Sewing

18th Century Caraco Jacket: Short sleeves and a long jacket

The adventure of creating a complete 18th-Century middle-class woman impression continues with a caraco jacket, the Mill Farm Pattern (which is currently only offered in one size (12/14) everywhere I looked for it) being my weapon of choice. Mostly because its creator, Sharon Ann Burnston, stands high in my regard for the depth of information and wit provided in her Cognitive Shift, or 18th Century Shifts, what I know and how I learned it series. That section of her site guided me through making my first garment, and it also gives a fascinating look at how the humble shift evolved over the Eighteenth Century. Because of that experience, I trust her work to be both clear and historically accurate!

This pattern, however, is meant more as a reference guide than a set of instructions. It was an interesting change of pace from the JP Ryan stays pattern, which is as extensive and illustrative as the Mill Farm Caraco pattern is spare.

You run into the same thing a lot with recipes; the creator either intends it as a reference or as an instruction manual. Take these two crumb cake recipes for example:

The Bake or Break recipe assumes you know a lot of things: how to properly measure dry ingredients, that the eggs and sour cream should be at room temperature, how to properly cream butter and sugar (“until light and fluffy” being a less-than-helpful, if very common, shorthand). And an experienced baker does know all of those things, so it’s okay that this recipe is in a reference style.

However, looking at the second recipe, it’s much more explicit in how to do things. This recipe is instructive, and is clearly written with the intent to help even a beginner get the recipe right.

While I’m not arguing that one style is better than the other, I do find it interesting that this phenomenon is also present in patterns! I can appreciate that it’s much easier to write a reference-style pattern than an instructive one, but do believe it to be a form of gatekeeping: if this jacket pattern was the first pattern a novice was attempting, they would be in for quite the struggle.

But I digress! Luckily, the construction of this jacket is pretty logical, so it’s a straightforward process to fill in the gaps. It took less than a day to make, and when I read through the pattern and saw how simple it was, I didn’t bother with a prototype (especially since I’m using cheap fabric!). Of course, being a novice myself, I don’t yet know what I don’t know, so speak up in the comments if you see something I’ve done wrong, or could do more efficiently!

Questions abound

There were a few areas that had me scratching my head. First, the inverted box pleat for the back skirts. Does that mean from the perspective of looking at the garment from the outside or from the inside, where you’re working? I went with the former; while I found examples of both, it seemed the inverted-from-the-outside was more common. I also don’t think I sewed the pleat quite properly; I added an extra little horizontal stitch to finish the raw-edged “pocket” created by the way I sewed the diagonal lines for some added anti-fray security.

I sewed the angles incorrectly at the top of the pleat

The armholes for the sleeves also gave me pause. I initially sewed the shoulder straps backwards and on the wrong sides (error in visualization there), and part of it was because the shoulder straps are much narrower than the areas you’re attaching them to. Where should they line up? Should they be centered, leaving excess fabric on both the armhole and neckline sides? In the end, I was warier of having a crooked neckline, figuring I could fudge the armholes more easily, so I lined up the neckline side of the straps, leaving a pretty sizable slot on the armhole side.

Then there were the sleeves themselves! I really like this style of sleeve, with the seam along the back instead of on the underside, and the stroke gathers along the back-toppish. All in all, the sleeves have a really pleasing shape, but these are too short for my arms; they stop a good 4” short of my elbows. Since I had planned to debut this jacket in late October, and don’t really want to wear a cloak to cover up all my handiwork, the sleeves do need to come down a bit farther, 3/4 length at least.

I also wasn’t too precise with the seam allowance or the stroke gathers when sewing them. While I know how to do gathers (parallel basting stitches, bunch up the fabric into even pleats by pulling on the ends of the threads, sew in place when one has reached the desired amount of gathers/ fabric width), I’m a little too impatient (and, let’s be honest, inexperienced) to make them even and neat, and wasn’t too sure what the final shoulder hole circumference should be. So I didn’t sew the gathers after making them, leaving myself room for adjustment as I attached the sleeve.

There was also the issue of the slot created by shoulder strap. Now, one might note the the top of the sleeve curves outward, and one might assume that this outward curve would fit perfectly in this slot. I didn’t find this to be the case, but will be more on the lookout for my next go-around.

Lastly, the sizing! Holy cow, I know the pattern has a caveat about Eighteenth Century clothes having a tighter fit than modern garments, but this pattern is pretty tight for a dress pattern 12/14. The front closure was also problematic. The pattern recommends either lacing the front or using various kinds of clasps, but I had my heart set on pinning it closed, and this jacket is too tight to stay closed with pins alone.

 

Thoughts for next time

Since this is the pattern I own, it’s the one I’ll stick with for the time being (though I have my eye on the JP Ryan jacket pattern). I think I’ll make another in short order, this time extending the sleeves and using the alternate shorter skirt option (this pattern was tricky to lay out with the grain of the fabric using the full-length skirts!).

The front of this jacket also needs some modifications. I don’t like how far down the front closure extends, and there is the problem of not being able to pin it closed! So I will totally rework the front, probably widening the opening to make room for a stomacher.

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