Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fig Leaf Patterns 214 Surplice Dress

I had the wonderful opportunity a couple of months ago to attend a workshop with Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz, the creator and owner of Fig Leaf Patterns, where we worked on her new Surplice Dress Pattern. ***

Bonnet by Lydia Fast 

 You know, the one based on this dress from the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit.

Since Mackzenie was still beta testing the pattern at the time of this workshop, I don't really feel like I can give it a proper 'review' here. However here is some general advice and observations from my experience.

The pattern actually comes with two options, even though it's not shown on the front cover. The original dress appears to have been remade from an earlier 1790s style. Mackenzie has reverse engineered that original style, and included instructions to make it along with the 1815 version.

This cotton print was actually a $6/ yard Walmart find. Because yes, Virginia, you *can* find affordable fabric to do these things if you know what you are looking for.

All photos by Brian Cushing

The patterns calls for you to only gather the back skirt piece on the back piece, as is done on the original. However I extended the gathers onto the side back pieces. This is something I learned from Janea Whitaker at a Burnley & Trowbridge workshop, as a good way to accommodate those of us with wider hips.

Make sure that you calculate the length of the skirt for your height. When you get to this point, remember that the fashionable skirt lengths were very different in 1815 from 1790.


By 1815, ankle was *in*. The skirts were also becoming fuller, and being cut on an 'A-Line'.


The double cording in the bottom ruffle is great for achieving this fuller, A-Line style. The original has a tuck underneath the ruffle, which I ended up leaving out.  The tuck itself didn't seem necessary  to hold the ruffle out. Originally I was going to put one above to make mine a little different from all the other reproductions of this one running around out there, however when I tried it on the length was right as is.

Takeaways (for the 1815 surplice pattern):

  • To get the most out of the bodice ruffles, you want to use a light, sheer fabric.

  • Don't forget to adjust the length of the skirt based on your height. Remember that by 1815 the fashionable hemline was showing some serious ankle.

  • If you are curvy in the hips like I am, you may wish to use the back gather variation I have discussed above.

It is worth noting that while this dress is lovely, it is also very distinctive. If you are part of a living history ensemble group you would not want everyone to use this pattern (at Locust Grove we have limited it to 1-2 people wearing it at a time). However don't forget that you are getting a 2 for 1 here- the pattern does also come with the 1790s variation, which will give you a very flexible, customizable second option.

The last thing I will note is that Mackenzie is extremely personable and helpful. I wasn't able to attend most of the last day of this workshop, so she has answered a lot of my questions via email. So if you do get this pattern and have questions, don't hesitate to reach out to her for help! You can also ask to join the 'Friends of Fig Leaf Patterns' group on Facebook.

***The workshop was organized and underwritten by the Jane Austen Society of North America Louisville Chapter. Many thanks to Bonny Wise and JASNA for making this happen. 

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