Sunday, March 19, 2023

Mid-late 1770s short sack and petticoat

 I've always loved short sacks, aka French jackets.  I find garments with watteau pleats to be a joy to wear.  There's just something about the "flying back" (a quote from the mid 18th century), particularly in silk, to be a sensory delight.   I'm particularly fond of the later short sacks from the mid 1770s and later.  They are shorter and don't have sleeve ruffles, often opting for sabot cuffs or rows of ruched trim.  Here are a couple of extant examples of this style, both from that period:

1778 French fashion plate

You can find more of my research on short sacks here.

The short sacks seem to follow the same construction as the earlier sack back gowns--no waist seam with stacked inverted box pleats at the side.  You can see this in the second photo above.  This is the same construction as the JP Ryan pattern which I used for this gown.  JPR patterns do not use period construction as they are entirely machine sewn.  They also don't follow an 18th century construction sequence.  I attempted to make that gown using 18th century hand sewing techniques.  The one thing that was a pain to me was the construction of the lining with that pattern.  There is an adjustable back with ties in the lining which seems totally unnecessary to me.  I've seen some extants that have a similar lining, some other that have lining that laces in the back to make it adjustable and some with just a plain lining with a plain back,   It seems to me that pregnancy would be the main reason to want to let the lining out to increase the fit.  I measured the width of my lining in my gown with the ties adjusted to fit and just cut a solid back.  I also eliminated the front under stomacher structure which I also didn't care for, choosing to line the bodice as I would an English gown.  I also cut the jacket 4 inches shorter than the pattern.

I had 7.5 yards of a striped taffeta from the $7 yard silk bin at G-Street.  It's rare to find any taffeta in that bin--usually it's full of China silk, georgette, or dupioni.  It just screamed to be made into some type of sack back garment.

I tried to be very conservative with cutting.  The stripes are very symmetrical and it was easy enough to cut the fronts and sleeves to match.  The back required a little more planning in order to get the wide stripe to land in the middle of the top pleat.

Once the back pleats were pinned, I basted them in place to make sure they didn't migrate when stitching.

The next part of the plan was choosing how to deal with the sleeves.  I wanted a sabot sleeve--which has a shaped cuff that goes over the elbow with ruching or pleated trim.  The L&S Fashionable Gown pattern has these sleeves so I used the cuff pattern and adjusted it a bit to fit my sleeve.  I cut the trim a bit wider--about 2 inches finished after pinking with scalloping shears.  I also made sure to apply fray block on the wrong side of all my trim for this project.  I wasn't sure if pleated trim would work with the stripes but I chose to use it anyway.  I like the way the cuffs turned out.

I pinned the cuffs on to make sure they were positioned in the right place as they had to fit correctly over the elbow.  Then they were stitched in place.

Next up:  Trim.  I cut more crosswise strips for trim, cutting them wider than the cuff trim.  Finished width is about 2.5 inches.  I pleated two at the same time so they would be symmetrical and match--one for each side of the front.  The pleats were just pinned in place. I needed to cut a tiny strip to fill in a gap in the back of the neck.    I made the stomacher and cut more trim the same width as the jacket trim.  All  the trim was pinned on the jacket and the stomacher.

The trim was stitched in place, stitching only to the folded robing on the jacket front.  Once the trim was on, I tried the jacket on to check the placement for the lacing strips which I constructed like those in this post.    Once the lacing strips were in, I made a 4-loop breast knot out of some coordinating green silk taffeta.   The jacket is now complete!

Next up--petticoat!  This outfit is being worn over a late 1770s bum pad which also has some side padding instead of pocket hoops which are more commonly worn with ball gowns or earlier sacks.

I cut the petticoat panels--2 panels the full width of the 56 inch wide fabric.  I wish the wide green stripe (the one on the back pleats of the jacket was centered, but it wasn't and the fabric isn't wide enough to try to center it for this project.  Some creative seaming might have done the trick for a petticoat to be worn under a gown but not for a jacket.  I stitched the side seams and pinned then basted the pleats.  Here is the petticoat with the jacket.  It still needs to be leveled at this point and is just pinned at the sides.

Once the petticoat is leveled and hemmed, I will cut wide trim strips, pink them and fray check them.

I leveled the petticoat to be worn over a late 70s/ early 80s bum pad.

For the petticoat trim, I cut 4 crosswise strips of matching fabric 8.5 inches wide, pinked/scalloped the edges and used a tiny artist brush to coat fray block on the wrong sides of the scallops.

There's no way to really pleat this fabric with even pleats to show off the stripes.  I basically pleated it similarly to the narrow trim on the jacket.  My original plan was to tack the pleats about an inch from the top and an inch from the bottom (they extend past the petticoat hem about an inch).  I would have to press the pleats flat to do that which I didn't want to do.  I thought I might just tack them at the top for a ruffle but decided to go with my original plan, also tacking them in the center as well.  I like the added texture of letting the pleats poof out.  I ended up using 3.5 of my trim strips.

Here's the finished outfit.  It still needs to be steamed and it needs some under petticoats.  

I've very happy with the way this turned out.  I did make a floofy bonnet to wear with it:

I may make some light sage green mitts using the embroidery pattern from the 1772 Ladys Magazine.  

I'm pleased with the way this turned out and I need to get a proper photoshoot.  I'll edit to add those photos.  It's just been too cold lately.

I hope to make a summer short sack based on the French fashion plate above using a documented print with sheer trim to wear in July.  

Here are some pics from Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, MD.

Friday, March 3, 2023

1770s Short sacks--When research generates more questions than answers

I've been researching short sacks--aka short sacques, pet-en-l'airs, French jackets, jackets in the French style, caracos Francaise --the list goes on.  Back to all of that later.

I love them and I'm currently making one. I find it easier to understand a garment if I make one. However  I'm not one of those people that tries to make research "fit" what I want to do.  I like to do what the research shows is appropriate.  This one is a mystery and whether or not I ever wear a short sack to an actual living history event will involve drawing a lot of conclusions from some vague research.   

My research seeks to answer the usual who, where and when questions about these garments.  This is made challenging due to terminology questions.

I'm mostly looking at short sacks from 1775-early 1780s.  I always thought of them as earlier garments, which they were as well.  Most of the extants I've seen are later ones.  

First let's look at some extants and images before we get into other research.

ca. 1750


British 1770

1760-1780 (looks closer to 1780)

No information but style suggests late 1770s - 1780ish

Kyoto Museum no date.  Looks 1770s


No date.  Style suggests late 1770s-1780ish
Belgium -- no date but style suggests late 1770s-1780ish
Note that this example is a block printed cotton instead of silk

Sealing a Letter, Chardin 1733

Hogarth 1743-45

Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews 1743-48

Hayman, Girl at Spinning Wheel ca. 1750

Gainsborough, Mr. & Mrs. Kirby ca. 1751-52

Paul Sandby, Lady drawing

Paul Sandby, On Windsor Terrace

Paul Sandby

Paul Sandby

French fashion plate 1778 (caraco plissé de taffetas)

French fashion plate 1778

French fashion plate 1778 (Caraco de taffetas)

French fashion plate 1778 (Caraco galant de taffetas)

French fashion plate 1786 (caraco de taffeta)

I would note the evolution of the style of short sacks both in the extants and in the images.   As jackets, they follow the same evolution of fitted jackets--being longer in the early-mid 18th century and shorter in the later part of the century.  The sleeve styles also become less full and longer, following the same evolution of gown sleeves with early ones having shorter sleeves with large cuffs or flounces and later ones having slimmer fitting sleeves with sabot style cuffs or ruched trim.  Later ones also have longer sleeves, some even being full length.

With the exception of the French fashion plates, the images are British.  I would also note that you see fewer British images later in the century yet French fashion plates are still very common.

Barbara Johnson's album gives us a few more clues.  For those who don't know, Barbara Johnson was a middle class parson's daughter in England who kept a fashion scrapbook from 1746 to 1823.  Her album consists of sketches and images clipped from ladies' magazines as well as swatches with descriptions of what she hope to make/have made and the date.  Here are some examples from her album:

The short sacks go along with the dates in the other British images above.  The Brunswick is a bit later but could be considered a variation of the short sack.

I had always thought of these garments as a form of undress--something an upper sort woman wore at home--yet the images show them being worn outside.

Who wore these garments?  Given that most of the ones that remain are silk, we can assume that they were worn by at least middlin' and most likely upper sort women.  Even the Sandby images imply this to me.

Were they worn in the United States?  This one is hard to answer. I've been searching the newspaper database for various terms. Let's start with sack back gowns.  We see them called sacques, sacs, and sacks.  I find no instances of the terms sacque or sac from 1760-1780 in ads.  I do find plenty of sacks which involves weeding through the ads that are referring to sacks used to carry things and sack that one drinks. I do find some stolen ads describing sack gowns (spelled "sack") from Boston and other areas.  I also found milliner ads that referred to "lace for sacks".  We also have portraits of upper sort women wearing sacks where the lose back can be plainly seen and others that imply sacks by the various style features of the gown.  It seems that women in the United States didn't have their portraits painted in casual clothing hence no portraits in jackets.

So what do we call short sacks?  Once again, I searched for Pet-en-l'air which I see people refer to them as.  Not one instance of that name was found.  Likewise "short sack" or "short sacque."

I found one reference to a French jacket and one to a jacket in the French style.  I think this may be what I'm looking for.    One theory I have is that we probably just lumped these garments in with jackets.  The reason I've been thinking this is --the French fashion plates refer to them as caracos which appears to have been the French catch all term for jackets.  The same thing goes for gowns.  Looking at inventories and the like, I will find loads of "gowns" but no specific identifier as to the type of gown.  Occasionally I will find "night gown" which refers to a pleated back English gown.

A Dictionary of English Dress 900 - 1900 describes this garment as follows:
PETENLAIR, PET-EN-L'AIR, FRENCH JACKET c. 1745-1770s F. (somewhat earlier in France.)  A thigh-length or sometimes knee=length jacket-bodice with sac-back, short elbow sleeves and often a stomacher front.  Worn with a plain skirt (then called a petticoat).  "Inspire'd by thee, the skilful engineer Lopp'd half the sack and form'd the pet-en-l'air" (1751, The Gentleman's Magazine 'Hymn to Fashion'.

There's that French jacket reference again.

Iris Brooke in "Dress and Undress": "Elizabeth Montague writes of a gathering in 1745: 'Such hats, capuchins and short sacks as were never seen' "   which certainly implies these were fashionable garments worn in public.

I guess the question still remains--did American women wear these?  We can't say for sure but we do know that fashionable American women did enjoy French fashion so it's easy to assume they did.  Being a British colony, our fashions were informed by those in England and we do see fashion plates in the Lady's Magazine from London that have French influence.

Rochambeau and his officers made observations about seeing American women dressed in French fashion.
Quotes from "French Memories of 18th Century America" by Charles Hitchcock Sherrill

"I hardly expected to find French fashions in the midst of American forests. The headdresses of all the ladies, except Quakers, are high, voluminous and adorned with our veils. One is surprised to find throughout all of Connecticut so active a taste for dress,--I might even say, so much luxury amid customs so simple and pure that they resemble those of the ancient patriarchs."
--Abbé Robin

Chastellux noted a lady who "has taste as delcate as her health. Excessively enthusiastic over French fashions, she only awaits the end of this trifling revolution now taking place to initiate an even more important one in the customs of her nation."

Chastellux also noted that in Annapolis "the luxury of the women surpasses that of our provinces. A French hairdresser is a man of importance there; one of these ladies pays hers one thousand écus wages."

Baron Closen noted, "The women are very pretty, have good style, and dress excellently--some even following the French fashions."

General Rochambeau also observed "the women have taken up French fashions, in which they are deeply interested."

My own thinking is that short sacks were most likely worn here but by a certain group of women. I imagine upper sort younger fashionable women may have worn them in public whereas older women, who tended to prefer gowns, may have worn them as undress.

As with many things, without specific references, images, or extants with an American provenance, we may never know for sure.

Monday, December 19, 2022

2023 Costuming Goals

It's time to set some goals for 2023.  It will be interesting to see which of these I actually complete in a year and how many projects I complete that are not on this list!

1.  Finish my linen voile lappet cap.

2.  Grace Banker needs an overcoat for mid January.

I have some navy wool broadcloth that may work for this.  I need to do a bit more research to find out if this is the right textile or if I should order something else.  This one is still up in the air as it's a real time crunch

3.  Elizabeth Chew would like some fashionable undress. 

I have 7 yards of this silk.  It screams something sack back.  I think a late 70s short sack with sabot sleeves would fit the bill nicely.  It will have modest trim --typical of that era--with a shorter petticoat.  My goal is to have this for our February event.

4.  Yellow linen petticoat
     This is the petticoat to go with Widow Ferguson's work gown that I made last year.  It will also go with another linen gown I have planned.

5.  Simple summer 1920s Robe de Style

6.  To piggy back on the last item, I need an under slip with panniers for the robe de style based on this one from the Underpinnings Museum.

7.  1916 Spring frock

8.  1903 Corset

The background of this coutil is very pale--almost white.

9.  Long Regency Stays--Red Threaded pattern

10.  1775-76 Linen gown

11.  Mrs. Izard's 1776 silk sack.

12.  Finish my Met 1812 Cap project. 
I've drafted a pattern for this cap which I need to muslin, refine and make up.  I have swiss batiste in the same pattern.

Other possibilities from past years:

1.  1912 tea gown (center image)

2. 1920 Robe de Style--repro of MDHS frock.

3. 1790s round gown--using the sprigged lawn from Virgil's Fine goods

4.  Late 19teens/early 1920s winter jacket

I have some black wool melton and nice faux fur to trim this one.

I have a bunch of 1930s - 1950s day wear to make but that's my "modern" clothing so I won't list that here.

So the real challenge will be sticking to this list when I know that other inspiration will hit!

I hope everyone has a productive 2023!