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Venturing into the 18th Century

18th Century Basics

I know I haven’t been posting often lately but I feel I have a good excuse. Costumes. All the costumes.

I’ve been dabbling in costuming work for the past year or so. If you haven’t been following along you can check out my previous Regency undies and dress and my recent cosplay.

I’m working on garments from several eras right now but today I’m showing off my new 18th century undies. I’m going for a target date of around the 1770s.

18th Century Basics

So far I’ve made a shift (The undermost garment you would wear to keep your sweat from soaking into your stays and nice dresses which can’t be easily washed, always white, most often made of linen), stays (The older name for a corset. This isn’t the curvy style corset from Victorian times. This shape is straight in front and curved in back, entirely boned so it’s pretty stiff), and a cap (Married women would have always covered their hair with either a cap or a hat or both. Although at night and on fancy occasions they could get away with smaller head coverings. Usually made of linen, sometimes with lace or ribbon or decoration.).

18th Century Basics

The Shift: Self drafted mostly using the info from this great site. I used a handkerchief weight linen from a store that is no longer in business so when I realized I didn’t have enough to make the shift the “correct” way I had to do some improvising on the sides seams. This shift also probably isn’t as wide as it ought to be.

18th Century Basics

The sleeves are gathered into little cuffs. For the neckline I put the shift on with just a slit for my head then put on the stays and used that as a guide to cut the neck hole. Then I machine stay stitched the new cut neckline so it wouldn’t stretch out and made a tiny pick-stitched hem by hand.

The Stays: I used the JP Ryan strapless stays pattern rather than their pattern with straps because they’re more comfortable. My Regency era stays have straps and I find them annoying and restrictive.

The pattern description says this design makes more of a cylindrical shape than the popular cone shape and I think that’s true. I was annoyed when I realized the stays made by waist bigger and my bust smaller. Not what I needed but whatever. They still look good.

18th Century Basics

I like that I can put the stays on and tighten the laces myself but it takes a few minutes.

They are fully boned with straight steels in the back to support the eyelets, spiral steel in specific places, and the rest is boned with reed. Reed is a flexible wood cut in strips. It’s an historically accurate alternative to the most popular support at the time: baleen (whale bone). Sure, I want to be accurate but I ain’t about to go killing a whale for it!

18th Century Basics

Since this was my first pair I used leftover strong cotton for the body and some linen for the binding. The bone channels were all stitched by machine but I had to do the binding by hand – it’s so curvy!

All the eyelets in back were done by hand as well and I think I’ve finally found a good method of making them so they don’t look uneven and wonky.

18th Century Basics

The Cap: No pattern. I just winged it by measuring my head for the band, tracing a big plate for the crown and adding lace and ribbon.

I pieced together the cap from scraps from my shift fabric.

It’s supposed to be a dormeuse cap, or a “French night cap,” popular in the 1770s. I liked this style because it’s more frilly than other plain caps.

18th Century Basics

But why wear a cap at all? Well, see, I don’t have long hair. And I have bangs. This doesn’t make for a great 18th century hair style so a cap (or a hat, which I might make later) hides my lack of hair.

For these photos I tried to fake the high up-dos of the era by piling my hair onto the top of my head over one of those hair rat donut things with a ton of pins and hairspray. It’s so tall that I don’t have any hair left to fill out the cap so the cap just floats on my head. I’ll need to work on my hairstyles next time…

18th Century Basics

But I did try to do the “look” by powdering my hair (which you really can’t see in these pics, I think it all got absorbed into the hairspray, oh well) and face. I also darkened my eyebrows and put on some pink blush and lip color. Fancy 18th century ladies liked their make up.

Next I’m working on petticoats and an outer skirt, maybe even a bum pad. I’m currently sewing up a jacket as well. Going for a dressy day look, I think.

Comments (17) for post “Venturing into the 18th Century”

  • I thought your brow game was looking especially sharp. 🙂 I’m loving the costuming posts. My first forays into sewing were with costumes, and about 40% of my (admittedly minuscule) paper pattern collection consists of costume patterns bought on sale, so I always get excited when I see others making them. Are you putting together these garments for any particular event/occasion/purpose, or are they all just for the learning experience/fun of it?

    • Ha, “brow game” that’s awesome. Thanks! Right now I’m just making the costumes for fun and photos but if there’s an event I find locally I’d definitely be down for going to it. I know there’s a costumers guild in Dallas that gets together ever so often. Might be fun to drive up there and check it out.

  • What fun! While you might not like the bust to waist ratio this gives you, the side profile looks. Maybe once you have the wide skirt on you’ll like the silhouette more? Is the stay tight & uncomfortable to wear? While I’m likely to venture into historical costuming proper I’m quite tempted to borrow elements of their designs provided that they won’t make me faint or hyperventilate! Looking forward to reading more about & living vicariously thru your costuming adventures! 🙂

    • Thanks, when I try on my jacket I like the shape a lot more. And the stays are surprisingly comfy. My regency stays are the most comfortable of the corsets I’ve made but those were corded and not boned. These stays are firm but I don’t feel smushed. This pattern is supposed to be the less fashionable, more functional style for everyday working wear so I imagine they’d be easier to get used to than the super molded cone style.

  • I’ve made those too! I altered the pattern to be a bit longer in the front, and took in some wedge shapes out of the back seam which helped the shape. It’s still a bit cylindrical, but much more comfortable than my previous stays which have a better shape. I’m thinking about remaking them, and tapering the front piece down a bit more. Also I’m excited there’s more sewing bloggers doing 18th century! Do you do any events?

  • I love reading about your adventures in historical costumes! And I’m always impressed with how much attention to detail goes into these garments. Well done!

    • Ha, I made one already but it’s huge! Like, awkwardly big even with lots of skirts over it. It’s like a butt shelf. I need to make a smaller one. 😉

    • Uhhh… none? I guess I plan on doing a fancy photoshoot but that’s about it so far. Although if I find any event I’d be excited to go to it.


  • I love love love seeing your historical costuming. it helps that this is my favorite fashion era!

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