Monday, March 12, 2018

Robe a la Francaise


Tra la la, I finally did a robe la francaise. It is so poofy and fluffy and I love it. To be honest, up until six months ago, it was a style I was not very fond of. I do enjoy the many paintings showcasing the gowns but I prefer the robe a l'anglaise with the gorgeous fitted back and pleating. However, something clicked after seeing some beautiful recreations. There is nothing more magical than watching a woman walk in a robe a la francaise, the silk billowing behind her. Once I finished the stays and pocket hoops (detailed in my previous blog entry), I knew I was ready. Or at least, I thought I was ready. Is anyone ever really ready for 350 inches of trim?

      Detail from Gersaint's Shopsign by Jean-Antoine Watteau, 1720

The quintessential francaise painting - Declaration of Love by Jean Francois de Troy, 1731 (and who wouldn't declare love to that gorgeous ensemble?!)

Robe a la francaise from the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum 

I started with a lot of research and my new American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking book. Pinning down a decade was hard. I opted for 1750-60 ish for many reasons but really, the francaise was popular for quite a long time.  I knew I wanted a stomacher front and a frilly petticoat. I decided I was not going to hand sew the entire garment. For the first time, I wanted to get my bearings and also, I was motivated to finish in time to attend another event (do you sense a pattern here?).

 I read through the American Duchess book three times. I read through several bloggers (if you havent read The Fashionable Past you are missing out. She is wonderful with photos and explanations).  The nice thing about the American Duchess book is that they show everything using hand sewing. If you decide to switch to a machine its doable, but how great to have options. There are pictures for every step and they cover several different gowns. I started with the white linen lining. I already had a basic block from my last gown and I fully admit I had Simplicity 8578 to refer to in case I had a meltdown over drafting and draping. So I ended up using the back lining piece (yes, its accurate!) and that worked out well. The book DOES include scaled patterns that you can size up but I am just not comfortable doing that yet.

Me at ye olde Joanns taking a pattern picture (that's right, I'm going to make this a thing)

I then started to drape my silk over it, starting with the back. Oh those back pleats. They are the essential bit of the gown. I could not grasp the pleating. I re read the American Duchess instructions. I pulled out several other books. And then I contacted a friend with no 18th century experience but nevertheless a skilled seamstress and had her break it down for me several times. Whatever it takes, right?! I hand sewed the pleats at the top of the back lining piece and then sewed them down four inches from the top (as instructed in the book).

Success! At this point I was so excited I forgot all about the miles of trim ahead of me.

Once the back was done it was smooth sailing. I hand sewed the front two pieces to the side back seams. I hand sewed the shoulder strap. A gore was used as detailed in the book and I found myself with a bit too much fabric to pleat but it was ok, I just went along with it. I followed the directions to do the draping in the front. I tried it all on and was so excited it was starting to look like something! One of my favorite parts of the process is realizing how much sense everything makes. You drape and fit to the person so that you can conserve fabric and also get the best fit. When I started historical costuming this was the most frustrating part for me. There is no set pattern and exact way of making the gown. You MUST fit it to your body and do some draping. Now I can appreciate it and embrace the challenge.

Woohoo, look, a dress!

Hand sewn front to back/side piece with the pleats at waist. I actually enjoyed doing this plus hand sewing gives you complete control.

I next did the petticoat. I decided on two rows of ruffles and allllll the way from one side to the other (no one will see the back anyway). The petticoat itself went very fast. I measured my waist to ankle in direct front then again on the side over the pocket hoops. I used the book as a guide in trying to figure out the width. I hand pleated and hand sewed the top to the linen tape  I tried to leave the front unpleated as much as possible but I think I got a little pleat happy. I also blame Room with a View for distracting me with its beautiful costumes.

This was so satisfying to sew

The trim did not go fast (have I mentioned the 350 inches of trim? No? There was 350 inches of trim. Not that I counted or anything). I have no idea what I was thinking but clearly I wasn't. This is where I veered from the book. I did not want the same trim so I came up with my own design - a double gathered strip of trim because I like to torture myself. I measured the length of what I wanted covered in trim and then multiplied by two to get the final length to gather. And then I grabbed my scallop scissors (on amazon for $12!) and went to work. I got through the BBC Pride and Prejudice AND Northanger Abbey while cutting (Felicity Jones is so adorable). I cut and cut and hand gathered and hand gathered. At one point I called my friends and said I wouldn't finish in time, go without me.

Look at all those scallops. So many scallops.

All I can say is thank goodness for Amazon Prime videos

 I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do about trimming the gown so I just ignored it for the time being. Once the petticoat was trimmed it felt like the worst was over. I ordered clocked stockings to congratulate myself on getting this far.

Helloooooo frilly petticoat. Even my uggs approved.

I knew I wanted trim in the traditional manner along the neckline and down the skirt front. I did try to do the swirls on either side but it was too much. I apologize there is no photographic evidence of that disaster. You will have to trust me on this one. I looked like I was being eaten by trim. I decided to do something a bit more restrained and the trim was wide enough it would make a statement.

Neckline trim tacked on. Poor Betty got stuck so much.

The stomacher was so much fun!  First I tried everything on and put a big square of lining fabric in the place of a stomacher. I used pins to mark where I needed to cut and added a little seam allowance. I used a nice thick linen for lining and placed the silk on top, whipstitching the two together. I twisted and twirled and hand sewed that trim down. I am really happy with how it turned out, it's my favorite part. I added three tabs on either side to help with pinning it on. I had read several times this would help and I was already scared about doing the pinning (go big or go home,right?!). It is also period correct!

Betty wearing the francaise with style, no bows or lace yet

Finally FINALLY I really was almost done. Except the bows. And the lace. Er, yeah. No biggie,right? I'll just pop down to Joanns and grab some lace. Ha, jokes on me. They had nothing. I had days til the event and not many options that weren't astronomical in price. Oh dear. So I sucked it up. I went to a local shop and begged for help. And they did help! I found some lovely lace. I couldn't buy 3 yards of it but I could make do with one and it was so nice. Then I spied some changeable silk in pink and blue. It was so beautiful. I almost wish I had done my entire gown in it. I knew it would be the perfect accent as bows. For once, my last minute dash worked out smoothly (half the fun is getting the adrenaline pumping). The American Duchess book has a little section on making 5 looped bows, which I appreciate. It is nice that all the details are included.

This was attempt number one and it fell very flat. It looked too bo peep. No thank you.

So much better. Even though poor Betty has a popped stomacher.

And then just like that I was ready. I got a fan and some rouge from LLBC (historical cosmetics). I put on my pearl earrings (from Dames a la Mode). I quickly popped some bows on my old shoes and rolled up my pink clocked stockings. I did indeed pin the stomacher and gown. It actually was not awful and I am pleased to report they stayed put. It is a really great way to fit a garment. I can readjust and fit the gown exactly how I want it. I think I may just use pins from now on. Those 18th century women knew what they were doing!

Make up and hair done (even a tiny patch!). I tried to powder my hair to no avail. I definitely need to try harder next time. The overalls are not historical, for the record.

Stocking and shoes (that are not really very accurate but pretty nonetheless. And most importantly, very comfortable)

And off to the event I went! I am so glad. So very glad I did it all. Although I definitely want to do some things differently next time. I got to meet some really amazing people and I felt so graceful in the francaise. It really was like time travelling but with modern toilets and french fries at the end. 

Here are some pictures from the event and below that, from the photoshoot, so you can see the dress a little clearer. I also included a video of me getting dressed. I already was laced into my stays but it gives a good idea. I love that it features the World's Ugliest Pocket, which I will now keep forever and use faithfully. It may be a completely not accurate fabric print but it is mine and I love it.

At the event, posing as one does

More posing with friends, because that is one of the nicest parts. Also, don't they look fabulous?!

I spent a lot of the event sitting and watching the dancing and talking to friends

We always do a photo of me posing like this at the column so I couldn't resist

My video isnt working on blogspot but you can view it on facebook! Follow the link below:

Monday, March 5, 2018

New 18th century Stays and Pocket Hoops

I am so pleased to share my new stays and pocket hoops! Even though I have done one set of stays before, this felt like the first time all over again as I used a completely different pattern and materials. I will warn that I did not follow all the instructions exactly and I did use my machine for half the construction (my trusty Singer 401a has not let me down yet).

I used the Redthreaded Georgian Stays pattern in pdf form. I wanted back lacing stays with a basic shape. I liked the lines on this one and figured I could modify by adding more boning channels if I wanted (because why follow the pattern when I can make things more difficult). You choose your pattern based on measurements and as expected, the pdf came together easily. I did a mock up with cardboard then went right to work.

I read through the instructions and opted for layers in drill, linen and a white cotton as the outer layer. It is not 18th century inspired at all, but I like it anyway. I was more interested in the idea of the white on white design with pink binding than accuracy.

 I will always take the opportunity to fussy cut fabric when given the chance

I added four more boning channels to the front piece and a couple to the sides. The pattern recommends straight steel for boning but I opted for heavy duty zip ties. Next time, I will try synthetic whalebone because I keep hearing such good things. I kept the shape and tabs of the original pattern. I didn't want to mess with things too much since I am still a beginner. The eyelets were hand sewn because why not! I was reckless and barely practiced before doing them on the stays. So while I am very proud I completed useable eyelets they are small. Very small. So small that I had trouble getting the lacing through and had to use ribbon!

Finally I was almost done. When people say that binding tabs is not easy that is not an understatement. Even though I had done it in the past (and even bound stays for a friend), this time did not go any smoother. I used a pretty light pink cotton binding. The pattern suggested adding the straps after binding but I wanted a different look, so I attached the straps before doing any binding. I hand sewed the binding to the front first, then wrapped it around to the back and whipstitched by hand into place. As a result, my binding looks better on the inside than outside I think. I did pink binding on the side seams as well. I have noticed it in several recreations and it definitely helps with durability.

I did take some pictures of the stays flat but really, they are meant to be worn, so here they are over my poor shift (mended four times, I am surprised it has survived so long). I am altogether happy with the fit. There are some things I will change next time. I feel they are just a little bit too long waisted. I did cut the tabs a bit higher but I think I need to readjust and shift the whole thing so the entire length is shorter. This is not the pattern's fault at all. I am a mere 5'1 tall and used to modifying due to my height. I should have paid closer attention when doing the mock up and learned my lesson (mistakes are never really mistakes if you learn from them. Or, this is what I tell myself after working for a month on a project).

Oh and the pocket hoops! Can't forget those. The pocket hoops were made using the book The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. The book focuses on hand sewing and while I will probably try in the future, this time I used my trusty 401a to construct the hoops and the old standy by, heavy duty zip ties. 

The pocket hoops go together fast. Or they do if you actually read through the instructions instead of being distracted by An American in Paris on your tv. I finished them only to realize that I had forgotten to attach the ties to the inside, creating the actual shape. Not my finest hour. I admit I spent a good two hours stressed out before I realized. Oops. After that fiasco, they were done and I was ready for the main attraction - the robe a la francaise.

Betty modeling the stays and pocket hoops.

Monday, January 29, 2018

1860's Ravenclaw

I finally am able to sit down and write about my first Victorian emsemble! I will start by admitting that mid 19th century fashion construction is not something I am overly familiar with. That being said, when two friends asked me to attend the local Dicken's Fair I figured now was as good of a time as any to learn some more. So off I went to the fabric store, where I quickly found a lovely sapphire blue silk that wanted to come home. I started looking at images of day dresses and decided I want something simple because time was not on my side and I had no clue what I was doing. A long sleeve bodice with piping, a lace collar and the classic full skirt. In the end, this project became a huge learning experience for me.

Two  mid 19th century examples that I used as inspiration. Note the dropped sleeves, lace collars and v waist detail. 

I began with the Truly Victorian 4446 digital e-pattern for the bodice as I didn't trust myself to draft and I wanted an accurate look. The digital copy was great! Download was fast, I taped and cut it out in no time. I luckily fit right into the sizing. I modified by narrowing the sleeve, creating a v in front and slight v shape in back.  Here was when I encountered error number one- I did my muslin out of a cotton with a bit of stretch. I thought the back laid nicely and so I went forward and cut the silk and put it together. It wasn't until the sleeves were on and it was almost complete that I realized the back was not fitting as well as I would like. Lesson learned.
         Back and side shots. I know how to correct the issues but it will have to wait for next time! I changed the shape of the bottom of bodice, creating a slight v to emphasize my waist and create some extra details.

As I started to put together the bodice I had to sort out my piping. I looked at the blue more and it suddenly came to me - RAVENCLAW blue! I had some bronze silk hidden in my closet that was enough for piping. Suddenly the dress became much more exciting. I did a faux button front with a hidden hook and eye closure. Next time I definitely want real buttonholes. Then error number two struck, naturally after I had attached the piping and sleeves were on. I did not do enough research on 1860's dress construction before starting. Piping of the time is quite narrow. Especially compared to modern piping. Oh well. At this point I was too far in and the piping looked so nice! I figured that I was coming from the wizarding world anyway so a bit of difference would be just fine. 

Front of bodice with my bronze piping (yes it is bronze, my photos came out a bit bright so we can just pretend it's a nice bornze-y hue)

The petticoat and skirt were simply pleated. I did little knife pleats that became smaller towards the back. I ended up doing a 6 yard skirt (oh my!) which in retrospect was not needed. My favorite part is my wand pocket. It came in handy to hold gloves as well and my wand fit perfectly. Error number three did not become apparent until I was in merry Dicken's London. My skirt was too big at the waist! It made the hem drag and I spent most of the fair hiking up the waist (most unladylike). Thankfully I did a nice wide hem and the skirt was fine with some light dusting after the event. My petticoat construction followed the free tutorial from Truly Victorian and did a good job of hiding the hoop bones.
The handy wand pocket - So roomy! So discreet!

A nice look at the full effect, minus my accessories. Even though I don't think it is technically period correct, I really do like my tiny knife pleats. 

For accessories, I got a beautiful navy and bronze shawl, a cameo, soft white kid gloves, a lovely lace collar from one of my wonderful friends, a fabulous Ravenclaw embroidered reticule (with the crest from the movies just to have all bases covered) from wonderful friend number two and the item that almost broke me- a bonnet. I knew I needed something on my head, I just did not have time to order anything. After 2 tries to build the bonnet from scratch, I took a 1950's cap and added a brim then covered the whole thing in silk. Some floral decoration and ribbon and my bonnet magically appeared. I definitely need to get some books on millinery and practice, as I discovered that the right bonnet makes the outfit. In addition, I just love headgear. I must have tried on at least 4 different items at the fair and wanted everything!

        Please forgive the lack of the shawl. It was being cleaned during the photoshoot. But look at that first time bonnet!

All in all, I am extremely glad I pushed myself to do something so new. It was great to attend the fair and I learned so much about construction and what I can do to improve. I am still pleased with how everything turned out. The wand was great fun to pose with and I managed to walk in the hoops despite the too long hem!

The three of us in our very serious Victorian poses. Don't we look fantastic?!

       One successful time traveling picture for the Ministry of Magic and one with a stroller photobomb (muggles, what can you do?!)

      I had great fun playing with the pictures

          I really did love the way the dress looked in black and white.