Halloween 2013 Part 1: Construction of Lily’s 18th Century Robe a la Francaise Princess Dress!

November 2, 2013 in Rococo Love, Sewing, Vintage Fashion

I’m going to split the construction and costume reveal over two posts because there are a lot of photos to share! ETA: Well – lots of questions have been asked, so there are now four separate posts with various details!

Part 1: Construction of Lily’s 18th Century Robe a la Francaise Princess Dress
Part 2: The Reveal of Lily’s 18th Century Robe a la Francaise Princess Dress!
Part 3: Questions & Answers
Part 4: Question & Answers Part 2

I apologize in advance with how long this is — If you’re not interested in the construction details – you can jump over here and view the photos of the finished costume!

A few months ago, I asked my 3.5 year old daughter what she wanted to be for Halloween. Her answer fluttered between being a princess or a mermaid for a few weeks until she finally decided upon a princess.  Last year, she wanted to be a pirate, so I made her pirate outfit for her:

I asked if she had any mandatory requirements for her dress. She did. Specifically:

  • PINK!

Fair enough, I figured that would be easy enough to accommodate.

I had recently been flipping through my George Barbier art book, and Lily had been oohing and aaahing over some of the Rococo style dresses:

I started showing her paintings of 18th century women to gauge her reaction. It turns out she was in love! Especially with, even though it seems cliché, pictures of Marie Antoinette.

Lily insisted that she wanted to meet her. I had to explain the best I could to a toddler just why she couldn’t.

With that all said and done – I knew I was going to make her an 18th century gown. But which one? I went through a lot of fashion plates of all sorts of fantastical 18th century gowns — but at some point I whittled it down to a Robe a la Francaise. There’s just something romantic and excessive about a watteau back dress that really appeals to me. But also on a practical sense – it meant less fitting and tailoring on a wiggly 3.5 year old.

I already knew which fabric I had planned on using. It was a lovely pink, floral Pottery Barn bed sheet that I had picked up from the local thrift store. While it’s obviously not completely period authentic – there was just something about the floral pattern that fit in well with existing Robe a la Francaise examples:

Victoria and Albert Museum

First thing first, though – how on earth was I going to get Lily to stand still for tailoring?!? That’s where Rainbow Lily comes into play! I realized early on that I should probably make a duct tape dress form of Lily to use for the bulk of the construction. So off we went to Home Depot and their duct tape display. I let Lily pick out her colors (in the hopes it might be easier to convince her to let me wrap her up) and with the bribe (I’m shameless!) of a cake pop and a few episodes of My Little Pony, Lily consented to me wrapping her up:

With the exception of sewing vintage 50’s clothing – I’ve never done historical costuming before, but from the blogs I follow, I knew that the best thing to start with first as to make the paniers — as they would form the base shape of the gown. Originally I was just going to do padded cushions, but on a trip to Home Depot I found some plastic piping in the plumbing section that looked like it would work perfectly for boning for actual paniers. Additionally, after reading through The Dreamstress’s excellent Panier-Along – I realized that it would probably be easier and give the most correct shape if I just made them correctly from the get-go.

Using another thrifted bed sheet – (this one was a white, figured cotton), I whipped up the cutest looking, itty bitty paniers ever! I have to say, they were EASY. No doubt, thanks to the excellent tutorial.

Next up, I made am 18th century inspired stay (corset). While I top stitched to give the illusion of boning channels,  I didn’t actually put boning in them. Because of Lily’s straight torso, I also made a pair of crescent shaped waist pads and stitched them directly to the stays to prevent her skirts from sliding off.

Next up, I really should have made the petticoat (I will get to why later), but instead, I started work on the Robe a la Francaise first. I spent a considerable amount of time researching how to make one — and finally decided upon using this as the pattern:


I imported it into Photoshop – took Lily’s shoulder to floor measurements, then increased the size of the image to match. It took three toiles and two resizes until I was happy with the fit.

I got a bit nervous about cutting the actual fabric – but it was now or never! So chop chop!

Once I had that done, the robe, surprisingly, came together quite fast. I think because I was making an itty bitty one with one piece of fabric with no need of seams to be sewn, it went considerably faster than expected.

Around this point, I realized that I wouldn’t have enough of the floral fabric to make a matching underskirt like I initially planned. I had just barely enough left for sleeves, flounces robings and the stomacher. I recalled that at the same time that I purchased the floral bed sheet – I also picked up a pink and white striped Ralph Lauren sheet thinking at the time that the two sheets would make a cute dress together. I just didn’t realize it would be an 18th century dress!

Next up was the sleeves and flounces. They all went together quite fast, and it was also the first time I could see the combination of the pom pom gimp and fashion fabric pull together. I have to admit, I started getting quite excited!  Also, can you tell this was around the time my husband surprised me with a snazzy new phone with a super fancy camera?

Setting the sleeves was a royal pain in the posterior. Adult sleeves, sure, no worries – but itty bitty sleeves. Yikes! It’s less sewing, but far more fussy and fiddly to handle.  However, I set them and also tacked the rest of the robe down onto the lining. And I could finally do a fitting on Lily (who had refused to try anything on up until this point).

Why yes, this is my daughter who insists on being a princess….

After the fitting, I decided to hem the robe. This was a mistake on my behalf – I really should have waited until after making the petticoat and underskirt – but hey, we learn from mistakes, right? Hemming was proving a little difficult until I realized I could set a broom handle up on my kitchen chairs, and the robe would be at Lily’s exact height!

After hemming, I decided to start on part of the robe trimming. I used the striped fabric as a contrast and the pom-pom gimp trim.  After that, I worked on the underskirt, then the petticoat (which was a thrifted blue bed sheet):

When I had Lily try the entire thing on for a final fitting, this is where hemming the robe early became an issue — the volume of the blue petticoat actually lifted the hem of the robe up a little. Luckily, I had already planned on having Lily wear this a la Polonaise instead to prevent tripping — I realize that when I make one for myself I need to be conscious of this specific issue. I also noticed that I had to reposition the sleeve flounces. While they looked correct on Rainbow Lily – the static nature of Rainbow Lily’s arms made it difficult to see they were not positioned right.

At last! I could move onto all the fun stuff! Trimmings and bows!

For the stomacher, I initially planed on just three bows – but that was just simply not enough. Even Lily insisted on more.

Lily’s totally period (in)correct shoes. American Duchess doesn’t make tiny shoes, so we had to improvise. I also didn’t want to spend big bucks on shoes Lily would wear just once or twice before she grew out of them, so red glitter shoes it was! I had shoe clip bases, so I whipped up some bows to add on to make them match:

And, I started finalizing the trimmings:

I also made a period correct chemise (slip) — but no photos of that because I am embarrassed to admit that as easy as it was to make, I was so tired, sewing at night – that I sewed one side on incorrectly! And because I was so exhausted – I said “AH!!!! Bugger this! I’m not fixing it!” It was wearable — the part that would be visible was correct…and I’ll make her a nicer one in the near future!

Oh!  I also made her Trick or Treat bucket to match!

I took many other photographs of the construction –if you would like to view them, please feel free to visit my Facebook album:

The nitty gritty details:


Time it took to sew: 8 days of around 8 to 9 hours a day: 72 hrs (give or take)


Thrifted Supplies:

  • one pink floral Pottery Barn 100% cotton bed sheet (for the Robe a la Francaise & underskirt trimmings)
  • one pink and white striped Ralph Lauren 100% cotton bed sheet (for the underskirt and the Robe a la Francaise trimming)
  • one white figured 100% cotton bed sheet (for the paniers and stays)
  • one blue 100% cotton bed sheet (for the petticoat)
  • one thin white 100% cotton bed sheet (for the chemise)
  • muslin (for the toile and waist ties)


New/New Vintage Supplies:

  • 10 yards vintage blue rayon ribbon (all used)
  • 15 yards of blue pom-pom gimp (1/2 used)
  • 4 yards vintage soft pink flocked organza ribbon (all used)
  • 15 small blue ribbon flowers
  • pink & blue bias binding tape
  • vintage rayon seam binding used as drawstrings/ribbons
  • plastic piping from the plumbing section of Home Depot for boning


Resources used:

The Dreamstress
1780s Lady Anne Darcy’s Wedding Dress (robe a la Francaise)

American Duchess
I referenced a number of her 18th century tutorials from her tutorial page

Starlight Masquerade
Taupe Robe a la Francaise Dress Diary

The Fashionable Past
Draping a Sacque, otherwise known as a robe a la francaise–

Halloween 2013 Part 1: Construction of Lily’s 18th Century Robe a la Francaise Princess Dress!


    1. Roli says:

      This is just fantastic! Amazing work ^__^

    2. Absolutely fantastic work!

    3. Just beautiful! Unfortunately my 4 yr old Isabelle caught me reading the blog and thinks I am making her one! I take my hat off to your patience :-) xx

      • Naomi says:

        Uh oh Michelle! If she won’t stop asking – make a duck tape dress form of her and then go to town with costume making! If it wasn’t for Rainbow Lily – I’d never have made this in time!

    4. Erin says:

      That is so cute! It’s awesome seeing how it came together.

    5. Jill Bowen says:

      This is just absolutely beautiful, a job well done! You must really love that little girl and (Historic Costume) to even attempt this project. You have inspired me :)

      • Naomi says:

        Jill – Thank you so much! I do love both – however this is my first attempt at historical costuming! I have to admit, once I started, I started wondering what on Earth have I signed myself up for?!!?

    6. Nichole says:

      Beautiful and inspiring! Well done to you!

    7. Johanna says:

      Absolutely stunning! Well done!

    8. Wendy says:

      I love that you used two chairs and a broomstick to hang the gown to your daughter’s height. I can’t express enough how awesome I think that really is.

      Go you!

      • Naomi says:

        Wendy – I got lucky that it was just the right height! Otherwise, I have absolutely NO idea on how earth I’d have been able to hem it!

    9. Adrianne B says:

      Whoa! I bow down to you!

      Great work.

    10. Keana says:

      This is gorgeous! and I’m in awe, do you do conmissions? I love the Rococo stye but my heart is the Edwardian era. :)

      • Naomi says:

        Hi Keana! Thank you so much for your enquiry about commissions. I’d love to do commissions, but I don’t see that happening for a few more years when Lily goes to school full time :) It was quite uh, “interesting” trying to work around Lily wanting to help me sew!

    11. Jax says:

      Absolutely love what you’ve done, it’s beautiful, so much work, and done so well! I’d love to live next door to you and learn some tricks over a cuppa :)

      • Naomi says:

        Aw – thank you so much Jax! If ever you’re in the neighbourhood – let’s have that cuppa!

        • Jax says:

          Heh unless you live in New Zealand too, it’s a long way for a cuppa. Lol
          Ps I have to say too, your little girl is just stunning in that dress, she looks so French, Marie Antionette would have loved her at court.:)

          • Naomi says:

            Next time I’m back home in Oz, we’ll have a cuppa across the pond!

            And thank you for your lovely words about Lily. I might have to agree — she wouldn’t look out of place in paintings from the 18th century!

    12. Cal_Chi says:

      I love this! The dress is magnificent! Looking forward to your next Halloween costume post :)

      • Naomi says:

        Thank you so much! I have to admit, I’m a little scared as to what my daughter will choose to be next year. BUT! I will be up for the challenge!

    13. ARC says:

      WOW. This is really incredible and I LOVE how you cleverly subverted the Disney princess trend :)

      As a non-sewer (but fellow crafty mama), I am in AWE of how much work you put into it, and how amazing it looks.

      • Naomi says:

        ARC – Thank you! I will admit, I did purposely steer clear of the Disney princess trend. Somehow, Lily started liking princesses without having watched any movies — she probably picked it up from her fairy tale books and the pictures. I have curated a number of great vintage books for her library and the illustrations are just to die for!

    14. Nancy Julian says:

      I work in the costume shop for a major regional theatre and this is the kind of stuff we do for real. What a great job you did!!! She looks fabulous!. Your bed sheet choices were spot on and your wee paniers were perfect. This just made made me grin!!

      • Naomi says:

        Hi Nancy! Gosh! Thank you so much! I am receiving so many lovely comments from everyone which is really making my day, but I’ll freely admit I squealed a little that someone in the costuming field thinks this is neat! <3

    15. Ronda Halvorsen-Ferns says:

      What an awesome job you did and what a dedicated Mommy you are. And your wee one well this Gramma thinks she is just priceless……

    16. Richard says:

      I’ve been costuming for years and I cannot believe what an amazing job you did on this little gown virtually right out of the gate, experience-wise. It’s exquisite, and you deserve all the adoration you receive!

      • Naomi says:

        Gosh, Richard – thank you so much! I am feeling really humbled by the experienced costumers commenting on the outfit. <3

        What I lack in experience and definitely at times, talent (you don’t want to look on the inside of this! Haha!) – I sure make up for it with sheer, OBSESSIVE determination and stubbornness! Once I get an inkling of an idea in mind…that’s it! Off I go to do it, experience or not!

    17. Laurie says:

      This is adorable and ingenious how you handled all the fitting issues. I’ve been sewing 18th century for a few years now and I’m still too intimidated to do a robe a la francais. I have a feeling if my daughter saw this, she’d ask for me to sew her one just like it. She has 18th century English back gowns to wear to Colonial Williamsburg, but nothing as adorable as this! Ahem…yet. (She’s 20.)

      • Naomi says:

        Thank you Laurie! I had to think of alternative ways to handle fitting because can you imagine a 3.5 year old standing long enough to drape the back…or let you pin the hem? Haha! She was wiggly enough when I did her hair (there was a LOT of “Lily, PLEASE stop moving your head!” uttered)

        As for the Robe a la Francaise — it’s interesting though – I can can definitely understand why people would be intimidated with making it by the looks of it, I know I was — however once I started making it, I found that it was really quite easy to pull together — especially because I didn’t have to worry about trying to draft and fit thinner panels of fabric around the back of a toddler.

        However, I did make this in tiny 3.5 year old size and had hardly any sewing to do because I was able to use the entire width of a sheet – so I had no lengthly seams to sew and a shorter length of fabric to wrestle with. I do feel confident though, in attempting to make one for myself in the near future (and as a matter of fact, I am already hunting down the exact same sheets to make a matching one for me, because gosh, I’m jealous! I want a dress like that also!)

    18. Erin Honestly says:

      Dang! I wish you were MY mom! That dress is what dreams are made of. You are an amazing, wonderful mom to make this for your little girl!

    19. Christine says:

      This is incredible, you are an amazing seamstress! Also, you are obviously an amazing Mom :)

    20. Maria says:

      This is gorgeous! I love how you put so many lovely details on the dress. Really amazing job. :-)

    21. Welmoed says:

      That is simply an awesome costume. I hope you enter it into your local fair; you will no doubt take top prize. I’ve never tried anything quite so elaborate, but now I’m thinking it would be a lot of fun! Brava!! Oh… and good luck topping this next Halloween.

      • Naomi says:

        Welmoed – Hahaha! I’ve had people laugh and tell me I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself…. I’ll be honest – I’m a little afraid about what Lily will choose next year!

    22. Qwerty59 says:

      Without a doubt, the dress is amazing. I’ld like to ask you about the dress form made from duct tape. How many layers is it? Did you cut it up the back and peel it off or cut from the front? Is it stuffed with anything special? How did you keep it upright to work on? Did you tape it down? Any other info would be helpful. I can’t afford a professional dress form. Also, I hope you can make one for yourself; Mother & daughter matching dresses would be very special. Thank you.

      • Naomi says:

        Hi Qwerty59! Thank you for taking the time to comment! The duct tape dress form is really quite easy to make, but you’ll need to recruit someone to help you with making one for yourself. This article on Threads Magazine gives you the good basics:


        As for how to keep it upright. Some people mount theirs on a stand that they either buy or make and set it to be their height, other’s don’t and just use it on the table. I used one of Lily’s stools for the draping part of the project, it was a few inches shorter than Lily’s height, but I was still able to use it though. I think I’m going to open up the bottom of it though and weigh it down with a heavy rock – because it was pretty wobbly until the dress weighed it down.

        As for stuffing – I discovered that the stuffing inside the IKEA GOSA SLÅN pillows was perfect AND cheap!


        I had a bunch of them laying around from a few years ago when we had a large number of house guests all at the same time. I used 1.25 pillows for this form — for an adult, you’d probably need at least 3…maybe 4. It’s hard to say having not made an adult sized on yet.

        The one thing I would advise is if you don’t make a stand for your form – head to the nearest Dollar store and purchase some foam board and double up the layers for the very bottom. Otherwise the stuffing will push out and it won’t sit flush. Guess who learnt that the hard way? :)

        If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

    23. dom says:

      :-O BEST MOM EVER…award goes to….

    24. Alys says:

      Oh wow… someone linked this on Facebook and I think it is amazing! You’re very talented and your daughter is adorable.

    25. Adri H. says:

      Holy moly. I just came across your post via “not victorian” tumblr feed. Wow, color me impressed! If you like historical sewing which I think you might, check out “the dreamstress” blog. I think you may enjoy it. Your daughter is amazingly lucky to have a mom like you, which I think she’ll figure out in about 10 or 15 years.

    26. Cassi says:

      I saw this on tumblr and about cried. Um, I love you? Kay bye

    27. J says:

      Omg so awesome! The dress and your daughter are so adorable :D

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Halloween 2013 Part 1: Construction of Lily’s 18th Century Robe a la Francaise Princess Dress!

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