A 1790s Printed Cotton Round Gown: Part 1

In which I anticipate a 1790s printed cotton round gown, take the pattern for my first 1790s gown, tweak it for a longer bodice length, and make some really REALLY dumb technical decisions.

I am very fond of the Green Blob, my late 1790s muslin round gown, but the waistline is high enough enough that it is hard to wear sashes, and the gown is difficult to style it for anything but very late in the decade. Accordingly and so, I took my drafted bodice pattern and added about 1.5 inches of length to make it more versatile, date-wise. This involved a bit of shaping as I have a lot of swayback and my back begins to swoop inward about where the original green gown bodice had stopped.

I sewed a mock-up of the bodice back and Mr Tabubil pinned out the excess. I still wanted a peak in the center back, so I drafted that in, too.

muslin bodice mockup for a 1790s round gown

The bodice mockup worked so well that I cut and sewed the gown in my original white muslin fabric from B&T. I got all the way to my final fitting, where I tried it on and found that the back bodice was wrinkling, the front bodice pooched at the sides, the armscyes were digging into my armpits hard enough to hurt and the sleeves were so tight that I couldn’t raise my arms.


I had dropped the waistline 1.5 inches and done a minor swayback adjustment. I had not touched the armscye or the sleeves, but suddenly there was almost an extra inch of length in the back armscye between the underarm and side back seams while the armcsye at underarm was too short and causing buckling on the side seam, the armscye at the front was biting into my flesh, the sleeves were twisting backwards at the shoulder head – and somehow the sleeve shoulder-head was so short that the underarm sleeve fabric is buckling.

How did a swayback adjustment cause this sort of mayhem?

Laying my new pattern against the original I found that somehow my armholes were completely different shapes.

I had absolutely no idea how I’d done it. I scrapped my altered pattern, and began a new alteration from scratch. I still didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but this time I sewed sleeves onto the mock-up, and this time everything fitted, and I was so confident that this time, I cut the gown out in TWO fabrics – two different block printed muslins.

Construction was mostly simple, and aside from trifling little inconveniences such as stuffing up the grading of the seam allowances for my bodice seams on the green gown and having to cover up the mess with bias binding –

A bodice back with a curve of bias binding pinned along a princess seam

and cutting the center front slash of the round gown skirt OFF-center and in the wrong skirt panel on the blue one –

A blue and white printed skirt with a slash cut near the edge of a panel.

And putting on the finished gowns to mark the hems and and discovering that while the backs of the printed gowns looked fantastic –

Back view of a green floral cotton 1790s round gown

The front bodice of my brand new 1790s round gowns pooched at the sides, and the armscyes were, yet again, digging into my armpits hard enough to hurt – AND I couldn’t lift my arms. Not even a little bit.

Front view of a green floral cotton 1790s round gown. The waist slides down sideways on each side.


I laid the new pattern against my original drafted pattern and again, I found that my armholes were completely different shapes.


What on EARTH was going on???

This… this right here is where it gets so embarrassing that it’s taken me 6 months to share what I’d done –

Right back at the beginning, when I’d made those initial swayback adjustments, I had made one of the silliest – and dumbest – sewing mistakes of my life. Silly – because it was very silly indeed. * Dumb, because it took me 3 entire gowns to catch it.

When I had drafted the new pattern for the 1790s round gown bodice, I had drafted a steep angle upward from the side seam to the center back to make that classical 1790s center back swoop. Somehow – SOMEHOW – I had taken this angled line as my horizontal plumb line around my chest – and made it the horizontal line of my bodice front.

close-up view of white and blue round gown with a steeply sloping waist seam

This drafting error had thrown my armscye into a forward-tilting angle, screwing up the shoulders, sleeves and shoulder-head –

A pair of 1790s bodice back patterns - they are lined up along the side seam, but not along the center back.

– and it had forced the waistline into a downward swoop that it could only recover from just before it got to the center front opening. The pooching at the side fronts was the waistline trying to recover from this downward angle and get back up to where it should belong by the time the two halves met in the center front!

close-up of a cotton gown bodice with a green line drawn to indicate the horizontal waist.

My brand new 1790s printed cotton round gown went into the naughty pile to stew for a while. I felt like an utter and complete twit.

* Hey, at least this time you didn’t throw away all your fabric scraps before you went to bed and wake up to find that with them, you’d chucked a pair of just-finished regency stays down the garbage chute.

** yes, the garbage truck came before I woke up in the morning.

*** and this is why I no longer tidy anything before I go to bed at night. The mess stays exactly where it is until the following morning, when I am fresh and can distinguish a pair of stays from a stack of sewing cabbage.

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