Robe de cour – the research

Very late into doing the grand habit de cour, I figured out how to access  Janet Arnold’s article on Princess Sophia Magdalena’s wedding dress from 1766, as published in Costume, the journal of the Costume Society, Issue #1 (1967), p.17-21.

I had no idea what I would find in these five pages, maybe some blahblah, maybe that one bare-bones semi-informative cutting diagram that still hangs around somewhere on the internet, maybe some line drawing.

Instead I got this:


And more, obviously.


Page 17 was a brief description of the dress, page 18 was a line drawing of the bodice with emphasis on the interior (this is the only part of this article that actually can be found on the internet), page 19 is a line drawing of the front and back of the complete dress and pages 20-21  are a cutting and boning diagram of all layers (bodice/petticoat/train) and the gauze sleeves and neckline gauze (palatine).

The only thing that was missing unfortunately was the hooped petticoat (the Livrustkammaren has one, but apparently for a different robe de cour). So if you want to do a robe de cour and need a pattern… well, you can try to find an old copy of this issue of Costume (apparently there was a re-issue) or you can become a member of the Costume Society and grab a digital copy of any of their journal’s back issues.

(Which by the way have other nice patterns, like Janet Arnold’s pattern for the 1660s gown in Bath’s fashion museum or some really intriguing original non-Norah Waugh boning layouts for 18th Century stays in one of their 2000s issues.)

So what does this mean for my robe? Well, first of all my boning layout is pretty good. The major differences are that the boning layer and the fashion layer are not identically cut and that there are more additional bones in the tabs (I don’t know how that works actually – I couldn’t have fit more in mine. Edit: the bones are split vertically in the tabs. Reading is  always key.) And that on the back of the shoulder straps there are a few horizontal bones. Also the fabric is finely corded white silk. Which mine isn’t.

Things that I got right: I have 5mm wide bones, Arnold says the bones in the bodice are 3/16 inches wide which translates to 4.7625mm which is extremely close. 0.24mm is so small that I cannot actually find a good comparison, even the thickness of your fingernail is likely to be greater.

My boning layout in general is pretty on actually. Adding the fashion fabric tabs independently of the main part of the fashion fabric is correct. Adding interlining is good (although I could have added more.) Sewing down the seams is also correct.

All in all, there is no major snafu.


So what does this mean for the rest of the gown?

Well, the gauze sleeves look confusing. It has given me a pretty good idea of its basic shape which is very good. The neckline ruffle is wider at the shoulders which is weird but I’ll just go with it. There is also some mumbling about using the selvedge of the gauze but I’ll cross that bridge when I am there.

But the petticoat… well. The funny thing is that I’ve done so many 18th century petticoats already  that I genuinely lost count. But I have never done a petticoat like this one. Basically there are 3-5 strategically-placed pleats and otherwise it’s just straight down. So this requires doing something entirely new. Not a problem, right?

No, but the total circumference of the petticoat at the bottom is. At my height it would be about 5 yards in total. I don’t have 5 yards. I am lucky if I have three.

On the other hand the width of the original dress is ridiculous. I don’t actually want a 2.5 yard wide dress but 3 yards would mean that I would turn this:


Into this:




Which, all wonky Photoshopping aside, looks even more ridiculous. If I could eek out the fabric to a circumference of 12 and half feet in total, it would actually look much better:


But the fabric is not great to piece for a various reasons and I am not sure of there will be anything even to piece anyway.

Well, back to my inspiration dress then… it’s not like these deep pleats will take up much fabric, right? Right?

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