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1778 robe a la circassienne

1778 robe a la circassienne, 18th century, projects

Costumes at the Château pt. 3: robe a la circassienne!

Another new costume that I made for the trip to France was a robe a la circassienne.  I was initially thinking that the inspiration image was a robe a la turque — essentially, a later version of the robe a la polonaise, but with long undersleeves and short oversleeves — until I peered a bit more closely at the painting and noticed some of the purple banding on the skirt at the side back.  I can’t imagine how that would get there without it being the hem pulled up, which would make this a circassienne (the main difference between the two styles is that the circassienne has the skirt looped up):

Young Woman Admiring a Miniature by Wille, 1778. The red arrow is pointing at what I think is the hem banding, looped up.

This made me relatively happy, because although I was really excited about how pretty the initial drape looked with a long train, there is NOTHING practical about a train when you’re using white silk duchesse satin.

As I may have mentioned previously, draping this sucker was an EXPERIENCE.  I decided to do the totally-authentic thing and drape it on my dress form using the fashion fabric.  A great idea that’s worked out well in the past, but this time, there were MANY revisions as I futzed and futzed.  I was worried about having enough of the (expensive) fabric, and so trying to drape it in an economical way — but instead by revising it multiple times, I ended up wasting a lot of fabric (slashing the armhole, for example).  At least I was in love with the back pleats, so that kind of made up for things…

I decided to try some new approaches to the underbodice layer, so knowing that they used separate bodices (called “corsage” in French, I haven’t found an English term yet) I decided to go with that.  Plus, I was thinking that the overgown could work fabulously over a chemise a la reine (although more so when it had a train, maybe less so now?) — so I decided to attach the undersleeves to the bodice and only the oversleeves to the robe.  I have no idea if this is period, as I haven’t yet been able to identify an extant example, but this is experimental archaeology!

I posted a bit about draping the underbodice here, but to my supreme irritation, what was supposed to be a perfectly fitted back-opening bodice cut on the straight ended up with serious wrinkles.  I tried facing the front with some heavy linen fustian, but it was still wrinkly, so I ended up adding a piece of boning to the CF… after which it was still wrinkly.  I loved wearing the outfit, but I spent the whole time feeling embarrassed about my wrinkles!  You’ll see what I’m talking about in the final photos.

In progress - no sleeves. CF looks relatively smooth, but...!

In progress. The back is made of one layer of linen and closes with spiral lacing.

After attaching the undersleeves

I used bias strips of the purple to create the bands along the various edges (except at the bottom of the underbodice, where I really had to follow the line of the hem).  Comparing it all now with the original painting, they’re a little too narrow in places (especially the skirt), but I was in gotta-get-this-done mode, so it is what it is!

Finished robe and underbodice

I handsewed every stitch of the robe and underbodice, and really wanted to do the same for the petticoat, but I’d run out of time… and fabric!  One other reason I wanted to make this a circassienne was the much shorter hem, leaving me some more pieces of fabric to try to piece together to make the petticoat.  But I was stuck with a whole bunch of strips.  Initially I pictured the petticoat being all white with a purple band at the hem, but as I was looking for ways to piece things, I came across this fashion plate and decided it would be a good way to use up all those small pieces of fabric, PLUS it had an added je-ne-sais-quoi:

Circassienne de taffetas à bandes de rubans, Gallerie des Modes, 1779 |

I had to order a bit more of the white satin as well as the purple to make it work, and I think in the end I spent only a little less than if I’d just bought enough to make the whole thing white — but again, I think it adds some more flair to the outfit!

I made fabric-covered buttons with the purple silk, and purple lucet cord out of some silk embroidery floss, to loop up the skirt.  At the château, I accessorized it with way more jewelry than the inspiration image, plus a purple ribbon and feather (thanks Fanny for the feather!).  And a lot of stomach wrinkles:

Kendra's interpretation / Young Woman Admiring a Miniature by Wille, c. 1780


And yes, as Sarah kept pointing out, the painting has tons of stomach wrinkles. I DON’T CARE. I couldn’t stand it! After the first wearing, I took off the boning and fustian and took a horizontal tuck across the waistline of the bodice front… which only reduced the wrinkles a little bit. Harumph. So the front of the underbodice WILL get recut, hopefully before Costume College as I’m thinking this will be my gala gown (I have NO desire to take on any big projects anytime soon, after all that sewing for France!).

Here it is with the waist tuck, worn with a mask and bird cage for our masquerade evening:

Sarah & Kendra - masquerade evening

In the end, though, if I forget about the wrinkles, I really love it! Best of all it was perfect for dancing — poor Lisa and Cathy kept getting their trains stepped on, but I was free as a bird.

Francis, Cathy, Kendra, & Lisa dancing

1770s camisole, 1778 robe a la circassienne, 18th century, Marie Antoinette redingote c. 1780, projects

State of the Sewing – France Prep!

So I haven’t been blogging lately (obviously) — partially because I’ve been too busy, and also partially because I’m feeling like the dress diary is over.  There are so many costume blogs these days that I think it’s hard to keep up with them all, and I don’t get much feedback on my own dress diary posts, so I’ve been thinking of doing more wrap-up posts — here’s what I made and here’s how I made it.

But since I AM sew-sew-sewing for France, I wanted to show you where things are!

First off, the camisole à la polonaise is almost done.  I had a bit of quandry when it looked like I didn’t have enough of the contrast windowpane fabric to do skirt ruffles, but I managed to find a piece I’d forgotten about and have eked out enough.  Just need to gather and attach the hem ruffle, and I want to make a couple of sets of different color bows (I’m thinking green and lavender) to wear at the neckline and sleeves.

I’m working on a gazillion things simultaneously, which is kind of nice in that when I get sick of one thing I can put it down and pick something else up.  Here’s the robe à la turque, which turned into a robe à la circassienne once I realized how impractical a white silk satin gown was with a train.  This was a particular adventure because I decided to drape it on my dress form using the fashion fabric.  A great idea, except when you’re dealing with $40/yd fabric.  Yeah.  There were some screw-ups and fabric wastage.  I’ll give you the long version when I write my “how I made it” post!

Finally, there’s the redingote, of which I don’t have an up to date photo.

I still have LOTS of fiddly bits to do — sleeves to set, 10 million buttons to make, plus I am embroidering away on Francis’s waistcoat… And I want to style a new wig, and make at least one hat.  I’ll try to post more pics in a day or two!  Luckily I’m off work as of tomorrow, so I have 1.5 weeks to finish sewing, pack, and get generally organized.  EEK!

There’s also some important news to post about my research, but I’ll save that for another post….

1778 robe a la circassienne, 18th century, projects, techniques

A Useful Fitting Example?

I was starting yet another simultaneous project (this 1778 robe a la turque, more details to come soon) and realized that what I was doing could provide a useful example of fitting.

When I first started doing costuming, I was working from commercial patterns, as so many of us do.  Fitting, particularly bodices, was so annoying, and I usually went for “good enough,” getting the bodice to be close to my waist and bust measurements and not worrying about wrinkles and weirdnesses beyond that.  As I started doing more sewing, I heard various people advise, “Just listen to what the fabric wants to do,” and I found that SO annoying.  What do you mean, “listen to the fabric”?  The fabric isn’t talking!  How the hell am I supposed to know what it wants to DO?  I’m not psychic!

When I learned to drape (a bit through a workshop, mostly self-taught), a lightbulb went off in my head — OH, the fabric DOES tell you what it wants to do!  And here’s what I mean:

For this project, I’m making a separate corset (sleeveless bodice — not stays) to wear under the robe, as in the original painting there’s no center front seam (which you’d see on a false front).  It could be a stomacher worn under there, but because the fit of the robe is relatively loose, I don’t want stays showing at the side, so a corset it is.

So I started with the pattern for the underlayer of my proper polonaise.  Initially, I cut out a mockup and sewed it together, and then put it and my stays on my dress form.  The polonaise has a center front seam, and as was frequently done in the 18th century, that CF seam is curved in order to fit the curved front of my body.  Also, the fronts are cut on the bias, which helps the fabric to stretch around a curved shape.

Of course, this mockup didn’t fit when I removed the seam at the center front, because now the center front has to be on the straight.  So what to do?  Initially I just tried taking in the side seams, to see if that could do it.  But I was left with a lot of poochy un-fittedness at the front waist.

So instead, I listened to the fabric.  I ripped out the side back seam, pinned the front on the form aligning the center front, and then smoothed the fabric around the body and let it go whatever direction it needed to to lie flat.  And here’s what I ended up with:

Can you see how in order to make the front fit without a CF curve and bias, the angle of the fabric wants to change drastically?  I could have left things as is, tightened up those side back seams, and lived with a less-than-fitted bodice pattern.  Instead, I needed to change the angle of the bodice front piece, which then necessitated moving the armhole and patching in some fabric along the side waist.

This could be useful to you, because whenever you fit a pattern to your shape, YOUR curves will be different than the curves the original pattern was intended to fit — whether it be a commercial pattern, or a scaled pattern for a surviving garment.

So how can you implement this in your sewing?  Whenever you make a pattern, ALWAYS create a mockup.  Leave tons (I’m talking 5+ inches) of seam allowance on that mockup, and don’t draw around the seam allowances of the pattern — draw in the actual seamlines.  Try pinning the garment together and see if it will follow your curves.  If there’s any weirdness or wrinkling or whatever, pin each piece to your dressform or body (it helps to have a friend here!) separately.  Figure out what is your starting point (usually, the center front, back, or side) and smooth the fabric in whatever direction it will lay flat.  Then, you can adjust any seamlines that have changed and patch in any areas that are missing (I have found that masking tape works beautifully to patch in a new piece of muslin) — just make sure that any patch you use follows the same grainline as your pattern piece, because whether the fabric is on the straight or bias will affect how much it stretches and therefore the fit.

I hope you find this useful, feel free to ask any questions if it’s clear as mud!