Tag Archives: 17th century

New Year’s Eve Completion: The Versailles Dress

31 Dec

Dear reader, I finished it.

It’s taken 7 months, goodness knows how many hours and lots of planning, but my 17th century confection is finally done 🙂

I’ll try to break down the process in this post, and there’s the token terrible picture at the end, but this time on purpose. The photo is shot at night time, in a badly lit room, into a mirror on a phone camera to make sure that the real ‘big reveal’ happens at the appropriate time. You’ll have to wait until April/May time for that.

*Advance warning: this post will be hyperlink heavy, so that I don’t have to bog it down with too many pictures :)*

I’ve discussed in a previous post why I decided on the 17th century in the first place, and I think much of the reason comes down to how overlooked it is within the costuming circuit. It’s very easy to bring up pages and pages of information on recreating garments from the Renaissance, or the 18th century, but the 17th century, which is full of amazing people and events is seriously undervalued.

There’s also the aesthetic of the period. It ranges from starchy black and white Puritanism through to full on spaniel curls and high heels for men – perhaps these differences make it more difficult to classify visually than, say, the Victorian era, or the Regency. No matter. As far as I’m concerned, it’s awesome.

This project began over the summer while I was working away from home at an internship. I would spend the days writing reports on town centre management and social problems and come home to some costuming frippery. The two balanced one another out, and it worked well.

After much searching for a pattern (there is no way I was going to draft that bodice on my own), I came across Nehelenia Patterns’ Baroque Dress pattern, and the rest is history. I read and re-read the pattern envelope and instructions about 20 times before plucking up the courage to cut out my muslin – it’s worth being a little obsessive about a new project in the early stages – and then spent the next week taking in the shoulders a millimetre at a time until I was satisfied that the top of the dress wasn’t going ANYWHERE.

I waited for a Saturday morning to cut out my taffeta for the bodice, because I wanted the entire weekend to be able to sit and fiddle with it, uninterrupted. I don’t usually buy fabric over the internet, particularly not in such huge quantities (I ended up with about 7m for this one, just in case something went wrong), but when my fabric arrived, I was over the moon. Thank you, Nortex Mill – you have now been recommended 🙂

I boned and covered the bodice within the next week, and the sleeves and gold braid only took a few days to add. The chemise was also whipped up in double quick time. This is all part of the sewing honeymoon period, where the new project occupies your entire existence for a 3 week period, before you run out of steam. In my case, this was exacerbated by my internship coming to an end, moving back home and facing the realities of the job market. It wasn’t that I lost interest. Making the dress for its own sake just wasn’t enough of a motivation any more. 

The motivation returned with a vengeance when I was haphazardly Googling one evening (as one does), and found a masquerade ball that would not only accommodate this dress of nonsense, but also happened to be taking place on my birthday. Could there be a more amazing birthday party??  The game was back on.

As an extra bit of good fortune, my Pompadours arrived from American Duchess. Dear lord, they are BEAUTIFUL.

I’m really pushing the accuracy limit with the Pomp-Baroque combo, but whatever.

I made some rosettes for the front from the same fabric as my dress, and attached some clips to the back so that they cover up the laces, and hopefully rein the time period in a wee bit (but I’m not going to argue with such gorgeous shoes).


The shoes were the part that was really needed for everything else to come together. I couldn’t hem anything until they arrived, so I’d put off skirt and petticoat construction until they did. 

The skirt and petticoat are just two long rectangles pleated until they reached a few inches over my waist measurement (to make sure they overlap at the back), and a waistband attached. I found this tutorial really helpful when I was trying to work out what to do.

When I put the last stitch in the overskirt hem last night, I could have cried with joy. It’s been a long road, but we’re finally there. And then I had a dress up and mincing session, with the whole shebang on for the first time. Ringlets, jewellery, shoes, the lot. Here is the outcome, complete with historically accurate phone.



It’s not often I feel particularly out of the ordinary in clothes, but last night I was ready to take on the world. This has been in the planning for such a long time, and it’s finally finished. 

(I think the ringlets look really good – I just caught my hair back in a ponytail,  left a layer on the top loose, pinned the ringlets in and then covered the kirbie grips with my own hair. I’m still amazed how close the colour is. I still need to mess about with placement, how many ringlets I want to have and I what I do with the back of my hair, but I’ve got LOTS OF TIME 🙂 ).

So all that remains is to say thank you to everyone who has stuck through the long gaps in posting, who has read, liked or commented, or who has found inspiration in any of these little witterings over the last year. It’s been a bit of a journey, and has made me realise that I need a lot more self discipline. But the process of having to get thoughts and abstract ideas down on paper has also been therapeutic, and a good lesson in how to communicate with other people. I hope that I gain some focus in the New Year.

I hope that 2012 has been full of good things for you, and that 2013 will be even better.

Happy Hogmany everyone!

The One with The Amazing Woman Talents.



To make up for the photo-light How To, here’s the bodice so far. I’m a little in love with the sleeves…

3 Jul

To make up for the photo-light How To, here's the bodice so far. I'm a little in love with the sleeves...

AWT How To: Fudge a Chemise

3 Jul

Hello again!

Before I go any further, I’d just like to point out that I’m not going for anything like perfect historical accuracy with this dress, or its accompanying parts. I’ll be machine sewing nearly everything, using cheaper versions of fabric, and the final aesthetics will probably be a mish-mash of things I like from a 20-25 year period. So historical devotees, look away now. I’m more interested in how one goes about constructing a dress like this, and so I don’t think the large dose of Versailles-fuelled fantasy is a bad thing at all.

My list of tools reads something like this:

Sewing machine

White polycotton (it was all I could get.  Fabric shops are a bit thin on the ground in Fife)

White thread


Measuring tape


A spare pair of hands is desirable, but not essential

Step 1: Establish your size

This is a bit free and easy in my case. I decided to cut my cotton 46 inches long, and just let it be as wide as it was off the bolt. Very scientific, I know. I figured that I can always take the hem up, but it’s more difficult to add the fabric back on again.

Step 2: Get your ghost on

Make like a child in a Halloween costume and cut a hole for your head. To do this, I folded my fabric in half lengthways and widthways, and marked where they crossed over. I then cut enough of a hole to stick my head through.


Now that I was ‘in’ the chemise, I marked out my neckline with pins, got back out of the chemise-ghost-sack, folded the chemise in half, and cut out along the line marked with pins. I tried this back on, and marked where the ‘shoulders’ should be. What I actually mean by this is ‘where the sleeves will join on’…because the chemise will be off the shoulder.

Cut a ‘v’ shape into the middle of the front neckline so that you have extra moving space. This is also a reference to the v-shaped necklines you sometimes see slipping over the top of dresses in portraits of the period.

Looking like a primary school child in a tabard, it’s time to get stuck into the gores.

Step 3: Getting gorey

Terrible pun. I’m so sorry.

My fabric wasn’t quite wide enough to meet comfortably width-ways (or I’m too wide to comfortably fit into it), so I had to find a way of adding width. Pre-19th century shifts often had gores, large triangles of fabric running along the sides to give lunge-space and bulk to the chemise, and most importantly, I had enough fabric to let me sick some gores into my chemise sides. To make mine, I cut a rectangle in half diagonally, and then sewed the triangles together along the straight side (the middle of the completed, larger gore).  This is then insterted from under the sleeve (thin end of the triangle) to the hem of the chemise (fat end of the triangle), and provided the much-needed breathing space.

Step 4: The ridiculous sleeves

My aim with the sleeves was to cut them as wide as I could without looking like a tube/them not fitting through the armscyes on my finished dress. These were just rectangles slightly longer than my arms, and probably about 3 arms wide. To be honest, I just cut out a rectangle, pinned it in half and stuck my arm through it. It was working for me, so I cut another one, and ended up with sleeves.

I ran a gathering thread through the top of my sleeves, to give them a bit of poof under the dress. This also let me bring them down to the same size as the armscye they needed to fit into. I worked most of the gathers to the top of the sleeve, and sewed them in to the chemise.

Step 5: Beautification and Baroque-ification

Now that you have a thing that might look quite like a shift if you squint at it, you need to hem the beast. I just turned all my raw edges under twice and then stitched them down…with a sewing machine. I TOLD you I wasn’t claiming historical slavery to this project :P.

Run a strip of bias binding around the inside edge of the neck, and then cover the stitches on the outside with some lacy stuff of your choice. (Since it’s your choice, you can choose not to go lacy. But whatever). Thread ribbon or cotton tape through the bias binding, and now you can adjust your neckline to fit under your dress.

If you decide to, put some lace round the sleeves as well to take the frippery to the next level.

I was going to leave you with a photo of me in the chemise…but it’s a bit indecent, and Maisie is on the other side of Scotland at the moment, so she can’t help me out right now.

This chemise is probably quite far up the scale of historical blasphemy, but I really don’t care.

For one thing, it goes UNDER the dress. Nobody.Is.Going.To.See.It.

I know that if I had the time and the resources, I could dedicate more of my effort towards research. I live in the real world, however, and know that I’m never going to make a living from my little creations, or pursue this as anything other than a hobby. I’m learning all the time from reading the blogs and research of other sewing fanatics, and I can aspire to these same levels of greatness, even if I don’t always reach them.

I make because I love the creative process, and taking fabric in its raw form and turning it into something that is (hopefully) quite beautiful.  I love the feeling of putting on an item of clothing and feeling it change how you stand: backs straighten, arms feel the need to bend gracefully at the elbow, and necks somehow lengthen. It’s escapism, and I don’t think that escapism in any form is a bad thing. This dress is my greatest escape to date.

Further reading from people who know better than I do:

Isis’ Wardrobe: http://isiswardrobe.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/17th-century-smock.html

Marquise.de: http://www.marquise.de/en/1700/howto/frauen/18chemise.shtml

The Dreamstress: http://thedreamstress.com/2011/07/a-simple-shift-for-ninon/

Why the 17th Century?

2 Jul

Questions that people ask me quite a lot when we get chatting about my interest in historical dress are “Why? When are you going to wear it? It’s such a lot of effort for something that you’re only going to take out and look at. Can’t you get involved with a theatre group and then it would at least be used?”

Then someone usually points out that despite owning the relevant clothes, I’m never going to wake up in the time period.

To be fair, I’m not a complete idiot :P.

I found the Jane Austen dress easy to justify: there’s a festival every year in Bath, and it can be one component of that wardrobe. But I struggled to justify the Versailles dress (so called because it’s a ridiculous colour, with gold and pearls and lace and nonsense).

The 17th century is a horrendously underlooked portion of history. So many amazing and ground-breaking things were going on all over the world, yet we don’t seem to celebrate it, particularly in the costuming world.

As a child, I was obsessed (and I mean properly OBSESSED) with Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books, particularly those covering the ancient world, early Britain, the Tudors and the Victorians. Weirdly, that huge gap in the middle covering the 17th and 18th centuries, is what my imagination longs for now. But as an 8-year old, reared on a diet of Roald Dahl’s dark humour, I was seeking out books about horrific deaths and unjust punishments, not graceful courts and ostentatious dress.

This is a wider issue than just my own though. There is a wealth of information available for costumers about the Tudor period, probably propelled by the popularity of things like Ren Faires and The Tudors on TV. The Georgian period is also incredibly well-covered, and if you were to get stuck on how to make underpinnings or a little jacket from this part of history, chances are that there are a few dozen blogs and websites out there that can show you the answers. Late 17th century? Not so much.

Inspiration Picture

Courtesy of Wikipedia: Honthorst Roodere detail

I plodded along quite happily in a state of 1660s-ignorance until I arrived at university. I made friends with Emeline, resident of France, who bought me a DVD of the musical Le Roi Soliel for Christmas. And just like that, I was hooked.

I wanted to know everything about the 17th century. What they ate. Where they lived. What they wore. How power was distributed. Who was in love with who. How you go about looking like one of the sleepy-eyed gems of Lely’s court.

This Faustian need for knowledge continued alongside my sustainable development studies for another 3 years, and finding myself graduating last month, I decided to do something about it. Having read more books on Louis XIV than on wind turbines, and looked at more paintings than allotments, I got Googling and found Nehelina Patterns’ Baroque Dress pattern. I bought 6 metres of orange and gold shot taffeta, moved the Jane Austen dress off Maisie and got sewing.

6 weeks later, I’ve got a bodice and the beginnings of a skirt, and every time I look at it, I feel like my pining was worth it. It might not be the most perfect replica, or the most technically brilliant piece of dressmaking, but it’s all mine, and to me it sums up what the 1660s were all about. When I listen to Je Fais de Toi Mon Essentiel, it’s the dress I see in my mind’s eye, walking defiantly along Versailles’ mirrored corridors.

I’ll be back soon with a take on a chemise.

Until then,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents.


Too Exciting Not To Share….

25 May

Too Exciting Not To Share....

The début of the early stage of my 17th century dress, held together with pins, and cut out while watching a Louis XIV documentary. I CAN’T WAIT TO WEAR THIS DRESS!!!!

Dissertations, Graduations and Confections

4 May

I’m officially done.

The dissertation’s gone, the last pieces of coursework are submitted, and I’ve experienced the most stressful fortnight of my life. And in 47 days, I’ll be graduating, having reached the end of the education conveyor belt.

While this is an utterly terrifying prospect, this fear brings with it an amazing realisation that I’ve got a whole summer of sewing ahead of me. A WHOLE SUMMER. I’ve got so many things I want to do, try, and probably fail at.

As the list stands:

  • One of the Regency era dresses from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion Book 1. I’ve got 6 metres of white cotton crying out for some empire-line loveliness. I think I want the bib-front, 3/4 sleeve one.
  • A spencer – this is all actually part of what I’ve termed ‘The Great Jane Austen Wardrobe Project’ – as yet still in the early planning stages with regard to colours, materials and style. 
  • A late 17th century court dress. I’ve wanted one of these for YEARS. Ever since my now flatmate bought me a copy of Le Roi Soleil  in first year, I’ve been pining for an off the shoulder, huge-sleeved thing of gorgeousness. 
  • A shift to go under said ridiculous dress

I also need to acquire a dressmaker’s dummy, if for no other reason than to avoid maiming myself while trying to pin sleeves onto bodices, and to actually produce a straight hem. I’ve been putting this purchase off for a long time, partly because I’ve been living away from home in student halls and houses, and partly because these things cost a flipping bomb. But the time has come, and I can put some of the money I’ll get from selling textbooks towards buying a dummy.

I also require a haircut. I’ve got the finest, most ridiculously thin hair that has no volume in it whatsoever, and it’s got to the stage where it’s far too long (underarm level). When I was little, it was past my bottom, but since coming to university, it’s gone to pot. I think there’s going to have to be a drastic amount of work done to it by someone who knows how to make a good job out of a bad situation.

This summer, one of my friends is getting married, and myself and my flutey partner-in-crime are going to be providing music for the ceremony. It’s going to be lovely, and I really can’t wait. I plan on whacking out a Twenties-influenced ensemble for the evening, which I’ll post pictures of here.

Alongside all these other things, and a summer job, I’m going to make a serious effort of this blog. I admire bloggers who keep their audience updated on their plans, and who manage weekly (or even more regular) updates. To the committed, I salute you. So if I cook anything tasty, do anything interesting, or pick up a sewing needle, I’ll come and bore you with it. This is my goal. Make it a good habit.

I think that’s all the nonsense for the time being – back to packing and tidying!

Until we meet again,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents