Thursday, June 19, 2014

HSF 11: The Politics of Fashion - Chemise de la Reine and Bergère Hat

I ended up doing a bit of a whirlwind entry for the latest challenge at the Historical Sew Fortnightly. The theme was The Politics of Fashion, where we were challenged to create something that demonstrates the interactions between dress and political history.  As I'd been focusing on the 18th century lately, I decided to try to find something from around about that time.  Following shortly after the time that my court gown is from would be the time leading up to the French Revolution.  Those decades were rife with political and social change, a great example of which was the fad amongst wealthy women to dress in a style reminiscent of the working class women of agricultural areas.  The chemise a la reine was often paired with straw bergère or shepherdess hat.  The look was supposed to bring to mind the simple, carefree life enjoyed by no actual shepherdess, ever.  It was also an example of a simplification in the style of dress of the upper classes in response to significant social pressures from the masses.  Sarah Lorraine of Mode Historique is doing her master's degree research on the chemise a la reine and has some great information up that I found super helpful.

What I loved about the dress was how simple it was (relatively speaking), as well as how comfortable.  The bodice and sleeves are gathered, not fitted.  And if I wanted to skip my stays, the pair of quilted jumps I'm working on would do just as well.  Bonus points that I had plenty of that window pane cotton lawn that I did the smocked bib Regency apron out of and this made a nice little side track from the court gown project.  I found a scan from The Cut of Women's Clothes 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh that sketched out the basic shape of the gown and I used that as my starting point.  (as well as ordering a copy of the book for myself, as it was looking pretty useful).  I decided to go with an open front gown so that I had the option to wear it over a colored petticoat, should the inclination arise.  Yay for options.  I skipped adding any sort of front closure beyond the drawstring at the neckline.  Once the sash is in place, everything holds itself together quite nicely.  To hide the bow from the drawstring, I plan to wear this brooch with an image of Gainsborough's Blue Boy on it.

The sleeves were gathered once above the elbow, but I put no gathering in at the waist as I found it fairly easy to arrange the fullness to my liking and then hold it in place with the sash.  Thanks to Katherine for pointing out that, unlike how it was illustrated in Waugh's book, the channel for gathering the waist would not actually be along the straight of grain but curved to fit around the hips.  Without that heads up, I'd have likely gone ahead and put it in following the weave of the fabric and then had to invent new swear words when having to pick the white stitches out of the white lawn.  I may revisit the notion of the drawstring waist  later, after I've had a chance to wear it around a bit.

All told, the dress probably took about 20 hours to make, but a lot of that time was spent hand sewing a rolled hem for the ruffles on the cuffs and neckline.  The sash and contrasting bands on the sleeves were made from silk taffeta.  The sleeve bands were just strips of fabric with the long ends folded under that were tack stitched directly on top of the gathered channels.  The sash was three 10 inch wide widths of 54" fabric that were sewn into one long strip and then into a tube that was turned inside out.  The ends were tucked under to form a point and I've ordered some spring green silk cord to make a pair of tassels out of that I'll hang off the ends.  

I hope I don't regret putting a train on a white dress.

The hat was a garden hat I picked up at the Goodwill and modified.  There are a million tutorials out there for making a make-do 18th century straw hat if you need one, but it's terribly simple in concept.  You just cut a section of the crown height out to drop it down to the desired height, then sew/glue/fuse with mastiff spit the crown back onto the bring and cover your likely terribly ugly hack job with a hand band and decorations.  I tried meticulously hand sewing the crown back onto the brim, but the woven straw wasn't keen on the notion of holding together, so I went back and slathered on a frankly obscene amount of tacky glue to finish the job.  I fashioned a bow out of the last of the light green taffeta and paired it with a bit of this blue-green silk shambala that I impulse bought from Silk Baron because it looked interesting.  The fabric is a blend of three different silks and it takes up dye in an interesting varigated pattern.  As is, I feel like the hat is missing something, but I can't tell what.  Maybe some fake wildflowers?  Some lace?  I don't want to do ties as I'll be using a hat pin to affix the hat to an as yet unmade tragic abuse of a curly wig.

It's not often that I pick a project simple enough for me to do up an entire outfit in just over a week.  I'm aiming to wear this number to the Fantasy Tea at Costume College.  

Some other useful blog posts:


  1. Ok so I'm having to scroll thru your past posts to find the one you wrote about the 20s Batman, cause I'm on my phone and it's not letting me use the link and I came across this faaaaabulous dress!!! I afore the fabric you chose!!! And the green sash is so great!!! So very well done!!!

    1. Thanks. It made a nice side project from the 18th century court gown and suit project that ate up much of the last year. I ended up getting to wear it to the Ascot Tea at Costume College, which was just the excuse that I needed for a fabulous hat.