My Nearly Fabulous Francaise

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!

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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:

Francois Boucher 1703–1770 FR 'Portrait of Madame de Pompadour' 1756:

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.

Janet Arnold francaise

I also trimmed the gown and petticoat differently, using this dress in the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection as my inspiration/guide:

KCI 1760 Francaise

I just loved the combination of the arced strips with the bows somehow! Here’s a close-up of the skirt trimmings:

KCI 1760 Francaisecrop

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:

From Angela

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!

from Chelsea2

photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement

Another shot from the back – in and of itself it looks nice.

from Gloria

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.

From Maggie

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.

from Taylor1

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!

francaise dinner group photo2

photo by Beth of BWPW Photography

A final few shots of me from the evening:

from Taylor2

photo by Taylor of Dames a la Mode

from Chelsea1

photo by Chelsea S of A Sartorial Statement

from Chelsea4

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.

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A shot of the bodice lining. The stitches in dark thread are the ones holding the silk to the lining.

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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.

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The exterior of a bodice front with robing and trimming.

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One of the sleeves up close, this is one of the areas where I used my scalloped pinking tool:

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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:

2016-05-05 14.51.08

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.

2016-05-05 14.44.18

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:

2016-05-05 14.47.12

And in the back:

2016-05-05 14.47.35

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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.

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Another flounce close-up:

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And one of the trimming along the petti hem – the same as on the edges of the gown skirt fronts.

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Finally, the stomacher – front:

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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?

31 thoughts on “My Nearly Fabulous Francaise

  1. That is THE most glorious fabric I have had the pleasure to behold! Love your design!

    I am more of a move on to the next fabulous project person. My problem is that I don’t handle deadlines well, so the last bit of the dress is sort of slapped together and I make the most terrible construction desicions because of time. So after the event I let it sit, and then when I need to wear it again I pull it out the week before the event and decide I don’t want to deal with the horrid-ness from last time. My sewing skills advance enough in just one year, that the project from two or three years ago is so detached from what I do currently that “fixing it” is just frustrating.


    • Ha! I totally hear that about deciding older things are just not worth it! I’ve been there LOTS of times! I also hate, hate, HATE doing alterations. I usually prefer to just start over with something new – this is especially true with my everyday wardrobe. This one is a rare case of feeling it’s really worth it to make this as perfect as possible.

      And thanks for sharing your blog, your work is wonderful and I loved the post about cottons in fashion plates!


    • Thank you! Not quite fabulous enough for me yet, but I certainly intend to get it there – and then get more pictures!


  2. I thought your gown and wig were very fabulous, even if they weren’t “perfect” by your own standards. I love seeing all of your detail shots, especially since it was difficult to make out all the subtleties at the dinner itself. I was definitely in a state of sensory overload for much of the evening! It was so much fun, though. 🙂


    • Aww, thank you! And sensory overload is a good way to put it, everyone looked SO. GOOD. Yourself most certainly included!


  3. It’s incredible. Just beautiful. The colour! All that gorgeous texture in the sashes and bows, any 18th C lady would swoon with delight at the opulence.
    As for the pesky side panels, my tuppence worth is that they may be on the wrong grain – I think the straight of the grain needs to be parallel with the wrinkles, because this side piece is tipped way over more than it looks like it will be. I had this happen to me on the remake of a wedding dress from the 60’s, when I was cobbling the new bodice from bits of the old train which is why I suggest checking that as a possible culprit. All the best, I can totally understand wanting to sort it, but not just now, after putting such a huge amount of work into such a beautiful thing 🙂


    • Thank you! And I think you may be onto something about mis-matched grain lines. I think I cut everything out according to the original grain lines of the pattern, but that may have been the wrong thing to do. I’m definitely keeping this in mind for when I go back to fix it.


  4. I think I know the wrinkle source on the bodice: the sidepanel cotton underlining is somewhat on the bias. It might be fighting with the fabric.
    You can replace that and it will probably address the issue. However…I say make a feature. The wrinkles are big enough (I think) to stitch them down for surface texture between the front and the sides.
    In the meantime, it is always a great day in my house when you post an ensemble. We will be celebrating with the usual “hey, do you think you could make me a –” conversations.
    Of course not! Are you crazy? There is only one MMM! Thanks from all of us (me and the boys).


    • Thank you so much! And thanks for the advice about the lining panel, I think this may, indeed, be at least partially responsible. I’ll certainly be checking that out when I’m ready to go back to it. The idea about stitching down the wrinkles is interesting but really not something that was ever done on bodices in the 18th century. And I really do want the smooth look – especially since there’s already quite a lot going on with trimming, and I may consider adding even more to it (!). But thanks so much for putting your creative problem solving hat for me!


  5. Absa-frickin-lutley LUSCIOUS! Oh my gawd. You did an amazing job, your Francaise is so breathtakingly beautiful! The color is to die for. I just love the overall design. So scrummy!


    • Thank you! And yes, THAT. FABRIC. Just wait and see what I have planned for the rest of it (I still have a little over 11m!).


  6. Your francaise so pretty! The details are gorgeous, love the tiny little scallops and the arced strips. As for your question about re-doing certain parts of garments – I think it is usually worth it even though I am not always patient enough to tackle the little problems that self-made garments can have. Some things don’t bother me much even though they may be technically wrong but there are some issues (mostly with fit) that really annoy me so much that I can’t really enjoy wearing the garment, even though the issues might seem minor to others.


    • Thank you! And I know exactly how you feel about different reactions to different issues on self-made garments. I confess I often prefer to just start something new from scrap, but occasionally something will feel special enough to be worth re-working – such as this francaise. And we’re always our own worst critics, aren’t we? ;o)


  7. Your dress in incredible! I saw pictures of the event on Facebook right after it happened and your dress was my favorite! I’m so glad to find your post about the details of the dress. It’s stunning! I’m impressed that you styled your own wig, too. I really hope that I can make it to this event one day. 🙂


    • Thank you so much! I actually felt I made a pretty underwhelming impression at the Dinner this year and have resolved to really pull out all the stops for next year! I may wear this dress/ensemble again, but with the changes to it and the hair that I want and perhaps more bling! Lol. I hope you can make it to the dinner someday too, it’s a great event!


  8. Totally love your work! Yes I would be interested in more pics of the dress.
    And yes, I have had projects turned out frustratingly just slightly less fabulous than I wanted it to! Sometimes I go back to make if fabulous, and there are times I just move on. It mainly depends on if I can solve the issue and if there’s a deadline. Sometimes the fabric just won’t manipulate or behave like the image in my head though.


    • Thank you! And, ugh, I totally hear you about misbehaving fabric. This happens to me pretty often. I’ve recently just come to the conclusion with another project I started over a year ago that I made a bad call on the fabric and it just is never going to behave the right way for the style. I was trying to make an early 1870s bustle dress out of a too-drapey fabric. It’s a wool blend, which the extant dress I was basing it off of was made from, but wool blended with a teeny bit of lycra rather than cotton (like the original). I bought it online and it turned out having a slightly softer and springier hand because of the lycra than I’d hoped for. I started the dress but just haven’t been super happy with how it’s gone. I’ve recently just about reconciled myself to scrapping it and using the fabric for everyday clothes instead.

      Anyhoo – were there any particular aspects of the construction you’d like to see more of?


  9. That fabric is just stunning! Well-deployed in a francaise. 🙂

    It’s really gorgeous – I can see your criticisms, but I don’t think they take away from your overall impression. When I was going through the pics from this year, yours was one of the ones I stopped and said, dang, that’s a great dress and great hair (really!). Wish I could have made it to the dinner this year to see it in person (but then, I would have had to wear something old and boring and would have felt bad about myself, haha).


  10. Beautiful! That fabric is stunning and the trim really shows it off. I loved seeing everyone’s pictures from this event. You look wonderful! While most things that I make that have little problems, I can’t be bothered to go back and fix, if it’s something that involved some costly fabric or the fix isn’t too intensive, then I will.


  11. Its beautiful!! One trick i found to add fullness is to make a petticoat out of quilted fabric with a flounce. 😃


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