The Levite, Or, The gown of Fail/Doom/Misery

My first big project of 2015 was a Levite gown. I don't really know *why* I wanted a Levite so badly, other than the fact that pretty much no one has made one (Nicole has but I don't think she blogged about her adventure with her version), and as far as I can tell, no one has tried to figure out how they were done in the 18th century mantua-maker way. So, I took it upon myself to try and figure it out. I like a challenge, and I apparently like making myself miserable....cause this gown made my life miserable.

Me. Every time.

I based the gown off of 2 Gallerie des Modes fashion plates.

Color & Trim was based off of this one in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Collection. It's dated 1779.

And I based the style/construction of the bodice off of this one, also in the MFA, dated 1780. This was my first mistake. Why did I pick the weird bodice? WHY?! Why do I do this to myself?!

After I had 'committed' (i.e. sewn it down too many times to have the stomach to pick it out again) to this more 'traditional' triangular-ish bodice shape, I realized it would have been more practical and easier for me to do an 'almost' center front closing bodice, which also seems to be the most dominate style. I am planning on making a second levite, and I'm not going to make that same mistake again. 

I'm not really going to go into the history of the garment or further descriptions. Cassidy at Most Beguiling Accomplishment has done a fine job so far, and frankly, I'm too lazy to give a damn. I just want to post pictures and talk about my dumb mistakes.

So, here's my big mistake. When I cut the gown and fit didn't come out very even in the pleats. At the time, I didn't really think anything of it because it looked 'right' on McNubbin (my mannequin...a post about her will be up in a couple of days). This was a huge mistake. Every. Damn. Issue. I had when constructing this gown has been caused by this uneven-ness in the pleats. I treated the pleats like a Polonaise gown, and ended up with two on either side. The shape of the pleats and the depth of them is how I shaped the bodice in the front. Again, my life would have been easier if I had just gone for a center front closure. But really...who likes to be make their life easy? The reason I didn't really worry about the pleats at the time, is because bodies are uneven...and so I just (wrongly) assumed that was what I was dealing with. Nope. I was wrong. So so so wrong.

The other big mistake was that I tried to cut corners with my sleeves. I (again, wrongly) thought that the shape I had for long sleeves had been made according to my measurements. I was so deeply wrong about that. So wrong, that I spent over 8 freaking hours sewing, picking out, resewing, piecing, crying, gnashing my teeth, recutting out, almost giving up, hating my life over these sleeves.

I mantua-maker'd up and pieced one sleeve to make it work (they came out too small and too short in the upper arm), and..I mean..I guess it's cool that it's of those weird..."I pieced it cause that's what they did and that makes me like them and I guess that makes me feel kind of cool but really I'm crying inside from it all" moments. After spending almost an entire day doing that one sleeves, I gave up and just cut out a new sleeve for the other side. That sleeve ended up too big. Joy.

The shawl collar does hide a chunk of the fairness piecing.

I got to do that for ALL THE LAYERS. hooray...and I forgot to pick out old thread.

I also have some piecing under one side of the shawl collar, because, again, of how the pleating happened on the side of the body. It worked out fine, and I think the overall fit of the gown is pretty good. This was a learning experience for me, and frankly, I'm this weird mix of perfectionist and not caring. I actually like mistakes....makes the product more it's own way. This is the gown of mistakes. This is the gown that beat me down, and is slowly letting me feel normal again....almost.

Here are some other detailed construction shots:

Flipped up the back of the shawl collar to show some of the shoulder sleeve construction...and basting.

The fringe I picked out of the silk and tied off.

I ended up doing a fitted center front closing bodice vs. a stomacher, because of lining issues. It was more work than I wanted, but it worked out ok in the end.

Attached collar to shoulder of bodice

I left the bodice short waisted so I wouldn't have to deal with fitting is covered up anyways.

These are where my cuffs came from. I ran out of fabric.
Levite of Doom.
The gown was cut with 2 full panels (45" wide) making up the fronts, and then I did a pieced back like the one you see in some of the levite fashion plates. I am really happy with how the back looks in comparison with the plates (see below for a side by side). I also worked the shawl collar into the initial cut of the gown, so the shoulder straps, bodice, and collar are all one, minus the center back part of the collar, which were attached separately. The collar to strap was a bit tricky, but it kind of laid itself into place, making it pretty easy. I was really nervous about the collar, but that part was easy compared to the other shenanigans this gown put me through. I did all the cutting and fitting on McNubbin, with quick try ons to double check the fit. McNubbin might be a little lopsided, but lordy she makes my life as a mantua-maker easier. 

I finished the gown last week, and haven't had the chance to 'debut' it at work yet, but today was the perfect opportunity, as Jamestown was hosting their annual Military Through the Ages timeline event. I'm not a reenactor, and I don't go to any costume events (read: lazy and my job has made me an introvert). So...with MTA right there...I thought. OK. Why not!? This would be the perfect chance for me to dress up for me. So this morning I did my hair (you can buy the pomade and powder to hair just like this at my Etsy Shop), put on my gown and my new Therese and made the Swede take pictures of me and we went off to MTA! And now, after all my whining about my poor life choices.. I give you..the levite of doom (and Huxley):

Hair Powder and Pomade can be bought in my Etsy shop.
My hair is powdered and pomaded only. I don't use any modern hair chemicals or products when I do 18th century hair, so what you see is the real deal. My hair is naturally very very dark, and so I can only go so 'grey'...unless I want to dump my head in a bucket of powder (1. wasteful 2. itchy) Which I think the French might have been a bit too prone to do sometimes. I like the softness of the grey. I find it makes my features pop, and with the rouge (also an 18th century recipe I made. I have a few vials left..I really need to put that stuff up in my etsy shop.) I have one large roll in that I made out of wool and down to give the volume and shape to the front. I used hard and soft pomade to do the curls to the side. They're a bit tricky to comb out (cause their a mess of frizz'd hair, pomade, and powder), but easy they are to curl up and pin. Truth: I'm probably just going to carefully pin them up and reuse them this long as I can. The rest of my head I can comb out easily, but why comb the curls out when I can use them all this week? Experimentation awaits!

I pulled threads out of my yellow and white changeable silk to get that fringe.

Gallerie de Modes Plate from Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Attacking my adopted mother. 
The full outfit in all it's the backyard.

Huxley sighting!

He reenacts the Lion King on this bench every morning.

Deep thinks

Trying to remake the fashion plate. Hux was not really cooperating. 

nopenopenopenopenope (not pictured is my disappointed face)

Dude. Hoods are the best.

The sun made the white silk in all my fabrics stand out. Apologies.

The end.

<3 <3


  1. 😃💜❤️❤️💜

  2. This is jaw-droppingly awesome. All that torture was SO worth - I hope you feel that way now, seeing how gorgeous the finished product is! And the hair stylin' ain't too shabby, either... ;-)

  3. Oh wow, so much work, but from my perspective worth it. Beautiful -

  4. Gown looks awesome, Abby! Nice job! Is the hood a preview of the B&T Workshop this weekend?

    1. Yep! I love them! It only takes about 1-2 hours to make...depending on your level of distracted-ness and how large the hood is. :)

  5. Amazing job! Love your fashion plate rercreations. And just think - even if it was an incredibly frustrating experience, now you get to be The Lévite Lady for all time, because you went and did it.

    (Also, gorgeous thérèse, btw.)

    (And thank you for the compliment!)

  6. I think we've all been there--The Project that So Nearly Wasn't 5000 Times Over--but rarely is the end result so lovely! You've outdone yourself!


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