Admire, Sewing

The 1660s Ninon gown – now with trimmings!

I’ve held off on trimming the Ninon gown for literally years, because I loved it so much untrimmed, and have been afraid I wouldn’t like it as much trimmed.

But I’ve finally sucked it up and done it, and (luckily!) I love it even more with trimming!

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com5

For trimming  inspiration I wavered between the Beaubrun portrait that had been my primary inspiration throughout the making of the dress:

Élisabeth (Isabelle) d'Orleans, Duchess of Guise by Beaubrun, 1670

Élisabeth (Isabelle) d’Orleans, Duchess of Guise by Beaubrun, 1670

And the van der Helst portrait of a couple, which appealed to me because of the simplicity of the trimmings (I know that a gazillion bows going up the front of your bodice doesn’t seem simple, but it’s really such a basic trim):

Portrait of a couple, 1661, Bartholomeus van der Helst

Portrait of a couple, 1661, Bartholomeus van der Helst

Walking couple (detail), 1660-61, Bartholomeus van der Helst

Walking couple (detail), 1660-61, Bartholomeus van der Helst

At first I leaned toward the ribbon for simplicity.  I’ve got some rather nice quality viscose ribbon that is a good match for the ribbons on van der Helst’s woman in colour, width and texture.  I made a bunch of bows from them  and pinned them up the front, and while they looked lovely, the were a little too obvious.

So I had a serious rummage in the trim stash to see if I could find anything that evoked the look of Élisabeth’s dress.  Her trim seems to be mostly jewels (because hey, if you are the richest woman in France, you might as well flaunt it), but I could use it as a guidelines to overall aesthetic.  I’d purchased some modern gold metal lace that was specifically intended for this gown a while back, but the bright  gold clashed with the yellow, and the lace was just too coarse for the quality of the silk.  Sigh.  Modern workmanship…

And then I found this passementerie:

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com3


This trim mostly came off of a large doily/table cloth type thing from the 1970s.  It had a red velveteen back and a brocade front, and the trim sewn round the edges.  I’ve seen similar smaller doilies in the exact same materials at op shops over the years, so it must have been a ‘thing’.  I haven’t picked up the smaller ones because the price didn’t match the amount of trim I’d get off of them (and at the time I wasn’t buying it for a purpose), and unpicking the trim was a headache and a half.  In retrospect,  I wish I had!

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com2

Look how beautiful the trim looks turned and sewn back up down the front?  I had almost  EXACTLY  enough to trim the dress down the front and around the neckline, with less than 3″ of trim left over.

1660s Ninon at a Bastille Day Ball thedreamstress.com1

I really like the way the trim provides quite a strong contrast to the yellow,  while still being quite subtle.

To glitz it up a bit more, and to further evoke the jewels of  Ã‰lisabeth’s gown, and because I love pearls and basically think you can never have too many, I sewed faux pearls around the neckline:

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com6

The pearls are courtesy of the ever wonderful Lynne, who gave me a whole jewellery box full of them.  I may go back and sew more between each pearl around the neckline, and maybe some down the front as well…

For the sleeves, I got creative.

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com7

The yellow ribbon is a nice viscose grosgrain, and the gold lace trim is (believe it or not) the selvedges from some scraps of reasonable quality gold-lace fabric that I picked up in a bulk bag of fabric from an op-shop, and kept, just in case they could be useful.

Inspired by Élisabeth’s sleeve’s, I  formed the ribbons and lace into loops, and sewed them on to a length of ribbon, which I then sewed around the sleeve cuffs.  I love how they just peek out from the fullness of the sleeve.

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com4

I was afraid they would be very overpowering, but actually, they are quite subtle.  In retrospect I wish I’d included blue ribbons too, just like  Ã‰lisabeth’s, so they are a little less subtle.  Someday I may unpick and re-do.

I’m also on the lookout for more of the passementerie trim, so that I can sew the curved seams of the bodice front (though they aren’t entirely necessary, as there are plenty of examples without them.

But for now, a fully trimmed Ninon!

1660s Ninon at a Bastille Day Ball thedreamstress.com3

And, just in case anyone is wondering, the mask is a simple full-face paper mask, cut down to follow the simple curved shapes of the masks seen in 17th & 18th c masquerade portraits (though theirs had a lot less face shaping), and painted a dark purple-black, which I was delighted to discover is Resene ‘Bastille.’  How appropriate!

1660s Ninon bodice thedreamstress.com1


1660s Ninon at a Bastille Day Ball thedreamstress.com2



  1. Lynne says

    I love it!

    When you were asking for choices on the trim, I was one of the blue bows’ supporters, but I am converted. And I do hope you do find enough trim (I remember that stuff! Often came on red or green velvet runner/doily things, yes?) to do the curves. Not that it is essential, just that it looks so good on the inspiration portrait. Is there a fine enough gauze available to do the little shawl round the top edge effect? It could be wonderful. Allowing your pearls to glimmer through. There could be even more pearls on the black trim, too. I may have more pearls…

    The sleeves are perfect. Just perfect. Maybe with a tiny cluster of pearls here and there. You know – those ‘one pearl in the middle, seven or so framing it’ clusters.

    It suits you so well. The colour is a joy, the style is perfect on you.

    Happy sigh!

    • Lynne says

      And how felicitous about Resene ‘Bastille’!

    • Yay! I’m so pleased you do! And that you are converted 😉 The blue bows were very good, but this was PERFECT.

      I thought you might remember the trim and the runners it came on. I need to put the word out so people can keep an eye out for it, as it was definitely a ‘thing’!

      I’ve got a bit of silk for the shawl, but it didn’t look right for the masquerade costume. And it needs just the right brooch to pin it on 😉

      I’ve got oodles more of your pearls, so can definitely just keep embellishing. 😀

  2. Just glorious! The simplicity of the trimmings lets the whole gown ‘sing’. As much as I liked the idea of navy bows at CF I love what you have done (I think I liked the idea of yellow and navy more so than the ideas of bows). I’m so jelly, I wish I had reasons to create such gorgeous gowns, I can’t find any opportunities here in Australia! I’ll keep looking though!

    • Thank you! It did look beautiful with the yellow and navy, but not right. Another gown perhaps. I have lots of yellow in-stash 😉

      There are so few opportunities for this here in Wellington – it’s not like Europe in the US, but I make them happen anyway. You just need a couple of friends willing to be crazy with you! 😀

  3. Sue Miller says

    It is delightful. Love the colour and the trims work well.

  4. Oh, I think I’ve never seen the back of the bodice properly! And I love it! The sleeves are delightful, the lacing is superb. The pearls are a perfect finishing touch (and yes, more might be more in this case…)

    • Thank you! I guess I haven’t posted many back views! And it’s cool to see it on a mannequin because you can see the tabbing.

      I shall think you about more pearls 😉

      • I think it also may have been the fact that part of the back would have been covered by hair in the photos where you were wearing it!

        I think I have a bit of a thing for pearls, too. They tend to be the most tasteful “jewel”.

  5. Marilyn J. Hollman says

    The color and the trim and the workmanship are all wonderful. What fun!
    You know, I imagine it in white — for a contemporary deb, or even a wedding. Here in the US they are usually “muder” these days, but this might give some young women a really distinctive look.

    • D’awww, thank you!

      I imagine what a lot of my dresses would look like in white for a deb or wedding. Not that a wedding dress has to be white these days! I would totally wear this in white if I were getting married again though!

      What is ‘muder’? That’s a slang I don’t recognise.

  6. Superb work! The trims look great with the yellow fabric and the pearls add the perfect finishing touch!

  7. Lyn Swan says

    What joy! The gown is beautiful and the trim ads contrast and “punch”. I would love to see it with the blue bows…would be a very different but equally lovely look. I do love the pearls. You are just stunning!

  8. Mini Robson says

    I can’t begin to describe how much I admire this dress. Remember to put this post in the dress’ portfolio file, so that people can find it more easily, please.

  9. It did look lovely without trim, but this trim really brings it to life as a 17th century gown. The passementerie with the pearls is absolutely perfect, and the bows on the sleeves are beautiful. I quite like that they are subtle.

    If I see any of those doileys with the passementerie I’ll be sure to pick them up for you. They sound absolutely hideous.

    • Thank you! I do think the trim really makes it! I’m so glad I braved up and did it!

      And thank you for keeping an eye out for the doilies! They certainly aren’t to modern taste, but the trim is nice 😉

  10. So there is the justification for hoarding! You never know when you might need that bit of selvage you cut off in 1978. Beautiful gown looking even more with the added trim.

    • Yes indeed! I try not to carry it to extremes, but sometimes I’m glad for the ‘keep everything’ tendencies I picked up from my frugal farmer parents 😉

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