A quick guide to making an 18thc outfit.All you will need to make any of the 18thc outfits shown is a needle ,thread, cellotape scissors,something to make small holes with for the lacing cord .
This is quite a long post because theres a huge choice of dresses which need different amounts of fabric ,trim and time ,some also need more under layers than others ,so I have included a lot of information about styles and needs before the actual dress instructions because the choice of style and fabric will from the start influence what you need.
For all the dresses you will cord or narrow ribbon ,,narrow curtain tie back ,upholstery piping cord works best it needs to be shoelace thickness or slightly thicker but you can use ribbon.Its quite cheap so its best to buy more than you need,4 to 6 metres because you want enough so that when the cords in thew holes you dont need to take it out to get into the dress just pull it wider apart ,though for most dresses if you really cant find that much cord you can get away with three if you absolutely need to .
For all dresses you will need clubbing or evening bodice thats boned at the front and ideally at the sides ,the boning needs to be good not too floppy , wit and wisdom ,top shop ,next and principles all sell them or charity shops will have evening dresses,bridesmaid dresses,prom dresses etc .I doesnt matter what the fabric is as it will be hidden under your chosen dress fabric .if you have a choice try to choose one with a neckline the shape you want to save cutting it to get the shape you want and try to find a fabric thats close to the colour of your fabric as its hard to cover dark fabric with pale and when you wash them the bodice fabric may run and discolour the dress .If your not able to find a similar colour use a lighter colour as its easier to cover pale fabrics with dark .The bodice can even be denim .Thick fabric works best .The bodice doe not need a special shaped front anything thats waist length will work fine .
You will need something to make the dress stick out ,this will vary depending on the weight of the fabric you use and also the style of dress for wide styles a cheap bridal hoop will do which you can squash to shape.i needs at least three hoops and the more the better a cheap one is around £7 on ebay from china ,they take around 30 days to arrive.Uk bought ones are around £15 they can get mishaped easily , more expensive cotton ones are better they cost £3o to £40 from the USA but keep their shape and take 14 days to arrive,charity shops may have one.Hoops are awkward to store unless you have a spare room or big cupboard
For many dresses you can use a stiff net underskirt,some you can use a bridal store bought one,these are also cheap and easy to find on ebay ,but you need one with lots of net layers
Theres also petticoats which have both hoops and net ,you can chop off bits of net from one place on the petticoat and sew it on others or theres petticoats with lots of ruffles which you can again chop off one place and sew on another to get the right shape for an idea of the shapes available
If you want a very very wide one its easy to make but takes time ,the one below took around 10 metres at £1 a metre sewn onto a cheap underskirt and is just gathered using a running stitch which is where you just push the needle through fabric is a straight line but it took several days and takes up a lot of space to store (.I will give full instructions later ).For everything except heavy fabrics and very wide skirted gowns this works well.
for some styles you will just need a padded roll of fabric for which you will need a pillow or cushion cut to the shape below or two rectangular narrow cushions to tie on either side .These are easy to store but dont work for heavy fabrics you can use these and a net petticoat and that often works well.
When you look through the images below and choose the style, try to buy the structural support first because it will help you work out how much fabric you need ,if you cant afford the time or cant find a bridal hooped petticoat ,then pick a style you can wear using a cushion.Also consider how your getting to your event ,its pretty easy to sit down and even walk around in very wide skirts like the court mantua as you just need to go through doors sideways but if your too wide for your car seats then thats going to be a more or less insolvable problem ,likewise the dresses that stick out at the back can be very uncomfortable on long journeys as you cant lean back ,its probably also not safe if you were to crash .
Lastly to make the dresses you need fabric which can be old curtains or duvets , your after something that will look like embroidered silk ,satin ,damask or at a pinch flowered cotton,You can usually buy striped curtain or duvet fabric and Chinese brocade from fabric stalls or curtain shops.For most outfits you need quite big curtains ,try to find some that are at least as long as the length from above your navel to the floor with a few cms /inches spare if your making a polonaise ,robe a la anglais or caraco jacket and skirt .For the sacque back dresses you need much longer ones ,they need to be long enough to go from your shoulders to the floor .
Choosing your style
I have added some original dress photos to give you an idea of the kind of fabric and the kind of suport layer you will need,just because something needs a bridal hoop wont mean that its hard to make ,they can be just as easy as some other style .I have also put names of the style of gown so you will know which style you like best.Dont worry about remembering the different names I have provided them because it makes it easier to choose the style but also it means you will know what to use for google image search for further ideas
Polonaise gown ,or its possibly a Pet en lair jacket and skirt /petticoat ,,skirts at this time are usually called petticoats even when they are on the outside.This is easy to make but needs hoops or purpose bought panniers
Below is a pet en l air jacket its like a cut off sacque back dress, if you make a mess of your sacque back skirt length you can make one of these any length at all very short or almost as long as the skirt of a dress and they can be the same colour as the skirt or different ,they are also good practice for a sacque back ,equally is you mess up the lacing cord holes or the back of your dress this will hide any mistakes .These were very popular everyday wear
You can use a net petticoat or cushion to support this style
This style will need a hoop or panniers
Another pet en l air below you may be able to get away with cushions or net for this depending on how heavy the fabric is .This outfit actually appears in Beatrix potters tailor of Gloucester ,Beatrix potter visited the V and A museum to get ideas for her characters costumes
Chintz polonaise style gown and a quilted petticoat .this will need a big cushion and net petticoat made in this shape
you can use lightweight throws or quilts for quilted petticoats ,many poorer people did this to make themselves a petticoat from a worn out quilt .Theres a lot of different styles of polonaise gown but they are all basically gowns with draped up sides,some made the drapes by pulling up the fabric though gaps in the waistline of a dress like the robe a la anglais ,so were always meant to be draped .If you dont have enough fabric for long enough or very full skirts you can make a polonaise as its doesnt necessarily need to have skirts that touch the floor as they will be ruched up anyway
The gowns above are sacque backs ,sometimes also called Robe a la francais,you will need fairly sturdy hoop skirts or purpose bought panniers
A court Mantua ,this is a royal wedding gown , Court mantuas are very richly decorated very wide gowns ,the very wide dresses in museums are all like to be court mantuas ,people in everyday life didnt wear skirts this wide .You can make a fairly wide one of these using a bridal hoop will two side pillows as well to get the height
Caraco jacket and a petticoat /skirt ,these we a very popular everyday wear outfit ,like the pet en lair they can be the same colour as the skirt or different.You could use a net petticoat or ordinary shaped bridal hoop for this because you can alter the shape of bridal hoops by moving the metal hoops ,theres a hole in each layer to let you do this and you just slide the metal hoop to and fro
Caraco jacket and skirt (above) ,this is cotton and Ikea do duvets that are an almost perfect match for the fabric above/You could use either a net petticoat or a bridal hoop for this a very cheap hoop would do
This is a slightly different jacket and skirt,this needs a big cushion ,which looks much better with a piece of stiff net sewn to it.
short jacket brilliant if you can only afford or find a small amount of expensive fabric
Robe a la anglais you can use a bridal hoop squashed to shape or possibly cushions and net
A court gown or possibly a wedding gown,this needs either a bridal hoop with or without cushions or specially bought panniers ,court dresses are always heavily embroidered ,sometimes jewelled and often very wide indeed,the fact this is fairly narrow means its possibly a wedding or ball gown.
Court mantua backs above and below
Mantua are very early dresses and are easy to make in the cheats style ,though hard to make an accurate one , they were a kind of gown that had a long train which was then folded origami like at the back to create the impression of a jacket at the front ,its possible to make a fake version using just a caraco jacket style top over a open fronted dress .My outfit below used fake silk damask from ebay and a piece of quilted style curtain /cushion fabric from a curtain shops bargain basket ,it cost around £50 to make including the trim .If you want to give the impression of absolute accuracy you could then make another long strip of fabric for the skirt back and fold it like a mantua but sew it on as a separate piece.
The dress below has pocket panniers and cushions to give the skirt its shape
You can also sometimes find very lavish looking Asian fabrics or old wedding or party lenghas or wedding saris ,though you need to find two large saris or use the lengha for just the bodice and frill around the bottom of the bodice
The dress above is a sacque back as is the one below they need hoops or panniers
Robe a la anglais ,this can use either a hoop or a net petticoat and in this style you could probably use a bought bridal net petticoat,if you make one of these its possible to alter it later into a polonaise gown just by gathering up the skirts ,its also an option if you make a mistake in the skirts
This a robe a la anglais style gown ,,these open front styles can have a very full gathered skirt almost all the way around or a much narrower one sewn much further back almost at the side of your hips so they are a very flexible style if your now sure of your fabric amounts
sacque back gown
Robe a la Anglais quite a hard shape to make the underlayers for ,it needs either very narrow side panniers and a back cushion or a big curved cushion or two curved side cushions and a stiff petticoat
Green round gown this needs either narrow panniers or possibly cushions and net if you use a light fabric ,a round gown is just a robe a la anglais dress thats not open at the front but the skirt /petticoat is the same all the way round ,this is quite a good one if you only have time to find one kind of fabric.
Zone gown below is the robe a la anglais style but with a crossing over front that is or gives the impression of being a jacket .sometimes worn with a belt as below but usually alone,this skirt shape could use a bridal net petticoat
Below is a different kind of jacket.
This is a Perriot jacket ,these are a great choice if you only have a small amount of one fabric ,a short sleeves one can be made for most dresses sizes under uk sz 12 with a metre or so of fabric,The one above can be made using the instructions for making a dress bodice .The one below can also be made that way but you need to cut two almost triangular strips of fabric and sew them onto the side of the bodice to create the impression that its a jacket ,if you add wide neckline frill or collar no one can tell that its not a jacket ,its slightly hard but not as hard as it sounds and nowhere near as hard as making an actual jacket .
All these could be worn with just a bridal net petticoat.
Notes on fabrics and trims
If you look at the images above you can see that while theres often a lot of trimming you can avoid need to find lacy and ribbon trims if you buy more fabric and make little frills and pleats from the same fabric as your dress or a different fabric that goes well ,if you buy some pinking shears which are scissors that cut decorative zig zag edges this will cut down your sewing and the time taken by a lot of hours or days even.For the other trims you can see, try using old lace from table cloth edging ,good quality lace or net curtains for the sleeves,old pillow cases to make the white wide neck min shawls or as for the trims more of the same or contrasting fabric used in your dress.
You dont need a sewing machine ,in fact it wont be much use for most of the work,theres no pattern to work with or worry about and no specialist skills if you can hold an needle and thread you can make the gowns.The only technical terms are tacking ,,which is just sewing loosely , pleating and gathering gathering you can do by running your needle and thread though the fabric making loose stitches then gathering them up by pulling the thread .The you stitch these in place.
you can tweek the way the gathers hang by rearranging them along the length of the thread pleating is basically putting one piece of fabric over another is assorted ways,these are pleats
I will cover how to make every style even the complicated looking but easy Robe a la francaise or sacque back gown.The one below was made using the cheats guide method ,a commercial bought bodice ,a vintage hat and some panniers made from a bridal hoop
.This type gown takes time to do and needs trimmings and detailing but isnt at at all hard and in fact is more forgiving of mistakes than many other dresses because the back is hidden under the train.
For this and all the styles you can add frills to hide any mistakes ,the detailing below is just bought ready pleated satin ribbon with bought pre made roses.You can buy both from ebay or trimmings stores ,Bough from chine a dozen bows or roses can cost £1 if your willing to keep bidding until you get one cheap ,rolls of pleated ribbon can be between £5 and £20 depending on how much you buy .
These bought roses and pleated ribbon can make a dress look amazing ,I made a copy of the gown below quite quickly using bought pink trims
A sacque back dress does use a lot of fabric and theres not really anyway around it ,a very wide long pair of curtains or ten metres is probably the minimum you can get away with and 12 or more is ideal if your going to use strips of the fabric to make frills and flounces . The back pleating needs at a bare minimum one metre in width though this doesn’t look very good and is very arkward to work with
It needs at least two metres for the back pleats to look good and ideally two and a half.In addition the back piece is a very long piece of fabric because it goes from almost shoulder level .
The under petticoat which has the front piece showing will use maybe three metres but not all needs to be the front fabric you can use anything even old sheeting for most of it and just use good fabric for the front.
This dress also uses a lot of frilled trim at least ten metres if you want a frilled bodice ,neckline and sleeves and for a simple skirt frill along just the front centre It needs 15 or more if your going to add it to the skirts or make designs.
If you use a rich deep coloured fabric with a pattern you can cut down a little on trims
The Robe a la Anglais and round gown
This needs much less fabric than a sacque back a fairly wide pair of curtains long enough to reach just below your feet from your navel or 6 metres will make a decent gown but 7 would be ideal.The gown below is a round gown ,ie closed front robe a la anglais ,this is an easy and quick style as you dont need to make a separate skirt to go under it but you do need to get the hem right .
It also Takes the least trimming .
The polonaise gown,this is probably the easiest of any historical costumes to make because you dont even have to have the hem perfectly straight or the right length as its going to be gathered up and if you make a mess of the neck line you can add a wide shawl or length of cotton ,mistakes on the bodice you can cover with frills .
This is also more flexible on fabric you can just about get away with shorter curtains or 5 metres of fabric or two single duvet covers,one for the skirt for for the dress if you are clever doing the ruched up sides
The other outfits covered are the Caraco Jacket
This uses less still ,with a short skirt part you can use a single curtain or ex display length of fabric from a store ,single duvet cover or odd shaped off cut of fabric ,it uses only one or two metres or three depending on the skirt length ,long skirts will use more
The pet en lair
This is like a chopped off Sacque back this uses 3 metres or 4 if your having a long skirt part
The fake court mantua, this looks like it uses a lot of fabric but is actually quite economical you can use just 6 though 7 is better .The front part of the skirt can be a different fabric to the rest so you can use something more expensive or elaborate
Though I have given a rough idea about layers I will go into more detail on how to make or where to buy them below.
I will also cover hats,the one below uses silk flowers and a pound shop childrens hat
These possibly the hardest bit of these dresses and outfits because they have to hang straight over the side hoops,panniers or cushions ,but if you not using wide hoops this isnt a major problem and they are incredibly easy in other respects as they just tie closed and are a long tube of fabric sewn onto ribbon or similar.
If you really dont want to sew
You can also make an 18thc outfit without doing any sewing at all ,just buy a frilly blouse ,the one below came from a charity shop ,,an embroidered waistcoat the one below is pastimes off ebay and a very wide skirt,or make a skirt using my cheats guide on Victorian under layers or any cheats dress guide .You can buy a cheap tricorn pirate or fancy dress hat very cheaply on ebay.use a cheap bridal hooped petticoat and squash it slightly so it sticks out sideways more than all around
You could also try to find a jacket with an 18thc style to go over this to create a 8thc style riding outfit
Though the waistcoat and jackets below are on Victorian style outfits they work as well if you use an 18thc style skirt ,a frilly collar and a tricorn hat ,,the three cornered pirate style hats ,the red outfit above has one of these hats shown with it ,you want fairly straight waistcoats and jackets that have a narrower waist and flared bottom
.I have used as much details as possible for the following instructions but unfortunately I had to use photos from other cheats guides on how to make the outfits . I am sorry none have more images or a photographic dress diary as I can no longer sew.
The main requirements are all here though .The only things you need which is not covered is how to make the panniers that make some of the dress skirts stand out each side ,but you can make a reasonably satisfactory shape using a bought bridal hoop then squashing it flat sideways this will gave a lower waistline but otherwise the right shape ,you could also roll up the waist until the hoop looks more like panniers then stitch it in place your after this shape.This is the shape your aiming for .
https://thequintessentialclothespen.com/category/project-journal-1770-court-gown/ gives the more historicaly accurate method for making panniers
Bough hoops work pretty well these can be bought quite easily online the only problem is stopping the hoop being uneven at one side or the other but if you add ties inside the hoop at either side to tie it close to your hips and pull it in a bit that usually works fine.
This image is from the following blog page which also gives excellent advice on underlayers
You can also use a petticoat with fewer hoops if you make short panniers again using ties inside but in this case you will have to cut the top off the petticoat and sew the remaining bottom part with its hoops onto a piece of fabric ,ribbon or trim make a waistband
Most of my dresses I wore for work used what are called pocket panniers,which are lighter but much harder to make if you dont have access to boning and some sewing practice.They are also harder to keep in place I used to have to safety pin the waist ties of mine to my corset.These can be bought from online though its only overseas sellers who have most of the styles.There are instructions on all the panniers in the link below
Women would have worn something very much like this,a heavily boned corset/stays,a chemise under skirt then,hoops tacked on frilled sleeves and over the hoops another underskirt
But for the cheats costume underwear you can get away with almost no sewing and a lot simpler layers
For any of these outfits you will need at least two under layers a chemise and a corset and something to make the skirts stick out ,a hoop etc .its not essential but you also ideally need a long petticoat or underskirt for under your hoop and even better another one for over it if your making a skirt or dress from very lightweight fabric because otherwise you dress might snag on the hoop or the hoop boning show through .
The chemise sounds a specialist item but really isnt you could use a strappy nightdress like the one below
To make your own is also cheap and easy ,it just needs a piece of fabric long enough to go to knew length or just above and wide enough to go around you then two pieces of ribbon,trim or lace for straps The cheats guide link for making a chemise is below the photo ,for an 18thc outfit you just need the most basic straight sleeveless one with straps.
The reason for wearing this layer is because otherwise your corset will rub on your skin and get hot and sweaty ,also the lacing will almost certainly nip your back and the hoop will rub your legs.Its also much more comfortable to sit on that most of the gown fabrics .
The next layer is a corset/stays.
You need this to give you a good shape but also to pin your other layers onto and to protect you from the skirt etc digging in
Replica stays are very expensive and for most purposes outside of the re enactment community you dont really need them,you do need a sturdy corset though ideally with a steel busk front ,the one below has steel bones and is available online from ebay etc for between £15 and £30 depending on if you buy direct from china or from a UK seller,,Chinese garment sizes are much smaller than most other countries ,I am a uk sz 14 and need an XXL OR XXXL corset usually .You need the corset to be at least 2 inches /5cms and its better if its 4 inches narrower than your waist.It needs to be tight enough to fit very snuggly so it wont slide around .If you buy one thats too big you can just pinch a bit of fabric with your finger and thumb and sew along the edge and keep doing this until its the right size
Your corset needs to give you a roughly 18th shape so try to find something thats less curvy if at all possible .You can use a cheap chain store corset from for example Primark but I dont advise this if your making a heavy dress because the weight of the skirt will dig in at the waist and the bonings not stiff enough to give the right shape.
The outfit below has a primark chain store style corset under it.
The Mantua outfit has a steel boned corset
The corset and the chemise are the only essential layers but its much better to have two more an under petticoat like the one above ,this skirt can be used under a 18thc gown and ,instructions for making it are in the cheats guide to Victorian under layers here
If you are a uk sz 12 or under its often possible to buy antique ones cheaply or you could use a modern peasant skirt if it made from light weight cotton.
The over layer is a skirt to put over your panniers and can be made using the same Victorian layers guide or again you could buy a modern very wide long skirt made of nay fabric.
Unless you cut and tailor the underskirt its likely to be a bit uneven at the hemline once its over the hoop but as long as its lying flat this doesnt matter as no ones going to see it.If you find you made the skirt too narrow just cut a split up the back .
Stage two the skirt /over petticoat
For most outfits you will need a skirt ,this can be all the same fabric as below ,which is essential if its all going to be visible or a mix of a cheap and expensive fabric.For the skirt you will need around three metres of fabric
Or you can use one piece of embroidered or jewelled or quilted or contrasting fabric and two metres of cheaper fabric which will be hidden under your dress
This cheaper fabric for the back can be anything light weight ,satin silk ,taffeta ,cotton even old sheets You can also make the front panel or whole skirt the same fabric as your gown
I also used to economise on the number of under skirts/petticoat skirts I had by sewing two panels of different fabric together to make a skirt I could wear this with either side showing to create the impression I had two different skirts,you can do with is Tudor and Elizabethan gowns too and I have an example of an Elizabethan one below
This skirt is very easy to cut out ,its just a long tube of fabric ,you then sew this together along its long edge with a two gaps one either side at your hip so you can fasten it.
You can either make it from a length of fabric and cut and hem it your self which would make it easier to get the hem level right because you can just get someone to cut around the bottom when you have it on .But the easier and quicker way if your making a domed skirt or not very wide hoops or if you dont need all the skirt to show just the front is to use a pair of curtains because you will already have a hem at the bottom ,the skirt below was made from curtains
If you have spare money you can avoid making a hem if you buy fabric which has a usable edge,Tartan kilt fabric usually has a straight finished edge.
Making the rest of the Skirt is quick and easy but its best to know how the original skirts were made and what you need to watch out for first
The skirts on 18thc gowns were cut and pleated to give a straight hem line once over the hoops which is slightly harder than making a normal domed shaped skirt .I have not always managed to get it right.
you dont need to worry about this if you only need the front showing because you can get around this by having a very wide skirt with a back split at hemline level so that its only the hidden back and sides which will be less even , I often used different gowns skirts under my 18thc gowns and just hide the uneven sides under the dress.
To make the Skirt waist band and pleats or gathers
Before you gather or pleat the skirt check the very top of the post to see how your chosen outfits skirt looks if its fuller at the back or sides or if the front is flat then gather it in that shape using a tacking stitch.
As the skirt is going to fasten 18thc style ,theres no need to worry about measuring the waist exactly as you tie it closed and the waist lines level is adjustable making it easier to have a straight bottom at the front .because it fastens by having two side fastenings with long ties at the waist .Like two sewn together aprons
It sounds hard but dont be put off is actually easy when you see it done ,you pull one part up of the skirt up and tie it right around your waist then pull the other part up and tie that ,the guide below shows this and gives excellent dressing instructions ,though dont worry about the details it gives on layers etc .
The main thing is that the waist ties/ribbon have to be long enough on both pieces of the skirt to go right around you and tie .You can either turn the ribbon over at the top so it covers the cut edges of the fabric and sew it down which make a neat edge or just leave it .If you are unsure about anything ,check the link below and scroll down the cheats guide to Victorian layers it gives the waistline instructions for skirts with photos
The actual dress or caraco jacket .
For this you need
A commercial bodice ,clubbing top ,bridal top etc with a neckline roughly the shape you want and with proper straps unless you happy to make the shoulder straps .It needs to be boned and be either an 18thc shape or able to be cut into one
To make this into an 18thc shape you need to make the front longer ,you can easily do this by cutting out bits from the sides and sewing them to the front in the required shape,
.The front can be very long or fairly short depending on the length and shape you want.Rounded or pointed or square .
If you cant make the front long enough using just the cut off bits of the bodice then it doesnt matter as you can make it seem longer adding frills once its finished ,though the bodice front below is actually long you cant see the front for all the frills so its perfectly possible to fake the length is you use frills and flounces
You can leave the back any shape though being longer works best to help keep your skirt in the right place and looks better if the backs going to be showing
The only essential part of shaping the bodice is that you need the side to be high enough for the hoop to fit under it and the skirts to billow out.
After you have cut the shape
Next cut off any fastenings at the back ,eg a zip or buttons ,if its a zip you can use the metal pieces for boning to make the back lacing tougher so keep them to one side
Now you need to cover the bodice ,start at the front and put a piece of fabric flat across the entire front and stitch it down flat finsh by turning it over at the top and bottom
The front should now look like this
If you have a piece of pretty fabric ,cushion etc with embroidery like the one above it makes a really good front piece for the gown.
Next lay another piece of fabric on top of this one with its outer ,good side resting on the outer good side of the bit you have already sewn on tack it down fold it back to make sure its ok then sew it down properly ,use double thread as its quicker and makes stronger seams more easily ,do this at the other side as well ,try to make this side the same width and sewn at the same angle as first. Leave a generous overlap .
The angle you sew the front two pieces on will give the style to your dress and for 18thc styles this usually means they have to be at sharp angles or almost totally straight depending on your bodices style.
they should ideally be both the same angle and length but its not a disaster if they are slightly off you can cover them with frills to hide any mistakes .
Now continue adding panels covering the bodice until you reach the back at both sides.When you have sewn the last piece on at the back fold it over and stitch down to the bodice fabric making sure you dont go right through and sew into the fabric you have used to recover your bodice
If you find that your bodice is too small and doesnt meet at the back you can make it bigger by adding another strip of fabric in just the same way but double folding it then stitching it to the bodice.In both cases dont stitch the top and or the bottom closed as if possible you need to add something to make the edge stronger,it only takes a few minutes and is very easy. .If you did have a bit of zipper that you cut from the back earlier thread this down the back of the bodices last piece ,if you dont have a zipper ,a cable tie works equally well or if you dont have either and the dress back will be hidden you can use a piece of cord .
Later you need to add a short strip of fabric inside the bodice along one edge at the back which will flop over underneath the lacing so theres no gap to show your chemise when you lace up the dress.You can either sew it in place which is best or just use a piece of fabric which will be kept in place by the cord.
Also later you will need make lacing holes along the length of the back using a bradel or skewer.Make them at intervals your happy with ,when you come to put the pacing cord in cellotape the end of each piece of cord and use a pencil to push it through the holes ,you can use any style of lacing though the fish bone style lacing I used on the green dress looks better than the criss cross one .To do this lacing you start at the top with to level holes then go over and under .To start push the cord from inside the dress out then from outside in ,sound weird but its easy once you have done it once.If your really good at technical things you could give spiral lacing a try .http://www.festiveattyre.com/p/the-zen-of-spiral-lacing.html
To return to the bodice you should now have a covered but sleeveless bodice front ,to make sleeves just cut two rectangles of fabric wide enough to go around your arm and fit into the bodices arm hole and long enough to be elbow length or wrist length.
then sew them up one edge to make a tube with a small gap unsewn at the top edge because this will prevent you from struggling to make it fit the bodice arm hole .Now put the tube on your arm and work out if its the right length and if you are confident enough you can cut it to fit your arm slightly by pulling in the tube tight against you skin ,,though dont make it so tight that when its sewn together again its uncomfortable .When your happy with it turn under the bottom edge and sew/hem it ,it doesnt need to be neat it will be hidden by either trimming or frills,you can add frills or flounces now or later.The sleeves below are Tudor but show what your aiming for with longer sleeves.
Now fix the tube to the dress bodice, start at the top and tack it on when you reach the underarm if the sleeve fits the gap properly your fine and can sew up the part of the sleeve top you left unsewn but if not you can move the un sewn remaining edges of the sleeve to make it fit better .This will work fine without the sleeve looking uneven as long its its not more than 4 inches or so because your going to be adding frills and flounces to the sleeve .
For a caraco jacket or a mantua you now need to cut a long strip of fabric or two shorter strips and sew them onto the bottom of the bodice gathered or pleated where you want them to be fullest If you using an already hemmed part of the curtain this is a really quick step,you can make them any length ,very short as the the outfit below .(the oufits made with pre quilted silk and theres a cheaper taffeta version of the fabric ,this is great fabric to use for effect as it looks as though you did all the decoration your self )
You can also make it very long ,this works well for winter outfits if you use a wool skirt and velvet
To add the skirt part ,for polonaise gowns,round gowns and any gown thats not got wide panniers .
Cut a long strip of fabric or two shorter strips ,again if possible utilising the hem of any curtains etc.You wont be sewing these into a tube because the front will be open to show your underskirt .Gather these around you in the shape to suit your style of gown ,check the images at the top of the post and do a google image search for back ,side ,front and waist images of your chosen style .Though its easy and quick to do this part how you gather the skirt will influence how the dress looks .Some dresses have almost no pleats or gathers
While some have lots of very deep gathers or pleats
Some have more fabric at the back or sides
Some dress have skirts sewn at the center of the waistband some are set further back again do a google image search for your chosen gown
When your happy with the style tack the pleats together and then sew this directly onto your dress.If your making a sacque back which uses a lot of fabric you can economiseon the skirt width by leaving the back with very few pleats or if you have almost run out of fabric flat and add a split at the hem level this is going to be covered by your train so it will be very unlikely to show .
Slightly harder Skirts
To make a very wide skirted Mantua or sacque back you will need to pleat the sides more accurately and sew part of the skirt together at each side .To do this you need to first pleat it then sew the two pleated parts together so the pleats overlap and match at each side,its quite hard to explain and awkward to do and a bit complicated ,I always found it a difficult to get both sides matching and had to keep redoing them so I would advise against it if its your first costume or even if its your second or third but if you can master it then you can make very wide spectacular looking skirts
The photos of original skirts may help .
and my version
I will add the second part of the post shortly.
This will cover how to make your gown into a sacque back,,though if your in a rush you basisicaly just pleat a long strip of fabric and sew it to the back neckline of your dress from shoulder to shoulder making sure the neckline is wide enough for you to get into the dress,,a more complicated way is a pull across panel but this is awkward to put on and keep on ,how to make the ruched up skirts for the polonaise gown again if your in a rush simply pinch a piece of skirt at the side around knee level and pin this to your waistband ,,not perfect but works ,how to make your gown look like a zone gown ,again in a rush you sew two curved triangles of fabric to either side of your bodice and add ties
,how to make the bodice look like a perriott jacket which is essentially the same as making the zone gown ,hats again for those in rush you can buy a berger hat online and just add ribbons ,caps ,shoes again if your in a hurry you can buy shoes like the gold ones from most Asian clothing stores, these came from Bombay stores in Bradford and neckline kerchiefs,capes and gloves if your in a hurry for these you can use my Victorian and Tudor accessories guides but use more 18thc style fabric and trims