Thursday, March 21, 2013

Simplicity's Robe à la Française

Wow! The 2013 Francaise Dinner party has come and gone! Within it's very short history, it has become one of my favorite events.

This year I was a co-host, and I really wanted to sew for it. I faced a lot of challenges including:
- feeling totally incapable of choosing a fabric
- having to make the supportive undergarments as well as the dress
- deciding I wanted to make my husband a costume for the event
-  not really starting to sew until the end of January, knowing full well the event was at the beginning of March
- managing the details of the event
- working a full time job

The patterns I used were Simplicity 3637 and 3635. These particular patterns don't seem to be in print anymore but can still be found on ebay and etsy. I picked them up when Joann's was having a 5 for $5 sale.

I will admit I am afraid of more historically correct patterns. I'm terrified that I'll buy one and the directions will read something along the lines of: (1) cut out fabric (2) sew together (3) wear. As my first ever Robe à la Française (I feel the *need* to type the name fancy like that) I thought Simplicity was right up my alley.

So here she is, in all her wrinkled glory (the dress may or may have not been living as a heap on my floor for some time):

It doesn't fit so well on my dress form (apparently her right boob is bigger than her left...) and I'm a little taller, but it's impossible to take a self portrait in this, and I managed to get no really good shot of me the whole evening.

The more down and dirty about the dress behind the jump.

FABRIC: The dress is made of 5-1/2 curtain pannels from Lowes. Not the most budget friendly fabric, but I'm not very good at knowing what to order online. I'm also not lucky in the ways of finding super discount fabric that is just right. I saved ALL the scraps after cutting pieces for trim and the petticoat. Finding ways to tetris peices together saved me from buying another curtain.

TIME: If your new like me, and terrified of this project, I cannot recommend the "how to" up on squidoo enough ( In some ways it'll scare you more (the whole ten month completetion time), but the photos were insanely helpful to me.
This dress, start to finish, took me 30 hours.

ALTERATIONS: You bet your fanny. There are a couple things I did differently. Some saved me time. Some saved me money.

The petticoat is only partially made out of fashion fabric.

What's the point of using more expensive fabric in places no one will see? The back and sides of the pettiocat are made from a bedsheet I had used for a toga (entirely unrelated event).

This is a side shot of my petticoat You might not be able to tell in this photo, but I also just used premade bias tape at the waist/slits for my pockets. Again, they're not seen. I picked up a color as close as I could to the fashion fabric and said good enough.

Another fun fact about the petticoat, the front is cobbled together using two different squares left over from cutting out other pieces. I don't have a photo of it, but I knew the trim on the petticoat would cover the fact that the pieces didn't have the pattern going in the same direction. So one less curtain pannel to buy.

There are apparently steps about interfacing. I skipped them. All.

This is the inside of my bodice if you would like to compare to what is up on the squidoo tutorial (Step 14).

There's some bit about adding grommets to the lining (I suppose so you can adjust the waist from the inside, I really don't know). I skipped that part, too.

The bodice called for hook and eye closures. But that left a gap. The pattern calls for bows to slapped over it, but I can't admit to loving the bows. So I made a stomacher to pin on.

I didn't use their draping method. Koshka the Cat ( has an amazingly helpful how to for draping the pleats if you find yourself working alone. I can't find the exact page, but I will.

Several of us that were attending the dinner got together for a sewing day, and a friend draped the pleats for me. It was decided that I should have a train. Once we were done, we drank lots of tea and watched The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I felt the sleeve flounces needed more than what the pattern wanted. So I cut two of the fashion fabric (the lower layer I just lengthened at the top so they had the same shap) and two of lace. The lace portions are straight (not scalloped like the fashion fabric).

And finally, my trim is different. The great thing about trim is you can do it any way you want. The poofy trim just didn't feel right to me with the design of the fabric. I thought about box pleats, but in the end I settled on gathering fabric

 here's what it looks like around the sleeve flounces
and down the front of the dress


The pettiocat has the same trim (but all one big piece) going across the front. All the trim is made from the scraps I saved. Since you can't tell what's going on with the pattern when it's gathered, I didn't worry about it the pattern was all going in the same direction or not.
EASE OF INSTRUCTIONS: Hard to say. I relied very heavily on the squidoo site. The sleeves were tricky, but sleeves always all. I'd like to note that the pattern had me bag line the sleeves. Only to then attach the flounces. Was there a point to that?
Eventually I will discuss the panniers and the husband's costume, but for now, time for tea.


  1. I really love how this turned out, it's so luxe looking. And as I STILL have not made a Francaise myself I have a feeling I'll find all your pointers very useful when I do!

    1. Thank you! I was afraid the cotton fabric wouldn't look fancy enough somehow, despite seeing several other dresses made from the same fabric. Next year I think I might go way out of my safety zone and do something in pink silk. But this is probably a delusion of grandeur that'll go away long before sewing begins.

      If my tips are any help to anyone I'll be happy!

  2. It is FAB! Thank you for the in-detail write-up, too. I wish I had bought both those Simplicity patterns when they were around. I think you are the only Curtain-A-Longer to make a Francaise, too. Well done!

    1. Thanks! I am tempted to go back and buy the other colors to make different outfits. But I am fairly certain my local Lowes associates thinks I'm insane. Every time I stop by looking for supplies, I always have the oddest answer when they ask what I need my items for.

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  4. You really did a fantastic job on this dress! When are we going to see your pannier post?

    1. Thank you! Without your encouragement it probably would have never seen the light of day.

      The tent (or panniers, whatever they're called) will be up in a few days. I have to remember to warn everyone to consider the space they'll be walking around. Or to get good as the sideways walk. We should have recorded me getting through the dinning area!

  5. Congrats, m'dear, I've awarded you the "Very Inspiring Blogger" award! (


  6. I made this same pattern last year for Halloween. Won one of the big contests thank goodness since it took me 4-6 months of random sewing to complete it! I love how you added more to the sleeve flounces and the trim you used on the front. I did the poofs, but more like a dress from The Duchess (I think). I look forward to trying a more historically accurate pattern in the future but I've had the same fear of the directions as you!
    So glad I stumbled across your blog thanks to American Duchess!

    1. Yay for winning! I love that you covered shoes to match. Did you get a fun prize? I still wouldn't have finished this dress if I didn't have a deadline to work with. Nothing gets done without a deadline.

      I'm attempting to sew the Period Impressions 1770 Polonaise right now (all the directions are printed on one large page..... I feel like my fears were justified!). There are illustrations, but I was warned to expect less instruction than I'm used to. So far it seems like it's going smoothly but I feel like I'm going more with what I *think* I shoud be doing vs. reading the directions. I have had the advantage of seeing a completed dress from this pattern. I have an event in April it's for, so I'm hoping it gets done weekend so I can start my due-by-May projects. I'll let you know if it's beginner friendly!

  7. This is absolutely STUNNING! I am blown away! :D

  8. This is fabulous! What a beautiful gown. I am in love with the trim down the front :)


    1. Thanks! That trim is my new favorite type. I used to be a box pleat girl, but OMG how I love to just gather the fabric.

  9. First let me say that YOUR gown from the curtain fabric is BY FAR in my opinion, the most beautiful and charming of ALL of those who took part in the 'curtain along' project.
    I am not a sew-er, and I loved this post. I love your refreshing and unapologetic ideas and solutions for your gown. I am all for the little 21stc. tricks too, that make wearing them easier. (My own gowns with stomachers have hidden velcro which keep them securely closed no matter what! Pins are for the birds, and not realistic for our activities.)
    Madam, kudos to you! You did a phenomenal job, and bravo for using the patterns from Simplicity! One would never know~
    LOVE your gown and your entertaining post!

    1. thank you so much for your kind words! I love seeing what every one does with their version of the curtain along dress. It's amazing to see so many different looks that are made from the same fabric.

      I've never been taught the "correct" way to do a lot of this sewing. My mom taught me basic hand and machine sewing. Everything else I've cobbled together best I can. I'm not a reenactor, so VELCRO FOR THE WIN! In this day and age, we just don't have the maid servants to get us in and out of these things the way they used to. And it's all a matter of why someone sews. I do it to run around in a fun outfit and enjoy myself.

  10. PS
    My sewing efforts are confined to simple projects. I can now make a stupendous 18thc. petticoat, and I have even altered a few things, flying by the seat of my pants.
    I JUST lucked into a gorgeous very early antique tambour embroidered lace panel on ebay, and my current project is making a hand sewn 18thc. apron from it!
    I will wash it, and tea dye if necessary, as I need a pale ivory. I have to plan the layout to avoid a few minor holes/flaws, but it's large enough to easily do that.
    What I wanted to say was that a painting by Thomas Gainsborough of Mary Countess Howe was the whole inspiration behind it! I have a lovely silk gown, black shoes, buckles, wrist ribbon, and I also already had the multiple strand pearl choker and the lace neckerchief and straw hat. The lace apron will almost identically match the one in the painting!
    So, as a relative amateur, I am excited about my little project, and hubby plans to take photos of me posed as Countess Howe was in her portrait!

    1. Sounds exciting! I always need to see a painting or extant example to inspire me. Looking forward to seeing your photos!!!

  11. I'm making this one right now. I can tell you I have a couple of words for Mr. Watteau! I have some old white tablecloth linen I found at Goodwill. I'm just making the top. I have to size from a 16 to a 14 and have no idea how.
    You are truly an inspiration.