Making an 18th century, quilted petticoat… actually ensemble

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I have always been somewhat ambivalent about quilted petticoats. On one hand, they are unavoidable if you are a completist when it comes to 18th century ladies garments. *cough* It appears that the quilted petticoat used to be a garment of universal appeal for all social classes, nearly as ubiquitous as stays and shifts.

On the other hand they look…. cozy. Like “my grandma would have loved one” cozy. When I think of the “ideal” frilly, frothy, pastry-colored 18th century dress, the dress is quite changeable but the quilted petticoat is never featured.

Now I was never sure whether this is sour grapes. Hand-quilted petticoats  are serious, seriously work-intense pieces. Until you made one, you don’t know what that actually means. I certainly didn’t. But it’s easy to say that you only want to make frilly, frothy pastry dresses anyway.

Now I started this project…  for reasons I am not all that proud of. I needed something new for an event (and that was not a good idea) because it looked like everyone else was bringing new things and I was literally bringing last year’s wardrobe. A helpful “it goes faster than you think” from another petticoat quilter made me seriously consider it and then I got myself some silk satin and thought up a pattern and there were six seasons of Downton Abbey I had never seen…

Spoiler alert: It did went faster than I imagined. It also went slower than I imagined.

But let’s start at the direct inspiration for the petticoat:

Left is the color inspiration: the famous mermaid quilted petticoat from the Connecticut Historical Society. In the middle is the main inspiration for the pattern. I simplifed mine  and added a curved collection of leaves not unlike the petticoat on the right. Of course there are a large number of petticoats with similar colors and patterns, like these two from a museum in Utrecht.

I adjusted the quilting pattern I had made a bit to have a width of 105 1/8 in/267 cm all around.  This width was based on two realities: the width of my fabric and the width of this petticoat. One justified the other. This meant that the the repeat would not be centered (I think  I could have centered it while transferring and just didn’t realize it at the time because sometimes the easy way doesn’t just occur to you.) which meant that late in the process I would have sew both panels together and then cut into the petticoat to put the pocket slits elsewhere in order to center the pattern.

Funnily enough in the quilting process I lost only about half an inch (1 cm) in width but actually 2 in/5cm (!) in height. This was even more pronounced with the stomacher. I think it’s a weft/warp issue where the warp simply had more stretch than the weft to accommodate the quilting. Loss of width and height is obvious and unavoidable once you think about what quilting actually does. But I didn’t realize when I made the pattern that this was a thing.

Thankfully, I had some seam allowance on top of my petticoat and my pattern was endlessly repeatable at the top – so it didn’t even matter. But if you ever make your own pattern, it’s something to keep in mind.

The color caused the first challenge. The duchesse satin I had bought was not red-red but rather brownish red. If this had been a quick and easy project I would have dealt. But this once-in-a-lifetime-because-I’m-not–doing-it-again project? No.

So I first hit the fabric with some color remover and then dyed it red again. Now it was a wine colored red (and the fabric was a lot less stiff) which had to suffice as “close enough”. Interestingly hardly any photographs actually capture the color correctly, causing it to look pink, orange and all shades of red in between. I apologize for that.

Dyeing the fabric caused major wrinklage and an attack of pure “WHHHHHHHY” as I spent two hours ironing it. And then some of the dye was running into the fabric of my ironing board. At this point – ironically, only at this point – the whole project started to look like a stupid idea to me.

Challenge #2: transferring the pattern onto the fabric in a way that would last through the quilting process but was removable without getting the satin wet again. I didn’t trust carbon paper or tailor’s chalk  to stay through endless touching or to be easily removed. (I  have a silk petticoat with tailor’s chalk on the hem that has still not gone away after three years.) Trick marker would fade too quickly. So I chose to use water-removable trick marker on the inside cotton fabric. If push came to shove and my great “wipe it off with a wet cloth” plan  didn’t work and I would not be able to remove it, no one would see it anyway.

(Unsurprisingly, my plan didn’t work, but I figure with time the markings will fade. For the later part of the project though I used actually tailor’s chalk (on the lining fabric) and it did stay on exactly as long as I needed it and was actually gone when I finished quilting. Who knew the obvious answer was so simple?)

The obvious downside was that I was quilting from the wrong side but it seemed the lesser evil at this point. It was a compromise, if not a last resort. I would not really recommend it. Because it is important that you do see the “good side” of your quilting when you quilt. Quilting from the wrong side means that you lack quite a bit of control over your stitch length and spacing and even placement of your stitching. You have to wrestle the control back and be much more alert and constantly check that the good side actually looks good.

I transferred the pattern by putting a lot of light under a huge glass table that I happen to own and putting the pattern (printed on transparent paper) between the glass table and my fabric.

Now, not everyone has a big glass table. Other options are apparently carbon paper, using heat transfer pencils or artist’ chalk and then applying that onto the fabric  or using so thin, light fabric that your pattern shines through without being illuminated from below. I only ever tried the carbon paper for stays. It’s okay but the light table method is better.

I didn’t trace the diamond pattern, it just happened to have the exact same width as my ruler.

Then I made the quilt sandwich. I made sure the fabric layers had the same size and extended past the quilting pattern. However, the batting only extended to the quilting pattern and ended up a few inches under the top of the petticoat pattern. Originally I left of 10 in/25 cm free of batting but then changed my mind about that later and added more batting at the top, so only 4 in/10 cm were free of batting.

I used fairly thin batting because I didn’t want my petticoat to be too thick, heavy and unwieldy and harbored the suspicion that the original petticoats I liked were also not that thickly batted.  I pinned the layers together – not only on the outside of the pattern – but all over. There is really no reason to be stingy there. I mean if you actually want to spend time on that you should baste the layers together all over. I just used a lot safety pins because I am a lazy person making a quilted petticoat.

Then I queued up Downton Abbey and started quilting from the bottom up of the pattern. Technically, I could have also started going from left to right, right to left, and centre out. (Top down, going through the unbatted part first, would be not such a great idea though.)  But you need to pick one of those and stick with it.

I picked bottom up because there the pattern was the most complicated and I wanted it out of the way. This was the only part that had curved lines which renders the typical quilting stitch aka “rocking stitch” inefficient to useless. With small, curved lines you often have to make only one running stitch, pull the needle through and then to do the next one. To make this even more annoying is that in order for a small form to be visible, your stitch length and spacing has to be small.

My general non-curved lines quilting technique was pretty simple, just move the fabric sandwich up and down so the needle picks up something between three and six  running stitches and then pull the needle through the sandwich. Depending on the batting and the pattern at this point, some stitches were tinier than others. My smallest stitches per inch average was 12, my largest was 6. Mostly I was between  those extremes. Sometimes I threw in a backstitch because I love backstitches and think they make things more secure.

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Anyway Season Four of Downton Abbey was over and I got finally started on the diamond/lattice pattern of my petticoat. Since it was all straight lines, I thought it would go really fast. (I was so wrong about that.)

At the point where I finished the lattice pattern, I had already spent roughly 100 hours quilting. (Not counting the 10 hours of prep work.) Now this could have been it, if I hadn’t had the great idea to shade the background of the bottom pattern with thin lines. And with thin lines I mean, lines that had the width of a chopstick which amounted to 3/10 of an inch/0.7cm. This was ambitious and stupid.

You can see the resulting problem in the last image. My shading made the actual flowers and foliage practically invisible. So I turned to trapunto/corded quilting. Here you pull yarns with a needle through the quilt sandwich to raise certain elements. Alternatively you can push batting through the backing fabric into the sandwich with a toothpick.

Unfortunately, that was dull and boring work. So I started working on the matching stomacher. (I needed one since I wanted to wear the petticoat with the green casaque and none of my existing stomachers matched in color.)

My inspiration I found on Instagram of all places, just as I was kind of despairing over what the design should be. The gown there is usually exhibited in the Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice, Italy but was apparently part of a temporary exhibition in New Orleans. Here we have a quilted (but not corded) stomacher with a latice pattern and some flowery foliage stuff. Just what I was looking for. I  changed a few things up to make them more like my petticoat but kept the overall look. Then I started quilting… and then reigned myself in and continued working on the petticoat.

Straightforward cording is pretty easy to understand. The only caveat I have for this tutorial is that it’s easier to built up thinner threads/yarns by pulling multiple strands into the same place than try to accomplish this with one thick thread. (I also would not use artificial fibre for an 18th century petticoat but that’s me being weird about artificial fibres.)

Pushing batting through elements that are too wide or large for cording sounds like a good idea, but unfortunately it’s more complicated than cording.

The tricky thing is pulling apart the backing without being cutting into the fabric. Using a toothpick really helps here. After you finished pushing the batting in, you use the toothpick to pull the weft and warp back into place. It’s a bit tedious but the result was an improvement from before.

So then it was time to make the petticoat itself. I sewed the panels together (first the fashion fabric, then the backing fabric because I thought that the sharing of batting in some of the quilted elements would make the seam less visible (It doesn’t even sound right to me but well, it can’t hurt.)) I bound the bottom of the petticoat in self-fabric, then cut into the petticoat to make the pocket slits, which I bound in bias-cut self-fabric immediately afterwards to minimize the fraying. Then I pleated the petticoat, attached the ribbons and bound the upper edge of it.

So here is what I have learned about quilted petticoats while making one:

  1. Size matters. Having quilted a doily does not prepare you for quilted a fabric sandwich that is more than a yard high and 1.5 yards wide. It’s unwieldy as anything and nothing but handling this unwieldiness prepares you for it.
  2. This is a not a test. Yes, you are lying to yourself if you think you are going to make your “real” quilted petticoat five weeks after this one. So, splurge. Use the good batting, use the silk satin (it highlights the quilting better), use the color you really want. Odds are that this will remain the only quilted petticoat you will ever do.
  3. Do all of your panels at the same time. Even if it is impractical, switch between working on your panels and ensure that you will finish them nearly at the same time. Basically, there is a huge psychological hurdle that you will face at finishing one panel and then looking at an empty, equally large piece of fabric where you have to do the same thing all over again. Maybe you will have the willpower to continue but it’s a psychological challenge that is to be avoided. You could also make just one gigantic panel but that’s even more impractical.
  4. Don’t quilt on a deadline. Your hands and wrists might not be able to take it.
  5. Switch it up with other non-quilting projects while you are at it. Something that doesn’t require making the same hand movement over and over again. (See #4.)
  6. Don’t switch it up too much or you’ll never finish it.
  7. The thickness of the batting matters. As does the density of your fabric and the sharpness of your needles. All your technique will not wield you a tiny stitch length if you have to stitch through a super-thick quilting sandwich.
  8. Try to line up the quilting pattern repeat with the centre front, centre back and side seams. Cutting into a finished quilt is nerve-wrecking and not a great idea for durability.
  9. Don’t eat or drink next to your quilting. Or your sewing, cutting, hemming or whatever. Because nothing will kill an unfinished quilted petticoat faster than a simple coffee stain.
  10. Consider doing this only if you have run out of other clothes to make. A quilted petticoat was ubiquitous in the 18th Century but in 21st Century it’s not an essential garment. The time you spend on it could be spend making a very decorated gown with a equally overdecorated petticoat. You could make fully-boned stays with hand sewn boning channels and still have plenty of time for a chemise. You could make a wonderfully embroidered stomacher and the matching gown. There is so much else you might need before you need this. Because actually no one needs this.

So in conclusion (to steal the Historical Sew Fortnightly format):

The challenge (to myself): A quilted petticoat

Pattern: My own based on a bunch of originals

Year: 1730-1790 (trends are hard to discern with this item)

How historically accurate is it? It’s entirely sewn and quilted by hand, using only natural and historically accurate fibres. The pattern is based on extant examples. The only thing that is problematic is that I made two of the ties out of self-fabric which is technically a thing you could do in the 18th century but is unlikely to have been done.

Fabric: 90 in/230 cm x 54 inch/138 cm of red duchesse silk satin and 90 in/230 cm x 43 inch/110 cm of a Ikea Ljusöga cotton duvet cover

Notions: 5 yards/450 metres of 730 Guterman silk thread, cotton batting, linen ribbon, trick marker

Hours to  complete: more than 160 hours (unknown hours for research, 10 hours prep, 100 hours quilting the basic pattern, 40 hours of “shading”, 10 hours of cording/trapunto quilting, 10 hours of hemming, sewing, pleating, fishing out a leftover pin etc.)

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Is this worth 160 hours of my life?

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This?

These 160 hours are pretty insane. They didn’t feel like 160 hours because they were not intellectually challenging. Quilting is painting sewing by the numbers. It’s just moving the needle along a few drawn lines without doing anything else. So it can be done with three-quarters of a mind focusing on Downton Abbey or Lucy Worsley’s documentaries and watching all of Horrible Histories. That you can entertain yourself while quilting without getting distracted by switching into another part of the process like you have to when you properly sew, can give the impression that quilting goes by pretty fast.

The thing is – it is still 160 hours. I usually have a only vague idea of how much time I spend on making a garment but that’s enough to know that 160 hours is perhaps actually a record for me to spend on a garment or even entire ensemble. That at the end of the day I am not standing here with a super-ruffled Francaise but rather a mere petticoat is sobering.

That being said, I would have done it anyway if I had known this from the beginning. I mean I kind of knew this from the beginning. However, I cannot imagine doing another one. (Well, at least not one with this sort of complex and narrowly shaded pattern.)

Anyway the petticoat being dealt with meant I went back to the stomacher. I decided to quilt this one with as tiny stitches as I could manage (thickness of the batting is a major factor here) and then corded/trapunto-ed the decorative elements. I trapunto-ed the five-leaved clovers and corded the foliage, stuffing one vine fuller  than the other three for some contrast. The diamond pattern (where I had thinned the batting quite siginificantly before quilting) I left as it was.

I whipstitched the two sides together and then added a strip of folded bias tape as a makeshift boning channel to the back.

After this was done the stomacher lost 1 in/2cm in height, even though the width remained pretty much the same. Since I did make the stomacher a bit longer than my normal ones, this was actually not a bad thing.

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It fits pretty well.

Time spend on the stomacher?: About 20+ hours.

Now after this one, I actually packed my quilting things away and looked at all the other things I had on my to-do list. But then the leftover fabric irked me. There was very little of it but just enough to maybe tease out a 1750s type of jacket.

A quilted jacket.

But “maybe just enough fabric” turned out to be tricky. I didn’t cut corners, but I literally cut some corners very close and still had to piece three pattern pieces (one underside of a sleeve and two bits at the side of the bodice) using literal scraps from the very beginning. (In the process of fitting the quilted jacket I ended up needing two additional pieces. Fun was not had.)

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Who needs seam allowances anyway?

I didn’t have enough material to bind the pieces, so I sewed the left side of the lining (plus the batting I had pinned to the lining) to the left side of the silk and then turned everything over. (Of course, after pulling the pins out of the batting.) Then I closed the open seam. The only exceptions for this were the sleeve heads were I actually had an open seam allowance.

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At this point of this seemingly simple process I had spent already 15 hours on the jacket and yet had not quilted a single stitch.

I halved my batting before making my quilt sandwich. There were four very good reasons for that: 1. Vanity, because I didn’t want to end up looking like the Michelin Man 2. It would be much easier to make smaller stitches. 3. I didn’t actually have enough batting left to use it at its full thickness 4. The pattern was a tight fit without the batting. Fitting issues were bound to arise even with minimal batting and quilting. (And arise they did.)

Quilting was fast though. It was a simple diamond pattern with three lines at outer edges of the jacket and it went so, so fast. I think the difference  to the slooow petticoat was in the small size of the individual pieces. They were simply easier to handle while quilting.

The last step was sewing the jacket together. This didn’t went fast at all and then I had that fitting issue where the skirts of the jacket didn’t fan out properly and so they bunched at the waist a bit. More piecing, quilting and sewing commenced.

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A bit of Frankenstein never hurt the aesthetic value, right?

Time spend on the jacket?: About 30+ hours, although with a little more fabric it  could have been a few hours less. I also sacrificed another 110 yards of silk thread for the stomacher and the jacket.

Time spend on the whole ensemble? 210 hours.

Time I have spent wearing any part of this ensemble so far?: 6 hours.

And yes. This hobby is ridiculous.

 

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210 hours…

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Which is nearly as long as it has taken me to finish this post…

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The Trinquesse Polonaise

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Nevermind the electric guitar.

Last year around this time I fell in love with a dress from a painting by Louis Rolland Trinquesse.

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Louis Rolland Trinquesse – The Music Party/Gallant Company (1774), Alte Pinakothek Munich

Since I’ve never done a proper Robe à la Polonaise, I decided to  try and make this one.

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A Jacket, a Riding Habit and an Anglaise

Okay, fun fact: I have done a lot of stuff recently that I didn’t document making all that well.

These three things are really special though because it’s basically three times of “that pattern wasn’t quite right.”

The Ikea Swallowtail Jacket

I made this with an Ikea Ljusöga pillowcase based on the Swallowtail Jacket at Colonial Williamsburg, using the pattern from Costume Close-Up. It was supposed to be a quick and dirty project. Which became kind of funny when I realized that I had made this one for +6′ tall person and had to alter everything to fit my smaller frame.

One key element was that I wanted the lacing in the front and I wanted that lacing to be functional. But I didn’t wanted the functional lacing to go through the fashion fabric. So I put the lacing holes into an extra linen strip directly under the open sides of the front. That means though that I have to pin the fashion fabric to the strip after lacing, otherwise  the lacing holes would show because the fashion fabric layer just doesn’t lay flat.

The stomacher is lined in red, which means I can turn it around, change the lacing to a white silk and get a whole new look. (I have not done this, despite wearing the jacket at one event twice.)

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Also I had a few lacing holes too many, which in addition to the pinning made this “practical” garment a total pain to lace myself into.

I also made a red petticoat that was supposed to allow some rough handling. It did handle mud okay. But it doesn’t dry very quickly which is not good.

A Riding Habit (ugh)

I basically went for the first worsted wool fabric that looked okay-ish and that was a mistake. I ended up with a really heavy fabric whose feel I didn’t like.

So when I messed up the pattern and ended up missing about 4 inches at my waist, I made the choice (wrong one, obviously) to not undo that and add another fabric piece at the side sesams but rather leaving it open, only held together in the middle of the chest area. (I wanted to be done with that jacket. (Again: mistake.) This meant that I had to make a vest and shirt for sure (instead of cheating), line the jacket’s lapels in light blue silk  and alter it further and further.

So this is my vest and shirt on my dummy double (without the buttons and the buttonholes):

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And these are these things worn by me:

And I love them.

 

Unfortunately, this is the riding habit itself:

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This is actually the best picture!

And I hate it.

It makes my waist look as large as my boobs which is actually ridiculous, it sits awkwardly on my hips, the sleeves look like they will tear themselves out of their armholes when I actually wear it and it weighs 5+ pounds. (Not awesome if you’re travelling.)

I actually stuffed it in the bottom of my closet. (Anyone wants an ugly, heavy riding habit?)

Ironically I was actually assured that this worsted wool fabric will last forever. The worsted news.

 

A hand-printed cotton Anglaise
I also made a Robe à l’Anglaise out of handprinted Indian cotton (which used plant-based dyes) which is so historically correct that I felt I should have worn a sign that said as much along with it.

The funny thing about this dress was finished so quickly that I failed to document much of the process.

 

The thing was that the cotton was very thin, so I lined the entire robe. (Linen in the bodice, thin cotton for the rest.)

I added the elbow sleeve thingies because I made the sleeves a bit too short. Unfortunately I was so out of fabric that it was all pieced. (That’s why the petticoat is a cheat petticoat that only used the fabric where it showed.) To cover up the pieced-ness of the elbow things I added a bit of ruffle which was even more pieced.

Me wearing it (I fixed the small gap since then.)

A Silk Lampas cap

I started looking at a lot of caps and my favorite was the combination of silk lampas and gold lace. I have found none of these in aristocratic portraits of adult women, so this cap is fabulously unsuited to go with, like, 95 percent of my 18th century wardrobe. But the heart wants what it wants, right?

 

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This was a major inspiration. As were a few extent caps.

The pattern was an alteration of a Duran Textiles cap pattern that I further altered on the cap itself after the one corner looked way too harsh.

 

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I traced this off my computer screen because my printer is out of commission.

I flatlined the three pieces individually with a firm cotton (I had ran out of linen):

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Making sure some  of the brocaded flowers made it onto the cap.

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And then I sewed everything together with small backstitches. For some reason this took me 3 hours. (Addmittedly, I watched tv while doing this which never helps.)

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The was the moment I realized that the corner edge didn’t look so swell.

Then I applied the vintage gold lace by sewing both the inner and outer edge of the lace to the cap.

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And that was it:

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And to give you an idea of its dimensions; that’s what it looks like when it’s worn:

Making a plain silk 18th century cap

For some reason I really love 18th century regional caps. More than I actually love the white linen/cotton/silk caps. I blame childhood trauma caused by a truly ugly costume cap my sister owned but that’s a different story.

Those 18th regional caps are usually made of very nice material: silk lampas, silk damask, silk velvet, embroidered silk, silk with lace… you see where this goes. Apparently the laws on who was allowed to wear what material was really lax when it came to head coverings. And those caps didn’t really need a lot of fabric.

Since I have never done one of these, I didn’t wanted to start making one out of silk lampas, so I made one out of plain silk. This was obviously inspired by this particular painting:

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Liotard – The Chocolade Girl (detail)

My interpretation of that painting is that she is wearing a white cap under her silk cap instead of merely attaching the lace to silk cap. This would allow her to clean one and not the other.

I used the pattern from Duran Textiles. I lined the back of cap with heavy cotton. I interlined the cap brim with a heavy cotton and then lined it in linen. Then I attached the brim to the back:

I decided to distribute the pleats more even around the brim instead of pleating it solely at the back.

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I did pleat some of it in the back though.

Then I carefully attached a piece of antique Valenciennes lace I had in my stash over the brim. The piece had exactly the length that was needed. I didn’t have to hide or stretch or cut anything. The thing about Valenciennes lace is that it’s only type of lace where 19th and 18th century styles are pretty hard to distinguish so it looks pretty accurate although my guess is that’s late 19th century Valenciennes.

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Under that cap I put a white cotton/linen cap.

It was a fun project, so I already gathered the materials for my next cap project:

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Finishing the robe de cour

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I finished the court gown. And yes, I ended up adding a small train.I was out of my original fabric (which I knew from the very beginning) so I just used a gold-colored silk taffeta. I kept it short so it could be actually worn in public without causing accidents, leaving it to drag on the ground a little (it was lined) but not by much. So in the end, it did end up being a grand habit de cour.

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