I based the design of this top on the pleated ‘Le Sac’ or ‘Watteau gown’ popularised by the artist who painted the well-dressed ladies of 18th century France. I discovered Le Sac at the Danson House Vivienne Westwood exhibition but the feature of large pleats hanging from the back neckline lives on in wedding dress design as the beginning of a gown’s long train.
As you may notice, my top has pleats at the front. The back is plain. Sorry it’s so sombre! I made it to go with a particular very cheerful A-line skirt, only of course it doesn’t: it goes with tight skirts and jeans. The fabric is silk: some kind of robust yet drapey weave with horizontal lines just visible. I cut the fabric on the crossgrain, using the weaved lines to help form the pleats.
The Back of Le Sac
Sewing Le Sac top was not without a lesson or two. I think I did a decent job of the hem, mostly by foregoing my rolled hem foot. And I believe I’m now able to make rouleau strips without losing my temper. I recommend a combination of the Material Lady’s method coupled with (if you don’t have a loop turner) the trick of sewing in a cord as described here by ByHandLondon. The Back of Le Sac
The biggest challenge in terms of making it look professional came during the joining of bodice, straps and facing, where it’s key to make the straps emerge precisely at the apex of the neckline on both the front and back. On the front, it shouldn’t be too difficult if you line up the rouleau strip with the box pleat edge before sewing yet it still took more than a go or two to get right.
I’ll be making this again soon and showing the drafting. Next time it’ll be for a friend who is petite and I hope this will flatter her. It’s not an ideal top if you’re busty: there’s a danger that the pleats will open like the wings of a ladybird!
At the end of every summer as it turns increasingly cold and damp and the heating is put on in the evening sometimes, I engage in a manic flurry of activity during which I make summery dresses and skimpy tops. Do you do this too? This phenomenon is called Denial.
A small but important collection of Vivienne Westwood designs, on loan from the V&A, can be seen at Danson House in Bexleyheath until 31 October. Danson House is a beautiful Georgian villa sitting grandly atop of a very scenic park on the south-eastern edge of Greater London. It’s a stone’s throw from Red House, the home of the ‘Arts & Crafts’ founder William Morris and both of these relatively little-known gems can be explored in a day. However, when my friend and I visited Danson House, its setting and the summer weather pretty much stole the show so we spent hours lingering on the sunny terrace of the tea-room with a view of the boating lake and despite the distant tear of traffic, we felt transported to a different time… Jo wondered who would’ve been lucky enough to live in such splendour. An information tour of the house answered her question: this was the home of the owner of a plantation in St Kitts. Like much of this country’s Georgian heritage, the elegance was sponsored by slavery. But it belongs to the people of Bexley now. Tickets are £8, half price for National Trust and English Heritage members.
The Georgian period has been a very inspiring one for Westwood who shares its dedication to opulence, elegance and a fetish-like dedication to honouring the female form. I admit I found the foil and jersey maxi dress that you see here a touch granny-ish, but was nevertheless charmed by the simplicity of some of these items typical of VW’s 1990s output.
The most impressive piece in my opinion was the green gown inspired by Rococo painters and by the typical French mid-century design of a type of dress named ‘le sac’ which has pleats of fabric at the back of the neckline falling to the floor. Westwood never simply copies; she subverts which is evident in the lack of symmetry. The gown is romantic and retrospective on the right side – with that unexpectedly unusual sleeve I so long to copy! But the left side is modern, bold, confrontational even. This dress was once worn by Linda Evangelista, the cruellest-looking of the supermodels!
‘Le Sac’ or Watteau Gown, Back View, Mid-18th Century, France
Westwood ‘Watteau Evening Dress’ Les Femmes Collection, 1996