24 May 2015

Caramel Striped Robe à L'anglaise - Part One

I started this blog July of last year, and after spending so long making undergarments it felt like i'd never make progress. I'm now finally ready to start making dresses, along with a whole host of other fun things - like hats and fichus and aprons!

Although I have so many dream dresses (who doesn't?), there was one that I knew I wanted to make for my first dress. The concept has been pretty clear in my head since I started this blog, my shoes in particular were made to match it.

18th century Robe A L'Anglaise Retroussee concept art

Heavily inspired by the dress below from the 2008 movie The Duchess, I'm hoping for a froofy, poofy explosion of warm caramel colours and pretty accessories. As much as I adore the pastel colours of Marie Antoinette (2006), i'm much more drawn to the cream and blue dresses of The Duchess. The original Duchess dress has lots of olive tones which i'm not fond of, i'll be sticking to creams and browns with white or peachy accessories. The dress will be silk, as it's much easier to find passable striped silk in my price range than it is to find 18th century looking cottons or linens. The back won't be en fourreau, the bodice and skirt will be cut as one. This seems to be more accurate for the 1780's, and much less scary for me to attempt.

The Duchess 18th century movie dress display
I knew that I was going to need a pattern for this first dress, I don't have a dressform to drape on and I wanted the process to be as painless as possible. I rented Patterns of Fashion 1 by Janet Arnold and
Costume in Detail: Women's Dress, 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield from my library, and I highly recommend them. I'm not sure how easy they are to find copies of, but there is so much great information. If you want to make any sort of historical clothing they're a great place to start.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

From Patterns of Fashion I'm using the "Polonaise with detachable lawn ruffles c. 1770 - 1985" pattern on page 39, which is conveniently featured in Costume in Detail. The Costume in Detail version has no pattern, but it does have sketches of the dress from various angle and lots of detailed measurements and construction notes.

I photocopied the pattern pieces I needed (bodice and sleeves) on a 1:1 scale, then used these wonderful instructions from The Tudor Tailor to scale the patterns up on wrapping paper. Although the bodices of these dresses are very closely fitted, the pattern pieces are so simple you can fudge the measurements a little and just correct them with a muslin.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling
Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

The original owner of the dress i'm patterning from was a Miss Massey of County Limerick, Ireland. Aside from the frickin' awesome fact that i'm remaking a dress worn by a woman over 200 years ago, the original has lots of notes and details made about it. Costume in Detail said that the waist of the original was 30", which conveniently matches me perfectly. The sleeves and bust needed adjusting though, and I used the side seam, centre front and centre back measurements to figure out where other adjustments might be needed.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

 I made another wrapping paper copy of the master pattern, and set about adding the extra inches or taking them off where they were needed. I wasn't too fussed about cutting up the master sleeve pattern piece, but I kept the rest of the bodice intact.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

Now I have a nice pattern to transfer to a muslin, and with any luck it will need minimal adjustments. Since silk is expensive and scary, i've resolved to make as many muslins as I need to so that I can be confident my silk version will fit nicely straight away.

After I had all my adjusted pattern pieces done, I was about to start cutting and sewing when I remembered that the bodice will be boned, most likely with cable ties. I decided not to make and try on the muslin without the boning in, to try and get an accurate fit. So my next step is to find some big white cable ties and time to work with the mockup properly. Getting into my stays and all my skirts then trying to sew is a hassle, to say the least. Oh the joys of a dressform-less sewer. 

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

In the meantime my silk samples arrived. After much research I decided to buy from Puresilks, who also operate under B.R. Exports and have an eBay store. I ordered two samples, and they sent me four instead! The two samples in the middle where the ones I ordered, and thank goodness they sent me extras as those wouldn't work at all.

Silk stripe taffeta dupioni 18th century

The far right taffeta is some sort of 1970's wallpaper pattern, let's just not talk about it. The olive and gold stripe is a taffeta, and I can see it working nicely as a dress but the colours aren't to my taste at all. The bold stripe second from the left is a dupioni, it's nice but the stripe is too wide for clothing. Finally, the dupioni on the far left is nearly perfect - the colours are what I wanted and the stripe is nicely proportional. Since it's a dupioni instead of a taffeta it's not that historically accurate, but it's much prettier and cheaper!

Hopefully i'll be able to find some time to work on my muslin in the near future, just writing this post has made me excited to continue working on it!