1875 Reception Dress: Skirt Construction

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

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

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

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

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

So where was I with the skirt construction?

Base Layers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waistband & Closures

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

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

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

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

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

Flat Lining & Apron Folds

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

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

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

Secret Pocket

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

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

Hems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trimmings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Style Decisions & Making A 1875 Hat

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

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

Hat Style Possibilities

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

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

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

Journal des Demoiselles, 1877 via Guy RIVIERE

My Hat Choice

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

Making My Hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there were the feathers that needed taming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Faux Hair Braid (HSM #12)

December’s HSM challenge was On a Shoestring. The description is as follows: 

It’s an expensive time of year, so make an item on a tight budget (say, under $15, or less than you’d spend on a reasonable priced takeaway meal for one person in your country – and no ‘stash’ doesn’t count as free: you still have to count what you would have originally paid for those items)

I haven’t been sewing much in the past month and so I was having trouble coming up with any ideas for this challenge. Then I remembered that I had, in fact, sewn a small item that fits this challenge–a new faux hair braid to add to my 1830s hairstyle for the annual Christmas ball!

Just the facts:

Fabric (we’ll call this ‘materials’, for this entry):  1 pack of Kanekalon faux hair in dark brown.

Pattern: None.

Year: 1830s, but it can be used for most of the 19th century.

Notions: 3 black hair nets, 2 black hair ties, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. Adding faux hair to make complicated styles was a popular practice in the late 18th century and through most of the 19th century, but of course my braid is made of modern materials.

Hours to complete: 3.

First worn: December 14, 2019.

Total cost: Approximately $9.

The wonderful thing about covering the braid in hair nets is that it stays super smooth and not frizzy. Sometimes I like the frizz (to match my own) so I also have a braid that does not have the hair nets on it. And, I’ve decided that it’s fun to have a sleek braid, too. You can see (and read about) my method for covering the braid with the hair nets in this post.

This braid is 40″ long. It is simple and ready to be styled in any way I can think of!

Felt Christmas Ornaments

Back in 2017, I asked a friend what she would like for Christmas. She asked for non-breakable Christmas tree ornaments (she has a very energetic cat who likes to play with the tree…). After a bit of thinking, I decided to make felt ornaments for her. Special and non-breakable!

I collected my favorite felt, fabric, and ribbon ornament ideas on this Pinterest board, though there are many other ideas out there as well. I think I decided on a mostly-white-animal theme, but then decided that the little elf boots were so cute I had to include them, too!

For some of these, I scaled the images of the animals to the size I wanted, printed them, and then cut out the shapes to be my patterns. For the simpler shapes, like the sheep’s body, I just cut shapes out until I was at a suitable size. The finishing touches included a bit of stuffing in each ornament to give a 3D look, hand stitching around the edges of each ornament, and hand stitched face details. I’m pretty sure I used dots of Elmer’s glue to hold small pieces in place as well.

I love the finished results! So cute! And so easy! Happy holidays!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IX: Braided Crown Hairstyle Details

I am very pleased with how my hairstyle turned out for the first wearing of Genevieve, the 1863 dress I’ve been blogging about for the last few months. I took the idea directly from my inspiration drawing, though I changed the hair decoration that accompanied the style.

I’ve used false hair to have braided crown styles before (here’s an example of the same braid used for a Regency hairstyle), but that old braid is only about 1 ½” wide, which is a bit subtle for the look I wanted for this dress. It’s also long enough to wrap around my head about 1.5 times, which is longer than what I wanted for the new hairstyle.

So I decided to buy some new false hair and make a new, fatter braid. I used this hair in dark brown. It’s intended for African style braid extensions, so it has a texture that’s great for matching my curly hair–I don’t think it would work well for someone with straight hair. I also bought these black hair nets.

I used one bundle of the false hair for this braid. The hair comes braided already, but I took it out and re-braided it a little tighter than how it was originally. Then I cut the elastic on one of the hair nets so that it would stretch out to be as long as my braid.

I laid the braid on top of the hair net and wrapped the hair net around to the back side of the braid. Then I used large whip stitches to secure the net to the braid. You can see one of those stitches mostly centered in the next photo. Covering the braid with a hair net helps keep all the frizzies from making the braid look messy. (My old braid isn’t covered in a hair net, so it looks very organic, like my real hair… nice and frizzy!)

The final step was to go back and stitch the hair net down in the dips between each section of the braid. In the photo above you can see the hair net traveling between braid bumps, but in the finished photo below those are mostly sewn down and much less visible.

For the actual hairstyle, I secured the braid to my head behind the sections near my face that get swept back over my ears. (I also pinned the braid to the top of my head to keep it in place while dancing. Those pins were put into the back side of the braid (to keep them hidden) and secured into the roots of my hair.) After securing the braid I was able to arrange the front sweep sections on either side of my face. I made sure to cover the ends of the braid with these sections.

Then I arranged the back of my hair. I wanted to keep it simple to showcase the braid and the velvet bow, so I arranged the back of my hair into a low puff. It continues the ring of the braid around my head while being more unobtrusive than the braid itself.

The final step was the bit of lace and the velvet bow. I opted for those instead of the lace framing the braid in the inspiration image. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish that without essentially creating a cap… and that’s not the look I wanted. So I made up something else!

The bow is one I was able to make after my bow disaster. I think it adds a nice touch of color on my dark hair. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it and the lace until the ball, so I bobby pinned each piece in place for that first wearing. Then one of my after-the-ball tasks before I could put this away was to sew these two pieces together and add a comb so that it is now an official accessory that will be easier to put in my hair the next time I wear this dress.

Here’s a side view of what all of that amounts to. I intentionally placed the bow and lace off-center on my head in order to pick up on the asymmetrical bow on the skirt of the dress.

When I did a quick trial with the braid in modern clothes it felt very large and I was worried it would be too big, but once dressed in Genevieve I think the scale of this new braid is great–an excellent hair crown size and length, and the hair net keeps it looking super tidy and frizz free!

 

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VIII: ‘Of Apricot Silk With Cream Lace And Red Velvet Bows’ (HSM #10)

DONE! I am so glad to be done. I’m also excited to have a new dress (and, despite the challenges and worries along the way, one I like the look of! YAY!).

I’ve kept you waiting to see photos of the finished dress. Life got a bit busy after the ball and then I wanted to share my final sewing details with you. But now it’s time to introduce you to Genevieve, my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown, also known as the Orange Monster for the last few months. Here she is!

I’m excited that this dress qualifies for the October HSM challenge.

Details: Sometimes the little things really make something fabulous. Focus on the details of your garment, to create something that just gets better the closer you look.

This dress is definitely one of those garments! I’ll explain and show you lots of reasons why in these finished photos, but there are currently seven other posts in this series sharing tons of details about the planning, patterning, sewing, and trimming process as well.

First, the facts:

Fabric:  6 ⅔ yards of apricot silk, ½ yard of dark red silk velvet, approximately ½ yard of ivory tulle, muslin scraps for hem facing, a scrap of canvas for stiffening the waistband, and about ½ yard of drab cotton for flat lining.

Pattern: It originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2 but has been adapted over the course of a few dresses.

Year: 1864.

Notions: 25 yards of 3 ¾” lace, 2 brooches, 3 yards of ⅜” polyester ribbon, a few plastic cable ties, about 1 yard of bone casing, a variety of hooks and bars, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. A few substitutions of modern materials exist but aside from that it’s pretty much as close as I can get.

Hours to complete: 57.

First worn: September 28, 2019.

Total cost: $112.78

The cost breakdown is as follows: $66 for the silk (local discount store in 2016), $12.50 for the velvet (WM Booth Draper in 2011), ~$2 for the tulle (local discount store in 2011),~$1 for the drab cotton (local discount store in 2018), ~$15 for the lace (Debs Lace and Trims in 2019), $6.28 for the brooches (Etsy in 2019), ~$6 for the ribbon (Farmhouse Fabrics in 2019), and we’ll say $4 for the scraps and other notions since they’re from the stash, reused from other projects/mockups, or used in very small quantities.)

Visible details, you ask? Well, in addition to sharing so many other details along the way, the finished dress has many visible layers of details. The most time consuming detail is the hand sewn 3 tiers of lace ruffle/silk scalloped & pleated trim around the skirt. This detail alone took 17.5 hours. There is a whole post dedicated to this aspect and the details that went into it.

That form of decoration is continued on the bodice sleeve caps. Here’s a closeup where you can see the pleated silk. It is meticulously hand stitched with tiny stitches everywhere it is used.

Another layer of detail is the bertha and sleeve caps. Those have tulle, gathered tulle, and lots of velvet details. My last post explains how these are made.

I found the sleeve caps to be rather unusual amongst dresses from this period, so I was pleased to find this fashion plate which has a similar look.

(This next one is a great ‘I’m plopped and tired of standing’ photo!)

And as for details, let’s not forget the velvet bows in addition the velvet trim. Especially that oversized skirt bow! I also spent quite a bit of time looking for the gold brooches to go on the velvet bows.

Aside from the photo above I don’t have many directly front facing photos of this dress–I guess I did a lot of my posing at an angle–but here is one that is slightly less angled and gives the full effect of all the trimmings.

I was super pleased to wear my American Duchess burgundy satin Amelie shoes with this dress! They matched my velvet trim quite well and were fun to have peeking out from under the giant skirt. It’s such a fun piece of history to have contrasting shoes that actually match your dress! Yay! You can see them in this next photo.

The venue we were in for the ball not only had a number of fabulous staircases leading to the ballroom but also many photos of generals and other military figures from the Civil War. It seemed fitting for this period of dress even if they do occasionally seem to be ‘photo-bombing’! Here’s an example. I love this photo! But does the painting look amused, or disapproving? Hm…


I’ve got a post coming up specifically about my grand crown hairstyle as well as a few photos of the ball in general. For now though, thanks very much for bearing with me through this project! I’ve appreciated your encouraging words and excitement about seeing the finished product!

 

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VII: Finishing Details

Next post will be photos of my finished apricot dress… YAY! But first, I have the final finishing details to discuss. Most of the finishing left was on the bodice, so let’s start with that.

Bertha

Side note: have we ever talked about what a bertha is? A bertha is a collar of lace or other thin fabric, particularly popular during the 19th century. Check out this link to learn a little more about the history of the word.

In my last post, I included a photo showing the assembled front of the bertha for this dress before I attached it to the bodice. My goal was to make the bertha completely separate so that it would be easy to change if I decided to do that at a later time.

The foundation is a single layer of ivory tulle cut to the shape of the front (and one for the back) of the fully assembled bodice. A gathered piece of my lace trim was machine stitched to the bottom edge of the tulle, about ½” up from the cut edge.

On top of that foundation is a second layer of tulle that is gathered at both the top and bottom edges. The top edge is folded under by about ½” and the gathering stitch run through both layers so that the top edge is a fold rather than the cut edge of the tulle.

It took quite a few pins to secure the gathered tulle to the tulle underneath. It was finicky–tulle on tulle… not fun!

And I might have made a mistake while ironing my first foundation piece of tulle. Any guesses about what that was?

Oops! I like to iron with a hot iron but the nylon tulle was having none of that! I had to cut a new piece… and turn down my iron for a bit! The bottom gathered tulle in the above photo shows another failed experiment. That tulle is a full double width folded at the top and gathered top and bottom. I decided it was too bulky and not as elegant and decided to go with my previously explained method of only turning the top to create a fold.

After machine sewing my successful gathered tulle to the base layer of tulle it was time to add velvet trim. The velvet was cut on the bias, both edges pressed under, and then it was slip stitched over the stitch lines in the tulle. I also created velvet bows, as I hinted about last time. This is one of the bows I created before I realized I needed more than I had cut out… oops again!

After recutting my bows, this is the velvet I had left. I didn’t include anything for scale, but the longest piece in this photo is about 6″!

Remaking the bows (or rather, cutting new ones and disassembling ones I had already made) brings us back to where we were in the last post. The old velvet bows had top bow parts and dangling bow parts cut on the straight of grain, but due to my limited fabric I cut out the new bows with bias dangling parts. In the end I’m glad I did, because I think they hang more elegantly than the straight cut version.

Brooches

You might have noticed that the center velvet bow on the bertha has a gold filigree oval on it. In my inspiration it looks like these are buckles or brooches of some kind. I started by trying to use my stash, finding two matching football shaped buckles that I hoped could work. But the more I looked at them the more I didn’t like them.

So I spent a long time looking for something else low-cost that would work. Ideally, I wanted two sizes of the same style, but that quickly proved to be hard unless I wanted smallish very sparkly rhinestone buckles. But of course the scale of this dress is not small. Eventually I found the right search terms to find open centered brooches intended for creating your own cameos. I purchased these and painted them gold using acrylic paint. Despite being the same size for the bodice and skirt, I think they worked well!

Sleeves

I suppose I should also mention the sleeves. They made it onto the bodice but I haven’t talked about them at all. They are cut on the straight of grain and are basically a round-top trapezoid shape, with an outer layer of silk that is larger than an inner layer of my flat lining cotton. The silk was gathered around the bottom and around the armhole to fit. Due to the longer measurement of the silk it rolls up inside the sleeves by about 1″, which keeps the cotton from showing while being worn. Here you can see the poofy sleeves as well as the bertha before it had velvet added.

Oh, but those sleeves weren’t done yet! My inspiration had sleeves that appeared to be droopy continuations of the bertha. This is a detail that is different from all of my previous dresses from this period, so I felt it would be a neat detail to include. It took quite a bit of pondering to decide how to achieve the look and it was something I didn’t feel I could tackle until well into the process when I could see what the bertha and sleeves were doing without the extra layer.

My solution was to create sleeve caps of single layers of tulle with more of my lace and silk pleated trim on top. The tulle rather disappears when worn, giving the effect of floating trim. It’s pretty neat, actually.

Sewing the lace on was easy and relatively fast, as I did it by machine. But the silk… well, I thought I had enough left over from my crazy skirt trimming for the sleeves but those pleats eat silk so quickly! I only had about 75% of what I needed.

It was less than a week before the ball. I had returned the scalloped scissors to my friend so I couldn’t cut more silk. I tried spacing out what I had as much as possible without looking different from the skirt. And I was still short! UGH! Last minute challenges aren’t very fun. I pleated and re-pleated. Got a few more inches covered. Then I decided to harvest some pleated trim from my skirt, from underneath the big velvet bow where it wouldn’t be seen. Not terribly fun, to seam rip something you’ve just made. And the pieces I got were about 5″ in length. But I got them. And I put them on those sleeves. And even though they’re pieced you can’t tell at all and those sleeves got done!

This photo shows the first sleeve in progress, before I realized I didn’t have enough silk trim…

I sewed the sleeve caps on with small top stitches to the outside of the bodice at the armsceye seam. Again, this makes them easy to remove if I want. Also, I’d already set the sleeves… so I couldn’t easily put them into that seam (oops?). In the end, it doesn’t matter that they’re on the outside, because the bertha lace completely hides the armsceye along the top of the sleeve.

Bodice Finishing Details

In addition to sewing on the sleeve caps, I also attached both the front and back bertha layers to the bodice.

I finished my eyelets and ran the lacing ribbon through the top half. I find that 3 yards of ribbon allows me to leave the ribbon laced through the top eyelets and still get in and out, which makes getting dressed faster as the person helping me then only has to lace the bottom half of the bodice and tighten the ribbon at the top.

I also made and whipped in a placket. That’s the rectangular piece that’s rather wrinkly in the center of the photo below. While this bodice fits perfectly now, you never know what the future will bring and this will allow for a slight gap (if needed) that will still look like dress fabric and not like underwear.

I added hooks and thread bars to the bertha at the right shoulder, as well as two along the right back neckline to hold it in place along that edge. There is also a hook on the lace to secure it to the lace on the front of the bertha. Once hooked it looks seamless!

The final step was to sew hooks on the front and sides inside the bodice to allow it hook to the skirt. You can see the hook on the boning at the center front in the photo below.

Skirt Finishing Details

The skirt was basically done once I added my giant velvet bow except for a few things.

I added two hooks and bars to the waistband to close the skirt. The narrow hemmed opening is hidden under a pleat and will allow for future changes in waist size if needed.

I added loops to hook the bodice to. You can see one of those on the left. Turns out I didn’t line the side ones up very well (I think this was the very last task late one night on the last night I was stitching), so we added a safety pin at the ball and hooked the bodice to that. The safety pin is visible just to the right of the loop. At some point I need to move the loop to the location of the safety pin. Boo! There’s always something to fix or repair or change once you wear a garment!

And finally, when I added the waistband I also added hanging loops for the skirt. There’s one poking up on the right. These allow me to easily hang the skirt to keep it from getting wrinkled in storage.

And finally… after many, many hours of sewing, this dress is done. I like big projects but I confess to getting a bit sick of this one after sewing on it every day for about a month at the end of the process. Next post will be photos of the finished dress. (And I can report that I was happy with it in the end! Yay!)

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VI: Second Thoughts

As I hinted at in my last post, the Orange Monster recently reached a point where I became rather concerned that I wouldn’t like it. First, I was worried that I might not like the pleats facing the back of the skirt (as opposed to the front, as I’ve done before). But then, as a much bigger problem, I was worried about the lace trim.

Here’s the dress in a partially trimmed state… but still with two more rows of lace to add to the skirt and more planned for the bodice as well!

I was nervous the dress would be too twee and sweet for my personality. And after all the hours of work I’ve put in… I’ve enjoyed the process, but I would really like to have a dress that I like and that fits my personality in the end!

I think one of the problems was also that I didn’t like my mockup bow. The proportions were off. So I changed it a bit, shrinking the scale of the loops and also the width of the hanging bits.

And then, despite my worries, I forged ahead.

I cut out all the red velvet bow pieces from my ½ yard of fabric. Assembled them. Had a complete ‘Oh no!’ moment when I thought I was done sewing bows and realized that I’d only cut out and made two bows instead of four… and then needed to figure out how to get two more bows out of my very small scraps! Ahhh!

I just had to cross my fingers and hope that the red velvet trim would give this dress the edge to make it suit my personality. I’m not sure what that edge is in words… drama? excitement? unexpected-ness?

Here’s the state that the bertha is in now. Much better! The velvet is an elegant addition, I think!

So whatever that descriptive word is that I can’t find, I am feeling better about the dress now that I have all four red velvet bows and the other velvet trim sewn. (Taking apart the one of the bows to create the extras even made enough bits to create a hair bow!)

I can finally see the whole dress picture coming together. Four days to go until this dress gets worn!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part V: Starting Skirt Trim

I have more details to share with you about the Orange Monster, as I’ve recently named this dress. More on the tongue-in-cheek name later… Right now it’s time to talk in detail about the skirt for my new 1863 gown. (Check out Part I for the plan, Part II for patterning, Part III for starting bodice construction, and Part IV for very detailed further bodice construction.)

The trim on this skirt is… immense. Not so much in terms of scale (I think I’d call the scale just large, rather than immense), but in terms of quantity required to circle the 154″ hem 3 times each for both the lace and pleated silk. (For a reminder of what I’m trying to achieve, check out my inspiration image in the first post in this series.)

Not too long ago, the skirt was in this state of trimming. Started, but by no means finished.

But let’s back up. To get to this point, I had to decide what my trims would be. The inspiration clearly has lace, but there is trim above that as well. It sort of looks like a tall beading lace, but I couldn’t find anything of that sort that would work. Other trim types also turned up nothing. Plus, I wanted to keep the cost down.

So I looked at originals and decided on pinked, pleated, self-fabric trim to top the gathered lace. Single layer pleats (knife, box, etc.), without spaces between them and without overlap, take 3x fabric, so I used that as my starting point. I did the math and realized I didn’t have enough silk to make enough strips to get 3x fullness, so I opted for 2x instead. I also rationalized that decision with the knowledge that my pleats would be spaced apart, thereby taking less than 3x fabric.

I did a sample of my silk with pinking shears on the grain, cross grain, and bias. I wanted to see how my silk would behave so I could pick the direction of cutting that would fray the least. I found it fascinating that cutting with the grain (the top edge in the photo) was the best option.

My spaced box pleating plan was most directly inspired by these two dresses at the Met: the first is the one that inspired the double piped trim on my bodice and the second is another great example of large scale trim encircling a skirt. When you zoom in on these two dresses you can see that the trim is pinked in little scallops. I only have zigzag pinking shears, but a friend has scalloped ones from our Versailles adventure a few years ago and she was kind enough to let me borrow them. (Also, it turns out that the pinked method was a great idea because it didn’t require using fabric for hems and it didn’t require hemming!)

But… Oh. My. Goodness. I pinked. And pinked. And pinked. I wore one of my knuckles raw and had to wait for my skin to heal before I could keep going… Not to mention the fact that pinking shears seem to always be harder to open than regular scissors (is that related to the not straight blades and more resistance?) and my wrist muscles can’t deal with that for long (spring loaded scissors are my lifesavers!). I wound up with a system where I would open the pinking shears with two hands, then close them like normal, then use both hands to open… Tedious and slow, but hopefully worth it! It was a serious labor of love. And I wound up with a pretty pile of confetti-like strips that amused me.

Eventually, I had about 30 yards of strips scalloped on both sides. I seamed these together and divided them into three pieces–2 of them slightly longer than the others in order to account for the swoop up to the big bow. I was ready to sew!

To sew the trim on (in the sort-of-most-efficient way–if you count circling the skirt 3 times instead of 6), I started by trimming off the very top edge of the lace (and saving the narrow bit for later–it might be good for edging undergarments someday!). This reduces bulk, because the top edge is left with only a bit of net rather than a finished lace edge. Then I ran a gathering stitch by hand along the lace and gathered and pinned that in place. I left that thread hanging and put my needle on another piece of thread, then used running stitches to secure the gathers to the silk. Next, I pinned the pleats in place above the section of lace that I’d just stitched, then used a second needle to stitch the pleats down. I worked in approximately 10″ sections. And went on, and on, and on… yikes that skirt is big!

For the bottom row of trim, I very carefully matched half points, quarter points, eighth points, and probably 16ths and 32nds, too. I wanted to make sure my trim was equally distributed. By the time I started the second row, though, I just eyeballed it. In both cases, the pleats themselves are entirely free form: no measuring. I’m sure there is variation in there, but honestly with so much skirt no one is ever going to know! The pleats are caught in the middle with very small running stitches with the occasional back stitch thrown in to keep the thread from pulling too taut. The pleated trim just overlaps my stitches on the lace. Up close, it looks like this.

Just sewing on the three rows of skirt trim was approximately 14 hours. Whew!

While we’re on the subject of the skirt, let’s just also quickly talk about the waist and hem. Before I got anywhere near sewing the trim on, I’d sewn a muslin hem facing about 5″ high onto the bottom of the skirt, pressed it up, and then slip stitched it in place. I made sure that the stitches would be hidden behind the trim, even though they’re tiny… details, details! The muslin will protect the silk as it brushes along the floor while I’m walking up and down stairs or dancing. It also provides a bit of stability and weight to the hem.

At the top, I added the waistband after putting on the bottom row of trim. I wanted to have the pleats in place in order to determine where the swoop up of the next two rows of trim should be placed. The waistband is silk, faced with muslin on the inside (because I was trying to save silk in any way possible to make my oodles of trim). I added a strip of canvas in there as well to provide stiffness as the silk and muslin on their own were not sturdy enough for my liking.

Here’s the assembled waistband, ready to have the skirt pleated to it. The waistband has the quarter points and my 3″ overlap for center back marked with pins.

 The next step was pleating the skirt. I decided for this skirt to have knife pleats facing the back of the skirt. This is seen on extant dresses and is a style I haven’t tried before. It seemed like it would work for my trim plan.

Pleating is always more time consuming than I expect. It’s hard to get the pleat depths just right and the exterior spaces just right and also fit the correct amount into each quarter of the waistband. One could do lots of math to potentially make it less trial-and-error, but I would rather pin and re-pin than do pleat math. Just saying. To each their own! I’m an eyeball pleater! I made it extra challenging by having that 3″ overlap at the back. That will allow for future variation in size (a goal of mine), but also made the pleating a little extra confusing to figure out, since one quarter of the back was 3″ larger than the other but I wanted the pleats to be the same…

The jury is still out on if I like this pleat style. I might prefer the pleats facing forward, as I did on Eleanor... We’ll see once the dress is done and I look at photos. It’s staying for now!

After the three rows of lace and pleats, there are still more trim bits to think about. There’s a bertha, and that big bow on the skirt, and smaller bows on the bodice as well… so we’re not done yet! Stay tuned!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IV: Bodice Progress

In the most recent post in this series, I left off my discussion of the creation of my new 1860s dress with an assembled bodice with nicely finished seam allowances. Since then I have made a significant amount of progress on bodice finishing and have also moved on to the skirt and its multitude of trim! But more on the trim in the next post–for now we’re sticking to the bodice.

The next step in my bodice sewing process was boning. The boning helps keep the front point of the bodice smooth over the skirt, keeps the center back edges smooth under the lacing, and supports the other seams, allowing the bodice to fit smoothly over the corset without wrinkling. In the past, I’ve used both steel and plastic for boning 1860s dresses. I’ve found that both options work equally well, though plastic is lighter and easier to cut and shape.

For this dress I chose plastic again. I used ⅜” wide zip ties from the hardware store. They are quite long (18″ I think), so sometimes one zip tie will make multiple lengths and one package lasts for multiple projects, and they are easy to cut with a sturdy pair of scissors (I used my kitchen shears). In addition to cutting the length I needed, I also used the scissors to snip off the pointy corners and, in the case of bones that intersect an edge at an angle, angled the edges to snug up agains the finished edge of the bodice. Here’s an example of what I mean. This is a side back bone sitting next to its bone casing on top of the seam where it will be sewn in.

I cut a length of pre-made bone casing for each bone in the bodice except center back. This densely woven flat tube can be purchased from speciality sewing supply stores by the yard or roll in black and white in different widths. It’s not perfectly accurate, but it approximates the bone casings I’ve seen in 19th century bodices without needing to create my own from scratch. I’ve made some bodices that have used the seam allowances or darts for bone casings, but this fabric and pattern didn’t accommodate that choice.

Here is that same side back bone in its casing, sewn onto the seam allowances with whip stitches. The bone casing end at the top is tucked under to keep the bone from poking out. At the bottom the bone casing is left alone–the bias binding will cover it and keep the bone from poking out without adding bulk.

The photo above also shows the center back edge progress I’ve made. I left extra seam allowance here in order to provide a self facing for my eyelets, then sewed all of the eyelets that won’t intersect with the bias binding (I’ll finish the ones that intersect the binding later in the process). There is a half width plastic bone between the eyelets and the center back edge. This allows for a narrow edge (less than ¼” rather than the full ⅜” width of the zip ties) and stabilizes that edge so it will stay smooth after being laced.

After those steps, I cut, pieced, and sewed very narrow cotton cord into the bias strips for the top edge, armholes, and bottom edge. For this bodice I decided to try something new (based on this 1860-1861 dress at The Met) and do double piping on the bottom edge of the bottom (zoom in on the photos at The Met to see the double piping up close). It’s a subtle detail, but so very 19th century! I made my bias a little wider for the double piping than I did for the single piping.

Here’s the assembled double piping being sewn to the bodice bottom edge. I just winged my method for creating double piping by sewing a first row of cord into the bias, then a second row next to that. For attaching it to the bodice, I sewed between the rows of cord. I graded my seam allowance, then flipped it to the inside to hand sew, just as I would with single cording.

I did run into a few ‘oops’ spots when I sewed the double cord on. Below is an example. Just below the seam is an extra fold of the bias seam allowance. I had to go back and fix a few of these spots.

Aside from that, it was pretty painless! The only problem at this point was that the two rows of cord were pushed apart a bit by the three rows of machine stitching between them, so I ran a line of thread, by hand, between the two rows to snug them together.

Here’s the inside of the bodice with all of those steps complete except for the bias being flipped to the inside and hand stitched down.

And here’s what the outside of the bodice looked like at this point.

Finishing the bias top and bottom edges really pushed the bodice along towards looking done (although it doesn’t have sleeves or a bertha yet… I’m working on the skirt trim first so I can balance the whole thing out in terms of trim). Here’s the bodice in it’s current state: waiting for sleeves, bertha, and a few more eyelets, but otherwise wearable and done!