Making an Edwardian Dressing Gown 3: the Sketch

Let me describe what I’m going to make. It will be a floor length garment in gold brocade, fitted fairly closely through the shoulders but falling loose to the floor. Front fastenings TBD, long sleeves and a box pleat at the center back. The contrast collar and front lapels will be black brocade with deeply scalloped edges, as will the deep turnback cuffs. All the outer edges will be piped with thick rope piping in two shades of green. Oh, and I have some red lining material for the skirt! For comfort the entire garment will have to be fully lined. A real period dressing gown might have been interlined with flannel or woolen as well, for warmth in a period when houses were heated with coal. I am betting that Bristol in August will not call for extra insulation.

But to make a garment you need to go beyond words. You need a pattern, before you cut. If I want it to fit, I have to plan. And the way to plan a garment is the way all dress designers do it, with a pen and paper. So, from words to image, here we are:


Drawing it allows me to start digging down into the construction details. For instance, if the fastening is down the center front, there has to be a piece of fabric under that opening so that no gap is visible between the halves of the front. A double-breasted or wrapover garment wouldn’t need this, nor would a zipper. But a single line of buttons or frogs will call for just an inch or inch-and-a-half of neatly-finished black brocade on the edge of the left front. The right front will go on top of it. Here is a photograph of a Chinese jacket with what I mean. The frog fastens at the exact center front of the garment, and the extra fabric beyond the loop makes it look right when it’s all buttoned up:


Another thing to start thinking about is how the garment will be assembled. Should each sleeve be one piece, or two? (Two is traditional in men’s tailoring, but one is easier.) Should the piping around the bottom edge jump over the box insertion at the back? (Yes.) If I assemble the torso pieces and then sew it together with the lining, inserting the piping as I go, then I will be able to turn the entire torso right-side out like a pillowcase, all its edges finished, a highly satisfactory outcome. Do I really need a dart? Probably, because I’m full-figured, and this video goes into how I’d do it. She keeps on saying this is easy. But you can see why sewers would much rather buy a ready-made pattern.

The traditional material for making a dress pattern is muslin. You can reuse a muslin pattern for years. But I’m being economical, and like the girl in the Sondheim song I never do anything twice. There will never be another garment like this. And I do have a lot of newspaper. To get a thumbnail sketch into a life-sized pattern is the next big step!



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