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!

Smiling Bears And Happy Penguins

IMG_0678Just imagine my smile when I saw this fabric with polar bears and penguins on it…fun! You have to know that these are some of my most favorite animals–bears, especially of the polar variety, because they’re just cute, and penguins because they waddle, and animals that waddle amuse me a whole lot (also, bears waddle, too). Anyway, I saw these smiling bears and happy penguins and couldn’t resist. (Plus, there are baby bears–or, as I often call them, “little guys”!) Their cuteness combined with a thought I had of making a practical apron to use at home when doing the dishes or baking inspired me to purchase just enough of the cotton yardage to make an apron. I spent way longer than was really necessary looking for just the right fabric for contrast options. I looked at all sorts of blues and tans but found nothing right… so I settled on black and white. And it’s perfect!

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I used my refreshing apron as a general guide, though I made a few changes: less fullness in the skirt, a shorter length, and ties that tie at the neck and waist rather than crossing in back. After I had the project on the brain, I was using a lovely green print fabric to make some accessories for the house when I decided that I would need extra of it to make another apron! This one used small scraps of raspberry pink cotton as accents. It’s fun to have a reason to use this color pink and with the brocade style pattern on it, too.

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Both aprons required piecing the contrast bands to have enough fabric, but I did an incredibly meticulous job lining up the pattern repeats so they aren’t very noticeable (yes, I really care that much–can you spot any seams?). It’s also why the contrast bands are different widths from apron to apron–I just used what I had and made it work. It’s so satisfying to use up the last small bits of a fabric.

Wicked, Monstrous, Silly, And A Good Time

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Some friends and I, taken by the official photographer of the night.

In the words of journalist Heywood Broun, “The Jazz Age was wicked and monstrous and silly. Unfortunately, I had a good time.” I don’t know about wicked or monstrous, but I certainly had a silly and good time recently at the Greater Boston Vintage Society’s White Lightning Ball.

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Silly faces!

I wore my 1924 robe de style from last summer, updated with new dramatic trimmings that suit the dress much better than the last iteration. It’s such a fun, unusual, and distinctive style to wear. I fielded quite a few questions about the style and happily encouraged people who knew things about it such as that it looked like Lanvin. For my hair, I didn’t have time to attempt waves, so I aimed for a romantic style that was less time consuming, inspired by these: no waves worn with a robe de style, a romantic bun (on the right), and long hair pinned up. Also, this set of drawings shows a large hair comb worn with a robe de style which reminded me that I haven’t worn mine in a long time.

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My accessories include: my vintage celluloid hair comb; silver drop earrings with peachy faux stones, which don’t often match things, so it was nice to wear them since they don’t get worn often; and a recent purchase from American Duchess, black Seaburys! (Never fear, there’s a whole post coming about the Seaburys, but for now we’re focusing on the event and the clothes.)

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This event is held at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in what was the Anderson family’s carriage house in the early 20th century. It is a large building with multiple levels used for stabling horses as well as storing carriages and cars. The upper floor of the carriage house housed an exhibit of motorcycles during the event, if you’re wondering about the background. Downstairs was the collection of Anderson family cars from the 1900s and 1910s. They were very fun to look at and so tempting to sit in… I know it wouldn’t be good for the cars… And there were security cameras… so I had to content myself with looking at them and dreaming of reproductions that we could ride in.

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My other silly accessory was a candy cigarette. It does rather add to the 20s look, but of course I don’t smoke, so there was rather a lot of me flipping it around in my hand trying to figure out how to hold it and not look ridiculous. I didn’t ever try eating it, so I can’t report how it tasted, but I was pleased that it lasted almost until the end of the night when I dropped it for the second time and it broke in half. Until then it was going strong and gave me something to do with my hands in pictures, which is always a good thing.

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Mostly I stood around and talked to friends, hatched dreamy plans for how to sit in the cars, and took pictures, but we did go out on the dance floor a few times for some Charleston. Too bad nobody got pictures of that!

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This was the third year of the event, I believe, but only the first year I had been free to attend. It was fun, and nice to attend an event that I wasn’t helping to run.

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1899 Gibson Girl Coiffure

I was very pleased with my hair for the 1890s ball! One of the reasons I liked the idea of an 1899 dress is because it is close enough to the turn of the century that a Gibson Girl hair style made sense. My hair loves cooperating in poofy styles, so this was perfect!

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I created the super poof using a pad made from one leg of a pair of tights. It’s stuffed with cheap “wizard beard” hair that would otherwise have gone in the trash. Being stuffed with synthetic hair, the pad is pretty warm. And I did struggle a bit to get bobby pins through the tights–I need to add loops to the ends for next time I think. Aside from those things, though, the pad was perfect!

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I also created a new hair ornament to finish off the coiffure. I had originally thought of bleaching the ostrich feathers to create an aigrette*, like this, but decided that I liked the ostrich feathers as is and didn’t feel like dealing with bleach. There are two feathers: a grey and a white. I found that the white helped create definition for the grey on my dark hair. The sparkly bit is a cheap eBay brooch. I sewed the feathers to it and then used the pin part to bobby pin it in place on my head.

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Success! Look at that haughty Gibson girl look (like this)!

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*An aigrette is a spray of feathers from an egret. Confusing!

Vernet Project: Photo Shoot!

I thought I’d start the new year off with photos from my Vernet Ensemble photo shoot. (I’ll be doing separate posts with details about the construction of the ensemble as the year progresses.) I’m so incredibly pleased with my ensemble and with the quality of the pictures. I often have lovely pictures after events and when documenting sewing projects, but these are extra special in terms of the sharpness of the images, the clear colors, and the fun use of a historical lens.

Hopefully, you were following along with the release of finished ensembles in December, but in case you missed mine or haven’t figured out yet which fashion plate I was recreating, here it is.

Plate No. 20 “Toque de Velours. Witz-choura de Satin.”

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Below is the “official release” picture. I did my best to mimic the pose of the fashion plate, but it was really hard to wrap my brain around the left and right of things in my own pose relative to the fashion plate. Left was right and right was left, and in the end we did the best we could and called it done. I think we actually did it right, it’s just that I’m facing the camera at a different angle. It still boggles my brain to try and figure it out!

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Unfortunately, there was no snow in November when we took these pictures and so I didn’t get ice skaters falling over behind me (also, I would have had to find ice skaters)… but I did get unfrozen water, and you’ll just have to imagine the ice and the skaters!

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These last few pictures with the blurred background were taken using a reproduction 19th century Petzval lens. You can read more about the lens and how it causes this effect here, at my photographer’s blog. 

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I am so incredibly blessed that to have a friend that joyfully enjoys practicing her photography skills with her nice digital camera (with fancy and historical lenses, to boot!) by taking pictures of my endeavors, amongst other things. She happily came over one afternoon in November just to accompany me for the photo shoot and take these absolutely gorgeous pictures. Thank you!!!

HSF/M #12: Green Regency Shawl

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I was inspired this fall to make an extra long Regency shawl. Others around the blog world have done this before–it’s certainly not a new idea I came up with so I can’t take credit for the creativity of sewing two pashminas together to make one longer one.

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I started by looking at my Pinterest boards to see what colors popped up often in fashion plates and extant shawls so I could pick a reasonably Regency color for my own creation (this board has a number of fashion plates and extant shawls). Common colors I saw were cream, dark red, grassy green, and dark blue. Occasional other colors included vibrant autumnal orange and rich yellow.

The second step was to consider the colors in my current Regency wardrobe so I could pick a color shawl that would harmonize with my outfits. Lastly, I looked at what was available on eBay for available color options and with sufficiently wide borders around all the edges to have the look of a Regency shawl. I found a few that matched my research but the color that best fit all of my criteria was grassy green. This shawl from the Met is a very similar in color to mine and was an inspiration in terms of border proportions.

The shawl fulfills the HSF/M Challenge #12: Re-Do, with a re-do of Challenge #7: Accessorize. Just the facts:

Fabric: Two pashminas.

Pattern: None.

Year: c. 1805

Notions: Thread.

How historically accurate is it?: It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time in general and in terms of the color and border trim proportions, but most shawls would have been silk or wool, which mine is not. Also, since it is two shawls sewn together, it has an inaccurate seam down the back. So we’ll sway 75%.

Hours to complete: Less than 1.

First worn: December 5, 2015.

Total cost: About $10-$15.

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I was dancing in a Regency period hall in December and it was the perfect opportunity to get some of the classic Regency shawl pose pictures. (The hall was decorated for the holidays, which matched my accessories perfectly!) It’s always amusing to me how the shawls are often depicted halfway off the wearer or draped artfully but with no apparent desire to keep warm.

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I wore my 1812 square neck dress but removed the pink sash that I’ve had on it for the last two years or so. It was nice to go back to a plain white dress for a change. It’s not plain at all with the new shawl!

I took the time to create a fun hairstyle with small diameter face framing curls and an extra braid of fake hair. I was very pleased with the overall shape and silhouette. (I’ll be sharing more about how I made the curls at some point in 2016 when I post more information about my Vernet ensemble and the photo shoot of the completed outfit.)

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I had a blast dancing all day in such a beautiful space. When I cooled off between dances the shawl was great to keep me warm. And I love how festive it looks with the red necklace! I hope your holidays are full of fun, joy, and blessings!

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Vernet Project: Making Progress

Our group’s early December deadline to finish sewing our Vernet Projects is fast approaching! Thank goodness we’ve had all year to work on these–mine has been quite a project with all the hand sewing and patterning and learning new skills. Of my five pieces, one is totally done, two have less than three tasks left to be finished, and 2 are still about halfway completed. It won’t quite be furious sewing, but I do have to keep at it to get it done in time. For now, here is proof that I’ve been making progress!

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Starting December 7th, you should check in often with the group on Facebook to see each recreation released side by side with the original Vernet fashion plate. It’s going to be really, really amazing to see these crazy and beautiful fashion plates in 3D form!

Waterproof Picnic Blanket V. 1

I really don’t enjoy picnicking on wet ground, especially when it’s the sort of picnic with blankets, not chairs. I’d say that 80% of the picnics I attend are the sit on the ground sort, and I’d say the ground is at least a little bit damp at least 30% of the time.

I’d searched around a bit for a nice thick wool picnic blanket that would be generic enough to use for 19th and early 20th century picnics without looking glaringly modern, but found that the nice thick ones were more money than I wanted to pay. So I thought creatively and found a nice remnant of wool fabric to use as a picnic blanket. But it’s a little thin, and when the ground is damp the fabric doesn’t have much to defend itself.

So I thought about things some more and decided to make a non-period accurate waterproof blanket by backing my wool fabric with some waterproof modern material. I considered tarps, or a plastic-y tablecloth, or just waterproof fabric… but all of these things would cost money, even if not very much. But then I bought a new shower curtain liner for our bathroom, and I thought: “Ah ha! Now I’ll have an old already grungy large piece of waterproof plastic that I can use to back my picnic blanket!”

To make it, I first cut off the top few inches where the rusty grommets were and the bottom area where the rusty magnets were. Then, I cleaned it. (Of course, part of the point of buying a new shower curtain is that I didn’t really feel like giving the old one a really good scrub… irony!) I didn’t clean it as much as I would have if I planned to still use it in my shower, since after all the point is to put it on the dirt and grass, but I did clean it enough.

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Cutting off the top edge.

Once I had cleaned it, I laid my wool fabric piece over the plastic and cut it to be just a little smaller than the fabric. Then I used tacky glue to adhere the plastic to the back of the wool along the hems. (As a side note, Mr. Q thought I was crazy while I had all of this spread on the living room floor…)

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Gluing the plastic to the wool.

I did serge the edges of the blanket before hemming them. I figured that since I was adding inaccurate shower curtain plastic backing to my blanket a little serging couldn’t hurt!

At home, the plan seemed to be working out fine. Once the glue dried, I had a plastic-backed picnic blanket! But, in using it multiple times last summer I encountered a few flaws. #1: The plastic backing is bulky, making the blanket hard to fold/roll and take up a lot of space. #2: The tacky glue didn’t hold very well. The wool slides across the plastic when anyone sits on it, pulling at the edges. The tension has caused the two layers to detach in some places. Of course, I could have solved the second problem by sewing the layers together instead of gluing them, but I was trying to avoid sewing through plastic.

So, a partially useful solution to the waterproof blanket idea. Over the fall and winter I wasn’t super motivated to do anything with it, but perhaps now that picnic season has come again I might have to tackle the idea again and try Waterproof Blanket V. 2!

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A Turban Fillet, 1811

A while ago now, during the Journal Journey Into La Belle Assemblee series, Natalie over at A Frolic Through Time brought two similar ball/evening hair styles to my (and her other readers’) attention. These styles for October 1811 were pointed out by Natalie as being perfect for someone to attempt for a Regency event and I thought “Oh! These are neat! And they would go so well with my pearl trimmed 1811 Elusive Blue gown. Perfect!” So I saved the link to the post and have been meaning to go back to it for the last few months.

After returning to that inspiration earlier this year and comparing the two styles in Natalie’s post, I decided on a turban fillet (see end of post for a definition). February’s HSF/M Challenge #2: Blue was the perfect kick I needed to get to work. While I technically submitted finishing the trim on my elusive blue dress for the challenge, I also finished my turban fillet slightly after the deadline. I enjoyed having a small project: it was a nice change from the usually long and complicated projects I often take on and am constantly in the midst of.

Here, then, is the fashion plate to which I am referring.

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No. 1. EVENING DRESS. A sea-green crape dress, vandykcd round the petticoat, and ornamented with large beads; a full drapery over the shoulders, and confined in to the back with a pearl band, ornamented round the neck and down the back with beads. A full turban fillet tapered, worn on the head. Pearl necklace, white kid gloves and shoes.

And here is the finished result of my labors.

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Side.
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Back.
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And the full ensemble.

I attempted to follow the detail of the hairstyle from La Belle Assemblee, down to the curls around my face (lots of extra work since all my hair is long!) and the little braid on the side. It was a puzzle to figure out and enjoyable to wear.

The question is, how did I get the turban fillet to stay in place on my head? Well, I thought of making a gathered tube wound with pearls, as Natalie proposes below, but decided to make my turban fillet have a flat back instead for multiple reasons. #1: there has to be a seam somewhere, so why not hide it intentionally? #2: I only had so many pearls, and winding them all around a sample tube used them up far too quickly so that I would never have reached the end and still been able to have pearls. #3: the angle of the pearls when winding them around was very challenging and I couldn’t figure out how to arrange them pleasingly. #4: “why waste pearls against my head?” I thought, when they’re going to be slightly uncomfortable and slippery there anyway?

So here is what I came up with: a length of fabric about 40″ long, wrapped around a strip of hi-loft poly-fill batting (not period, I know, but easy and free!), turned under and sewn down on the back, gathered across the top, with rows of pearls sewn on at intervals, and finished with loops on the back every few rows of pearls in order to secure the whole thing to my head. The entire thing is hand sewn. I have no idea how you would use a machine to assemble this the way I did!

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The top is the front of the turban fillet and the bottom is the back.

And yes, I was able to wear this to a Regency ball in April!

* Natalie notes the following about the description “turban fillet”. Please check out her post to see both fashion plates she refers to.

Turban fillet. For a change, just what you might imagine: a “fillet” is normally a narrow ribbon or wire wound round or encircling the head, while a turban is a, well, a turban. In this month’s evening dress hairstyle, we have a length of fabric well gathered to make a narrow, round, gathered tube, wound round the head. The turban is wound with pearls for extra measure. Handsome and I hope that someone will take up this style for a ball before long! The ball dress plate uses a similar design; it encircles the head more like the fillets we remember from Medieval fairy tales, but ironically, the effect is more turban-like to my eyes than the evening dress example, yet isn’t called a turban. Fashion, fashion.