Thursday, 21 May 2015

Mantua construction details

At this point the mantua is mostly finished.  One of the side gores is not finished and the skirt needs hemming, but apart from that it's done.  This is more or less the colour it really is; the wool goes odd colours for some reason when I photograph it and I have to fiddle with the white balance to make it come out okay.

To make the mantua, I've used stitch types known from the 17th/18th centuries.  There's a good outline of techniques here, and in this article which discusses textile remains found in a 17th century New England privy.

You will notice my thread doesn't match the fabric.  Today, we like our sewing thread to match our fabric colour, but that wasn't always the case.  La Couturiere Parisienne says the following about pre-19th century thread and sewing:

"Silk thread was too precious to use on linen and wool fabrics, so silk was sewn with silk thread, linen and wool with linen thread. Before the invention of chemical dyes (late 19th century), linen was difficult to dye, so most linen sewing thread was usually left undyed. It is, therefore, perfectly authentic to use unbleached linen thread on, e.g., dark blue wool fabric."

Well, by happy coincidence I've got dark blue wool and off-white linen thread.  The fact is you can't really see the stitching from the outside anyway.  The dress is stitched with a combination of backstitch, running stitch, and whipstitch.  Raw edges are overcast on the inside with whipstitch:

Inside one of the sleeves.

My seam allowances are wider than was normal in the 17th century, because I didn't know what I was doing and it's easier to let a seam out than cut a whole new piece if you have to alter it.

Those pleats are sewn down with whipstitch.  I've taken a photo and I hope you can see what I'm doing there.  I sew the pleats from the outside of the garment, but I find as long as if you go carefully and use small stitches the seam is all but invisible.  I saw this done on the internet somewhere, but it was a long time ago and I'm afraid I can't remember where.  UPDATE: Cathy Raymond has suggested that this might be where I saw the whipstitching technique, and I think she's right.  Do take a look at that site - there's all sorts of good stuff on there.

Sewing a pleat using whipstitch along the edge of the fold.  This, by the way, is how the fabric looks when photographed on the camera's default setting.

I used this same method for the shoulder seams (it helped me to match up the front pleats with the back pleats), and the sleeve heads.  The sleeves are like later 18th century sleeves; you sew them in with back stitch under the arm as far as the sleeve head, then you arrange the sleeve head into pleats underneath the shoulder fabric and carefully stitch them in place from the outside.  The Brocade Goddess explains the process far better than I can here.  She's doing a later 18th century dress where the bodice is lined, but the principle is the same.

My mantua is unlined.  From what I've seen I think it was normal not to line the bodice, but the skirt could be lined in a contrasting colour (see this example, for instance).  I opted not to install a contrasting lining because this is a working class garment.  The mantuas in The Cryes of the City of London don't appear to have different coloured linings and even wealthy women's mantuas didn't necessarily have a lining.  I can always put one in if I find out down the track that it should be there.

However, not lining the skirt left me with the question of what to do with the skirt seams.  I flat felled them so the seams look identical from the right side and the wrong side, which means the skirt can be worn down or up, but I have no idea if that was ever done in period.

Skirt seam from the outside

Skirt seam from the inside


  1. " I sew the pleats from the outside of the garment, but I find as long as if you go carefully and use small stitches the seam is all but invisible."

    Could this be the page you have in mind? Her description is a little different, but the outcome seems much the same?