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:
- LOTS OF BOWS!
- A BIG DRESS
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.
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:
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).
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!
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)
- 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
Taupe Robe a la Francaise Dress Diary
The Fashionable Past
Draping a Sacque, otherwise known as a robe a la francaise–