Cartridge pleating in the 18th century

This is a story about cartridge pleating in the 18th century, specifically on fitted-back (robe a la anglaise) women’s gowns. About how I first did not know anything about it, and then learned about it not existing at the same time as seeing it for the first time. If that sounds contradictory: it is, which is the main reason I’m writing this post. (a hint to the conclusion: they do exist!)

Some pretty pictures to spark your interest (Kunstmuseum Den Haag)

 

First up: a little terminology! (feel free to skip to the picture of the blue damask dress if you already know all of this).

What’s cartridge pleating?

Cartridge pleating is specific way of gathering a width of fabric into a smaller area. Specifically, it involves:

  1. Folding over the top of the fabric to exactly the height you want it to be.
  2. Running multiple (at least 2, but often more) lines of gathering thread exactly parallel to each-other through the whole width of the fabric, one underneath the other. This is done (at least partly) in the folded over part.
  3. Pulling up the threads to form large gathers/pleats. The threads are kept in and secured in place!
  4. Stitching your gathered/pleated strip of fabric to where it needs to be attached (e.g. a waistband) one pleat at a time, catching the outside of the pleat to the inside of the other fabric. This leaves the width on the inside.

A picture for clarity:

Where grey is the right side of the fabric, red are the gathering threads, and purple (last picture) the stitches attaching it to a waistband.

Cartridge pleats

If you want to be sure a piece of fabric has been cartridge pleated, you need to check 3 things. 1, the raw edge is folded down, 2 there are at least two rows of gathering threads in place and 3, it is stitched to the other fabric not by pressing it flat, but pleat by pleat, keeping the width of the pleat. Of these, only the second one is always visible from the outside! But you can typically infer the others if the pleats ‘stand out’ and are not directional (so the ‘fold’ of the pleat is facing directly up in the middle), as this means they have not been flattened when sewn on, and this can only be avoided if you also have a folded over edge.

In my gold 1660’s dress you can see the finished result, with the threads peeking out between the folds.

IMG_4430

 

What’s a robe a la Anglaise? The exact definition differs a bit (in French it’s used for any fitted-back gown), but in this article I’ll be using it to refer to 18th century women’s gowns who have folded pleats in the back which are stitched down and run into the skirt. The skirt of the gown is cut in one with the back, and then pleated down to fit to the other pieces of the body. In English terminology, this is also what you’d call an ‘English gown’.

In this example from the MET museum you can see the folded back, and how those panels run into the skirt (click on the picture to see their high-resolution photos)

Wedding dress, 1776, American, silk.

MetMuseum, 1776, American

 

And now, on with the story!

The first time I saw cartridge pleats 0n an Anglaise was in 2017, when I got a chance to see some of the items in the Kunstmuseum Den Haag behind the scenes, on a study table. Including this dress:

 

 

 

I took a fair number of pictures of it showing the inside. Including of how the skirt was attached to the bodice, which was clearly cartridge pleating. All 3 characteristics were there!

This picture clearly shows how the fabric has been folded over, and how there’s a little ‘ridge’ where it’s attached to the bodice.

18670829_1951362918431589_8351882019846100688_n

 

And this picture from the outside shows, if you look closely, glimpses of the threads keeping the pleats in place.

18620165_1951363018431579_8973063782793935179_n

 

So what, you might ask? And so would I have, until I got a comment on one of my pictures on Facebook: “I thought they didn’t do cartridge pleating in the 18th century“.

I did not know this, and my first thought was: “Obviously they did, look at this dress“.

But once I knew this, I saw many more people talk about how cartridge pleating was just not done on these gowns (or any 18th century gown, for that matter). And these were people who I’d consider experts, long-term costumers and reenactors who had seen many original garments. In short: people much more experienced than me in 18th century dress.

Instead of cartridge pleating, the way to attach the skirts was by knife pleating, which is done by folding the fabric into one direction, stitching it on flattened through all layers. Like I did with my own silver gown: (even though here, the skirt was cut separately from the bodice.)

 

Or on this original gown sold by Vintage textile.com

 

 

18th Century Clothing at Vintage Textile: #2811 French open robe

1780s

 

So maybe the blue gown was just an oddity? That happens, you can often find single exceptions to a rule, and one counter-example does not prove something is commonly done. Maybe the person for who this dress was made just had odd taste?

Except that I also visited more exhibitions around the country. And I kept seeing Anglaise’s with what seemed like cartridge pleated skirts. From the outside, so it’s more difficult to be sure, but it certainly looks a great, great deal like cartridge pleating to me. This blue gown seemed increasingly less an oddity, and increasingly more like a very typical example.

These are pictures of the 4 gowns I’ve seen which seem to be cartridge pleated. Of all of the Anglaises I saw with folded back pleats and where I could see the skirt attachment clearly, this is 100% of them. I don’t doubt there’s English gowns in Dutch collections which clearly show knife pleats. But I haven’t seen any in person.

Kunstmuseum den Haag circa 1775-1799 (although similar, this is a different dress than the first!

Kunstmuseum Den Haag ca. 1780

Kunstmuseum Den Haag ca. 1780

Centraal Museum Utrecht, 1780

 

So what’s true here? Were these experts wrong in saying there was no cartridge pleating? Or was I seeing all of these wrong? My theory is that it’s neither, and although I cannot be 100% sure, what seems most likely to me is this:

Cartridge pleating your skirts was a typically Dutch thing to do. It was normal in the Netherlands, despite not being at all fashionable in France or England (and, therefore, the US).

This fits with the fact that 1. All the experts I’ve heard the ‘no cartridge pleating’ from are speakers of English and most familiar with English and American collections. And 2. All these examples of cartridge pleating occur in Dutch collections. (I haven’t seen enough items from other countries/cultures to know if it extents beyond the Netherlands, but if anyone does I’d love to learn more!). I proposed this theory to the same experts on Facebook, and the general consensus was that this is probably correct. (I was not imagining things, yay!)

8919

A very Dutch ensemble? A chintz gown with cartridge pleated skirt, over a blue satin corded quilted petticoat. (Centraal museum Utrecht)

 

There are two additional things which seem to support this theory. The first is that nearly all the cartridge pleats I’ve seen occur on dresses which share some other shared characteristics. This type of dresses seems to exist much more in Dutch collections than in others, indicating that this style was popular mainly in the Netherlands.

Specifically, all of these gowns have the pleated back (even though by the 1780’s, a back with cut back panels became more popular), they have robings in the front (folded edges running over the shoulder) which run all the way into the skirt, and the space between the robings is filled with either 2 sewn-in panels closing center front, or several sewn-in trips of fabric closing center front. Although you see robings a lot in the 1740’s and 1750’s in England in particular, these robings typically stop at the bottom of the bodice, and the center front of these is open (to be worn with a stomacher). Moreover, this style had become very old-fashioned by the 1780s, while a fair number of these Dutch gowns is dated that late.

This picture points to the robings and cf closure on the green gown.

 

img_5578b.jpg

 

And this picture shows the lining of one of the strips closing the bodice on the first blue gown. You can see the (in the picture) horizontal fold above this, which is the robing.

18620271_1951363041764910_2472099271685503652_n

 

There are more examples in Dutch collections that I haven’t seen in person, such as this lovely red chintz dress:

Japon, robe à l'Anglaise van sits, rood fond met grote veelkleurige bloemen, lijf met vestpanden, aangeplooide rok, mouwen met geplooid elleboogstuk, vierkante halslijn | Modemuze

Museum Rotterdam 1780/1785

 

For more examples of this style, see this pinterest board!

The second is that we know from some contemporary accounts that Dutch women liked their skirts big, and cartridge pleating is particularly suited making very full skirts stand out even more. The book ‘Aangekleed gaat uit’ has a reference to women mocking others for their lack of petticoats, and the book ’18th century Dress in Europe’ has a quote of a contemporary (non-Dutch) traveler remarking on the same thing.

So, the moral of this story? For me, it drove home a couple of things. Firstly, that the further you go back in time, the more important it becomes not to generalize knowledge on one region to another. Yes, people traveled and communicated, but in the 18th century, there were still loads of characteristics of dress common in one region/country but not in the other. The second is that it’s important to ensure that ‘rules’ don’t make you blind to what’s right in front of you. A single exception does not prove a general rule is false, but it could be a sign that there’s more to the story. And finally, that there is definitely such a thing as cartridge pleated skirts to Anglaises, as long as you are talking about a Dutch context, even if there isn’t in a French/English one.

I also now want to make my next Anglaise with cartridge pleats!

Because it’s so pretty!

IMG_5583IMG_5611

 

Edit per 10-01-2020: Two pictures of a silk dress from the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, seen early 2020 which shows cartridge pleats as well. This dress has the same characteristics as all the others, folded back pleats and folded robings in front.

IMG_9437IMG_9440

Green skirts

I haven’t been sewing too much in the last weeks. With my stays finished, I have new things I want to start, yet the beginning of a project always takes a bit more energy. Pattern drafting especially is not something I feel like doing after work, while hand-sewing is perfect. That means projects get finished if I’m busy, but they don’t get started.

Anyway, I did visit a fabric market last Friday, and bought fabric for 2 new unplanned skirts. Skirts are my go-to project when I want to make something quick yet rewarding. I don’t have to think about them too much and they’re done within a couple of hours, yet I do get quite some wear out of them. So perfect for when I’m in a bit of a sewing lull.

Plus, they’re both green, which fits perfectly as I finished both yesterday, on St. Patrick’s day!

The first is made of a (non-wool) green/blue plaid fabric. I have 2 skirts in a similar type fabric (different colors), and wear them a lot, so this is a good addition.

20180316_140144

 

I made a circle out of this one, as it drapes quite nicely.

 

The other fabric is a wool mix (about 60% I believe), and a gorgeous light green. It’s not a flat color either, but has wonderful richness in tone.

20180316_165052

 

I had a 1,20 by 1,50 piece (remnant), so decided to make a gathered skirt as a circle would be a bit short. Cutting it in half gave me 2 75cm/150cm pieces, and tacked together it became 75×300. I cut the waistband from the side, leaving me with about 4 times my waist measurement (280cm). I pleated it up in stacked box pleats, overlapping them slightly in some places to use up all the width. (I finished these second, when the light was gone, hence the grainier pictures).

20180317_194524

 

Both skirts have a waistband and zipper. The green wool I hemmed by hand for a nice clean finish.

 

Next weekend I have some more time, so hopefully that’ll get me back to the historical projects I want to start!

New skirts

Every single time I make modern skirt after finishing a historical project, I’m surprised by how quick it is. It might also help that I’ve done skirts a lot of times, while every historical project is full with new things. But it always feels good to finish a project in just a couple of hours, very fulfilling.

The first skirt is 50’s style. It consists of 8 triangle-shaped panels, gathered at the top to fit a waistband and closes with an invisible zipper in the back. I just barely managed to get this out of 1,5 m of 1,5 m wide fabric, by cutting off-grain. Maybe next time I’ll get a little bit more, but for now it worked!

IMG_6682

The hem is the lazy version, zig-zagged and then just turned once.

IMG_6686

The zipper goes up to the waistband, which is kept close by a little hook and eye. Because sewing a blind zipper into a stiffened waistband is a pain, and this works just as well.

IMG_6685

The panels are tapered, but still too wide at the top to fit my measurement, so they’re gathered onto the waistband.

IMG_6684

 

The other skirt is made with fabric I ordered from Spoonflower back in December. The fabric is an adaptation of the painting ‘the Swing’, by Fragonard. The fabric just shows the lady on the swing losing her shoe, but the original painting includes a gentleman perfectly positioned to look under her skirts. Which becomes even more meaningful if one knows that ankles were considered more risque than a decollete, and that ladies at the time didn’t wear drawers.

The fabric is a repeat of this part. It’s not quite as sharp as I’d hoped, but still a nice fabric. I got the cheapest cotton, as it was a bit of a try out. Next time I’ll probably get one a little thicker, because it’s very crispy and thin, and wrinkles quickly.

IMG_6693

The skirt is a rectangle, pleated to a waistband:

IMG_6689

I used two strips for the rectangle, and I think I managed to pattern-match the front quite well!

IMG_6691

The closure is again an invisible zipper and a hook and eye to close the waistband. (Forgive the wrinkling, I’d been wearing the skirt right before the picture, and as this is the part I sit on…)

IMG_6688

I finished the hem with a little strip of antique lace I got a while ago. It’s really small and delicate, but I think it suits the skirt.

IMG_6692

Cotton flowers

Aside from my historical projects, I also sew more modern stuff for my regular wardrobe. Mostly I make skirts and dresses, I rarely wear any pants, and I love skirts! They’re also so easy to make, which makes them really gratifying. I recently started several projects with regular printed cotton fabrics. I’ve found I really love it, even though it sometimes creases a bit, it’s lovely fabric to work with. For my skirts, I’ve found that if I line the skirt with lining-fabric it also falls really nice and doesn’t cling to my legs. All photo’s are taken with a petticoat by the way, a-line tulle for the dresses, and my cotton bell-shaped one for the skirts.

This was one of the first cotton projects. I just loved the fabric. It’s very summery, and very cute, and I couldn’t resist. The pattern was Vogue – 8701. It’s a very nice pattern, and went together well. I do have to say that it’s better for ‘special occasion’ dresses than for ‘everyday wear’ dresses. The bodice sits beautifully when standing still, but when moving my arms it shifts a bit and I have to pull it back into place again.

20150330_184149 20150330_184202

I found the fabric for these next two skirts at the market. I hadn’t planned on buying anything, but I couldn’t resist and the price was very good. The red skirt is a circle, the other one a pleated rectangle. The white lace I bought at a market for 2 euro, and I still have about 25 meters left… A bargain!

20150330_185731 20150330_185816

The next fabric was also spotted at the market. I originally wanted to make a dress from this pattern, but with a wider skirt:

Burda, Dress with Petticoat 09/2014 #111

 

I didn’t think I had enough fabric to make a full dress, so I decided to make the skirt of plain black with just a flowered border. I ended up making a circle skirt with the bodice from the pattern, and omitting the collar and sleeve collars. I really love the dress, and it seems to fit me better than the model in the photo! I didn’t have to make any alterations to the bodice either, so I might use it again in future projects. I’m really starting to like dresses with sleeves as well, so you can wear them in other seasons then summer ;). I lined the skirt with lining fabric, and the bodice with black cotton because that feels nicer to the skin. The one mistake I made was that I didn’t pre-wash the fabric. The cotton shrunk more than the lining, making the skirt lining a bit baggy. I eventually sewed a seam between the black and flower border in the skirt to make sure it didn’t show.

20150330_182227 20150330_182236

In the end, I did have quite a lot of fabric left, enough for another skirt! I really love the fabric, so I was very happy with this. The skirt is again a simple rectangle pleated to a waistband, but this time with a ruffle attached at the bottom. It gives a nice touch.

20150330_190304 20150330_190311

 

This last skirt was made from cotton bought in a quilt-fabric store. I love quilting cottons, they’re such good quality and gorgeous prints, but not the cheapest. I decided to treat myself with this fabric. The lace at the bottom is made in a lace-museum, with the original cotton bobbin-lace making machines.

IMG_2965 IMG_2967