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How to Sew a Marie Antoinette Dress

Updated on October 30, 2011

We are Sewing the Marie Antoinette Dress | Simplicity Pattern 3637 | Part 1

After much preparation (mental and physical!) we are ready to begin sewing Simplicity Pattern 3637, the Marie Antoinette Dress by Deborah Woodbridge. My daughter has asked for months if we could please make this 18th century style dress and we are finally ready to begin. We are not expert sewers, but both have experience and lots of ambition. Thankfully we do have family members who are experts, so if we need help we have lots of it.

If you've found this webpage you may be making this dress too. We are documenting the entire process (the good and the difficult) along with any executive decisions or changes we might make to make the process easier. If you have this pattern and are making the dress or have already made the dress, please drop us a note and let us know how it's going (or send words or encouragement! or helpful tips :-). Now on to the project...

This article is a work in progress. I'll be adding to it as we move along with our project. I may even have to break this into two separate articles. After all, making a Marie Antoinette Dress is not a small task! Update: So far I've added one more page and I imagine there will be at least one more after that too. There's a link at the bottom of the page for Part 2 of this Marie Antoinette sewing project.

Update: The dress is finished!!! As of 10/28/2011! See part 2 for the finished dress.

Marie Antoinette How To Blog
Marie Antoinette How To Blog

Getting Started

Lots to think about, supplies to gather and samples to make.

Here are the Patterns We Are Using - Note: We Are Starting on the Dress *First*

Alert: This pattern is now officially out of print, although you may still be able to find it at the links listed below (Amazon and Ebay). I found out about this when we finally went to purchase the hoop skirt (panniers) pattern. I ended up ordering it from Amazon. If you have to do this too, be sure to get the right size package. Sizes are 8-14 or 16-24.

Simplicity 3637 Sew Pattern MISSES 18th CENTURY COSTUME Size 8-14
Simplicity 3637 Sew Pattern MISSES 18th CENTURY COSTUME Size 8-14

This is the exact pattern we are working from. Note the sizes. Find larger sizes here. I was surprised to see these patterns available at Amazon. We bought ours locally, but if you can't find it locally, Amazon is a good option.

 
Simplicity Sewing Pattern 3635 Misses 18th Century Undergarments, Corset, Chemise, Panniers (Hoop Skirt)
Simplicity Sewing Pattern 3635 Misses 18th Century Undergarments, Corset, Chemise, Panniers (Hoop Skirt)

We will be making the hoop skirt too, but honestly, we wanted to get started on the dress before we felt burned out in any way. This is a major project!

Special note! I just learned this pattern is no longer carried at my local craft store Hobby Lobby (maybe others). And we can't find it in the Simplicity Book either! So today, I bought this pattern at Amazon.

 

Or...I see eBay has a few 3637 patterns listed too - Ebay might be the best bet in the months to come as others completely run out

Many of the products are "Buy it Now" and no bidding is involved.

We made a Practice Bodice FIRST to Check the Size

We were going to make a 10, but realized we needed to make a 12

Although my daughter was chomping at the bit to get started on the Marie Antoinette dress, she realized and agreed that making a practice run would be the very best thing. We needed to be absolutely sure that the size would be right. After all we don't won't to make a dress she can't wear and waste yards and yards of fabric! For our practice run, we used some leftover fabric from other projects and made the bodice (not the sleeves, not the skirt). This part is fitted and it's very important to be sure it fits correctly. As it turned out the size we thought would fit, a size 10, was too small and we decided to go with a size 12.

This took a LOT of work. Mostly because we couldn't cut up the original pattern sheets before we knew the size. Once it's cut - it's cut! What we had to do was trace all the size 10 pieces on regular paper and cut them out (leaving the original pattern intact and unused). Once we knew for sure which size we needed we would cut out the pieces and that's what we did.

Preparing to sew the Marie Antoinette Dress Simplicity 3637
Preparing to sew the Marie Antoinette Dress Simplicity 3637

Something Else We Did First

We Oiled the Sewing Machine!

Our household had two good working sewing machines up until 6 months ago. One broke, then (ugh!) the other broke. The good news is that our Grandmother gave us her old machine right in the nick of time. It's in wonderful shape, but hasn't been used in a long time. We oiled the machine thoroughly according to the directions in the instruction book (only about a million places). This is another thing that took some time and patience, but was well worth it.

Simplicity Pattern 3637 Fabric
Simplicity Pattern 3637 Fabric

The Fabric - What to Use? How Much will it Cost?

We Chose Costume Satin

The recommended fabrics for the Marie Antoinette dress (main gown) are: Brocade, Silk Shantung, Damask or Dupioni. We are using Costume Satin (which isn't on the list!). This pattern calls for 20 yards of fabric. That's a lot of fabric! Our budget requires something very affordable. We shopped at Joann's Fabrics and found 3 or 4 fabrics that we really liked. They ranged in price from 3.99 per yard to 24.99 per yard. Thankfully my daughter's favorite was the Costume Satin with a nice low price of 3.99 per yard. We also had a 40% coupon. So $3.99 x 20 yards = $79.80 with a 40% discount = $47.88. BUT, they didn't have 20 yards. They only had 10 yards at the store. We bought all 10 yards and are ordering the rest from Joanns. There's a slight concern that the remaining 10 yards could be a slightly different color because of the dye lot. Some fabric colors can vary a little if the bolts are not from a consecutive run. We could have ordered it while at the store, but for lots of reasons we didn't do this.

Fiskars Pinking Shears
Fiskars Pinking Shears

Will the Costume Satin Ravel?

Yes.

The costume satin looks like it's going to ravel pretty badly. We've decided to use pinking shears to cut the fabric pattern pieces to help with the raveling. Unfortunately we've forgotten to grab them a couple of times (like cutting the lining and trimming some seams).

Fiskars Pinking Shears are the best you can buy.

The Marie Antoinette Dress *Lining* - Pattern calls for Linen - We Didn't do that Either

*We aren't to the lining part quite yet (even thought my daughter has already cut it out), but this is what we intend on using.* I'm assuming they recommend linen to stay true to the period, but my daughter didn't want plain 'ole linen. My daughter wanted something spiffier and I can't blame her for it. Special, colorful linings are a nice secret surprise in garments (and handbags too!). So we bought this purple lining material. I'm wondering if there's anywhere it will show through the dress. I hope not. I hope we didn't make a mistake by buying purple.

Total Cost Tally for Simplicity Pattern 3637

Here I'll add the Cost for Everything We Purchase

Don't take this a written in stone for the cost. Sometimes we buy a little more than they recommend. For example, if they recommend 7/8 yards I'll simply buy 1 full yard etc.

I'm still gathering my receipts and will add that info here asap.

Starting to Sew Simplicity Pattern 3637

The Beginning: Steps 1, 2 & 3 - The Bodice - Triangular Pieces

Marie Antoinette Dress 3637 Step 1
Marie Antoinette Dress 3637 Step 1

Forgive me, but I forgot to take pictures of steps 2 & 3. These are all actually from step 1. The trickiest part is step 3 - turning the bodice right side out with the boning in place in the channel (you'll see the bodice already turned in the next step). It did not want to turn because the bottom (point) is partially sewed shut. Well, we finally made it work by bending the boning somewhat. And we just discovered a major error on our part. Since the front of the dress is rather low, we were going to add 2 inches to the top of the bodice for my daughter. Well, we forgot. So plan B will be to add extra neckline ruffles. We will raise that neckline somehow!

Step 4 - Pleating Bodice Side Front

Step 4 of Marie Antoinette Dress
Step 4 of Marie Antoinette Dress

I think my daughter did an awesome job tacking this pleat!

Some Expert Sewers Will *Gasp*, but....

We draw and outline in pen right on the fabric!!! It's easy to see and is hidden in the seams.

Bodice Side Front Step 5
Bodice Side Front Step 5

Step 5 - Attaching Bodice to Bodice Side Front

This step is when you baste the bodice (triangular piece) to the bodice side front with right sides together.

In this photo, the left side is showing the 2 pieces basted with right sides together. On the right hand picture I've flipped the pieces opened showing the right sides of the fabric.

February 28, 2011

Marie Antoinette Step 6
Marie Antoinette Step 6

Step 6 - Stitch Center Back Seam

Thankfully, this is simple

The back is two large rectangles which are stitched together to make a center seam. Here, Savannah is holding the 2 pieces sewn together. You can see the stitched part in the photo inset. Easy step :-).

This piece attaches near the neck/shoulders and runs all the way to the floor. It's a lot of fabric! and it a key part to making the dress look unique.

Step 7 - Stitching Bodice Side Back to Gown Back - Nice Easy Step

Marie Antoinette Dress 3637 Step 7
Marie Antoinette Dress 3637 Step 7

Here you can see the two gown back pieces a little better than the step above. The gown back is soooo long we had to put it on the floor to get this picture.

Step 8 - Making the Pleats! - The Most Confusing Step so Far

Making Pleats on Marie Antoinette Dress Project
Making Pleats on Marie Antoinette Dress Project

Oh yes, I remember this confusing step from our practice run. Wow. This step is tricky and I can imagine many projects ending here!! On our practice run, we missed that the Bodice Side Back is part of the pleating!!! Geepers. This confused us for quite a while til we figured it out. The pattern envelope includes a VERY IMPORTANT GUIDE for this step. It is a guide only - no cloth is cut from the guide. You will place it on top of the fabric in this step to mark where the pleats go.

Folding the pleats was so very confusing, in fact, that we looked for a video of how to do it. We didn't find one! So we made one as we went along. I'm not sure where it ended up, but I'll post it here as soon as possible.

Sew front to back piece
Sew front to back piece

Step 9 - Attaching Bodice Front to Side Back

It was time for another EASY step (after those pleats!)

Here, all that is required is attaching the bodice front to the side back. Note: The side back is currently sewn to the gown back.

This step connects all the pieces (so far) and now we have a "circle" of pieces. It's hard to explain, but if you are doing to project too you'll understand what I mean.

I think this is a good place to stop and breath. I'm going to put the next steps in another post (tab at the top of the page) so this one is not overwhelmingly long. So if you are following along and want to see how we progressed go to step 2 (link below).

If you are also making this dress, please leave a note and a link to your blog or website. No spam please. Only related articles or blogs. Thanks!

Are you also making this dress? - Please, please, please leave us a note

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    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I am planning to make this too! I'm making it for a big event I'm going too for Halloween this year. I am looking forward to seeing how yours turns out. I am doing blue too I think!

    • puzzlerpaige profile image
      Author

      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for your comment! After I started this blog/article my daughter got a sinus infection and that put us on hold for sewing (and everything!) for a while. But we are now starting again and I hope to post some updates this week. We'd love to see your dress too. We hope you will stop by again.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I am so glad I came across your project, I am about to start my own and I am thoroughly nervous, I think I keep putting off making a start because I am so worried I will be completely out of my depth! I will link to my own post when I do begin. Thanks again!

    • puzzlerpaige profile image
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      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Courtenay,

      I felt the same way...about being over my head, but we are plugging along. We've slowed down quite a bit, and some days all we do is discuss the dress, but we will eventually get there. If you make a blog about it etc. let me know and I'll link to you.

    • puzzlerpaige profile image
      Author

      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      @anonymous: This is excellent advice. We will do this. But now that you've got me thinking about it, I might have some fray check somewhere. I'll look and see. It is fraying quite a bit and we keep trimming it. Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Im working on this pattern also. Or trying to. In part 2 steps 10 and 11 I see the lining but how is the back attached to the back lining? The lining has that part that sticks out a little above the grommets. I am not quite understanding the back part of this dress. It took me like forever to understand the front part. Simpicity is not so simple. THANK YOU very much for posting all this. You have helped me a lot. I almost gave up on this till I saw your postings.

    • puzzlerpaige profile image
      Author

      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Tonya,

      Yes! Simplicity is NOT so simple. Agreed. I might have pulled my hair out by now if not for reading the instructions at least 20 times. No word can be ignored.

      I'm not sure exactly what you are asking, but I hope this helps: The back lining (the part with the grommets and a small space open between the grommets) sews to the side front lining (at the side under where your arms would be) and to the gown back (long pleated piece) at top neck edge with a piece of binding which is step 15. I remember this step from our practice run - tricky to understand (for us anyway).

      *The back lining (ours is purple) is shaped like an upside down "U" - the opening is pointing down and it is connected at the top.*

      Please reply to this right here if this does or does not make any sense. We have school testing tomorrow and have been hitting the books. We hope to be back on this project posting more pictures in the next day or two.

    • puzzlerpaige profile image
      Author

      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Tonya,

      You've probably already moved on, but I just posted our progress through the part you were asking about. Take a look at step 14. The back lining attaches to the top of the gown back. Hope your project is coming along good. We are now working on the skirt parts.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I can't wait to see how it all turns out. What a great lens.

    • profile image

      howtosewadress 5 years ago

      Looking forward for the final product. can't wait to see it. Hope you will update us with regards to this. Good luck

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just ordered the patterns for this dress and the undergarments to go with it (hot tip - much cheaper on Etsy than on either Amazon or Ebay!) and await their arrival with trepidation. I suspect I may be referring to your photos and tips rather frequently in the coming weeks!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi! I'm pretty new to sewing (I'm actually a photographer), but I do use a lot of costumes. I wanted something beautiful and chose the Marie Antoinette dress. I'm so glad you posted your sewing adventure! I haven't begun to sew it yet, but you're notes and suggestions have been very helpful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Is there a way to adjust the pattern so that ONLY THE SKIRT needs to be made, or is the pattern too complex? I'm working on a cosplay and trying to hold true to the style of dress, but it has a corset that I've ordered instead of a bodice, and it would save much money if I could get rid of the bodice lining, sleeve & neckline ruffles, puff trim, petticoat lining (unless the petticoat lining includes the skirt), scalloped lace edging and ribbon. Basically, I only need the basic skirt shape and will add the appropriate decoration once it's complete, and want to know whether using this pattern is plausible.

      Perhaps I should only get the undergarment pattern, and recreate the dress bottom without the boning for the panniers? But that might leave out necessary pleats, so I ask you for advice.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hello Everyone, I am on steps 6 and 7 and am confused about what to do. She said to sew the back seam, but I don't know which ones. Does anyone know which pattern pieces she is talking about?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Oh boy, do I want to attempt this if I've never sewn before? I figure that I have a year to figure it all out.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Holy crap XD I've never sewn anything besides curtains and pillow cases, (i'm 16, we don't do much of that...>.>) Any tips for a novice? :$

    • profile image

      tracy-rousseau 4 years ago

      Hi Thank you very much for your post, I have decided to do the gown too! Your posting are very helpful, I've got the material and still need to get trims, notions, the final design changes etc. However I am on my way, each weekend I research and gather all info I think I am going to need. My deadline is 10/2013. Your postings will be next to everystep of the way. I am thinking of recording my progress as well. I'll keep in touch!

    • profile image

      Tracie 4 months ago

      Both the above patterns are now available to US citizens through Simplicity's Premium patterns. These are printed to order by Simplicity on premium pattern paper. They are US25 each I think. This might help those who want them and stocks available online become more limited.

    • Elya Bloncourt profile image

      Elya Bloncourt 3 months ago

      Je commence à faire ce patron depuis hier, et je n'y comprend rien?. Je trouve vos explications. Merci

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