I always wanted to make a grand habit de cour / robe de cour / court gown but there were a lot of arguments against it.
- There is no easily available pattern, the only existing pattern is a low resolution scan on the internet that does not bother with a boning layout, showing the tabs or whatever layers are necessary.
- I’ve seen a fantastic re-created court gown last year but was not as wowed as I thought I ought to be. Which was a bit weird because on one hand it was with little doubt one of the most elaborate 18th Century reproductions that exist. On other I wasn’t into it. Which I took to mean that I wasn’t into the whole concept of the robe de cour.
- The material. You can’t do a over-the-top court gown with just some plain silk taffeta and then call it a day. So either you deliver some awesome trimming or you need some special fabric.
- The effort. You basically make a fully-boned pair of stays that can only be used for one dress – and that’s just the starting point.
And then this fabric arrived at my door step:
It’s a vintage piece and it weirdly pre-cut. The short version of this story is that it’s way too nice to not use it for a big gown, and yet there is not enough of it to use it for a traditional 18th Century gown. But you can cut the bodice of a court gown and still have enough fabric for a 1730s type of court gown petticoat.
Something like this:
This seem like a contradiction until you realize that piecing this pattern and fabric is a terrible idea.
And since I hate fabric stashes (I hoard enough stuff, I don’t need fabric for something I’ll never make on top of that.), I decided to take the plunge and make a robe de cour.
The first step was taking that low-res pattern and re-work it so it has a boning layout and actually fits me. I did some retro-engineering based on an x-ray of a court dress in Sweden and one of Norah Waugh’s early 18th Century stays to figure out the most likely boning layout. Then I started measuring that one pair of stays that fits me well and dropped my research and numbers and that low-res scan into Adobe Illustrator. I ended up with a pattern that has actually worked out pretty well so far.
I printed the pattern out on transparent paper, started tracing it and its boning channels onto a linen fabric and sewed parts of the outline and all the boning channels.
Then I measured and cut the 174 (!) bones (1/5 inch – 5mm plastic boning), rounded off the edges and stuffed them into the channels. 174 times.
Judging by the few pictures I have of the Swedish court bodices (the only place where anyone bothered to photograph the insides of a court gown bodice), that number must somewhat close to the original. (The width of my boning channels does match up with regular fully-boned 18th Century stays.) Maybe the bones/boning channel are a bit narrower than mine but not by much if at all.
I also added a thick horizontal metal bone and a busk to the inside of the front bodice and evened everything out a bit by adding some interlining.
I am currently working on at putting these parts together. It’s sloooow because the boning gives the whole thing a very special dynamic.