I went back to my new striped 'en ferreau' gown on Wednesday. When I started the damned thing, I had big plans. I cut the lengths of cloth down to the right width, making the seams more closely resemble the seam widths on extant gowns. I cut my linings out of plain linen from the bargain wall ($3/metre for the win!), and got started.
Then I futzed with pleating the back on to the lining for an entire day. I just could not get the damned thing to work.
OK, so it was a bad sewing day, at 3pm, I got up from my table and went to make supper and enjoy the evening with my family.
I tend to pleat gowns flat on the table. I don't use my manikin for this as seamstresses in the period would not have access to a manikin, they'd have the body the gown was being made for (from time to time), and the table at which they sit to sew. My linings are fitted to the body. The pattern I use was made at a draping workshop I held for the ladies here in my local area. We got together with our stays and petticoats and hip supports and draped bodices on one another so that we all have custom patterns. I know it's going to fit, especially since I use stomacher front gowns as we time travel between the wars.
I cut my linings from this pattern, using a standard 1/2" seam allowance. I then lay the fashion fabric on the lining and pleat it to the lining in the back, following extant pleating arrangements drawn by Norah Waugh or Janet Arnold
I ended up having three pleats from the centre back to get it to lay flat and nicely. This drawing was just a guideline. I also didn't want a seam right at the centre back, so I cut that.
Wednesday when I went back to the gown after a week's hiatus, I sat down to once again try my hand at pleating, and it went together perfectly. On the first go. Both sides of the back of the gown are beautiful, even, and almost like I measured out every last millimetre. I didn't though, I just used the 'mark 1 eyeball' and it was a thing of beauty.
I stitched those pleats down quickly, lest they had a change of heart and decide to spring up and be a mess again.
The stitch I use is a running stitch, with the odd back stitch from time to time to lock the seam in place. I go through all the layers, including the lining. Taking as small a stitch as I can, I feel for the table underneath the work with the tip of my needle before returning to the topside of the work.
*The trick to get nice small stitches is to use nice small sewing needles. I use #10 Betweens, and waxed silk thread. They are a pain to thread. Put your big girl panties on and suck it up... but it is easier if you hold the top of your waxed thread between the thumb and forefinger of your 'non-dominant' hand so that you can barely see the tip of the thread, and then with your dominant hand lay the eye of the needle on the thread. Sharp snips will help in getting a nice crisp thread tip. Don't try to poke the thread into the needle like a dart, you'll miss 9.5 times out of 10 and you'll shred the tip of the thread in the process.
I also use a new needle every project, sometimes a few needles over the course of the project. I also use thread lengths that are only the length of my forearm, the thread will shred at the point where it goes through the eye, as you sew. so don't leave a long tail. I also only use a single thread to sew, hardly ever double thread your needle.
I also use a thimble, but you guys probably knew that already. If you don't, find one that fits, and use it. It will be a pain to get used to sewing, kinda like having a big bandage on your finger at first, but your sewing will improve with it's use. It should fit snugly on the "fuck you" finger of your dominant sewing hand. It should feel as comfortable as wearing a ring, so find one you like to wear, and wear it, like all the time, even when you aren't sewing. You'll get used to it quicker that way.*
Now that my back is pleated down, I've taken another short break from the gown. I think I want to make and set the sleeves next, before dealing with lots of skirts weight. A friend of mine has a beautiful sleeve pattern that I want to try. She's tracing it for me and is going to send it in the mail. In the meantime, I've been working on other projects. Yesterday I made a spotty new neckerchief for Pierre, red with white spots, in cotton. I also cut some cotton lawn mitts, and have been working on them...tiny little 1/8" seams on those beautiful things, so I can't sew for too long before my hands start to hurt. They are going to be lovely though.