Monday, June 29, 2020

Monday, June 22, 2020


Petticoat Pitfalls for Grand Panniers

Well shoot, this didn't work....
Don't you just love when you finish up a project, perhaps the first part of an ensemble, something you've maybe done numerous times before, only to put it on and go "uh-oh?"

I threw together my 1720s-1740s Robe Volante petticoat this weekend. It went so fast - I measured, I shaped the top, I knocked out the hem, I pleated and bound and was so pleased, so very pleased. Then I put it on only to see an ill-shaped lump of skirt hanging in all sorts of weird ways. What had gone wrong?

I made the mistake of assuming I could construct an early 18th century petticoat for wide hoops the same as a petticoat from the later 18th century. What I discovered, though, is that the common method of knife-pleating the waist, leaving the sides open for pocket slits, and tying front-to-back doesn't work at all with wide hoops because the fabric just falls off the sides, creating a saggy appearance and a hugely uneven hem.

A big lump o' petticoat with an uneven hem - what went wrong?
Back to the drawing board. Okay, so how *were* they constructed, then?

There are precious few resources for just petticoats from the first half of the 18th century, but I found a couple that showed the fullness over the hoops at the top being controlled either by gathering or pleating horizontally out from the waist. This presents a challenge with pocket slits - they simply can't be put in-seam the way we're all used to because they're part of the problem with the petticoat collapsing on the sides.

So...what to do?

You're probably familiar with this image from The Met:

The Met, petticoat from a Robe a la Francaise, c. 1760-70, 2009.300.903a,b.
The accepted theory is that these drawstrings controlled the height of the *hem* and allowed the petticoat to be worn with different sizes hoops, but after experimenting with this I've found this drawstring method to be much more clever and complex. The drawstrings appear to have very little affect on the hem, but they *do* serve double duty controlling the fullness of the fabric over the hoops and creating a pocket hole at the side body at the same time. It's an ingenious way of creating the effect of a yoke without actually making one, which would have used more fabric.

I made my drawstring sections 15 inches long on each side but they could have been longer. I'm not entirely sure what the right ratio of drawstring-to-pleated-into-waistband should be.

If I'd made my drawstring sections longer I might've had more hole for my pockets - I didn't get this construction exactly right but it's better than it where I started.
I also discovered, after doing all of this wrong multiple times, that the shaping across the top breadths is much less than usual. The sides with the drawstrings need to be fairly straight, but there's a dip at the centers front and back so that the hem is relatively straight. Even with messing about with that, my hem still curves up a bit at the sides. Luckily this is reflected in some original prints and paintings so I feel solidarity with the mantua-makers of the past who weren't getting it right every time either.

I didn't include measurements here for how to pleat into the waist, how much for the drawstrings, how much to dip the waist front and back, because these all depend on your panniers.
Here is a little diagram showing the construction of these drawstrings. Most notably there are no pocket slits either cut in or left open at the seams. The pocket slit/hole is created entirely by the top edge of the petticoat when drawn up. Seeing it flat like this I have to marvel at the simplicity of it.

Before on the left, After on the right - you can see it's got a much, much better shape. I didn't get it exactly right at the top with the drawstrings but it's a big step towards better.
Those clever, clever Georgians!
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Monday, June 15, 2020

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How to Avoid Lampshade Hoops in the 18th Century

It's a thing in the Georgian period too!

I've recently started on my next big (physically big), early 18th century project, a Robe Volante. One of the reasons I felt confident to jump right in is because I already had a grand pannier...or so I thought. When I pulled it out of the closet, it had no hoops whatsoever in it! So I set to work re-hooping it, using a mixture of double-steel hoop wire, single flat steel hoop wire, and flat cane.*

As I shoved the hoops into the boning channels to full taughtness, I stepped back and assessed the shape. It looked good...but I remember there being an issue when I first wore this pannier. Here it is:

...LAMPSHADE HOOP. The bane of historical costumers throughout time!

How to solve this? A few ideas/hopes crossed my mind - maybe the petticoat would hold the hem out; maybe interface the petticoat and/or gown hem with organdy; maybe add an organdy ruffle to the pannier. Ultimately, though, none of these were particularly supportable with primary evidence from this period, and so the bigger question...

..."If I'm having this issue now, they must have had this issue back then too. How did they solve it?"

Back to the source material. I took a good long look at all of the panniers and hoops in Patterns of Fashion 5, several which are close in style/design to mine. Here's what I observed:

- The only hoop that had as severe an angle from waist to hem as mine was the grand pannier worn by Louisa Ulrika (pg 130). This hoop is significantly wider than mine at the top, though, and also longer than mine, making that bottom hoop closer to the floor - less distance for the gown fabric to get sucked under there. This hoop is also made of silk rather than cotton and there is a lightly-pleated silk ruffle/guard covering the bottom hoop.

Louisa Ulrika's court hoop - this thing is over 7 feet wide. There is a hoop in the hem which is covered/hidden by the lightly pleated flounce. 1751 - Livrustkammaren

Here's another grand pannier, worn by Sofia Magdalena, 1772. It's made relatively the same way with that deep flounce covering the fourth hoop, but the silhouette is noticeably different. Livrustkammaren.  
- All of the other hoops, whether sewn into skirts or not, show a much more straight-down-ish angle. There is a flare but it's nowhere near the degree I had in mine.

Two grand panneirs from Germanisches Nationalmuseum (link) - these are *bigguns* but even with them being this large you can see the angle from top to hem isn't as severe as my initial hooping.

- Many of the hoops in PoF5 are also a lot shorter than mine - knee-length or lower-hip-length. This means the petticoat and gown fabric hang from these points in a more uppy-downy way and aren't held out by anything other than the body of the fabric.

Here's an example of a quite short hoop from the V&A. It's dated later - 1780-1789 which I'm not sure I agree with, given that hoops like this were way out of fashion by then except for court dress (and maybe this was made for that, who knows). Anyway - it's pretty short!
This one looks to be below the knee at the bottom hoop, but isn't floor-length. It's only 25 inches long and 72.5 inches in circumference at the bottom hoop.  Notice the rather straight angle - it only flares out a little bit. Manchester Art Gallery, c. 1765-1775. 1953.41.4
Luckily it's easy to adjust hoops to be smaller. I've taken about a foot out of the bottom hoop and reduced the second up from the bottom a bit too. You can see from this comparison how much this altered the shape:

These photos are taken from different angles but you can see the difference in silhouette.
And it looks like this did the trick with the petticoat, too. There doesn't appear to be lampshading at the hem:

Yay! No hard ugly lampshade lines!

So! When you're constructing your grand panniers, keep these notes to hand! It's all in those angles!

*(Make do and mend - just using what I had to hand. In the future I will probably use all double-steel hoop wire with connectors so that the hoop can be easily deconstructed and reassembled for travelling)

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Monday, June 8, 2020


1765 Robe a la Bon Bon - Simplicity 8578 - Trimming the Beast

Cutting strip after strip of pinked trim - the trick is the fold up your fabric three or four layers and cut through all at once.
A plain sacque in a gorgeous printed cotton can be a beautiful sight to behold, but I always intended my sunset silk sacque to be "business in the back, party in the front," assaulting the eye with frills, furbelows, bows, swirls, and serpentines. This amount of trim takes a long, long....long...longlong time, even with shortcut tricks.

This is the trim shown in the "Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail" - despite the text about this saying it flips it actually doesn't. For one, the brocade on the opposite side would be inverted, and for two it just doesn't work. I know because I tried it! But luckily this isn't hard to do...
I've been wanting to try a trim style seen in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, one of the V&A books, which shows undulated crescents of gathered, pinked, self-fabric trim and what appears to be a twist in the middle to change the direction. Unfortunately what I learned after gathering the entirety of my skirt trim was that the change in direction isn't a twist in the fabric at all. It's cleverly designed to look that way but is in fact this arrangement:

How the serpentine trim on the V&A gown was gathered - gown one side, across the middle, then down the opposite side.
I had gathered my edges in chunks of 12" reduced down to 8", each tied off before moving on, so it wasn't too big of a deal to go back and cut out every other gathered section and switch it to the other side.

Another thing I learned is that I needed more than a 1:1.5 gathering ratio to reproduce the effect of the trim in the book. It bemuses me because we tend to gather way too much fabric for 18th century trims these days when most times just the tiniest amount of gathering was done. Well, this wasn't one of those times. I probably needed at least a 1:2 ratio because of the width of the fabric I was gathering. The result is that I could not curve the gathered edges as much as I wanted. It still looks cool, just not as serpentine as the original.

Looks so nice! But yes, my gathering ratio on the wide pieces was too small - to get the curves of the original I needed more yardage.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in trimming front skirt panels is in the marking and laying out. Getting one side on is easy...going back and matching up the second side is an absolute pain in the tookus! I can see how having a collection of templates to lay atop skirt fronts would be an efficient(er) way to ensure it comes out symmetrically, and I'll have to remember this for the future.

At last! All trimmed up and everything I'd hoped for!
Mostly with trim it just seems never-ending. Two lines on each skirt panel. Then around the bodice front edges. Then an explosion of bows on the stomacher. Then 5-loop bows on the sleeve ruffles. Oops, forgot the lace tucker. Shoot, gotta do the lace sleeve ruffles now. Just endless! But eventually it's complete...weeks and weeks after pulling it out of the UFO pile...and I feel very accomplished and very happy to have this gown completed rather than guilting me from the prison of its plastic bag.

The final finishes - lace at the neckline and sleeve ruffles. I never ever skip the tucker and ruffles - gowns are unfinished and naked without them. Portraiture supports that some sort of lace or ribbon tucker was worn on an open neckline 99.9% of the time (I've only ever found one portrait that appears to not have a lace tucker and her gown was trimmed on the neckline with fur...but yes, only one ever in all my research).
Now that the crazy thing is done, and probably also because all events for the foreseeable future have been cancelled, I really want to get a lot of wear out of this gown once things open up again. I'm already musing on the Colonial Williamsburg garden party and perhaps even Versailles in 2021. Costume college for sure....but for now it's first wear will be for a "getting dressed" video, coming soon.
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Monday, June 1, 2020

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How to Dress 18th Century - 1770 - 1780 Robe a la Polonaise {Video}

Howdy! I've been trying to make videos for getting dressed in different decades of the 18th century, since this is quite a visual subject and video is a natural tool for this type of demonstration.

I did a video a few weeks ago showing dressing for the 1780s in my yellow Italian gown (of many incarnations). This time I'm showing how to get dressed in the 1770s with the pink Robe a la Polonaise (AKA "The Creature"). It's...the same but different, lol.

I hope you enjoy it! The next dressing video will be the 1760s with the bon-bon sacque...soon!
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Wednesday, May 27, 2020


1720s - 1740s Robe Volante - Initial Musings

I just can't get enough of 18th century back pleats!

The time has come.

This one has been brewing for awhile. I have a sortof underdog love for weird garments or time periods that people avoid - the 17th century, the 1830s, and now the early 18th century. The Robe Volante has always been one of those WTF kind of gowns and the more of that there is the more intrigued I become.

I've seen a few epic makes of Robes Volante from costumer friends in the past few years (not least of all Frolicking Frocks and Prior Attire), so the seed was planted. Then last Summer I was struck dumb by this incredible volante at the National Museum of Scotland, and I knew it just had to happen...and I had the perfect fabric, too.

Sacque dress - English or French textile 1726-28, British gown probably late 1740s. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

My fabric isn't nearly as fabulous as the red brocade in the original National Museum of Scotland sacque, but it is a very large silk brocade with an acanthus stripe motif in cream and yellow (are we surprised it's yellow?) that could only work as clothing for a couple periods. I bought this fabric following the Mill End Rule of...if it catches your eye and it's still there when you go back the next time, you have to buy it. It wants to be bought. It needs to "become..."

My fabric is a silk brocade stripey-viney acanthus pattern, just luscious!

...even if I have no idea what it will become or when.

Here we are now, though, in quarantine and sewing random stuff left right and center for future events we hope will happen again some day (Versailles, Costume College, Bath, Garden Party...). I've just finished my 1765 sacque and I guess I just haven't gotten enough of those back pleats because I've pulled out my grand pannier, acquired a pair of early 18th century stays from Redthreaded, and I'm already draping up fabric.

I have some questions to answer. There isn't a lot of information on volantes - a couple patterns in Cut of Women's Clothes and Patterns of Fashion 1 to assist, and thank goodness, but there seems to be a pretty big swing in cut and drape.

Robe volante, French, c. 1730. MFA Boston 43.664a-b

Some volantes are very unfitted and hang like a tent from the shoulders. Others are more fitted, like later Robes a la Francaise, but still have great big pleats and the joined skirt at center front, like the volante in Edinburgh. Which style do I go with?

An example of a more fitted volante worn over a very wide pannier. Museo Stibbert c. 1740s.

Then there is the question of lining. The Edinburgh sacque, from what we could see through the glass, appears to not be lined but may instead only has lacing strips at the back and potentially at the front too. Some descriptions in museums say partial or half lining...what does that mean? Is there a lining foundation on the front, to which the front bodice is slightly fitted, but not in the back? Is there a full lining foundation like later sacques, and as shown in Patterns of Fashion 1? The answer is - both...but...what do I want to personally do in this project? I'm tempted to try just the lacing strips simply because it's something I haven't done yet.

This gown from Trouvais on Etsy (listing no longer available) shows the unlined bodice with lacing strips in front and back.

So that is where I am today. I have sky blue silk taffeta on order from Renaissance Fabrics for the petticoat, my hoops are hooped up and ready for draping, and I'm anxious to slice into this beast...

More updates soon!

p.s. I've saved a bunch of volante images on Pinterest here, for anyone interested.
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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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1765 Robe a la Bon Bon Sacque - Simplicity 8578 - Construction Complete!

Trying on the new sacque - it's always nice to have something, y'know, fit at its first real try-on.
Next time I say something like, "oh I'll just throw this sacque together real won't take too long to finish this," please just shoot me.

I started this gown in February of 2018 shortly after the Simplicity 8578 Robe a la Francaise gown pattern came out. I wanted to do my own version and also blog along my progress with the Simplicity pattern to document how that went together and help anybody else making the pattern.

Ah, the best laid plans o' mice and historical costumers...

I got as far as pleating the back, sewing the lining and bodice fronts, and even joining fronts to backs at the side seams. I felt *accomplished* but then, for whatever reason, I abandoned the project. Life got in the way. The sacque landed in the UFO pile.

Picking up where I left off two years ago - the sacque pulled out, ironed, and put on the dress form to be assessed.
Fastforward two years to a pandemic and the shutting down of basically the entire world, and I decided to spend some of my at-home time finishing old projects. I repaired and completed a couple vintage dresses so I was feeling super fly and ready to take on a bigger project. "How about that sacque?" said I, "there's not much left in it...I bet I could have that finished up pretty quickly. It's half-done already."



With the half-assembled Francaise ironed and put on the dress form, I first needed to correct any mistakes, and there were meaty some. Primarily my side skirt gores and front skirt panels were too short. I learned that the Simplicity pattern skirt length was sized for someone between 5'3" and 5'4". I'm 5'6" without shoes and with 2.5" Pompadour heels on that made the skirt about 5" - 6" too short. To correct this I carefully pieced in fabric to each panel, matching the stripes. I did not add to the gown back panels since they were at the floor already, but this means I ended up without a train, which is kindof sad really. :-(

The front and side skirts needed to be lengthened by about 6 inches to meet the floor + add a little for hem.

I picked out the mantua-makers seams a little, then carefully matched the stripes for piecing in length to the hem.
The next major operation was to set the front skirt panels. What was easy in the book for some reason was tricky this time, and I now believe it was because one of my skirt panels was slightly off-grain. I struggled to get them attached at the waist and must've torn out and redone these three or four times. In the end, one of my skirt panels still rumpled down the turned-back front edge and I ended up just taking a sly tuck a few inches below the waist seam and covering that little sin with trim.

My first go at setting the front skirt panels. I'd turned back too much of the skirt front edges and didn't have enough volume up top to gracefully go over the hoops, so they look like they're kindof "tight" here. I ripped this out and did it again..and again...

That rumple on the right side just would NOT play nicely and it's because this panel was actually off-grain. Usually you can cut and tear panels of silk taffeta and if it's really good stuff it's on grain and dead straight. Sometimes, though, if the fabric is slightly offgrain, it doesn't tear straight, and then manifests later with problems like this one.

Pretty good try on and Chris did really well setting the sleeves. They're not perfectly smooth, but they're on and good enough. Also you can see where I took a little tuck on the skirt panel.
The greater challenge was the sleeves, mostly because I knew I wasn't going to be able to fit them on myself and 18th century sleeves somewhat require a body fitting. I needed to shorten my sleeves quite a bit and adjust where the arm crook curve was. I still didn't get it right and next time I do mid-18th-century sleeves I'm going to just wack 'em off straight at the bottom like so many original sacques do. Luckily, and once again, I covered the wonky curves with the sleeves ruffles.

Then it was on to the fitting. I enlisted Mr. Chris to perform this tricky operation and he did SO well! Fitting 18th century sleeves is challenging even for experiences mantua-makers so I have to hand it to him.

Sleeves set - the parts sticking up at the top got gathered and sewn down to the shoulder strap lining, then the whole thing covered with the fashion fabric.
With the sleeves on and a separate stomacher made, the gown was basically constructed. I hemmed the blasted thing with the 6" wide hem facing (wow, that took forever), and patted myself on the back for completing the construction of this fancy-ass frock.

But I congratulated myself *too soon.* *TOO SOON*

Stay tuned for trimming this beast, coming up in the next post...

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