Fabric Shopping in the 1790s

My original plan for 2022 was to make a little 1790s capsule wardrobe – one pattern and three gowns that would take me through any sort of event.

Let’s see how THAT worked out.

For Gown #1 , I had a gorgeous greenish blue peacock taffeta from Burnley and Trowbridge. Unfortunately, when laid it out for cutting, i found that i was 1.5 yards of taffeta short of a gown, no matter how i pieced.  Which was dispiriting – BUT – a 1790s capsule wardrobe can always use an open robe, yes?

A mass of blue-green peacock silk taffeta lies on a carpet.

In which case – moving on to Gown #2, I had a length of striped white Burnley and Trowbridge muslin for the basic white frock, but when i laid it out, I was, again,  that exact same more-than-a-yard short.

A gathered length of semi-sheer cotton with fine white stripes.

Clearly, when i did my original fabric calculations, i was an idiot.  

Fortunately, the fabric is still in stock at B&T, so i ordered more, and while it was coming, moved on to Gown #3 –

Fabric #3 was a soft blue and white striped silk-cotton that I’d picked up at The Fabric Store in Brisbane. Yardage would NOT be a problem – I had MASSES of the stuff. Almost enough for two gowns, if I fancied it that way.

Tabubilgirl holds up a length of fine blue and white striped fabric.

Rather triumphantly I laid it out – and six hours later, I stood up again without having made a single cut.  I’d forgotten just how wicked slithery silk-cotton can be.  In all of those six hours, i hadn’t even managed to mark a straight line. Even with the stripes to guide me – I’d measured and marked and pinned and weighed it down with books, pots, furniture and even a solid metal bar I’d found in the garage, and I still had not managed to mark a simple straight reference line across the width. The solution was straightforward but arduous – I needed to go buy a few bottles of spray starch and turn that slithery stuff into cardboard. And when i say arduous – based on my prior experience with silk cotton and spray starch and given the yardage I needed, I was looking at a couple of afternoons with a steamer and a starch bottle –  

And after all the time i’d spent building a pattern block, I wanted to sew now!!

(“And anyway”, said Mr Tabubil, and i could hear his eyes rolling.  “If you’re going for multiples, maybe you want to start with a wearable mockup anyway? Hmm?”)

So. Knee-deep in beautiful fabric I couldn’t use, I went shopping.

I happened to be in Reno, Nevada, at the time, which was exciting – because THE place in Reno for fabric is Mill End Fabrics. Mill End is an interesting shop. They acquire the bulk of their stock from stores that are going belly-up or going online-only, which means that the stock is a) irregular and b) there’s never EVER another bolt in the back.  What you see is what you get, and what you usually get isn’t enough for what you need it for.

Mill End had a lot of cotton fabric in the right sort of weight, but almost all of it was end-of-bolt-“Is 2 yards enough for you, sweetie?” situations.

After a lot of digging, I did find something – a bolt with 6 yards of cotton voile in the most enchanting shade of emerald green, and it was only $3.50/meter, which is a very reasonable price, and I bought the lot. 

I really should have wondered a bit more at the price. After I got it home, I saw that the selvage had been slashed into with scissors – about half an inch deep, all the way along, like this:

Okay, I thought. I could cut the panels a bit narrower. I’d have to fell the seams between skirt panels, but that will work, no worries –

So i popped it in a hot wash and a high spin cycle, and then I started to iron it dry. 

And look what I found:

A bleached-out line, RIGHT down the middle of the whole piece. More or less.

Sometimes more, sometimes less.

The line wanders.

Right down all six bloody yards of it.

One thought on “Fabric Shopping in the 1790s

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *