Starting Small on a Big New 18th c. Project

I finally have a new 18th c. project in mind, yay!  I want to make a striped red Robe a l’Anglaise, but to be worn either polonaise’d (verb) or “dans le poches,” which simply means “pulled through the pockets.”  My inspiration is the Robe Retroussee Dans Le Poches from the Kyoto Costume Institute, a gown I’ve always loved:

Kyoto Costume Institute, 1780

This gown is a sack-back, as you see, but a nice in-depth discussion on the AD facebook page has decided me on the ability to wear any gown in this manner, as we’ve reasoned that it was due to utility first, fashion later.

I’ll be starting from the inside out.  The only things I have are skirt supports, as I keep selling my stays, and never have had a proper chemise.  My deadline is June 18th/19th – the Vallejo Pirate Festival, CA – so I have the time to do this thing right, starting with new stays.

Ready for binding

I had a pair-in-progress laying around.  They’re two layers, lightly stayed with 1/4″ ties, and back-lacing only, which is a new thing for me.  The pattern is a prow-front 1770s-80s style, with horizontal stays sandwiched between the outer layer and the lining.  The rest is 3/4 boned, let’s call it.

The first layer (left), sewn as one with the outer fabric, then a sandwiched layer with the horizontal channels (right)

It looks dreadful on this dressform, the Not-So-Uniquely-Me.  She is compressible through the middle, but wow what a lot of yanking on the laces to get it down to a more accurate measurement for my own body.  Also, the shoulders of this thing are not at all indicative of humanoid shoulders, which is why the straps look way too short (but actually aren’t).

Showing the prow-front, and also the vertical channels. You can’t see the horizontal interior channels, but they’re there, working their magic.

It’s about time I have a proper set of undies, so there will be a voile chemise/smocky-thing next, and a short-length petticoat with a flounced hem.  More updates soon!

That’s a lot of squeeze, but this dress form is stiffer than a real body.  Yes, those are metal grommets in the back.  Spiral lacing, and attached straps.


  • Anna

    April 22, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    My dress form is made out of duct-tape wrapped around a T-shirt while it was on me, and the shoulders somehow took like a football linebacker's, so I feel your pain ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Have you got the KCI book? I got it through interlibrary loan the other day and have been doing a lot of unladylike drooling on it. I love the red striped gown too!

  • Melissa Officinalis

    April 22, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    I have to join in on the chorus–that red gown has always been my favorite, too! I look forward to seeing you and your outfit at Pirate Fest–I'm going to be there in a (hopefully!) new curaco jacket.

  • Katy Rose

    April 22, 2011 at 10:49 PM

    Those are gorgouse stays! I need to re make mine since I made them staraight from the pattern to test fit. They are a bit shortwaisted….so I have serious boob spillage. I wish I could do back lacing and have a solid front but I need something that I can get into when Hubby isn't home.

  • Lauren Stowell

    April 22, 2011 at 11:10 PM

    Well I've got my red, and I've got my white (off-white actually), but they're not together on one fabric, haha. Red and white stripes seem to be so flippin' hard to find! So I have a nice red silk-ish and a striped voile for the petticoat. Now I have no idea whether to go with an anglaise polonaise-style, or a francaise with the retroussee dans les poches.

  • Anonymous

    April 22, 2011 at 11:56 PM

    Damn 18th C stripes – they're so beguilling!! Lovely-stays-in-progress, particularly the fabric. Yay for a new 18th C project!!

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    April 23, 2011 at 12:21 AM

    Go anglais retrousee dans les poches! Be a rebel! hehehe. This is adorable! It will be so much fun to see it come together. I love hard work, I can watch it for hours….

  • Lauren Stowell

    April 23, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    I'm so torn! I do have the pet en l'air pattern that can be extended in the skirt, so I wouldn't have to pattern it again. I'll have to drape a bodice pattern if I do the Anglaise route. But I kindof hate doing the Watteau pleats….but also getting the point to lay down nicely on an Anglaise can be a pain…oh I don't KNOW! /whimper

  • Anonymous

    April 23, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Love the stays. I have been making my first pair of French stays and also grommeted the back, as I prefer the security of grommets. Can't wait to see your finished gown!

  • Lithia Black

    April 23, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    You choose one of my favorite 18th century gowns! I have a thing for stripes and that gowns is absolutely georgeus.I'll follow this project with great interest.

    Very pretty stays, I'm also working on a new pair.I just cut out the base layers today ๐Ÿ™‚ Mine will be in silver coloured dupion silk with electric blue binding and eyelets ๐Ÿ™‚


  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    April 24, 2011 at 1:34 AM

    Compromise! Good one! Why not do that back where the pleats are sewn down. Can't remember the name of it but you will. Then you can adapt the pet en l'air? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Jenny

    April 24, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    What a lovely gown! And the stays are delicious. I need to work on my own gown for that event, if I can make it down to Vallejo!

    On a side note:

    Will you let go of the metal grommet thing? We all know they are easier and so very sturdy. We absolve you of the sin of using them! Use them with my blessing, anyway! lol ๐Ÿ˜›

  • Nycteris

    April 25, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    Wow, nice!
    Do you use a sewing machine for your stays? I'm sort of curious if machine-stitching the stays works just as well (as long as nobody sees it) as backstitching. I want to make a pair of stays, but I don't know where to start!
    Love, Julia

  • Lauren Stowell

    April 25, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    Julia, I use the machine for the boning channels, yes, but I sew the layers together by hand, and also do all the binding by hand. It's about 30% machine sewing, 70% hand sewing, but I only do the parts by hand that I absolutely HAVE to. I'm not a huge fan of hand sewing, and I'm not bothered about using the sewing machine for the bulk of my projects.

    There are a couple ways to make stays, or rather the period-accurate way, and then the "other" way. Both work fine, but have their own pitfalls and quirks. My recommendation for starting, if you've never made a pair of stays before, is to get a good pattern like the Butterick stays pattern, or JP Ryan's pattern, and follow the directions all the way through. It's a crash course in basic staymaking ๐Ÿ™‚


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