The return to nature in post-revolution French fashion immediately came to my mind when brainstorming for this gown for the Foundations Revealed 2018 competition. Although stays were still present in controlling the female figure the sheer natural style of dress was incredibly different than what came before it. This style of dress was very short lived much like the sternocera aequisignata beetle that I used as embellishment. I wanted to create something that was a little inspired by the form of beetles. When looking through the Neoclassical styles of the Directoire period 1795-1799, I found many beautiful colored fashion plates of white gowns with pops of color. I found two dates on my main inspirational fashion plate from Costume Parisien one of 1799 and one of 1804, although I cannot find the original source (darn you pinterest) I am inclined to think it is the earlier date comparing it to other fashion plates from that year. From that jumping off point I decided to create a sleeveless spencer over a white cotton gown that mimicked the wings of a beetle. I looked at many different 19th century examples of beetle wing embellishment and jewelry. I decide to not use any jewelry but instead create a laurel wreath inspired crown constructed of beetle wings instead. The hardness of the beetle wing embellishments contrasted nicely with the soft white gown. The spencer acts as the hard outer wing casings or elytra that covers the sheer hind wings used for flying. The sheer bobbinet also acts as a nice point of contrast with the pleated silk taffeta placed on top. The sleeves of the under gown are really what tied the whole garment together.
The pattern for the under gown was Franken-patterned from several regency patterns from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and the guides laid out in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox. I then used the bodice pattern from the under gown and altered the neckline to make the pattern for the sleeveless spencer. I draped the peplum on the form out of muslin to get the shape I was after, but once it was made out of silk I was not happy with the overall silhouette so I had to remove it and recut the entire top line. The long stays were made from an altered pre-made pattern from Cynthia Settje of Redthreaded. I ended up taking a bit out of the length because I am rather short waisted.
The sleeveless spencer or over bodice is made from a green silk taffeta shot with gold, lined with with natural unbleached linen and trimmed with hand dyed yellow silk. The under gown is made from a white light weight cotton organdy with English cotton bobbinet trim. Both pieces are trimmed with sternocera aequisignata beetle wings. The bodied petticoat (not pictured) is made of a plain weave cotton. The long stays are made of drab colored English coutil, with a wooden busk, German synthetic whale boning. The chemise is made of white light weight linen. All pieces were stitched using natural fibered thread including cotton, linen, and silk.
The sleeveless spencer was hand sew together using the English Stitch as its main joining seam a technique I have never used but quickly fell in love with. The neckline has channel for a thin cord to give the neckline a smooth fit. All the beetle wings are hand applied in clusters of three. If I could go back again I would not have had the beetle wings pre-drilled, as I found out I could sew right through them with a sharp needle. I filled the tips of all the wings to give them a more manicured smooth shape.
The under gown is made up of a 4 paneled skirt and a 5 paneled bodice with 1 part fitted sleeves. I did cheat and machine sew my long skirt seams that were then hand felled down. The bodice neck and waist also have have channels for a thin cord to keep them snug. My favorite part of this whole project was the sleeves. I traced the sleeve pattern on to a larger piece of cotton organdy. I then placed the the into a large hoop that fit almost the entire sleeve shape. Once the sleeve was taught I draped the cotton bobbinet shoulder swags into place and secured with three beetle wings. The elbow trim was created by using thin strips on silk taffeta with both edges pleated onto the bobbinet base in a scalloped pattern. I then basted the trim to the sleeve base and applied the straight strips of pleating. After all layers were attached I carefully removed the sleeve fabric from underneath the trim. Once the sleeve was cut out I carefully joined the underarm seam to be hidden beneath the pleating and beetle wing to create a continues line. The sleeves were then set into the armscye using a running back stitch.
The long stays are really deserving of their own future long post. They are constructed from a single layer of coutil using external boning channels. The busk has and interior pocket. The bust line has a drawstring from under arm to center front. The back has hand sewn eyelets and a criss-cross lacing pattern. Although less accurate I wanted stays that were easy for me to tie myself. I added small flossing details to keep the boning in place. I love the silhouette of this pattern and would highly recommend it.
I would still like to go back and add move beetle wings and bobbinet to the bottom hem of the gown before I wear it at Costume College this July.
Yellow silk dyed by Athel Artistry
Rosewood marquise parasol, ca 1845-55 was loaned by Brandon Mckinney Parasol Restoration
Hair by Bonnie Belvedere
Photos by Bonnie Belvedere