Friday, April 20, 2018

The Robe a la Francaise That Took Forever

Somewhere way back in my blogging, I apprehensively started draping my first sacque. I'll readily admit that it's made from thrift store fabric that seems to be some sort of silk blend but because I'm not sure what, I can't claim it's an accurate fabric (and probably that's for the best considering some of the minor mistakes I made). The construction itself, however, was as accurate as I could make it, as it is entirely hand-sewn, and I spent a lot of time looking at museum extants and the sacques in Janet Arnold. 

I preferred to have this be a long organic process so that I could be thinking about why these gowns were constructed the way they were, while enjoying the hand-sewing. I wasn't counting on it being a THREE YEAR long process, but having unwisely started it before my wedding, and then adjusting to moving in with my husband and shuffling all our things around in a small house for a couple of years, it took me a while to finally get back to this large project to finish it! 

Last Saturday, with a newly formed group of costuming & reenacting friends, I was able to get out to the botanical gardens to take a few photos. Rain threatened for a good part of the late morning and those of us who stuck around to take our own photos got sprinkled on (so again, good thing this gown isn't 100% silk!). I made my poor friends take about a million pictures of the back of the gown, because obviously that's the best part of a robe a la francaise, right? On to the snapshots!

 The staff at the historic house in the middle of the gardens hunted up their cardboard cutout of the gardens' founder, Henry Shaw, and made us take a picture with him. We had a good spread of eras represented!

 The Shoe Shot. My pretty American Duchess Georgies with their Fleur buckles. They've taken a beating over the years but are still fairly comfortable!

 Lunch in the garden cafe! We were kind of celebrities all day...I had a random child thrust into my arms for a photo and we were stopped by tourists and photographers alike. 

 One of my favorite photos of the day. 

 Windy and wet and kind of romantic.

 These two photos below were taken by the talented Genevieve Nadeau, who is the daughter of one of the ladies in our group and who came along to photograph during the first half of the day. I'm eager to see the rest of her pictures but here's our lovely group shot and a cropped one below that.

 It was a delightful outing, weather notwithstanding (this has been the longest dreariest winter and spring is very slow to make progress), and the sacque now needs a careful bath, but after languishing in the unfinished pile for some time, I'm sure even it was glad to see some daylight!

Likely next week I'll be done with a gold striped silk Regency gown that I'm eager to show as well.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Projects of the past year

Bonjour, mes amis! 
I can't believe it's been over a year since I posted anything here. Not for lack of projects, but the interest in documenting them has just not been there. I've had my interest revitalized by a sewing group that has started up here in the St. Louis area, spearheaded by my new friend Christine (who has been uploading some really very superior projects and especially drool-worthy 18th-century embroidery done on some machines I've never seen the like of). I don't think she would mind me linking her site at and you should check it out if you're in need of inspiration....she has certainly un-stuck me!

Last summer, my husband and I went down to Fort de Chartres as usual, and I've been embracing the farm-wife persona (don't mind my bedgown sleeves looking so long -- they're supposed to be rolled up but I'm going to have to tack them down a bit). In the miserable heat it is nice to be able to forgo stays at an event once in a while. I've mentioned this before, but with the Fort being down in the American River Bottom, the humidity is like none other as it settles in the "bowl" created by the high bluffs on all sides and there is almost never any breeze. Summer events are hard to breathe through sometimes! I've been loving my wooden French "sabots," who would have thought that wood shoes could be even remotely comfortable? They're great for walking through wet grass, and easy to slip off and on when you're resting.


There are a number of garments made of "indienne" mentioned in inventories from the area surrounding the fort, so I enjoyed mixing some prints in colors that might have been common. Apparently I'm always ready for a drink...I don't think there are any photos where I'm not holding a cup, haha. 

I probably had my blue stays finished the last time I wrote and I don't know if I added a picture, but here's a quick photo of them right before finishing the binding. They're half-boned blue linen,  but since this picture was taken I had to convert them to front-lacing for ease of getting in and out. They're fairly comfortable but I think the next set I make will be strapless again. I'm just not fond of straps! And I need to remind myself to stop making square tabs...they're very ugly, haha.

Since our St. Louis group is for 18th and early 19th century, I am starting on some Regency projects. It's not something I've ever prioritized before, but being a huge Jane Austen book and film lover, I could see getting into the cute day-dresses, the spencers, the pretty little bonnets and reticules. So far I have a shift:

...a set of short stays (I don't need much support so I went for a very lightly boned single-gusset style)

and I finished a white apron-front basic gown that I don't have any good pictures of yet. I am pleased with how the back pleats turned out so I'll have to take some photos soon. My next project is supposed to be the striped gold and cream silk over-gown, but I found a flaw in the middle of the fabric that I worry will be difficult to work around! Might have to scrap that idea and get different fabric, sadly.

 And I will leave you with a little teaser of the project that has been eating up all my free time lately...but it deserves a post of its own, hopefully coming soon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Maybe dead, but not idle!

Yes, I know it looks like I haven't been doing anything, but really, I have! Ok, a lot of to-do lists are lying around but that counts toward something, surely!  Actually, I finished a striped bedgown and half-boned blue stays that are moderately more comfortable than my fully boned ones, but the shape could use some re-working; I'm very short-waisted and the stays ended up long-waisted. And why oh why didn't I make them front-lacing?! Having a husband to lace is not at all useful when he's in bed by 9pm because what seamstress ever accomplishes anything of note until the 9:30 - 2am time slot?

My current large project is a very respectable dusky-blue sacque that has languished on the back burner for the last year, and it's now about 3/4 done. Hopefully I remember to get some pictures tonight. It has a few construction issues since I'm drafting rather than going by a pattern, which makes me very glad that this was just thrift-store fabric I chose for the first-ever sacque. All the more reason to make another one at a later date. This one was meant to be more middle-century middle class, since that's the most useful to me in Nouvelle France, but part of me is so tempted to go Versailles-level crazy on it.

However, I can't very well tote seven yards of fabric back and forth to work without something horrible happening to it, and since I like to have a sewing project, it has to be something small. 

My mother-in-law and I took a trip to IKEA recently, where I bought some of the Sigbritt fabric for a future jacket:

(I think it's very pretty and it looks a good deal like some extant Indienne prints I've seen)


 an artist's figure. What?
Meet Renee. She's in early stages but eventually she will have real hair and a wardrobe of clothes. I half-finished her little chemise tonight during my dinner break. If she looks sassy it's because she's named after one of the more documented French women in the area, Renee Drouin, who outlived at least three husbands (she loved sergeants in particular, must have been the uniform), conducted several side businesses like laundry and inn keeping, and is so far the ONLY named seamstress I have found in any records around here, so I feel a kinship to her! Renee the Doll will hopefully be a fun teaching tool about 18th century clothing because for some reason eyebrows start raising when I start stripping in front of people to show them all my layers. Up next: a teeny tiny pair of stays. And maybe hair. My co-worker thought it might be a voodoo doll tonight. Oops.

                             (She's showing off the itty bitty gussets in her not-yet-hemmed chemise)

I've always loved 18th century dolls, and while Renee won't be extremely accurate (I'll leave that up to my idols over at The Old Pretenders), hopefully when I'm done she'll look like a little French lady with hair I can dress up or down depending on her wardrobe. From habitant to fine lady, she'll eventually show off some of the various styles of clothing mentioned in local inventories. It'll be a lot easier to get clothes off and on her than myself!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Ball...of sorts.

Just south of us is a tiny French town with deep 18th century roots, and every year they throw a "12th Night Ball." It's a fascinating mishmash of re-enactors, people who just like dressing up, people who don't dress up at all, and a lot of little teenagers in prom gowns. Quite the mix. But hubby and I were excited to go because we had taken a dance lesson the month before and really enjoyed it, and were encouraged by the teacher to come to 12th night to help keep order along with the other couples who had been taking lessons. I'm sure the dances don't seem very complicated to most people but I have two left feet and a desperate desire to get it right. My gentleman had to keep kicking me in the shin and saying "It's just a dance, stop stressing!"  We had a great deal of fun though and danced for hours!

            The paper called up any participants from the neighboring county so we did get to be in the newspaper later!
   My lovely handmade shoes did pretty well for the night although I started to get blistery toward the end.

It took us a little while to remember what we'd learned at lessons, I'm sure the poor teacher felt like she was herding cats from the stage. I took my neck handkerchief off...too hot...but should have taken the apron off too...oh the things we regret when photo evidence turns up.

I've given up on a pair of stays I was hoping to finish soon and think I'll just do slightly boned jumps. I've got nothing to support!

Hopefully next time I post, I'll have pictures of my finished crafting room which has been loooong in the making, but now has beautiful shelves full of folded fabric, and a cheerful color theme of light grey, gold and hot pink. Can't wait to finish it up soon!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

*creeps in slowly*

What a disgraceful lapse of costumery and news...but I have a legitimate excuse! I am now married and trying to keep house with a lovely but absentminded husband, a giant hunting dog, and a very young and incontinent puppy. Good heavens. 90% of my time at home (which isn't much since I'm still working full time) feels like it's spent cleaning up other people's/animals messes and the other 10% is used for looking in despair at the jumble of fabric/trim/art supplies in my new craft room. Which occasionally has water running through it thanks to a leaky basement, yay!

That being said, at present I'm back in the swing of sewing because the debilitating migraines have lessened and I've actually felt very anxious and unsettled during the long stretch of time when I couldn't do anything hobby-related.

On the work table right now: a striped 1750s vest for hubby, a maroon brocade one, and a maroon 1750s-60s coat (that will be plain for a while but eventually I'd like to try my hand at embroidering button covers and maybe down the front of the coat edges and pocket flaps.)

Also I have finished a brown work gown (I might have gotten that mostly done last time I posted though), and here are a few photos of that in action at the local Fort:

                                                            My good man and myself

                                                           ...and with some friends.
          Yes, I do favor Chardin-sized aprons...the more voluminous, the better. When in New France...

By the end of this week I will have a chintz shortgown finished for a local dance so I'm hoping there will be pictures from that this Saturday). The much-neglected blue sacque may yet get finished in the next couple of months, even my mother is eager to see me get done with that because it's such an ambitious project and I mean to trim it nicely...we'll see.

I'd love to do the HSF '16 but I think I'll just plug along at my own pace and enjoy everyone else's inspiration. Deadlines seem to have the exact opposite effect on me than is intended.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Alas, poor Annabelle

I would apologize for my lonnnng absence but I have not the mental energy for abasement right now. Suffice it to say that severe and frequent migraines have been taking quite a toll on my sewing and I don't have a whole lot to show for the past months! Little by little I have been working on the dusk-blue sacque and hopefully will have some pictures soon. The petticoat is finished; since I've made a number of them by hand before, I thought that was the easiest bit to get going on during a time when I was barely dragging myself to and from work, but following several lovely blogger tutorials I'm doing quite well on draping the rest of the gown.

I DID manage a pair of pocket hoops though! They are regrettably mostly machine sewn, which if didn't want to resort to as I was hoping to have a totally hand-made ensemble from the underthings up, but when health is involved sometimes it's best to just admit defeat.

I also hand-sewed a white, very light cotton-linen under-petticoat to go over the panniers but under the silk petticoat, for extra floof, and it will be getting a ruffle at the bottom to help kick the silk petticoat out a little more. So I haven't been entirely idle, just unfortunately not making as much progress as I would have liked to this year :(

Monday, March 3, 2014

HSF #3 - Pink

Sigh, behind again. I'm not going to post about challenge #2, Innovation, because I was counting the red Indienne print neck handkerchief I paired with my new wool bedgown (#1: Make Do And Mend) and was thinking about doing a long post on the innovative cotton printing that was catching on in Europe. But I'm too lazy to do all that research for just a simple triangle of cloth!

The Challenge: #3: PINK - A little bouquet of silk flowers and ribbon to be pinned at the center front of a gown. Very pastoral (hoping for spring soon)!

Fabric: Not really much in the way of fabric in the traditional sense, although I suppose the flowers, leaves and ribbon are technically all fabric!
Pattern: I'm really unlikely to be using any pattern for any of these challenges, I'll just get that out of the way now...I feel much more free looking at photos and scale drawings and letting the item grow organically from that. For this simple little project, I looked at a couple of cute little nosegays pinned to display gowns like these: 

Year: Not sure there is a specific year although I'm most likely in the future to use this with my pink anglaise as it already has floral motifs and some green in it. 
Notions: ALL notion, really!
How historically accurate is it? I'm really not sure, I couldn't find any specifics about extant artificial nosegays, but silk flowers as ornament seemed to be in use on hats and other accessories fairly frequently.
Hours to complete: Not even 1...finished it up in about 15 minutes while watching Olympic figure skating.
First worn: Not yet! I need to take pictures of all my ensembles to date though and pair them with the best accessories so maybe as the weather warms up. 
Total cost: Nada...all stash materials.

The reason it's taking me SO long to get anything up lately is THIS:

Eventually, MAYBE, it'll be lovely light pink stays bound with cream linen tape, half-boned with cable ties, with straps and a stomacher, but right now I have never more regretted swearing a solemn promise to never use the sewing machine again on any of my 18th century clothes or accessories. Shoving a needle through six layers of heavy canvas-like material has been murder on my fingers when joining the pieces, and I'll never really love boning channels much, even less so by hand. If I'm wanting to make the #5 bodice challenge (will count this for #4 Underneath It All as well), I really have to book it. 

They are not very nice looking, but they are drafted off my first stays, which are machine-sewn and actually fit quite well despite some design flaws. Those are fully boned though and hot as Hades in summer so I'm going a lighter, less bulky/more flexible route -- I know there's not much documentation for half-boned stays with visible boning channels, but I just have this idea in my head of what they'll (hopefully) look like, so bear with me. If nothing else, it'll be a good exercise in humility and facing failure! 

My plans for the HSF for the rest of 2014 have changed drastically, and once I finish these stays up, I hope to be devoting the rest of my year to building two ensembles (click for accompanying Pinterest boards)


More to come on those soon after the FrankenStays are done torturing me!