18th Century

Robe a la Uh-Oh

First of all, thank you to everyone for your kind words in response to Friday’s post.  I wanted to respond to them individually, but have been having trouble with this site’s server being down, so haven’t been able to.  We really are fine, everyone is fine, just stressed and worried.  We’re still so lucky compared to Christchurch (even after only the 2010 quake) because Wellington was built to be earthquake safe, and there has been so little damage that life can go on.  You can go to museums, the theatre, an offbeat movie, cafes and restaurants, cute shops, to just escape for a bit.  So much of that got destroyed in Christchurch that friends in the city told me it was really hard to have a normal life around the quakes, and to get any relief from the after-effects.  I just needed to release a little tension, and then I could go on.  One blog post and I’m fixed.  What a privilege.  My heart goes out to the small town of Seddon right now, where the quake was centred.  They have much more damage.  As Karen said, kia kaha (stand strong).


This fortnight’s challenge in the Historical Sew Fortnightly is Robes and Robings.  

I picked the theme.  I set the date.  I picked it in part because I thought it was interesting to watch how the basic robe shape has been interpreted and used over centuries, and because it amuses me (in a peculiarly intellectual way) that ‘robe’ is used as a generic term for ‘gown’ in French, in the same way that ‘kimono’ literally means ‘thing to wear’ in Japanese (more or less, in both cases, as much as you can explain in one sentence).  I also picked it because making a ca. 1760 robe  Ã   la française  has been on my to-do list for over two years, and the fabric has been sitting there for that long too.

So I planned for this challenge months in advance, got my petticoat done for an earlier challenge, and had this idea that I’d do lighter projects for the challenges before it, so I could be working on the Robe in the run-up to this one.

Yeah.  That totally didn’t happen.  Somehow all my other challenges always took too long, I always had too much to do, I took on commissions (even though I’m not technically taking commissions) because previous clients who I loved working with asked me too, and their projects sounded so interesting (I’m a sucker for a pretty idea).  And when I hurt my back I couldn’t put on stays to do a fitting of the lining, putting the whole project on hold.

So it’s almost a week into the fortnight, and I’ve done barely anything.  And it’s supposed to be a completely hand-sewn robe  Ã   la française.  Ergh.

On Friday I had a bit of a panic, and an assessment of what the heck I was going to do.  Work on the  robe  Ã   la française,  knowing I haven’t a hope of getting it done on time?  Try to whip up a Regency evening robe, because its a bit more do-able in a week?  Come up with some ’20s or ’30s kimono inspired robe, which would only take me a day?  Pull-apart and re-do the 1900 tea gown, which needs it?  Try to scramble up some other project?

Ultimately, I decided to do the  robe  Ã   la française,  because it’s what really needs doing, and it will just be another UFO if I don’t.  Better late than a UFO or an unnecessary!

So, on Friday eve, after things had finally settled down from the quake, and while Mr D was out checking on his brothers, I gritted my teeth and took some painkillers and laced myself into my commercial stays.  The are the only ones I can get into on my own because, being hugely inaccurate in many ways, they have a front busk.  They are also horridly un-comfortable.  Properly fitted stays are a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Still, inaccurate busk aside, the stays give me a reasonably accurate enough shape to fit a  française  lining that I had drafted a week earlier over:

ca. 1760 Robe a la Francaise toile thedreamstress.com

And this is what I look like without any makeup.  

Oooh I’m good!  Look at that!  Not a wrinkle!  (except the ones cause by a crappy pin job, and the cords from my stays wrapped around my waist etc.

ca. 1760 Robe a la Francaise toile thedreamstress.com

Weird bump on back being cause by poorly laced stays, not me or the toile.  

I’m going to widen the neckline/narrow the straps a teeny bit, which will also allow me to make the stomacher area a little more of a wide V, instead of being so skinny at the top.  Otherwise I’m good to go.

So…what’s my best case scenario for getting this done?

Saturday: Hand sew lining, work lacing holes for lining back (done!)

Sunday: Pleat on back pleats, and sew them down.

Monday: Sew skirt side seams

Tuesday: Drape and cut front, sewing robings and front fixings

Wednesday: pleat side-pleats, sew side-seams in place.

Thursday: Lots and lots and lots (and lots) of hemming

Friday: Drape and fit sleeves

Saturday: Sew sleeves

Sunday: Set sleeves to body

Monday: Make stomacher and trim, sew on all trim (yeah right).

OK, so it’s not going to get done, done, because the trim is at least a week’s work.  But maybe, if I’m very lucky and industrious I can get the basic body of the robe constructed in just over a week.  The trim won’t be done, but if everything else is, I’ll be darn pleased with myself.

Of course, I also have to finish a commission, teach 4 sewing classes, give 6 hours of lectures, start marking exams and papers, teach children’s classes, have a life, kiss Mr D, cuddle Fiss & not kill myself.

We’ll see how this goes…


  1. And I thought I had a busy life – givingup whinging about it now!!! Good luck in completing your list.

  2. Heh, I hear you on the “busy” and things taking too long (am waaay behind on updating my blog) – but, wow, that’s quite a load you have…! But you can do it!! 😀 And it’ll look lovely, even untrimmed.

    Same boat here in starting the robe challenge late (Thursday night; and on a hand-sewn française myself to boot).

Comments are closed.