The French were here, and still are here, and have been here for a very long time.
Ok, so what are we looking at when we look for French Canadien dress from the mid-eighteenth century? There's not a lot of evidence in portraiture or extant garments, but the French in Canada were amazing records keepers. So there's a lot of written documentation of trade, wills, probate, contracts, all kinds of things. We also know the class level of most people in the French colonies. Armed with this information, and looking at art from France and North America in the surrounding decades, I can put together an idea of what my impersonation should look like.
And there will not be a French bodice, unkempt hair under a mob-ish cap, and exposed shift sleeves anywhere!
You see, I will be portraying a lower sorts woman. Probably from farm stock, hardworking, not a lot of money for personal material culture. I might be poor, but I am not trash. There's the thing, as I sit here, listening to the old-timers tell tourists that followers of the army were all prostitutes. I might be poor, but I'm not a fallen woman in need of clothing! (cue mental images of all kinds that I will never portray)
Look at this lovely painting by Chardin (1699-1779) of a kitchen maid. Now, this painting was done in France, of a French woman, and is from the first half of the century instead of mid century, but she is fully dressed! A kitchen maid! Then, if you look at the image I posted yesterday or the French Canadien couple from the first quarter of the nineteenth-century and see that they are also both fully dressed, you might get an idea of how very wrong going about in shift sleeves and slovenly looking is to my eye. Clothing is such an important marker of class and culture, just look at how scandalous the bikini was when it first came out! The designer had to hire prostitutes to model it, American women who wore it to the beach were arrested for indecency in the early days of it's existence. I have to think that decency played a role in how people dressed in the eighteenth-century as well, and if everyone around you, in the decades before and after the 'French Period', and the cultures around the French colonies, are fully dressed, maybe the French Canadiens were fully dressed too.
Ok, so there's my reasoning behind what I am up to with my new clothes. This painting by Chardin is actually the look I am after with my new clothes. The gown rebuild means there's not enough cloth for a full length gown, and Chardin depicts many women with this shorter length of gown. I also am not entirely convinced that what we are looking at is an unstructured manteau, but an actual gown. Check out those sleeves. That is a big marker in my books. Now, I may, or may not wear stays underneath my clothes, I haven't decided. I may go for a slightly less structured waistcoat, but it will be worn as underwear, not my outer garments. For now, I am building the gown to be worn over stays.
Ok, so construction photos...
This is the other panel of skirt from mum's old gown. I cut it lengthwise so that I would have two front panels, roughly 45" wide (I just cut it, I haven't actually measured, so roughly). The gown's skirts are shorter, because mum was shorter than me, so I knew I would have to do some piecing. I also want to do a 'grown on' robing, not a separate piece, as I am making a sacque from an earlier decade, and there were still elements left over from a fully draped garment such as the Mantua.
So, I added the shoulder strap to the bodice lining, and a big chunk of wool pieced to the top of that front panel so I could fold back the robing.
Next, I carefully folded and pressed the robings in place. Because there is a slight curve to the shoulder strap, I made sure I also curved the robings with the steam iron. Yes, there is a slight chunk missing from the top of the shoulder strap, it's above the seam line though, so I will have no problem stitching the wool in place and not having a chunk missing from the shoulder of the finished garment. I cut the excess off the end of the robing later, just before I stitched it to the back shoulder.
Then, I folded the robing back, so that my seam allowance was underneath, and then basted the robing along that V fold. You can see my little blue stitches in the second photo.
Quick note, I finish the edges of my linings before stitching them in place, so turning up the bottom edge, pressing all my seam allowances properly, all that stuff. It really does make a difference to the overall finished product. The steam iron is your most important tool in the shop, use it. Ok, these photos show the lining pinned in place along that basting line, and then stitched down along the front edge. My stitching goes through to the right side of the bodice along that basting line for the robing. You won't see it when I am wearing the garment though, because it's under the robing, but the extra line of stitching gives support to that front edge. It's firmly nailed down.
The finished front edge.
Just before I finished for the day I stitched the back shoulder seam, and side seams. I then slashed into the waistline and put it on the dolly to drape the side pleats and see how things were progressing.
This is where she will sit for a few days. I now have to switch gears and prepare for a weekend of Burn's Night activities at the Mess. Yes, we will be there both evenings, so I need to dig out all my tartan clothes and get them ready for wearing. There will be alterations, since I haven't had them on in well over 15 years...
It's a good thing I know how to sew!