Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ugh, Math

So... I can't get this French court gown idea out of my head.  Something like this would be what I'm aiming for:

Robe a la francaise [French or Austrian]  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I have this gorgeous gold embroidered faux silk, which is basically begging to be made into something extravagant.

Problem is, it's a curtain panel I bought on clearance, and it was the only one left at that particular store.  There are other stores I can check to find more, but first I need to know exactly how many curtains it'll take to make this beauty.  Hence the math.

I've pulled out my pattern, Simplicity 3637, which will provide the basic framework for the gown.  I'm sure I'll make changes to the overall look, but I think it's a good starting point.

So here's my problem.  The back of the pattern calls for 20 1/2 yards of 45" wide fabric.  20 1/2 yards!!!!  Who could ever afford to make this from the expensive "brocade, silk shantung, damask, or dupioni" that the pattern calls for?

Of course, this yardage includes the petticoat, which could easily be made with only the front panel out of the expensive stuff since the sides and back don't show.  It also includes the miles of self-trim that decorate the front of the overskirt and petticoat.  This could easily be made from contrasting fabric.  However, Simplicity doesn't break it down for you and say "you need this much for the petticoat, this much for the gown, and this much for the trim."  Oh, no.  That would be the easy way.  :|

So here I am studying the cutting layout section of the directions, which I never look at under normal circumstances.  I usually find much more efficient cutting layouts than the instructions - which is usually because I don't have "enough" fabric to make the garment in question.  :p

Anyway, this section does break it down into parts of the gown.  The trim section involves cutting strips across the whole width of fabric - twelve strips of 5" wide, three of 6", and four of 7".  This all adds up to 106" - two inches shy of three yards.  Three yards of fabric eaten away by trim.  No thanks.

Now here's an interesting bit.  There are no pattern pieces for the Gown Back or Petticoat Front and Back.  Instead, the instructions say to cut two panels 23.5" wide and 66" long, and two panels 43.5" and 51" long.  So if only my petticoat front is going to be the nice fabric, I can nix one of those 43.5x51" panels, as well as the Petticoat Side Front and Side Back pieces.

Pieces highlighted in yellow are the ones I need from the curtains.  Blue can be cheaper fabric.  
At this point I think I'm going to have to break out the actual pattern pieces and lay them out on my curtain.  It's 55x84", before I unpick the edges, so it's far wider than the 45" fabric the pattern calls for, anyway.  And I need to know how many more curtains to get, not how many yards of cut fabric to buy.  It just has to be complicated, doesn't it?

I guess now I know.  One pattern piece told me the whole story.  This pattern EATS fabric!  I laid out piece number 9, Skirt Side Back, and I could only fit one on the curtain.  That means I'd need at least three more to do this right.

I was just about to give up, when I suddenly thought to turn the pattern piece sideways.  It just *barely* fit!  And I was able to get number 8 (Skirt Front) next to it, with room to spare for several of the smaller pieces like the bodice and sleeves.

Slightly less depressing
So if I lay out my gown on the width of the curtain, I'll only need two more.  Trouble is, I'll have to piece the Gown Back rectangles, which is not ideal.  But if I can only find two more curtains, I'll probably still go for it.  If I can't find any, this gown will go back to being a petticoat, and I will be sad.  Anyway, tomorrow I shop around.  Wish me luck!


  1. Just found your blog through others... That pattern kinda sucks in many ways, most specifically in that it's a modern take on a historical dress not a historical pattern made to fit modern bodies. I'd highly recommend completely scrapping that pattern (maybe save it for a few pieces as guides and such) but check out This site is the main one that I've used to construct the robe a la francais I'm making for my mother (still not done) but is a huge help on piecing it together so it looks right.

    And you have it right that most of that trim eats up fabric. Another saver you can use is in the petticoat: only the full front piece and about a foot or or so on the bottom the entire way around need to be the outer fabric (unless you plan to polonaise this gown that is), so you can get by with using a cheaper fabric such as a cotton in a similar color. It's more piecing but saves on the nicer material.

  2. Thanks for the tips, Michael! The site is very informative, but I wish they had photos for the step-by-step process. Anyway, I'm sure I'll figure it out. :)

  3. If you want step-by-step photos, try Katherine's blog The Fashionable Past. She has an 8-article series on draping a francais from scratch. Lots and lots of photos.

    You might also take a look at Rockin' the Rococo here:

    Good luck!