Let me back up from the current state of the Stays Of Fail to all the wonderful documentation I did about making them, at least to this point. When I started these stays back in 2018, I intended them to be a sort of in-between-projects-project for when I wanted a bit of hand sewing to do. Given that, the project moved at a pace only slightly faster than a glacier!
Somewhere very early in the planning stages of these stays I decided to try out a new book for patterning them: Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington. This book presents the idea that you can use any person’s measurements to draft a basic block of the body and then use the basic block to draft any of the historical stays in the book. It’s a neat idea, in theory, and I wanted to try it out.
I didn’t keep track of how long the patterning/drafting process took me. But it was a long time…
There was lots of math, which always happens with drafting a body block and is to be expected, but on top of that there was also the drafting of the specific pair of stays I’d decided on: the 1785-1788 Half Boned Stays (patterned from a pair of stays held at the Chertsey Museum). I was doing my pattern drafting while being often interrupted, so that slowed me down, but despite that the process was longer than I was expecting (and I’m not new to making body blocks or patterns).
(The nice thing is that if I were to use this book to pattern another set of stays or corset I would be halfway there, having already now created a custom body block, but I suspect it would be faster for me to start with a pattern from another book source, because I think my brain wraps around the idea of resizing a pattern without the body block drafting pretty easily.)
I eventually had my body block and was able to draft my pattern using the instructions. The instructions were quite detailed, so that was great. I finally had a pattern that I was able to cut out and make a mockup out of! I was able to get into the fun part: sewing!
Testing The Pattern With A Mockup
I had expected that, after spending a lot of time spent patterning the stays to fit my measurements, I would have stays that basically fit. And I did. But they fit my measurements with the center backs touching and no compression, just sort of lightly surrounding my body without providing support.
The drafting did it’s job of making stays to my measurements, but I was dubious about whether they would do their supporting job when fully boned and finished. So I decided to adjust the mockup a bit–taking some in at the waist, in particular. (While this is a small adjustment to make, it reminded me that at the point at which I had to alter the mockup I might as well have started with a pattern that took less time to create.)
But perhaps, that alteration was my downfall. As you’ll see in later posts, I later had to add fabric back into the waist size.
That’s all for now. Next post, I’ll detail the early construction process, including stiffening my own linen!
The idea has intrigued me for awhile and specifically appeals for this project because I didn’t like the fit and feel of the attached fabric straps and had already cannibalized them to make gussets, anyway.
Adding the tape helped the stays feel better, but the gussets were still a problem. I decided to move the gussets up higher by about 3″. I didn’t have quite enough fabric length to do that but I decided to piece on additional sections at the bottom. Piecing is completely period and seemed like a better idea than not having stays that I could wear!
Additionally, I maxed out the seam allowance on both sides of the gussets and the abutting pieces. I’m hoping those things will help narrow the back gap. I’ll also add a new boning channel in the gusset.
In terms of fit, the side view actually isn’t bad with the added strap!
The tape shoulder straps wrap across the back and then will hook in the front. For the fitting the test strap is just safety pinned. Other pins are marking where the strap hits as well as the finished length of the tabs.
After this fitting, the to do list includes:
resetting/piecing the gussets and adding boning channels and boning to them
whipping the edges of the stays in preparation for binding them
binding the edges of the stays
adding the tape straps for a final fitting
I’ve been very busy, so those things are moving along quite slowly. I did update the gussets and start whipping the edges, so there is some progress.
That’s all for now. Next post, I’m going to go back to the early construction details of these stays.
The very late 18th century (1780s and 1790s) is a mostly new period for me. I have a chemise… but no other underclothes that fit, no dresses, and quite likely no accessories… I’m starting mostly from scratch! And as one does (or at least as I do) when faced with a new period, I decided to make completely hand sewn stays as the foundation. That was in 2018!
I thought I had a grand plan. I was so excited about my stays! I tried a new way of patterning, tried a new method of stiffening my fabric, sewed oodles of boning channels by hand, shoved bones into all the channels that were just a little too tight, put in my eyelets by hand… And I documented all of it to share it here.
Catching Up To The Current State Of Things
Then in mid-2021, I did a fitting… and realized that I was really unhappy with the stays. Really unhappy. Mostly due to the fit.
The stays pushed my tummy downwards so it rounded out underneath the front point and tabs, but, even worse, the back pushed down on my lower back and was super uncomfortable! AHHHHH! After all that time spent hand sewing! And it’s not like I jumped right in to hand sewing stays without mockups and thinking that the pattern fit. No, I’d done those steps and hadn’t noticed anything wrong! GRRRR.
My immediate reaction was to put the project away. I just couldn’t bear it. After I calmed down (weeks later, mind you!), I tried to see what I could do to fix the issues. I decided to add a gusset into the back, since the pressure seemed partly to come from the bottom of the lacing gap being quite wide. I had only very small scraps left, so the only way to do this was to cannibalize my straps (which is fine, because I wasn’t super keen on them restricting my shoulders, anyway).
Here’s a photo of the back of the stays with the triangular gusset already added (and some other things that I’ll talk about later). The gap at the bottom was even wider before I added the gussets!
Fast forward a bit more and I had another fitting. The gusset helped a little, but I still had pressure on my lower back. And… the front problem, I realized, was due to a combination of the front being too short for my frame and this idea I had to use ⅛” bones, to mimic the size of originals…
I’ve had success with plastic zip ties as bones, so I thought I could use narrow ones to create the width I was looking for (I used these, purchased on Amazon). Unfortunately, they were very tight in the channels. It took a lot out of my wrists to cut and push in all the bones. The width of the zip ties looks great, but they’re too flimsy. Look how much I can bend back the front tab!
After much deliberation that included going back to look at the original that the pattern I used is based off of, and the reproduction made from it that is in the book I used, I realized that the original stays are just really short in the front. AHHHHH! (More about the book I used will be coming in a future post.)
I didn’t process this earlier, in any of my fittings, or my mockup, or my patterning, or my looking at the book! And I’m incredibly low on fabric! Below are my scraps, minus the long ones in the center, which were already used to face the eyelets.
So… I was left with a half finished pair of stays that took many, many hours to even get to this point–wonderfully sewn in terms of methods, but which I couldn’t wear. I was very upset and put the stays into time-out (again!).
I’ll stop the story of the stays here and continue on with my updates from the most recent fitting next time.
I was mentally preparing for my 19th century winter adventure a few months ago by taking note of the suitable warm winter outerwear in my historic closet. One of the warmest garments I have is my 1855 Wool Cape; however, my thoughts ran along the lines of “I don’t have any 1850s winter appropriate headwear to go with the cape….”
That was easily remedied!
Last fall, I’d purchased Anna Worden Bauersmith’s Quilted Winter Hood pattern on a whim (the pattern was being discontinued for the moment and I didn’t want to miss out). I hadn’t had a project with a deadline in awhile and so I decided to quickly make up the Quilted Winter Hood for the winter adventure… by hand (including the quilting!), of course, because I can be a bit crazy sometimes.
Since the goal of the hood was to keep me warm, it is a perfect garment for the Historical Sew Monthly 2022 May Challenge! Protection: Create a garment that protects you from something: weather, dirt, wear, weapons, etc.
As such, here are the facts:
Fabric/Materials: ½ yd of ivory silk taffeta, ¾ yd ivory cotton, and 1 yd cotton batting.
Pattern: Anna Worden Bauersmith’s Quilted Winter Hood.
Year: c. 1850.
Notions: 1 ¼ yds 1 ½” ivory satin ribbon, 1 yd millinery wire, approximately 45 yards of silk quilting thread, and regular sewing thread.
How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good and it is entirely hand sewn. I’m sure it’s not quite the same as an original, though.
Hours to complete: 13.
First worn: February 2022.
Total cost: $27 (approximately $17 for the materials and $10 for the pattern).
The pattern offers ideas for quilting patterns as well as detailed observations on extant hoods and their common features. While straight lines of various sorts seem more common for quilting patterns, I decided to go with the scalloped suggestion taken from a period magazine.
This front view photo looks like a little silly to me because of the very square shouldered silhouette (that isn’t 1850s at all!). It’s due to the 1890s sleeves that are underneath the 1855 cape…
In the process of creating my board, I was drawn to a few other winter hoods and cloaks. That set me off down a brainstorming path to see what else I have in my too-full wool stash that could be made into more 1850s and 1860s winter outerwear!
Not that I need more… I’m only one person, after all, and how many wool capes can one person reasonably wear at once? But… there are at least two other hoods and another cape that I’m now seriously pondering. So this quilted hood (and the cape I already have) might just be the beginning of a whole series of mid-19th century winter outerwear someday. (And maybe I should eventually take a photo layering all of it at once, just to be silly!)
I was on a bit of a 1830s tear back in 2020, when I made my 1834 yellow print dress followed up with a coordinating 1838 yellow print bodice and 1836 chemisette. But in fact there was even more than that, because I also made an 1835-1840 (let’s just call is 1837) blue cotton print dress for friend at the same time!
You can spot this dress in the photos from my 1830s Woods Walk blog post from 2021. The fabric for was a bargain at the the local discount fabric shop–only $3 per yard! It’s not technically a reproduction historical print, but the colors, motifs, and details (such as little dots for texture in the design) have the right look to me.
In terms of a pattern, I used my 1834 yellow print bodice as a starting point for this new blue dress, so the two bodices are very similar aside from size. The skirt of the blue dress is made in exactly the same way as the yellow dress (I blogged about that construction process in detail here).
The big different is the sleeves!
After trying a few silly sleeve shapes, we settled on giant elbow height puffs that are set off at the top and bottom with pleats and feature a bit of embroidery and corded bands to hold the pleats in place.
Here’s a view of the pleats and corded bands at the top of the sleeve. This dress has similar pleats.
The sleeve puffs are supported by separate interior puffs that tie in. I used the method outlined in my 1830s Sleeve Puff Tutorial to make them.
In addition to the base dress, we decided to go all in on the 1830s aesthetic and create a matching fabric pelerine for this ensemble.
I looked at images of pelerines to determine what the shape and edges should be. We decided on a simple but flattering shape (as much as a matching fabric piece can be!) without extra difficulty in the form of scalloped or dagged edges, ruffles, etc. This is the finished shape we decided on.
Cording helps to define the edge and a similarly colored grey/blue cotton lining finishes off all of the raw edges. This was great, as the pelerine could be almost entirely made by machine!
So why is the title of this post include the #1? Well… because I enjoyed the effect of the fabric so much that I purchased additional yardage for myself and started making an additional dress for myself, too! What an excellent excuse to try out further 1830s sleeve variations!
Blue dress #2 has been cut out for quite awhile (a year, I think?). However, I’ve been busy and other things have been a priority, so the dress is 0% done in terms of being assembled. Someday…!
The theme recommendation for the evening soiree at Gatsby On The Isles earlier this year was a masquerade. I took that to heart and decided to adapt an existing dress in my closet to make it fancy dress. (It turns out that the majority of people who attended didn’t adhere to the guidelines, so I was a bit out of place, but I enjoyed my fancy dress regardless!)
My requirements for this outfit were: to use a dress as a base that was already in my closet, to not cost much, to not take much time, and to have the elements of fancy dress be easily reversible.
I looked through my 20th Century Fancy Dress Pinterest board and settled on the image below as my inspiration. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a source for the image that isn’t Pinterest. If anyone has information, please share.)
I thought the idea of stars would work well with my 1926 Silver Lace Robe de Style. I briefly considered creating the stars myself and then I remembered that I didn’t want this too take too much time and I started researching purchasable stars. I wanted something nice looking but not costly, remember, and I also wanted to stay away from glitter–the shedding! Ugh! While considering various metallic and cardboard style stars I realized that: 1- those may not travel well (I didn’t want bent stars!) and 2- they probably wouldn’t be comfortable to wear. So I started researching felt stars!
I decided on these felt stars. They were a good size, I liked the color, and they weren’t supposed to be too stiff. Not being stiff would be more comfortable to wear and also easier to sew through! I’d considered making garlands of the stars but I figured they would get tangled, so instead I opted to sew the stars directly onto the lace.
I started by placing the stars in a line diagonally across the top of the dress. The goal was to capture the feeling of my inspiration but didn’t feel the need to add as many stars as the drawing has, so I stopped with the one line. I liked the stars hanging from the hem, so I did those next–one star per each dip in the pattern of the lace.
After that I didn’t have many stars left! I used a scrap of metallic knit fabric to make a veil and put a star on each corner. The veil is a square, with one corner turned under, gathered, and stitched to a hair comb.
I also used some black felt scraps to cut a few stars by hand to accent the star at the waist. I thought this might tie in the metallic knit veil and also draw attention to the grey stars on the grey dress!
I added some sparkly shoe clips, pearl bracelets, and sparkly stars for my hair (reused from my 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress) and the outfit was complete! It pays off to reuse themes for fancy dress, I guess!
The third challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly 2021 is ‘small is beautiful’. Little things can make a big difference to the finished look.Make something small but perfect. My entry for this challenge is an 1830s chemisette to fill in the neckline of my 1838 bodice (the sister of the 1834 dress I posted details about last year).
Pattern: Adapted from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1, with adjustments for fit and style.
Notions: 1 ½ yds ¼” white cotton twill tape, 1 metal hook, 1 cameo button and thread.
How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good. It is entirely hand sewn. The most modern element is the plastic cameo button.
Hours to complete: 19 ¾.
First worn: August 2021.
Total cost: Approximately $5 for the fabric/shipping (though it is leftover from another project), $1 for the twill tape, and $1 for the button = approximately $7.
The chemisette pattern shape was based on this fashion plate from 1836.
Without a body in it, the chemisette looks like this. It is entirely hand sewn, with small rolled hems and drawstring channels on the bottom edges.
The shoulder seams are sewn with French seams to encase the raw edges. The collar is attached with a flat felled seam for the same reason.
The gathered ruffle on the edge is hemmed on all sides with a tiny rolled hem and then whip gathered to the hemmed collar edge. I haven’t tried whip gathers before and this seemed like it would be a fun project to try them out.
On the underside of the ruffle the whip stitches are more visible.
The inspiration fashion plate doesn’t show the back of the chemisette, so I had to decide on what I wanted. After looking at extant collars and chemisettes, I settled on a rounded point that extends just under halfway down the back.
On a body, it looks like this.
The final touch is a hook and thread loop to close the collar, with the decorative cameo button on top. The plastic is obviously not correct for the 1830s, but it does have the benefit of being lightweight! I was worried that if I used a metal brooch (not that I have one, but if I did…) it would pull the collar down or out.
And that’s it! There was no rushing with this project. I took my time and enjoyed the hours of tiny hems and whip stitching.
Many years ago (well, in 2012), I started a bonnet that was intended to match my 1822 Walking Dress. I was making a whole ensemble, with the dress, a muff and tippet, and also a bonnet and chemisette. It was more than I had time to complete for the deadline at the time. The chemisette was not even started, but the bonnet was patterned, cut out, started, and then abandoned.
In the intervening years, the bonnet pieces have sat in my UFO box, patiently waiting for me to come back to them. This year, as I was making my 1834 yellow dress and thinking about how to accessorize it, I remembered the bonnet and wondered if the shape and color might work for the 1830s. It seemed more useful to use something that already existed, and was already partly finished, as opposed to starting something new, so I decided to go for it!
This is the state of the bonnet when I picked this project up again this fall. It’s not bad progress, actually. All the pieces were cut out of buckram, flannel, and slightly slubby silk; the buckram assembly was started; the flannel was basted on; and the edges of the pieces were wired.
All of that turned into this!
In this post, we’ll follow along with my construction process. Future posts will have more finished ensemble photos as well.
First, let’s go back to the inspiration for this bonnet.
This is what I was aiming for when I started patterning in 2012. However, after finishing my bonnet, I realized that my brim shape is more open and high, and less forward, than the shape of this bonnet. This surprised me! And actually, it worked out in my favor, as the shape I patterned is more 1830s than 1820s.
Despite the shape not being quite like The Met bonnet (maybe someday I’ll alter the pattern and try again for the 1820s shape), I still took much color and material inspiration from it. I liked the tone on tone silk with velvet trim, the edges trimmed in velvet, and liked the lightweight silk ties (plus, I had all of these materials in the stash in perfectly coordinating purples!).
The trim needed to be different for the 1830s, though. I liked this 1830 bonnet, particularly for the inside of the brim trim, and this 1826-1830 bonnet for the fabric loop trim. There are other inspirational fashion plates showing floral trim inside and outside the brim on my Pinterest board for this project, as well. My bonnet is a melding of all of these sources of inspiration.
With my half finished pieces in hand, I decided to attach the tip of the bonnet to the side. Here is that step, pinned in place. These pieces were hand sewn together.
I’d decided to baste my flannel in place in order to help it follow the contours of the shapes instead of pulling away. On some bonnets (such as one covered in transparent fabric) these stitches might be seen, but I was confident that my silk would hide these quite well. The alternative would be to use spray adhesive to hold the flannel in place, but I didn’t have that at my fingertips 8 years ago.
In addition to the basting stitches in the middle, I also roughly whip stitched over the outside edge of the brim to hold the flannel in place.
I took this brim piece and basted it to my assembled crown, then stitched those two layers together using a Z stitch. Pinning this was fiddly, as I had to get the buckram seam allowance of the side to slip under the flannel of the brim smoothly.
The next thing to do was cover the brim with my silk, but I still had the problem of getting the fabric to follow the contours of the curves without pulling away. When I started on this step I only had rubber cement on hand. I (smartly!) tried a sample to see if it would show through the silk. It definitely did! The rubber cement sample is on the bottom of the photo below. Not what I wanted! So, I ordered Krylon spray adhesive, which I knew would do the job. When it arrived, I tried another sample. The spray adhesive sample is on the top of the photo below. Success!
I used the spray adhesive for the inner and outer layers of the brim covering. It worked wonderfully, just as I had expected it to. The only exception is that I accidentally left a mark on one of my brim pieces where I’d let too much spray build up and had to recut that piece. So if you try this, make sure to do very light coats with the spray adhesive if your fabric is thin enough for it to show through!
Here is the inside of the brim, with the seam allowance clipped where it meets the crown.
And here is the outside of the brim, with the seam allowance clipped so it can lay along the outside of the side band. You can see the interior of the brim showing on the extreme left of the photo, on the other side of the wired edge of the buckram. You can also see that by this point I’d put the silk covering on the tip of the bonnet. The seam allowances of that piece are clipped and then stitched over onto the side band through all the layers.
This photo shows the Z stitches holding the silk tip piece in place a little better than the last photo. It also shows the side band. For this piece, I pressed under the brim side seam allowance ahead of time, pinned it in place, and then turned the top edge under as I went along, so it would be just the right width. Stitching this piece on covered all of the seam allowances you can see in this photo.
In the next photo ,a few more steps have been completed. The side band was sewn on, the silk edges were trimmed and bound with bias velvet, I cut bavolet pieces (out of my glue stained brim piece!), edged the bavolet with bias velvet, and attached the bavolet. The great thing about the spray adhesive is that it’s not so glue-y that it gums up a needle or makes things hard to sew through, so I had no problem with any of these sewing steps.
As a side note, what is a bavolet? Interestingly, my go-to source for definitions, the Oxford English Dictionary, does not have an entry for this word! I believe that is because it is actually French, not English. I would define bavolet as ‘the curtain piece at the back of the bonnet’. There is more information about this word, including examples of the word in use from the 19th century, in this French Vocabulary Illustrated blog post. If you know of other good places to find a definition or etymology of the word bavolet I would love for you to share!
Back to the photos! All the long purple stitches around the side band are from attaching trim. I find that double thread makes it much easier to attach trimmings such as feathers and flowers, as you can double back through your looped thread to hold things in place and it makes it a little extra sturdy. The nice thing about doing all of that before lining the hat is that it makes for a really elegant interior when all is finished!
Below, you can see what that trim looks like from the exterior. I used some scraps of velvet to make loops and a variety of vintage paper and velvet millinery flowers and leaves in white, pink, and gold.
I’m super pleased with how it turned out, but it took hours to decide on the placement and then sew everything in place. It was finicky… The trim kept causing the bonnet to fall over as I was trying to place it and when sewing it the thread kept getting wrapped around the different elements and getting stuck. Plus, to make the stitches on the brim invisible they had to catch just one layer of the silk (as opposed to being stitched all the way through all of the layers) without pulling the silk away from the flannel.
Finally, it was time to make a lining! This used the same pattern pieces as the tip and side band and was cut from scraps of ivory shantung. The seams for the lining were machine sewn.
After I put the lining inside the crown of the bonnet, I covered most of the raw edges of the purple and ivory silk with a band of brown cotton velvet. This blends with my hair and provides a bit of a velcro effect to help keep the bonnet in place, in addition to providing nice finishing! This is the same process that I used when making my 1875 hat earlier this year.
At the bavolet edge, where there is no brown velvet, the ivory silk was turned under and sewn in place. I also added lightweight silk ribbon ties as a finishing step.
Here is the finished bonnet, being worn with my 1834 yellow dress! I love that the purple coordinates with my yellow print dress fabric without directly matching any of the colors in the print. It was also fun to choose white, pink, and gold floral trimmings for the bonnet to echo the colors in the print. I think the combination is anchored well while still being distinctive parts.
This photo clearly shows that the ties are purely decorative. I left them hanging free so that they could elegantly (usually!) move around. So what keeps this giant sail in place on my head? (Because I can say with certainty that a bonnet this big is basically just a wind catcher on the top of your head!) It will stay on its own… until moving around. I used the back section of my hair to make a bun, at just the right height so it would sit in the crown of the bonnet, and then used two hat pins at different angles to anchor the hat in place through the bun
I found that I placed the curl bunches too far back on the sides of my head when I tried to put on the bonnet and had to push them forward to get it to sit in the right place. It was unexpected how far forward the curls needed to be. As I’ve done in the past for 1830s side curls (explained here in 2016 and again in 2019), I used my own hair on top of mesh poufs to create the side curls. The combination of my hair getting very long and the curls needing to sit in front of the bonnet means that these curls are larger looking vertically than what I’ve had in the past. It seems to fill in the shape of the bonnet well, so I guess it’s good!
The other thing that the above photo does a good job of showing is the trim on the inside of the bonnet, which was also finicky to place. I had to get it in the right location so that it would organically grow out of my planned side curls hairstyle. The bonnet looks quite silly without the 1830s hair to go with it (and one might argue that it looks silly, in scale at least, even with 1830s hair!).
Speaking of scale, this bonnet is quite large. With the trim, it stands more than 8″ high on top of my head. I had to hold the brim when wind picked up while wearing it–the hat pins kept it in place but it would pull at my hair which wasn’t comfortable. Also, it required a pretty severe slouch in the car in order to not hit the roof! Thankfully, I was able to be a passenger while wearing the bonnet, so that I could arrange it, with the hat pins, in front of a mirror and then not need to sit up or look around while driving. Pretty silly! A carriage would have made so much more sense!
Just The Facts
While this bonnet does not qualify for any of the remaining challenges of the Historical Sew Monthly this year, I would still like to share the facts about this bonnet in the format I would use for an HSM garment. So, without further ado, the facts!
Fabric/Materials: ½ to ¾ yard each of floral cotton flannel and purple silk shantung, scraps of purple polyester velvet and ivory silk shantung, about ½ yard of buckram, about 3 yards of millinery wire, and a small piece of brown cotton velvet.
Pattern: My own.
Notions: Vintage millinery flowers, thread, and about 1 ½ yards lightweight silk ribbon.
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 (such as spray adhesive).
Hours to complete: 15.75 hours to finish, plus maybe 6-8 from years ago.
First worn: In early October, 2020.
Total cost: Approximately $35.
Thanks for sticking with me through another long construction post! I have one final photo that also hints at an upcoming post… 1830s apple picking adventure photos! Happy autumn!
Some of my recent posts have mentioned my excursion into sewing clothing from the 1830s. Most recently, in September, I posted about making a corded petticoat to help support a fashionable 1830s silhouette. I also shared a reminder about the fabric I’ve had in mind for an 1830s dress since I bought it seven years ago. It’s finally time to share the finished ensemble created with that fabric!
Today’s post is going to focus on the construction of this dress, but, never fear, upcoming posts will share more finished garment photos as well as construction details about the bonnet.
There is a lot of information about this dress to share and many photos of the process, so I hope you’re ready for a lengthy post!
As you probably guessed from the title of this post, this dress is from the year 1834. The trimming details and shape are directly inspired by the dress pictured below, which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The V & A Dress is dated to 1830-1834. From a style perspective, this makes sense as these are the years from this decade with the largest sleeves, but it is also around this point in the decade that sleeve fullness starts to slide down the arm. This look that is just beginning to show in the V & A dress, which achieves the falling look with the addition of the mancherons at the top. The mancherons both practically and visually push the fullness of the sleeve off the shoulder.
What is a mancheron? The Oxford English Dictionary has the following entry):
mancheron, n. 1.French Heraldry. A sleeve used as a charge. Obsolete. 2. A piece of trimming on the upper part of a sleeve on a woman’s dress. Now historical.
The pattern for this bodice is based on patterns contained in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes. I was able to start with my basic darted 1860s bodice and adapt it for the 1830s using information about grain line, dart placement, etc. from the books. This worked well because I know the basic darted bodice fits in areas that can be fussy to fit such as neckline, armhole, etc. and those things (in the 1860s) are still very similar to the shapes from the 1830s.
The sleeve pattern is from Plate 12 (page 84) in The Workwoman’s Guide (published in 1838), which can be viewed on Google Books here. I used the big circle sleeve (Figure 8–shown made up in Figure 7) and varied the top shape so that it forms a downward V shape to allow for my mancherons, which are patterned based on the V & A inspiration dress.
The ladies at American Duchess created a very helpful video discussing sleeve shapes from the 1830s, including showing mockups of a few different sleeve patterns from The Workwoman’s Guide. It is wonderful for seeing how the flat patterns turn into 3D shapes, which I found to be very helpful as I dithered about sleeve patterns.. You can view the video here. Lauren also has a blog post talking about 1830s sleeves, which shows the pattern I chose to use in various stages of its construction, from being flat to being made-up.
The skirt is based on information from the same books as the bodice pattern. It is made of 3 panels of my 45″ wide cotton fabric.
Construction Method Disclaimer
I chose to construct this dress in the mid-19th century way of separate bodice and skirt. This is odd for the 1830s (in fact, I can’t think of any examples that are done this way) as they are usually sewn together to make a one piece dress. However, as I was pondering sleeve options and considering my yardage I was faced with an exciting prospect.
There are so many sleeve variations in the 1830s–super poof, takes-a-while-to-get-used-to-looking-at elbow poof, meticulous pleated details as the poofs are reduced and contained… I wanted to make more than one! Also, I had 10 yards of my beautiful reproduction cotton and I expected my 1834 dress to only use about 7. What would I do with the last 3 yards? That’s not enough to make another dress. But… it is enough to make another bodice, even with giant 1830s sleeves that use a full yard for each arm!
I decided to make one skirt with two bodices, so in addition to this 1834 dress I also have an 1838 bodice halfway completed. It is a variation on a theme, using mostly the same bodice pieces, but with a different front style and different sleeves. More on that in the future, but for the purposes of this post it is an explanation for the fact that the skirt of my 1830s dress hooks to the bodice in a way that is common in the mid-19th century, as you can see below. (The loops on the skirt waistband blend really well with the pattern on the fabric, but you can see them if you look really carefully.)
As I mentioned earlier, my skirt is made up of 3 panels of my 45″ wide cotton. They are carefully pattern matched to keep the scrolling consistent across the panels and to help hide the seam lines. They’re not perfect, but they are pretty darn close.
Two seams are on each side of center front and one is at center back. The two front seams have french seamed pockets set into them below the cartridge pleats. This is wonderfully helpful while wearing the dress! I made sure to make the pockets big enough to hold a phone, keys, etc.
The fullness of the skirt is cartridge pleated to the waistband. I find that this quantity of cotton is weeny looking when cartridge pleated to a waistband without a little help to create loft, so I sandwiched a single layer of cotton flannel into the pleats to help them have a little bit of puff. I just used scrap flannel from my stash for this–the fun dot print pictured below. This is the top of my skirt pressed and ready for pleating!
Here is the skirt in the process of being pleated. The top edge is left raw and folded over the flannel before I ran two rows of parallel stitches to form the pleats.
I absolutely eyeball my cartridge pleats! My stitches are vaguely even but I really don’t worry too much about that. I mark the quarter points of the skirt and waistband and then adjust the pleats to fit. No math for this process!
The waistband has a single layer of canvas inside (a scrap from a decorating project) to help stiffen it and provide stability for the cartridge pleats and closures. This is machine stitched to the cotton where it will not show.
The cotton is then wrapped around the canvas and whip stitched in place. I finished the waistband entirely before whip stitching the cartridge pleats in place.
There are other inspirational dresses on my Pinterest board for this project, as well. Many of them are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Those are excellent because you can really zoom in on the photos to look at details, but unfortunately they don’t often show interior views of the dresses.
The hardest part about this bodice was the pattern matching! It was mind boggling to keep the flowers growing upwards, match the wave, keep the dark pink flowers at corresponding places, and keep some parts on the bias and some on the straight.
For example, here is my first attempt at the front bodice, which is cut on the bias. It’s not awful… but it’s just not quite right, and that bothers my eyes.
I very carefully tried again…
And was able to get this, which I was much happier with!
And I was able to use the reject front piece to cut out a pocket piece (and later a bit of bias as well)… no waste here!
Here is the front piece after flatlining (the fronts, side backs, and backs of the bodice are all flat lined with muslin), stitching the darts, and putting cording down the center front seam.
Ah yes, the cording! There is 1/16″ cotton cording in most of the bodice seams (front, side back, shoulders, armholes, neckline, and to finish the cuffs). This detail is taken directly from extant 1830s dresses.
My cording is made up of bias scraps, some as small as about 4″ long, that are pieced together. The cording is machine stitched. I made it with even seam allowances for most of the seams, but thought ahead and offset the seam allowance for the neckline cording, to make it easier to turn it under and whip stitch later. The photo below shows the neckline cording (on the top) and regular seam cording (on the bottom).
Here are the side back pieces with the cording attached, before being sewn to the back pieces. As you can see, I carefully matched my pattern across these two pieces as well.
And here is one side back sewn to its corresponding back, with the cording in the seam. Even across these pieces my pattern matching is pretty good, especially at the bottom!
And the back! It also makes me very happy, but was a super mind boggle to figure out! I have a flap that overlaps past center back, covering a pleat on the other side that will anchor my loops. I found this detail on a number of 1830s dresses, including this 1835-1836 dress at The Met and this c. 1837 dress at The Met.
It doesn’t look like much until it’s lined up to be closed… and then it’s perfect!
The final step was to finish the bottom. I wanted to have a self fabric waistband on this bodice, as with the bodice at the V & A, so that I would have the option of wearing my dress with or without a belt, while still having the visual change of pattern in the fabric.
The outer waistband and inner muslin facing encase the bottom seam allowance of the bodice. They are machine stitched at the top, have graded seam allowances, and then the muslin is whip stitched along the bottom.
With the bodice mostly assembled, I moved on to the sleeves. These are not flat lined.
I upgraded my sleeve puffs for this ensemble by giving them ties to attach to the armsceye of the dress so I can control the height that they sit at. This is essential for getting the right shape poof with this sleeve style. Looking into a sleeve, here is one sleeve puff tied in place.
I edged my decorative mancheron and cuff zig zag with narrow lace before attaching them to my sleeve. The cuff zig zags are sewn on by hand, while the full tops of the sleeves are gathered and machine sewn to the mancherons (you can see a the seam allowance from this seam in the photo above).
After the trim was added to the cuffs, I sewed cording to the bottom edge and then a muslin facing to finish everything off. This allows me to have nicely finished edges for the sleeve openings, which extend up about 8″ and allow for the tight fit of the forearms.
Here’s what that looks like flipped up and ready to be slip stitched along the top edge. You can see my hand sewing from attaching the cuff zig zag.
So… I got this far and realized that my sleeve was too narrow (even though I’d had no trouble in my mockup!) and my hand wouldn’t fit through the opening! Even if I made the opening higher, the sleeve edges wouldn’t butt, but would have a gap!
It’s good to have extra fabric… Having extra allowed me to make the decision to cut off the old forearm pieces and piece on new ones (with careful pattern matching, of course!). This meant redoing the cuff trim and finishing, but I couldn’t find a better solution. The seam hides under the crazy big sleeves, so it’s really not noticeable at all (even if I hadn’t pattern matched the seam!).
Finally, after these various successes and challenges… the dress was done! Here are some more photos of it in its finished state.
This is the inside of the bodice with the skirt attached. You can see machine stitching, seam allowances mostly left unfinished (they really don’t fray at all), neck binding, closures, etc.
This closeup shows a shoulder seam, as well as the neckline and armhole finishing. The bias on the neck is turned under and whip stitched. The lace is sewn on top of that. The armhole seam allowances were trimmed and then roughly whip stitched to hold the layers together. You can also see a little square of the twill tape tie for the sleeve puff (it is sewn to the armsceye seam allowance below the shoulder seam).
Here is the finished cuff opening. Hidden under the zig zag are the hooks that correspond to the loops on the muslin facing.
This is the center back opening with all of the closures in place. Those hooks really do camouflage well on the brown scroll, don’t they? Doing the closures this way leaves lots of seam allowance at center back for me to make alterations in the future if I need to.
This photo shows the inside of the skirt and bodice. Specifically, you can see the raw edge of the top edge skirt seam allowance folded to the inside (the skirt is intentionally shorter in the front than in the back, which you can see in the varied top edge seam allowanced length), the french seam of the pocket, and the skirt opening, which is simply an opening in the back seam (no placket on this skirt, the fullness of the cartridge pleats easily hides the opening).
One last photo! This is the cartridge pleats and bodice waistband from the exterior. Cartridge pleats are always visually intriguing to me and I also love how the waistband of the bodice is perfectly cut to show off the scroll and flower pattern.
After so many construction photos, here is a reminder of what the completed dress looks like from the exterior. I’m looking forward to sharing more photos in future posts!
Thanks for sticking with me through this very long post!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The final step of making this dress was trimming! Lots of it!
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!
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!