Although the gown was far and away the most common item of women’s dress in the 18th Century, jackets were also popular throughout the century. This particular jacket is called a caraco, fashionable in the 1770s and 1780s. Although caracos would typically have been made of fabrics like the newly popular cotton prints, glazed worsteds, etc, I chose to make mine from wool–in this case, a lovely soft butter yellow flannel. I made this decision because I really wanted to use some of the period woolens that Stirwaters would have produced. In reality, those fabrics–the wool broadcloths, baizes, cassimeres, and kerseys–would have been much more common in menswear of the era, particularly military uniforms.

I chose the jacket because I was drawn to similar jackets in period artwork of middle class women and girls, such as Jean-Etienne Liotard’s The Chocolate Girl. When I actually made the caraco, however, I discovered that the style I had chosen was cut and constructed in a way that is too constricting to be practical for most everyday middle-class work. Charlotte could have worn it to her visit to Pinchfields, for example, but it would have been too cumbersome for a day crawling around Stirwaters. This is actually one of those wonderful (if mildy vexing) aspects of costuming–these things you discover hands-on that don’t come out in the book research.

The petticoat is what we today would simply call a “skirt,” and it was a very simply-constructed garment of two rectangular panels of fabric pleated to a waistband and sewn together partway up the side seams (the seams are left open for several inches below the waist, so the wearer can access her pockets). They could vary in elaborateness, length, and material, depending on the occasion and class for which they were worn. Mine is made of blue flannel (a much heavier sort of fabric than the flannel used for the jacket. That stuff is lightweight and soft, with a beautiful drape; this is heavy, coarse, and much stiffer). In contrast to the use of wool flannel for the caraco, above, wool flannel was a very common material in women’s petticoats. Wool is a practical fabric for skirts; it’s warm and it’s fireproof (very important when cooking near an open hearth).

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