When I was sent fabric by Fabric Anthropology and told I could do whatever I wanted with it. I immediately knew I wanted to do something Tim Burton inspired. I had finally watched Sleepy Hollow for the first time and wanted to combine the dark color palette with my own twist (also, who isn't inspired by Colleen Atwood,right?!). As it turned out, I would be attending a ball with a vampire theme and then Costume College announced the tea theme as "the Haunted Mansion." Perfect! I looked at lots of Tim Burton movie stills and even more of Helena Bonham Carter. I thought I wanted to do another Italian gown but why make things easy? Instead I opted for a robe a l'anglaise with close pleated back (calling it en fourreau has become an interesting discussion you can find here) because it was still on my list of new things to learn. A spooky 18th century Tim Burton vampire robe a l'anglaise.
Some images that inspired
I wasn't sure exactly how historically accurate I wanted to stay, as the fabric isn't accurate anyway. I opted for a rough late 1770's/early 1780's (my end result is a bit more of a hodge podge within those dates). Originally I saw some robe a l'anglaise where the pleated back was VERY narrow. I wanted that.
I think everyone loves that LACMA striped gown and several have done very beautiful renditions.
I am not one of those people.
I know, you are thinking "Sara, that is really really complicated and you have no idea what you are doing." And you would be correct. It was extremely farfetched I would be able to do a back that glorious. So in the end my back was fairly straightforward classic pleated back. I actually am not too bothered that my gown didn't reflect my ideal. I am trying to see each project as a real learning experience and learn I did.
Now for the nitty gritty - Unfortunately I do not have many pictures of construction. I did have to redraft my 18th century gown pattern because I lost mine. Oops. Don't worry, as soon as I cut out all my fabric I found it again. Now I have two, lucky me. I used Patterns of Fashion and The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking in order to both make my pattern and for instructions. I used a basic black for the lining and serged the edges of the fashion fabric just to make sure it wouldn't fray. I had exactly THREE YARDS of 60 inch wide fabric and used every last scrap to get that gown. It was so close but I made it.
The skirt ready to be hand sewn on to the bodice back
Not great photo of me trying on the gown with skirt attached
I will not lie, it was not all smooth sailing. I re pleated the back four times and I am pretty sure I will be ripping out the left pleat and redoing because it is slightly wonky. As usual, following period methods turned out to be the best way. The gown is almost all hand sewn, though I did use the machine for the long side seams (I am sorry, I was on deadline and well, sometimes a vampire has to do what a vampire has to do). I kept going back and forth between a silvery matte grey and a burgundy pettioat, I opted for lighter so that the gown would really pop.
Trying on the gown before trim
Looking at the photos above, you can tell that I was having some shoulder issues. The last time I made a gown my shoulder straps were too wide. Nothing really horrible but enough to make me want to try better next time. So I went in the opposite direction and made them a bit too skinny. Or so I think? I have poured over many illustrations to help support my neckline and I suspect I may be ok.
One ring had fallen out when I went to take this picture, hence my lopsided back skirt
I also really wanted the gown to have an elaborate bustle of skirts drawn up, en retrousse. I embarked on an interesting study because I found a gown from the Met that stated the skirts were drawn up from a series of rings. Up until now I (foolishly) assumed most 18th century gowns only drew up via two loops on the skirts. So instead of just doing two small loops, my skirts have six! I did a new split bum pad that is a bit bigger than my last. All of this contributed to a very large back.
Despite my complaining above, the gown did go together fairly easily (see, I have already forgotten my tears of frustration over making my back pleats symmetrical). The front closure is done with hook and eye this time, boning on either side. I can not decide if I prefer this to pinning the gown front. On one hand, the hook and eye went in easily. On the other, pinning really does give you so much give as far as fit. I thankfully was given a bit extra yardage of coordinating fabric for trim. The trim is simply gathered in center on neckline and then a fancy cuff of sorts on the sleeves with double gathers at top and bottom (I think I got the idea from several period illustrations but of course now that I am writing the blog article I am blanking so there you go). I ended up using scalloped shears for the trim. It actually has not frayed yet despite being 100% cotton. I may help it along because I think the fraying may add some extra interest in this case.
I had a lot of fun at the local Michaels, grabbing ribbon, sparkly spiders and dark colored silk roses. I had been given red and pearl drop earrings as a gift so they felt like the perfect splash of red in my otherwise dark outfit. That is all my hair (minus a small donut inside)!
Buckles! I finally managed to make decent buckles! A buckle success!
Dark and moody by the pond
I also did some very dramatic pictures against a red velvet background. Sometimes part of the fun of making something is turning it into a character to play. It was fun to do something so different from my past gowns.