Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Sewing the Strawberry Sacque (La Fraise Robe a la Francaise)

 The silk was cut. After agonizing over my pattern choices for who knows how long, there was no changing it now. It was time to sew my ballgown!

The sewing is my favorite part of making anything new. It's always a relief to have the cutting done and be able to just sit down, go into auto pilot, and sew! I'd decided to hand sew my gown, because I just enjoy hand sewing. I find it relaxing and love the fact it can be done anywhere. I'm not tied to my sewing machine in the basement - I can hand sew outside, inside by the fire, at work, at home, in the car while somebody else drives. Hand sewing is just plain freeing! It's fantastic! (Just in case you were worried, I'm very attached to my sewing machine as well, and use it all the time because it's so quick and easy. Both hand sewing and machine sewing have their place.)

As I'd already constructed my linen bodice lining (Prior to even cutting my silk, see my previous blog post if you want more info.), step one of sewing my Strawberry Sacque was seaming together the two back panels. I did this with a running back stitch. (A running sitch with a back stitch sewn every so often to keep things secure. Ideal for long skirt seams and such.)

Long seam sewn up, it was onto the most impressive and iconic part of the sacque dress - the back pleats.

I pleated the top pleats according to the pattern markings. Once that was done I had a whole lot of fabric left thanks to the extra width I'd added to my back panels.

The American Duchess book recommends hiding a third pleat underneath your top pleats for extra oompf and volume. Rather than that third pleat, I added three whole extra pleats underneath those top two visible pleats.

 I found no historical president for that many extra hidden pleats, but look at all that "oompf and volume"! It was worth it!

The only down side was the amount of layers I had to sew through to secure those back pleats in place. Goodness that was tough! But eventually they were all sewn down with a prick stitch. And they will not be moving!

Pleats secure, I finished attaching the back panel to my bodice lining along the side seams and under the pleats at the center back. Then it was onto the bodice fronts!

First things first, the bodice fronts came down to the ironing board with me - where I pleated and folded and pressed the cut on robings into place.

This was actually an easier step than I expected it to be, and before I knew it I was hand sewing the dart in place under the robings.

The front bodice pieces got pinned onto the bodice lining and back panel, then I tried on the thing to check the fit before sewing things in place.

I found the bodice to be a bit long over the hips (though it was the perfect length at center front and back.

To fix this issue I just folded up the bottom edge of the bodice and lining to match the curve I needed, then continued on.

Next up was attaching the front skirt panels - but first I had to finish making the darned things by sewing on those silly front gores I'd decided I just had to cut.

 A couple long mantua maker's seams (I actually mostly enjoy sewing mantua makers seams, I was just getting impatient because I wanted to be progressing faster on the gown construction and get to trimming, but the gore seams really slowed me down.) and finished pocket slits later, I was finally sewing the front skirt panels onto the gown.

I pinned the panels in place, shoved the floofy silken monster into a garment bag, and took it outside to continue sewing mantua maker's seams.

My free-range goats kept me company.

Once those side seams were done, I took the gown back inside to lay it out on the table and pleat and pin the front skirt in place along the waist seam.

Once I was more or less pleased with the front skirt pleats and placement, I returned outside to sew (with the gown safely in the garment bag again to keep it from getting dirty), and Blackberry made it very clear that she would love to help me by eating the silk.

"Sorry goat, I can't let that happen."

At some point, I sewed up the sleeves, lining them and the stomacher in pink linen (left over from this gown) since I'd used up every last scrap of my cream linen on my very pieced together bodice lining.

I roll hemmed the top and bottom scalloped edges of my sleeve ruffles.

This was tedious, just pinking the edges would have been way easier, but I loved the clean look of the hemmed edges.

Besides, I had goats to keep me company while I sewed. (I took them into the woods this time so they would have things to eat other than my silk.)

My kitty cat kept us company as well.

I gathered up the ruffles, sewed them onto the bottom edges of my sleeves, and began to ponder how I would set my sleeves. When my husband and I moved to our house a year ago I had to leave behind my sleeve setting buddy of an upstairs neighbor. (Very inconvenient. I miss you Emily!) Now who could I draft into service????

I was just beginning to get quite worried about this when the solution appeared. Another member of the Saint Louis Historical Sewing Society was coming to my house for a completely unrelated reason, and I realized I could ask her to help me with my sleeves while she was here. I realized this an hour before she came, so I stopped whatever I was doing and hurriedly sewed my sleeves into my bodice along the underarm seam so she could pleat the sleeve head into place for me.

My kitchen sink may have been full of dirty dishes when she arrived, but my sleeves were ready for her to help me finish setting them! 
I helped her fit her gown bodice as well while she was here, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement, dirty kitchen and all. 

We both looked fantastic at the ball! (And I'm thoroughly jealous of her dress fabric. It was a beautiful Jacquard that she thrifted!)  

With the sleeves set, the gown itself was almost done. Just a bit of finishing work on the bodice and the stomacher left to go!

The stomacher came camping with me, and I sewed buttonholes down the front while sitting around the campfire and chatting with my cousins. This was two weeks before the ball.

Upon returning home, I made the covered buttons for the stomacher with the help of a 1/2" covered button kit and some E6000. (Not historical, but it works. The very first covered buttons I ever made fell apart after a few uses, so I've been gluing them together ever since.)

The buttons got sewn on. The final bit of sewing on the bodice was finished.

5 days before the ball I could confidently say my gown was done!

All I had left to do now was trim the thing!
You might think trimming a Robe a la Francaise in just a few days is overly ambitious, but I'd already made most of the trim in-between different sewing tasks on the gown itself, so I was fairly confident it would be fine. All I had to do was apply the trim. 
How hard and time consuming could attaching miles and miles of trim be after all?

  Well. I'll tell you about that next time. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

A Little Bit of Pretty Fabric and a Little Vintage Pattern

 A few weeks back I made the trek into the city to go to the City Sewing Room. I'd been resisting the temptation for months as it's quite a drive now and I hate the city traffic, but eventually, with Christmas sewing on my mind, I couldn't resist the call of cheap fabric any longer and I went.

I brought home 3 trash bags full of treasures that day (1.5 were full of yarn for my sister, so my fabric stash didn't grow too horribly much!), and among those treasures were two small cuts of quilting cotton with pretty metallic prints. One was ivory with gold fruits and vines all over, and the other was teal with gold ivy all other. The fabrics were so pretty together I had to get them, however with less than a yard and a half of fabric between the two I had no clue what I would use them for.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I was looking through my collection of children's patterns, looking for the right pattern to use for my niece's Christmas dress, and I came across a 1950's little girls' dress pattern in a size 3. It was an absolutely adorable design and I decided I'd better make it quickly before my niece out grew it. 

It wasn't quite right for the Christmas dress I had in mind, but then I remembered those metallic prints. Could it work? Would I be able to squeeze this design out of those small cuts of fabric? Well, it was worth a try! Shelving the Christmas Dress idea until the following week, I decided to make a go of this pattern and fabric combo.

It was tight, but it worked!

I had a full yard of the ivory print so I cut the body of the dress from that. I had to reduce the width of the skirt slightly to make it work, but this skirt was FULL so that wasn't a big deal. The end product was still satisfactorily swooshy. 

I used the teal for the collar, sleeve bands, bodice facing, and pockets.

My niece is a girl after my own heart and must have pockets!

I used every last scrap of both prints and lined the pockets and pretty scalloped collar with a bit of unbleached cotton muslin I had on hand.

I gave the dress to my niece on Thanksgiving, and she fell in love with it and decided to put it on right away.

That's the best sort of reaction to a handmade gift!

She wore it for all the festivities;

 Eating dinner, visiting with relatives, playing outside. 

She had an absolute blast playing in the leaves!

She assisted in burying her uncle in leaves.

So I had to come rescue him.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with our extended family - and I hope yours was equally sweet!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Strawberry Sacque (La Fraise Robe a la Francaise) ~ The Gown Patterns and Cutting Out

 In the years I spent dreaming of and planning my Strawberry Sacque, I had plenty of time to consider what pattern I would use and how exactly I would construct my gown. I knew I wanted to hand sew it, but what pattern would I use?

In 2019 I made my first Sacque back with the American Duchess Simplicity pattern - Simplicity 8578. It was easy to use, fit me well, and came together beautifully. It would be so simple to use it again!

But. . . In the years since making it I've learned more and read more and made more historical dresses. Soooo, now it was tempting to either drape my gown from scratch, using the instructions in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking while also referencing pattern shapes and such from Patterns of Fashion 1, Costume Close-Up and The Cut of Women's Clothes, or to size up a pattern out of one of the latter three afore mentioned books.  

When it came down to actually beginning my gown, 2 months before the ball, I just couldn't resist the simplicity of the Simplicity Pattern, so I went with a hybrid option - Simplicity 8578 with some pattern pieces altered to better match the pattern shapes of 1770's and 1780's sacques in the books.

First things first, I tried on my cotton Sacque to double check the fit before cutting into my silk. I decided to add an extra inch or so of length to the bodice. I looked at the bodice lining patterns in the books and decided the Simplicity bodice lining pattern was good enough.

I cut the lining out of some linen I had left over from my 18th century shift. After using the scraps of this linen to line a couple different 18th century bodices, I was down to the last little bit, and had to do some considerable piecing to make this work.

I boned the bodice back with zip ties along either side of the center back opening.

The back lining of sacque gowns was often left open to make the gown adjustable, this opening was then either tied or laced closed. On my cotton sacque I sewed on tapes to tie it closed. This time I opted to sew eyelets and lace it closed. (Now that I've done it both ways I've decided I actually like the ties better - they allow for greater adjustability to individual areas.)

With the lining sorted out, it was time to finally cut into my silk. I cleaned my floor, and unrolled the fabric. . .

There were a few wrinkles that could make cutting difficult, but the idea of hauling the whole roll of silk down to my ironing board was daunting, so instead I brought the iron to the fabric. I laid a couple towels on the floor under the fabric and touched it up as needed.

Then I proceeded to cut out my largest pieces first - the back panels. 

I added several inches of length to the bottom so I could have a train, and added a considerable amount of width to the panels.  
My favorite sacque made by another costumer in recent years is the Modern Mantua Maker's Autumn Francaise from fall of 2020, its gorgeous and amazingly floofy! She apparently used two full widths of 55" silk in her back pleats, so I decided to do the same to get that magnificent swoosh!

It was totally worth it.

Back panels cut, it was onto the front of the gown. My Favorite Sacques in Patterns of Fashion 1 and The Cut of Women's Clothes had cut-on robings, so I decided my gown needed cut on robings.

Thankfully the American Duchess book gives clear instructions on how to do cut-on robings on their 1740's gown, and my kitty cat helped to make sure I did it right!

I cut out one side of the bodice front, then realized I should have added some additional height to the top of the robing so it would pleat nicely over the shoulder strap. I pieced some fabric onto the top of that robing, and cut out the second side of the bodice properly.

Next up was the front skirts. Both the American Duchess book and the instructions I found in the front of Patterns of Fashion talk about adding a gore to the side seam edge of the front skirt. The Simplicity pattern has this gore cut in one with the front skirt panel, rather than it being a separate piece seamed on. 

For the sake of "historical accuracy" I decided to do the separate gore and cut my front skirt panels accordingly. 

I may have regretting this decision when I was actually sewing on the skirt gores. That extra seam was annoying!

Oh well, moving on. . .

The one part of the Simplicity pattern I find not to be historical at all is the sleeve shape. It matches the sleeve shape in the American Duchess book alright, but doesn't resemble the sleeve shapes in any of my other 18th century books. It's quite modern in shape, and, despite knowing from my cotton sacque that it fits me well, I just couldn't bring myself to use it. Instead I pulled out the Larkin and Smith English Gown pattern sleeve piece. 

The Pet en L'air I completed last year taught me the Larkin and Smith sleeves were a bit too tight for me. So, when I made my pink linen gown over the summer I enlarged the sleeve a bit to fit more comfortably, and this altered pattern piece is the one I decided to use for my sacque.

Once the sleeves were cut out the last few pieces were easy. The Simplicity pattern already features a compare stomacher (one that is cut as two separate pieces and fastens up center front) like I wanted so no alteration was required for that! The sleeve ruffles too were already quite satisfactory, so I cut those out as the pattern directed and just adjusted the size of the scallops to fit my vision. 

The petticoat I just cut as two rectangles the full width of the fabric, one for the front and one for the back. I used the petticoat pleating guide from the Simplicity pattern to shape the top edge to fit nicely over my pocket hoops. Super easy.

It took a full afternoon to cut my gown out, and when it was done it was a relief! I'd spent so much time contemplating the best pattern and cutting choices for this gown it felt amazing to have those decisions made and done. I couldn't change my mind about the pattern now! I could move on the the part I was much more confident about - sewing the thing together! 
I had two months to do it. Plenty of time! 
There was no way I'd be finishing my gown up late the night before the ball. . .
. . . Right?
Surly not!
I'll tell you that story next time!