This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

An 18th Century Short Jacket, aka Caraco

With our guild's upcoming 18th C Picnic in Balboa Park this coming Saturday I finally kicked myself in the butt last month to replace my earlier red floral linen caraco that was too short-waisted for me. Every time I raised my arms or stood up from a chair, there was a gap between the jacket and the skirt. I actually tried to find some more of the linen to remake one but had no luck since I bought it about 5 years ago. I had lucked out buying this fabric while at Michael Levine's in the LA Garment District after Costume College. Sally Queen was there giving a private shopping tour of 18th C fabrics and overheard her saying this was perfect. So after they left I bought some. And I bought the solid red linen to go with it for a petticoat aka skirt. 
For this picnic I wanted something quick to make and my new JP Ryan short jacket pattern fit the bill. I'd seen a couple of them with the lacing in front and thought that might help with some of the fitting problems I've had with those front closures. I've made a couple versions where I used hooks & eyes on the side or in the center but always had to cover it with ruching. I'm also not a pinner, ie pinning it closed as you historically would. I like the varieties on this jacket that are possible of using different colored ribbons, a contrasting stomacher, or a reversible one. So I chose the pattern pieces to do View B but with the ribbon closure that shows on D. 
I'm going to wear my red linen skirt and hope to use it multiple times with other fabrics. I decided to use the cotton fabrics I bought in Williamsburg a couple years ago, both of which will go with my red petticoat. After checking the fabric amounts, I had 3 yds of the blue and 5 yds of the red. Obviously I bought the red to make another longer caraco or Anglaise. So instead of wasting that on a short jacket, I decided to just do the blue one. And whenever I get a brown or blue petticoat done, I can wear it with that too. 

At the bottom of this page on the Silly Sisters site you can see some other lovely fabrics to educate your eye on what to look for while searching for your own.    I've seen similiar fabric patterns at Michael Levines in the LA Garment District where I bought this blue and brown floral patterned cotton. If I ever get a blue petticoat made I can wear both the blue jacket and this with it. 

I found this beautiful 1770s short jacket in the Cora Ginsburg Collection and this would be an easy fabric to find if you wanted to copy it. 

I liked both the short jackets and caracos (they're longer) because they use less fabric than the Anglaise or polonaise, are less work and time consuming, and you can use them with different colored petticoats for a variety of looks. *Edited to add- I recently learned that both the short jacket and caraco are used interchangeably with caraco being the French term.*
This pattern only had three main pieces plus the stomacher (the center panel that is separate from the bodice) and the sleeves. How much easier is that? I didn't have to alter the waist length on this one like I did on my previous  Period Impressions caraco. In fact the only alteration I did was my usual enlarging the upper arm portion. 
I made my muslin first out of a good cotton muslin and decided to use that also to flatline my bodice. With it being so horribly hot lately I just wasn't feeling like cutting another flatlining fabric out, plus another lining. Yes, I am lining this because it needs a little more body and for once I'm going to bag-line it. I know, I always say I won't do that and just do facings all around. But this time I'm going for quick and easy. It's also closer to the period correct way of finishing it. Even with the three layers of cotton it's not bulky. My first caraco was made with my Victorian-bodice-mindset and I flatlined it in twill and put boning in the seams. I was a real newbie at Georgian/Colonial fashion. This was also the one I wore to Colonial Williamsburg and was told that the neckline should be just above the nipple line, not halfway up my neck. This pattern was the generic size and you were expected to alter it to your own body. So I can thank Janea Whitacre there for that wonderful bit of advice. And then seeing my friend Barbee Mullin's bodices that were wafer-thin set me on a different path too. I have to say going to Colonial Williamsburg was a great learning location for my costuming. So no more binding myself in the dress. I'll let the stays (corset) do that. 

The three pieces sewed together very quickly although the pattern doesn't have the usual notches that I'm used to. It does have little lines that I'm assuming are for matching the pieces because it was a little confusing as to what side of each piece went to what. You'd think with only three pattern pieces it wouldn't be that hard. but if you've separated them and set them aside and then later pick them up, they're not very obvious as to what they are or what side they belong on. So here's my tip: make a light pen or pencil mark in your seam allowance telling you that it's a center back seam or side back to center panel, etc. Or maybe make up your own notches. 

Ok, so all pieces were sewn together and my shoulder seams were wider on the front bodice on the armhole side. I just trued it up cutting off a little wedge. This pattern has two back styles so I'm thinking the front bodice portion is the generic size for them. 

When I sewed the muslin together all the pieces lined up properly but after I sewed the fashion fabric and flatlining together both sides of the lower portion of the jacket was longer than the front portions. Stretch issues?? Maybe, because I'm sure I did stretch the muslin down to get the ends to fit and ease them in. But the final length on the bottom was a 3" difference. Because I'm doing the baglining  of the jacket, it will at least make it easier to deal with finishing those edges. 

I'm guessing this is just part of the style or maybe I'm supposed to trim it because the pattern doesn't say anything about it. The directions are minimal. The pattern is mostly a no-brainer on construction other than a few things you obviously are already supposed to know. I may have to wait for another trip to Williamsburg for some more great tips. In the meantime, I'm leaving that 3" difference alone and letting it be part of the jacket. It kind of folds into the flared portions. I'm doing View B as opposed to View D. 

*Now that I'm writing this, I again remembered that the front of the jacket is the generic one because this pattern has two lengths so maybe I was supposed to trim off that extra? But I wanted the longer length. Honestly I don't know. I'm not really that knowledgeable in Georgian fashion. While looking at some other short jackets I noticed a similar uneven bit. So I'm rationalizing that it's part of the way it pleats. At least until I learn otherwise let's call it done. *

I took this to a sewing workshop with Shelley Peters to work on the sleeves there and once again had issues with them fitting my upper arms. I had enlarged it but I still had too much fullness in the sleeve caps. Shelley tried a few different things but in the end she asked why do I try to pleat the fullness in and it never gets it spread out smoothly when I could just gather them and ease it around. ?? Umm, I don't know, I guess because I thought it was easier than having to run it through the sewing machine twice on each side to gather it? Maybe leftovers from working on later time periods? So I basted a gathering stitch and guess what? They went in much better~ Not perfect but better. And they're done. Now I have to decide if I'm going to do sleeve ruffs to go with the cuffs I made next. 
Next up were the eyelets on the front that I'll be running my ribbon through. I think I read somewhere that people are using grosgrain ribbon for extra strength but I don't think I'll be able to find a blue or red one. I had all intentions of putting grommets in while at Shelley's class using her grommet setter but on asking one of my friends online, I was quickly chastised that grommets weren't used back then and I had to do handsewn eyelets. Darn. So I dug up a video online on how to do them.
And found a photo tutorial also.
One of my blogging friends, Laurie, who often goes to Williamsburg, had a couple posts on making her 18th C jacket and I picked up a couple ideas from her, like her eyelets and how they looked on the inside. Notice there's no cut thread between each eyelet? Not sure why but methinks maybe so you don't have knots and makes it look cleaner. 

I was finally down to two weeks before the picnic and still had to do those eyelets. I started making the holes with my awl and stitching them with two strands of embroidery floss but as fast as I stitched, the holes closed up. I have arthritis in my thumb and the more I fought this, the more it hurt. After getting two finally done and putting some Fray Check on so the holes would stop shrinking, I had to set it aside. It just hurt too much. And I still had 8 more to go. One evening Shelley stopped by on her way home with her grommet setter and we did it. Then I covered them with my embroidery floss stitches so they wouldn't show. I'm sorry all you historically correct people but I have my limits. 
I put it on my dressform to see if it’s going to work. I think so. 
I bought some royal blue 5/8" ribbon and pulled out my bodkins I bought a few years ago from Silly Sisters and laced it up. Umm, no. Not going to work with a ladder lacing. It needs to tie at the top with a pretty bow, darn it. 

So I did a crisscross lacing starting at the bottom and was able to lace it on top. 
Historically the stomacher is pinned to the stays to hold it in place and you wear your jacket over it. I'm a newbie and that's not working for me. I won't tell you what I'm doing to do that but you won't be able to see it, and right now that's all that's important to me. I get to wear it. 
Photos of it on me and everyone else at the picnic will be forthcoming next week. 


  1. What a great blog entry! Love the fabric samples and your white and blue is so pretty! I can't wait to see it Saturday.

  2. Oh Val! I LOVE your caraco!! The fabric is wonderful and it looks so great on you!!

    1. Thank you Gina. I finally got enough photos from me wearing it and our picnic that I can write a blog entry on it. In between my sewing. :D

  3. You looked picture perfect in your Caraco! I think I might have to give this pattern a go as well!

  4. This turned out just perfect! Beautiful fabric!

  5. What a lovely jacket! And thank you for sharing my blog post! The eyelets close up on me too. I was told to just use an awl to keep opening them up. Now I keep a plastic awl from Burnley and Trowbridge in my kit to open up the eyelets whenever I get dressed in the 18th century. I totally understand your need to make concessions though due to arthritis! =) I also have the same fabric you used, the blue floral on white from CW. I used it to make a short gown. I think that is what they are called.

  6. Can you help me find a copy of the pattern for the caraco garments?

    1. There are two you can use from JP Ryan The short jacket---- and this longer one---
      The patterns are also available on etsy from Patterns of Time-


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!