Friday, October 27, 2023

The Strawberry Sacque (La Fraise Robe a la Francaise) at the Ball

 59 buttons.

Approximately 20 yards of fabric. 

24 silk strawberries.

Countless hours of sewing.

And the loss of my sanity (atleast some of it!)

My gown was literally finished at the venue (and "finished" could be an overstatement). . . but. . .

I got us outfitted for the ball! 

Fetes Historiques de Saint Louis to be exact!

We danced, and ate yummy deserts, socialized, and had a fantastic time!

Let’s back up a bit. . .

I bought the tickets for the ball about a year and a half ago, almost as soon as they were released for members of the Saint Louis Historical Sewing Society, but the plans for my gown started well before that. Actually, those plans began even before I met the handsome gentleman who attended the ball with me.

November of 2019 (according to a receipt found in my email) I bought 11 yards of stripped silk taffeta off somebody’s Instagram destash, specifically for the purpose of an elaborate, floofy, 100% handsewn, Robe a la Francaise (or Sacque). 

Earlier that year I’d made my cotton, 100% machine sewn, sacque, and I’d been dreaming of an amazing silk gown ever since. When I found a gorgeous striped silk of the right amount for the right price, I snatched it up! And started day dreaming about the gown. . .

How would I trim it? What decade was I going for? Would I have enough fabric for all the ideas running through my head?

I spent hours on Pinterest narrowing down my ideas.

I quickly decided I wanted a sacque with buttons down the front of the stomacher - this is called a compare front - and it narrowed down my dates range. Compare fronts were in style in the 1770’s and 1780’s. 

Why did I want the buttons? Well, first off, I just like the look of them. Second, I really don’t like pinning myself into gowns. I know a lot of people love the adjustability of pinning their 18th century gowns closed, but personally? I just find it to be a pain. Buttons I would have! (And yes, this is why there are buttons on my Pet en L'air and hooks and eyes down the front of my Caraco.)

1775-1780 Robe a la Francaise
Metropolitan Museum of Art

With this decided, I started specifically looking at 1770's and 80's gowns and portraits on Pinterest and started a board to narrow down my ideas. I fell in love with the gowns trimmed in floofy sheer material. 

1770-1780 Robe a la Francaise
Cincinnati Art Museum

Thus, in June of 2020 (once again, according to the receipt I found in my email) I ordered 3 yards of floofy peach silk organza from Ensembles of the Past to trim this gown I would eventually be making.

And I kept browsing Pinterest for inspiration as I tried to mentally nail down my trim design. Then one day I happened upon it.

Queen Charlotte
Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1781

The floof. The trim. The buttons on the stomacher. And were those pinecones dangling from her skirt?!?!?

I decided they were pinecones. And I fell in love!

This was the dress I would re-create for myself. . . 

Only, rather than pinecones decorating the skirt, I would do strawberries!

Strawberries would be just the thing with the pinky red stripes in my fabric. I've always loved strawberries. In fact, I dressed up as a strawberry for Halloween when I was three. (Sorry, I don't have a picture to prove it, but my mom and grandma made the costume for me and I remember it vividly.)

Strawberries would be perfect!

It was all set in my mind, ready to go, about 3 years before the ball took place. . .

And about 3 months before the ball I started sewing - beginning with silk strawberries!

Which I will share all about in my next blog post!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

An Old Dress, A New Skirt, Archery, and The Ren Faire

 I had planned on wearing the same costume for both Renaissance Festival outings I had on my calendar this year - the big one across the state, and the more modest (but still awesome!) local Ren Faire with a different friend group a week later.

But then, I glimpsed an old dress in the back of my closet.

Pale green homespun plaid. Lace details. Handkerchief skirt. Buttons down the front, and pretty gathered elements.

It was pretty. And I wanted to wear it.

I made this dress back before I started this blog. Sometime between 2012 (when I really started sewing dresses for myself) and fall of 2014 (when I began this blog and started sharing the majority of my sewing projects). Taking a closer look at the dress and its construction once I pulled it out of the closet, all the skirt seams are flat felled. I learned to do flat felled seams when I made my first set of Victorian undergarments in 2014. So, that would date this dress to summer 2014.

The dress certainly has its issues - no pockets (I will not wear a dress without pockets nowadays), too short skirt, iffy fit, questionable closure choices (it only opened up to the waistline, which is supposed to be the smallest point of the dress.)

The bodice was based off a dress I found on Pinterest. I altered an 80’s or 90’s pattern to make it. The skirt was from a costume pattern, because I love handkerchief skirts. And the lace details were thanks to lovely boxes of lace a sweet lady from church gave me when she learned I sewed.

The lace trailing down the skirt on one side was probably my favorite part of the dress.

Upon rediscovering the dress last month I decided it needed to be used again - as part of a fun Ren Faire costume!

I could make an underskirt with nice big pockets to go with it. This would fix two of the issues - the length and the lack of pockets.

As for the fit issues, those should be workable in a costume setting, despite being very annoying in an everyday wear context.

Influenced by an Instagram post I happened upon, I decided to use the Wildflower Designs Coquelicot pattern for my skirt - view B (the very full option with an internal lace up waistband), lengthened to full length. From my stash I grabbed a sage-y green “linen look” fabric and got started.

I had a lot of this fabric, inherited from someone de-stashing at some point in time. How much did I have? I don’t know, I never bothered measuring, but I was sure it would be plenty for this very long, very full, skirt.

I was, well sort of, wrong. Considerable piecing had to be done on the back skirt panels to make my full-length vision work.

A corner here, a corner there, the top half of a panel here, the bottom half there. . .

It still worked though! And that’s the important part.

After cutting and piecing together all the visible parts of the skirt, I only had little bitty scraps left, so the internal structure of the skirt - waist band and pockets - is made from a fun, loud, I’m-probably-not-going-to-use-this-for-anything-else, cotton print out of my stash. (and finished with random bits of pre-made bias tape, left over from previous projects.)

I cut out the skirt 2 weeks before I planned to go to the Ren Faire. I sewed it up the night before. And finished hemming it the morning of.

I do try to be prepared for things, but somehow still always end up finishing last minute. Maybe one day I’ll actually succeed in getting things done early?? Maybe?? (Let's not discuss the current state of my ball gown for next weekend. . .)

Let’s just focus on the fact that I did indeed get the skirt done - and wore it to do fun things!

One of the “fit issues” with the dress was a too tight bodice at the bust. I “fixed” this issue by just wearing my regency shift under the dress and leaving the top couple buttons open. 

The other issue was the waist being just too loose, so last minute I sewed ribbon ties to the back side seams of the bodice to cinch it in a bit.

With a shift, over dress, and underskirt, I’d say I had a pretty decent “fantasy renaissance” costume. I topped it off with a flower crown left over from my friend’s daughter’s birthday party, and to the Faire I went!

We began with a glass of mead each - because, as mentioned in my last post, one just must have mead at the Ren Fest.

Then we ventured forth to see what else the festival had to offer.

We watched bits of different shows, admired the wares in different stalls, saw some jousting, and found some goats.

Stuffed goats, alas, but goats all the same!

Ax throwing was attempted by one member of our party.

And we all gave Archery a shot.

There’s no picture to prove it, but I managed to succeed in hitting the target, which amazed me because my aim was never perfect back when I did archery in 4-H. Maybe I should find my bow in my parents’ basement and give it a go again.

(Also no picture to prove this one, but I threw a tomato at a guy and. . . Missed. Tomato throwing is not a talent I posses.)

We went through a maze. 

It was pretty small, but it was made by attaching burlap to trees and posts, and now I totally want to build one myself in the woods at home!

It was a throughly enjoyable, fairly relaxed afternoon.

And the best part? After getting my fill of Ren Faire festivities, I only had a 15 minute drive home - much more relaxing than the 3 hour trip of the previous weekend!