This past weekend I went to Costume Con 31 in Denver. For the first time, I decided to enter the Historical Masquerade. I had an idea for a performance that I thought would be fun. I got fabric for a costume, started work on it, and when there was a wrench in the plans and I needed to make an outfit for my partner in the performance I had to scrap the earlier costume and make something else. So I decided to make this:
Yeah, this was a bit ambitious.
I had made a number of 18th century garments before, so I figured this would be no problem. Drape some fabric, stitch on some flowers, make a wig. A couple of days tops.
Not so much. I didn’t realize it was a robe de cour (or court gown) and it was radically different from anything else I had ever made. Whoops.
I started with the wig because it was the best part. I used the “Grandma” wig from Lacey Wigs and built it using floral wire, a loofah, tulle, extra hair wefts I sewed, silver spray paint and a liberal coating of Aqua Net. Because the wig itself was so involved I am going to write up a separate post on it, but here is what it looked like before the hat and accessories were put on it:
I made the panniers using the Simplicity pattern everyone else seems to be using because it is very similar to both the Jean Hunisett version and the Janet Arnold version. I used blue silk dupioni I had in my stash:
I also made a set of pocket hoops to wear underneath the panniers because I needed them for the props for my performance. Apparently some people did wear the pocket hoops rather than just regular pockets under their panniers, and I can see why. You can fit a lot of crap in there. I used the Jean Hunisett pattern for my pocket hoops.
I had planned on wearing my American Duchess shoes with the dress, but didn’t have time to finish dyeing them before I left, so I wore a pair of Edwardian looking heels that worked well since no one could see my feet.
I draped the skirts as per the tutorial on Katherine’s site, which was very similar to the one in the Jean Hunisett book. It involved making the skirt back and front lacing, and then doing a combination of side pleats and stacked box pleats. Check out Katherine’s information – she writes it far better than I ever could.
The fabric for the outfit was a blue floral brocade I had in my stash. The original looks to be a solid blue, but I was trying to avoid buying a ton of things for this outfit and the color was very close. The swag fabric is a gold striped sheer from Hancock Fabrics that was a very close match to the portrait. I cut it so the stripes are horizontal versus vertical as I would have had to piece together a number of strips and the swags would not have hung properly. Some key areas were tacked down, otherwise everything else was attached via safety pins for ease of travel.
The swag fabric was done as a tube along the bottom edge of the skirt where it is woven in and out of pinked cuts as per the portrait. The upper swagged fabric was done as a flat piece that was periodically gathered. The edges of the sheer were rolled on the serger. I tried doing a tube on the upper section and it just didn’t look right.
The bows are made of the same sheer, with a gold ribbon attached around them. Gold cameos are sewn to the bottom. I spray-painted the resin cameos and attached gold bails to them with Dazzle Tac. Under the bows are supposed to be some sort of additional swag, but I couldn’t figure out what it was and decided to leave that section off.
The flowers are faux flowers that are also from Michaels. The actual flowers look like lilies and I had a difficult time finding something similar. The originals were likely fresh flowers from the gardens of Versailles. The flowers are hooked around the swag and pinned in place.
The bodice was unlike anything I had done before. In robe de cour outfits as this one was, the ones in France in the 1700’s were still extremely structured as per the bodices of the 17th century. I drafted up a bodice pattern based off of a 17th century pattern by Jean Hunisett and following the drawing of the pieces of a court gown bodice in Norah Waugh. By some small miracle the mock-up fit the first time and required very little tweaking.
I made it of 2 layers of cotton duck since I had no coutil. The outer layer was the silk. Apparently there was often an inner layer of batting/felt/etc. to give it an overall smoother look, but I skipped this as the front was going to be covered in stuff. The entire bodice was boned with plastic cable ties and it weighs a ton and is the most sturdy thing I have ever worn. The sleeves are a basic tube sleeve covered in lace. (It still needs more and the second tier needs to be tacked down.) By another miracle my sewing machine stitched perfect eyelets down the back and I didn’t have to use grommets or stitch them by hand. It was also common for folks to not be laced completely closed and to not have a modesty panel so as to show their undergarments. It would seem that if you have expensive underwear you want people to know.
I also covered a buckram tricorn blank (from Hats by Leko) with the silk and decorated it as per the photo and attached it to the wig. The jewels on the bodice were silver diamond beads that I spray painted blue and freshwater pearls were wound around the edges. I skipped the train that normally accompanies these gowns as it would have interfered with the performance.
The entire process took 8 days from start to finish and it is actually very well constructed for such a short period of time. The whole thing is serged as I prefer that for finishing, but it is not period accurate, of course. I am not terribly happy with the swags and plan on modifying them. However the rest looks fairly close to the portrait and makes me very happy. I am going to make some changes to the skirt and put it away to wear to Carnevale.
Our performance was of 2 portraits in a museum and what happens when the portraits come to life at night. We danced (to this), had a water gun shoot-out and socialized with Maven offering me a candy cigarette and me offering her some Shoefly wine. There was a lot of giggling in the audience and then out-right cackles when we pulled out the wine and cigarettes. We had a great time performing. We didn’t win anything, but we didn’t expect to and really just wanted to have a good time. We had a GREAT TIME.
* I am aware she never said “Let them eat cake.” However, I feel that I LOOK like a cake and it seemed like a fun play on words for the title. I am a big blue Barbie cake of silliness.
I thought I would add links to the blogs that were most helpful to me in making this outfit since it seems that very few people have made one of these gowns:
1. The Fashionable Past – Katherine has made 2 of these gowns and her photo tutorial on the skirt saved my bacon.
2. Demode Couture – Kendra had made a Nell Gwyn gown which answered some questions for me about 17th century bodices, and had done a fantasy robe de cour of Marie Antoinette from a silent movie.
3. Isis Wardrobe – she has a slew of photos of gowns, as well as info on how she has been constructing her gown.
Thank you for the information, ladies! I couldn’t have done it without you.