Costumes · Uncategorized

American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking – Book Review

I work in book publishing so it only seems fitting that I finally combine my love of books and sewing with a book review! Unless you’re new to historical costuming, you’ve likely already heard of American Duchess, the historical reproduction shoe company and popular blog founded by Lauren Stowell that, with the addition of partner historian Abby Cox, has been expanded in recent years  to include sewing patterns through Simplicity Patterns and a sister company Royal Vintage, which features shoes from the 1920’s to the 1950’s for retro fashionistas. Now, they’ve added a book to their list of accomplishments: The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style.

Necessity is the mother invention, as they say, and it was certainly the case with American Duchess. They filled a void by providing period-accurate, affordable shoes to costumers and re-enactors stuck with the large investment of time and money waiting on a custom pair of shoes. Lauren and Abby’s combined expertise and background in 18th century dress, illustration, and design make them ideal authors to once again fill a gap in the costuming world, namely “I have a dress pattern and historically accurate fabric. Now what?” Or rather, how would a mantua-maker in the 1700’s have sewn this gown?

The AD Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking focuses on four iconic gowns of the Georgian era:

  1. The English Gown (1740’s)
  2. The Sacque Gown (1760’s – 1770’s)
  3. The Italian Gown (1770’s – 1790’s)
  4. The Round Gown (1790’s)

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If you go to their Facebook page they’ve done live sessions on each of these dresses leading up to the release.

Each chapter concludes with “How to Get Dressed and Wear Your ____ Gown” with step-by-step photos to show the proper order, with tips on how to pin your stomacher or adjust your back ties. Plus you’ll find tons of millinery and accessories to complete the look, including: aprons, caps, hats, mitts, and a fur muff that’s very appealing for our current weather!

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Interior sample – Showing how to drape the Sacque.

However, what this guide does not include are patterns—only gridded layouts for the linings. All of these gowns require draping (and likely mockups), just as they would have been created by a mantua-maker in that time. They address this issue at the very beginning, and I agree with their decision because Lauren and Abby have crafted a comprehensive guide that bridges the gap between existing costume bibles with layouts of extant garments and a finished, authentic gown. There are plenty of commercial paper patterns already on the market, including the American Duchess x Simplicity patterns, JP Ryan, Reconstructing History, etc. Their newest release Simplicity 8578 is actually the Sacque Gown or Robe a la Française shown in the book.

The introduction breaks down the various kinds of stitches of the 1700’s and how they were used in dressmaking. I was really looking forward to learning about the quirky mantua maker’s seam, but I have a hard time following stitch illustrations. I would have loved step-by-step photos instead, but I’m sure it will come together once I practice. Also, as the focus is “dressmaking” there are no undergarments included, and you’re expected to have the proper stays and shift for the decade you’re recreating. You’ll be fitting and draping over your stays, and admittedly some stages do seem like they’d be very tricky without a partner. One of the best resources is the illustrated fit troubleshooting guide that shows the many traps of the sleevil, among other mishaps.

From a publishing perspective, I’m very impressed with the quality of the book at this price point. The special binding lays flat, which is very helpful when directions carry over to the next page. It’s full-color with loads and loads of beautiful photography. However, the cover’s white text on the white gown is a little hard to read. It’s absolutely packed with historical notes, tricks of the trade, and fun side bars like “Ode to Wool.” If you are merely curious about 18th century fashion or looking build a Georgian wardrobe, you will want to have this at your side.

No patterns? Hand-sewing? Yes, I’ll admit it sounds rather intimidating, but you’ll be in good hands. If you start with the simple under-petticoat, which essentially a pleated, tie-waist skirt, and continue to the petticoat I think you’ll be in a good place to start on the gown. (And yes, this is what I’m telling myself as encouragement!) If you’d like more guidance then you should look into the classes coordinated with Jennifer Rosbrugh of HistoricalSewing.com that are in the works. Not everyone is lucky enough to be take a workshop with Burnley & Trowbridge or know someone with experience in historical costuming, and I know I’ll be consulting The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking again and again.

TL;DR

Who is it for? Intermediate sewist with a desire to follow historical dressmaking techniques to create four authentic Georgian outfits from head to toe.

What does it include? EVERYTHING! Seriously—this is a comprehensive handbook to sewing historically accurate ensembles enlivened with the warmth of Abby and Lauren throughout.

 

Cox, Abby and Lauren Stowell. The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style. Page Street Publishing Co., 2017.

*Disclaimer- I purchased my copy and am not affiliated with Page Street Publishing or American Duchess. Photos by little-red-squirrel.com, do not publish without permission.

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Costumes

Top 7 Looks from Outlander: #5 – Hand-painted Peony Dress

Coming back to this series after a little break because SEASON 3! What do you think of Voyager so far? Me, I’m like:

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The Print Shop was done SO well, although I wish they had held off on Jamie introducing Willie because it felt a little forced. I will keep this spoiler-free, but do yourself a favor and read Voyager and then Drums of Autumn! The Outlander writers excel at bringing the books to life, and making changes that don’t make the readers pull their hair out.

Even if you haven’t read the books, I’m sure you can gather that there won’t be a return to Versailles and all the extravagant gowns (although the French Revolution will soon put a damper on the royal dress budget anyway…), so why not revel in the S2 costumes a bit?

Screencap Outlander 2x05_00190933

The last post covered Annelise’s macaron-colored ensemble from this scene in the formal gardens and now it’s Claire’s turn! Annelise’s jacket and petticoat earned the first 10/10 HA (Historically accurate) rating in the Top 7 Looks, and it’s an ideal foil for Claire’s anachronistic mocha and butter yellow gown. After looking at this gown more I realized that it’s essentially a redingote with a few modifications. The redingote was fashionable in the last quarter of the 18th century, and to me the look is synonymous with posh ladies strolling down cobblestone streets with walking sticks. Movies like Marie Antoinette and The Scandalous Lady W have some great examples of the redingote on film.

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Redingotes from Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst. Note how these versions do not have front tabs.

The redingote (derived from a French corruption of “riding coat”) is a cross between an overgown and a jacket, with a button front, oversized lapels and cape collar, long sleeves, and a long open front skirt showing the petticoat underneath. It’s sort of an overgrown riding coat that often has a cutaway front or a skirt that begins away from tabs at the center front.

Here are some fashion plates and extant examples of the style (click to enlarge):

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Redingote c.1780-1790, The Met, NYC.

Claire’s version has a short standing or mandarin collar with 3/4 length sleeves, a horizontal bust dart paired with a solid yellow petticoat, with long yellow gloves and a bergére with flowers.

Outlander at Paley Center

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Close-up on the collar and covered buttons. You can see the pleated lining of her hat.
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Best shot of the pattern matching on the back and back pleats.

The silhouette is mostly true to the 18th century (I haven’t seen mandarin collars on extant ladies jackets, and there should be a point in the back seam) but the textiles are definitely modern. Also, you can see that there is lacing on the sides. Keeping in mind that these costumes have to be made before filming and final scripts, the maternity lacing is there to accommodate a bump and allow for varying size depending on what the production team decided. Granted, it’s hard to see a baby bump under all that fabric.

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Detail of the maternity lacing on Claire’s hand-painted peony gown.

The hand-painted fabric is gorgeous and another instance of early 1950’s fashion influencing Terry Dresbach’s modern historical aesthetic.  The large peonies, sprays of lilac and other flowers are dramatically oversized, and I’ve found some 1950’s and early 60’s dresses with a similar look, albeit not quite as large. The shirtwaist or button-front dress with a belt was very common, and you’ve likely seen this style in vintage shops.

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Pierre Balmain lace dress, 1953. Very similar to Claire’s look.
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Large scale rose pattern on a 1950’s Givenchy dress.
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Here is the same Givenchy dress on his muse Audrey Hepburn, which she wore in Funny Face with Fred Astaire.

Just as the Dior Suit has been re-imagined again and again, elements of this dress have been seen on runways as recently as this year. A floor-length, full skirted dress with definition at the waist and long sleeves is a silhouette that can reinterpreted endlessly— these are few modern examples:

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A large floral print with similar overall shape. Grace Kelly photographed by Phillippe Halsman.
“In Dior_s Garden” by Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior Haute Couture, Spring 1996
“In Dior’s Garden” by Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior Haute Couture, Spring 1996.

 * * *

How to Make It

Claire and Jamie in Versailles gardens

If you’re an Outlander fan, you probably spotted that the petticoat is made from the same yellow silk-wool as the citrine robe a l’anglaise. Someone snagged the floral fabric from Britex and brought it to a small con to show fans.

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This will be helpful to refer to if you try to paint it yourself!

Painting a floral design will require fabric paint in lots of colors, and a whole bunch of free time so this gown is not a quick and easy project! A solid redingote would be simpler and period correct. A false front petticoat could also be a way to cut costs, by using an inexpensive fabric for the back of the petticoat. This was common in the 18th century and earlier (such as Elizabethan gowns with open skirts), and even used on Outlander for the Citrine gown.

I discovered a very awesome pattern in researching this dress- a redingote pattern from LACMA created from an extant redingote in their collection! It’s a PDF that you can scale up so it does require little more work, but you can’t get more accurate than that! If you already have an 18th century dress block or a riding habit pattern that’s adjusted to you, you could use that as a starting point. A riding habit would be easiest since it already has a button front and horizontal dart—you can just lengthen the skirt or even use the pattern from a gown in place of the original. Unless the maternity lacing is necessary for your current body or you’re going for an exact Claire cosplay, I would leave it off.

Like Annalise’s tricorn and choker, the accessories really make this look so don’t forget about the bergere and gloves. Sometimes finishing the dress feels like crossing the finish line, but it’s the details like a wispy fichu or proper stockings that really make your outfit complete. Those smaller bits are often what makes your outfit stand apart from the crowd, even if the average person can’t quite put their finger on why it looks so nice!

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Frilled yellow silk taffeta mitts, circa 1750 – 70.

Hand-painted Peony Gown

Type: Original design (Modified Redingote)

HA Rating: 6/10  (Although, in another fabric this could be 9/10)

Est. Yardage:
Redingote- 6 yards   Petticoat- 4-5 yds

Materials:
Brown silk taffeta, hand painted with large floral design, or HA in solid silk taffeta or silk-wool blend

*Could also use poly taffeta or dupioni or shantung if not worried about being 100% period accurate

Patterns:
Hack a gown pattern to make overlapping button front and add collar

Alter a riding coat pattern to lengthen into a long skirt

1780’s Redingote Tutorial
http://koshka-the-cat.blogspot.com/2015/08/a-1780s-redingote-tutorial.html

The LACMA Pattern Project – Redingote, c. 1790
http://www.lacma.org/patternproject

JP Ryan Riding habit, Reconstructing History Riding habit 
Mill Farm riding habit
Petticoat – Simplicity-American Duchess 8411
Pannier – Simplicity-American Duchess 8411

Stays and shift: See Corsets and Crinolines (Diderot and half-boned stays), Butterick B4254 (View A or B), Simplicity 8162, or Reconstructing History

Accessories:
Bergere (straw hat) with milinery flowers
Yellow elbow length gloves (dye a vintage fabric pair or use leather paint-on dye)
Silk stockings
Yellow satin shoes

***

Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2

Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2

1. 1740’s Dior Bar Suit {Modified Riding Habit}

2. Emerald Brocade Robe à la Piemontaise

3. The Red Dress {Modified Robe de Cour}

4. Raspberry dupioni caraco and lavender petticoat

5. Mocha 1950’s Versailles Garden Party {Modified Redingote}

6. Citrine Robe a l’Anglaise

7. Sapphire Robe Volante with lace stomacher

Sources:

Posts on Redingotes: Koshka the Cat, A Fractured Fairytale, Before the Automobile

History Hoydens on Maternity clothes

The Cut of Women’s Clothes and other books on the Recommended Reading list

Stills via Outlander-Online.com

 

Costumes

Top 7 Looks from Outlander: #4 – Annalise’s Raspberry Caraco and Petticoat

I’m not great at math, unless it’s dress math!

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Caraco + Riding habit = Perfect Versailles day look

I love that moment when you see a costume and KNOW you have seen it elsewhere… and then have to hunt through the entirety of the interwebs to figure where it came from, lol. I did eventually find the pink jacket (left) in my Pinterest likes. It’s a casaquin c. 1730-40 part of the collection of the Musee de la mode in Paris.

 

 

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Portrait of Sophie Marie Gräfin Voss. Antoine Pesne, 1746.

Later I came across this portrait and *lightbulb*! The hat, ribbon choker, rounded square neckline, and unique split cuff sleeves match Annalise’s jacket exactly! Someone else recognized the resemblance of Annalise’s jacket to the Musee de la Mode casaquin and tweeted Terry, who confirmed that it was the inspiration and that they would have copied it exactly if they’d had more time to do the lace over curved edges. BUT no mention of this Gräfin Voss portrait, so feeling very pleased with my discovery. Don’t you love those behind-the-scenes tidbits, especially ones that confirm your fan theories?

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Screencap close-up on Annalise’s fabulous tricorn hat and accessories.

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Annelise’s outfit is period-perfect and the color palette makes me think of a box of macarons or blooms in a Parisian flower market. Very feminine and sweet. Her jacket is a brighter pink than the inspiration, although I wonder how rich the color was 200 years ago. Dupioni fabric has a beautiful texture and body, but a couple historical costuming blogs mentioned that silk with slubs would not have been used in this era. (I haven’t found any documentation on that however, so comment if you can point me in the right direction!) It doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t stand out like metal grommets or a hoop petticoat—you really wouldn’t think twice about it unless you happen to be an expert. BUT if you want to be HA, look for a deep pink taffeta, peau de soie or even silk-wool faille to have a similar low-shine look. There are some fabric options saved to the caraco Pinterest board.

There are a variety of jacket styles that were worn in the 18th century, including the caraco, pierrot, riding habit, and pet en l’air. Often the contemporary names given to the jackets and the way they’re worn varies, so the proper name for a jacket isn’t always clear. A caraco is a longer jacket, usually hitting mid-thigh, with a fitted back and 3/4 sleeves. The caraco bodice and skirt are cut all-in-one—no seam at hip—and flare over the hips. It was often worn closed, but also worn open over a stomacher, with a compere front (button-front with false stomacher), and with two or more flaps where a fichu could be tucked in. Sometimes the caraco is called a short gown, and that usually refers to the longer versions that go almost knee length.

I plan on going into more detail on the different types when I finish my own jacket for Claire’s Castle Leoch look, but there are links to good jacket explainers in the Sources.

Annelise raspberry caraco from Outlander, Terry Dresbach
Profile shows a fitted back, so we know it’s not a pet en l’air.

Annalise caraco detail

The petals or basques of the casaquin remind me of similar segmented skirts on jumps, a type of undress bodice worn at home. I realize that sounds odd, but in the 18th century “undress” was used as a noun, whereas today we only use it as a verb (“to get undressed”). “Undress” meant anything that was not a formal gown or fitting for company, especially of a higher social class.  If you’ve ever been to Colonial Williamsburg or a similar historical reenactment site, most of the interpreters you see are working class types in undress wear, such as linen or homespun petticoats and plain jackets. However, one woman’s imported chintz caraco and wool petticoat might be the finest outfit she owns, but everyday “undress” for an upper class woman with a couple of silk robe à la françaises in her wardrobe.

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“That’s because you don’t have a silk gown.”

A jacket and petticoat outfit is less formal than a gown, and very versatile since you can mix and match with a new petticoat or jacket. The silk fabrics elevate Annelise’s combination, making it suitable for a stroll through Versailles and implying a higher social class than the plain woolen jackets and petticoats seen on the majority of the women in the Highlands. Of course, you can mix and match as well if you already have a petticoat that would go nicely with the pink caraco—pale yellow, sky blue, or even green would be nice.

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Blurry, but only shot of Annalise’s pretty hairdo.
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Detail of two lace trims used, silver and white.
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You can tack on the voile and lace to the sleeve, or add lace to your shift.

Annalise’s outfit lets the jacket be the focus with an untrimmed petticoat. Undress ensembles favored quilted petticoats in the first half of the century, and then evolved to petticoats with flounces on the bottom third. Quilted petticoats usually had wool batting with a silk top and linen backing so they kept you warm and cozy in addition to supporting the skirt. Women always wore a plain under petticoat for volume and to smooth out any lumps from supports like her bum pad or side hoops, and the quilted ones continued to be worn as under-petties for their warmth after the fashions changed. I adore quilted petticoats and the incredible craftsmanship the designs required leaves me speechless. Definitely on my costume bucket list!

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Quilted green petticoat with printed caraco. The caraco has long sleeves, which help date it to 1770-90, and a compere front.

 

Linen, a fabric made from the flax plant, was used for lining women’s and men’s coats, and often with mismatched remnants from other garments. Although today linen is more expensive than cotton, cotton fabric wouldn’t be widely used as a cheap textile until the Industrial Revolution. You could also line it with an inexpensive poly lining or china silk.

 

How to Make It

Outlander screencap 2x05

This is certainly the most straightforward make so far! You can sew the jacket and the petticoat from available patterns without having to do any pattern drafting. However, you’ll definitely want to do a mock-up with the correct underpinnings as getting the front to line up and close neatly will probably require some adjustments. Annalise’s jacket has separate basques or skirt pieces, so mark the hip all the way around your pattern pieces. Then sew the jacket pieces together, stopping at that hip mark. Finish the seams of the basques separately and trim with lace. The covered buttons at the elbow and center back seam are such a nice detail so don’t skip them!

I’m currently working on my wool jacket using the JP Ryan jacket pattern, and I recommend using her pattern View A for this project. So far the shape is very accurate and the directions are clear, but an absolute beginner might feel overwhelmed. I’ll do a full pattern review when I’ve finished the jacket. If you want to copy the Musee de la Mode casaquin’s petal hem just a spend a bit of time with a French curve to get a similar shape.

The tricorn hat really makes this ensemble and I’ve seen similar hats from Frontier Milinery on Etsy. Talk about a perfect match! Personally I’d love have one like this—you could also wear the hat with a vintage outfit like a fascinator.

Frontier Milinery
Pink, violet, and teal dupioni tricorn hats

Type: Caraco jacket with closed front and petticoat

HA Rating: 10/10

Est. Yardage:
Jacket- 3 yds. Petticoat- 4-5 yds (depending on size of skirt supports)

Materials:
Silk (or poly) dupioni or shantung
Also: Peau de soie, silk-wool blends or similar low shine silk fabric
Scalloped edge lace
Notions: hooks and eyes, covered button kit

Patterns:
JP Ryan 18thC jackets, view A
Shift with lace trimmed sleeves or tacked on engageantes
Bum roll or pad or panniers

Undergarments (to be used for all costumes)
Paniers/Side Hoops: Simplicity-American Duchess 8411, Dreamstress Panier-Along tutorial OR Bum pad: Simplicity 8162
Stays: Recommend strapless stays with this neckline. See Corsets and Crinolines (Diderot and half-boned stays), Butterick B4254 (View A or B), Simplicity 8162, or Reconstructing History
Shift/Chemise: Self-drafted or Simplicity 8162

Accessories:
Purple or pink tricorn hat
Ruched ribbon choker

Brooch for choker

Leather or fabric-covered 18th century shoes (These dyeable sateen ones from American Duchess are on sale, and would be perfect as-is or dyed magenta or amethyst!)

***

Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2

Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2

1. 1740’s Dior Bar Suit {Modified Riding Habit}

2. Emerald Brocade Robe à la Piemontaise

3. The Red Dress {Modified Robe de Cour}

4. Raspberry dupioni caraco and lavender petticoat

5. Mocha 1950’s Versailles Garden Party {Modified Redingote}

6. Citrine Robe a l’Anglaise

7. Sapphire Robe Volante with lace stomacher

 

 

 

Sources:

Posts on 18th century jackets: Larsdatter.com, American Duchess

The Cut of Women’s Clothes and other books on the Recommended Reading list

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Costumes

Top 7 Looks from Outlander: #3 – The Red Dress

Less than a week until the Season 3 premiere so I’m going to have to pick up the pace! WELP. Sorry guys, but I had to focus on my sewing! FINALLY finished my first pair of stays, and can’t wait to share them with a post soon. If you’re just jumping in, here’s my ranking of the Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2:

1. 1740’s Dior Bar Suit {Modified Riding Habit}

2. Emerald Brocade Robe à la Piemontaise

3. The Red Dress {Modified Robe de Cour}

4. Raspberry dupioni caraco and lavender petticoat

5. Mocha 1950’s Versailles Garden Party {Modified Redingote}

6. Citrine Robe a l’Anglaise

7. Sapphire Robe Volante with lace stomacher

Screencap from Outlander S2e2

Claire’s famous Red Dress is one of the few garments from the book that needed to be shown on the show, and certainly one that fans have been aching to see brought to life. I already talked a bit about it in this post, but this is an original design that riffs on the Robe de Cour, the most formal gown worn in Europe during the 18th century.

Terry Dresbach has repeatedly said that she does not base her costumes purely on descriptions from the books, and I think that’s the whole point of having a costume designer. They can create a visual language that provides the time, place and mood. Not all authors are good at writing about what their characters are wearing, anyways. On the flip side, sometimes veering from the book is a no-no. Hermione’s dress should have been BLUE, and I don’t give a crap what Emma Watson likes to wear!

Thank you to people with ample time to photoshop who have remedied this situation.

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via Pinterest
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Never thought I’d combine my love of Harry Potter & Snatch 😉

Film and TV productions that attempt “modern historical” are often the result of a combination of ‘the powers that be’ deciding that viewers don’t think historical clothing is sexy or relateable and/or a limited budget. So you might end up with the hot mess that is Reign.

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Reign ladies-in-waiting, wearing their best Anthropologie-does-Renn-Faire looks. Blowouts and Coachella headgear, why not!

I should note that I’ve never even watched this show, but Netflix keeps trying to suggest it to me. A show about teenage Mary Stuart, aka future Mary, Queen of Scots, sounds amazing, but alas I couldn’t get past what I saw in the commercials. I was obsessed with Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth when I was in high school, so assuming that they had to do this Gossip Girl/Renn Faire mashup to attract teens is a real lowest-common-denominator bummer.  But back to the Red Dress!

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Decidedly not a bummer! Terry Dresbach was tasked with creating a dress that results in a fan favorite Jamie quote, moves the plot, and looks like something that Claire would have designed with her mantua-maker. Claire is very much a modern woman who bristles at the norms and customs of the 18th century (tbh the 20th century too!) and it’s reflected in her minimalist, elegant clothing. Claire suffers no fools—or frou-frou! Louise on the other hand is the picture of French rococo, full of pastel jacquards, frothy ribbons, and coquettish charms. Claire is dressed in deep jewel tones that are either unadorned or given unusual details to have her be just a hair off. Again, she’s a time-traveler and the lead so it’s a good design choice.

Ruby red, plus emerald, garnet. tanzanite, citrine, and amethyst

The Red Dress is modern historical done right—you can see the elements of the 18th century without being thrown off by the anachronistic twists. So let’s break down the modern and the historical aspects of the design.

There’s a lot of 1950’s influence in this dress, much like the Dior Suit. The shade of red immediately brought to mind the famous Revlon lipstick Cherries in the Snow, which they have continued to make since it came out in 1952. The lipstick and matching nail polish were bestsellers, and probably what your grandmother or great aunt was wearing in those old black and white photos you love. This va-va-voom ad from 1953 with model Dorian Leigh certainly doesn’t require you to read between the lines!

Revlon 1953 ad for Cherries in the Snow
“Who knows the black lace thoughts you think while shopping in a gingham frock?”
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Inspiration board from Terry Dresbach’s blog
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…for a nip slip.

The plunging neckline, however—can we still call it that when it’s nowhere near the neck? The boobline?-—is totally 2016. Obviously this a dress for the bold (although amazingly less NSFW than the King’s mistress OUCHIES) so if you’re doing a cosplay version all I can say is werk werk werk werk werk. Also, don’t lean over 😜

Of course, if you make the Red Dress you can adjust the neckline to suit your comfort level. Just sew up the center front seam until you’ve got a level of décolletage you won’t regret later. If you want to be more modest AND historically accurate, then sew it completely closed and bring on the lace and bling. You could also tone down the boob-tasticness by adding a lace tucker or a chiffon ruffle like Claire’s purple dress, which looks like it was drafted from the same pattern. Hey, we can’t all be former Victoria Secret models like Ms. Balfe! I’ve always been a rectangle in those magazine “what shape are you?” quizzes so I’m forever Team Modest Bosom.

On the historical side this gown has many elements of the Robe de Cour, or “court dress.” Another name for this style of dress is grand habit (“full dress”), but as the fashions of the French court carried to other countries it simply became the dress to be worn in the presence of royalty. In English it was called a stiff-bodied gown. Compare Claire’s dress to these two ruby Robes de Cour worn by royals in the mid-late 18th century.

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Henriette of France, youngest of Louis XV’s twin daughters. Love that she played the viola de gamba!

This gorgeous scarlet red and gold brocade robe de cour is worn by Louis XV’s daughter Henriette, the younger of his twin daughters born in 1727. That date sounded way too early to me, but it turns out Louis XV was married at 15, and “finally” fathered an heir (and a spare) at the ripe old age of 17! So if you do the math, Louis XV has 18 year old daughters AND a 16 year old married son at the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s campaign. Blergh.

Maria Amalia of Habsburg Lorraina Parma
Archduchess Maria Amalia c.1765. One of Empress Maria Theresa’s 11 daughters, and thus older sister to Marie Antoinette.
Cherry Satin Robe de Cour from Gallerie des modes
“Habit de cour de satin cerise” fashion plate from Gallerie des Modes, 1778.

These are both later Robes de Cour, as Maria Amalia was born in 1746 shortly before the Battle of Culloden, and the print is from 1778. However, the dress style has barely changed: same low, off-the-shoulder bodice that laces up the back, layered lace sleeves, ornate stomacher, and petticoat with large panniers. The lace sleeves are detachable, but I’m not sure if they were tacked onto the chemise or the bodice. This cloth-of-gold bodice was worn by Lady Mary Douglas at the coronation of George III. There’s a cool FIDM blog post about how they took to the hospital to be x-rayed and examine all the layers of the only surviving English “stiff-bodied gown” without damaging it. It looks like the strip of ivory silk is where the lace sleeves would have been attached.

Gold robe de cour bodice
Gold robe de cour bodice worn by Lady Mary Douglas, 1761. FIDM Helen Larson Collection.

The court bodice was fully boned, laced up the back, and many also had tabs, so it was basically a bodice-stays hybrid. No stays were worn underneath the robe de cour, so Terry Dresbach took that idea and ran with it.

outlander-lacma-reddress-front
Photos from the Outlander exhibit at the Paley Center via TerryDresbach.com
outlander-lacma-reddress-back
Back lacing with modesty panel, although perhaps a misnomer here…

There are usually bows or ribbon decoration at the elbow, which is interpreted very simply on Claire’s gown. You can see a piped edge along the bodice which is sitting on top of a cartridge-pleated skirt, just like on the Emerald Robe à la Piemontaise. The photo also shows where the center inverted box pleat ends.

Screenshot_2016-04-29-20-31-33-1
Close up on the ribbon detail and the skirt’s accordion pleats.

The hem length is high ankle, and that isn’t really fashionable until the last quarter of the century, and then only for less formal dresses. Even when the empire waist came into fashion, the Robe de Cour skirt still grazes the floor with wide panniers (yeah, it’s not sexy look). But the shorter hem modernizes Claire’s dress and helps set the dress apart in a crowd. Plus, gotta show off your custom shoes! Similar strap-happy heels on the Pinterest board.

Outlander S2 Shoes for the red dress.

In addition the amazing dress, this episode also gave us one of my fave Outlander memes.

In Jamie’s defense, he did give Claire a heads up. “I said I was a virgin, not a monk.” Haha!

Jamie's reaction to Annelise S2e2
AWKWARD

Sad face for pretty Annelise wearing this dull frock so she doesn’t steal the spotlight from Claire. Don’t feel too bad, though because she gets the lovely raspberry caraco and lavender petticoat outfit that we’ll cover next!

How to Make It

I’m going to assume that anyone making this gown, or a historically accurate version, has a pretty fancy party to attend. I haven’t tackled panniers or cartridge pleating yet, but if you’ve made stays or another type of boned bodice before this project is very doable. Practice crab-walking sideways through doors to see if this dress is for you 😉

Claire red dress profile

Type: Original design {Modified Robe de Cour}

HA Rating: 6/10
(It would turn heads, but you wouldn’t be immediately be thrown in gaol as a time-traveling witch like showing up in Forever 21)

Est. Yardage:
Bodice and petticoat: 10- 15 yds (Terry Dresbach said she needed 15 yds, but the American Duchess pattern calls for 8.5 yds)

Materials:
Silk duchesse satin or charmeuse
Self trim or matching satin ribbon and chiffon for neckline edge

Patterns:
The front-runner is definitely the Simplicity x American Duchess pattern, including Bodice, accordion-pleated skirt, and panniers– Simplicity-American Duchess 8411

Undergarments:
Paniers/Side Hoops: Simplicity-American Duchess 8411
Dreamstress Panier-Along tutorial
Stays and a Shift/Chemise aren’t necessary for this dress, but you’ll need a cotton petticoat so the panniers don’t make the skirt look lumpy.

Accessories:

Confidence or a couple glasses of wine or both
Garnet or ruby earrings
Red satin heels (modern or rococo)
Hair piece to help give volume on top and hair powder (to be historically accurate)

 

Up Next: #4, Raspberry Caraco and Lavender Petticoat!

 

Sources:

Helpful posts from the Dreamstress and American Duchess

Patterns of Fashion and other books on the Recommended Reading list

Costumes

Top 7 Looks from Outlander: #2- Emerald Robe á la Piemontaise

Outalnder-starz-claire-green-promo

So excited to talk about #2 of the Top 7 Looks from Outlander S2: Claire’s emerald brocade Robe á la Piemontaise!

When I first saw this promo photo I wanted it soooo badly! If you’ve known me for longer than five minutes that comes as no surprise because green is my favorite color. That gorgeous fabric gives me daydreams of using the rent money on yards of silk. Just kidding! That’s what credit cards are for. Emergencies… very important fancy fabric emergencies. *sigh* Being a responsible adult is no fun.

Outlander Claire green profile
Much pretty. Much arm flailing.

So while I enjoyed the NYC billboards with VIVE LES FRASERS, and I’m presuming 10-foot-tall cleavage, I just wanted to see this dress in action. We had to wait until episode 7 to see it!  Unlike #1, the 1740’s Dior Suit, this is a true 18th century style. However, the Robe á la Piemontaise was not fashionable until the late 1770’s to 1780’s so it’s about 40 years early. Back in January I joined in on the #GeorgianJanuary Instagram theme month, and mistakenly called this gown a Robe á la Française. I simply hadn’t read as much at that point and didn’t notice the difference from francaises. Also called sacque or sack-back dresses, these gowns both have pleated fabric across the shoulders that look almost identical from the back.

I don’t speak French, but it’s safe to say that if I can figure out robe à la Française means French dress, you probably did as well 😉 So what’s a Robe à la Piemontaise? According to Google Translate it’s “dress with piemontaise,” which makes it sound like it comes with a sauce on the side. *eye roll*

I still remember un po’ italiano, and recognized the Italian term “Piemontese,” as in cucina piemontese. Piemonte is Italy’s Piedmont region in the north along the Alps, as the name comes from “foot of the mountain” (piede + montagna). The capital of the region is Turin, which I got to visit very briefly back when I did study abroad. A Wikipedia rabbit hole led me to Clotilde, sister of Louis XVI and later Queen of Sardinia. She was a devout Catholic and wanted to become a nun, but a royal marriage is simply too valuable politically to be wasted. The King, her brother, arranged for her to marry Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Pièmont when Clotilde was just 16 years old. Her sister-in-law Marie Antoinette writes of her younger sister Èlisabeth being very upset over her sister leaving France, but apparently there was no love lost between the congenial-yet-conservative Clotilde and her fashionable SIL. The official marriage, after a proxy one in Versailles, took place in Turin in 1775—right around the time this dress was briefly fashionable! Unfortunately I couldn’t find any direct references to this dress style possibly being named after the new Princess of Piemonte or an Italian import, and it will take more time to look for primary sources.

Let’s compare these sack-back dresses, which look very similar at first glance.

Cream silk gown of Spanish origin from San Telmo Museoa, a museum dedicated to Basque culture. Likely 1770-85.

Green imperial brocade Robe á la Française of French origin from The Met, NYC. Likely 1750-75.

However, the profile tells a different story!

You can see that the gown on the left has detached pleats and the green one on the right has pleats that are one piece (back and skirt). So now we know the cream gown is a piemontaise, and confirmed that the green brocade is indeed a francaise. You can’t see the wall behind the dress in the profile view of a francaise. (Sorry, going to get lazy with proper terms.)

Those pleats were often used as an opportunity to show off some nice pattern matching like these two:

Claire’s piemontaise has this as well, but her pleats are wider. This could also be for visual balance since Caitriona Balfe is 5’10”, but it’s very likely that this dress was actually meant to be a francaise before the production team lost their cutters (more on this in the great Frock Flicks interview with Terry Dresbach).
outlander s2ep7 screencap
Very wide, cape-like pleats. Also, squinty-disdainful royals.
Although the francaise and the piemontaise look like dresses with a long train attached to the neckline, both are constructed from a long length of fabric with a complicated draping so that the skirt and the train are one piece. Keeping in mind how valuable fabric was during this time period, this technique makes perfect sense because you can easily remake the gown if fashion or your body changes. You still have yards of uncut fabric. Garments were given as gifts or inherited, and altered to suit the new owner. This is why you might see a museum item with a description like “Spitalfields silk c1720-30, dress altered 1750-1760” where the textile can be dated decades before the style of the garment, with old seams or pin holes as evidence of a re-fashioning.
Here’s what it looks like on the inside!
AugustaAuctions-shrimp-interior
Look at this crazy mix of lining fabrics!

The back can be fitted with the CB ties, and you can see the reinforced fabric and stitches where the pleats are attached. This is a museum deaccession from the Brooklyn Museum that was sold by Augusta Auctions.

Damask or Brocade or Jacquard?

Since I don’t have much on the provenance of the dress, I wanted to delve into the textiles and the confusing intermingling of damask/brocade/jacquard. Shopping online you might see descriptions like this one from Mood: “British Amethyst Damask Satin-Faced Jacquard.” What the heck does that even mean?!

Let’s look back to see where this word salad came from.

French jacquard loom
Jacquard loom with punchcards from Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, via techniques-patterns.com.

Silk fabric production came to Europe from China, and by the Renaissance we can see evidence of complicated woven fabrics in paintings and frescoes. For example, “The Birth of Mary” by Ghirlandaio, which is in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The fabric pattern on the noblewoman in the middle is very beautiful in person, and the detail is impressive even five centuries later.

Birth_of_St_Mary_in_Santa_Maria_Novella_in_Firenze_by_Domenico_Ghirlandaio
Zoom in on the gilt fabric. Image via WikiCommons

Brocade comes from the Italian wood brocatto originating from the past tense of broccare, which my dictionary give as “to brocade” but the older usage apparently meant “to stud with nails.” Brocco means stick or thorn in modern Italian, and broccoli means “tiny nails” so you can see the etymology. Brocade patterns required great skill and a lot of time; it would take weeks just to prepare the loom with up to 40 different thread colors, and then months of weaving it with the help of a draw boy standing overhead.

The name “jacquard” given to fabric refers to fabrics made on the Jacquard loom, invented in 1804 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard. His loom used punch cards to help create the design, meaning that a less-skilled worker could make a beautiful fabric much faster. A Jacquard loom can make various kinds of weaves including damask, brocatelle, brocade, and matelasse. So you could say that all of these are jacquard fabrics, but the way it’s most often used now is to describe a lighter-weight damask or brocade, with brocade calling to mind a heavier, stiff fabric. The Dreamstress blog goes into more depth and I really recommend it if you’re curious to know more.

I browsed the NYC garment district for some examples:

Damask: A reversible floral or ornamental design often in one color (flat and satin) or two (design and solid ground).

Brocade: Various designs, but gives a raised embroidered look. It is not reversible–wrong side of fabric will usually be striped.

IMG_8453
Typical striped reverse showing the different thread colors.

This was tagged as a “double-faced brocade” and you can see that this one has been woven to be reversible.

Imperial brocade: A type of brocade with metallic threads

IMG_8446
A nice shade of green, but obviously intended for a priest’s vestments!

Compare with this embroidered satin–see how there’s no visible weave or loose threads on the reverse?

IMG_8459

I came up with a little jingle to help me remember.

Flip it, mirrored- damask!
Flip it, striped- brocade!
Flip it, hairy-  discontinuous brocade!

Okay, that last one needs work, but maybe it will help you 😉

 How to Make It

We’ve gone over how a Piemontaise differs from the Francaise, the most popular formal gown for the latter three-quarters of the 18th century. But looking more closely at Claire’s version, I’m certain it’s actually a bodice over a cartridge-pleated skirt—just like the Red Dress.

Claire Fraser promo photo green brocade dress

There should be a petticoat underneath the open skirt of the gown like the extant dresses above. The large box pleat at the center of the skirt allows the bodice tabs to lie flat, and also mimics the look of gown-over-petticoat.

Green-brocade-OutlanderCostume-twitter
Terry’s a big fan of cartridge pleating, which looks gorgeous and gives a lot of volume. Georgian gowns have the skirt knife-pleated to the bodice.
claire-emerald-damask-byfireplace
Definitely looks like a single skirt here

 

Type: Robe à la Piemontaise

HA Rating: 9/10

Materials:
Silk damask or brocade, also blue/green changeable taffeta
Hook and eye closures (front)
Boning (along center front)

Est. Yardage:
Gown with matching petticoat: 10-12 yds
Satin fabric or ribbon for ruching trim (plus lining, lacing for lining back, etc.)

Patterns:
JP Ryan Robe à la Française/ Pet en l’air
Reconstructing History Robe à la Française
Robe a la Piemontaise tutorial by The Fashionable Past (with layout from Danish museum)

Robe a la Francaise overview by Couture Mayah
Mill Farm Robe a la Française
Overskirt/Petticoat – Simplicity-American Duchess 8411

Undergarments (to be used for all costumes)
Paniers/Side Hoops: Simplicity-American Duchess 8411, Dreamstress Panier-Along tutorial
Stays: Recommend strapless stays with this neckline. See Corsets and Crinolines (Diderot and half-boned stays), Butterick B4254 (View A or B), Simplicity 8162, or Reconstructing History
Shift/Chemise: Self-drafted or Simplicity 8162

Accessories:
Poison-detecting necklace (optional)
Drop earrings
Silk stockings with ribbon garters
Green satin 18th century repro shoes (Modern heels like these would fun if you’d like to look more like a time-traveler 😉 )

Back to fabrics—
If you’ve ever tried to find brocades or damasks that don’t look like they should be on a couch or a Halloween costume, you’re already well aware of how frustrating period fabric shopping can be. The lack of appropriate prints makes looking for a specific color like this beautiful deep green practically impossible. Months ago I found a perfect silk brocade for this project at a famous NYC fabric store… for the low low price of $79.95 a yard!
I would plan on budgeting for 10 yards, and for solid and jacquard silks you can expect to see $20-65 a yard. Beauties like this silk masterpiece can set you back $155/yard.
French cream silk brocade
This sample has been swatched so you can see the reverse.
This is assuming that you already have all the necessary undergarments and don’t need fabric for those as well. So yes, historical costuming can be an expensive hobby! In fact, the high cost of these textiles is why the Outlander costume department hand-painted and embroidered fabrics to extend their budget. Polyester is more forgiving for actual wear and your wallet (I would not want to see a dry-cleaning bill for this gown!), but the drawback is the choice of colors. The chemical dyes used can give vibrant colors than don’t fade, but the colors available are too garish to be HA. Affordable fabrics in natural colors are much harder to find, but make the difference between looking like you stepped out of a Watteau painting or got lost from the set of Amadeus. (GREAT movie, terrible costumes.)

Up Next: #3, The Red Dress!

 

Sources

Stills: Starz, Screencaps: Outlander-Online.com
The Silk Industry in Spitalfields
Britannica Online
Patterns of Fashion and other books on the Recommended Reading list

 

[Edited 8/30/17: Reading list missing link]

Costumes

Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2

Droughtlander home stretch people!

Outlander fans got a wee dram to hold them until the Season 3 premiere with a panel at San Diego ComicCon, plus plenty of adorableness from the cast and Diana all over Instagram and various interviews. Spoiler alert: Sam and Cait are still hot, and doing that whole “we’re-not-an-item-but-we’re-going-flirt-and-touch-each-other-for-the-fans” thing 😛 Also, Tobias got to talk sometimes lol. SDCC was followed by Costume College —why are all the fun things so far away? Would love to one day be able justify a flight to California for a weekend of sewing and costuming classes!

But until then, I’m going to keep sewing and share my top 7 gowns from S2 to get us through! Season 3 premieres September 10th, and then in October I’ll be at NYCC so this fall is going to be fun. I’m going to breakdown the look for you by looking at what type of gown it is, how historically accurate it is (and if not, how to make it accurate), and suggested patterns and fabric to make it for yourself! Plus, each look will have it’s own Pinterest board for source images, extant garments, and inspiration.

Continue reading “Top 7 Looks from Outlander Season 2”

Costumes

Red Dress Controversy

outalnder-reddress

If you have also been eagerly awaiting the new American DuchessxSimplicity pattern, then you’re probably already aware of the dust-up over this new release. But just in case you’re not, let me back up a bit. About a year ago Lauren and Abby of American Duchess announced that Simplicity has asked them do another pattern for their Outlander cosplay series. I should note the pattern is not licensed and does not name the show, but it’s clear Simplicity is aiming for this audience. They shared a few photos of the work in progress (spiders, insane pleating, etc.) and made clear that they viewed Terry Dresbach’s creation as “an original piece of haute couture” and would not be copying the design, but using the dress as inspiration in combination with historical garments, namely the Robe de Cour.

simplicity-outlander-costume-pattern-8411-envelope-front
The original sewing pattern cover that was pulled from stores.

The Robe de Cour, also called a grand habit or grand habit de cour was to be worn in court (the kind with royals, not lawyers) and had several unique design elements that differed from other dresses of the same time, including: fully boned, separate bodice with laced back, wide or puffy lace sleeves, a low scooped or off-the-shoulder neckline, and sometimes tabs similar to stays. These elements are very clear in this portrait; see the tiny tabs at the bottom point of the bodice?

Portrait of Lady Frances Montagu
Portrait of Lady Frances Montagu ca. 1734 Charles Jervas

 

robedecour-green
A fashion plate showing a robe de cour towards the end of 1700’s.

To myself, and many, many Outlander and costuming fans, the news of the pattern’s release was exciting, but not a surprise. Apparently, not so for Terry Dresbach. She made several comments on social media, partially removed her blog, and then shut it down completely. Ooof.

In her mind, the pattern is an attempt to make money off of her original design without her permission or compensation. Truth be told, capitalizing on trends and pop culture is the aim of the big pattern companies, but to me it’s clear it was not the intention of the designers. They did not make a carbon copy of her design, and sought to draw from historical styles while still giving fans (and Simplicity) what they wanted. When Lord of the Rings came out there were lots of vaguely medieval, Elvish patterns (and yes, high school me did ask my mom to make me one for Renn Fest!). When Pirates of the Caribbean was big there were tons of sexy pirate, corset-type costumes. When Game of Thrones blew everyone’s minds… you guessed it, Westeros now at a Joann’s near you.

simplicity-costumes-pattern-1008-envelope-front
Uh “cousin of dragons”?

I think it’s certainly any artist’s right to protect his or her original designs, but Terry’s reaction also stems from her frustration with the larger problem within the industry of costume designers not receiving any royalties from their designs. (She had written about this issue on her blog at one point, but can’t link back anymore since the blog is gone.) I have to admit her post was the first time I’d ever considered the thousands of branded Indiana Jones Halloween costumes or the knock-offs-trying-to-avoid-being-sued with names like “Lady Cat Villain” that will continue to make money for the studio or merchandiser—without the designer who created the iconic image ever seeing a cent. This is so entrenched in the entertainment industry it would take a huge boycott, similar to the writer’s strike that crippled Hollywood a few years ago, to have any impact.

Is the pattern inspired by Outlander? Absolutely—but I wish that Terry had realized that these are historians and experienced dressmakers that DID NOT need her blog to figure out how make a court dress. Imitations of a gown that fans of the books have envisioned and dreamed about for over a decade were inevitable, no matter what it looked like. But her vision for Claire’s Versailles red dress is destined to be as iconic as the gowns of Hollywood leading ladies, and in my opinion only topped by her genius 1740’s meets 1940’s Dior Bar Suit mashup. But whereas both of those creations are a step out of time—befitting a time-traveler—the Simplicity pattern is based on extant dresses and fashions. The original pattern, now pulled from shelves, makes the connection more obvious with the sample’s rich scarlet satin. The replacement was altered to a fakey Photoshopped blue and my last check on the website showed a teal color.

It’s a real loss that Terry’s blog is offline indefinitely because casual fans and historical costumers alike could see the incredible amount of work that went into each costume, plus get close-up photos and sometimes design or process elements of a garment that may have been in the background, or only on screen for a few seconds. Maybe we can start a petition to bring it back for season 3? We know there’s another wedding dress coming and so many different characters to introduce and various new locations—really want to see how they tackled a whole new set of problems!