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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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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Getting Dressed in 18th Century - 1780s - 1790 {Video}

Let's get dressed!
Hi Lovelies!

I made a short video showing the steps and pieces of getting dressed in a 1780s Italian gown or Robe a l'Anglaise. I know for new costumers all the layers and which order they go in can be a bit confusing.

(*I forgot my pocket in this video, like a chump! But for those curious, it ties on after the split rump)

I hope you enjoy! This is the yellow silk taffeta gown I've remade and restyled a bunch of times, and you can read more about it here.
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Friday, May 1, 2020

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Pattern Notes on Simplicity 8578 - Robe a la Francaise Dress Pattern

A couple years ago now we worked with Simplicity to create a Robe a la Francaise pattern (Simplicity 8578) based on Abby's sacque in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. When that pattern came out, I wanted to use it to make my own, but the gown got relegated to the UFO pile. Well, I've pulled it out again, determined to finish it, and while this post of notes and fixes is late in coming, I'm hoping it will help others who are making this pattern too. So here goes...

Differences Between the Book Gown & The Simplicity Pattern

Because Simplicity patterns have to be accessible for machine sewists and non-historical-costumers, we made some adjustments to Simplicity 8578. I knew that Simplicity would be writing the instructions and that things would have to be able to be put together with a sewing machine using modern methods such as bag lining. There was also a challenge with pattern tissue size - there is a set dimensions and restriction on the number of pieces of large tissue that could be included in the pattern. I tried to anticipate all of these issues.

Machine Sewing vs. Hand Sewing - The biggest difference, obviously, is the method by which the gown is sewn, and this is inextricable with the order of construction. The Simplicity pattern calls for bag lining and primarily machine stitching with a bit of hand sewing while the book gown is entirely hand sewn.

Stomacher - The Simplicity pattern calls for a comperes front stomacher that is stitched in at the sides of the gown and hooks at center front. This closure *is* historically correct (though you may wish to button or pin the center front), and it eliminates the tricky pinning at the sides. The book gown has a separate stomacher that pins in. It is completely up to you which method you choose - both are correct.

If you don't care for the sewn-in comperes stomacher on the Simplicity pattern, make a separate one easily! Then you can change out the look whenever you like.
Gown Skirt Side Gore - The Simplicity pattern combines the gown skirt front piece and the side gore into one piece, whereas the book gown keeps these pieces separate. The reason for this is that historic fabric widths for silk were only about 20 inches wide, so to get the width for the skirt hem, separate gores were cut and seamed. For the Simplicity pattern, and modern fabric widths, I combined the gore and the skirt front to simplify the construction process.

Gown Skirt Front Edges Turned Back - Simplicity unfortunately omitted the dotted line indicating where to turn back the skirt front edges for the lovely triangular shape showing the petticoat. There *are* extant gowns that have straight front edges, so it's not historically incorrect, but it is a difference between the Simplicity patterns and the book gown.

Sleeve Hems - Instead of using the straight-bottom sleeve like in the book, I drew in a curved sleeve hem to accommodate the crook of the arm. Both sleeve shapes are historically correct.

Known Issues & Fixes For Them

Too-Short Gown Skirt - Simplicity's standard model block/size has a height of about 5'4". No additional hem allowance was added to the gown skirt, so if you are over 5'4" the skirt front edges come up too short.

Easy Fix - Extend the hem of all of the gown skirt panels (front skirt, gown back) as long as necessary for your height, and then some, for turning up the hem. It's better to have it much too long than not long enough. You can determine the length needed easily by measuring from waist to floor over your pocket hoops, and adding a few inches for good measure.

If you, like me, have already cut your gown skirts and they are too short, piece in extensions to the hem. You'll need to unpick the bottom 6 inches or so of the skirt seams and add extra fabric on, then re-seam. I added 6 inches extra to the front and side of my gown skirts, which is more than I needed, but I wanted to have extra to work with just in case. I know this feels sucky but remember - "Piecing is Period, Period"

I am 5'6", and about 5'8" in my 18th century shoes, so I needed to add quite a bit to the bottom edges of my gown skirt. I should have measured before I cut, but I obviously didn't! If you're in the same boat, remember that it is totally fine to piece. SO many original gowns have piecing, and a finished gown of the right length will make you way happier than unfinished and too short!
Too-Long Petticoat - This isn't really an issue, but it's something to check. Don't rely on where the pattern tells you to turn up the hem - it's going to vary for each person. You want the petticoat to be somewhere around the top of your shoes.

Easy Fix - If you're quite tall, add extra to the petticoat hem before cutting out. For everyone, put the petticoat on over the pocket hoops and all underpinnings before hemming, and mark where the hem should be. You can do this on a dress form too.

The hem of the petticoat should end up between the top of your shoes and your ankle bones-ish.
Gown Skirt Turn Backs - As I mentioned above, there are no instructions for turning back the front edges of the gown. This is a personal choice, so you don't have to do it, but if you'd like more of the petticoat to show, it's an easy adjustment.

Easy Fix - put the underpinnings, petticoat, and gown on a dress form (or have a friend help you with this), *before* you trim the gown. Fold back the front edges of the gown skirt to the inside, less at the top and more at the bottom, until it's hanging nicely and showing as much of the petticoat as you like. There are instructions and photos for this in the American Duchess Guide book too.

Folding back the front edges of the gown skirt to show more of the petticoat.
Sleeve Length & Elbow Curves -  The curve of the sleeve hem, where it curves upward to allow for bending the arms without rucking up the sleeves, may not be in the right place for you (I struggled with this). Your sleeve may also be too long.

Easy Fix - These two aspects of 18th century sleeves are highly individualized, so *make a mockup* of the sleeve before you cut it out. The simplest solutions is to cut the bottom of the sleeve off straight like the pattern in the book, which fixes both issues - no need to re-draw the arm bend placement, and the sleeve is shortened to where it needs to be.

Option 2 - If you like the curve in the hem, pull the sleeve muslin on to your non-dominant hand side, make sure the shoulder point and underarm are in the right place, and then mark where the crook of your arm and elbow are. Rough in the new curve. Take the sleeve muslin off and redraw the new curve placement.

Stomacher/Stay Hooks - This one is actually just kindof funny. Simplicity misunderstood the purpose of the hooks on the stays and assumed the stomacher was meant to hook to them.

Easy Fix - Just omit those hooks. They serve no purpose.

I hope the above notes are helpful to you as you make the Robe a la Francaise of your dreams. Please feel free to share this with anyone else planning to use the pattern, too!


* Simplicity 8578 Sacque Gown + Petticoat works best and is intended to be worn with Simplicity 8579 Shift + Stays + Pocket Hoops. Both patterns work splendidly well with The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking for constructing with historically-accurate methods and hand stitching.

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