My inspiration for this Robe á la Français came from a gown I saw in The Kyoto Costume Institute's book 'FASHION A History from the 18th and 19th Century' (page 65). I fell in love with the detail and wanted to try to recreate that detail on a gown of my own.
I first made the pocket panniers out of linen and 1/2” (13mm) spring steel boning. I made the stays out of a cotton sateen, lined with cotton and used spiral boning. I read somewhere that leaving the straps off would be less constricting and decided to give it a try. In hindsight, straps would have been more period correct, as this gown would have been worn by someone of higher class, not by someone that would need easier movement to do labour. I also realize I prefer the look of straps.
The chemise is made out of linen. I have still yet to find the perfect lace trim to finish off the neckline. I found the chemise to bunch up underneath the arms when worn underneath the robe a la francaise, making it very uncomfortable. I chose not to wear it in the photos. I'm curious to know if others have had this issue. I'm planning on taking out the gussets and making them smaller to see if it will help.
I have used a steely-blue silk shantung for the robe á la française and the underskirt. The bodice is lined in cotton and has grommets and boning in the back lining to adjust the waist. I left both the underskirt and skirt unlined. The stomacher is fully-boned and attaches with hook and eye closures.
My absolute favourite part of making this gown was all the embellishments! The detailed trim on the underskirt and lower skirt of the robe a la francaise was created using honeycomb smocking and the puffed areas are stuffed with polyfill batting.
I first did all the smocking by hand, a technique I got from 'The Art of Couture Sewing' by Zoya Nudelman. I then placed the smocking on lining that was already cut to the shapes I wanted and added the batting where I wanted it and pinned it in place. I basted it all together and then sewed the pieces to the skirts.
I was lucky to find the perfect braid trim to finish it off in a Paris flea market called Les Puces de Saint-Ouen. The bodice embellishments were created with pinked strips of fabric that were either gathered or pleated. I hand-stitched in beautiful lace engageants to the sleeves (that could be removed if needed) and added bows for the finishing touch.