My preferred method of dressmaking is draping. Oh, I do like my patterns (heaven knows I have enough), but draping is more accurate and time efficient. Seems logical to drape at every dressmaking opportunity, right? I thought so, until I encountered the en fourreau back. Uh, oh.
I pulled out my Janet Arnold books and considered her drawings and patterns. No. I'd have to grid the pattern and adjust it to fit, not even sure what I was doing with the pleats. And with yards and yards of fabric in potential peril, even if I first made a muslin toile, it could spell a dressmaking disaster.
Buy a pattern? No. I scoured many informative articles written by my sister bloggers and read about their complications and frustrations with this pattern and that. Not only would I have to fork over money for a pattern, I'd still have to adjust it to fit.
Google a tutorial? Yes. I found three, and as I read through them and appreciated these wonderful seamstresses' excellent work, I realized I couldn't do it - drape the back on my dummy, that is. Two of the three tutorials were so complicated I began to question my aptitude as a dressmaker. The other had scant directions and no pictures (directions and pictures are good). Like the story of The En Fourreau That Wasn't, I was getting the feeling that this was going to be a shelved project. Surely, an en fourreau back cannot be this difficult?
Then, I got an idea, and I'd like to share it (using my most recent dressmaking project as an example)...
1). I constructed and fitted the muslin toile of my jacket just as I would the bodice of any non-en fourreau jacket or gown:
2). Using the back pattern piece of my muslin toile, I measured it and made note of its height and its width (both top and bottom). These easy measurements are needed as a guide to form the perimeter of the en fourreau pleats (Note: the perimeter of the pleats is subjective - how wide these pleats are and how far they extend across the back is at the discretion of the dressmaker). My perimeter measurements are 15-1/2" long, 10" wide at the top, and 3-1/4" wide at the bottom (I did not want my pleats to extend past my neckline).
|Back pattern of toile...|
|Measuring for pleat placement...|
3). Once I measured the back pattern piece of my toile for the perimeter of the pleats, I laid my fabric out flat on the cutting table and began pleating and pinning, stopping periodically to measure (making sure I did not exceed my top and bottom perimeter widths).
|Fabric flat on the table ready to be pleated...|
|First center pleat, using the the center crease of the fabric as my guide...|
|Second center pleat...|
|Fourth pleat, etc., etc.|
4). Once I constructed all of the pleats of the en fourreau back, I laid the back pattern piece directly over the pleats, secured it in place carefully with pins, traced around the pattern in light pencil (because it's erasable), removed the pattern piece to ensure my tracing lines were accurate, then I cut the fabric.
|Back pattern piece laid over pleats...|
|Fabric cut - close up view|
|Fabric cut - wide view|
5). I ironed the pleats and sewed them in place.
6). Before I pleated the two back skirt pieces (on either side of the en fourreau pleats) to the bottom of the jacket back, I constructed the rest of the jacket bodice and sewed on the two side skirt panels to the back skirt panel (do not skip this step). Then I pleated the back and side skirt pieces to the bottom of the bodice back, continuing to pleat around to the bodice side front.
|Pleating the skirt to the bottom of the bodice back...|
|Skirt pleats attached to the bottom of the jacket bodice.|
|Completed en fourreau back.|
7). Finally, I sewed together and inserted the lining to the jacket, taking care that the lining extended down to the starting point of the skirt pleats.
My hope is to assist and encourage other dressmakers who are just as apprehensive about constructing an en fourreau back as I was (you may download the PDF for this tutorial here). It's not so difficult, and it certainly helps to have a guide or a pictorial reference. The key here is have a well-fitted toile - it's best to make any mistakes here than to poo-poo 3-4 yards of expensive fabric. I do appreciate "easier" construction techniques (as long as these techniques honor the historical aesthetic of a particular fashion era) and I am positive that our ancestral needlewomen did, too. Just call me The Lazy Dressmaker - lol!
Blessings and happy sewing!