Picking Peaches In Plum Pants

The first outing of my Plum Pants With Pointed Pockets was to pick peaches! This was a great socially distanced and outdoor activity that I highly enjoyed (apparently the orchards around here are seeing record turnout for pick-your-own this year due to people looking for outdoor activities).

The orchard was lovely, full of charming vistas, and it was easy to walk to the far ends of the orchard where there were few people.

Here I am, casually picking peaches in my plum pants! Lest you fear that masks were not worn on this outing, here is the photographic evidence that I did have a mask with me. I intentionally sought out areas with no other people around so that I could remove my mask for a few photos.

In addition to the fun of hunting for the best peaches on the trees, I had a peck of peaches to bring home with me at the end of the day!

These were the most delicious, sweet peaches!

I ate them plain, I blended them down to make peach puree for cocktails, I baked a peach-thyme galette, I added them to smoothies… There was a lot of peach in my life for a few weeks!

Yum! I’ll definitely be picking fresh peaches again in the future!

And I’m pleased that my Plum Pants have been worn a few times since the peach outing as well!

Plum Pants With Pointed Pockets

Last year, I happened across a lovely plum colored linen/rayon blend fabric at Joann’s that was such a perfect Quinn-color that I just couldn’t pass it up…. Accordingly, 3 yards came home with me along with the idea to make wide leg pants out of the yardage.

Trying To Determine The Design

I wasn’t really sure exactly what I wanted in terms of specific design details, which made the patterning and mockup process rather slow. I spent a few hours making mockups that fiddled with the width of the legs, the length of the crotch seams, and my design idea–trying to decide exactly what it is I was trying to make!

I was extremely frustrated for awhile (close to despair, as Anne of Green Gables might say) as the mockups looked like medical scrubs. The legs weren’t wide enough to look like the vision in my head at that point and I just couldn’t figure out what the details would be. I thought I wanted a non-functional wide tie at the waist, but that wasn’t looking right with the scrub looking pants. (The scrub problem was likely related to the fact that the old sheets I was using as my mockup fabric are dark grey, so the color and texture was scrub like…)

Not too long after my frustrating mockup sewing session, I was sewing something else and watching the Netflix series High Seas when I saw a pair of high waisted pants on one of the lead actresses and thought ‘That’s it!’. This particular pair of pants had details I loved: a high waist, wide legs, and pockets that added interest and vintage charm. After that, mocking up the pants and finishing the pattern was so much easier!

Getting Started

After pre-washing my fabric, I was ready to go! The basic pants are pretty straight forward with front and back pieces as well as a waistband, but they have additional pieces for the pockets as well as canvas interfacing for the waistband.

The pants are mostly machine sewn, with a bit of hand finishing on the waistband (you can see the whip stitches on the bottom of the waistband in the photo below). The exposed inside edges are either french seamed, as with the pockets (on the left in the photo below), or finished with a serger (on the right in the photo below).

The pockets and waistband facing are cut from an early mockup iteration made from repurposed sheets (yay for reusing old fabric!). I decided to use the mockup fabric for the real pants because 1) the mockup made me mad and I wanted to get back at it 2) the smooth cotton is a good facing/pocket material.

Here’s a look inside one of the pockets. It’s not likely to ever be seen (in any venue other than this!), but the top stitching along the facing edges makes me very happy.

The pants have a wide hem–2″–that is machine top stitched in place. With perfectly matching thread (that was in my stash as a gift from a friend–yay!), the topstitching blends right in.

While all of the visible stitching is done in the perfectly matching thread, I didn’t want to run out of it and so the interior seams are sewn with a more purple thread. The serging is done in brown, because that’s the closest neutral that I had cones of. It blends with the grey facings/pockets to create what appears to be an intentional ‘design choice’!

The pants close with a lapped zipper at center back.

The Zipper Saga

Oh, and that’s a story! So I bought a zipper, set it in, and was so excited!

I tried on my pants and showed them off to Mr. Q (who wasn’t particularly impressed, because vintage styles don’t really appeal to him). I went to take off the pants so I could finish them off and couldn’t get the zipper undone… I was stuck! And they’re fitted pants at the top, so it wasn’t like I could shimmy out of them. I tried to pick a few stitches, but couldn’t see what I was doing, because the zipper is at the center back, and I was afraid I’d poke myself instead of the pants, or rip a hole instead of picking stitches… I had to go back to Mr. Q and get his help seam ripping the zipper enough that I could get out of the pants! He thought it was hysterical. I don’t know that I completely agree with that… though it is more amusing after the fact.

After managing to get the pants off, I took this photo to document the debacle.

Then the offending zipper was completely removed. I reset it, thinking that I’d stitched too close to the teeth and that was the problem, and it still didn’t work (I tested it out without putting the pants on the second time!). I doubled checked that I didn’t sew too close to the teeth the second time and that didn’t seem to be the problem. I don’t know what the issue was because I’ve set many zippers and haven’t had this problem and this zipper works just fine when not attached to a garment. Horrible thing–it was sternly put away and may never be used again!

The solution was that I went out to a different store and bought a new zipper. It actually matches much better, though it is a regular zipper as opposed to an invisible one. Most importantly, it works as it’s supposed to! So all is well in the end.

Here is a view of the back of the pants, showing the new zipper, darts, interior finishing, and waistband closure.

Other Inspiration

As I was looking for inspiration for these pants, I was reminded of fabulous wide leg pants made/patterned by other wonderful bloggers. These were all indirect inspiration for my pants.

Lauren Stowell’s 1970s does 1930s Wide Leg Pants 

Caroline’s Vacation Pants (made from the pattern below)

Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing Trousers pattern

Final Thoughts

My new pants are super comfortable to wear. The fabric is stable and yet lightweight enough to flow nicely. The waistband is suitably substantial and does not crease when I sit for extended periods.

The pockets are great! They make a statement that elevates the pants to being stylish (vintage stylish, of course!) and I patterned them to be big enough to easily store my phone and other essentials–so helpful!

One final photo and story for you… I took these photos in my yard without help, so I needed to figure out a way to stabilize my camera and easily maneuver it around my yard. Prior to this, I’d clamped it to a ladder, but the ladder was heavy to move around, so for this photo session I decided to clamp my phone to my lawn mower handle. Yes–lawn mower! It worked pretty well–easy to roll around the yard, but occasionally my phone would slip and I would get a series of photos of the ground and the lawn mower handle! Any neighbors that saw me probably wondered what I was up to!

Added to the challenge was the fact that I didn’t feel like putting contacts in, so I would leave my glasses on the lawn mower, set the timer on my phone, and then run to my chosen marker to stand for the photos. I have pretty terrible eyesight, so I can’t see the timer on my phone once I stand away from it. That plus the bright sun (it was a hot day!) made for a lot of squinting. 

This outtake photo is one of the ones that didn’t make the cut (except to be amusing)–squinting as I walk back towards my lawn mower camera setup!

Fabric Stash Additions: Summer 2020

I’ve accumulated a few new fabrics over the last few months and I thought it would be fun to share them in a stash addition post!

Fabric for new sweatpants

I have a favorite pair of sweatpants that I’ve had for almost 20 years. They’ve seen a lot of wear. After 20 years, the hems are pretty worn out and they’re starting to develop holes in the fabrics near the seams. I’ve been on the lookout for similar ones to replace them for years, but the fit is hard to find: wide-ish legs with a bit of a flare, diagonal pockets, and wide hems. I’ve never come across another pair with quite the same styling. (And they’re not currently in style, being 20 years old, so that’s part of the challenge.)

While wearing them quite a bit in March and April I had the thought that “I could make myself a new pair of these pants!”

This idea was spurred in part by the lovely fleece fabrics that Blackbird Fabrics has stocked over the last eight months or so. Every time they popped up in an email I considered purchasing some, but couldn’t make up my mind about color and dragged my feet. Blackbird’s fabrics sell out quickly and I kept missing the boat with my indecision, but then they restocked the bamboo/cotton stretch fleece and matching ribbing and I decided to make a decision, go for it, and order some!

Doesn’t the fleece side of this fabric look soft? I love that new fleece feeling!

I ordered 1.5 meters of the fleece and .5 meters of the ribbing. I’m sure I’ll have leftover ribbing, as it’s only used for the band at the top of the pants, but I’ll find a use for it again someday, I hope.

Of course, right around the time I purchased my new sweatpant fabrics the weather warmed and I lost my motivation to make the pants. But the fabric isn’t going anywhere and in theory the weather is getting cooler soon, so maybe these will make it onto my sewing table sometime in the next few months.

I do congratulate myself on taking the time to take a pattern from the old pants before I lost motivation so that when I decide to move forward I’m ready to go!

Two block printed fabrics

I keep a running list of sewing projects, in order to remind myself what steps projects are at, what fabrics are marked for certain projects, and what projects I have in mind. Occasionally, while looking at this list, I get swept away with ideas for new projects.

Earlier this summer, this feeling of wanting new projects was compounded by a friend updating me on the status of her current 1830s day dress project using a lovely block print cotton. It’s been a few years since I’ve seriously looked at what’s on offer for block print cottons on places like Etsy and eBay, so I decided to check things out.

Oops! Because, of course, I found pretty things! And then my brain went into overdrive, thinking of all the amazing projects I could make with the beautiful things!

I confess that I gave in to temptation and purchased two block printed fabrics.

I feel somewhat justified in that I have very clear ideas in mind for them!

I intend for the green and red print to become a gown like this one, from about c. 1785. I have 10 yards, enough to make the dress and a matching petticoat, but I thought that someday I might also be interested in having a contrast petticoat as well.

In terms of timeline, I have no clear plans for when I might make this. I am working on stays from this period, so that will be a great help, but that’s not really a solid plan. And the stays are going slowly, as I’ve been distracted from them by other projects. So, no deadline or timeline in mind.

I also bought 9 yards of the pink print in order to make a day dress from 1843/44. But then I remembered a fabric already in my stash that would also make a lovely dress from these years (I actually posted about it in this past stash addition post in 2018–it’s the cream woven plaid). So… I’m not exactly sure which fabric I would pick for this project, though I’m leaning towards the new pink block print (whichever one I don’t pick doesn’t have a clear plan).

I have a new corded petticoat that would help with the 1840s silhouette and I already have the rest of the undergarments, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that I could tackle this project in the not-too-distant future. (What does that actually mean? Next year, maybe?)

Discount duchess satin

This is the standard ‘I happened upon it’ story. This blush duchess silk satin was in the discount bin at a local store.

Of all of the fabrics I’ve acquired recently, this is the one that is the most ‘stash addition’.  I don’t need the 1.5 yards that I bought for anything in particular, but I thought that for the low price it was worth picking some up.

I think it would make a gorgeous 19th century corset (like my 1880s steam molded corset, which is also made from duchess silk satin). I also have vague plans to someday make a 1920s corset/girdle and I think it might be useful for that as well.

In conclusion…

I’ve been doing well at using stash fabrics to make things recently, which is great, but I’m not sure if I’ve offset that by buying new things… Oh well! Sometimes you have to buy things when you see them!

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.