Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part II: The Pattern

Fabric and design decided on, the next step in the process of creating my new 1863 evening gown was to decide on a pattern.

I decided to start with the pattern I used for the bodice of Evie, my 1864 evening gown (this originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2). You might remember that I needed to adjust Evie to fit me two years ago, so I knew that the pattern would not work as is. For the new pattern, I added some space to the waist circumference, bust area, and across the shoulder blades in back.

To test out my pattern changes before cutting into the silk, I cut my flat lining and basted it together to check the fit. Looks good in the front!

And also looks good in the back! Success! No further alterations needed! 

The zipper in the back is my fitting zipper–a long separating zipper I can baste into mockups to check the fit without having to pin anything. This is great for fitting on myself! The zipper ensures the my center back edges will meet nicely so I can move on knowing that the bodice will fit.

As a side note, I have to mention how silly bodices from this period look without skirts! The bodice stops at the natural waist on the sides, which makes my legs look super long and my torso super short! This bodice actually stops even a little higher than my natural waist. The layers of hoop, petticoat, and skirt waistbands all add bulk that needs to be accommodated for smooth lines on the finished bodice.

The next step will be to work with the lovely apricot silk that will be exterior of the dress.

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part I: The Plan

It’s been a few years (three, I think) since I made a new mid-19th century evening gown. I have three evening gowns from this era that currently fit and they are kept constant rotation at events each year. It’s nice to change it up and have different dresses to wear, so I’ve decided I want a new dress!

My goal is to keep the cost down on the new dress, so I went through my stash binder to look for fabrics I already own that would work for this project. I also went through my inspiration for dresses from this period, settling on a lace trimmed dress in an illustration on page 208 of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

It’s the dress on the right that I like, the one ‘Of white tarletan; double skirts flounced with black lace’. However, I’ve decided to make my dress in apricot colored silk. This is due in part to the fact I had yardage enough of apricot silk in my stash, but I think the idea was also influenced by the description of the dress in the center of the illustration. I think I had apricot on the brain!

The apricot silk was purchased in 2016 with no particular project in mind except the general idea of being a historical dress. It has slubs and is definitely a shantung and not a taffeta. That’s not great for historical garments for many periods, but there are a few points in its favor.
a) it was already in the stash in enough yardage for this project
b) the multiple bands of trim on the skirt and generous bertha will distract from the slubs
c) it’s a color of dress that I don’t have too much of and that I don’t have any of in this time period

That explains the color choice, but I’m not planning for my dress to have a double skirt. To me, it looks like the white tarletan dress is drawn in a way that looks like a single skirt with lace trim applied at multiple heights rather than a double skirt. This type of applied skirt trim around the entire circumference of the skirt is common in the first few years of the 1860s, so I’m going with idea. I’ll share more about my skirt trim inspiration that when I get to that point in the process.

For now, if we were to describe my dress in Cunnington’s style, it would be ‘Of apricot silk with cream lace and red silk velvet bows’. There might be some tulle mixed into the bertha as well, we’ll see when we get there. Here are my fabrics, with a stand-in lace (I estimate needing around 35 yards of lace for this dress–not a quantity that was already in my stash–so that was the one section of the project that needed to be purchased).

Plan? Check. Fabric? Check. Next step, a pattern. That’s where we’ll start in the next post in this series.

HSM #6: Mid-19th Century Underclothes

I finally made a garment this year that qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly! June’s Challenge is: Favourite Technique: make an item using your favourite sewing or embellishment technique. My garment for this challenge is a pair of split drawers from the mid-19th century.

My technique of choice are French seams. These are durable, tidy, and easy to sew with a sewing machine.

A quick explantation of how to sew a French seam is to sew with wrong sides together first, press the seam allowances open (they should be on the outside of the garment at this point), then sew the seam again so that the raw edges are fully encased on the inside of the garment. A French seam starts the opposite of how you would normally sew a seam (which is with right sides together). To this with your regular seam allowance the first line of stitches is narrower than your full seam allowance (for example: my seam allowance was ½”, so I first stitched with a slightly wide ⅛” seam then stitched again with a slightly wide ¼” seam). This ensures that the seam is tidy on the right side of the garment, with no loose threads showing. To keep French seams narrow on the inside of the garment it is essential that the first line of stitching is close to the edge of the fabric–sometimes that means stitching a wider seam and then trimming it to be narrow. If this is the case then it’s worth thinking ahead when cutting to decide if the seam allowances need to be wider than normal.

Below is a closeup on one of the inseams of the drawers, showing the French seam.

On to The Facts!

Fabric:  1 ¾ yards of cotton lawn from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: My own. I think these were based on a pattern in a book over ten years ago, but I can’t remember what book and I know I’ve made changes since creating the original pattern.

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: One button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 98%. That missing 2% is for the machine sewing of the waistband to the inside of the drawers, as I think it was more likely that this step would have been completed by hand.

Hours to complete: 2 ¼ hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $8.75.

These drawers are entirely machine sewn, with French seams, narrow hems, and the ‘stitch in the ditch’ method of finishing the waistband. The ‘stitch in the ditch’ replaces more time consuming hand sewing of the waistband on the inside. It leaves barely visible machine stitches just under the bottom of the waistband on the outside and nicely turned under edges on the inside of the waistband, as you can see at the point on the center front in the photo above. The buttonhole is also sewn by machine. The only hand sewing is securing the button.

These drawers are part of a set that I made for a friend. In addition to the drawers, she will also be receiving two mid-19th century chemises (also sewn with French seams!).

As these are worn without other garments underneath, it was important that the fabric is opaque. Dharma Trading’s cotton lawn is tightly woven and definitely opaque enough for this use. Plus, it’s 60″ wide and a great price! I will say that due to the tight weave of the fabric I had a much easier time sewing it with a fresh sewing needle. The old, probably blunt, needle on my sewing machine was a little struggle-y at first, but I had no problems once I changed the needle.

In total, all three garments took 5 yards of fabric, 7 hours of time, and cost $25 in supplies (the button for the drawers as well as lace and ribbon for the chemises was from the stash).

Giving Old Hoops New Spots

Spots are this nifty piece of hardware that can be used to secure interlocking pieces together. They’re similar to a brad in that they have two prongs on the back of a circular top. The difference I see is that they have a domed top and the prongs come out from other side rather than the center.

Back in April, I posted about the dimensions of my large hoops and how I made my new smaller hoops and stated the goal of adding spots to my old hoops just like I had done for the new hoops. Over the last six months I’ve been slowly adding the spots to my old hoops and I’m pleased to report that the process is complete! My ten year old hoops have reinvigorated life!

For the new smaller hoops I used brass colored spots, but I decided to change it up for my older hoops and used gold colored spots instead. (Both of the spots were purchased from this seller on eBay, who I would certainly recommend.) I’d originally intended the vertical tapes on these old hoops to be able to slide around when needed so that I could force the hoops into an elliptical shape, but since I haven’t done that even once in the last ten years I figured that if/when I want elliptical hoops I’ll make a new support structure and will reinforce these hoops in their current cupcake shape instead of contingent to allow them to be adjustable.

My spots are positioned so that the prongs are at the top and bottom of each horizontal wire. I poked the prongs through the twill tape then used pliers to bend the prongs towards each other to secure them in place. The nice thing about the spots is that as they are folded back you have control over how tightly they are attached. So technically they are still loose enough that I can scoot the vertical tapes around if I really want to. But will I? Probably not.

Eleanor ‘On The Continent’

When I was in Denmark last year, we got some lovely show-off-the-dress shots of Eleanor (my 1862 plaid ballgown) that I haven’t shared yet. This is the gown that I wore to the grand ball at the end of the week. I decided on it because I appreciate its simplicity and understated elegance: the only real decorations, aside from the interest provided by the large scale plaid, are the coordinating brooches on the neckline and belt.

I absolutely love how this gown looks wonderfully historical without being flashy. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for flash in some instances, but for traveling on a plane and being squashed into a suitcase, this seemed like an option that would travel well and still look elegant, especially when paired with my coordinating necklace and earrings.

Before the ball we took a short walking tour during which were able to capture these cooler-toned photos in addition to the warmer first photo (that first one was taken in the ballroom).

Looking at these photos reminds of the trip, which brings smiles. It was fun to attend a ball ‘on the continent!’

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The Simple, The Complicated, & The Continent Part II

In Part I of The Simple, The Complicated, & The Continent, I shared casual pictures from the mid-19th century dance week I attended last August. Now it’s time for the (mostly) more elegant pictures of the formal balls from the week. You’ll see why I say mostly elegant… there are some silly pictures, too!

On the Wednesday of the dance week we had an informal ball at the school. In terms of dancing, it went generally well. We’d had two days of dance classes and we weren’t completed exhausted yet. Everyone looked lovely so it was fun, as always, to admire other people’s ensembles. We were informed that the social custom of Denmark is to only post photos of other people if you have their permission, so I don’t have too many photos I can share of the informal ball, in particular. It’s a reasonable custom, I think, just quite different from what we’re used to in America. It really is the Wild West of willy-nilly picture posting here! Maybe the Wild West village on the grounds of the school made more sense than I thought…

So here I am dressed for the informal ball. My hair was frizzy and big by the evening of the day so I decided to run with it! Big round hair is perfect for the 1858 anyway. I wore Georgina, with her evening bodice. Actually, all of the Americans wore our mid-19th century cotton ballgowns (many of which you can see in this past post), which quite impressed many of the other attendees. We were told that fabrics like these are difficult to find in and around Denmark.

After another two days of classes, the week ended with a formal dinner and ball. We were bussed to the town where these events were to be held (and it was quite an adventure, getting all the large dresses onto the tour buses and into the seats!) and then did a small walking tour of the town before dinner. A new friend snapped this photo of me traipsing across the street after getting some photos taken. I chose my matching crocs to wear around the town before going into dinner and the ball, but I didn’t think anyone would see them!

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Dinner was lovely and then it was time for the ball. It was quite exciting to be attending a formal ball on ‘the continent!’ It sounds so fashionable in a 19th century way!

The ballroom contained actual candles! These are forbidden in many of the halls I normally get to dance in, so that was a nice novelty. They were especially lovely as the light faded outside.

Our hosts provided us with dance cards, which had a convenient hook for hanging the dance card off of a belt or waistband. In my case, the belt on my dress was perfect!

The ballroom was rather small for the number of people we squashed into it, but I suppose that is probably rather accurate for some events in the 19th century. It did mean that the room became quite hot, so I spent a fair bit of time enjoying the lovely garden outside.

As you can see, I wore Eleanor, my plaid silk ball gown. It was a good choice for traveling and it was fun to be elegantly simple in my clothing choice.

Capturing the photographer in a photo! Isn’t it lovely how well their dresses coordinate with the colors in the garden?

Why was I lifting my skirt so scandalously? I think to see how high I could easily lift my leg in my dress. Or perhaps to check my balance? Doesn’t really matter, does it? Silly photos are fun!

I did get permission to share this photo of me with two new friends. Our colors coordinated so well and that uniform was absolutely stunning! And it had fur on the cuffs. Such soft fur! I bet it was boiling hot, but it was also quite dashing!

Unfortunately, by this point in the week we were all brain-dead, so the room in general didn’t do a great job of executing all the dancing we had been working on without many mistakes. That felt like rather a let down, sadly, as it would have been nice to dance at a ball on ‘the continent’ with perfect execution. I guess this gives me another reason to go back and try again some day!

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c. 1860 Crinoline Size Comparison & Tutorial

Back in October of 2016, I made a new, smaller crinoline (also called a hoop skirt) than the one I’d had for about the last 10 years. I thought it would be great, and it was… in terms of shape. Unfortunately, the new crinoline had a fatal flaw: the channels for the hoops were too wide for the slippery-ness of the hoops and therefore all the tapes would slide to one side while being worn, causing the hoops to drop down and create a trip hazard for the wearer. I had loaned these to a friend at a ball and was horrorstruck as I realized the problem and she attempted to dance without realizing the problem. It was such an awful feeling! We solved the problem for the night, but I resolved to fix the hoops before wearing them again and I learned a good lesson about trying out new garments myself before loaning them! I’ll get to my solution for the sliding hoops in a bit, but first I’ll start at the beginning.

The new crinoline was an experiment to see if I could use the hooping from a cheap Amazon hoop skirt like this to create a cage crinoline with smaller dimensions than my usual crinoline, the super-cupcake, which has a decidedly high fashion silhouette. The answer to that question is ‘yes’ it was easy to reuse the hoop steel from the Amazon crinoline to make a cage crinoline.

You see, the super-cupcake looks great with the right circumference of skirt and the right environment (high fashion daywear or a ballroom); however, under a cotton day dress I wanted a more subtle, practical, reasonable shape. I have to admit to liking a big skirt though, so a reasonable crinoline for me still has a larger circumference than what it might be for others. Also, at 5’6″ I am taller than the average woman, which allows me to carry off a larger circumference while staying within reasonable looking proportions. (For more thoughts on practical sized crinolines, Maggie May has shared useful research and an equation to help determine crinoline circumferences.)

Here’s a comparison of my two crinolines worn with cotton dresses: the super-cupcake is on the left and the newer reasonable crinoline is on the right.

Interestingly, the dimensions of these two crinolines aren’t terribly different. The lowest hoop is only about 8″ smaller  on the new crinoline. The biggest difference (and what alters the silhouette most) is that the new crinoline has a more tapered shape in the upper hoops.

I’ve provided the following size chart in an effort to help those who might be making or adjusting their own crinolines. Even if you don’t want to deal with all the vertical tapes, you can use these dimensions to adjust the hoop sizes in a ready-made modern crinoline to achieve the same effect.

Interestingly, both of these crinolines have the same vertical tape length that is short enough to keep the bottom hoop decidedly above the floor. The lowest hoop on these is about at my mid-calf height. This keeps my feet from getting tangled–especially useful while dancing! In order to keep my dresses from folding under the bottom hoop as I move, I have a cotton petticoat with a substantial ruffle around the hem which provides stability for the dress worn on top. You can see the length of the super-cupcake on me as well as the ruffled petticoat that I wear over both crinolines in this post.

Here are my two crinolines next to each other while the new one was still in progress. They have an overall similar construction (although I did simplify the new ones, using fewer hoops and fewer vertical tapes).

My old crinoline used ivory twill tape for the vertical supports. There are actually two layers of it that are hand sewn together to make channels for the hoops, creating channels along the lines of those seen in this 1859 hoop skirt patent filed by James Draper of New York (while the hoop circumferences are not provided in the patent, the silhouette of Draper’s hoop skirt is similar to that of my super-cupcake). This method used a ridiculous amount of twill tape, so I came up with a way to make the new channels that would use only one layer of twill tape for each vertical support. More on that in a moment.

The old crinoline’s hoops are made from cotton covered steel that was in a ribbon form originally. I had cut each ribbon in half (and over time, the fabric covering started to fall off, which caused me to painstakingly wrap each hoop all the way around with thread to make it more durable–a caution to anyone else using this to make a crinoline, although I’m not sure where you’d source this type of material these days as I believe this type of ribbon wire is no longer being produced). The fabric covering combined with the narrow channels in the twill tape means that the vertical ribbons only slide when I want them to, but that they otherwise stay in place nicely.

For the new crinoline, I machine sewed tucks into a single layer of twill tape to create channels for the hoops. You can see those tucks in the photo below.

I also machine sewed the vertical tapes to the twill tape waistband, because why not–I was machine sewing anyway. The waistband is two layers of twill tape sandwiched together.

That’s basically it for the construction before the awful incident of loaning them out. I cut the hoops to be the dimensions I wanted, slid them through the channels, and used the plastic joiners that had come with crinoline to secure the ends. Done! Or so I thought…

After realizing that these hoops were going to slide horribly, I went back to research to figure out how this problem was solved in the past. What I noticed are little metal dots on each join of hoop to vertical support. That makes so much sense! I wanted to add these to my hoops but I didn’t know what to call them while searching for materials.

It took me a little research to figure it out, but I did and now I’ll share that with you. They are called spots! Once you realize that then a whole world of spots becomes available to you. Decorative ones, bronze, copper, nickel, black… so many options! I got plain domed copper from this seller on eBay and am very happy with them. They’re easy to apply with a pair of pliers and seem quite durable. Now my hoops and tapes stay in place–no more sliding around!

And here is the finished result of the spots on the reasonable crinoline. I like the look as well as the practicality. I’m planning to add gold ones to the super-cupcake as well, for looks more than anything else.

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1864 Evie Hair (Returning Heroes Ball 2018)

In March, I again had the pleasure of attending The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers‘ annual Returning Heroes Ball (you can read about other years I’ve attended here). I decided to wear Evie, my 1864 ballgown, simply because it had been a year or so since the last time I wore that particular gown.

In order to change things up I did two things differently with this wearing: I wore different earrings and did my hair differently. Small changes, but it makes wearing an old dress feel new and exciting!

I don’t think I’ve ever worn these earrings for mid-19th century events before (only for things later and earlier than this period), though now that I’ve tried it I think they work quite well. I made them from triple drop earrings that I bought from a modern store (I forget now, but I think it was New York and Company). I just took off the bottom drop and attached them to clip hardware. They catch the light and sparkle nicely.

1860s and earrings together reminds me of the scene in Gone With The Wind in which a straggling soldier try to steal ‘ear bobs’ from the house. Not that these look at all similar (and luckily my story ends on a happier note than that scene), but a GWTW reference generally makes me smile.

I was going to do a simple hairstyle (my usual go-to c.1860 style with a center part and the hair in a low mass at the back of my head), but as I was getting ready I chanced a look at Pinterest and got excited about trying a more complicated style than I usually do. In particular, I liked the puffed fronts on some of these styles from 1864 and the curls on the sides like some of these from 1861.

I sort of mashed these two looks together, using small rats to puff the front sections of hair and a curling iron to get smooth curls for the sides. My hair is getting to be so long that I had to pin the hanging curls up to shorten them! The rest of my hair was just twisted and pinned on my neck without too much attention paid to it. I was running out of time and knew I’d be adding my hair piece on top, which would cover most of the back of my hair anyway.

I really like the end result for this particular dress of mine. I feel it compliments the hair piece and the silk dress nicely. Isn’t it lovely when all these little details come together to create one cohesive end result? Yay!

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When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-19th Century Edition)

A few months ago, I had a post with the same name that focused on two Regency dresses that had experienced closet shrinkage. The post was centered around what I did to make them wearable again. Around the same time I was battling the Regency closet shrinkage, I encountered the same problem with two of my older mid-19th century dresses as well. Boo!

It took me awhile to do anything about the problem and even longer to post about it, but here we are.

There was a time when the back edges of Evie’s bodice met from top to bottom. In fact, if you look at the pictures in this post from 2013 you’ll see that there was even excess fabric around the waist (yikes, but that does mean my waist has expanded a fair bit!); however, by February 2016, the bodice looked like this:

Uh oh! That wasn’t going to do for wearing at a ball! So I brought my corset and bodice (plus the other bodice I’ll mention shortly), got all laced up, and had a friend measure the gap between the back bodice edges and take pictures for documentation (so I wouldn’t forget the measurement, because let’s face it, my memory is pretty terrible sometimes).

Then I pondered my options. There was no way to let out the seams on this bodice, as the fabric has scarred at every point the needle and thread passed through. Plus, I didn’t leave much seam allowance anyway. Given my limited options, I decided that a placket was the best way to go. Many extant dresses using lacing as the method of closure on bodices and I’m sure that ladies in the 19th century changed sizes, too. I went on a hunt and couldn’t find an example of a bodice with a placket showing between the lacing, but museums have the benefit of being able to put their collections on forms rather than real people, which allows for easier adjustability to have the lacing edges touching. (If you know of any examples of a bodice laced with a placket under the gap, please let me know!) Anyway, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to assume that some ladies in the 19th century used the same method I did to allow adjustability in their bodices.

In addition to the placket, I also had to extend the bertha to bridge the gap. For that I was able to unfold my seam allowance, respace my gold ruffle, and cover the remaining gap with a rosette of gold like the one on the front of the bodice (another instance of the benefit of saving all the scraps from a project–this finished off the gold bits I had leftover from the original construction). Thankfully, these changes worked. I wore Evie to a ball in March 2016 and was happy as a clam. The placket was hardly noticeable and now the dress is much more adjustable!

The second bodice was for the dress named Annabelle, which was made in 2011 (and worn again later in 2011). This bodice also closed all the way down the back when it was made. Well, that’s not the case any more. Actually, a few years ago I’d already converted the closure from being hooks and eyes with folded over seam allowance to lacing with less seam allowance folded over in order to eek out a little more space, but that just wasn’t enough. By 2016, here’s how we were looking. It was time for a more drastic update.

I did the same thing I did for Evie, adding a placket and regathering the bertha to make it span the lacing gap. It took me about two years to get to it, but the result is that I was able to wear Annabelle to a recent ball in October, with a back that looked like this.

Not bad! The only thing I want to change is making that top edge actually stay matched rather than the one side riding up. But that’s a minor change. Overall, I’m pleased to be able to continue to wear this dress!

There we are–two more examples of how to fix the-dress-no-longer-fits problem! It was incredibly lovely to receive comments on the Regency post that other people also experience closet shrinkage and have already adapted their clothing to deal with it or are now inspired to do so. It is my hope that continuing to post about this topic will encourage others come to terms with their own changing size as well as ideas for how we can all deal and move forward while still being able to wear our finery.

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Returning Heroes Ball 2017

A few months ago, I had the privilege of being present once again at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Returning Heroes Ball. It was a lovely evening full of dancing, admiring the well turned out ladies and gentleman, chatting…and lots of dish washing (that’s what happens behind the scenes at these things–someone has to do all of the dishes.)

Here are two very similar views of the ballroom. I thought I’d include both because you see different dresses in each one and that’s one of the things that I greatly enjoy about attending historical events!

I didn’t spend all my time watching, however. Here I am participating in a quadrille. I wore my most recently constructed mid-19th century dress, Eleanor. I was grateful that the only change I needed to make after the first wearing was shortening the hem one turn so I didn’t step on it while dancing.

I made my refreshing apron a few years ago, but since then others have joined me in my apron endeavors (they really are quite practical when doing dishes, filling punch bowls, and setting out refreshments!). Aprons in a row!