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.


  • The Quintessential Clothes Pen

    June 9, 2020 at 1:52 AM

    I am also eyeing the Garden Party with the hope that it will be able to go forward and not get cancelled! Being able to wear this dress to all of those places seems like a great start to getting lots of use out of it! The use of different colors in the stripes for the trim is creative and fun!


    • Lauren Stowell

      June 9, 2020 at 2:02 AM

      I'm not sure if October for the CW garden party will happen – aiming for 2021 for all these events, if (tbh) we're still around then <3

  • Nancy Nichols

    June 10, 2020 at 7:58 PM

    Really superlative, and I'm so impressed with the details of the matching stripes, the clean lines, how well it fits!! Can't wait to see the posts with you in it, showing it off!

  • ravenswinghats

    June 12, 2020 at 6:08 PM

    Lordy, this is soooo beautiful! If it were on display in a museum, everyone would want to make it! Just fabulous…..

  • Esther

    June 12, 2020 at 6:22 PM

    Thanks so much for explaining the lovely detail, the end result is amazing! The sacque from the book is on my project list and I would love to apply these trims. Would you have a recommendation where I can find a pair of scissors like that in order to make the trims?

  • Goatberry

    June 28, 2020 at 6:08 AM

    Please, please don't even contemplate closing. And… If you think it might be fun to get out of Dodge, hold a demo in Elko! I'll gladly be yr dressmaker dummy or hair or whatever. Email: [email protected]
    I'm sure it's a nightmare for you, right now. I'm so very sorry.
    I need to find some appropriate 18th C shoes, but, due to balance issues, heels are problematic. Should I just phone & ask? Is someone still taking calls, re-routed to home?
    Is this nightmare EVER going to end? (As I was on a roll w questions. šŸ˜‰)
    Jennifer Hill


Leave a Reply to Lauren Stowell Cancel reply