Sunday, April 16, 2017

Robe a la Francaise, A Modern Twist.

Jean-François de Troy, The Declaration of Love, 1731
One of my favorite things to do in my own designing (when I'm not obsessed with historical
reacreation) is to use historical garments as the foundation for wearable modern clothes. Whether it be a house robe or a formal gown, there's something enticing and fascinating about blending classical forms with modern sensibilities. Most of the time for my own fashion choices (at least the ones I wear out of the house!) I stick to a very 1940's and early 50's new look vibe. It's suitable for my figure, and I love the look. But for special occasion dresses, it's a lot of fun to just go a little wild, and the girls are the perfect models!

From the collection of the Metripolitan 
I admit to having a weakness for the robe a la francaise, or sack back gown. Even though there's very little about the rococo period that I like (most of it's just too much for me. Music, Interior decorating... even the art) there's something about the fitted tapered front, and elegant sleeves of the robe a la francaise, contrasted against the flowing, voluminous Watteau pleats that I just love. These gowns also showcase some of the most phenomenal use of large prints and particularly striped prints, that I've ever seen. I may be a little obsessed.

I've done one sack backed project before. I have a dressing gown that's a empire waist with a sack back which is both comfortable and elegant. It's been one of my favorites for years, but I've yearned to do a closer approximation of the style. This has been simmering on the back burner for a long time in the "nowhere to wear it and it's not practical for at home" pot. But as I was looking at fabrics for my daughter's Easter dresses inspiration struck. I could do a gown, constructed in the period manner, complete with elbow flounces, with the entire top layer made out of terminally sparkly organze, making a whole modern twist out of a beautiful historical gown. I drew ups some designs and showed them to Ladybug, and she was in love. so away I went.

The original sack back I experimented with for my dressing gown had the pleats gathered into the neckline direct, which had some difficulties inherent to it: all that bulk, the pleats didn't want to turn under into neck seam easily, it wanted to pull at the neckline, etc etc. So for this gown I decided to select the other construction option, which uses a yoke. That way you don't have to turn down all those layers of pleated fabric, but instead just flip the yoke up over them. In some ways the line isn't as clean as pleats falling from the back neckline direct, but the construction is simpler. The yoke also gives you an easy flat space to attache trim, which with planned ruffled ribbon trim, was another plus.

I drafted the gown off of another roccoco inspired gown I had made last year, this one had a faux stomacher and a pollanaise style skirt. It took a standard sleeve pattern that I also have in stock, which made it easier than re-drafting from a block. Super secret: I hate drafting sleeves. If I have something similar I've already drafted I will frequently bastardize the pattern rather than go back and re do sleeve and armscythe drafting. With a few minor alterations, the pattern was a go.

I had a yard and half of super sparkle organza, and about the same of a purple satin. The plan was to use the organza for the entire exterior gown, and the satin for the interior gown and stomacher and then add ruffled trim. The first hurdle showed up as I began laying out pattern pieces This gown uses a LOT of fabric. Yes, those capitals are necessary.  To illustrate the stupid amount of fabric this gown takes: Kitten is 16 months old now and wears 24 month sizes. Her gown used all but scraps of an entire yard of 60" wide organza.  So, when I laid out Ladybug's, it was instantly obvious that I wasn't going to be able to get sleeves, ruffles, and the gown pieces out of the organza unless the back was pitifully narrow.

So back to the stash I went and came out with some embroidered chiffon and an old white silk shirt. There was enough there for the sleeve ruffle and a matching stomacher, and it was a nice compliment. of course it was terrible and slithery to work with, but in for a penny, in for a pound! The only downside was you could see the seam allowances through the chiffon where I made the ruffles. this bothers me but is basically invisible on the finished gown. I may still go back and try to put some trim over it.

The dean of the fashion dept when I was in school, Mrs. Hannan, always said that working with synthetic organza was like trying to sew live spiders together. She's not wrong, but I still do use it occasionally, particularly for little girl dresses. This fabric though? I don't care HOW sparkly it is, I will never EVER use it again. You can't iron it without a pressing cloth. Iron the front? The little plastic jewels melt on the iron. Iron the back? The glue from the jewels seeps through the cloth and onto the iron. It was also a nightmare to sew evenly, you can see how completely crooked my top stitching on these sleeve ruffles is. Every time you hit some of the jewels the fabric jigged, and you might not even see the ones you hit, because they could be in one of the bottom layers. The fabric made what should have been a fun project into rather a nightmare.

Whenever I'm making a gown with a sleeve treatment I like to apply the treatments to the sleeve before I attach the sleeve. This saves wrangling the whole gown around while trying to evenly apply ruffles. I also like to try and cleverly hide all the raw edges. In this case you want to trim the organza as little as possible. because it's evil and ravelly and will slither out of the seams if given half a chance. I flipped the seam allowances to the outside here, and then sewed ribbon trim down over it.

I used a heavy linen underlining to give the bodice some weight. then stay stitched all the satin to it to keep that from slithering off. Then I pinned the pleats, and sewed the yoke down over them. This was a really great way to do the sack back. I wished I'd had more fabric in the back, but it made fairly full pleats.

The bodice came together fairly quickly. The trickiest part of the whole gown was pleating in the side pleats. I was able to cheat a little bit because I was using an attached under skirt instead of the historically accurate petticoat so I just caught the pleats in the waist seam and was done with it. Putting in the sleeves and the lining was a nightmare because of the fabric. Instead of just giving all the seam allowances a good heavy steam pressing to make the edges crisp and keep everything in place while I was sewing in the lining, I had to hand baste all the edges of the sleeve and the neckline to the underlining, which, while it seems like a small thing, added another few hours of labor to the job.

Then I added the under skirt. I pleated it onto the bodice, but gathered a large loop of it directly under the side pleats. This gave it a shadow of the silhouette that would have been given by panniers in the original gowns.

With that sorted and the lining sewed down I put on ruffled organza ribbon trim. Yards. and Yards, and Yards of ruffled organza ribbon trim. Because go big or go home right?

Then the stomacher, which I sewed down to the lining at one side, and applied hook and loop tape to the other of for closure. Again, a historical fudge. Stomachers tended to be pinned into place, but that's just not practical for tiny people. The stomacher has one plastic cable tie down the center to help it keep it's shape and two layers of underlining.

Finished and on to Kitten's dress!

I picked cow print for Kitten's dress. Because of a hilarious family story started by my Aunt, my Cousin, and a ridiculous cow print romper one easter long ago cow print baby clothes have become a thing in my family. I decided to keep it going with my youngest this year, so she got her very own cow print gown.

I love drafting for babies: the pieces are barely shaped so it's super easy to change a pattern you know fits to new lines. I started from her little wool kirtle, and moved stuff around some.

The construction process was exactly the same except I could IRON this fabric. Therefore I managed to make her whole gown in about the same time it took me to make Ladybug's sleeves. Seriously, that's the difference fabric makes. (also it's tiny so it goes faster, but not that much faster!) I did do kitten's watteau pleats straight from the neckline and then hand stitch them down into shape. Partially just because I wanted to try both methods back to back, and partially because the gown is so small, more seams in a small space like that just add bulk.

My Model got tired waiting for me to finish....

I had my major oops for the project with Kitten's gown. Somehow, although I checked it twice both when I put the ruffle on the sleeve and when I put the sleeve on the gown, I managed to put the sleeve ruffles on backwards, so the long part is to the front. Thankfully it wasn't super noticeable. I'll take it off and turn it around later when I have more time!
My sparkle princess! 

I added vintage glass buttons to the bows on Kitten's stomacher for a little extra sparkle

note the backwards sleeve ruffle.... 

The first time Ladybug saw Kitten in her gown, she said "Look mom, she's a tiny cow fairy!"
The sack back does look a little like wings when she runs around! 

Crash and Bang didn't get left out. They got Dapper Dude Vests. 

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