Patterning A Worth Gown

I‘ve been quietly studying and lifting a pattern from one of the many Worth gowns in our collection. It’s harder than one would think, because I have to take fangirl breaks! She’s an 1881 silk voided velvet on faille polonaise and skirt, in mint condition…it’s like Himself is whispering in my ear, saying…”Do it!” Hmmm… 🙂

The basic fashion fabric it “voided” silk velvet on silk faille. It’s also pattern matched everywhere on the seams. It’s one of the few gowns that we own that is closed lined and not with open seam allowances. It’s completely lined with silk moire, except for the sleeves.

Patterns- Building The Foundation

Inspiration is the basis for all of our designs but that is only the start. In order to bring our designs into reality, it is necessary to have an extensive knowledge of just HOW garments are constructed (i.e. “put together”) and an essential part of this are patterns since they provide the “roadmap” for the actual construction process. In this post, we’ll be discussing the nature of our approach towards patterning. Enjoy! 🙂


All garments, whether the are haute couture or bargain basement, start with a pattern and it’s that specific pattern that defines what that particular garment is ultimately going to be. Here at Lily Absinthe, our approach to patterning is a combination of methods that are referred to in the trade as “bespoke” and “made to measure (MTM).” These two terms are often used interchangeably in reality are two different methods. With the bespoke method, an individual pattern is created for a specific client based on their measurements and taking into account the various body characteristics of the client. With MTM, the garment is built on pre-existing pattern blocks that are modified on the basis of the client’s measurements (this is admittedly a bit of an over-simplification but it does convey the essence).

We maintain an extensive library of pattern blocks that we have drafted ourselves and in most instances, we will modify specific pattern blocks based on the individual client’s measurements. More importantly, these modifications also incorporate every nuance of the client’s body. In most instances, the MTM method works perfectly but in some instances, we will draft custom pattern pieces. However, no matter which of these two approaches we use, we guarantee a perfect fit every time and a garment that has been custom made to the client.

Patterning is often presented as a magic and mysterious process that requires the utilization of various arcane procedures to achieve results. On the flip side, in more recent years patterning has been presented as something that can be done quickly on a computer and paper patterns instantly printed out. In reality, while pattern drafting is a relatively simple and straight-forward in theory, it does require an attention to detail, precision, and a lot of patience (and we mean A LOT). For more complicated designs, it often requires a series trials rotating back and forth with muslin mock-ups (aka tolle) and revising the paper pattern to achieve the optimal result.


Ultimately, whether a garment is “bespoke” or MTM, it’s critical that the fit be perfect, fabric/trim choices are suitable, and most importantly, that the garment is aesthetically pleasing. 🙂

Madame Demorest's Illustration Portfolio of the Fashions for 1880:

It’s All About The Pattern…

One of the questions that we are asked is: “What pattern did you use?” It’s a tricky question from our perspective, because we are designers and not teachers. Our answer is that we pattern them ourselves, I prefer to carefully “lift” them from original garments; Adam loves original pattern sheets and old diagrams with apportioning scales. It’s how we roll, it’s what we also do for fun.

Long story short: Check out the beautiful copper silk gown in the above picture, it’s a beautifully made antique garment that must have been worn only once or twice. I fell in love with the bodice shape and carefully lifted a pattern, then scaled it up to a “modern” 12, then my own size as well. The violet plaid gown is the size 12, and yet it retains the same shape (except I “shallow v’d” the neck and pointed the tails) as the original bodice.

Is It A Wrapper Or Is It A Tea Gown?

In the course of researching tea gowns, I came across an interesting thing while looking at reprints of the Autumn 1886 and Spring 1893 editions of the E. Butterick & Company’s pattern catalog. In looking at the illustrations, I noted that that while they seemingly appear to be tea gowns, with one exception, they’re labeled as “wrappers.” Let’s take a look- first, for 1886:



In looking at the various styles above, there are 12 wrapper patterns versus the lone tea gown pattern (No. 52). Interesting enough, style-wise, the one tea gown pattern appears fairly similar to many of the wrapper patterns. Just what the criteria was that separated the two styles is not obvious and would bear further study; perhaps it was simply a matter of marketing: a tea gown implies a more “fancy garment” while wrapper implies a more basic informal garment meant to be worn while at home.

Moving forward, we seen an explosion of choices in the Spring 1893 Butterick pattern catalog:

Butterick_Spring 1893 Pattern Catalog Tea Gown

Butterick_Spring 1893 Pattern Catalog Tea Gown

Butterick_Spring 1893 Pattern Catalog Tea Gown

And once again, while there’s a wider variety of styles, many whose features mimic regular day dresses, they’re all labeled as wrappers. Of course, some of the styles are clearly ones that would be worn at home on in the presence of family members (maybe) but others are far more elaborate and imply that they would be worn in the presence of close friends for social occassions.

One useful way to look at tea gowns is that they tended to be more closely fitted that the wrapper, often boned and worn with a corset. Also, the tea gown was more “public” in that it was worn for more social occasions, albeit in the home. As with fashion in general, styles can be take to extremes so we’ll leave you with this example made by Worth in 1894:

Worth tea gown afternoon dress c. 1890 - 1895

Worth, Tea Gown, c. 1890 – 1895; Royal Ontario Museum (969.223)

Worth tea gown afternoon dress c. 1890 - 1895

Note the boning…

Stay tuned for more! 🙂


Designs From The House Of Worth…

Along with the development of the fashion industry during the late 19th Century was also the development of paper patterns. During this time, McCall’s, Demorest, and Butterrick’s, along with a slew of lesser known companies, got their start and by 1900, printed paper patterns was a thriving industry. While a majority of the garments represented by these patterns were designed by unknown individuals (at least unknown to us today), there were some patterns that bore the name of a known designer and one such example was a pattern produced in 1882 that was licensed by Charles Worth. Below is an advertisement for a polonaise that appeared in the March 1882 edition of the magazine The Ladies’ Treasury:


And interesting fact is that several of the major couture houses in Paris did license some of their designs for reproduction as sewing patterns, partly as a measure to counter design piracy and knock-offs (which was as serious a problem in the fashion industry then as it is now) and as a means of providing some publicity. Also, what is even more interesting is that one sees this phenomenon as early as the above example- Worth tended to be extremely secretive about his designs and tended to shy away from most publicity- he rarely granted interviews to journalists nor did he allow outsiders to visit his workrooms. It certainly raises some interesting questions and we hope to be able find out more about it. Finally, it would be very interesting to locate a copy of this pattern although we suspect that it would probably bear little that’s unique compared to similar designs from more anonymous sources.