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18th century, 18th century wigs, events, Marie Antoinette redingote c. 1780, projects, travel

Shenanigans at the Chateau!

(Yes, I am shamelessly stealing that post title from the talented Cathy Hay!)

Aiee, we’re here!  In France!  In an ancient chateau, originally 16th century but restored in the 19th century, and very appropriately eighteenth-century themed inside!

Here is the lovely Chateau de Pys, in the southeast of France near Toulouse:

(C) Trystan L. Bass

(C) Thomas Dowrie. Currently I'm sleeping in the building to the right, next week I'll be moving into a bedroom in the chateau!

The view on a rainy late afternoon -- we actually have a view of the snow-covered peaks of the Pyrennees when it is clear, which I'll post once I've remembered to take a photo!

And we’re having a blast.  So far there have been sewing circles, cocktails, Eurovision final watching parties, yummy dinners…. and costumes!  Most of us are here for two weeks, so we’re spacing out the costume events to basically every other day, so nobody hits the wall.  It’s so lovely to BE in the place you’re going to be playing dress up — no hassle to get dressed and pop over — plus to then be able to put your pj’s on and have a late night, post-corset snack in the kitchen with everyone else!  I could SO get used to this…

Our first costume event was a picnic lunch on the terrace/outside.  It’s been drizzling on and  off, so we set up the lunch buffet-style on an outdoor table.  After food, we took TONS of photos, rambled about the grounds to see the nearby pond, woods, and lawns, played some ninepins, and lounged about on the steps.  As I keep repeating, This Does Not Suck.

Lisa & Francis


Thomas & Trystan

Cathy & Lisa

C'est moi!

Tomorrow:  details on my redingote and wig!

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!

18th century, Marie Antoinette redingote c. 1780, projects

Sleeves & Collar

Next up with the redingote was the sleeves and collar.  The sleeves are a pretty boring story, except:

1) I wasn’t sure whether to make a slightly elongated one-piece sleeve, or a shorter two-piece sleeve — I saw examples of both in Janet Arnold and Norah Waugh.  I tried the one-piece first, but the portion below the elbow gets so weird, that I decided it would be easier to go two-piece.  So I grabbed my pattern from the Maja dress and shortened it.

2) The cuff (and the collar) I’ve decided to make in black velvet, mostly because peering at the black pleated ribbon trim on the skirt makes me think black velvet ribbon.  I suppose it could be taffeta, but this is what I’m going with!  Anyway, the vertical stripes on the cuff are weird, and I had to play a bit to figure out number and positioning.  Sewing those down wasn’t too annoying, but the binding SUCKED.  I’m using pieces of white taffeta cut on the straight the way they would in the period, and hand sewing it down, and I even basted it… but no matter what, VELVET IS SO SQUIGY!  AGH!  The binding kept migrating so it’d be 3/8″ wide here and 5/8″ wide there and I had to unpick so many sections and resew them… what worked was 1) ironing the turn under, 2) ironing the point where the binding wraps over the edge of the cuff, 3) basting, and 4) unpicking/restitching over and over.  LORDY.

For the collar (SQUEE I’ve always wanted to make a big ole redingote collar!), I started with the pattern from Norah Waugh’s Cut of Women’s Clothes.  I’ve seen a number of redingotes in paintings with that extra triangular piece at the front of the collar, but I wasn’t sure about whether there should similarly be anything underneath the back of the collar.  I tried experimenting with a few different shapes and they all looked dorky, given that the illustration doesn’t show a double collar over the shoulder.  The collar looked so much like the one on this redingote:

Source: via Jozlyn on Pinterest


But without the wider under-collar. So I followed something of the line of that collar in back, but again, just the one collar:

Source: via Martina on Pinterest


Surprisingly, binding the collar was a piece of cake — possibly because I’d figured out the best way to approach it, or maybe because those curves made the velvet less squigy?  No idea, but I’ll go with it!

I was originally thinking maybe I’d finish the collar separately and then whip stitch it to the finished robe neckline, but then decided that would be annoying. So I opened up the neckline seam, herringboned the collar to the robe fashion fabric, and still need to stitch the lining back in place.

18th century, Marie Antoinette redingote c. 1780, projects

Cutting the Back, Putting Together the Robe

So the next thing I want to talk about with the Marie Antoinette redingote project is how I patterned/cut the back. From what I’ve seen from various late 1770s redingotes, they’re generally cut with the center back pieces in one with the skirt, but without the pleats that we associate with what modern historians/costumers call “en fourreau.” There does seem to be an interior box pleat at the center back, where the bodice merges into the skirt:

This one is a lot later (1790), but still has the one-piece center back/skirt with interior box pleat:

Source: via Jennifer on Pinterest

The method I used is similar to The Merry Dressmaker’s lazy en fourreau back tutorial.  First I patterned and fitted the back lining, which only goes down to where the bodice meets the skirt, as shown in this post.

Next, I used that same pattern to cut out the center back piece, but I didn’t cut away the side extra, since the lower part of that would become the skirt, and I wasn’t sure exactly what the waistline would end up looking like.  I also made sure to leave an extra 2-3 inches along the center back seam, from the waist down, to create the center back pleat:

Next, I sewed together the center back seam of the skirt, then separately the center back of the bodice.  I laid it all down on the ironing board:

Notice that the seam of the bodice has to overlap the seam of the skirt, so that there can be seam allowance to stitch down and support that CB pleat:

I lined up the center back seams, pinning the pleat open on top of the bodice seam (now we’re looking at the outside).  This will all get stitched down when I attach this to the lining, which ends right where that horizontal pin is.

Then I put the lining on my dress form and pinned the CB bodice portion to the lining.  I tried to be careful not to cut all the way to where I wanted the center back side seam to end, as I was worried about the weight of the fabric ripping further down.  Well, I was right, and the fabric did rip, but luckily just to where I wanted it to end!  So be careful with that point, and support the side fabric by holding or pinning it up — otherwise all the stress is right on that point.

Now I could pleat up the skirt onto the lining, cut away any excess above the waist, and attach the other bodice pieces.  And, sew across that center back piece where the lining ends, attaching the lining and supporting/placing that pleat.  Here’s what it looked like when I’d done all of that:

And the front:

And yes, I am machine sewing a good deal of the interior of this dress.  I’m a little bit surprised at myself, since I do love to handsew 18th century garments, but with all the sewing I need to do for France this May, I needed to get the base of this sucker slapped together so that I could have that feeling of accomplishment.  Of course, I put in the lining by hand, and I’m finding lots of things needing to be ripped out and handsewn, but that’s the next post!

18th century, Marie Antoinette redingote c. 1780, projects

Marie Antoinette Redingote: Starting the Project

So we’re just going to pretend that I’m not further along on this project, so that I can go back a bit and blog its beginnings!

Like all sane, rational people, every time I came across this sketch of Marie Antoinette in a redingote I thought, “Wow, I need to make that.”  I didn’t have any firm plans, however, just a general wanty-ness.

Drawing of Marie Antoinette, about 1785, ink and color on paper, Artist unknown
From Lofstad slott, Norrkoping, Sweden. From the blog Fashion Is My Muse.

Similarly (and somewhat weirdly), every time I walked past this Victorian house down the street, I always admired the color combination of cream, white, and black, and thought that it would be great for a costume.

Color scheme inspiration -- cream, white, and black

But it wasn’t until Leia was selling a bunch of yards of the silk/wool blend that she used for her riding habit (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE) that it all came together, as I was thinking of what to do with that fabric that wouldn’t end up being a copy of Leia’s habit (which, have I mentioned? I love).  So we were off and running…

Now, the original drawing sometimes reads as cream, white, and black to me, and other times as just white and black, but I was happy to read that the color is probably a later addition to the drawing.  Not that it would matter, just that it lets me let myself off the hook for possibly not doing it 1000% RIGHT.  I’ve always thought the brown fur detracted from the color scheme, so I’m going to make that element black.  Just cause I wanna.

One other tweak I want to make is that from what I can see of the drawing, it’s being worn over one of those relatively wide hoops that are one full garment and cross in front and back of the body (like this one).  I don’t love that look, so I’m going to use my standard pocket hoops and call it good.

So out came the dress form and the stays and I started draping!  I referenced a number of different extant redingotes for seamlines, including this one from the Palazzo Mocenigo, and this one from the Fastes de Cour exhibition/book.  Here’s the drape and mockup; I didn’t bother fitting the center back pieces below the waist, since that section doesn’t matter for fitting!