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The dress options in this pattern were inspired by the beautiful portraits of the 1780s, like the ones shown in the slide show, and by extant garments in the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum of London (thank you, Hillary!). I have long loved the beautiful, pastoral portraits of the late Georgian Era. Family groupings set in fields and beneath trees painted by artists like Thomas Gainsborough marked a departure from the stiffer, more formal portraits of a generation before. Children in these paintings gradually made an amazing transition from miniature adults to playful, happy youngsters in relaxed poses. Some of my favorite paintings are by George Romney and Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun. Inspired by these lovely, classic portraits, I decided to create this pattern for my own girls, who adore the full skirts and wide sashes of the time.

This pattern includes options for a smooth-bodice dress that fastens up the back and a gathered bodice dress that slips over the head. It also offers elbow-length sleeves with optional ruffles and fitted long sleeves. Appendices give directions for using sheer fabrics, making tucks, and more.

  • Sizes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 & 14 all included in one ePattern.
  • Illustrated instructions make construction easy!
  • Options for long sleeves, and elbow-length sleeves with optional ruffles.
  • Click to download the Girls’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern yardage chart.
  • Available for instant download!
  • Photo instructions available in PDF format!

A wide sash or ribbon around the waist gives these dresses a darling “Kate Greenaway” look (sash instructions included). The pattern is rated intermediate because of the lining and understitching, but it is really not difficult to put together. I think a beginner would have little trouble, and I am always available through the Contact Form if you have questions!

Notes: If you purchased the early versions of this pattern (pre-6/11), please click here for corrections to your pattern.

Several customers have asked about the size of the chest on the girls’ 1780s pattern, which they say is too large in proportion to the waist. Actually, this is simply the wide neckline of the era, which is meant to perch on the edge of the shoulders. If you have a little girl with very narrow shoulders or a smaller chest measurement, you will want to tweak this area so that the dress doesn’t slip off the shoulders or gape at the center front. Another point to remember is that the dresses of this time period had a drawstring through the neckline to make a perfect fit. It is illegal to use drawstrings in garments for children under age 12, so I cannot recommend that method; however, using elastic in the fitted as well as the gathered bodice will help keep those shoulders in place. 🙂

(Looking for the paper version rather than the ePattern? Purchase from one of our many retailers worldwide!)

63 comments on “Girls’ 1780s Portrait Dress Pattern”

  1. I am in love with that dress. Now I know what my six year old’s Christmas dress will look like this year.

  2. Yay! I will have to wait for my arm to recover from surgery next week, but I know the first thing I will be sewing once I can start up again 😉 I might even have the perfect fabric for it 😀

    • I am actually working on the ladies’ pattern this weekend while my model is here. 🙂 The girls’ pattern hit a snag in July because we had a lot of travel, but it goes to press next week if all goes as planned! The ladies’ pattern will be ready this fall, because I’m going to work up another pattern first that I’ve promised a friend for a year now. 😉 Thanks for your patience — patterns have to stay on the back burner with all the busyness around our home and with our travel schedule. But when I have the time to work, I work speedily!

      Warmly,
      Jennie

  3. Gorgeous, Jennie – I love it!! I’m definitely making this for my granddaughter. Can’t wait for the ladies’ pattern. I’d also love to see a ladies’ and girls’ pattern for a Colonial era gown – around 1770’s (my granddaughter wants a gown like “Felicity” from the American Girls collection). Could I possibly ‘put a bug in your ear’ about a 1770’s gown somewhere down the road?? God Bless you, Jennie.

    • Thanks, Vicki! This one will already make “Felicity” dresses, as the styles for girls in the 1770s remained unchanged into the early 1790s. Women’s fashions of the 1780s actually followed girls’! 🙂

      Warmly,
      Jennie

  4. Oh, this is simply lovely! I wish I had younger sisters for whom I could make it!
    That said, I can’t wait for the women’s dress to come out! Hopefully it will be ready in enough time so I can use it for a Christmas dress. It is simply stunning!

  5. These are SOOO Beautiful! Well done, Jennie!
    PS I can’t take my eyes off those beautiful dining room chairs in the picture of the lovely ladies in the white gowns. 😀

    • Thanks, Leah! Can’t take credit for the chairs! A friend from church let us use his family’s dining room for those photos. They are antique European chairs and are even more beautiful in person!

      • Ah, well it made the perfect backdrop for those charming dresses! I showed my daughter the photos and she was enchanted. I think I may have gotten a good idea for a Christmas present this year. 😉

    • Hi there! If you want to make a sheer gown out of voile or organdy, you can make a full petticoat out of the bodice and skirt pieces (just leave out the sleeves). Girls of the time wore chemises and stays, but I made the pattern for a more modern fit without stays (I don’t even think there’s a pattern out there for little girls’ stays!).

      Hope this helps!

      Warmly,
      Jennie

  6. How beautiful and precious! I am so grateful for your God-honoring work and ministry. 🙂 I look forward to seeing the adult sewing pattern as well. Now I know what girls’ items to save up for. 🙂 Thank you for being such a blessing.

    For His glory,
    Franicia

  7. I think that the ladies version of this will be my next attempt at making a dress for myself. This one, though, will be a lovely red Christmas dress for my 5yo.

  8. Elizabeth Stewart Clark at The Sewing Academy has a girls’ underthings pattern that includes stays. It’s for Victorian era underthings, but I bet it wouldn’t be hard to change the stays from Victorian to Georgian, especially in the case for young girls.

  9. I think this is just a lovely dress and can’t wait to order the patterns for both the girl’s and the lady’s. I want to get them together not just for myself but I know several mothers and daughters that I go to church with and they would love matching dresses… trying to wait as patiently as possible. It’s HARD… hahaha

  10. Beautiful! I’m going to purchase this pattern soon and make it all in white for my daughter’s First Communion dress. Looking at fabric right now to figure out what will give me the look I want (crisp with nice drape and not too sheer as I am not a lining expert and don’t want any slight mistake to show through). I think a nice cotton would look lovely and be easy to work with but I don’t want the dress to look too plain. Thought about an eyelet but that might be overkill. I am somewhere just beyond a beginner so don’t want to go with anything too hard to match up nicely. Will see what I come up with.

    • Hi, Katharine! Pima cotton drapes beautifully and is still crisp enough to drape nicely. It’s also super soft and great to wear. Definitely line the bodice and make a petticoat, though. I’d add net lace to the elbow sleeves to add the elegance that will make the dress extra special. Have fun sewing!

  11. I’ve been waiting for the ladies pattern to be an epattern because I have a gift certificate for here, but that doesn’t work at VisionForum. On the forum you said Vision has the exclusive rights until the end of January. Does this mean the pattern or epattern, which I prefer because of space issues, will be here soon? I really need the womens one.

  12. Jennie,
    Was the toile you used for your girls’ dresses a thin cotton, or heavier? I am planning to try this for Easter dresses this year. I have some toiles in my stash, but they are a bit heavier than dress weight…which would be ok for “dress up” play, but not so nice for Easter. I’d love to know more about what you used. Thank you!

    Warmly,
    Stacey

    • Hi, Stacey! That material was actually from the upholstery section (curtain-weight). My girls loved it, but it is a little on the heavy side, so I didn’t make the skirts as full. Hope this helps!

  13. I’ve used your girl patterns before and the fit’s always been right, but when I made 2 dresses for my nieces, neither fit right. The bust part was a few inches larger than the waist! Did I do something wrong, twice?

  14. This looks like such a wonderfull dress!I found your website a little while ago.I love all the patterns. It makes me want to learn to sew very soon.This dress would be so pretty as church dresses for my two Younger sisters.

  15. Oh my goodness! My friend made this dress for my girls for Easter and they are so adorable! I LOVE it and can not wait to have her do some of the other patterns! So great to find something modest and little girl for them. Shopping in the stores is just a pain these days!

  16. I’m curious as to the big differences between this era and the regency in the child’s dress… I can see some differences but I also see some things that are similar.

  17. Hi, Katie! It’s actually entirely different. The neckline is very wide and square, the bodice is fitted to the waist, the bodice back has an extra side back seam, the shoulder seam is different, and the sleeves are a completely different animal. 😉 The only thing that is similar is the skirt, which is rectangular, but this one is much fuller. Hope this helps!

  18. Hi Jenny, i am so happy to discover that i can go on this website at school 🙂 but i would really like to make this for my cousin and i was wondering if this pattern is hard to make? I have made the 1914s afternoon dress with my grandma. Kind Regards Taylore

  19. Thank you so much for this pattern. I made this dress for my three little girl bridesmaids at my wedding and they were absolutely perfect. Comfortable, warm and just beautiful!

  20. This is just gorgeous! I would have loved one when I was a little girl, and my oldest daughter would have, too. Unfortunately, the only little girl in my family now is my granddaughter and she’s a tomboy!

  21. Hi

    I’m eagerly awaiting my pattern, which is currently winging its way from the US to the UK. I am planning to make the dress for my daughter’s First Holy Communion next June. In terms of fabrics, I’ve looked at the yardage chart with fabric suggestions, but wonder if I could make the dress in silk dupion? I notice that this type of fabric is suggested for the sash, but would it be suitable for the dress itself?

      • My patterns have just been handed to me by our postman! So exciting! I will ‘Show & Tell’ the finished dress (the date is June 2014, so there’s a little time yet). I’m sitting down now with a cup of tea to read through the instructions… X

  22. Dear Jennie,

    You mention different views. I can’t find a way to see different views other than the photos. I am assuming that views 1 and 2 are the more formal and view 3 is the dress in white (cotton?). Did you wear stays under the dress in white or …ahem… More modern “underpinnings”? Could I modify it for pregnancy…I’m 41 bust and 39 ” waist” right now. I had an idea and I know I’m working short on time, but we live near Williamsburg, Virginia. I was investigating some ideas for our soon to be 13 year old daughter next weekend…eeeeekks. My alternate idea fell through and I stumbled on the fact that you can rent clothes (for children) at Williamsburg and then have special privileges. Then came my idea… Maybe you have a pattern… And you do!!!! And matching mother daughter dresses, too!!!!!

    I wanted to take her to the Regency dining room for tea dressed in colonial clothes and perhaps spend some time touring the Revolutionary city if they will still let her do those special privileges being dressed up. It may take some fancy foot work to get it all coordinated and done before the magic day! It may just be a good idea too late. I guess we will see. Perhaps you have some ideas or suggestions. I believe you have been to colonial Williamsburg. Would another pattern do better? I realize I may have to pull some late nights or earlier mornings… Or push the special day a week.

    Thank you for your time and help in this matter.

    Blessings,

    Ingrid McConnell

    • Hi, Ingrid! The two options are totally different — one is a fitted dress that buttons or hooks up the back; the second is a “drawstring”-look dress that uses elastic in the neckline and waist to mimic the look of an authentic drawstring gown of the era (drawstrings are illegal on garments for children under 12, thus the elastic). Your comment is on the girls’ version of the dress, but then you mention stays and pregnancy, so I think you’re actually looking for the Ladies’ version for yourself (and that fitted bodice hooks up the front).

      You definitely need the period correct underpinnings if you want to wear the fitted bodice, as it is not designed to fit over a modern bra. You can get away with a modern bra under the drawstring gown, but if you want to modify for maternity, I recommend simply using the drawstring gown option from the Elegant Lady’s Closet instead, as no modifications are needed (unless you carry very much out front and want to add width to the skirt front). If you add a wide sash to that gown and use the elbow-length sleeves with ruffles, you will easily pass for early 1780s. 😀

      But if you’re going to visit Colonial Williamsburg in costume (bliss!) and want to be as authentic as possible, then you can still use the drawstring dress from the 1780s pattern for yourself, but shorten the bodice a wee bit to accommodate a baby belly. 😉 It really is a treat to go through CW in costume, and your daughter will love it! Last time we were there as a family was in 2007 for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, and we did both historical areas in correct costumes. Such fun!

      Happy sewing!

  23. Hi, I want to make this dress for my 5 1/2 year old daughter. What should she wear underneath? I noticed little ruffles sticking out of the bottom of the dress in some of the photos. Also, what is the smallest size this pattern makes? I also have a 10 month old daughter I’d like to make for when she is a bit bigger.. my 13 year old isn’t very interested but I’m thinking after I make a dress for myself and possibly my mom (with the ladies patterns)she may want to have a tea/Jane party with us as she does enjoy those movies! 🙂 fingers crossed!

    • Hi, Erica! The pattern includes instructions for making a full petticoat to wear beneath the skirt–very easily done but not absolutely required unless you are using a thin or sheer material for the dress. The smallest size is 1, so it’s already fine for your 10-month-old, as gowns for babies were quite long during this time period. I bet your 13-year-old will want one once she sees your 5 1/2-year-old’s and yours! Have fun, and let me know if you have any more questions!

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