Making A Corded Petticoat For 1830s & 1840s Ensembles

My sewing has taken a sharp turn into the 1830s in the last two months or so. It’s an exciting detour that has been on the horizon for a long time–ever since I purchased this yellow block print cotton back in 2013, in fact.

I wanted to up my silhouette game for the 1830s and achieve a fuller looking skirt than I’ve been able to do with my 1832 velvet gown in the past. To that end, I decided to make a corded petticoat.

I followed the directions from American Duchess in this video and only changed the cording pattern to suit my materials. If you’re interested in making a corded petticoat yourself I definitely recommend the American Duchess video. I found it easy to follow along with the steps and appreciated the mentions of pitfalls and tips along the way.

I was super excited to get started and maintained my enthusiasm for the first 4 sections of cording, but by the top 2 sections I was definitely feeling ready to be done! By that point the petticoat was unruly and difficult to turn as I sewed around each channel. Despite being less fun than when I started, I pushed on, and I was quite grateful when I finished the last section of cording!

Here’s a closeup photo of the cording sections. I used a continuous piece of cord for each section, as suggested in the American Duchess video.

My opening is just a portion of one seam left open just above the top section of cording. This is what it looks like from the outside. I made the waistband extra long to allow for future adjustment (just in case!), which is why the button is set over so far from the edge of the waistband.

On the inside, that opening looks like this. The second layer of fabric is just turned back from the edge and top stitched in place. The other seam allowance edges are selvedges, so they didn’t require finishing. Easy and tidy!

The ivory cotton waistband is whip stitched on the inside finish it all off nicely. Hidden underneath is a layer of cotton canvas that helps to stiffen the waistband a bit.

This petticoat is almost entirely machine sewn and took 8.5 hours to make. I used 4 ¼ yards of ivory cotton, 13 ¼ yards of 5/16″ cording from Wawak, 39 ¼ yards of 7/32″ cording also from Wawak, the canvas scrap for the waistband, and a lone ivory button from the stash. The materials cost about $33.

When I started this petticoat, I thought that it would only be worn with the 1832 velvet gown I mentioned earlier, but since then 1830s daywear using the yellow print cotton has made it onto my sewing table… and this will definitely get worn with the new dress. I also hope to be able to wear it with 1840s dresses that will someday make it onto my sewing table. It’s a great step towards improving my silhouette!

1904 Anne Ensemble Photo Shoot

Last fall, I had the opportunity to take part in a presentation focused on the clothing of middle and upper class African Americans in Providence, RI around the turn of the 20th century (you can see photos of and information about this event here). In order to generate some promotional materials that incorporated both of the presenters (as opposed to having separate photos of each of us), my co-presenter, Lady Estelle Barada, suggested that we schedule a photo shoot together and so we spent a beautiful, sunny summer morning traipsing around a state park, accompanied by photographer David Cruz.

The outfit I chose to wear, my 1904 Anne of Green Gables Ensemble, has been a difficult outfit to photograph in the past, especially the blouse with its white-on-white lace trim and the subtle changes in the direction of the stripes. Given that challenge, I was extra excited when I saw the results of David’s work. He clearly captured the small details of our clothing, including the blouse details!

There are many wonderful photos from our shoot and I enjoy the captivating liveliness that each photo shares–you can just image that movement will continue as soon as you blink or look away.

On the outfit front, I love how comfortable my ‘Anne Ensemble’ is. I had no difficulty tromping through tall grass, climbing over rock walls, sitting on a picnic blanket, and more!

I was also pleased with how my hair turned out. I was able to achieve Edwardian volume around the face while maintaining a side part that gave me two separate poufs on the top/side of my face.

I’m very grateful that David graciously gave permission for me to share these photos with you. As always, please do not share these photos without appropriate photographer credit and a link back to this source.

Photography: David Cruz

When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-20th Century Edition, Part II)

…turn it into a skirt! That’s the take-away from today’s When The Dress No Longer Fits project.

This skirt started life in 2014 as a dress inspired by a 1940s Anne Adams sewing pattern. I don’t actually have the pattern, but I was inspired enough to try patterning my own version based on the pattern envelope image. You can read all about the creation of the dress in this past post.

Since this photo was taken my shape has changed, making the dress a garment that could no longer be worn.

I’ve also never worn this dress all that much. It’s easy to draw a seam along the bust, but hard to pattern it so that the stripes are straight and it actually follows a curved body comfortably. It was ok, but not the most comfortable dress I’ve ever made. And it was a lot of purple.

I have limited fabric leftovers from this dress–certainly not enough to make a whole new front bodice, which is what would be necessary– and not being completely sold on the idea of the dress as a whole, I decided to turn it into a skirt! This eliminated the bodice problem and instantly cut down on the quantity of purple in one seam-ripping swoop.

I started by removing the bodice and taking out the zipper where it crossed the waistband, as well as down into the skirt just past the seam that connects the waistband to the top of the skirt, as you can see below.

My waist is larger now than it was when I made the dress, but I was saved by the fact that the waist of the skirt had been a few inches too big when I originally made the dress. Whew!

At the time I made the dress, I’d solved the problem of the skirt being too big by adding tucks on the back. This kept me from needing to alter the side seams, which I didn’t want to do because I’d matched the stripes perfectly.

To alter the dress now, all I had to do was take out the tucks and the waist fit! (I’m reminded that I had a similar problem/good fortune while letting out the waist of my 1904 Anne of Green Gables skirt–I mentioned it in this past post. Interesting that they’re both inspired by Annes!)

Luckily, I had enough extra waistband length to accomodate letting out the tucks. It was a little annoying to do, because I had to take the waistband off entirely to reset it with the extra across the back and I had serged the skirt and waistband seam allowances together. It was a bit of extra seam ripping, but that was better than trying to piece the waistband and match the stripes.

The next step was adding a waistband facing. I used a scrap of white striped cotton for the facing. It is machine sewn on the top edge, understitched (to keep the facing from rolling out and being seen), and then hand whip stitched on the inside.

Here’s a closeup view of the waistband. I shorted the zipper so it stops below the waistband, but I did not re-sew the whole zipper length–I still didn’t want to mess up the stripe matching on the side seam!

The final step was a hook and bar to close the waistband.

Ta da! The dress is now a skirt.

I’m not completely sold on the skirt. I like it, but I don’t know if I love it.

And I still feel it’s a lot of purple.

I thought it would go with more tops in my wardrobe, but it doesn’t really. I like it with white. I think it would look nice with yellow, but the yellow top I had in mind is horizontally striped and that just seems like too much with a vertically striped purple skirt!

I think I need to try wearing it for awhile and see how I like it. I haven’t really had a chance to wear it this summer given that I haven’t been going out, or wearing real clothes (as opposed to comfy clothes) very much. So a judgement about whether I like the dress-turned-skirt is on hold. That being said, I’m still excited that at least the garment is wearable now, whereas when it was a dress it was not.

When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-20th Century Edition, Part I)

Have you ever encountered closet shrinkage?

I’ve mentioned it here on the blog before, most recently in my modern wardrobe inventory post, but it is not only confined to my modern closet. Oh no, the things in my historical closet shrink, too!

In the past, I’ve shared how I updated two mid-19th century dresses to fit again, after finding that they no longer fit the way they did when they were first made, as well as how I updated two early 19th century dresses for the same reason.

I was recently inspired to finish off not just one, but two UFO ‘this doesn’t fit anymore’ projects that fall into the closet shrinkage category. I’ve decided to post about them separately, since I have a number of photos for each, so today we’ll look at my 1953 Dot Dress and next time we’ll look at my 1940s Inspired Anne Adams Dress.

I made this dress in 2013, for an adventurous day that included brunch, fall leaves, and roller skating (all followed by a Regency ball)!

I loved (and still do) the lightweight fabric, the fun dot print, and the pink, purple, and and rust colors of the dots. I wore this dress for the next few years–to a few historical/vintage events as well as in my everyday life.

This next photo is from 2016–the last time I could squeeze into the dress and actually close the zipper.

After that, I had to accept that the dress no longer fit. My shape had changed and it just wasn’t feasible. I was sad!

Fast forward to 2019, and I had the courage to decide to remake the dress, somehow, to make it fit. I got started by cutting straight down the front, stopping just short of the waistband, to see how much I needed to adapt the bodice…

It was rather a lot! I ran out of inspiration… and let the dress hang in my closet until recently.

I had thought I would just be able to add a piece to the front, somehow, and that would be enough. But when I started really looking at things again, I realized that the dress needed more than that to really do it justice. The side darts needed to be let out, the underarms need to be raised and filled in, the waist was still very tight, and there was the bust issue.

Oh, and I had minimal scraps for these alterations, partly because I’d used some of the larger ones to make ice skate soakers in 2015. (I’m not saying I shouldn’t have used my scraps to make a second project that brings me joy, but… the alterations would have been easier if I’d had wider scraps to work with!)

The front needed to have more more space created, about 3″ worth, but I had no scraps both wide enough and long enough to make a straight panel without seams. So I decided to get creative with a straight panel, adding tucks to it so I could hide seams within the tucks. I was inspired by the dotted dress Miss Hero Holliday wears in this wardrobe roundup post.

Here’s what my pieced piece looked like before pleating (lots of P’s!).

After a fair bit of complicated math (I’m pretty sure I made it more complicated than it needed to be), I was able to achieve a dress front that looks like this.

Essentially, I added princess seams. It was complicated to figure out, because I had cut straight down to figure out what was needed and I needed to add as much as 3″ at the bust while adding nothing at the waist, while actually adding in the panel that was 3″ wide from top to bottom. That means that I basically created a curve on the old center front line that was filled in with the straight pleated panel.

While being worn, it looks like this.

On the inside, I carefully bound all the raw edges in pink hug snug, just as I had when I first made the dress. However, I realized when trying on the altered dress that the pleats just opened up instead of staying put.

Oops.

This seems like it should have been an obvious problem from the beginning, but my brain missed it until I tried on the dress with the pleats in place.

So I had to figure out how to hold the pleats in place. The middle ones are held by the bits of grosgrain ribbon, while the side ones are invisibly tacked in place under the fold.

In addition to the front pleated panel, I also let out the side darts, which helped to create bust space and also raised the armhole a little bit as well. When I put the bias binding back on after doing all the other alterations I maxed out my meager seam allowance, which also raised the armhole up a bit.

You can just barely see my old stitch line on the side dart (on the top left side of the photo below). (You can compare this updated inside view to the original inside view in this post showing the original construction.)

And as you can see in both the photo above and the one below, I added a piece at the side seam, both above the waistband and in the waistband. There’s also a little crescent of added fabric on the back armhole (on the right sides of these photos), that fills in the raised underarm area.

I was very careful to re-finish the insides of the dress as nicely as I had the first time. That includes binding all the raw edges in hug snug (sometimes piecing in little pieces to do so) as well as adding pieces of bias to finish the new, wider neckline.

I decided to put in the zipper by hand this time around, as my first attempt on this dress with a machine sewn lapped zipper was a bit clunky where it went over the waistband.

All of these steps definitely added a bit of time to the alterations, but it makes me happy to still have lovely finished insides even after altering the dress.

The underarm area looks like this on the outside now. The busy print really helps to hide all my piecing seams! You can just make out some old stitch lines (like the one to the left of the zipper), but they’re not noticeable when the dress is being worn, thankfully.

I’m so pleased that I can wear this dress again! It actually fits better now than it did the first time, imagine that!

I wouldn’t have been able to make these alterations happen if I hadn’t kept my scraps!

I’m so grateful to all those seamstresses from the past few hundred years who have shown me that piecing is ok and making do/repairing/altering to keep getting wear out of clothes is ok, too! It’s a wonderful benefit of making my own clothes and knowing how to sew.

Welcome back, dotty dress!

1875 Reception Dress (HSM #10)

Yay! This project is complete and photographed! I’m so excited to be able to share more finished project photos with you.

This is my 1875 Reception Dress. I’ve been documenting its construction over the last few blog posts and have been documenting the construction of the undergarments and accessories to accompany it since early this year.

To recap, if you would like to learn more about the individual parts of the ensemble you might want to visit the following links to past posts:

This dress qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #10: Get Crafty.

Make use of your own skills or learn a new one to make something from scratch rather than buy material. The possibilities for learning and applying new skills and techniques are endless. Lace, pleated self-fabric trim, knotted fly trim, embroidery, dyeing, knitting your own corset laces, hand painting your own fabric

In this case, I spent a bit of time in April learning how to use my antique fluting iron so I could make fluted trim to adorn this dress. I documented my experiment here on the blog in this post: A Practical Experiment: How To Use A Fluting Iron.

Since this dress qualifies for the HSM, here are the facts:

Fabric/Materials: 7 yds pink silk taffeta, 2 ⅜ yds green silk taffeta, 1 yd yellow polyester organza, 3 ½ yds pink polyester organza, 5 ½ yds muslin, 15 ¼ yds ivory lace, 8 ½ yds black rayon soutache, scraps of old green cotton bedding, a bit of polyester batting, and scraps of white cotton.

Pattern: Many of the pieces came from Patterns of Fashion 2, though they were tweaked for fit and style. Other pieces were draped to imitate the inspiration fashion plate.

Year: 1875.

Notions: 2 yds 1″ grosgrain ribbon, ¾ yd ⅜” petersham ribbon, 1 yd ½” twill tape, ¾ yd ⅝” twill tape, 1 ¼ yd ⅝” bone casing, 4 18″ long ⅜” wide plastic zip ties, regular as well as skirt hooks and bars, 8 plastic buttons, and 1 Canadian quarter.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Pretty good in terms of silhouette, construction methods, and materials; however, there are a few modern materials mixed in.

Hours to complete: 80.5 hours.

First worn: In May, for photos!

Total cost: $138.46.

Here are a few more photos. Every time I look at a new angle or view of the dress my eyes are drawn to different details–perhaps you will notice new details, too.

I’m very glad to be finished with this large project, while also being bummed that the event that I was planning to wear it to was cancelled. That just means I need to find a reason in the future to wear the dress, I guess. I’m not sure what that will be, but I’m hoping for a fabulous historical house or museum, or something else suitably grand and indoors, as that seems to be the appropriate setting for a reception dress.

1875 Reception Dress: Skirt Construction

Today’s post is a continuation of the detailed construction posts documenting the creation of my 1875 reception dress. This post is going to focus on the construction details of the skirt. You can check out past posts to learn more about the construction of the bodice, petticoat, balayeuse, hat, and a post about the finished hat and hairstyle.

This is a rather long post, so I hope you’re ready to settle in and take a close look!

Skirts from this period are often confections crafted from fabrics and trims–and this one is no different. The inspiration came from a fashion plate from L’Elegance Parisienne (June 1875) that is held by the LAPL.

I think I stayed pretty true to the fashion plate for this portion of the project. Slight changes include leaving off the black trim around the bottom apron edge and at the top of the green fluted bands of trim on the skirt base, as well as choosing to stitch one row of soutache in most places instead of two.

(Also …huh… You know what? I just realized, as I am comparing the photo above to the fashion plate, that I sewed the top green bands of trim on upside down. They are supposed to have the black trim at the bottom. Oops! I know I patterned them to follow the fashion plate. Well… they’re probably not changing now.)

So where was I with the skirt construction?

Base Layers

The base of the skirt is cotton muslin, with the bottom front portion covered by silk, as you can see in the photo below. This drastically saves the amount of expensive fabric used and provides a stable base for the following layers.

I started with a pattern I’ve used for my other bustle dresses for the front skirt panels (I think at some point it came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, but I’ve tweaked it since then). It is closer in shape to 1880 than 1870, but I think it works for this particular 1875 dress, since so much of the back fullness is contained in the waterfall of silk underneath the bows and ruffled trim.

The back panel was draped as opposed to flat patterned. I started as double width of muslin with no shaping, but as I tried to figure out how to pleat or gather the top into the waist I realized I should add some shaping along the center back seam. I think I took out about 16″ at the top, tapering to nothing at the hem.

This next photo shows my silk panels on top of the base as I tried to figure out what they were doing. Since this was an entirely draped process it’s not likely to ever be repeated in exactly the same way. I have notes documenting what I was up to, but no actual pattern.

It was important to me to achieve both the gathered look at the top of the skirt and the wonderfully waterfall-ing pleats at the bottom, just as you see in the fashion plate. It turns out that was easier said than done–one of those things that’s easy to draw but not thought out in terms of actually being made up.

After getting a little farther with the back of the skirt, I moved on to the apron. Here, we have a (very wrinkly) old sheet being draped to create the apron pattern. My apron is not quite as long as the one in the fashion plate because I had limited silk fabric to work with.

Waistband & Closures

Many dresses from this period have the skirt base on one waistband and the apron and/or back draping layer on a second waistband. Essentially they are two separate skirts. I decided that I didn’t want to have to arrange the layers separately so I put them all on one waistband. This is a little bulky at the back, where both the muslin base layer and silk drape are gathered, but that’s all hidden by the point on the back of the bodice. The other thing (I realized later) is that this decision made the closures extra complicated. Let’s start there.

First, the muslin base edges hook together at the waistband (that hook is done up in the photo below). The apron layer then hooks onto the loops on the muslin layer (this layer is open in the photo below so you can see the hooks and loops).

After that, the skirt drape hooks forward, covering the muslin layer completely (this is not done up in the photo below). This completely hides all of the previous closures. To help keep this layer of closures invisible, the hooks attach to thread bars instead of metal loops. You can make them out below if you take a close look.

Pretty neat! It took a waistband extend-o to make it work, and a few brain somersaults, but we got there in the end.

In order to be sturdy enough to attach all of the skirt layers, the waistband is flat lined with muslin and also encases a grosgrain ribbon. That adds a bit of bulk, but it also creates a very sturdy finished product and, again, you can’t see the bulk under the bodice.

Flat Lining & Apron Folds

In the photo above, you might have noticed the rather bold pink organza showing on the back drape panel. That’s just a small portion of what’s actually back there–the entirety of the back panels are flat lined with this pink polyester organza. Polyester organza is not what they would have used in 1875. But other stiff, lightweight fabrics such as silk organza or cotton organdy would have been used to help the silk maintain pouf. I chose the pink because I had the perfect amount in my stash (and both it and the dress are shades of pink, so… it’s not that far off?).

Similarly, I used up some light yellow polyester organza from my stash to flat line the apron. The color was harmonious with the silk and again, I had the perfect amount sitting around, so I think it was meant to be. The polyester organza is springy enough that it keeps the silk from creating tight creases, which helps to maintain the apron folds and the back drape pouf. It’s really quite magical! Both the pink and yellow organzas were left over from old projects and I was happy to be able to use them up. You can see the yellow organza at the top of the next photo.

The next photo is also showing you the quarter bag that is hidden under the apron. You see, I wanted to make sure that all of those folds I took the time to drape for the apron would stay in place and not need to be fussed with to lay nicely with each wearing. My solution was to run a length of twill tape down from the waistband to just above the hem of the apron. The silk is tacked to the twill tape to help keep the folds just so, and the bottom of the twill tape has this small pocket of silk, containing a Canadian quarter (perfect, because I’m not in Canada so it’s not very useful as currency) to help weight it and keep the folds from springing up.

Secret Pocket

Next, I want to share a hidden detail I added to this skirt. A pocket! This is stitched into the muslin base layer at the left side opening. It’s only accessible when the skirt is partially or completely unhooked, but that makes it a perfect place to stash a phone, keys, etc. if I wear this and don’t want to carry a purse or bag.

I made the size quite generous and placed the pocket low enough that anything in it hides under the skirt without adding a bulge.

Hems

There are multiple hems and hem finishing methods used in this skirt. The next photo shows most of the layers of the skirt and their varying hem methods.

Top in this photo is the front base layer of the skirt (that’s the pink with green trim). The pink silk is hemmed with bias strips of muslin that are machine sewn, pressed to the inside, and then hand stitched to the muslin base. This creates an invisible finish. (The apron, though not pictured here, is finished in the same manner, with the bias facing hand stitched to the yellow organza flat lining.)

The middle layer in this photo is the back skirt base. This muslin layer is also finished with bias strips of muslin, but in this case I’ve sewn the bias up by machine since it is always covered by the back drape and will not be seen. I amused myself by using a small stitch length to mimic the machine stitching I’ve seen on extant late 19th century clothing as well as the same bronze thread that I used on the silk.

The bottom hem layer you can see is pretty fabulous and the most involved to make in terms of research and sewing.

The back drape hem is finished with a muslin facing that ranges from about 12″ high at the sides to 20″ high at center back. This completely covers the portion of the train that drags on the ground, effectively keeping dirt off of the silk and organza layers. After piecing the muslin, but before attaching it to the skirt, I machine sewed the three rows of lace to the facing. I didn’t bother gathering, inside I just eyeballed tucks in the lace as I went along to create fullness.

This creates another form of a balayeuse. Remember that word, from May? I have a whole post about the amazing detachable balayeuse I made for my petticoat for this dress, but a balayeuse can also be an inside frill on the hem of a skirt.

I’ve had fun reading a series of blog posts by Natalie at A Frolic Through Time about creating an 1895 ensemble and her research about the support structures and methods that help maintain the fashionable silhouette. Along the way there have been mentions of the balayeuse! I’m going to include them here, because I am intrigued by them, even though their time period is a little later than this 1875 dress.

1 – In the post 1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 1, Fullness and Flare, Natalie includes a mention under the heading What Books and Magazines Said About Fullness and Flare in Mid-decade Skirts.
2 – Later in the series, in the post 1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 5, Steels, Rattan, Candlewicking, and Dust Ruffles, Natalie includes more information under the heading A Balayeuse or Dust Ruffle, Fixed Inside the Outer Skirt.

The lace balayeuse extends past the finished hem by just a little bit, so that it peeps out while the dress is being worn, as you can see in the photo below.

This particular detail is not from my inspiration fashion plate, but it’s a feature often seen on extant garments, such as this cream dress dated c. 1879 and this red dress dated 1879, both from the Met Museum.

In addition to being pretty, trailing white garments on the ground show off that you have the resources to keep the garments clean and also that you have the resources to pay for the extra materials to make them. More practically speaking, the lace helps grip the balayeuse that is attached to my petticoat, which helps to keep the skirt folds in place even with movement. I found that moving forward, backward, sideways, and turning all caused no disruptions to the folds of my skirt while being worn.

Trimmings

The final step of making this dress was trimming! Lots of it!

The first bit of trim I tackled was the trim on the front base section of the skirt. In the inspiration fashion plate this looks like knife pleats, but I was inspired to use my antique fluting iron instead. You can read all about making the fluted trim in this past post.

Here is the fluted trim pinned in place on the skirt base.

After sewing the fluted trim on, it was time to consider the back trim–all those gathers and the massive bows.

The gathers are strips of silk, some shaped, that are hemmed by hand along one edge. Here are my six pieces of green silk: hemmed, gathered, and ready to go.

The non-hemmed edge was pressed under but not stitched: it was stitched down as I attached to the green cotton bands you can see in the photo below. These are made from old bedding (not the perfect color, but green, and you can’t see them, so I’m pleased to be able to re-use old fabric). The cotton bands are shaped and the ruffles sewn to them so that they can float on top of the gathered pink silk.

The gathering threads in the green panels were sewn my machine. After the green cotton bands were hand tacked in place, the gathering threads were covered by the black soutache trim, which was also hand sewn in place. This image shows this part of the process in progress.

The end result looks like this. It reminds me of heirloom lettuce. Not in terms of color (hopefully!) but in terms of the ruffle-y ness. The edges are all nicely finished, the gathers are covered by black soutache, and the whole thing is invisibly held in place.

Then there are the bows. I love these massive bows! Here’s a photo showing the wonderful acid green color of the silk. The bow pieces were cut out, hemmed, and assembled by hand. The bottom edges of the bow ends have the edges pressed under (but not hemmed) and finished with self fabric fringe.

Yes, self fabric fringe. I cut strips of the silk and spent a few hours watching Netflix and shredding the silk to remove the black threads, leaving only the green. Here’s my test piece.

On each fringed piece of silk I left a border of non-fringed fabric at the top. I used this to attach the fringe pieces to the pressed under edges of each bow end. It keeps the fringe looking organic and part of the fabric, without any stitches showing.

Here is one of the bows pinned in place. The bows are tacked at multiple points to keep them permanently in place.

And here is the skirt with all those layers of trim added on!

As I made my dress, I also referenced Caroline’s post on The Modern Mantua Maker about how she made her 1875 Autumn Plaid Dress.

Whew! That was a long post. There are lots of details in this skirt. Next time, I have more finished ensemble photos for you as well as the HSM facts–quantity of materials used, time spent, etc. Thanks for sticking with me through the details of this construction post!

1875 Reception Dress: Bodice Construction

Recently, I’ve been hinting about my new 1875 reception dress. We’ve looked at the hat that I made to accompany it as well as how the hat was made. Now, I’d like to share focused details about the construction of the bodice of the dress.

Here is the finished bodice!

I did a lot of Pinterest scanning to choose a style for the dress (as one does, of course!). There are a number of dresses from 1875/76 that appeal to me, with their swags of fabric, elaborate trimmings, and sweeping trains, but I decided on the fashion plate below partly because I had fabrics in my stash that I thought would work in terms of yardage as well as complementing each other in terms of colors.

L’Elegance Parisienne, June 1875, LAPL

If you’re looking carefully, I imagine you’ll notice pretty quickly that my finished bodice does not have the pleated sleeve trim and large cuff shown in the fashion plate. I ran out of fabric! Oops. So I decided to eliminate these details and focus on all the other trimmings on the dress. For example, if you look at the neckline and hem of the finished bodice you will notice that those two edges have similar treatments as in the fashion plate. However, not using the sleeve style in the inspiration fashion plate left me with a style decision to make. How to trim, or finish, the sleeves? Back to Pinterest!

I settled on the sleeve style of the fabulous burgundy and tan dress on the right. This would use less fabric but maintain a similar feeling as other parts of the dress.

Revue de la Mode, c. 1875

Below are my partially finished sleeves.

I started by cutting them off at a length that made sense with the addition of the pleats and hemming them. The pleats are pressed in the center so that no hemming is needed and the top edges are left raw. These raw edges are then covered by the green pleated bands. The lace is actually two rows of lace (to make the lace twice as wide) that are gathered and then sewn into sleeves. The final step that you can’t see here is a green bow to finish off the back sleeve seam area. The bow covers the raw edges of the green pleated band.

The bodice pieces of silk are flat lined with muslin. The seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. The bottom edge of the bodice is finished with self bias. The bodice is boned–at the point of this photo only the center back seam has a bone stitched in.

In addition to the center back, I added bones to the side back seams as well. I also added a waist stay. That is the grosgrain ribbon that is stitched to the boning channels. This helps to keep the bodice anchored around the waist if I raise my arms and to keep the back tight against my body. It also takes some strain off of the buttons.

At this point you can also see the green ruffle has been added to the bottom of the bodice. Like the pleats on the sleeves, the ruffle is pressed in half so that no hemming is needed. The top raw edge is hidden by the twill tape.

Here’s another view of the inside of the bodice that shows the green ruffle a little bit more. It also shows the bones on the side seams and a hint of the lace around the neck opening, the edge of which is also covered with ribbon–in this case, petersham. I found the lace too scratchy against my neck on it’s own, even though it feels relatively soft against my hand.

The photo below also shows the bust pads. These are graduated crescents of batting that are stitched together and then covered with cotton. They help to fill out the area just in front of the arm, which often has a natural dip without assistance of this sort. Filling the dip in creates a fashionable rounded shape. Adding the pads is an experiment I was trying out. (Here is an example of a c. 1885 extant dress that has bust pads.)

Here’s an up close shot of the seam allowances of the bodice, also showing the lace and petersham around the neck a little more. You can just barely see the armsceye seam allowances, which are trimmed and whip stitched to keep them tidy.

Finally, here is a view of the front of the bodice in a half finished state.

The two front darts have boning channels stitched into them. All of the ‘bones’ in this bodice are plastic zip ties. The front zip ties are split in half to make them narrower.

This photo also shows the pleats around the neck opening (finished as with the sleeves and bottom ruffle). There are facings on the front edges. This photo was taken before I stitched the buttonholes. They were eventually machine sewn.

After all the internal construction was complete, I added the buttons (they are rubbed bronze looking plastic shank buttons) and the green trim around the neck. The neck trim is a strip of silk that has the long edges pressed under and gathered. The long edges are tacked to the neckline and then black soutache is sewn on top to cover the machine stitching lines. The finishing touch is the bow at center front.

Ta da! Next time, I’ll do an in depth post about the skirt construction, including back views that show off the giant bows, which are probably my favorite part of the skirt.

1875 Hair & Finished Hat (HSM #7)

Last post, I shared details about the style I decided on for the hat to accompany my 1875 reception dress, as well as how I made the hat.

Today, we get to see the finished hat being worn and take a look at the hairstyle I created to support the it!

This hat qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #7: No-Buy! I was pleased that I had everything I needed for this hat on hand and it was a bonus that I was even able to use scraps in a lot of places!

Make something without buying anything.  Whether it’s finishing off a UFO, using up scraps of fabric from earlier challenges in the year, sewing entirely from stash, or finding the perfect project for those small balls of yarn, this is your opportunity to get creative without acquiring more stuff.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  Scraps of buckram, scraps of cotton flannel, scraps of pink, green, and ivory silk, 2 green-ish/brown ostrich feathers, 9 vintage silk millinery flowers, and a bit of cotton velvet.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: Millinery wire and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 85%. It’s pretty good on shape, materials, and methods, I believe, and it would be recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: 10 ¾ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so I count it as free; however, not counting fabric scraps I think I spent about $12 on the other materials at some point in the past.

Hairstyle Possibilities

When I was deciding on the style of hat I would be making, I also had to consider what my hairstyle might be, as the two support and complement each other. The post showing how I made this hat also shows a variety of hat styles popular at this time.

Along those same lines, let’s look at possible hairstyles from the years around 1875. Hairstyles changed throughout the 1870s, sometimes in subtle ways… and sometimes in not subtle ways! Here is not subtle for you.

Guy Little Theatrical Photograph, V & A, S.145:535-2007

I love this look (though I can see why you might chose to have a differing opinion), with ginormous braids and twists that use much more hair than most people naturally have on their heads. However, this style (with all of the additional hair at the back of the head) does not coordinate with the type of hat I chose–one that would sit on the back of my head, creating a crown effect.

Looking at the years right around 1875 (the year of my reception dress), I found hairstyles with lots of curls and twists hanging down. 1875 is the part of the decade when the fashionable silhouette of dresses changes from the very round styles of 1870-1874 (like this, for example, from 1870) to the styles from 1875-1877 that have fabric starting to slide down the backs of skirts (like this, for example, from 1875).

As if in sympathy with the dresses, I notice that hairstyles start to slide down, too. It is these years when I see curls and twists hanging down the back, while the top parts of the hair are still sculptural, decorative, and large. Here is another example showing both the cascading fabric and the sympathetic hanging curls.

La Mode Artistique, 1875, via Yesterday’s Thimble

Interestingly, there are lots of advertisements for hair pieces to help achieve these styles–for ready-made curls, twists, braids… we know that women were not achieving this with only their own hair!

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, May 1875, via Hats From History

Another hairstyle option is much more subdued and most popular starting in 1878. This is the Natural Form period, when skirts are quite narrow by comparison with earlier years (like this, for example, from 1880). In keeping with the streamlined silhouette, the hair is now generally swept up, but with much less ornamentation and volume than we see in the previous years. Here is an example. No hanging curls or twists and no masses of faux hair.

1880, Le Journal des Modes, via the LAPL

Hairstyle Decision

I settled on the mid-century hairstyle of decorative bits hanging down the back with sculptural hair on the top of my head, to complement the hat. This style provided a solid base that helped visually and physically balance and anchor the hat. Indeed, without all the extra volume on top of my head the hat just looks out of place.

As you can see in the front view photo (above), I used a giant braid for the top/front of my style. There’s a whole blog post about how I created the braid here. Behind that, there is a bun form to help create volume on top of my head. This worked wonderfully for anchoring my hat pin, which you can just see poking out on the right side of the photo below–it’s tipped in a green glass leaf.

I attempted to create loops and swirls of hair around and below the bun, but I’m afraid that part of the style wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for. It’s difficult to do on the back of your own head and it’s hard to make the loops distinct, especially with my hair texture. I suspect it would be easier with smoother hair and definitely easier to do on someone else instead of yourself. I’ll have to try this style again some day. For this first attempt the back of my head was completely covered by my hat, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like!

Below the loopy/swoopy bit I left curls hanging down at a few different lengths, as I saw in many fashion plates. This part turned out well!

That’s it, really. Massive hair, some hanging curls, plop the trimmed hat on top, secure it with a hat pin, and suddenly my head is about double the size it normally is! Here is another photo showing the hat and a sneak peak at more of the dress. Lots of details are coming up about the dress in future posts!

Style Decisions & Making A 1875 Hat

A reception ensemble would not have been complete in the late 19th century without headwear. To that end, I needed a hat to complete my 1875 reception dress. Despite having a number of hats in my historic closet, I’ve never needed one for this particular section of history, so… not finding anything suitable, I decided to make a new one!

I started by carefully observing hat styles from the 1870s to decide what would be appropriate and pleasing for my 1875 reception look.

Hat Style Possibilities

There were a variety of styles a lady could choose for her headwear in the 1870s. Here are some of the large categories I identified. All of these images are from about 1875-1877.

  • Forward perching hats: these sit upon masses of hair at the back and tilt down towards the face
via historicaltidbits.blogspot.com
  • Hats crowning the back of the head: these sit upon masses of hair, but tilt up in the front and have trim starting to drip off the back, mimicking the look of the hairstyles and dresses from the middle part of the 1870s
Journal des Demoiselles, 1875 via Guy RIVIERE
  • Bonnets: tiny little things with basically no brim, sitting upon the back of the head
MFA Boston ACCESSION NUMBER46.324

And then there are a variety of hats and bonnets that fall in between these categories. Fashion doesn’t always fit firmly within categories!

Journal des Demoiselles, 1877 via Guy RIVIERE

My Hat Choice

I decided to make the type of hat that crowns the back of the head. This seemed like an appropriate choice for an 1875 reception dress while also providing some new challenges in terms of patterning and hairstyling (and I do have a soft spot for crown-like hairstyles, be it in the 1810s, mid-19th century, or, apparently, the 1870s).

Making My Hat

I decided that this hat would have a buckram base covered in silk. It’s pretty wonderful that I had all of the materials on hand, including remnants of my fluted trim, scraps of the silks used for my dress, greenish/brown ostrich feathers that just happened to perfectly match the unusual shades of my silks, millinery flowers, buckram, millinery wire, and flannel for mulling the pieces.

I started by spending a bit of time with paper, scissors, and scotch tape, creating my pattern. Getting the brim to be the right shape and proportion took a few tries.

Once I had a pattern, I cut out my pieces from buckram and flannel (and was able to use up some scrap pieces, yay!). I used my machine to zig zag millinery wire around the inner and outer edges of the brim and the edge of the tip.

Then I used my machine (and a little bit of glue on the concave curves) to attach my flannel. Normally I would use a less brightly patterned flannel, but this is what was easily available and it doesn’t show through my silk. (I love that this fun patterned dot flannel is left over from a pair of pajama pants I made about 15 years ago! Yay for keeping things and eventually using them!)

After being sufficiently amused by my colorful dot choice, I cut out my silk pieces. I had very little pink silk left after my dress was done, so I had to piece the tip and both of the brim covering pieces. Thankfully, there is enough trim on the finished hat that the seams are not noticeable!

Here you can see the silk seam allowance clipped, curved over the edges, and tacked to the flannel with hand sewing stitches.

And here is what the brim looked like flipped over at this stage. I also hand tacked the silk around the head opening, to keep the tension even across the curves of the brim.

This is the crown of the hat, showing off my center seam and those hand sewing stitches that hold the clipped seam allowance in place.

Next, I covered the top of the brim. To do this, I clipped and turned under the outer edge seam allowance, pinning it in place. The head opening was also pinned in place. Then both edges were carefully sewn by hand.

Once that was done, I attached the brim to the crown with sturdy hand sewn stitches through all the layers. These stitches were covered with a green silk band (that really can’t be seen after all the trim was added…).

Here, I am laying out trim options. I am amused at the feathers, which at this point have zero shaping and so are standing out like propellers.

I thought it would be fun to use the remnants of my fluted trim on the hat (read all about how I made it here). I wanted it to resemble wide ribbon (and I wanted to hide the hems, partly because they are only pressed and not sewn in place).

To achieve this, I carefully tacked two layers with the wrong sides together before attaching the loops of fluted trim to the hat.

The tip of the hat is mostly covered by a radiating section of fluted trim with an opening in the middle that was eventually covered with flowers. There are loops of the fluted ‘ribbon’ trailing off the back of the hat as well as standing up in the front.

Then there were the feathers that needed taming.

I started by curling the feathers, as having them stand straight out around the brim of the hat looked a little mad rather than elegant. Curling was achieved using a butter knife. It’s a motion similar to curling ribbon, and requires just the right amount of pressure and firmness not to just rip the feather to shreds. It took awhile to get the hang of the motion and find the point on my knife that worked best.

It wasn’t the most fun… it rather hurt my wrists to twist the knife each time… but over the course of a few hours (yes, this took awhile), I was able to get softly curling feathers.

Here is a half curled feather (on the left) next to an uncurled feather (on the right). In addition to curling the feather fluff I also shaped the center shaft of the feather to curl around the brim of my hat. You can see that I’ve started that process with these feathers, as well.

At this stage the hat has the hat band and fluted trim attached. The curled feathers are prepped and ready to be placed.

After adding the feathers, I added the flowers on the top of the hat and underneath the brim. Trim under the brim of hats is pretty common in this period. It adds to the floating effect of these hats on top of the grand hairstyles.

Though it seems a bit abrupt to me looking at the underside of the hat, the transition from flowers to brim is more subtle when the hat is placed on the head. The flowers here also serve the purpose of hiding the center front seam I added due to my small pieces of silk!

This photo shows the stitches holding the brim to the crown as well as all of the tacking stitches that hold the trim in place.

The final step was to add a lining to cover all of those tacking stitches!

The lining of this hat is silk shantung, leftover from my 1903 petticoat. The join between the pink silk and the lining is covered by a band of brown cotton velvet. The velvet helps grip the hair to keep the hat in place. I chose dark brown because that will camouflage against my hair. (And, both the silk lining scraps and the brown velvet are leftover from projects in 2011, so yay for using what is on hand!)

And that’s it! It takes a bit of time to hand sew all those sections of the hat (even longer if I don’t machine sew the first few steps), but it’s worth it to have a super sturdy, beautifully covered saucer of trim.

This post is getting long enough, so photos of the finished hat being worn are coming in a future post!

New Dotty Tap Pants

I finished a simple project!

The story behind these is that back in 2015, I made cotton tap pants to wear under my dresses and skirts in the summer. Here is the link to the original post. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been five years!

The original tap pants have been great and seen tons of wear! In fact, the original pairs are pretty much threadbare on the inseams. I’m kind of surprised they’re still holding together, as there’s not much left!

I made another pair with slight pattern tweaks about two years ago, but I felt it was time to add a few more pairs into the rotation. I found great satisfaction in the theme of all three of my older pairs having dots on them (in addition to the dots on the pairs in the original blog post, the third pair was made out of scraps left over from my Bubble Dots Skirt). So when I had this idea to make more tap pants over the winter, I was on the lookout for new dotty fabrics that I could make into shorts to stay with the theme.

I would have made multiple pairs out of the green fabric if I could, but there wasn’t much left on the bolt, so I had to pick a second fabric. The white background fabric has allium flowers printed on it. I love the round shape of allium flowers in full bloom, so this fabric was what I decided on.

After being washed a few months ago, the new fabrics sat around until April, when I was inspired to tweak my pattern (again–this is the third time) and cut out the pieces. About a month after that I finally got inspired to whip these up.

As with the other tap pants I’ve made these are entirely machine sewn with the seam allowances finished with an overlock machine. The waist is zig zagged to a bit of loop edged elastic. And really, that’s all there is to them!

Sometimes a quick project is just the thing to feel successful. And it’s great to fill a wardrobe need with handmade items, especially when they bring extra joy, as these do by continuing the dotty theme.