Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The dreamy pastel Pet En L'air gets some sunshine

It's a joy to have finally gotten to photograph this ensemble, and between the dress and the much-improved camera of my newer phone, I finally got some pictures of myself in 18thc clothing that I'm quite proud of. This photo is probably my favorite, just for the soft, artistic quality of it: 

For more details, read on!

This fabric was pointed out to me by a friend who noticed it on clearance on Hallie Larkin's website, "At the Sign of the Golden Scissors." Though the rest of the site is now defunct, Ms. Larkin (or somebody) still seems to de-stash material there from time to time; I recently got a large bag of various sheer silk remnants for trims, caps, etc. I've also gotten from her clearance an incredibly discounted remnant of Scalamandre yellow silk with birds and bouquets that hopefully will some day go into a Dangerous Liaisons-inspired 18thc riding jacket like the one worn by the Marquise when she arrives at the country estate to 'comfort' Cecile.

But this striped taffeta (technically a lisere, I think, due to the woven nature of the botanical border) was love at first sight, and the first piece I got from there. As there were 7 yards, at first I thought "oh I'll just do a delightful sacque" but of course, there could be no matching petticoat with that short of a length of silk. Since the stripes, a dusty pale blue and indescribable smoky cream, were both proving difficult to match for a solid-colored petticoat, I decided against a full Robe a la Francaise, and instead cut out a pet en l'air. This I did two years ago, roughly around the same time I cut out both my black sacque and the bronze one, which both then went with me to Costume College. So the Pet just languished in a zipped clothing bag for over a year, waiting to be tackled.

For me, the JP Ryan pattern always goes together fairly smoothly (although I always have to refer back to AJ's deciphering of the robing folds because WHAT THE HECK JP RYAN. How did you think those directions were clear?!).  Now, unfortunately for me, the almost satin nature of this particular taffeta made it work loose from its ironed robing pleats down the front while I was trying to fit the outer fabric to the lining. If I had stopped and taken the time to re-pleat them, it would have been far better, but I charged ahead with reckless abandon and then had to tack down a LOT of stray fabric. At some point it'll have to be redone, as it's affecting the fit of the torso too loosely.

Fit issues aside, before even sewing up the gown, I had been busily making trim for it at nights while watching tv. I was somehow able to get the exact colors from a cardmaking trim shop on Etsy, and painstakingly cut and tied little bows of the blue onto the cream. Actually it went quite a bit faster than I was anticipating, but I wanted something that looked like fly trim.

Because I didn't want to be making it for forever, I did just enough to go along the edge of the sleeve ruffle, in the center of my trim around the neck/robings and on the stomacher.
The back pleats are always my favorite part.

My sleeve ruffle lace (engageantes is the French term, I think) is vintage, probably Edwardian...I try not to cut nice lace up, but a lot of what I intentionally buy is in poor condition and needs mending of good-sized holes, or has stains that have to be hidden. Not only is it usually less expensive, but that way I don't feel guilty actually using lovely old lace. I make all my engageantes on white cotton bands, so that the only thing I am basting through when attaching the ruffles to the gown is the band, rather than the fragile lace. This way too I can swap them in and out of different dresses. I think I have four interchangeable sets now!
The earrings are from an Etsy shop called EverThineCo. and I just HAD to have them when I saw them. They're usually quite pricey at $80, but you can often catch them on a half-off sale if you wait long enough, which is what I did. I think they're replicas of a famous pair that Liz Taylor had commissioned, but clearly modeled off a Georgian girandole.  My brooch was an incredibly lucky vintage Etsy's a copy of an 18thc Saint Lô cross from France, and it has a hidden bale on the back so you could also wear it as a necklace pendant. The original is at the Met Museum and is silver as most of them were, but I quite like the gold.

Juvenile-me gets a kick out of the fact the Pet en L'air in some instances in the French of antiquity means literally 'fart in the wind' (yeah I know, I'm supposed to be GENTEEL musings, sorry, I have to suspend that for a sec) and this picture fully illustrates why, lol.  WHEEEEEEEE (ok I'm done).

I'm in love with the powdery sky blue against the gentle just does everything for my pastel 2006-Marie-Antoinette-film-worshipping aesthetic, haha. 

The other thing I was really pleased about was my hair cooperating, for once. I have extremely long hair, down to my waist almost all the time, and you'd think "oh that's great for historical styles." Nope. I'd probably be better off with mid-back-length hair for workability. But in this case I started with day-old hair, slightly oily like mine often is, and I powdered the heck out of it with my favorite rose powder from Colonial Williamsburg. That gives my very fine, slick, straight hair enough body and grip that I can start to shape it. Then I section off the hair around my face and comb it forward over my face, secure a rat behind it (in this case, a fist-sized amount of my own washed hair from many daily brushings) and sweep my hair back over the rat. This gives me enough height that I can then gently curl and twist the rest of my hair up and keep pinning here and there. 

 I have two buckles on either side -- these are easy to make with strands of faux hair...cover a 1" dowel (or even a broomstick) with waxed paper, and dab a little craft glue onto the waxed paper. Take your strand of faux hair and wind it over the glue. I kept painting glue onto the hair as I wrapped it, until I had a good tight roll, and slid it off the end of my dowel to dry. This did take some finagling, and don't be surprised if your craft glue collects some wax paper when you finally peel it off the curl/roll, but the point for me was to get some 'invisible' forms over which to roll small strands of my own hair, which is exactly what I did here, then pinned the full buckle onto my head through each end of the roll.   

Once I had done as much with my hair as I cared to, any spots that looked a little flat or lacking benefited from a few faux flowers artfully stuck in there.

And voila, the finished pet en l'air with fully dressed hair and very 'extra' accessories!


  1. Your pet en l'air is so delightful and I love the photos in the bright sunlight! I have the JP Ryan pattern, too, but couldn't get it to work for me when I made my robe à la Française. That really wasn't a surprise as JP Ryan patterns seem to be patterned to vastly different measurements and proportions than mine. Anyway, it was lovely to see this post!

    1. The pattern does often take some tweaking for me too, it's definitely not perfect. I think I had a better fit with my first sacque drafted years ago from Patterns of Fashion buuuut it was also a lot more work than I've been willing to do when I wanted one quickly, haha! Thank you so much for your sweet comment!

  2. Lovely photos! This fabric and the accessories suit you wonderfully. It's so exciting that you have a new outfit and that you were able to get dressed in it on such a beautiful day.


    1. Thank you so much, Quinn! Hoping to get to wear it somewhere other than my yard this year, haha!