Monday, 11 July 2016

The Versailles Ball, and HSF Travel

So, as anyone who follows my facebook has known for quite some time, on May 30th I was privileged to attend the Fêtes Galantes at the Palace of Versailles. This post has taken a very long time in coming, which I'm very sorry for, but I've been very busy with my masters and I just haven't had time to do a proper post!

As always, an image to start:

Photo arranged by Raven of Plaid Petticoats
I love this shot! Raven wanted to evoke Annie Leibowitz's Vogue shoot for Marie Antoinette, and I think she did a fabulous job. Our instructions were "look bored," haha. I am in the sage green gown in the centre. To my right are Emma, in dark blue, and Alana, in pink satin brocade. I draped both of their gowns, and did much of the stitching on both.


Now, before I talk about the process of getting ready for the ball, I wanted to share a little bit of context on this gown, because taking it to France was actually quite special to me. The gown was created to tell the story of one Nova Scotian woman who was forced from her home in Acadia in the 1740s, and took refuge in France. Wearing the gown there felt like an important part of its story. In addition, I posted this gown on the Historical Sew-Fortnightly for the Travel challenge - I didn't actually enter it in the challenge, as it was mostly made some time ago, but I did want to share the travel-laden story that goes with it.

The gown is my c. 1740s Robe a la Francaise and embroidered stomacher, modelled on one in the collection of the LACMA, and chosen because of its similarity to the gowns listed in the death inventory of Dame Marie-Josephe Le Borgne de Belle Isle, of Louisbourg. It was made and initially worn in Marie's birthplace of Nova Scotia, Canada.

Marie was the highest-ranking woman at the Fortress of Lousibourg (in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) in the 1740s, with close ties both within the town and to surrounding communities. She had an impressive lineage: she was descended from French noble houses on both sides of her family, claiming a number of seigneurial lords of New France, as well as two Governors of Acadia, among her recent ancestors, and her mother was the daughter of Chief Madokawando of the Penobscot of Pentagoët. She married twice in Louisbourg; once to a respected civil administrator of the town and afterwards to Lord Joseph Du Pont Duvivier. Between these two marriages, she had nine children, at least four of whom survived to adulthood.

Given her strong ancestral and communal ties to Louisbourg and Acadia, the Siege of Louisbourg and the resulting expulsion of the Acadians in 1745 must have been devastating. Marie packed up her children and her belongings, and undertook the voyage to France along with many other members of her once-thriving community. The voyage would have been dangerous, and the outlook bleak - especially when she lost her first husband, soon after the tumult began. Yet in 1749, when Louisbourg was returned to French hands, Marie found the strength to once again pack up her children and her life and sail back to the New World. She remarried in 1750 and immersed herself as a pillar of the Acadian community at Louisbourg until her death from illness in 1754. In some ways her death at this time is a blessing, as she did not live to see the second siege of Louisbourg in 1758, which ended when the residents were once again expelled and the town was purposefully burnt to the ground. This event effectively ended French occupancy of the Maritimes, although the Acadian culture remains to this day.

Marie's travels are unlikely to have taken her to Versailles, despite her aristocratic connections and the time she spent in France, but when I had the opportunity to wear my "Louisbourg" gown to the ball in May it felt a bit like I was completing a part of the story the gown was created to tell. The gown is not a travelling suit - a riding habit or a redingote or anything particularly practical - but in many ways travel has defined it: my own travels, but more importantly the travel forced on Marie and her family, and on the entire Acadian community.


The Ball


It looks like a painting! I'm so happy with how these came out.
Getting ready for our own travels was a pretty hectic business. It started back in the fall, with drafting and making stays for Alana. Alana has never sewn before, and she was an enthusiastic learner but given the time-crunch Emma and I made the stays for her, and much of the gown. She sewed her hoops all on her own, with some guidance from Emma, and did a great job! We're getting her hooked on reenacting so I'm sure she'll have lots to practice on in the future. =)

Here's Alana's draping process - first a photo of her wearing her stays with her hoops and Emma's candy-cane/circus petticoat (100% linen! 100% amazing!), over which I have draped her bodice lining. The second photo shows the process of draping the gown itself. This was Alana's first gown and she wasn't sure if she'd like it, so we've used a poly satin. I WOULD NOT recommend this, ever. Even for a beginner gown - or rather, especially for a beginner gown. Silk taffeta goes together like a dream. Poly satin is a fraying, drooping, wrinkling, hell-spawned mess. *Ahem*

But she looks lovely, no?

Emma used a gorgeous steel blue taffeta, and had her own stays and petticoats already, so her process was a lot faster and smoother. She's also a very experienced costumer, so we just spent a lot of evenings watching TV and handing bits of the gown back and forth to drape or stitch. This meant she had to spend a lot of time in her 18th century underwear, ready to have bits of gown draped on her, which resulted in this gem:

Here's her draping process:

Then front
Back first

Finally, sleeves.

I, unlike most people, apparently, don't actually mind draping or setting sleeves. I find them really satisfying, actually. Emma's took some fiddling, but they sat really nicely in the end.

Oh, and I made some shoes. Well, took apart and re-covered some 1940s shoes.

Trying out the look of the AD buckle
I used all stash silk! Also, I wore stockings to the ball. =P
Unfortunately, it rained almost the whole time we were in Paris. We got to wander around the first day, but as we'd taken the 22-hour overnight bus from Glasgow and arrived at about 6 a.m., we mostly just wanted to sleep. We did get to see the Louvre and a few other monuments first, though. Paris is beautiful - I can't wait to go back!

On the second day we wandered around Paris for one day in the 18th c. daywear we'd brought along, joined by our friend Adam, a sailor and sometime-Revolutionary of generally lower repute than we should probably be associating with. He dressed Alana up in some sailing clothes and we went out on the town.

From the left: Adam, Emma, myself, and Alana 
We had fun stealing swings from children and taking the metro.

Also: ice cream
The metro is fun in 18th century clothing

And then it rained. This is a period umbrella method!
Met Museum 53.600.588(60), 1746 - "Espéce de Parapluye" 

The following day was the ball, and we spent all day getting ready. We got down to the wire at the end, but we made it!

Emma working her hair magic while I sew a Revolutionary cockade to Adam's hat. Also yes, I put on my petticoat and bedgown for getting ready. That's what they're for!

Here's the result of Emma's efforts (all the powder!):

Dancing in the Hall of Mirrors
The grand staircase - one of my favourite photos

The three ladies
Revolutionaries don't smile
I *love* the back of this gown!

The custard plates are hiding behind us on the window sill.
We were joined by a big group of Emma's friends, who are historical dancers from Massachusetts.

And finally, fireworks!

It was pouring rain the whole time, so here's how some of Emma's friends kept dry - genius, but hilarious!

T-rex dancers!

Anyways, it was an amazing experience. I feel so lucky to have seen the Hall of Mirrors come alive as it was meant to - with people in incredible gowns, instead of just people in sweaty t-shirts and shorts and ballcaps. =P But really, I think it just feels a different way entirely. It's what it was built for.

Thanks to my amazing travel-adventure-sewing buddies, who made this such a fun trip. Can't wait for more shenanigans!


  1. I just read Quinn's take on this! How delightful!!!

  2. Thanks for sharing the travel story for your gown! I love learning the history of regular (ish) people, and that makes your wearing of the gown particularly poignant I'd imagine. It was great to meet you!

  3. I am so glad we got to meet at the Citadel. I am enjoying reading about all your adventures. Seeing you in the gown at Versailles just makes me swoon. Thank you for sharing the history of Marie.