The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them With Style

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them With Style

by Lauren Stowell, Abby Cox


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Bring History to Life

Whether you wish you could time travel to the court of Versailles or the Highlands of Scotland, this comprehensive guide will walk you through how to make and wear your 18th century dream gown. Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox of American Duchess have endeavored to make the impossible possible by bringing historically accurate dressmaking techniques into your sewing room. Learn how to make four of the most iconic 18th century silhouettes—the English Gown, Sacque Gown, Italian Gown and Round Gown—using the same hand sewing techniques done by historic dressmakers. From large hoops to full bums, wool petticoats to grand silk gowns, ruffled aprons to big feathered hats, this manual has project patterns and instructions for every level of 18th century sewing enthusiast. With Lauren and Abby’s guidance, you’ll feel as if you just stepped out of an 18th century portrait.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking demystifies 18th century fashion and sewing techniques so that you can wear these beautiful gowns with confidence and style.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781624144530
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 11/21/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 90,952
Product dimensions: 8.02(w) x 9.06(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Lauren and Abby’s company, American Duchess Inc., has been providing historically accurate lady’s shoes since 2011. Their shoes and accessorieshave been used in productions all over the world, including ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Starz’s Outlander and American Gods, Broadway’s Hamilton: An American Musical, Dangerous Liaisons and Cinderella. Their shoes have also been used by the New York Metropolitan Opera, Ford’s Theater and have walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards. They live in Reno, Nevada.

Read an Excerpt


Historic Stitches and How to Sew Them

Running Stitch

Working from right to left, weave the needle up and down through all layers. When you're using running stitches for hemming or a seam, make sure that the visible stitch is very fine. Basting stitches should be long and even.


Working right to left, anchor the knot on the wrong side of the fabric, bringing the needle up through all layers. Travel a couple of threads to the right of where your needle came through, push the needle through all the layers, and bring it back up equidistant from the first puncture. Bring the needle to that same thread entry point, pushing down through all layers, traveling equidistant to the left, bring the needle up through and repeat. This is the strongest stitch, ideal for seams.

Running Backstitch

Using the instructions above, combine the running and backstitch. Stitch two or three running stitches and then a backstitch for strength. This stitch is commonly used in skirt and petticoat seams.

Prick Stitch

Working from right to left, anchor the knot on the wrong side of the fabric, and come straight up through all layers. Bring your needle down 1 or 2 threads to the right, making sure the needle goes through all the layers. Bring the needle up equidistant from how far you spaced the stitches from the seam edge. For example, if you're sewing 1/4 inch (6 mm) in from the folded edge, space your stitches 1/4 inch (6 mm) apart. This careful and visible spaced backstitch is used most often on side seams.

Hem Stitch With Basting

Working left to right, turn up half of the seam allowance on the edge of your fabric and baste with long running stitches. Turn up the remaining seam allowance again to encase the raw edge. To hem stitch, bury your knot between the fold and fabric, bringing the needle out toward you. Travel a little bit to the left and pass the needle through the outer fabric, bringing it back in through the folded layers. The resulting stitch is visible on the outside of the garment, and should be small and fine.

Narrow Hem

Working left to right, turn up a narrow seam allowance (? to 1/4 inch [3 to 6 mm]) on the edge of your fabric and baste with long running stitches. Then fold this edge up again in half so the finished hem is between ? and ? inch (1 to 3 mm) wide. Hem stitch from right to left in the same technique explained above.

Rolled Hem

Keeping tension with your dominant hand, roll the raw edge back and forth between your fingers until the edge tightly rolls over itself at least twice. Hold the rolled edge between your fingers to keep it in place as you hem stitch it all together. It will take a bit of time before it starts to look small and even. Something licking your fingers can help make this process easier.

Edge Stitch / Edge Hem Stitch

This stitch is commonly used to join the fashion fabric and the lining. Before stitching, turn in the seam allowances on both pieces and baste. With the two pieces placed wrong sides together, offset the fashion fabric to be slightly above the lining fabric and pin into place. With the lining side facing you, bury your knot between the two layers with the needle coming out toward you through the lining. Travel a small amount to the left and make a small stitch catching all layers, and bring the needle back toward you. Repeat. This stitch is visible on the outside and should be small.

Applique Stitch

This is performed just like the hem stitch except that the travel and catches are in reverse. The small stitch is the one you see, and you will travel on the underside. This is used when you're sewing from the right side of the fabric.


This stitch is commonly used over an edge, either raw or finished. Place the two pieces of fabric right sides together and pin. Working right to left, work with the needle pointing toward you, passing through all layers. Bring the needle back around to the far layer, passing through the layers with the needle facing you. Repeat.

Whip Gather

Working right to left, whip over the edge of the fabric a determined distance. Then pull the thread gathering up the fabric to the desired length, and knot the thread (but do not cut) before moving on to the next section.

Herringbone Stitch

First, you will work from left to right. Pass your needle through the fabric a couple of threads toward the left. Bring the needle up and then angle it down and to the right. Bring the needle down and travel a couple of threads to the left, bringing the needle back up. Repeat.

Stroked Gathers

This technique is used for your aprons and 1790s ensemble. It consists of three evenly spaced and stitched running stitches that are then gathered up to fit the desired space. The gathers are then carefully stitched with a hem or whipstitch, making sure that you catch every bump in the gathers.


This technique cleanly joins two pieces of fabric in an encased seam. With right sides together, offset one edge by 1/4 inch (6 mm) and running stitch to join. Open the seam out flat with the seam allowance facing up. Fold up the longer edge of the seam allowance over the shorter raw edge by 1/4 inch (6 mm), finger press, then fold over again along the seam line. Running stitch or hem stitch the folded, clean edge down, then press the seam flat.

The English Stitch

This stitch/seaming technique is probably one of the weirdest things you will come across in this book. However, it is extremely common and useful in eighteenth-century dressmaking, perfect for seaming together the lining and fashion fabric of bodice seams in one stitch instead of two. Though the name of this stitch has previously been shrouded in mystery, Pernilla Rasmussen found evidence of it being known as the "English Stitch" in the 1824 tailoring book by F. Heyder. While there are many places this seaming technique could be useful, it is most represented in original bodices of Italian gowns, but also sometimes makes an appearance in sacques and other extant bodices too.

Working right to left, you will have the two pieces you are seaming with all their edges basted into place facing right side to right side. Make a quick stitch on the lining fabric closest to your person, burying the knot between the fashion fabric and the lining fabric. Then pass the needle through the fashion fabrics and lining to the other side. Bring the needle up and point it back at you, passing through both fashion fabrics and the lining on the side closest to you (see illustration 1). Repeat. Keep your stitches very small and tight here, about 12 stitches per inch (2.5 cm). You should have a neat, finished seam when opened flat (see illustration 2).

Mantua Maker's Seam

This seaming technique is not as scary as you might think. In fact, it's deceptively easy. It's known as a mantua maker's seam or mantua maker's hemming, and it dominates women's clothing in this time period and even into the nineteenth century. According to The Workwoman's Guide from 1838,

"This is often used instead of sewing, for bags and sleeves that have no linings, or skirts of petticoats &c., and the work is prepared as follows. Lay the raw edges of one piece a little below that of the other, then turn the upper edge over the lower, twice, as in hemming, and fell it securely down."

The mantua maker's seam is an ingenious, efficient way to connect and encase raw edges on skirt panels in gowns, and we even use it in our 1790s reticules. Though similar to a modern French seam or felled seam, the mantua maker's seam is fast, easy and period correct.

To work a mantua maker's seam, start with two layers of fabric, right side to right side. Offset the bottom fabric by ? to 1/4 inch (3 to 6 mm), depending on how wide you need this seam to be. Fold the bottom fabric up and over the top fabric once and baste into place sewing from right to left. Next, fold the baste edge up once more and hem stitch through all layers. When you're finished, you will open up this seam and have a clean finish on the outside and an encased raw edge on the interior.


The English Gown, 1740s

Based On Diagram Xiv From Cut Of Women's Clothing by Norah Waugh

The first gown in our book is rooted in one of the most fundamental moments in fashion and women's history. This gown, what we will refer to as the "English gown," is based on the groundbreaking mantua, or manteaux, gown. The mantua allowed women the chance to step out of the shadow of male tailors and create their own trade, ushering in a new era of fashion and dressmaking with the new century.

A more informal style of gown worn by women of all social classes, the mantua came into fashion during the last quarter of the seventeenth century and developed over time into what was called the "night-gown," "gown" and/or "mantua." While this gown may have been called Robe a l'Anglaise in French, this term is uncommon in eighteenth-century English and American sources. For the sake of clarity, we will simply call it the English gown.

The gown we re-create in this chapter is representative of the period from 1740 to 1750. The close-fitting pleated back, separate stomacher front, robings cut-in-one and large full sleeves are all style hallmarks of this decade. Over time, this type of gown changes, exhibiting smaller back pleats, a closed front and narrower sleeves, before falling out of fashion in the 1780s.


To achieve the appropriate silhouette of the 1740s, the correct undergarments are essential. Shifts had large full sleeves to fill out and decorate the gown sleeves. Stays were often fully boned, straight and long in the torso. These pieces must come first — we know, you want to jump right into making the dress, but don't skip your underpinnings!

While we do not provide instructions for shifts or stays in this book, you will find in this chapter the instructions for making a basic under-petticoat, a standard underpinning that may be used for all of your other gown projects before the 1790s. It's a good starter project and will serve you well.

For this project, we've chosen to portray a working woman's ensemble and so have styled our gown without a hoop or false rump. However, this very same design made in silk, fitted over hoops (see here for pocket hoops), would create a fashionable aristocratic look.

Finally, this gown is made from a medium-weight blue worsted wool. While wool is a great fiber for women's gowns, all the other historic fibers are open to you: learn about silk (here), linen (here) and cotton (here).


Wool, commonly called "stuff" in the eighteenth century, was arguably the most common fiber type worn by women below a certain social class in the eighteenth century. While spun and woven wools, such as worsteds, were extremely common, there was a huge variety of woven wools and wool blends used for clothing: glazed calamanco, camlet, bombazine, baize, cassimere, linsey-woolsey and more. Here are a few great reasons why we strongly recommend a dress-weight worsted wool for the English, Italian and even the 1790s gowns:

1. Wool isn't actually that hot ... unless it needs to be. Wool naturally reacts to the environment to regulate your body temperature. Wool will keep a dry layer close to the skin while still being able to withstand cold, moist climates, and when it's hot, it will wick away your perspiration.

2. Since wool is so good at wicking away moisture, it makes for an antimicrobial, antibacterial fabric. It's hard to make it stinky and gross.

3. Wool is amazing to work with. It doesn't wrinkle or show fitting faults in the same way that silk, linen or cotton does. It's a very forgiving fabric to work with, resulting in a better-looking gown without the heartache of fighting with a slippery silk or wiggly linen.

4. Wool is hard-wearing and durable. This gown will last you a long time, and you'll get your money's worth.

5. Wool doesn't combust into flame — it smolders. If you are working near an open fire, wool is your safest textile choice.

6. A wool gown is easy to dress up or dress down with millinery. Crisp white accessories in cotton or silk will go far in making a "plain ol' wool gown" look very fashionable. Alternatively, the same wool gown paired with a checked apron and printed kerchief does well for common impressions and dirty work.

7. Wearing wool could be very patriotic. Wool fabrics were a cornerstone of English manufacturing, and it was imperative to support one's home industry. Working with wool isn't without challenges, but it does create amazing textiles that are great to sew with. We especially recommend wool to beginning historical costumers as an excellent choice for that first gown.

1740s Undies Basic UnderPetticoat

This petticoat is an example of the most basic and common underpinning, second only to the shift. This under-petticoat can and should be worn with the English Gown (here), Sacque (here) and Italian Gown (here). Making it out of a matelassn cotton will help give it extra body and loftiness without the weight. You can also make it out of a sturdy linen, cotton, or wool flannel. This petticoat should be on the shorter side; the hem should be somewhere between below your knee and lower calf.

Under-petticoats don't have to be as full as outer petticoats. The fullness of the petticoat depends on your size. You want enough room for your legs to move freely. A good rule of thumb is to aim for about 100 inches (2.5 meters).

For the under-petticoat, we use just one seam to close the skirt. Depending on your fabric width, you may need to join panels together to achieve the needed hem circumference. Also assess the seaming technique needed according to your fabric edges. If they are selvage edges, carry on with assembly steps 4 through 6; if they are raw cut edges, you will want to use the mantua maker's seam (here).


2–3 yards (2–3 m) of cotton matelassé, sturdy linen or wool flannel

Heavy-weight sewing thread (35/2 linen or #30 silk)

1.5–2 yards (1.5–2 m) 3/4–1" (1.9–2.5 cm)-wide linen or cotton tape


1. Use a soft tape measure at your natural waist point (usually around your belly button, just below your ribs) and note the number. Measure down the approximate hem length (waist to somewhere below your knee and above lower calf).

2. Cut out the fabric, measuring the length of the waist to calf on the straight of the grain and cutting selvage to selvage.

3. Pin one petticoat seam right sides together, leaving 10 inches (25.5 cm) free at the top for the opening. Stitch the seam using a running backstitch for selvage edges or a mantua maker's seam (6 to 8 stitches per inch [2.5 cm]) for raw cut edges (here).

4. Baste, then hem the edges of the opening (8 stitches per inch [2.5 cm]).

5. With the petticoat opened out flat, hem at 1/2-inch (1.2-cm) wide (8 to 10 stitches per inch [2.5 cm]).

6. Find the center of the front panel and mark.

7. Time to pleat. On the front, make one large box pleat at the center front, about 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 cm) wide and between 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 cm) deep. Then knife pleat each side of the front petticoat panel toward the back, checking the circumference against your waist measurement. Pleating was not an exact science in the eighteenth century, and it doesn't need to be today. Just pleat to fit with 1- to 2inch (2.5- to 5-cm)-wide pleats on the visible side; they can be as deep as needed on the underside. Don't worry if they are not perfect.


Excerpted from "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking"
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Copyright © 2017 Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
What This Book Is All About,
So You Want to Sew an Eighteenth-Century Gown, Eh?,
Patterns: Paper or Gridded or Draped? Oh My!,
Fitting Your Mock-Up,
Piecing Is Period, Period,
Historic Stitches and How to Sew Them,
Running Stitch,
Running Backstitch,
Prick Stitch,
Hem Stitch with Basting,
Narrow Hem,
Rolled Hem,
Edge Stitch / Edge Hem Stitch,
Applique Stitch,
Whip Gather,
Herringbone Stitch,
Stroked Gathers,
The English Stitch,
Mantua-Maker's Seam,
The English Gown, 1740s,
Our Choices for the English Gown,
An Ode to Wool,
1740s Undies–Basic Under-Petticoat,
1740s The English Gown Petticoat,
1740s The English Gown Stomacher,
1740s The English Gown,
1740s Neck Handkerchief,
1740s Apron,
1740s Cap,
1740s Mitts,
1740s Simple Straw Hat,
How to Get Dressed and Wear Your English Gown,
The Sacque Gown, 1760s–1770s,
Our Choices for the Sacque Gown,
A Note on Hair Styling for your Sacque Gown,
Oh Sweet, Sweet Silk,
1760s Undies — Side Hoops,
1760s The Sacque Petticoat,
1760s Pinked Trim!,
1760s The Sacque Stomacher,
1760s 5-Loop Bows,
1760s The Sacque Gown,
1760s Ribbon Choker Necklace,
1760s Organza and Lace Apron,
1760s–1770s Organza and Lace Cap,
1760s Organza and Lace Treble Stacked Sleeve Flounces,
1760s Lace Tucker,
How to Get Dressed and Wear Your Sacque with Style,
The Italian Gown, 1770s–1790s,
Our Choices for the Italian Gown,
Printed Cotton Dos and Don'ts,
1780s Undies — The False Rump,
1780s Silk Petticoat Over the False Rump,
1780s The Italian Gown,
Early 1780s Cap,
1780s Poufs and Bows,
1780s Silk-Covered "Brain" Hat,
Early 1780s Ruffled Apron,
1780s Neck Tucker and Elbow Ruffles,
How to Get Dressed and Wear Your Italian Gown with Style,
The Round Gown, 1790s,
Our Choices for the Round Gown,
Learning to Love Linen,
1790s Undies — Under-Petticoat and Back Pad,
1790s The Round Gown,
1790s Sash,
1790s V-Necked Ruffled Chemisette,
1790s Shirt-Style Chemisette,
1790s "Vigée LeBrun" Turban Cap,
1790s Linen Turban Wrap,
1790s The Caroline Hat,
1790s The Giant Fur Muff,
1790s The "Sundae Best" Reticule,
1790s The "Frog" Reticule,
Getting Dressed and Wearing Your 1790s Ensemble with Style,
Supplier List,
About the Authors,

Customer Reviews