Those Frenchies Seek My Ruffles Everywhere: Tutorial for a Swashbuckling 1780s Ruffled Fichu

They seek it here, they seek it there – those Frenchies seek really good dotted Swiss cotton everywhere! The last time I was in Australia, I was let loose on my birthday in Alla Moda Fabrics in Fortitude Valley, where I picked out a beautiful dotted Swiss cotton.  White, sheer, spotted, and crisp with body for DAYS  – there was only one reasonable thing to do with a fabric like that – make a tutorial for a really swashbuckling 1780s ruffled fichu.

A woman smiles at the camera, clutching a white spotted 1780s fichu around her shoulders.

I was envisioning something rather like the fichu below from the collection of the Met – a ruffled, fluffled hold your chin high or drown in flounces sort of fichu.

French Robe à l'Anglaise and fichu via the Metropolitan Museum of Art
French Robe à l’Anglaise and fichu via the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I started on the fichu almost immediately, but almost immediately after I started, I went home to Chile and accidentally packed the unfinished work in my sea freight instead of my suitcase. And almost as soon as my little sea shipment arrived (on a slow boat that saw most of the major ports in the Asia-Pacific region before it finally slid into the Chilean Port of Valparaiso) we packed everything up again and moved north to the small desert city of Iquique.

It took several more months, but at very long last and a very long time later, the fichu was finally unpacked, and I was able to finish it up. Here then, is a brief tutorial for a 1780s ruffled fichu.

Hemmed pieces of white dotted swiss fabric hang over the back of a chair.

I enjoyed this little project SO MUCH that I’m finding myself needing to use all-caps when I write about it.  Some fabrics fight you, but others behave like they WANT to be sewn, and just need you to show them the way. Who else gets the happy wriggles from a really good rolled hem?

Close-up imaged of a rolled hem on a piece of white swiss cotton.

The styling of this fichu sits squarely in the later 1780s – a half-circle with a whip-gathered ruffle along the curved edge. It is one of those garments where the construction is very simple and the effect comes down to the quality of the fabric and the needlework – in this case, the extra-ordinary cotton did more than half the work for me, and the rolled hems just sort of happened all by themselves while I watched.

Technical Details for those who want a giant white neck caterpillar of their very own:

The base of the fichu is a half-circle with a 26 inch radius. I wanted a ruffle that looked BIG on my 5’7″, broad-shouldered frame. After some playing around, I concluded that the ruffle should be between 3.5″ and 4.5″ total FINISHED width- with the gathering line running at 1/3 of the way in from the edge.

That range will take you from restrained to Ding-DONG, without looking clownish. I wanted a real ding-dong honker, so I cut mine to end up with 4.5″ AFTER hemming.

I finished the edges of the kerchief and the ruffle with a rolled hem, and whip gathered the ruffle (along that 1/3 line) to a 2:1 ratio, and tacked it down.

A whip-gathered ruffle is pinned onto the body of a 1780s fichu.

Does everyone else find the sewing itself as beautiful as the finished piece?

A ruffle is half-sewn onto a white cotton fichu.

And here you have it – a seriously swashbuckling 1780s ruffled fichu. It buckles with a VERY distinctive swash.

A woman smiles at the camera. She is draped in a ruffled semicircular 1780s fichu.

This fichu has a real element of “Off-Broadway does 1776” about it, but it gives me the Scarlet Pimpernel vibes – and what else are we in this hobby for?

A woman smiles at the camera and clutches a ruffled 1780s fichu around her shoulders.

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