Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Analyzing the Sophie Gown

I've been staring at the Sophie dress for a while now, and I think I finally have some of the more confusing aspects of it figured out.

On the top of my list was the stomacher. Just look at it....what is going on there?! Looking at it closely, it almost seems to cover the entire front of her torso. I first thought that the entire bodice was one piece and the stomacher was just a false front, but the skirt of the gown is clearly attached to the waist of the bodice and not a separate article, and it definitely goes over the stomacher, with the stomacher visible behind the skirt at the waist.

I eventually realized that I was looking at a super wide tabbed stomacher (the tabs were also throwing me off!), but it just looked so wide. I had sketched out what I though it must look like to achieve the look in the painting, and it was gigantic! So, I went hunting for extant stomachers that were equally large, and came across this torso devouring monster:

Is that not the most ridiculously huge stomacher you've ever seen? It's like an embroidered sheet! It far predates the Sophie gown, as it's from the late 17th century, but I couldn't ignore it.

Then, I came across this embroidered stomacher:

This is very similar to the size and shape of the stomacher I'd sketched out, and its from the same time period, so, huzzah! Documentation!(Okay, roughly the same time period - it's dated ca. 1720, which is a few decades before the Sophie gown, but I'm okay with it.)

My next conundrum was what exactly the stomacher fabric was. I thought it was maybe some sort of metallic corduroy or other ribbed fabric, but, while corduroy was around in the 18thC, I doubt it would have been seen with a gown like this one. My second thought was it was some sort of weird linear embroidery. Quite honestly, I still have no idea what that fabric is. My solution is going to consist of couching on parallel lines of silver trim to simulate the look. It's the only solution I can come up with that isn't period incorrect or just totally weird.

Once the stomacher was figured out, I moved on to bodice shape. It's a little hard to tell exactly what is going on, since a lot of the gown is obscured by her little lace capelet and her ermine cloak, but looking at my secondary inspiration image, a few things pop out:

First, the neckline is extraordinarily wide. So wide, in fact, that I'm actually considering making strapless stays instead of the adjustable stays, because I think that any stays with straps would be visible.The only thing keeping me from committing to that is that strapless stays seem to have been mostly the domain of working people, since they allowed for ease of movement where straps were a bit more restrictive, and not of the upper classes. Maybe I'll make the straps removable...I have no idea yet.

The second thing I noticed is that the front opening is also very wide, which is why such a huge stomacher is needed. Both paintings show a dress that reveals a lot of the stomacher, which makes me think that it was just a feature of this style of gown.

One thing I've yet to figure out are the sleeves. In the original Sophie painting, they are almost totally hidden by the lace. However, the way the lace drapes over the sleeve suggests a rather full sleeves, perhaps similar to the ones on this dress:

However, that sort of sleeve seems to be mostly with the déshabillé style of allemande gown, and not with the more structured sorts. The black and white version of the Sophie painting (from an earlier version of the painting) shows the sleeve a bit better, but not enough to give us a definite shape. There seems to be a lot of movement in the fabric of the upper sleeve, suggesting that it's not as tight fitting as the sleeve in the other painting, but otherwise, I'm stumped.

Stupid sleevils. They always cause trouble.

Anyway, I'm leaning toward something sort of between the two styles, not a loose sleeve, but not a fitted sleeve, either, like this one:

The skirts seem pretty straightforward.  The gown has a split skirt that has metallic silver trim on either side of the opening. It's hard to tell what's happening with the petticoat, though, since it's not a full-length portrait. There are examples of both plain and highly decorated petticoats, so it could really go either way. I think I'm going to keep things pretty simple - a single line of trim down the openings of the gown skirt, with a plain petticoat.

I'll be picking up the fabric for the dress soon, and starting on the undies in a couple of weeks. I have so much downtime at work that I'm thinking of taking my sewing with me for when nothing is going on, and doing some hand stitchery. That should ensure that I have the undies done in plenty of time to work on the gown properly. :) (And it'll give me something to do when there's nary a customer in sight!)


  1. Torso devouring monster indeed! That is the most ridiculously huge stomacher I've ever seen, how could anyone have worn it without looking ridiculous?
    I have always loved Sophie's gown and it's fabulous stomacher. I'm really excited to see that it's going to be re-created!

  2. Oh! I've just had a thought regarding the stomacher background fabric. What if it's shiny silver fabric over very fine boning or cording?
    It would be far less time consuming than sewing on a million little rows of trim. I'm not sure if it's accurate or not, but if I were making a stomacher like this then I wouldn't want to spend too much time on the part that would be mostly covered up with other trim.

    1. You know, I was looking at Rockin' the Rococo's stays, and I had the same thought. :D It looks like it's probably cord or reed, with very narrow channels. It's what I'm leaning toward now, and it would be a lot sturdier than a lot of couched on cording that could come up if rubbed the wrong way. :) Great minds think alike! :D