Category Archives: 1830s

HSM #1: Brown Silk Petticoat

While making my 1832 velvet gown at the end of last year, I decided that a generic 1830s/40s petticoat might add to the silhouette, besides being elegant and fun to own. Silk petticoats remind me of Mammy, in Gone With The Wind, who is very excited (and a bit scandalized) about a red silk petticoat gifted to her by Rhett.

I had purchased this silk taffeta a number of years ago on clearance, but it was languishing in the stash due to its unflattering shade of brown. I had 3 yards, which was just right for a petticoat. And since the garment is never seen nor worn near the face, the color was perfectly suited to the project.

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I made a tube of the yardage, then cut off the excess length and used that to make the ruffle. I had thought of making the ruffle twice as high, but realized that I needed to have more than a 1:1 ratio to gather… duh! I was sick while making this and clearly my head wasn’t working terribly well. Anyway, I cut my tall ruffle in half to make a 2:1 ratio and that was that.

The waistband is made of small bits of leftover cotton from some other project. There is evidence of quilted petticoats from the 1830s and 1840s having waistbands made of other fabrics, which was my inspiration (examples can be found here, here, and here). It was a perfect idea, as I was trying to make the best use of my fabric and I did not want to cut a waistband piece out of it.

Petticoats of this type also sometimes close with buttons (like this one), so I chose to close this petticoat in that way as well. It used up a single, random, khaki colored button from the stash and matches the fabric perfectly!

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I added tucks to the petticoat after trying it on with the 1832 dress and realizing it needed to be shorter. Those are hand sewn, but the rest of the construction was done on a machine except for the buttonhole and sewing down the inside of the waistband.

This garment fits the first HSM challenge of the year, Firsts and Lasts (create either the first item in a new ensemble, or one last piece to put the final fillip on an outfit), as it was the start of the 1830s ensemble.

Just the facts:

Fabric: 3 yards brown silk taffeta.

Pattern: None. Just rectangles and math, sort of.

Year: 1830s/40s.

Notions: Thread, a button, and a cotton scrap.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. The materials are good and so is the method. The only thing off is the machine sewing and the plastic button.

Hours to complete: Not many, for me. Maybe 10? It didn’t help that I was sick  and not thinking straight.

First worn: December 10 for a ball.

Total cost: $18.

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12 Bells Ringing! (1832 Velvet Gown & Hair, HSM #12)

I’ve had my eye on this fashion plate for years. Then earlier this year, I came across a reasonably priced, lightweight polyester velvet and thought it would be just the thing to recreate this gown. I don’t get too many opportunities to wear clothing from this period, but the annual CVD Fezziwig’s Ball, with a general ‘life of Charles Dickens’ timeframe, was the perfect opportunity to try it out. Plus, I’ve worn my green appliqué 1823 ball gown for the last few years, which has been lovely, but I was ready for a change. And, this fashion plate is from the month of December, which makes it even more perfect for wearing to a December event!

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Royal Ladies’ Magazine, December 1832

Also, this dress fits the last HSM challenge of 2016 (Special Occasion: make something for a special event or a specific occasion, or that would have been worn to special event or specific occasion historically)! A ball gown is certainly a garment that would have been worn to a special event in the 19th century.

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Just the facts:

Fabric: About 5 yards polyester velvet.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #702, 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices (this is the same pattern I recently used to create Eleanor). The sleeve is a beret sleeve from Janet Arnold and the skirt size is based on information from Janet Arnold as well.

Year: 1832.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, two tier lace, pleated ribbon, muslin, narrow yarn for cording, and a brooch.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 80% on this one. The materials leave something to be desired, though they have the right look.

Hours to complete: Too many, this dress was finicky!

First worn: December 10 for a ball.

Total cost: About $50.

I put a fair bit of work into this dress, but I don’t feel in love with it, as I often do with my creations. It’s finished (thankfully!) and it was fun to wear, but it was annoying and finicky to sew which made for a not fun process. Actually, the velvet fabric itself wasn’t the problem, even though I started out thinking it might be. I was able to do most of the seams on the machine without an issue despite having a fine layer of burgundy fuzz on everything. So the construction went together pretty quickly. I flat lined the bodice with muslin, sewed up the seams, and made cording on the machine. I did have to sew the piping on by hand at the neck, back, sleeves, and on the belt to get it to behave, as well as setting the sleeves by hand.

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Then I knife pleated the skirt, which was more annoying than that process generally is, and hand sewed it to the bottom of the bodice. I also whip stitched the bottom edge and the bodice seam allowance edges to keep them contained.

Next came the fiddly trim bits, which I usually enjoy. But… the belt wound up being too short, the placement of the fabric scrunched bit on the front was absolutely one of the most annoying dress construction processes I’ve had in years, and I couldn’t put the ribbon around the neck until the bust fabric bit was done. I wrangled the bust fabric into submission eventually, but with a lot of frustration. I solved the belt problem (because I was NOT going to be making another one) by adding a butt bow to fill in the gap, after looking at other 1830s dresses and their trims and being inspired. Actually, I really like the bow as I think it makes the plain back of the dress rather more interesting!

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I was so grateful to be done sewing the thing that I didn’t bother doing anything to keep the sleeves poofed. Looking at pictures, I think some sleeve poofing would help for a next wearing. I’m also a bit disappointed by the skirt silhouette. I made a new silk petticoat to help fill out the skirt (more on that later), and a super quick stiff net ruffle for my waist, but I don’t think they did the job well enough. This picture, with the skirt in motion, is a better than when I’m standing still. Also, I had high hopes to make handmade slippers to wear with this dress, but abandoned that idea after making one, realizing that they were not looking the way I wanted, and that I really didn’t have time.

However, I really wanted the laces across my feet, so I tried used masking tape to attach black ribbons to my modern flats that tied around my ankles. It would have worked for pictures, but I danced before pictures and they fell off mid-dance… That was exciting. I was peering through all the dancers to keep an eye on the ribbons on the floor so I could recover them while hoping that no one would trip… Luckily, no one did! And I recovered the ribbons. I’ll have to try again next time.

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Then there was my hair. 1830s hair is ridiculous, but I was inspired and had a plan. I wanted those silly smooth loops of hair that are often seen in fashion plates. I tried them in fake hair and achieved something–but not what I wanted. And then I ordered false hair bangs to make the side curls, but in a comedy of errors they didn’t arrive until the day of the ball and I didn’t have time to curl and arrange them. All in all, I have concluded that these hair styles are harder than they look and frustrating to achieve! In the end, I resorted to using my own hair, with only a rat on each side to plump up the curls.

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Once I decided to go with the looser floppy loops of hair on my head, as in my fashion plate inspiration, I knew my own hair would do the trick. I wish I’d been able to get them to stand up just a bit more, but overall I like how the hair turned out. I certainly have enough hair to achieve all the different parts of this style. I think my favorite part is the unusual backwards V part in the front, which I saw on multiple images from the 1830s. It’s so unusual, but makes so much sense given the sections of hair needed for this style.

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My hair decoration is wired springs of berries bearing tiny jingle bells! I decided on this because of a mention of putting something from the 12 Days of Christmas in 1830s hair. There are no berries or bells in the modern version of the song, but Wikipedia suggests that in the 1840s the lyrics were ‘twelve bells ringing.’ I was intrigued and decided it would be a fun, silly thing to do. I was also worried that the bells were going to be very noisy! They provided a lovely tinkling sound when I moved, but couldn’t be heard from more than a few feet away and so therefore were not a distraction as I feared they might be.

I wore the gown with my 1860s chemise and corset, as well as the other skirt supports previously mentioned. I added white gloves for dancing and wore red and crystal earrings. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a necklace that I liked, so I decided to go without instead.

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Moose hands! It was fun to be part of a rather large clump of women wearing 1830s to the ball this year. It’s such an odd period and one looks less out of place if others are wearing equally as ridiculous garments and hair as well!

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Vernet Project: A Witzchoura Tangent

I started this post soon after joining the Vernet Project, so I think it must have been in my drafts for close to two years at this point. I didn’t want to leave it in the drafts folder forever, though, so I thought I’d include it as I’m wrapping up my Vernet posts.

Throughout my research, I’ve looked through many hundreds of pins on my Pinterest boards from the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and have found only a handful of plates that show outerwear specifically labeled as witzchouras (these can be seen in this past post showing examples). There are a much larger number of other, similar, types of outerwear.

(If you’ve missed out, this post explores the origins and qualities of a witzchoura, while this past post explores witzchouras in even more depth, with multiple excepts from the first part of the 19th century mentioning them.)

Examples of garments similar to witzchouras

Common garments in this category are labeled using words such as pelisse and pardessus. Then there are also carriage dresses (example), promenade dresses (example), and redingotes (example) trimmed in fur, but it seems clear in the fashion plate descriptions that these garments were not considered witzchouras.

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Fashion plate showing a Pardessus from 1811.

Here is another similar garment, a Russian mantle, described in The Ladies Pocket Magazine in 1838 under the chapter English Fashions and Novelties: Remarks On The Prevailing London Fashions.

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Descriptions of garments similar to witzchouras

In 1849, La Belle Assembleé addresses this for us (while also mentioning yet another type of outer wear, a burnous. The Dreamstress defines and explores this garment specifically as it relates to historical fashion, which is excellent and full of images!). The author of this reflection of fashion specifically mentions the weight of a witzchoura and how that compares to the weight of a pardessus, as well as the types of outings that these garments would have been worn for. Interesting that they would be worn for carriage dress, when, alternatively, one could also wear a ‘carriage dress’.

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This next excerpt, from La Belle Assembleé in 1825, tells us one distinctive quality of a pelisse which is that the arms were not encased in the garment and could be freely moved about.

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Example of a Pelisse from 1815, showing the armholes that would allow movement.

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A slightly later example of a Pelisse in a similar style. This is from 1821.

Examples of out of the ordinary witzchouras

Then there are garments labeled as witzchouras, but which are odd in a variety of ways. For example, take a look at the interesting witzchoura mentioned in The Lady’s Monthly Museum in 1817, seen below.

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I’m not really sure what qualities allow a witzchorua to keep one’s dress from being rumpled, but what strikes me as odd is that the witzchoura mention is lined with silk and that is has a chapeau bras attached! Also in 1817, La Belle Assembleé mentions this exact garment twice! The first is a description of the garment. The second is about the inventor, Mrs. Bell, who, if you care to read more, has a long list of other interesting things that she supplies.

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In this next case, the witzchoura is described as being lined with sarsnet (a fine plain or sometimes twill weave usually silk fabric) and only trimmed with fur rather than being lined entirely with fur. Haven’t we seen conclusively that a witzchoura should be lined and trimmed in fur? This witzchoura is also interesting because of its colors. It is quite likely a garment made for the general mourning of the death of Queen Charlotte, who passed away in November 1818.

“For out-door costume nothing can be reckoned more completely elegant than the Witchoura pelisse of black velvet lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with real ermine.”

La Belle Assembleé  in January 1818

Finally, there is this fashion plate at the LACMA which is labeled as being a witzchoura but with nothing witzchoura-like about it! A mistake perhaps? This looks like a summer garment, not a heavy winter garment.

What a rabbit hole of obscure information the witzchoura is. I’m rather glad to say that I’ve now exhausted my currnet list of historical references to the witzchoura!

A Hint Of Coming Projects

It’s pretty busy here at the moment. I’ve been spending most of my energy doing productive life things, which hasn’t left a lot of energy for writing blog posts. In the meantime, I’ve been plotting what my next projects will be. The big ones on the to-do list right now are a new 1860s evening gown for later in October and a first ever 1830s evening gown for December. I thought I’d share a little taste of those two projects. Sparkly bits that will be incorporated into each gown!

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June Fabric Stash Additions

Twice recently I’ve wound up at the local low-priced fabric store not needing fabric, but finding fabric that I knew wouldn’t be there if I went looking for it again in the future. Those trips resulted in three new dress lengths of fabrics for the stash.

The first two were from the first trip, when a friend and I stopped by the fabric store so she could get some supplies… I didn’t need anything…

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Fabrics 1 and 2: rayon velvet and good imitation silk

But I bought the gorgeous burgundy rayon velvet specifically to make an 1830s evening gown I’ve been thinking of for the last year or so. It’s nice and lightweight and won’t weigh down the silhouette!

And the icy pink shot imitation silk I also purchased. I’ve used this fabric in other colors in the past multiple times, in my 1813 Regency dress and my 1811 Regency dress. It’s a little poofy, but looks like silk. I also have it in gold, which has been sitting in my stash for a few years. I have no current plans for this fabric, but I finished off the bolt so I have enough to make a dress from just about any decade in the 19th century I eventually decide on.

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Fabrics 3 and 4: very slightly slubbed silk and figured purple lightweight silk

The lovely pumpkin silk is a color I’ve been dreaming of having a dress made out of, but it’s one of those colors you don’t often find. I carried it around the store for probably an hour before purchasing it. I’ve thought specifically of an 1820s dress, but really this color could be used for many decades in the 19th century. I also finished off the bolt on this one with hopefully enough yardage for any project I eventually decide on.

In addition, I found a lovely figured silk online at Blackbird Fabrics that I also knew was a fabric I wouldn’t find if I went looking for something similar in the future. That’s how fabric shopping often is, at least near me. You have to buy great things when you see them because if you go looking for specific and similar things you’ll likely not find them. Is it like that near where you live?

The purple color is so very 2nd-half-of-the-19th-century-chemically-dyed and it’s figured. It’s hard to find good silks these days for a reasonable price that aren’t just solid. I’m eventually planning a new 1890s gown, though who knows when. Maybe when another 1890s ball pops up on my calendar?

For now I need to get back to using up stash fabrics for my summer projects instead of adding to the stash!

Vernet Project: Further Witzchoura References

Last post relating to witzchouras, we looked at basic definitions of the word, determining that the garment and its name developed from Polish and French influences, that the garment was popular c. 1808 to 1835, and that the chief qualifications are that it is an outer coat or mantle lined and trimmed in fur. But let’s not stop there: here are more references to the witzchouras from the early 19th century.

In 1817, La Belle Assembleé has multiple mentions of witzchouras. The following excerpt tells us a good amount about this style:

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Side note: A Louis d’Or is a French gold coin first struck in 1640. These were promoted by the French kings to fill the need for a large denomination coin, since the franc and livre silver coins were greatly decreasing in value. In 1726, France developed monetary stability and the Louis d’Or was established as being worth 24 livres, a value that remained static through the French Revolution. At the time of this quote in 1817, a Louis d’Or referred to a 20 franc gold piece, also called a Napoleon, so named because Napoleon coopted the idea of the French kings before him. (Sources: Merriam Webster, the OED for louis d’orNapoleon, and livre, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.)

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Louis d’Or from 1709

Throughout the 18th century, a franc was similar in value to a livre, and about 20 of either of these coins equalled one Louis d’Or. La Belle Assembleé tells us that a witzchoura in 1817 was worth 30-90 Louis d’Ors. What I’m driving at here is the relative value of one of these garments.

The OED gives us an idea of the value of a livre over time: in 1746 one captain was paid 120 livres a month (6 Louis d’Ors). Extrapolate that for a year, and that captain was making 72 Louis d’Ors, just enough for a witzchoura or two and nothing else! Another example from 1797 sounds outraged that an English sea officer was charged 300 livres for eight days of lodging (15 Louis d’Ors). That’s almost 60 Louis d’Ors per month, which would easily be a witzchoura, though I doubt that sea officer would need a witzchoura instead of lodgings! The takeaway message is that, as La Belle Assembleé says, witzchouras were costly and worn only by the wealthy.

It is worth noting that there are fur lined pelisses mentioned which do not qualify as witzchouras in the eyes of La Belle Assembleé. I’ll be examining these almost-witzchouras in a later post.

Moving along some years, The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine describes fashionable witzchouras in 1833 (the OED had quoted part of this in their definition of witzchoura that we looked at in my last post):

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As we established before, by the 1830s the shape of the witzchoura had changed to accommodate the changing fashions of dresses under them: becoming more cape-like, with collars and loose sleeves rather than being fitted like a pelisse as they were in the earlier years of their popularity. Again, we are reminded that witzchouras are made from expensive fur, and the more expensive the fur the more likely to see it displayed as much as possible.

Moving forward once again, C. Willet Cunnington mentions witzchouras in his book English Women’s Clothing in the 19th Century referencing a year as late as 1849: “The Witzchoura Mantle, for the carriage, lined and trimmed with fur.”

This quote from La Belle Assembleé in 1849 could be the source for Cunnington’s mention of the style, as the phrasing is quite close to Cunnington’s description:

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Here there is a mention of another garment similar to a witzchoura: in this case a burnous. According to the OED again, a burnous is a woman’s cloak or mantle from the 19th century resembling an Arabian upper garment of the same name. It is interesting to note that by the 1830s and 1840s a witzchoura is described as heavy, cumbrous, and very ample instead of the more fashionable and positive descriptions from the decades prior.

One final mention of the witzchoura is from The Outdoor Girl Of A Century Ago, published in 1922:

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This is the second mention in this post of a similar (or possibly the same) garment of Russian origin. In addition to the specific evidence of the Polish origins of the witzchoura in name and relating to Napoleon himself, I’ve also come across multiple mentions of the witzchoura style being brought back to France from Russia by Napoleon’s forces. Both of these influences fit in with the dating we’ve established and lead me to wonder if these are two separate and unique garments. Perhaps, though I suspect that if they were indeed separate styles in name they would have been variations on a similar theme, just like the fur-lined pelisse mentioned earlier in this post.

Vernet Project: Basic Witzchoura Descriptions

It’s time for a little more information about witzchouras! Back in January, I shared my round-about journey to figure out what a witzchoura is. Now it’s time to look at witzchouras in more detail to determine what qualities define them.

In that last post, we left off with this enlightening sentence from the book Empire Fashions by Dover Publishers: “Around 1808, a high-waisted, fur-lined woman’s coat appeared, the witzchoura [wi choo ra].” Here is an example of what a witzchoura looks like.

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Costume Parisien from 1813

My go-to source when I get geeky about word history is the Oxford English Dictionary, and lucky for me, it has an entry for witzchoura! The OED tells us it as an obsolete noun from the French vitchoura and the Polish wilczura (a wolf-skin coat) that is defined as “A style of lady’s mantle fashionable c. 1820-35.”  The OED also shares four uses of the word from period sources. Here they are, with slight edits:

1823 La Belle Assemblée Dec. Witzchoura pelisse of gros de Naples,..trimmed with a very broad border of swansdown.
1833 Ladies Pocket Mag. The witchoura is a very ample mantle, made with a very deep collar, and cape, and long, loose sleeves.
1835 Court Mag. [The mantle] is of the Witzchoura form, drawn close at the back, with large Turkish sleeves, and a deep falling collar.
[1898 M. Loyd tr. O. Uzanne Fashion in Paris Witzchouras had not yet [c1806] come into vogue.]

So far, our qualifications for a witzchoura include: a high waist for earlier witzchouras (to correspond with the fashionable silhouette), fur lining, fur trim, the fact that a witzchoura is a coat or mantle (for outerwear, with another garment worn underneath), that it was most popular c. 1820-1835, and that it had not yet become fashionable c. 1806. Other sources add to a witzchoura’s qualifications those of its being full length, having large sleeves and a wide collar (or sometimes hood or cape layers over the shoulders) especially in the 1830s when the silhouette changed, as well as the general period of the “early 19th century” for its popularity, which makes sense since we’ve just looked at sources that mention dates between 1806 and 1835.

There is some information telling us that the garment became popular after Napoleon gained a Polish mistress in 1808 and other information that tells us that the garment was Russian in origin and became popular after the Napoleonic Wars brought the style back to France and England. (For more information about these early witzchoura influences, check out this post at the Sewing Empire blog.)

I’m excited the word has Polish or Russian origins, because “witz” sounds Polish or German to me. Also, I love that the last quote from the OED tells us that witzchouras weren’t popular just a few years prior to the year 1814. Oh, how fashionable is a merveilleuse!