortunately I found a tool maker who makes leather punches like this. He said that many people purchase the punches to cut silk. He said to use a dead blow hammer on shoe sole rubber material. I tried this with one layer of silk and it didn't work. A costumer told me that she used 4 layers of silk and glossy magazines under the fabric to do the punching so I will try that. She also said that she used a wooden mallet. I'll try that if the dead blow hammer isn't working. This will be fairly labor intensive. I do not intent to punch the hem of the petticoat because I think it will suffer abrasion from brushing against my shoes and that will cause some raveling.
So this week, I hope to attack the bodice mock up while finishing some other projects. I think I'll also start experimenting with how to punch the scallops. This gown is to be worn on September 20 and I don't want to be worrying about it when school starts! I'll post my progress as it is made!