Last year around this time I fell in love with a dress from a painting by Louis Rolland Trinquesse.
Since I’ve never done a proper Robe à la Polonaise, I decided to try and make this one.
I bought a pair of antique parasols recently, both in a questionable condition, so I thought I couldn’t do much more damage by repairing them.
This is the story of the first parasol.
The gown that inspired me, is described by its museum as “the apogee of the form [of the robe à la française].”
That description alone made this gown such an ambitious project. It intimidated me and it still does. But it also challenged me. I am doing a court gown out of lampas silk for the same reason – if I spend so much time on a project… why not go all out?
So how was it made….
I always wanted to make a grand habit de cour / robe de cour / court gown but there were a lot of arguments against it.
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.
When I wrote my to-do list, I noted as number one the “foldable pannier”. The reason for that is purely practical – I need something that could fit into my hand lugguage if necessary and still can unfold to a width that exceeds hand lugguage sizes.
But then I knew something like this already existed:
The red one is from the Met and the left one is from Les Arts Decoratifs plus another one from Les Arts Decoratifs which is nearly identical in looks and construction. (In fact I used to think they were the same.)
Unfortunately that’s all she wrote because aside from one sketch and a wonderful article on a Canadian museum’s website how to store such thing, little is known.
What was apparent is that in order to fully recreate these, you need to a be metalworker. Obviously, I am not, so I went and improvised with 5/8 inch plastic boning, white bone casing, a round file and some Chicago screws and a lot of time.
The result is actually really foldable, lightweight, stable and super-practical:
It also doesn’t photograph well. It needs some actual hips to straighten the curve of the connecting bones and it’s final shape is created when the weight of the fabric of the petticoat pulls all its connecting ties tight.
I love this ensemble. That’s why I decided to re-create it despite not having the most extensive of sewing experience. Or patience. Or time. Just pure determination.
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