Sunday, 20 January 2013

Late 18th Century Fichu

Hello again! I've just finished making a fichu. This brings the total number of historical garments I own to 4, not very many at all, which is why I'm participating in the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge. I missed the first challenge, so this fichu is for #2, the UFO challenge. It was the only unfinished object I had that was historical, not counting the pockets and quilted petticoat, which are long running projects. I started this several months ago, but only finished one edge and then forgot about it. It's a very simple project, just 2 triangles of gauzy fabric sewn together to make a bigger triangle. Here are the pictures.

Two of the corners, with only one finished edge.

The edge being folded over and pinned. The fabric was difficult to crease, probably because this edge is on the bias.

The edge being sewn up.

The top corner, all finished. The selvedge is on one side of the seam and is sewn over the seam allowance of the other piece.

It's a very big triangle, 161 cm long and 82 cm high.

It was pretty easy to sew, I don't know why I put it off for so long. Here are some pictures of me wearing it with my somewhat itchy shift and rather awful stays.
It's way too big to wear this way, I've seen this style in quite a few portraits but none of their fichus went past their shoulders.

It works much better this way, tucked in and slightly overlapped.
Cabinet Des Modes, December 1785. Source. This is the look I was going for with this project, a large puff of white fabric.

This is what I look like, I'm not actually a mouse borg.
It might be long enough to wear in the style shown in this fashion plate, but I didn't think of it at the time.
1789 fashion plate. Source. It appears to be crossed in the front and tied in back.
The facts:

The challenge: # 2, the UFO challenge.

Fabric: An odd shaped piece of fine cotton from my mothers stash, It was approximately 1m.

Pattern: No pattern, I just cut the biggest square I could from the fabric, cut it diagonally and sewed the two pieces together.

Year: 1780s or early 90s, it might also work for 70s if I tucked it in to make it look smaller.

Notions: Just some poly cotton thread, does thread count as a notion?

How historically accurate is it? The materials are not accurate, but it's completely hand sewn, which is accurate. I'm not sure about the construction.

Hours to complete: I didn't keep track of the time, but I'm guessing maybe 4 or 5.

First worn: January 18th, 2013. But only for a few minutes, to sit in front of a camera with an auto timer in my cramped little sewing corner. I can't wear it out yet because I have no historical outerwear.

Total cost: $ 0!

Note about terminology: Update: Nope, it is neither a fichu nor a handkerchief, but a buffon.
Hallie Larkin has done an amazing amount of research and written quite a few posts on handkerchiefs, she says that fichu is a French word and the English didn't use it in the 18th century. I am going to continue calling mine a fichu though.

I would like to say thank you to The Dreamstress for starting this wonderful challenge, two weeks is an excellent time frame, and having a deadline really helps get things done.


  1. Not only do you live in a bilingual part of Canada, don't forget that your mother is 100% French Acadian, which makes you half French ancestry. So you have a good reason to keep calling it a fichu.

    Do you perchance have a rat on your head in those photos? :-)

  2. Oh my, oh my, oh my... You sure did a great job on that costume. Fishue and all...

    What a departure from sweat pants.
    You look simply beautiful in that period costume. I'm very proud of you for being so creative. You have a real gift and you are using it.


    1. It's not a finished costume, it's just a fichu, a pair of stays and a shift. Not even a complete set of underwear. Also, the stays and shift both have quite a few problems and will likely be cannibalized soon. Please don't call it a "period costume" because it's not.

      I hope this reply didn't sound too grumpy.

    2. You grumpy? No... I know that you have to be precise in what you say.

      Please realize that I have no idea what a pair of stays and shift are.I wasn't even born when the ladies wore those.

      To me it looks like a pretty period dress or outfit that I call a period costume because I don't see this sort of outfit in a clothing store. I might find something like that in a period costume shop. I don't know much about this sort of thing.

      I still think that it looks great and I wouldn't know what the problems are.

      PS, I love your header. You are quite the artist. It looks great.


  3. I love your new masthead (the banner image you scanned today). Looks fantastic. And all the more lovely because it's not computer artwork, but "real" hand made art.

  4. Hi There- thanks for this; I work in 1783 costume doing tours for cruise ships in Saint John and I was wondering how to get a fichu onto my square-necked dress, so this is very helpful!