18th Century Picnic and my Accidental Royalist Robe pas Cher
November 18, 2013
– A First Time for Everything –
I attended my first Georgian Picnic this year! I was so flattered to get an invitation from Jen of Festive Attyre. The DFW Costumer’s Guild has been doing the event for 5 years now, but I have only lived in Fort Worth 3 months. I moved just in time for Georgian picnic! I’m not the fastest nor neatest of seamstresses, but after two weeks of mad sewing, I managed to crank out a full early 18th century outfit for Christopher and a passable mid 18th century Anglaise– a.k.a. my Robe pas Cher– for myself. It was quite a wild ride!
My robe a’lAglaise is my first attempt at drafting my own 18th century pattern. It’s made out of polysatin with a cotton lining and a last-minute petticoat made from sheer striped cotton. I didn’t intend for the dress to be purple. In fact, I hadn’t intended for this to be my picnic dress in the first place– it’s my pattern test! Originally, I planned to make a version of this dress:
Robe a l’Anglaise, circa 1785-95
I had purchased some creamy, light floral cotton, but it was expensive and I didn’t want to cut into it without trying out my pattern first. So out came the cheap eggplant satin! By the time I finished futzing with my purple mock-up, I had no time left to make another. I applied some ruffle trim to add a semblance of finality and called it a day!
“Robe pas Cher” Costume Breakdown
4 yards purple polysatin – $6, Walmart
20 hooks and eyes – $2, Hobby Lobby
Purple thread – $2, Walmart
3.5 yards white striped cotton – $5.25, Walmart
White gauze scarf/fichu – $3, Walmart
Faux straw placemat (for hat) – $1, Garden Ridge
2 buttons – 48 cents, Hobby Lobby
Brown pumps – $2, thrifted
Still doesn’t fit quite right, but my Robe pas Cher is still pretty cute!
The lovely lady accompanying me is Christopher’s mother, Becky, in her first costuming project ever which she sewed in all in one weekend. She was also gracious enough to do my hair for me.
I didn’t really think about the color until I assembled the pieces on my dress dummy when it suddenly dawned on me that I had created a blatantly Royalist gown (ironic, considering I wore this to a picnic in Texas and Chris wore a red coat. We’re such non-rebels!). During the French Revolution, people who still supported the monarchy wore purple. Wearing this on the streets during the later part of the French Revolution would have been a seriously risky business! Fortunately, my fellow picnickers were a peaceful lot and my freedom fashion faux pas passed unnoticed.
Doesn’t Christopher look dignified in his enormous red coat? I used Simplicity 4923, the same pattern I used for the Merchant Gentleman coat, in size XL (Chris is 6′ 2″ and has a 49″ chest) for both the coat and waistcoat.
I owe this man so much rum…
Originally, he really wanted a plainer brown coat, but I found three vintage velveteen drapes for $1.50 a piece at the thrift store and that was that. I may possibly be the worst wife ever, but you cannot argue with handsome results!
I’d never sewn velveteen before and I lacked pretty much every tool necessary to do it right, but it turned out okay in the end (the lining gave me more grief than the velveteen). The pattern recommended about 7 yards of 45 inch fabric for his coat. I soon discovered that the tops of my curtains were sun damaged almost beyond use, so in essence, I had only 4 usable yards of 36 inch wide fabric. Add to that the fact that following the nap mattered, and suddenly I had a dicey game of tissue paper Tetris on my hands!
In addition to avoiding as many worn and faded spots as possible, I had to decrease the width of the back flare by folding the pattern in order to get it to fit on the drape.
I placed the gigantic front and back pieces on the least-worn sections first. Since they would be the most visible, they needed to be as unblemished as possible. Adjusting them to both avoid bad patches and still (mostly) match the nap was harrowing. After placing the rest of the pieces, I discovered that no matter what I did, some pieces would have the nap running in weird directions. When you encounter a problem like that, figure out which pieces are “least important” to the looks. In this case, it was the large triangular gores that flared the skirt, but were mostly hidden when Chris is standing up (and the cuffs because I had run out of any other place to put them). By the time it was all said and done, I had successfully Swiss-cheesed the old drapes into a coat!
I am still cleaning burgundy fuzz out of my carpet and sewing machine…
…but it was worth it!
To go with his Captain Morgan coat, I made him a gold waistcoat from some jacquard I dug up at Walmart and a pair of breeches from some super 1970s trousers (complete with contrast zig-zag stitching on the back pockets. Groovy!). The waistcoat is decorated with buttons, but since I loath buttonholes and was blessed with a shortage of time anyway, the front closes with three snaps. Not the classiest closure, but it’s much easier to get on and off!
To do up Christopher’s bottom half 1720 style, he needed stocks and buckled shoes. The buckles are enormous brass belt buckles that I put onto strips of pleather and literally tacked (with thumbtacks) to the rubber soles of his favorite black loafers. The stockings, however, are what really make his legs look so good.
Ah, yes, the Stockings of Miracles! They are actually a pair of knit, “ragdoll” thigh-highs from AJ’s Socks I had bought for my own 18th century costumes, but when I failed to find a pair of plain, knee-high men’s socks that would fit Christopher’s size 15 feet, I went out on a limb. On my toothpick legs, the socks reach mid-thigh, but he stretches them out, so they go just to his knee. They don’t have a top band like most socks, so they stay up without compressing your legs. If you are a lady or gent with wide legs or big feet, and you need some 18th century stockings, these are your saviors! They’re tube socks, so foot size doesn’t matter, and if they can fit Christopher’s 20+ inch calves, I think they can fit just about anyone!
Chris enjoyed playing with the diabolo and even caught it twice!
*white shirt not pictured, but it’s just a long sleeve dress shirt. Modern collared shirts aren’t “period,” but if there’s one already in your closet why not use it?
Christopher’s “Captain Morgan” Costume Breakdown
Coat and Waistcoat
Velvet drapes – $5.50, thrifted
Red cotton lining – $14, Walmart
27 brass buttons – $9, Walmart
Gold poly-jacquard – $3, Walmart
Cream cotton lining – $6, Walmart
11 matte brass buttons – $4, JoAnn’s
Gold “buttonhole” trim – $1.57, Walmart
1970s pants-to-breeches – $3, thrifted
White gauze scarf – $3.50, Walmart
Wool tricorn hat – $21, eBay
The Stockings of Miracles – $12, eBay
2 large brass buckles – $16.30, Etsy
1/4 yard black pleather – $4, Walmart
The picnic was a delight and the weather warmed up more than expected. Here are a few pictures from our 2 hour visit:
Becky and Chris in their first historical costumes ever!
So many lovely Regency gowns!
And an awesome bright magenta Mardi Gras ballgown!
Besides all the beautiful clothes, there were so many fancy foods and pretty picnic baskets to fawn over.
If you are interested in more photos, there are plenty more pictures up on Facebook, as well as the official set on Flickr. I had a wonderful time meeting other costumers and befuddling shoppers at the local Central Market when we stopped for drinks afterwards!
That’s a Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer in my hands. My dress happened to perfectly match the label!
Reeds, if you are “reeding” this, I may be available to be your over-zealous spokes-Georgian. I accept cash, credit cards, and more delicious Butterscotch Beer!