Tag Archives: 18th Century

Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Construction Details

It’s time for some in depth detail about the construction of the robe a la francaise I wore to Versailles in May. My original plan was to use pink silk in my fabric stash to create a robe de cour inspired by Maria Federovna, but I realized when I went to cut out the pieces that I did not have enough fabric.

The change in plan resulted in new fabric and a new plan. I stuck with the decade of the 1770s, but decided to make a robe a la francaise, or sacque, instead of a robe de cour as it seemed like a garment I might be more likely to wear again in the future. Accordingly, I found and ordered new fabric: 11 yards of a very lightweight changeable silk ‘lutestring’ from Burnley and Trowbridge. Luckily, the new fabric still worked with the metallic silver net I’d purchased for trim. It’s the same metallic silver net that is on my 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress, just cut into strips.

The pattern is from JP Ryan: it’s the Pet en Lair pattern, lengthened to create a gown as they suggest. Underneath I’m wearing a shift, stays, pocketsMr. Panniers, a generic 18th century petticoat, and the petticoat that matches the gown. I also have American Duchess clocked stockings and embellished American Duchess Kensingtons. All my jewelry is from eBay. You can read more about how I created my hairstyle and the hair ornament in this past post.

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Regarding the pattern, I found some of the directions to be confusing. For example, making the petticoat seemed way overcomplicated.   You can read more details about how I made my petticoat here. Also, I found the directions for pleating the front robings/facing and the back pleats quite confusing. There, I was saved by this post written by AJ who also used the JP Ryan pattern, got confused, and posted about the confusing bits. Very helpful! Aside from the confusing directions, the gown pieces went together perfectly with no trouble. I did have to alter the front strap area to make the front sit flat against my body. Two friends who used this same pattern did not have to make that adjustment, so I chalk it up to differing body shapes but do not think it negatively affects the pattern.

IMG_0687 (1)The lining of the gown is made from a one yard piece of cotton/linen blend from my stash. Also from my stash and used inside the gown were a scrap of medium blue linen and a scrap of medium blue cotton twill used to interface the stomacher. These were all the bits left of those three stash fabrics–yay! I was also amused that all of the random non-silk fabrics in this gown and petticoat wound up being blue. I used my lining as my mockup, meaning that I had to take a dart in the front strap area, but was able to adjust the pattern to eliminate the dart before cutting out the silk.

The back of the lining is adjustable using a tie threaded through eyelets. The edges are boned with reed. The pattern suggests ties, but you also see lacing in extant garments and this seemed easier to adjust and that it would use less length for the tie(s). There are examples of both ties and lacing on my Pinterest board for this project. The tie is a 1/4″ cotton twill tape. It’s not accurate, but did the job.

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Underneath the decorative stomacher, the gown closes with lacing panels attached to the lining. Again, mine laces closed using twill tape.

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This is the inside of the front lacing panels. You can see the medium blue linen backing. I think I had run out of the cotton/linen blend at that point. As is usual with 18th century garments, the armhole is left unfinished.

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Here’s a close up of the back pleats. These are stitched all the way through to the lining. The directions for the pleats were slightly confusing, but made sense once I started fiddling with my fabric. It was important that I had transferred all the markings from the pattern to make the pleating easier to understand. The pattern uses another four pleats pleats, underneath these, that you can’t see to add volume to the back.

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Due to the unexpected nature of the purchase of the silk fabric for this gown, I decided to do that fabric justice by hand sewing the entire garment. So in addition to the exterior stitching like that anchoring the pleats on the back, all of the interior seams are also hand sewn. I rather enjoy hand sewing and it makes a lot more sense given the way 18th century garments were constructed.

Here is the gown mostly sewn in its essential elements, but lacking trim. The sleeve flounces were individually gathered and sewn to the arm openings. They are pinked with scalloped shears on the top and bottom edges.

The following image is the gown that I followed in terms of trim placement. It took many more hours than I thought it would to pin the trim on. Those big waves are more complicated than they look, plus I had the challenge of creating the smaller scallops as I went along as well. All of the trim had to be sewn along both sides and tacked at each scrunch after it had been pinned.

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Robe a la Francaise. 1765. LACMA.

You can see that I pressed my robings down all the way to the hem, though once the trim was applied on top it was really not very noticeable. I like the finished result, but I think it’s worth pointing out that this pattern is designed to have a wide stomacher. I was envisioning it coming out a little narrower at the waist. But I think adjusting the back opening enough to make a noticeable difference would only create awkward wrinkles under the arms.

The finished stomacher was covered in scalloped trim and finished off with a sparkly brooch. I went to France with an untrimmed stomacher and no clear idea about how I wanted to trim it except that I wanted it to be an all over metallic feast for the eyes. Luckily, early in the trip I was able to go see the 300 Centuries of Fashion exhibit at Les Arts Decoratifs. In addition to being amazing (I got to stand within 6 feet of Dior’s Bar Suit and see many garments I’ve only ever seen on Pinterest!), I also took a picture of a stomacher that was inspirational in terms of the overall wavy patterns and filler shapes. That picture is below.

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Trimming the stomacher took place in the evenings in the few days before the special event. Here is the stomacher in progress. I took it specifically to show the amazing green color that the fabric can appear from some angles. I was hoping to get a picture of the finished gown looking this color, but had to be content with seeing shades of green in some of the pictures as we didn’t capture any where the whole gown was this color.

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Another part of the dress that was finished in France were my engageants. The pattern includes flounces of two lengths to be made of silk and then one longer flounce for an under flounce or engageant. I sacrificed some lace I’ve been intending for another project, threw some darts in at the longest section to get the scalloped edge to be the right shape, and filled in the length with a bit of mystery ivory sheer. The resulting flounce was gathered and sewn to a cotton tape that was basted into the arm opening.

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It sure sounds like a lot of work, recounting these bits of the process. It was! And it paid off. I’m very pleased with the gown. And very pleased that this picture captures some of the stunning green in the fabric!

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Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Hair In Detail

Part of the work of getting ready for my trip to Versailles was hair: figuring out how I wanted to style my hair, obtaining or creating all of the necessary pieces and accessories, and practicing ahead of time. After looking at lots of inspiring images with a variety of hair shapes, I settled on creating a high slightly egg shaped style c. 1770.

I did two trial hair sessions in the month or so before I left. The first was rather frustrating, as I was learning what I liked (or didn’t like), and the end result was less than satisfactory. The progress was slow because I was creating hair pieces as I went along. The second day was much quicker and ended in success! At the time of the success post there was no time to post about how I achieved my look, but now there is, so here we go.

The pictures I took were for myself so that I could remember each successful step on the day of the event while getting ready. It worked quite well! And it means I have step by step pictures to share here. Once I had the plan down, I think styling took about 45 minutes with all the steps including trim and powder.

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One of my first hair pad contraptions. This wasn’t tall enough or large enough around.

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My final hair pad contraption with the addition of my Gibson Girl hair pad for bulk.

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I started by anchoring the pad to my head in about eight different places using crossed bobby pins. Then the front section of hair was brought up over the front of the hair pad, and pinned in place.

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I may look crazed, but I used my fluffy ends to help fill out the sides of my hairstyle even more. This is the middle of the back of my hair pulled up, crossed to help hide the hair pad and pinned in place.

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The sides were smoothed up and over the crazed side curls and pinned so the ends helped cover the hair pad in back. The curly bit sticking out on top was later tucked in and hidden.

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From the back. At this point I had clipped in four of the five permanently glued buckles.

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The remaining back section was loosely looped up. The fifth buckle was placed over the pins holding the loop of hair in place.

Then, for the actual event, I used baby powder to powder my hair. It was easy to use, required no extra products to hold in place, and smelled fresh. (I forgot to powder my hair on the trial days, so your eyes aren’t deceiving you if my hair looks darker in those step by step photos. There is a picture of my hair half powdered in this post taken while I was getting ready on the day of the event.)

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The finished result! My ornament is the one I made for my 1899 evening gown with some extra white feathers.

My buckles were made using synthetic hair. I purchased a ‘full head’ clip in set, 20″ long, that came with sections of various widths already attached to wig clips (similar to this). I purchased color #4, which matches the darker brown parts of my hair nicely, aside from being super shiny. I used the narrower widths for the buckles, but I still have the wider ones leftover. (I’m thinking I might be able to use them to create some 1830s clip in hair pieces…)

I am very grateful that Kendra Van Cleave did an immense amount of research into 18th century hair and wigs and shared it. An excellent taste is available on her blog and she’s also compiled her knowledge into a very detailed, picture-filled book that was quite helpful along my path to creating 18th century hair. Amongst lots of other information, there are instructions for creating temporary and permanent curls and buckles (including the instructions I used to create my buckles), lots of background about types of wigs and hair pieces, a discussion about powder options, and step-by-step tutorials showing ways to create a variety of styles from throughout the 18th century. Very useful!

A Quick ‘Behind The Scenes’ Of My Versailles Evening

All those pictures of Versailles look amazing, but a lot of work went into looking effortlessly elegant. Some of the work I’ll be sharing in posts specifically about my hair and gown, but I also have a few pictures from the day along the same lines that didn’t quite fit into main post. They’re more ‘behind the scenes’. Enjoy!

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This is Mr. Panniers after escaping my suitcase and before having his bones inserted for the big event. Hard to recognize without his proper shape, I think!

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Getting ready. My half finished hair is half powdered, to show the difference in color. As you can see, I only did a light bit of powder.

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A final graceful pose in the Hall of Mirrors as the staff was very slowly herding us out.

An Evening At Versailles

I am blessed to have had many amazing opportunities to wear beautiful historical clothing in stunning historical spaces while doing fun historical activities. Newport Vintage Dance Week in 2012 was full of them, most notably the mid-century ball at Ochre Court. But I’ve had these moments in other time periods as well, for example while wearing Regency clothing at numerous balls in historic halls, such as at the first CVD Regency Weekend in 2013 and at the second CVD Regency Weekend in 2014, and at the Commandant’s House in the Charlestown Navy Yard in 2012.

My recent trip to Versailles was right up there in terms of these amazing opportunities. It was staggering to be comfortably lounging with friends as often happens in other places and then remember that this venue was indeed Versailles! It almost required pinching to make sure it was real. The pictures prove the reality, I think. Come join me for a pictorial review of a (likely) once in a lifetime evening at Versailles for the 2016 Fetes Gallants.

The weekend before the event it rained. Hard. And rained some more. By the Monday of the event it was still raining and did not appear to be letting up. It’s hard to capture rain in photos, but here’s a view of Versailles from the Hall of Mirrors towards the beginning of the event while it was still light outside.

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As you know from my posts before leaving for the trip, I’ve been sewing a silk robe a la francaise for this event since January. I wasn’t about to walk through the streets of Versailles and let it get wet in the rain. Neither were the friends I was staying with. The plan: to go out midday to the grocery store and pick up trash bags to make dress covers. Well, entire body covers, really.

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When we arrived, people looked at us like we were crazy (well, we are, I suppose), but when we left people were looking at us enviously and asked if we had extra bags to share! What a change. Each of us is wearing about four trash bags taped together with masking tape I’d brought along.

Luckily, there was a coat check, where we checked a reusable shopping bag full of our wet trash bags. Then it was on to get our complimentary glass of champagne, arrange ourselves for the first pictures of the evening, and head upstairs to the King’s Apartments and Hall of Mirrors.

This is the Hercules Drawing Room. It’s one of the first rooms we entered as regular tourists during our day visit as well as one of the first rooms we entered during the event. And my, what a stunning change between one visit and the other! During the day this room (and the rest of them) are absolutely stuffed with large tour groups and tourists. There is a constant movement to the flow such that you can’t really stop and have time to admire everything. Plus, it is so full of people that you rather want to keep moving to escape them. Not so at this event! You can see the floor!

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From the Hercules Drawing Room you can proceed through another six drawing rooms towards the back of the palace and the Hall of Mirrors. These drawing rooms are all arranged in a line such that you can look from one end to the other. They are named after various gods: Apollo, Diana, Mars, etc.

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You walk the same path during the day, but it was such a better experience at the event. There was a steady stream of people, but there was space to stop and look around, have a conversation, enjoy the spaces, and get pictures. The scale of the ceilings, the windows, the paintings… it all seems that much more grand and impressive when there is empty space to balance out the grandeur.

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In one room, we had a picture with the “king.” Which king, you ask? I think we was supposed to be Louis XIV or XV, but I can’t remember.

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There were interactive period games set up in multiple rooms. The king himself was not above the entertainment. Neither were we! In one room we took the opportunity a few times to play each other at the billiard-like game. (If you know what this is called, please share.)

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Proceeding along, we reached the War Drawing Room, on the corner between the long line of drawing rooms and the Hall of Mirrors.

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Turning the corner is the Hall of Mirrors. I wasn’t much impressed with the Hall of Mirrors when I visited Versailles about 10 years ago as a tourist. It’s crowded and the mirrors are not what a 21st century mindset is likely envisioning in terms of elegance. And visiting it again as a tourist on the trip I was still not over-the-top impressed. Beautiful, of course, but that’s about where my praise stopped.

However, seeing the room full of people in 18th century clothing and illuminated once the sun had set, the room became the spectacle that I learned of while studying art history. This is how Versailles should be seen.

The next two pictures are from early in the evening while natural light was still pouring through the windows along one side. The two pictures after that were taken later, after the sun had set and it was dark outside.

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One friend had felt that our sacques were rather unflattering… until she saw herself in a mirror in the Hall of Mirrors! I think it might be impossible to wear a robe a la francaise in the Hall of Mirrors and not feel the elegance of the clothing and of the space.

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Our tickets included two activities (chosen at the time of purchase) out of about four options. My first activity is not hard to guess. Dancing! And where else, but in the Hall of Mirrors?

Along the way to the Hall of Mirrors we found a friend of a friend who had been introduced online. It was lovely to meet her and it turned out we had the same activities on our tickets so we chatted and took part in activities all evening! In fact, she was my dance partner! Being French, she was able to help translate the dancing instructions that I didn’t pick up from watching the instructors. Unfortunately, while we were learning all my friends were either dancing or attending other activities, so the only picture of me dancing is a staged one.

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Here are our shoes: my two traveling companions and our new friend. We all made or embellished our shoes. Neat!

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We also found more friends! In fact, there was a group of seven of us from Boston who met up at the event, as well as a group of four we knew who traveled from Scotland, and the friend we met who is French. We didn’t all make it into one picture, but here’s most of us. The impressive thing is that we’re all dressed. I’m pretty sure most if not all of us were still sewing the day of.

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Every time the king entered the Hall of Mirrors this special unit of musicians would play a fanfare. You could certainly tell something was happening even at the other end of the hall. And wow, did these guys have great hats! They rival the ones worn by Buckingham Palace Guards in awesomeness.

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My next activity was back at the other end of the line of drawing rooms. As the group meandered our way through we were wrangled into another group picture, this one intended to be in the style of  Annie Leibovitz’s Marie Antoinette photos.

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Then it was actually off to my second activity, a concert of sacred music in the Royal Chapel. We had to wait a bit to enter as the previous concert hadn’t yet finished when we arrived, but that gave us time to look around the Hercules Drawing Room a bit more than we did upon first entering it. Part of the room was cordoned off to provide space for a dance and music performance, a portion of which we were able to watch while waiting.

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As a daytime tourist, we were only able to look through the doorway into the Royal Chapel, so it felt like quite a treat to be allowed to enter and sit for the concert. We were all seated on the second level of the chapel. And to my great delight, the concert’s music was provided on the organ! How exquisite, to listen to the music fill the room and fade away in echoes between songs. Some pieces also included singers. It was a lovely rest for the feet and quite a stunning and special experience.

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I was starting to feel tired, but the event was not ready to conclude. We headed back to the Hall of Mirrors for a dance performance and for fireworks! We weren’t sure they would do the fireworks with all the rain, but they did!

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The fireworks were the finale of the evening, but the event staff didn’t rush us out. In fact, we stayed and lounged for another hour after the fireworks ended. There was a line of event staff very slowly moving through the rooms and herding people, but it was a very civilized and non-intrusive herding.

It gave us more time to admire other people’s clothing, including these two, and to be admired. I was impressed with myself when I understood a compliment given to me in French!

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We slowly walked back through the line of drawing rooms, not wanting to leave because it meant the end of the evening. This is back in the Hercules Drawing Room before we headed down to get suited up in our trash bags.

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If you appreciate stepping into history and you ever get the chance to attend this event, you should. It was stunning and special. This is how Versailles should be not only seen, but experienced.

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Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Hair Decided

I’m quite busy sewing up a storm to get my sacque finished in the last few days I have before heading out on my trip. Therefore this is just a quick post to document my progress.

In the last few weeks I had two hair trial days. The first was a bit frustrating, because I did my hair twice and wasn’t satisfied either time. I was experimenting: figuring out what worked and what didn’t, what was becoming and what wasn’t, fashioning and refashioning the support for the style, and making permanent and detachable buckles (see below for a description of a buckle, from Cunnington’s The Dictionary of Fashion History).

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The second day was much more successful. The buckles were already made, I knew what shape I wanted to achieve, and I had a clearer idea of how to get there. Eventually I plan to share more details about creating the style, but for now, here are pictures of the style on trial day #2 with another sneak peak at my sacque in the process of having its trim added.

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I also played with powdering my hair on day #2. I was unsure about it before I tried it, but the powder helps the real greys (ahem) blend in and helps the false hair of the buckles with their sheen blend better, too. For the actual event I’ll have to do a better job making it even so I don’t look like I have a streak!

The sacque is so close to done that I’m crossing it off, too. It needs one more sleeve flounce layer and an under sleeve flounce layer added, but that’s it! And trim. Pinning the trim is taking a lot longer than I imagined it would because I am a perfectionist about the placement. I don’t expect that sewing it will be as slow, but I’m not there yet. Ahh! Off to sew!

  • Panniers
  • Petticoat
  • Robe a la francaise (with a subset of trimming)
  • Hair
  • Shoes

Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: A Pretty Petticoat

The petticoat for my Versailles Sacque has been done for a few weeks now, but was waiting in the blog post queue to have its progress made public. It’s sort of boring to look at the whole petticoat, because it’s just a petticoat with longer sides than normal, so I’ve focused the pictures on the more interesting waistband section of the petticoat. (As you can see, this picture was taken before I ironed the front of the petticoat…)

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In making the petticoat I referenced Katherine’s 18th Century Petticoat Tutorial and The Standard 18th Century Petticoat Tutorial at A Fashionable Frolick. The nice thing about Katherine’s tutorial is that it’s adjusted for a petticoat to go over pocket hoops, while the great thing about the tutorial at A Fashionable Frolick is that it has tons of detailed construction information like which stitches to use. Both tutorials are clear and very helpful.

When it came to pleating, I thought I might struggle as Mr. Panniers is larger than normal pocket hoops, but I found that once I put the petticoat on the dress form with Mr. Panniers underneath I could neatly arrange the pleats around the waist and not go into the extra complicated pleated needed for a very square and wide pannier shape (such as in Katherine’s court gown and Kendra’s court gown). Whew! I placed all my pleats off to the side (further than I would for a normal 18th century petticoat) to keep the front of the petticoat flat where the trim will be visible between the fronts of the sacque.

The front panel of my petticoat is the fashionable silk that my sacque is/will be made of. (Enjoy the sneak peak!) The back panels are the same blue mystery fabric that Mr. Panniers is made of. The ties are polyester ribbon to match the silk, because hey, I was already fudging the accuracy of materials with the mystery fabric but on the other hand the color compliments the silk very nicely!

Here’s what the inside looks like. The extra fabric at the top of the petticoat is turned to the inside, slit up the middle to accommodate the curved top edge, and left raw.

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And here is the back. The petticoat is hand sewn. The center back seam is felled mostly because I am slightly obsessive with having nice insides and the other two seams are selvedges. For some reason the raw edges across the top don’t bother me. Go figure.

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I’ve also been playing with hair styling. I’m not satisfied yet, so I don’t consider it done, but at least I’ve made a start! The sacque is coming along nicely, too!

  • Panniers
  • Petticoat
  • Robe a la francaise (with a subset of trimming)
  • Hair
  • Shoes

HSF #5: Versailles Shoes

I realized after I’d posted about finishing the trimming of my Kensingtons that they qualify for May’s Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge: Holes. The description of the challenge is:

Sometimes the spaces between stuff are what makes a garment special.  Make a garment that is about holes, whether it is lace, slashing, eyelets, etc.

And boy, are my shoes about the lace (which has holes!). The lace makes the shoes complete and finished looking. (Also, the buckles required holes being made to fit the buckles, so that’s a roundabout way of including the shoes, too.)

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Just the facts:

Fabric: (well, materials) One pair of American Duchess Kensington shoes and American Duchess “Fluer” buckles.

Pattern: None–inspired by extant shoes.

Year: 2nd half of the 18th century.

Notions: Just under 3 yards of 1/4″ metallic lace; other supplies included angelus leather preparer and deglazer, angelus leather paint, angelus matte acrylic finisher, masking tape, paint brushes, and hot glue.

How historically accurate is it?: 85%. Reasonable color and trim on well researched historical shoes, but of course the whole thing is actually modern.

Hours to complete: 8 maybe? I took a long time painting lots of layers until I got a color I was happy with and then adding the lace took another hour or two.

First worn: Will be worn at the end of May!

Total cost: $102 for imperfect Kensingtons and the buckles a few years ago, $15 for the lace, $15 for the paint, and the rest was from the stash, so about $137 total.

I’ve been making lots of things this spring, but they haven’t lined up with the HSF since January. Yay! I’m pleased these fit the HSF challenge.