Saturday, September 15, 2012

Whoops! and Curtain-Along

Actually, it just recently struck me that I probably shouldn’t be posting tons of pics and info about my dress if I’m going to be competing in it.


Oh well, I’m just learning this blogging thing.

So I won’t be talking about my française just yet. I’ll keep writing entries, I just won’t post any of them until after the competition in May. (sad sigh)

Until then, I’ll be sharing other costumes (completed and in-progress) to fill the gap.

So let me tell you about the Curtain Along!

Jen over at Festive Attyre found a perfect 18th century print on some curtains at Lowe's in 3 different colors. (You can see them on the nifty little badge graphic she created above.) You can also buy the fabric itself at  Joann's craft store, but the curtains are MUCH cheaper for the same material. So she asked if anyone wanted to sew stuff along with her out of the curtains.

I ran out & bought 3 of the cream background & 1 with the red.
I think I'm going to make a late-period polonaise. The red one is going to be used for an alternate petticoat so that I can switch out the look. Of course, I have no idea if a different patterned petticoat is period. (Say that 3 times fast!) I've seen them with contrasting *solid color* petticoats, but not with a contrasting print. Oh well....
This one is just for me, anyway. :)

I'm thinking something like this example from the MET:

Wouldn't this look adorable in the cream with the red petticoat?

Plus it will give me the excuse to play around with a hedgehog style hair-do. I know the pic doesn't have one, but the MET says the dress is from 1780 which would totally allow me to rock a hedgehog!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Pattern

Step number 2 on my road to a robe a la francaise - the pattern.

Okay…in the spirit of trying to be historically accurate, I’m planning on using a scaled pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1680-1880. There’s one in there for a robe a la française around the right time. What’s great about that pattern is that there is a detailed description of the same dress in Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield. And a photo of it on the National Trust web site.

So I’ll have lots of good info on the pattern. (I'll just be trimming it a little differently.)
The stripes on the sleeves are wrong, so I’ll fix that. Both books specifically mention how unusual it is for a dress of this period to have the stripes running vertically on the sleeves. So I'll do it the usual way - with the stripes running horizontal around the arm.

For the construction details, I’m going to try to make them historically accurate also. There’s a great book called Costume Close-Up by Linda Baumgarten that contains very good instructions in how people in the 18th century sewed and constructed garments. There’s also some good tips in Fitting and Proper by Sharon Ann Burnston.

Plus I found this really great blog by a grad student who was studying 18th century construction and decided to make some items for an exhibition. Check it out at Rockin’ the Rococo (

And Koshka (Catherine) over at The Fashionable Past has lots and lots of pics of how she draped hers. (
I like pictures!!
Hers is a little earlier period than mine, so mine will have a seam at the waist. But it definitely gives some good tips.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Intro and a peach saque dress

All right, so I’m starting my very first dress diary/blog. So bear with me! I should probably introduce myself – I am a 45 year old librarian with an interest in just about every aspect of body adornment. I do henna and face and body painting in addition to making jewelry, clothing and costumes.

This dress diary is going to focus on my creation of an early-to-mid 1770s robe a la française (or sack-back gown or saque). I’ve never made anything from this century before, so I’m starting completely from scratch and immersing myself in every book and blog that I can find.

Why am I doing this, you might ask? I’ll be attending Costume-Con in Denver next year (2013) and I want to enter the historical masquerade competition. I’ve only entered one competition before at the novice level. Since I won my category, I have to compete at the journeyman level this time. Steppin’ up the pressure now! The convention is in May, so that means I have about 9 months to get ready. Since I’m going to *try* to sew everything by hand, it may be a tight fit. (Note the emphasis on TRY.) :)

My inspiration is this lovely 1775 number from the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a very similar one also:

And here’s my fabric:

I bought 15 yards of this fabulous silk taffeta because I was paranoid about not having enough fabric. It started out as 10, then I decided on 12 and finally ended up with 15. Can you tell that I tend to go a little overboard? I purchased it from a great seller on ebay who spent a lot of time answering my sometimes frantic questions by email. I had to make sure that the stripes ran length-wise especially. And holy cow were they fast! I paid for it on Monday and had the fabric in my hot little hands on Thursday. Silks4less is the seller’s ebay name if you’re interested.

From what I can tell, stripes were gaining in popularity during this era. They were made in many colors (although pastels seemed especially numerous), both simple and with floral accent designs. Here’s a jacket from the Los Angeles County Museum that features very similar fabric to mine, just with smaller white stripes:

Next – Planning the pattern.