Lady Frances’s Robe à la Française

multiple pinked strips

Lady Frances’s  final garment is a Robe à la Française, made of a length of butter yellow silk from Lady Frances’s trunk, and making good use of Janet Arnold’s wonderful book Patterns of Fashion 1Englishwomen’s dresses 1660 – 1860.

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Linen

The first part of making the Robe is to create a strong, well-fitting linen inner bodice, to which everything else will be stitched. The linen is salvaged from my old lab coat!

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Pins

Pinned into place both front…

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Fitting

…and back…

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Bodice lining

The linen inner bodice has to fit precisely on her body outside all her under layers: shift, demi-petticoat, corset, pockets, panniers, fichu, stomacher, and gown petticoat.  You can see why I had to dress Lady Frances from her skin out!

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toile

Next step in making the Robe is making a toile, which is an entire practice garment using some scrap fabric.  We subscribe to the “Measure twice, cut once” philosophy of dressmaking! It is especially important in this case because there is a limited amount of the “real” fabric, and I can’t mess up a single scrap!

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drape

With the toile sorted and used as the pattern, we cut, shaped, pinned and draped the luxurious silk at every stage…

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folded and stitched

Pleats at the front and sides are set in to the bodice front…

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strip pf silk

…and pleats at the back are secured and neatened by a folded strip of silk.

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trying on sleeves

Sleeves were cut and shaped and tried on….

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setting in sleeves

Everything was anchored to the linen inner bodice.

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Bias strip sewn to the hem

Finally a bias cut strip of the silk was sewn to the bottom raw edge…

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Finished inside and out

…then folded inside and hemmed.  I love to see a garment with completely finished seams!

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steaming pleats

The pleats are tacked to the bodice, and then steamed into shape to set them. The steaming takes a while – at every stage they have to be pinned, steamed and left to cool and dry before moving on to work on the next bit of the dress.

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pinked strips

The Robe was decorated with furbelows…

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pleated

…which are made by cutting half-inch strips of silk and pleating them…

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Furbelows

…and stitching them…

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Front

…from the hem at the front opening of the robe up to the bodice…

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Sleeve decoration

…over the shoulders, around the back, and down the other side. Furbelows also decorate the bottom edges of the sleeves…

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Engageants

Delicate lace undersleeves called engageantes are the final bit of Lady Frances’s robe. I used a lovely scrap of lace from Lady Frances’s trunk.

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Scraps

But wait! Lady Frances needs proper 18th century shoes! Fortunately there were tiny scraps left over from the brocade I used for her pockets. They are lined with felt and edged with pink silk ribbon. Lacing hole grommets are worked before assembly – much easier than afterwards!

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plastic stocking protectors

So that they fit will exactly, the shoes are assembled directly onto Lady Frances’s feet, with plastic bags over her stockings to protect them, secured with elastics!

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Cardboard inner sole

The vamp part of the shoes gets glued first onto an inner sole made from scraps of acid-free cardboard.

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Heel

The backs of the shoes are glued to the cardboard after the vamps! Finally the whole assembly is glued to a beautifully carved and fitted hard sole and heel…these were provided by Lady Frances’s owner/carver who made them specially to fit her feet!

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Ribbon ties

The shoes are tied on with the same pink silk ribbon used for the edging. I added a metallic cord around the seam between tops and soles, just to neaten the edge.

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Following is a gallery showing Lady Frances getting dressed from the inside out. Click any image to enter, and use the right and left arrows to navigate backwards and forwards. In the first photo, you see Lady F wearing the ingénue wig she arrived with. After that you see her wearing a lacy day cap, which ladies of the 18th century would wear “at home” and also under hats and bonnets. The cap is old, though not that old! It is a little “shabby chic” but she will wear it until she gets a nice piled up, powdered and curled wig!

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Bill Fifer, carved Lady Frances in 2001.  Bill’s wife Pat, Lady Frances’s first Mantua-maker, collected fabrics, lace and reference materials but was not able to complete her clothing. I was asked to take on the project in October last year – what an honour! The doll and her “trunk” of materials arrived, and I slowly went to work, using Pat’s fabrics and notes whenever possible to complete her ensemble.

Lady Frances is now back with Bill and I have heard that both are pleased with my work and enjoying each other’s company.

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ScrapHappy is a group of bloggers using up scraps of anything – no new materials…Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible, and posts come out once a month on the 15th! If you like the idea and want to join the group, contact Kate or Gun who devised and run this group.  Their blogs are the first two links below:

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23 thoughts on “Lady Frances’s Robe à la Française

  1. She is truly elegant… I find the whole ensemble enviable – I’d love to own a similar outfit, but don’t have the patience to make it. At least at Lady Frances’ size the hand stitching takes a little less time!

  2. Stunning! K, your work is impeccable. Lady Frances and Mr Fifer must be very, very pleased to be together and Lady F dressed so carefully. Thank you once again for such clear instruction and final showing. You’re a teaching marvel. Your work is highly appreciated and admired by me.

    • Thank you very much. It was a very satisfying and rewarding project to be part of – I was so glad to be able to help complete the wishes of the first Mantua-maker, Pat.

  3. I am speechless. Your work is exquisite, and Lady Frances’s trousseau is a treasure. What an amazing collaboration! I hope Lady Frances will be enjoyed and admired for generations to come.

    • Thanks! Lady Frances was actually quite patient with me as I stuck pins, tightened laces, and encased her feet in plastic bags…we are both rather pleased with the end results!

  4. all those layers – from inside to out, each perfect and so finely stitched. I had never heard of furbelows (don’t tell Rosie about them) but what an amazing trim and an equally amazing amount of time to make them. The shoes are an exquisite finishing touch and you can barely see them peeking out from under the hem. She is a jewel of talent and technique.

    • I’ve loved that word furbelow ever since I first heard it, and knew it meant something to do with clothing like fancies and fripperies, but I never knew what it really meant until this project! Rosie may not need furbelows as she is already fur above and below!!

    • I don’t think I actually ever measured Lady F from crown to tiptoe…I think she must have been 22 or 23 inches (58 cm) or thereabouts. She’ll be a bit more with a wig and her high heels!

    • Thank you – it was a wonderful project – the kind I enjoy. Perhaps a bit like a quilt in that you begin with a small piece of fabric and build up a little at a time until finished.

  5. WOW! All details are there, as a human dress… this is stunning, beautiful and adorable too. Loved so much. Thank you dear Hitty Lady, have a great and enjoyable weekend, Love, nia

  6. Having waited 21 years from creating this doll for Patricia until she arrived back with me a few days ago, you all must appreciate how overwhelmed I am by the magic Kjerstin performed with such skill, knowledge and patience with the details. An absolute marvel that I am sure will be loved and admired forever by future generations. And a copy of this superb record will go with her wherever Lady Frances travels and lives in the future. I can not thank you enough, Kjerstin for bringing Lady Frances from her beginnings as a simple wooden doll into the beautiful Lady she is today! I just wish Patricia was still with me to see and enjoy the miracle Kjerstin created!

    • You are so welcome – it was a true privilege for me to be part of the Lady Frances story! She’ll be 21 this year and “of age” so I expect her adventures are just beginning!

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