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. 

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