Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Robe Francaise

Last month I went to the third annual Francaise dinner, held at the lovely 18th century General Warren Inn just outside of Philadelphia. The Francaise dinner is called  so  because everyone is supposed to wear a robe francaise, an elaborate style of gown popular from the early to the third quarter of the 18th century. As the name suggests the style developed In France and is characterized by the long black pleats that fall from the back of the shoulders To the hem.

Lady Innes, wearing a robe francaise by Thomas Gainsborough 1757
Since I usually only do  regency events my costume wardrobe shows a distinct lack of 18th century garments, if one ignores the 1790s style open robes and round gowns that I have. In any case I needed I robe francaise if I wanted to go to this event. And since all my friends kept telling me that I simply had to go and that it was the most fun thing ever, I was persuaded to take the plunge and make a robe francaise. Easier said than done! Tuns out these gowns are terribly tricky to make. I couldn't have had a more harrowing introduction to 18th century dressmaking. First off I had a difficult time finding just the right fabric, of course I could make something from a nice solid silk or something...

solid silk robe francaise from the met

...but no, I wanted a patterned silk, or rather a patterned fake silk since I can't afford real patterned silk. I had something in mind with perhaps a floral pattern in blue and pink with maybe a stripe, something like this...

This is what I had in mind...

But I couldn't really find anything like it. But then I got lucky and found this lovely ice blue and  gold damask fabric at Jo Ann's . 

My francaise fabric

And it was on clearance!!! I got it for $6 a yard!  It was originally $24 and they had exactly the amount of fabric I needed for the project. Total score!
Now the authenticity freak in me was kind of disturbed but the fact that it's rayon and that the pattern overall is more of a baroque style than a rococo style. But I comforted myself with the fact that at least the fabric doesn't look like shiny poly silk and that people would have not thrown away an expensive silk fabric even if it was out of fashion, I know of several perfectly nice gowns from the mid 18th century that where made out of early 18th century fabrics, that while perhaps not the height of fashion where still beautiful and quite valuable.

Here's a nice example of a mid 18th century gown made from a damask fabric/

And another example. this one is even dated as being from the 1770's and the color is rather similar to my fabric.

Then there was the question of which pattern to use. I could have draped a pattern like it would have been done in period. But I was in a hurry and wasn't  up to the challenge of draping, so I decided use a commercial pattern. There are several robe francaise patterns out there, I hear the JP Ryan one is very good, but it's expensive and I had already dropped a bunch of money on the fabric and since the gown was for a costume party and didn't have to be 100 % historically accurate I decided to get the cheaper and more easily available simplicity pattern. 

Simplicity 3637, not a bad pattern considering its from one of the big 3 companies...

I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of this gown but looking at pictures of some early and mid 18the century robe francaises I figured it was at least close in the overall look. I also have several friends who have made this pattern up into very attractive gowns so I gave it a go.
I must say it wasn't an easy pattern, it could be worse but it's certainly more for seasoned sewers. The hardest part in my opinion was getting the skirt pleats to be just right, I wanted mine to fan out evenly over my hoops. I think my fitting problems where exasperated but the fact that I chose not to make the grand pannier that this dress was meant to be worn with and instead made small pocket hoops.... So I had to do some adjustments to the skirt pattern to make the pleats fall nicely over my hoops...

Evil skirt side pleats took forever to get right!

 Of course I ran into plenty of other problems, like making the bodice to tight and having to add fabric at the side seams , 

Piecing is period!
and then not having enough fabric to cut the shirt back in once piece, I had to do some piece work there... And then when I went to hem it I cut the hem all crooked at the front and had to do more piecing ,

I messed up cutting the skirt hem, see how its to high on the right side?

 which I then covered in trim to camouflage my mess up.

i fixed it by adding 2 triangular pieces on the front and covering the whole sorry affair with gathered trim.

By the end of the project I was ready to jump off a tall building but I preserved and I'm pretty happy with the final result, for a first try it's not bad. There are a million things I would do different now, but I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to make another francaise for a long long time!
In any case all the work and insanity was entirely worth it because the farancaise dinner lived up to it's hype and was a wonderful event. Everyone looked amazing! 

Kat in her new francaise, she's made 3 of them already! Brave woman!

Lovely ladies

Carrie had a pretty awesome wig!

I just love this picture!

Look at those gowns, just amazing!

when you spend  weeks of your life making one of these gowns you have no  no qualms about wearing your napkin as a bib!

The look of perfection!

plaid and stripes gotta love it!

Kat and I where earring twinsies!

The was some seriously BIG hair going on, with a ships and all! 

Jenny Rose won the epic hair award!

But Erin and Katie had some pretty epic hair too, I mean peacocks and ships, now that's wack!

I opened for a more conservative 1760s hairdo as my dress is an earlier style and I was also a vendor at the event and had to do so e setting up so no time for very big hair.  

The whole getup!
My hair want very epic just a small poof studded with rhinestone pins, some flowers and an ostrich feather.

But despite medium sized hair I felt like a pretty pretty princess and enjoyed myself immensely.

Panier bump!

The obligatory shoe shot!

My gown in all its glory

Not sure why this turned out so fuzzy...

And the back pleats.

Party hard!

 Most of us actually spent the night at the inn, which is decorated in the 18th century style so it was a [erfect backdrop for hotel room after parties, we had plenty of champagne with gummy bears, and I brought  cherry bounce which I made after Martha Washington's recipe. It was a great hit! Some of us stayed up to the wee hours having a good time. I really hope I will be able to go to this event again! Last but not least I want to give a big shout tout to Judy and Kat who organized the whole thing! You guys did an amazing job, and I feel so lucky to have such awesome friends to play pretty pretty princess with!!!!! I can't wait till the next time I get to go out to Philly for Kat's Victorian lawn party in June! 

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