Shortly after I moved to DC I was told about this fabulous event called The Francaise Dinner. It’s an annual dinner organized and attended by people who just like doing this sort of thing! Last year and this year it was held at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria – hence, very local to me! So this year (in March) I got to go to my first one!
Of course, I needed to make a new dress for the occasion. 1. Because I nearly always need to make a new dress for nearly any actual “occasion” because reasons; and 2. Because I didn’t have anything really appropriate for this event. The date range did go up to c. 1799, but I really wanted to go more full-on 18th century rather than Neo-classical. It was also a perfect excuse for specifically making a historically accurate francaise – something I hadn’t done since the big crazy reproduction project during my MA – none of which pieces I kept (all donated to the university).
Not to mention I had THE PERFECT fabric for it – behold!
Yes, that is silk duchess satin. Yes, I nabbed it for 5GBP in London a few years ago from a stall in Walthamstow Market. Yes I bought 20 metres of it. Yes I wish I had bought the whole bolt.
The colour kind of reminds me of this iconic Francois Boucher portrait of Madame de Pompadour:
I used the Francaise pattern from Pattern of Fashion for the dress, altered a little for my size and for fuller falling cuffs on the sleeves. Oh, and I also opted for a regular stomacher front rather than a compere.
I also trimmed the gown and petticoat differently, using this dress in the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection as my inspiration/guide:
I just loved the combination of the arced strips with the bows somehow! Here’s a close-up of the skirt trimmings:
I was in too much of a sewing hurry to take in-process photos of the construction, but I basically followed the same procedure as for the sack dress/francaise of the repro-project mentioned above.
I did take some detail pics, but I’ll show them towards the end and instead show pics of the whole shebang first.
Photos are all from the Francaise Dinner event. This one is my fave, though it doesn’t show off the dress the best:
photo by Angela B
Oh, and this was also my first try at doing a proper 18th century styled wig. I used Kendra van Cleeve’s fantastic book, “18th Century Hair & Wig Styling”
Unfortunately, I ignored a very important piece of advice, which was to NOT style the wig on a Styrofoam head, but rather on a proper wig block. Since this was my first try I wasn’t keen on investing in a proper block. I should have. The wig ended up a little small and so didn’t cover my head properly and pulled at my scalp something terrible as I tried to stretch/pull it to get decent coverage.
The is reason #1 that my francaise is nearly, but not actually, fabulous.
Here you can see it a little from the back, and it seems to look ok. Also – Hi Taylor! Hi Gloria!
photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement
Another shot from the back – in and of itself it looks nice.
photo courtesy of In the Long Run
However, you can see here how it doesn’t completely cover the back of my head. I think the whole thing also rises too vertically rather than angling slightly backwards gracefully.
Oh well. I keep reminding myself that this was my first try. I WILL remake this and get a properly sized block for doing so! I think I’ll try a lace-front wig next time to change my hairline a little, too, since I was also reminded of how much I dislike my super high forehead (I wear bangs just so I don’t have to look at it/deal with it). And with a lace front wig I can make the whole thing look a little more natural as well.
photo by Maggie M
I can’t remember her name, but the lady behind me, in the red/maroon had THE BEST HAIR I think I’ve ever seen! I was in awe of her hair all evening!
This photo also shows reason #2 why this francaise is only nearly and not actually fabulous: the wrinkled bodice. I’m actually not sure what’s going on here, what’s causing this. I’m going to have to do some investigating. But I’ll have to be in the mood to get into it again for that. I’m wondering if one factor might be my stays. They’re a late 1780s style, so a little higher-waisted than one would normally wear with a francaise. They may not be firming and smoothing my torso far enough down for this dress bodice. However, I think there’s a bigger problem elsewhere. Whether it’s just too tight through the bodice (though I do have the back bodice lining split with ties for just such adjustments) or something not right in a seam somewhere….I’m just not totally sure yet.
photo from Taylor of Dames a la Mode – from whom my jewellery also came! It’s a full parure (which word I learned from her) made up of this topaz/citrine collet necklace with matching earrings and two matching bracelets. Incidentally – I have been literally amazed at just how versatile these pieces have been. I’ve worn the necklace countless times with both historical and everyday clothing (the earrings less so, just because I have this weird relationship with earrings in general; I often feel *too* dressed up with them on in my everyday life, despite the fact that I wear what many people would consider pretty fancy dresses on a daily basis – I said it was weird).
One final thing I’m thinking is that it may need a little more volume under the skirt. I’ve got pocket hoops and 2 petticoats on underneath – both with deep, gathered flounces around the hems – but looking at these photos I think it could do with just a little more. A little more width (maybe add some removable padding or something to the pocket hoops) and a little more fullness overall with either an additional petti or ones of fabric with a stiffer hand.
Here’s a great photo of the whole Francaise Dinner group. So much pretty in here, I was blown away by the quality and effort of people’s ensembles! And so much good hair! I felt as though my very mediocre hair stuck out like a sore thumb. Oh well – I will BRING IT next year!
photo by Beth of BWPW Photography
A final few shots of me from the evening:
photo by Taylor of Dames a la Mode
photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement
photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement
And now some detail pics of the ensemble.
It was entirely hand-sewn, mostly with silk thread. I did use linen thread for the seams of the bodice lining. This is what I’ve seen most often done on extant 18th century women’s garments I’ve examined.
The back pleats of the fancaise, sewn down to the bodice lining for approx. 3 1/2 inches.
A shot of the bodice lining. The stitches in dark thread are the ones holding the silk to the lining.
Bit of a close-up of the bodice interior – all edges are clean-finished apart from the armhole seam allowances, also as per extant garments I’ve examined.
The exterior of a bodice front with robing and trimming.
One of the sleeves up close, this is one of the areas where I used my scalloped pinking tool:
lightweight linen (lawn?) sleeve ruffle. This is the only part done by machine – the scalloped hem edging. I just did not have time to do this by hand and had no lace on-hand to make sleeve ruffle from. However, my goal is to eventually replace the machine embroidery on here with handwork (worked with some while silk floss I have) and also add some additional embroidery, perhaps based off the set of engageantes in Patterns of Fashion. It would also be nice to have some decent lace ones, but these did the trick for the night. They are gathered into a cotton tape band then basted into the dress sleeves:
The trimming of one side of the skirt front. I used just normal pinking shears to cut the fabric pieces that made up the bulk of the trimming. This may seem odd to purists, but close examination of the photo of the extant dress in the Kyoto collection showed exactly this. I’d also seen it used on the trimming of a dress in the Snowshill Collection kept at Berrington Hall, England, that I examined on a research trip back in 2008.
The petticoat opens and ties at the sides, bound with light blue silk satin ribbon (someone, PLEASE tell me a source for silk taffeta ribbon in a variety of colours/widths!)
Showing direction of pleats in the front:
And in the back:
A close-up of the decorative flounce on the petticoat front. I noticed that the trimming on the Kyoto dress has an overall ‘flat’ look to it, so I pressed all the gathered/ruched areas of trimming after setting them onto the garments, just in case any of you might have wondered about that. I don’t know whether that look on the original francaise was created at the time of original construction or whether it’s the result of 250+ years of existence/storage, but I liked it and wanted to reproduce it.
Another flounce close-up:
And one of the trimming along the petti hem – the same as on the edges of the gown skirt fronts.
Finally, the stomacher – front:
I need a little space from this one before I go back to it in order to make the ensemble as a whole as fabulous as I think it deserves to be. But rest assured I will certainly do so! In the meantime, if anyone has an interest in seeing any other parts of the construction of this just let me know and I’ll snap and post those pics!
Has anything ever turned out frustratingly just slightly less fabulous than you wanted it to? Did you go back to it and make it fabulous? Or just move onto the next fabulous thing?