The innards of a Zone Gown

So, in order to maintain my super blogging streak (because I know, better than others, that the best bloggers are bloggers that blog everyday. I'm trying..Lord am I trying...just too busy today to do anything but this.)

With that in mind, I also know you all like innards of gowns. Real innards, like what really went on in an 18th century gown. Well, I do know what went on, in some gowns (every gown is different...I really want to make a Margaret Cho reference, but I'm stopping myself...if you know the joke please say it aloud or in your head and have a laugh). But for the most part, there are some standards to expect in a 18th century gown....and these things, my friends, make your sewing life easier. I swear.

1st: Raw edges. For various reasons (extra volume, quick breakdown process of the gown to remake into a the top of my head) women's clothing had a lot of raw edges inside their clothing. For the most part, where the sleeves and shoulders meet (quicker breakdown and also how garments were constructed would make it a bit tricky to finish that seam as far as I can fathom...I could be wrong, it could be easy enough, but I'm not going to bother) and where the skirt attaches (quicker breakdown and the extra fabric left, when folded down, helps kick out the skirt for extra volume. Plus, there's a lot of fabric there, and if you cut it off it would be useless, so it's also not wasting fabric.

The guts in all the raw edged glory

2nd: The sleeves are not what you think they are. You top stitch the top section that is attached to the shoulder strap. On the inside, there are 2 rows of back stitching that account for the under bits. Why? I don't actually know. My guess is appearance and mobility. Don't quote me.

Sorry it's not that clear, my bad.

Topped stitching. I hate puffy sleeves, and so I saw a gown in the Liverpool Collection that had this type of topstitching. I'm a fan.

3rd: Hard to see, but brilliant stitching connecting the quarter back gown. When B&I went to the Liverpool collection we saw many quarter back gowns with this unique whip-type stitch connecting the 4 pieces. It's been written about here. (Also, B wrote about another red silk gown of hers before she went off and did her own blog. Read that one here.) B was the one that did the sewing, not me, for the quarter back of the gown. We were sewing fools that week in England...on the Liverpool's Borders (not kidding).

These were the biggest stitches I could find (holy cow B!) and also you can see the white stitches that hold in the spiral boning

Upside down shot of side & side back

4th: Pretty quarter backs. The name explains it best. 4 pieces make up the back. Further into the 1780s and early 90s the points became very sharp, which made for a gorgeous back. B & I didn't end up doing that extreme of a point, but she still draped a beautiful back with a nice point. I'm a bit of a fan of quarter back. I pleated the skirts and then slipped stitched them to the bodice. This is so the fabric lays better than if you were to back stitch them, or any other method. Also, the front bodice is attached to the back with the silk being topped stitched and the lining being slipped stitched.

Wide shot of back

A clear shot of the point, 4 back pieces, and the topped stitching. Also note where the shoulder straps are.
Top stitched bodice to back

Slip stitched skirt to bodice

Shoulder strap. Topped stitched. With some hair powder.
5th: All a zone is, is a normal center-front pinned, with the arch cut out into a shape that is flattering to your figure. Make sure you get the angle near the skirt right so you'll be happy with the shape. There's no right or wrong way to get this shape. Just make sure it's flattering to you. To attach, top stitch (surprised?) neatly...or not, depending on if you cover it up in trim.

Wrinkley front

Best shop I could get of the 2 pieces.

Anyways, I hope this was...mildly interesting... at least there's pictures...



Tomorrow, I'm going to be a good girl and sew...



  1. Heck yeah, that was awesome. It makes complete sense with the un-finished edges. I'm obsessive about finishing everything inside, but sometimes it's such a pain in the butt, especially when you, er, wash a jacket and then realize the muslin lining shrunk but the outer fabric didn't, and, er, have to completel de-construct it and re-make it.

    Or throw it in the trash, that's also an option. :-)

  2. Well, now you have the excuse not to because it's not period accurate. ha ha! BRILLIANT!

    ...but damn...that really sucks about your jacket...did you throw it away? Did you? Did you take pictures?

    I didn't write this in the blog, but a lot of gowns actually have sloppy loose stitching, with the idea that they would be taken apart eventually and reconstructed (and too tight stitches can damage silk). Mantua makers weren't always that neat with their work. :) They were good though, as was their thread, the stitches are still surviving today. Mine other the other hand, one step on my train and the skirt got ripped out the first time I wore the thing! :)

  3. Heh, I love puffy sleeves on extant gowns - mostly bec. I can't make my own sleeve heads lie flat, so I'm always looking for an excuse to call mine "accurate" (plenty of examples, really!). I always kinda figured the inside would be a bit raw too.

    I also love seeing period eyelets w/big stitches! Makes mine look ok :-)

  4. No, I didn't toss it...yet. it was that yellow and green casaquin with the bows down the front. Ugh, I cleaned it to then sell it and now I can't even wear the thing, let along sell it.

    Amen on the big stitches. I don't bother setting sleeves on the machine or with tiny stitches these days - just some not-so-precise backstitching by hand, that seems to do the trick!

  5. Thanks for this post! Love seeing the insides of other people's stuff lol--I don't know why I had psyched myself out that a zone-front gown would be totally different from a "normal" gown, but this reassured me that I could probably do it :) And I'd love to sometime--it's gorgeous!

    I end up finishing a lot of my inside seams because I'm a reenactor--and I wear my clothes really hard. I recall reading somewhere that working-class people had more sturdily constructed clothing than upper-class, because it was expected to be worn harder and laundered more. Can't recall where I read this, though--does your research support that conjecture?

  6. Trystan: My thing with puffy sleeves, is that I always feel like a linebacker when I wear them. That's why I avoid them. :) I love the quick eyelets too, there are some out there that have something like 4 stitches in the eyelets and they've held up. I have no idea how they did it, but it's amazing.

    AmDuch: Oh hell, that really sucks! I guess you could save the trim & bows and make the rest of the fabric into a pillow?

    Rowenna: I totally was the same way for a long time (oh my gosh it must be so complicated....nope), it's really easy to do, just takes some time piddlin' with the shapes to get them right and making sure you leave enough for seam allowance, etc. You can totally do it, just take time to experiment with the shape of the zone to make sure it's flattering to your figure. I think that's the biggest thing.

    As for what you read, it makes sense (and I'm inclined to agree to the general idea), though hard worn garments from the middle class aren't common in collections, so there's no way to know that for sure. However, the stitching would be smaller because the fabric could take it and if they were doing some laundering it would have to hold up better. As for finishing the seams? I'm not sure. I can say that at the Millinery shop at Colonial Williamsburg I am 98% positive that they don't finish their armseye seams on any of their pieces, and they hold up really well.

    And, I just thought of something, the pattern used for short jackets and bedgowns doesn't actually have an arms eye, and the one seam that goes down the side is felled so it's really strong. So the pieces that are 'work' clothes just avoid the issue all together. :)

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  8. Dear Abby,

    What a dress! Loved seeing all the innards. The back has incredible lines. Wow!

    You described the stitch used on the quarter backs as a sort of whip stitch (in a link to an earlier post), except that it didn't *wrap over* the silk the way a whip stitch does. Am having a hard time envisioning that. Any way you could show us?

    Many thanks,


  9. Natalie: Sure! I'll piddle around with some fabric to show you all what it was like. I'll try to get it posted today or tomorrow. :)

  10. Wow, this post kinda blew my mind - I need to come back and re-read it to absorb this all properly. So interesting to see all those guts and the 'hows' of pretty dresses. Thank you for sharing!

  11. GWT- You're welcome! :) If you have any questions feel free to ask!

  12. Hi Abby,
    This gown looked fabulous when I saw it in Williamsburg. Thanks for the photos and details.


  13. Very pretty! I didn't find a photo of you wearing it, though.. Where can I see it being worn? I'd love to see how it looks! :)


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