Category Archives: Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown

HSF #21: Trim For Evie In Time For A Ball

I’m taking a quick break from the 1950s adventure posts to insert my HSF #21 post into the mix. More 1950s coming soon!

It’s been on my sewing list for a few months to add a bit more trim to the sleeves of Evie, my most recent Civil War era dress, but I’ve been working on knitting my sweater and completing other projects, like my 1822 Walking Dress, so I hadn’t really been inspired to complete the trim. However, the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers were asked to run a ball as part of recent Civil War reenactments in Worcester, MA, and that gave me the perfect incentive to finish up trimming Evie! She also happens to be green, so this is my entry for the HSF Challenge #21: Green.

Oh yes, I forgot I had some other minor changes to make to Evie since I last wore her in March as well. Boring things, like changing out the boning at center back, and enlarging the armsceye a bit under the arm, and adding hooks and bars to connect the bodice to the skirt. I got all those things done, too, though they don’t get their own photographs. I really like the added trim. It gives the bodice a little bit more interest and helps balance out the immense skirt.

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Here is Evie, with her new sleeve trim.

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Another view. The sleeve trim is a smaller scale version of the trim on the skirt.

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A cropped version of the picture above. I can’t decide which way I like it better, so I’m including both.

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And here is what the bodice of Evie looked like before I added the sleeve trim.

Most of the trim on this dress is based on two images I discussed in this previous post: a fashion plate from 1864 and a costume made by Tirelli Costumi. The sleeve trim is based off of yet a third inspiration source: the painting, below, of Princess Helena in the Royal Collection. It’s perfect that it’s from 1864, just like my inspiration fashion plate. It’s even better that it echoes the bertha trim I already had and the zig zag on my skirt.

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This is a copy by William Corden (1819-1900) of the portrait of Princess Helena by Albert Graefle (RCIN 403988). The original was painted for Princess Helena as a birthday present for Queen Victoria on 24 May 1864. Princess Helena (1846-1923), nicknamed Lenchen, was the fifth child and third daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was lively, outspoken and something of a tomboy. In 1866, two years after this portrait was painted, she married Prince Christian of Schleswig Holstein and in 1916 they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary; she was the only child of Queen Victoria to do so. Queen Victoria recorded in her Journal that ‘Lenchen’s picture by Graefle, is extremely good & pretty’.

Now, the facts:

Fabric: small bits of leftover gold silk shantung and green silk taffeta from the construction of the dress.

Pattern: none.

Year: 1864.

Notions: only thread.

How historically accurate?: Well, shantung is not accurate, but silk is (and this doesn’t look very shantung-y). I give this trim a 98% on accuracy.

Hours to complete: 4? All hand sewn.

First worn: With the new trim, on October 11, to a Civil War ball.

Total cost: $0, because it’s leftovers!

Now for the bonus part of this post where I include pictures from the Civil War ball.

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The entrance to the building had these fabulous doors.

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Each section looked like this.

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Dancing a waltz.

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Swinging skirts are fun!

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People looked very nice.

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And it was nice to see unfamiliar faces and meet new people.

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There was a constant swishing sound of skirts brushing against one another.

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The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers interspersed short performances throughout the evening.

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This is the Triplet Galop Quadrille.

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The ball room had large, dark, seriously-faced portraits around the perimeter. I’m not sure they approved of all the dancing!

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There were also Civil War era flags that the reenactors had brought to help decorate the room. And here’s a full length shot of Evie with her new sleeve trim.

I had a lovely time. This ball was nicely different than our usual evening balls with all the new faces. My senses were most struck by the abundance of rather more sturdy and thick wools worn by the military gentlemen than I am used to feeling at most balls, when there are more gentlemen in smoother wool tailcoats. The occasional feel of the thicker wool on my left arm was a tangible, and rather transporting, connection to the past. It seems quite likely that at a ball held during the Civil War a lady would have felt more thick wool on uniformed gentlemen than she might have felt at a ball pre or post war when there would have been more civilian tailcoats at a ball.

Have I inspired you to want to learn 1860s dancing and attend a ball? I’ll end with this small encouragement for your attendance at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ next Civil War events. The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers have a Civil War Dance Weekend coming up in November, 2013. It’s super reasonably priced and includes lots of dance classes, two balls, and a German. There’s no experience necessary. If you’re at all interested and in the New England area you should check it out, because we’re doing lots of awesome Civil War dancing in 2014 as well (they are listed at the bottom of the Civil War Dance Weekend link, above), and why not get started learning or brushing up sooner rather than later? I’d love to see you there!

Evie, A Front View

In all those pictures of Evie and the Returning Heroes Ball that I’ve posted recently, I don’t think there were any good shots of the front of my dress. So for now, a quick post showing the front of the gown with the double rosette to match the skirt and the graduated ruffle showing itself from under the bertha.

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Evie!

Gallery

Returning Heroes Ball 2013

This gallery contains 8 photos.

I’ve been slow to post my final group of pictures from this event. Sorry! You’ll remember that I first posted Three Series of Photos of my new green 1864 ball gown, Evie, and her undergarments? Then I posted A Second … Continue reading

A Hair Wreath For Evie

Remember Evie, my 1864 green ball gown? I felt compelled to make a matching hair wreath to wear with her, and here it is! A ring of paper covered millinery wire colored black (to blend with my hair) with a sharpie, decorated with a bit of gold silk, some green silk ribbon, and the mysteriously changeable gold/green ostrich feathers. Here those feather look gold, but I assure you that they sometimes appear as green as the silk background (which is the silk the dress is constructed of).

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I think I would like to trim the ostrich feather on the right so it is the same shape as the one on the left, but aside from that one change, this is good as is! It’s super easy to bobby pin the wire to my hair and it’s easy to hide the bobby pins under all that silk and ostrich feather business going on at the bottom.

Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown Part IV: Three Series Of Photos

Remember in my last post I promised pictures of the finished ball gown now known as Evie? The time has come! I had a hard time narrowing down the options (because of course I wanted to share ALL of the good pictures), but I’ve tried to limit myself to only the best of the best. This post will focus on the completion of my dress, Evie, but there are two more posts coming soon that will share some of the other photo series as well as pictures of the ball itself!

These photos are the idea of my friend with the camera. She wanted to take series of pictures of us in our modern clothes, 1860s undies, and then dressed in our 1860s ball gowns: all in the same location and the same pose. It’s a neat idea and the results are great, not only because it provided lots of pictures (yay!) some of which are of things I don’t have pictures of (like my 1860s undies), but also because you can see the time passing through the evening by looking at the light in the photos. They start in the afternoon, proceed to early evening, then finish at night. Not all the series are a complete set, but all around, it’s pretty cool. Which series do you like best?

Series 1: To The Right

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To The Right: first layer

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To The Right, second layer

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To The Right, third layer

Series 2: What A Change

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What A Change, first layer

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What A Change, second layer

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What A Change, third layer

Series 3: On The Stairs

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On The Stairs, first layer

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On The Stairs, second layer

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On The Stairs, third layer

I’ve never been able to get pictures of my 1860s undies before, so this is exciting! I’ve got a chemise, corset, drawers, cage crinoline, and petticoat (in addition to stockings, shoes, jewelry, hair wreath, gloves, fan, and gown). The crinoline is entirely hand sewn, except for the waistband. The measurements of the hoops are taken from an extant crinoline, and I believe the circumference of the bottom hoop is about 120″. The crinoline closes with a hook on the waistband. The other pieces are machine sewn and trimmed with lace, pin tucks, and ribbon. The chemise slips over the head and the drawers close at the back with a button and loop arrangement. (And that poor petticoat does need a press… but I threw it in the washer and dryer a while ago and since it doesn’t usually get seen I haven’t taken the time to press it.) The petticoat ties around the waist. As you can see, the crinoline stops mid-calf, so the intense petticoat ruffle really helps keep the shape for the skirt below that point, in addition to keeping my hoops from showing as horizontal lines through the skirt of the gown.

Want to be further amused? Look at the apparently changeable feathers on my hair wreath. Sometimes they’re brownish/gold and sometimes vivid green! They really do seem to change color depending on the light!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but the basic pattern for this gown is essentially taken from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. The trim however, is based on two things. Thing 1: the skirt trim is from the fashion plate I shared with you in the first post of this project journal. Thing 2 : the bodice trim is based on this gown, below. I went through a lot of phases trying to decide how to trim the bodice, since I didn’t really like the fashion plate bodice trim. In the end, I decided on this look: a graduated ruffle (just one, in my case, to match the one ruffle on the skirt) that gets longer toward center back, a triple pleated bertha that has a swoop towards center front rather than being straight, and a big trim thing right at the center (in my case, a rosette to match the skirt, rather than a bow). It’s pretty hard to see the front of my dress in these pictures I’ve shared so far, but there are some coming up in the next two posts which will show off the front of the gown better, so stay tuned for that!

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A costume from the movie Il Gattopardo (1962, costume design by Piero Tosi). It’s lovely, despite the fact that it is not an extant gown from the 1860s.

While getting dressed we might have been making silly faces for the camera while the owner walked away…

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Haha! Moose making companion! In case you don’t know, this is my favorite silly face to make. Don’t believe me? Look here and here!

Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown Part III: Innards

It’s been a little while since I posted about my new 1864 ball gown. Over a month, I think, because in February I posted about the plan/inspiration and then about the progress I made on the trim. I was steadily working on it during the month of March and had it ready to go for the Returning Heroes Ball a week ago. That’s not to say there wasn’t a little bit of last minute sewing the afternoon of the ball. My last minute sewing was gloves and hair piece, though, not dress, so that’s an accomplishment! And I wasn’t alone in my afternoon sewing… friends were sewing with me! There are lots of upcoming pictures but for now I’m going to post about the insides of the skirt and bodice. It’s a sneak peak, since you have to wait for the others pictures to see the full ensemble!

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Completed skirt trim! I was SO ready to be done with it by the time I was sewing down the green zig zag (the last step of the skirt trim).

My other 1860s dresses have names: Belle is my dark blue gown and Annabelle is my white gown. I haven’t really been thinking of this dress by name until recently. Upon consideration, I’ve decided that she’s named Evelyn, or perhaps Evie for short. Why that name? I just like it, it’s old fashioned, and it has Y, and I have a fondness for the less commonly used letters of the alphabet. So here she is: Evie.

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Skirt waistband of self fabric, to which the box pleated skirt is sewn. There is a cleverly hidden opening on the fold of one of the pleats.

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Magic! The pleats are deep enough that you can’t see the opening when the skirt is hooked closed, even with my hoops underneath.

The raw top edges of the skirt are just turned to the inside and left alone. The silk skirt is flat lined with muslin, which helps give it some body, preventing creasing, and some stability at the hem for all that trim. There are six double box pleats evenly spaced around the skirt, as you can see. I haven’t tried this evenly distributed method on an 1860s skirt before (my previous dresses have knife pleated fronts and cartridge pleated backs, which makes them much heavier in the back than the front… I suppose I could divide the skirt in half and do that method, but given how those skirts are weighted, I’m sure there’s more fabric in back than in front). All that to say that I love how evenly weighted this skirt is! It means I don’t need a giant bum pad to keep my hoops level with the floor. (Come to think of it, I suppose I could remount the skirts of my other dresses onto new waistbands and redistribute the fabric… hm… I’ll have to think about that!)

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Inside of the bodice at center front. The bodice is flat lined in ivory polished cotton. The edges are finished with cording (even the top edge, which you can’t see on the outside because it is hidden by the bertha, grrr, but oh well!).

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Inside of the left front and outside of the right back.

The sleeve is lined in muslin. I originally intended that it wouldn’t be seen, but then changed the sleeve design so now the muslin is visible on the inside of the bodice. It doesn’t matter, though, but I do like it when everything matches. The seam allowances of the bodice are just left unfinished (I might whip stitch over the edges some day, but that’s unlikely, since I’ll probably be sewing something else!). The armhole seam allowances are whip stitched together to keep them from fraying and to keep all those layers together. The armholes also have cording in them. The bodice closes at center back with lacing. The eyelets, like everything else, are hand sewn. The bertha also closes at center back (unusual, since a lot of them close on the shoulder, but I didn’t want my bertha pleating to be able to move or show the top of the ruffle). You can see the stitching holding the bertha in place in the first bodice picture, because those stitches go right through to the inside of the bodice.

I stopped keeping track of how many yards of hand sewing went into this dress… but now I’m curious again. So when I finished stitching the gathering stitches I was at 86 1/2 yds just for the trim. I’d estimate about another 22 yds of stitching to attach the trim and about 12 yds of stitching to construct the skirt before attaching it to the waistband. Waistband attachment was probably about 7 yds (it’s quite sturdy and all those pleats are well sewn!). That puts the skirt at a total of about 127 1/2 yds of hand sewing. Then there’s the bodice, which is maybe 12 yds of hand sewing total? That’s a harder one to estimate. That brings Evie to a total of approximately 140 yds of stitching.

I’m proud to say that every single stitch is hand sewn. Next time, though, I’m planning on machine stitching the inside seams. It’s super satisfying to have an entirely hand sewn dress, but it took about two months, and that could have been much sped up with the use of a sewing machine, which means I could have made more things! Who knows, I might change my mind, but right now even I am tired of hand sewing that dress.

Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown Part II: Trim Progress (HSF #4)

Well, I hope this isn’t too much of a stretch (or maybe interpretation is a better word), but I’ve finished preparing all of my skirt trim and I’m going to call it my project for the HSF #4  Challenge: Embellish. I say it’s a stretch because my completion of this project is the preparation of the trim, rather than the attachment to the garment. To be fair, just the prep has been a lot of sewing, so I think it counts. Here it is, below: gold trim on the rather wrinkly skirt of green and gold shot silk taffeta. Because the gold is shot with silver, and the green is shot with gold, they are both photographing more washed out looking than they appear to me when not looking through a camera. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to get a picture where they look a little less silvery.

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All the skirt trim, gathered and ready to be attached!

The top pile of trim (that rather resembles a ruffly brain, don’t you think?) is for the zig zag. The two piles on either side are the 18 rosettes. The section on the bottom center is the ruffle that goes at the bottom. You can see the inspirational fashion plate here, in this previous post, to see what these different trim sections look like in their actual context.

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My favorites are the rosettes. Aren’t they cute?

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Here’s all of them laid out like an accordion, or a slinky. They look so adorable!

Anyway… here are the facts:

Fabric: almost 1.5 yds of gold shot with silver silk shantung.

Pattern: none, just a lot of math.

Year: 1864.

Notions: none, just thread.

How historically accurate?: Well, shantung is not accurate, but silk is (and this shantung is pretty smooth and not slubby, so I don’t think anyone will know it’s shantung unless I tell them). The trim layout is from a fashion plate, so super accurate. The stitching is accurate. Overall, I give it a 90%.

Hours to complete: Um… a lot. It’s all hand sewn. I started in January, so… 50 hours to get to this point? I really have no idea. I think in terms of months or weeks usually, not hours or even days.

First worn: Not yet, but will be worn in March.

Total cost: $9, because the silk was a remnant.

And while I’m keeping count, let me also note the yards of stitching currently sewn into the trim. When it was all hemmed I was at 45 yards. Now I have the addition of gathering stitches (31 1/2 yds) and ruffle binding (9 yds). That ups the total yards stitched for trim to 86 1/2 yds, and that’s before attaching it! Nice.