Commercial Colonial Results: A Slightly-More-Historical Simplicity 3723 – Part 2

August 12, 2013

18th Century Sewing Adventure #2 – Part 2

So, as you may or may not recall, I not-so-recently embarked on a sewing adventure: turning Simplicity 3723 into something more historically accurate.

Here is the dress as of two weeks ago:


Circa July 29th, 2013

It looks pretty much like the pattern envelope says it should, but it is hardly 18th century in appearance, aside from the “stomacher” and too-long-for-comfort sleeves. I made a few modifications, but otherwise, it was a generic “historical” gown with no real time period or purpose. It still needed a few little touches to make it less mundane and more like a magnificent mid-18th century gown–well, as magnificent as a mid-century gown can get on a peasant’s budget!
I was aiming to re-create this sketch I had done of a middle-class lady’s maid:

I normally don’t like pink, but coral has really gained my respect recently…

Since I had reached the end of the pattern directions, everything from here on out was created using a highly-complex process known as “mad libbing,” otherwise known as “making things up as you go along.”

Two very obvious things were missing from Simplicity 3723: the fold-over robings down the front of the gown that, on a real 18th century gown, would hide the stomacher pins and function as a decorative edge. I sewed two long belts of fabric and attached them at the shoulder seams, tacking them down the length of the front with fell stitching. What a difference they made, too!

Here is the gown now:


What you can see: an improved Simplicity 3723
What you can’t see: the 101°F heat

Simplicity 3723 out of the envelope has a few functionality problems, including being a tad too wide in the shoulders and long in the waist. The biggest offender, however, was the much-detested zipper in the back (I wasn’t surprised to get backlash on that one; I just wasn’t expecting it to be so intense. Whoa!). Originally, I planned to cover the zipper with a draped, triangular piece of fabric that snapped on to mimic a Robe à l’Anglaise’s enfourreau back:

Robe à l’Anglaise back, circa 1770-75

But then I discovered that I had more pink fabric left over than originally thought from all my other additions, so I threw modesty to the wind and went for something more dramatic: faux Robe à la Française! So fancy…


I draped the pleats about 6 times on my wonky dress form before I was mostly satisfied. The pink dollar-per-yard-faux-linen-whatever was way too wrinkly, yet it didn’t keep my pleats well at all. Thank heavens I used it all up! I only have one little 12″ by 14″ piece left, just enough to make a matching purse. That stuff is the devil…

The sack-back was more in keeping with the earlier look I was going for, about 1740, like this gown:

Robe à la Française, circa 1740
My gown is nowhere near this fancy. I have fly-fringe and other trims around, but after tacking them onto my dress, it just looked fussy and didn’t match the rough-quality fabric. So I’m waiting for another opportunity to use it on a finer gown.

I used two giant, heavy-duty snaps to attach the panel so I can zip myself up and attach the sack-back without help.


A horrid picture, but it’s murderously difficult taking a photo like this…

Another addition was my engageantes, a.k.a. sleeve ruffles!

The original pattern called for fabric-matched ruffles to be sewn onto the sleeves, but those was too wide and ungainly, so I scrapped them and made some separate ruffles of my own from wide cotton lace, completing my dress and HSF Challenge #15 simultaneously! I love it when something multitasks for me.


HSF Facts:
18th century Engageantes (sleeve ruffles)
Fabric: Technically, none
Pattern:Based off of the measurements of ruffles from various museum, but no real pattern
Notions: Cotton lace, poly-cotton thread
Historical accuracy: 90% Proper engageantes would be silk, but I’m poor.
Time to complete: 1 hour
Total cost: $10 for two yards of lace

I tapered them so that they have a long and short side. Tapering your engageantes lets them hang nicely rather than puffing out awkwardly:




The gown in review


Resting your elbows on your panniers is uncouth, but my face says it all: Manners be damned! It is much too hot to be wearing fake linen…

Pattern: Simplicity 3723 with modifications


Smaller, contrasting front skirt panel
Extended back darts
Finished skirt side panels
Bound, free-floating stomacher edges
Front robings
Shortened sleeves
Separate sleeve ruffles
Snap-on “Watteau(ish) Pleats”
Plastic bone to the stomacher for rigidity


6 yards of pink faux-linen-whatever from Walmart – $6.00
1 embroidered crewelwork-on-linen sample – FREE!
1/2 yard floral print decor remnant from Hobby Lobby – $10.64
Recycled cotton sheets for lining – FREE!
22″ zipper from Walmart – $2.55
GIANT size 10 sew-on snaps – $2.97
Zip tie for boning the stomacher – FREE!
2 yard of lace for the engageantes – $10
Thread – $1.55
Total: $33.71

Time – Who knows? 40 hours total? I didn’t keep track, but I worked on and off on it for about 3 weeks after work.

Despite making all these changes and having issues with the fitting, Simplicity 3723 is not a horrible pattern, but there are better patterns out there. I recommend this pattern to people who like to play around or need multiple gowns for theatrical productions. It could really be a show-stopper with the right styling! It is hardy and has survived lots of yanking, finagling, abuse, and wear from being pulled on and off. It is an excellent stage gown, but it’s probably not going to be well-received at reenactments or other historical events (be prepared for farb-shaming if you do wear it). However, I am very pleased with it. It looks good and feels right, aside from being too long in the waist– a common problem for short-waisted moi!

My fabric choice was not ideal because that pink stuff…ick! No matter how I ironed, spritzed, or steamed it, there were always weird wrinkles that just would not hang out! Laying it down for even a moment would cause new ones to form. With a better-quality fabric (in a cute print!), my dress would look really nice. The cut of the gown straight from the envelope reminds me of Laura Ashley gowns from the late 1960s and 70s:

Laura Ashley cotton sateen print dress, circa 1971

The calico print looks very fetching and with a split-front and a bumroll, that Laura Ashley dress would look 18th century worthy. I really love the floral decorator fabric I found at Hobby Lobby. A gown made of that would look fantastic–sadly the fabric isn’t available anymore and at $22 a yard, would be much too expensive for my budget anyhow. But a girl can scheme…er…dream!

Remember my lament that the stomacher was too high to display luscious 18th century cleavage?


Boobs, baby!

The major thing that’s making this gown work is the styling and undergarments. More on that later!

— Commercial Colonial: Part 1—

11 Responses to “Commercial Colonial Results: A Slightly-More-Historical Simplicity 3723 – Part 2”

  1. So pretty! Well done! Your dress suits you very well. Even if the pink material was a nightmare to work with, it makes such a pretty ensemble.

  2. Sandra Says:

    Sheesh I think you’ve done famously, zipper and all. From memory you said you had neither the skills nor resources currently to do an historically accurate gown but that you wanted to achieve the look and feel of the mid 18th century gowns with the aid of a commercial pattern. You’ve done that well. Your belty things work well as the robings and I loved the improvised pleated back drapes. And you can dress yourself – unlike an 18th century lady!
    Brava! I haven’t got that far with my quasi 18th century gown. But you inspire me to keep going!

  3. I think you did a wonderful job! So many problems to solve and you solved them all!

  4. Margaret Says:

    You did a lovely job, a very nice look. Clever to hide your zip with a false back.You may find your pleats will stay better if you top stitch down the edge of the pleat @ 6-8″, a trick often used on period gowns, and today!

    • Liz Says:

      It is stitched down, so it’s sturdy. I just wish the pleats held more evenly down the drape so they wouldn’t fall so unevenly at the ends. But that’s being perfectionist. I noticed plenty of period gowns in paintings had a similar draping problem to mine (one side is more neatly pleated down the length than the other).

  5. Rhissanna Says:

    Did you try the vinegar+ water trick to iron the pleats? I don’t know if that just works on natural fabrics or whether it would apply to this. The dress looks fab, and your breakdown of how to fake it gives me some wonderful doll costuming ideas. Thank you!

  6. Chubby McGee Says:

    I’ve officially made this Simplicity patter my “witch” costume for this coming Halloween. I’ve NEVER done a patter before, but I’m one of those people who give anything a try once and usually get it right (or try over and over again until I get it as best as I can…cuz I’m not a quitter). I really appreciate your blog because it helped me a lot in preparing for the upcoming next few weeks of getting it ready. I’ll be making alterations to it as well so it’s…umm…witchier?

    I think your costume came out GREAT and I’m proud of you for making it so unique and wonderful…pleating issues and pink problems aside. It still looks fab! Great work!

    • Liz Says:

      Thank you for the kind compliments! It’s actually a fairly fun pattern to make. I can’t wait to see what you do with it. I’d love to see pics of it when you’re done! :D

  7. Kitty Says:

    You did so great! The reason the cheap fabric wouldn’t pleat was because of the poly in it, I’m sure you already guessed. Try white vinegar water on it as you press. It wont make it great but might help a little. Even 100% Linen wouldn’t make nice sleeve ruffles, so you made a wise choice opting for cotton lace.

  8. Deb Beabes Says:

    Very helpful, I struggled with this same pattern, but had some help, so my gown turned out well for a novice!

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