Tuesday, April 10, 2012

En Fourreau Back - The Lazy Dressmaker's Version

My preferred method of dressmaking is draping. Oh, I do like my patterns (heaven knows I have enough), but draping is more accurate and time efficient. Seems logical to drape at every dressmaking opportunity, right? I thought so, until I encountered the en fourreau back. Uh, oh.

I pulled out my Janet Arnold books and considered her drawings and patterns. No. I'd have to grid the pattern and adjust it to fit, not even sure what I was doing with the pleats. And with yards and yards of fabric in potential peril, even if I first made a muslin toile, it could spell a dressmaking disaster.

Buy a pattern? No. I scoured many informative articles written by my sister bloggers and read about their complications and frustrations with this pattern and that. Not only would I have to fork over money for a pattern, I'd still have to adjust it to fit. 

Google a tutorial? Yes. I found three, and as I read through them and appreciated these wonderful seamstresses' excellent work, I realized I couldn't do it - drape the back on my dummy, that is. Two of the three tutorials were so complicated I began to question my aptitude as a dressmaker. The other had scant directions and no pictures (directions and  pictures are good). Like the story of  The En Fourreau That Wasn't, I was getting the feeling that this was going to be a shelved project. Surely, an en fourreau back cannot be this difficult?

Then, I got an idea, and I'd like to share it (using my most recent dressmaking project as an example)...

1). I constructed and fitted the muslin toile of my jacket just as I would the bodice of any non-en fourreau jacket or gown:

Toile front...

Toile back...

2). Using the back pattern piece of my muslin toile, I measured it and made note of its height and its width (both top and bottom). These easy measurements are needed as a guide to form the perimeter of the en fourreau pleats (Note: the perimeter of the pleats is subjective - how wide these pleats are and how far they extend across the back is at the discretion of the dressmaker). My perimeter measurements are 15-1/2" long, 10" wide at the top, and 3-1/4" wide at the bottom (I did not want my pleats to extend past my neckline).

Back pattern of toile...

Measuring for pleat placement...

3). Once I measured the back pattern piece of my toile for the perimeter of the pleats, I laid my fabric out flat on the cutting table and began pleating and pinning, stopping periodically to measure (making sure I did not exceed my top and bottom perimeter widths).

Fabric flat on the table ready to be pleated...

First center pleat, using the the center crease of the fabric as my guide...

Second center pleat...

Third pleat...

Fourth pleat, etc., etc.

4). Once I constructed all of the pleats of the en fourreau back, I laid the back pattern piece directly over the pleats, secured it in place carefully with pins, traced around the pattern in light pencil (because it's erasable), removed the pattern piece to ensure my tracing lines were accurate, then I cut the fabric.

Back pattern piece laid over pleats...

Fabric cut - close up view

Fabric cut - wide view

5). I ironed the pleats and sewed them in place.



6). Before I pleated the two back skirt pieces (on either side of the en fourreau pleats) to the bottom of the jacket back, I constructed the rest of the jacket bodice and sewed on the two side skirt panels to the back skirt panel (do not skip this step). Then I pleated the back and side skirt pieces to the bottom of the bodice back, continuing to pleat around to the bodice side front.

Pleating the skirt to the bottom of the bodice back...

Skirt pleats attached to the bottom of the jacket bodice.


Completed en fourreau back.

7). Finally, I sewed together and inserted the lining to the jacket, taking care that the lining extended down to the starting point of the skirt pleats. 



My hope is to assist and encourage other dressmakers who are just as apprehensive about constructing an en fourreau back as I was (you may download the PDF for this tutorial here). It's not so difficult, and it certainly helps to have a guide or a pictorial reference. The key here is have a well-fitted toile - it's best to make any mistakes here than to poo-poo 3-4 yards of expensive fabric. I do appreciate "easier" construction techniques (as long as these techniques honor the historical aesthetic of a particular fashion era) and I am positive that our ancestral needlewomen did, too. Just call me The Lazy Dressmaker - lol! 

Blessings and happy sewing!

33 comments:

  1. Awesome tutorial! You know that I will be using this when I finally get around to making mine, right? lol. But, I guess I have to get my butt in gear and finish my new polonaise first, huh? ;)

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  2. Yes, you do! Talk, talk, talk, talk, lady - I want to see your dress in that incredible fabric you bought! ;)

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  3. That is indeed a brilliant idea. I'm going to use this, if you don't mind!

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  4. Fabulous! Haven't tried a dress from that era yet, (mainly 1800-1870), But this will definitely help when I do! Thank you!

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  5. This makes so much sense I wonder if it's period-accurate. ;)

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  6. ah ha!! It's sew simple now!! Why didn't I think of that!? Thank you!!

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  7. Pleating and THEN cutting out the pattern? Genius! Here I was trying to fit together many little pattern pieces...Those pleats have always eluded me, and your method looks as clean and elegant as any I've ever seen! Thank you for the wonderful idea.

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  8. I wish I was 20 again and could sew and use dresses like the one you showed. So fun to do.
    Maybe I do one and wear it at home.....

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    Replies
    1. Hey! I'm 65 and I still make and wear costumes ;-)

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    2. As do I, Athansia, and I'm 70!

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  9. That's terrific! I've actually wondered if this was possible, because I don't have the equipment to drape anything. Yay for semi-mathematic/engineering solutions! :D

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  10. Genius. Thank you for sharing. *bookmarks*

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  11. Just found this via Pinterest and I'm in awe, makes me want to make historical pieces even more! will take a look at your blog now :)

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  12. I can just repeat Lara - I found you via Pinterest and love your work!
    I am sewing medieval-fantasy style costumes for our summer camp. It is actually a huge challenge - i have to make dresses that fit almost everyone. Also, there are about 40 people in the camp, and I have to make all the dresses, so I really need to save time.

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  13. This is freaking brilliant! Thanks so much for the tutorial, as a dyed in the wool lazy costumer I really appreciate it.

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    1. Thank you, Miss Loren! Sometimes I think we make things more difficult than they should be - :)

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  14. I just came across this and I love it! I have been wondering how the hell to drape one on myself, and my mannequin just isn't exactly me. Such a good idea!

    Caroline

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    1. Thank you, Miss Caroline! :) I do hope my lazy way has encouraged you!

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  15. and now you have made the IMPOSSIBLE finally make sooooo much sense. I bow to your sewing prowess!!!

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  16. How much fabric was needed to complete this lovely and ingenious dress?

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    1. A little more than 7 yards at 60" for the whole redingote. :)

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  17. I am a new seamstress, and can only sew via a pattern. I would love a tutorial on the basics to drape!! This one was genius!!( I'm not quite ready for anything like this just yet!) Please help out a newbie!!

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  18. This is just pure genius! :D
    Thank you. I'm definitely going to use your idea! :)

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  19. I am so impressed and can't wait to try it! Thanks so much for sharing!

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  20. Think I love you for this information! This one has always intimidated me, and you make it a manageable project!

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  21. Beautiful. Wonderful. I've done the pleating-before-cutting method for other types of surface manipulations like cording and pintucks, but when you apply it to something of this magnitude, I can see how it can make your head hurt! The completed jacket with the yoke is just stunning. I'm not a big costumer but I like to make modern adaptations of historical fashion; I think I will do something like this because it just looks so beautiful!

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  22. Formidable... Je viens de vous découvrir...
    Je vais parcourir votre blog.
    Merci

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  23. What a great tutorial! Thank you!

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  24. Brilliant. Brilliant. Thank you so much!!. May i ask what youur base pattern is? I love that collar+

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    1. Thank you, Adrienne! I usually draft my own patterns for historical garments and this was one. :)

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