© 2012 The Merry Dressmaker (Angela Thornhill
How to Construct an En Fourreau Back
The en fourreau back, a unique design element popular in ladies’ gowns and jackets in late eightieth century France, has found equal popularity among today’s reenactors and costume enthusiasts. The en fourreau design is characterized by a succession of pleats that extend across the garment’s back in long columns and are stitched flat to the bodice from the neckline to the small of the back; from the small of the back, these same pleats continue to flow with an unimpeded elegance down the back of the skirt to the hem. While the en fourreau style is subtle and handsome in form, many modern dressmakers quickly discover that its construction can be frustrating and fraught with difficulty. In my own quest to find a straightforward and effective tutorial – to no avail – I created my own, and I’m delighted to share it! Here you will discover a reliable step-by-step guide, complete with pictures of the construction process, on how to accurately and professionally create an en fourreau bodice back. Please note that the following tutorial is not for the novice sewer, but for the intermediate sewer who has good experience with flat-pattern, draping, and alteration techniques, and who understands dressmaking terminology. Before starting your en fourreau sewing project, read through the tutorial completely. The key here is to have a well-fitted toile1 - it is best to make any mistakes here than to poo-poo several yards of expensive fabric. My objective is to offer an easier, more precise technique than current draping or flat-pattern methods, and to assist and encourage those dressmakers who are apprehensive about tackling the en fourreau design. Blessings and happy sewing! ~Angela
A toile is a mock-up of a garment, constructed of an inexpensive cloth, like muslin or scrap fabric from a previous sewing project, so that the dressmaker can make alterations and corrections to the garment’s fit and design before its final construction.
Step One: Creating the Toile
Decide which particular garment you wish to construct, such as a gown or jacket (this garment can be selected from a commercial or theatrical pattern, or one from your own design draped on a dressmaker’s dummy). Make a well-fitted muslin toile of the bodice of your gown or jacket just as you would the bodice of any garment that does not have an en fourreau back, like this:
Step Two: Measure the Back Pattern Piece of the Toile
Using the back pattern piece of your muslin toile, measure it and make note of its height and width (both top and bottom). These three easy measurements are needed as a guide to form the perimeter of the en fourreau pleats. For example, the perimeter measurements for the back piece pictured below are 15-1/2 inches long, 10 inches wide at the top, and 3-1/4 inches wide at the bottom.2
Note: the perimeter measurements of the pleats are subjective - how wide these pleats are and how far they extend across the upper and lower back is at the discretion of the dressmaker. Extant examples show en fourreau pleats extending as far as the shoulders and armscyes on the upper back and narrowing to 1” at the lower; in contrast, other extant examples have upper and lower pleats that are nearly the same widths.
Step Three: Pleating the Fabric
Once you have measured the back pattern piece of your toile for the perimeter of the pleats, lay your fabric out flat on a cutting table (or any wide, flat surface) and began pleating and pinning on each side of the fabric’s center crease (this crease represents the center of your bodice back), stopping periodically to measure, making sure that you did not exceed the top and bottom perimeter widths.
Step Three: Continued
Step Four: Cutting Out the En Fourreau Back
Once you have constructed all of the pleats of the en fourreau back, lay the back pattern piece of the toile directly over the pleats, secure it in place carefully with pins, trace around the pattern in light pencil (because it is erasable in case of mistakes), remove the back pattern piece to ensure that your tracing lines are accurate, then cut the fabric carefully.
Step Five: Stitch the Pleats
Iron the pleats, removing the straight pins as you go along. Once the pleats are ironed, use a few straight pins to hold the pleats neatly in place, and then carefully sew them down. Note: begin stitching the pleats in place from the top of the bodice back, stitching only as far down as your back length measurement – from this point on, the pleats are free-flowing and unstructured.
Step Six: Constructing the Bodice
Before you pleat the left and right sides of the skirt back (on either side of the en fourreau pleats) to the base (or bottom) of your gown or jacket bodice, you must first construct the rest of the garment’s bodice and sew on the remaining skirt panels to the left and right sides of the skirt back - do not skip these two steps. Then pleat all of the attached skirt pieces to the bottom of the bodice back, continuing to pleat around to the bodice side front.
Step Six: Continued
Step Seven: Sew in the Bodice Lining
Finally, sew together and insert the lining to your gown or jacket bodice, taking care that the lining extends down to the starting point of the skirt pleats.
Step Seven: Continued
Aside from your own special touch of decoration (embellishments, trimmings, embroidery, and etcetera), your en fourreau gown or jacket is complete - Bravo!
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