Monday, January 31, 2011

Robe a la Polonaise

Up this week is my new Robe a la Polonaise.  It was started in *surprise* another workshop through Burnley & Trowbridge.  This time the lovely Brooke Welborn taught the class during one of her trips back from Cairo; she has made an intense study of Polonaise gowns, beginning with her final project of apprenticeship at Colonial Williamsburg.  I'll try to talk more about the history of the Polonaise gown in my next post, but a quick description; it was a popular style in the 1770s and 80s defined by the separate outer front which drapes away from the body.  It can be a short jacket with no polonaising down to a longer gown (such as mine).
I chose an aqua silk taffeta for the main portion (petticoat and gown always match) and a yellow taffeta for the trim.  Silk gauze for the sleeve ruffles and kerchief.  Mine is worn over side-hoops.  The fitted front bodice is pinned closed.  All of the trimming is roll-hemmed at about 1/8", gathered with a whip stitch, and stitched down.
You can see how the outside fronts fall back, folding up a little over the hips.  The bow is separate and pinned on.

The back shows the satin ribbons which hook up in back to gather up the skirt.  You can also see two pleats taken in the front piece that are stitched down to the waist.  The gown hem just barely passes the trim on the petticoat, which was intentionally done.

Laid out the gradual widening of the trim becomes more obvious.  There are three thread loops along the side back seams of the skirt to help guide the gathers up the ribbon.  The hem is rolled at about 1/4" all the way around to the neckline.

Here you can see how the outside front is only attached at the neckline, armscye, and side-back seam.  The pleats are not stitched to the fitted bodice.

I chose to insert the top of the sleeves between lining and fashion fabric.  The shoulder area is stitched folded over on the sleeve with a spaced backstitch.  About half-way down the sleeve becomes exposed and all is stitched with a regular backstitch.  This happens at the shoulder seam in back and where a seam *might* be on the front shoulder area depending on the fit.

The back is a very simple two pieces.  The side-back seam is not done how it usually is on gowns, but with a turned, non-visible backstitched seam.  The two pleats on the front are done with visible spaced back-stitching however.

I put a great deal of fullness into my skirt since I had wide fabric and wanted to!  There are two pleats under the turn back on each side of the side-back seam (2" deep) and one under the center back (1.5" deep).  The seams which run down the skirt are finished with a mantua-makers stitch.  Hooks on the ribbons and thread eyes on the bows allow the polonaising to be released.

The petticoat is bound with linen tape and has about 3/8" hem.  The ruffle reaches just below the regular hem.  *Don't make the ruffle extend far below, it may seem like it saves fabric but you'll end up destroying the ruffle quickly with shoe buckles, mud, rocks, etc.  Patching or darning a small area under the ruffle will never be seen, but you don't want to damage the ruffle itself if possible.

I know this is a garment which exists mostly in fashion plates, so if there's anything you would like more pictures of or clarification on, just ask!

You can also find a post on the co-ordinating pair of stays here.


American Duchess said...

WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You rock my socks, Mantua Maker, seriously.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, thanks for posting :) I commented on your pictures on DeviantArt, about making one of these... it's great now to have more information on what goes into making one. There does seem to be a lot of similarity to men's frock coats. I'm sure having made those before might help.

Anonymous said...

Is this hand-sewn?
It's incredible... SO beautiful!

Kendra said...

Hi Nicole - your polonaise is gorgeous! I would email you privately but I can't find your contact info (feel free to delete). It would be nice if you credited Brooke for her research on this.

ColeV said...

Oops! Sorry about that Kendra! I've posted pictures in so many places, I knew I'd forget to mention about the workshop on one of them. I placed a comment on it now, and she will certainly be in there a lot when it comes to the history post next week!

Kendra said...

No worries! Just thought I'd make the friendly reminder :) Soon we'll have our article done and published, so there'll be something concrete to point to!

Lindsey said...

Thank you for posting all of these lovely images! Your polonaise is STUNNING! (I love your wig, too, by the way)

Unknown said...

You've inspired me! Must get started on mine now. How much of the main fabric did you purchase - 5 yards, 60" wide? Did you use a pattern (sorry if that's a dumb question, but I am not good enough to NOT use one myself). Beautiful! Thank you so much for all the pics!

ColeV said...

It really depends on the length of gown you want. I think I used about 6 yards, having a long and full skirt. You could certainly do it with 5, just a little shorter perhaps. I didn't use a pattern, in the workshop we partner up and drape the garment on each other. I believe there is a pattern in Norah Waugh's book, but that would have to be adjusted to fit you. The bodice front and back resemble a gown, but the outside front really needs to be draped to fall correctly (but you could use the books pattern as a general "shape").

Die Werkelwütige said...

First of all: *awwww* Incredible work!
I stumbled over your side while searching the answer to my recent question: how do you open and close a Roba a la Polonaise?
Did I get this right? You pin the front with needles???

ColeV said...

Lilja: Thank you! It's done with pins, usually short in length. You bury the tips into the stays so they don't poke out.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful website - I'd like to know the dates of some of the prints on this page however as I am attempting to recreate Young's "Recurring Cycles of Fashion" for 1760-1785"

Anyone who knows of images, especially fashion plates for this period - the info would be most appreciated.

ColeV said...

Most of my images come from the Lewis Walpole Gallery or Maciets prints ( ). Otherwise just start searching for key fashion words like Polonaise or Robe a la Francaise and many sites will have images they've come across in searches.

Unknown said...

After I saw your polonaise which made me think about a portrait of Marie Antoinette,
I wonder if the back of her gown is the same as your pictures??? If not how it looks like?

ColeV said...

C Jenny: it could definitely be the same style of back. There are a few other types, but this is a common one.