Monday, September 3, 2018

The Victorian Wallpaper Cotton Sacque

I hope you're ready for a long post about a long project, readers. Grab a beverage and settle in :D

When my mum was destashing in early 2014, I grabbed this striped fabric with the specific intent to make a sacque (aka a robe a la francaise or sack). I washed it soon after, and then it sat. And sat and sat and sat and sat forever. I made pocket hoops a month later, and that's as far as the project ever got.

Within a month of Costume College 2017, I decided the time was now. I had bought a bunch of silk for a sacque in the fabric district, but I was too scared to cut into it without some experience under my figurative belt. So I felt that if I made the cotton one first, I would feel much more confident about starting the silk one! I first made a linen lining, using my modified RH 822 as the pattern. Then I cut a single panel of the cotton and started to drape it on my lining, referencing Katherine's sacque tutorials as a guide. I was pretty happy with how it looked, and then got stalled on how to do the sides over the pocket hoops. The project got put aside, and sat.

In the end I'm really glad it waited so long. The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking came out at the end of November, and I read it back to front numerous times. Especially the section about the sacque gown. The directions indicated a width of at least 80" across the back. It seemed like a lot! I was also thinking about how to arrange the pieces on my silk, and how to deal with stripes? I couldn't cut a gore off and flip it to the other side of the side skirt, with either fabric, they are both striped! How to deal with that? Then, the Simplicity pattern was announced, and I was thrilled.

It took a couple months to arrange getting the pattern, but it did happen eventually. I finally, finally got set to really, really commit to make the gown this time. 80" of fabric in the back and all. Even if the fabric reminded me a bit too much of Victorian wallpaper to "pass". Indecision is my biggest nemesis, and I just needed to Get It Done.

I started by measuring my fabric. I had 8 yards of 42" fabric. The pattern envelope indicated I would need nearly 11 yards of 45" fabric, and that didn't include a petticoat, which I wanted. I carefully saved all of my scraps to see how much I would have left, and also because I may need them. Piecing is period, after all! Another reason to keep track of how much I had! I also wanted to make note of this especially because I felt it was important for people like me who can't get silk easily or inexpensively.

I sat down one late winter's day to make a mock-up. I always cut my Big-4 patterns one size smaller than the envelope says I need, and this one was no exception. I wasn't totally happy with it - too wide across the chest, too loose shoulder-to-bust (a normal occurrence, for me). I took the excess shoulder length out in a tuck from the strap, but I disliked that even more! It was now too tight under my arm and I couldn't put my arms forward much, plus the back neck now sat really high! Ugh! I took a day and a half to read about various adjustments one can make to a pattern - the one I see most is a full-bust adjustment, but what I really needed was a small-bust adjustment. I decided to give it a try, and the short version -- it worked. Back sitting where it was supposed to, full arm motion, including forward, only a tiny bit of excess over the chest. I'll put up a post explaining how I did it, link to follow!

Mock up #1. Notice the waves of fabric over the shoulder...

SO much better!

From there it was full speed ahead! I put on some Netflix and got started. I used my initial single-width panel that had the armscyes cut out (one would be in the centre back but I would fill in whatever wasn't covered by the pleats with a scrap) and laid it out on top of the yardage. I chose to cut the back pieces as one large piece rather than 2 separate ones. The print was directional, so for the main pieces I was careful to make sure the print went in the same direction. I cut, pinned, sewed, fitted, etc, over the course of a few weeks, and I can't believe I ever thought a single 42" wide panel was enough for the back. Look at this beauty:

I used a combo of machine and hand stitching. Major seams were done by machine where the stitches wouldn't show. In a few cases, I did machine stitch visibly, knowing or intending to cover it with trim in the future. Visible stitching was done by hand. I had cut my front skirts and bodice without checking placement of the print, and got it HORRIBLY wrong. I HAD to re-cut it:

Pattern lining up FAIL 😱😱😱 I'm recutting these... #sewing #sacque

A post shared by Crystal (@totchipanda) on

I did re-use the front bodice pieces to cut my stomacher. They only fit at an angle, but I quite like the chevron effect :)

As I got towards the end of my fabric, I had to plan. I did not have enough for a full self-fabric petticoat. I cut a single panel for the petticoat and two 12" strips to have a back hem, and then I was down to 27" of fabric left. I planned 6 3" strips for the front trim, but I waited to rip them, and good thing. My petticoat ended up being too long, and I ripped 4" off the front! I trimmed that down to 3" for one of the trimming strips.

The trimming took a long time, of course. I machine-hemmed both edges with my roll-hemmer foot, a device that is still a mystery to me. It was starting to get better by the end (I made a lot of hems over the summer with this foot), but I had done it this way because I KNEW someday it would get covered by trim. I had looked at a lot of sacque gowns in museums and such while I was planning, and the cotton ones, while trimmed, always had some kind of bling on their edges. But I also knew I couldn't wait to find the perfect trim, or else the strips would never get made, so I forged ahead. It took a LONG TIME (2 seasons of Call the Midwife, in fact) to get the strips gathered up. It took the first part of Moana to get them ironed, and then some more TV (I forget which, now) to get it all attached. I couldn't quite get it gathered up at my intended ratio, but I only have about 15" left over. And it looked GREAT!

Because I was using quilting cotton, I planned the back neck to be covered in trim. The fabric was stitched and the raw edges trimmed with pinking shears. The ruffle covers it.

Then it was on to the little bits! The sleeve fluffles had been hand-hammed, but I machined the gathering lines and attached by hand. I hate how visible the stitching is, but someday I will cover it. By the time I got around to that, my hands were giving out on me; I just couldn't manage fine handwork. It had to do. I machine-gathered lace and stitched it to a bias tape, then hand-stitched it to the neckline. For the linen fluffles, I used the trusty roll-hemmer (by this time, I had made another project with it, and the stitching on these is the best yet!) and then gathered some lace and stitched it on top (again by machine). It was gathered to a bias tape, and first I had put the fluffle in backwards. It looked weird! Once I got it on the correct sleeve, it was perfect. Except I had accidentally cut the biggest size fluffle, and had to attach it very far up the sleeve to keep it at a not-ridiculous-looking length.

I realized after this photo that the fluffle was in the wrong way!

The last bit I needed for Costume College was some bows. The night before we left, I cut three strips of golden yellow poly taffeta from my partner's stash with pinking shears. They would get done in the hotel, and they did. I put one on each elbow, and three down the stomacher, just pinned in place for now. I really enjoyed wearing it. Many people complimented my fabric, and I heard one exclamation of "pretty!!". Regrettably, I did not get any full-length shots of the outfit being worn.

In the fashion district, I found some cute floral trim. I calculated how much I thought I would need (6 x 90" as an overestimation of the strip trim, which worked out to 15 yards, so I bought 20) and shortly after arriving home, started to attach it. It really adds something to the visual interest, but now I want to add more! I think the centre of the strip needs a little somethin'-somethin' too ;) Maybe in pink or purple to pull out the flowers?

And here is all of the fabric I have left. If you want lots of trim, a fully matching petticoat, etc, you will need more fabric than 8 yards (also if you are taller than me!). But if you plan carefully and keep it conservative, you can save a little on yardage.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, this is amazing!!! I love the fabric paired with this style of dress, too--it's striking.


2018 Wrap-Up

2018 was a very interesting year, and not always in a good way. My mental health took a left turn at Albequerque and I had to take a step ba...