Category Archives: Trimmings

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

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

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Royal Ladies’ Magazine, December 1832

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

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Just the facts:

Fabric: About 5 yards polyester velvet.

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

Year: 1832.

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

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

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

First worn: December 10 for a ball.

Total cost: About $50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sophie, 1861 Cotton Print (HSM #8)

Last week, I introduced Eleanor, a newly made plaid gown from 1862. Today’s introduction is to Eleanor’s friend, Sophie. Sophie actually came first, back during the summer when I was intending to participate in the same dance performance for which I’ve worn Georgina in the past (here are a selection of past posts about Georgina: the construction which is similar in some ways to Sophie, Georgina in action, and Georgina with a new collar).

This year, the performance was rescheduled due to rain and I couldn’t attend the new date, meaning that the new dress, Sophie, languished until October, when I was able to wear it during part of a recent mid-19th century dance weekend. The nice thing about the delay is that the pictures all have stunning fall leaves, which would not have been in the case in the summer.

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Also, had I worn this dress on the first intended date, it would not have been entirely completed. Having extra time allowed me to officially finish all the trim and closures which made this dress the perfect entry for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #8 “Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better.” I didn’t have any pictures of the dress on a body at that point, so I submitted a rather sad picture of the dress on a hanger at that time. It’s exciting to have real pictures now!

Just the facts:

Fabric: 7.5 yards cotton print.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #701, 1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices.

Year: 1860-1863 based on my extant inspiration, but I’m calling it 1861.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, muslin scraps, and narrow yarn for cording.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. This is as accurate as I can be given the research I have done and the materials I used, though the use of a facing on the front edges is guesswork. Regardless, this would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: Unknown. A fair bit.

First worn: October 23 for an afternoon tea and dance games.

Total cost: $23.

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Sophie was directly inspired by this extant dress at the Kent State University Museum. I was considering what to wear for the performance, thinking that I’d worn Georgina enough to want something new, that I’d had an 1860s cotton print fabric in my stash for a few years, and then I remembered this dress. I decided to leave off the ruffle on the skirt (and also didn’t have enough fabric), but was so pleased that my cotton print is so perfectly suited for playing with the pattern in the same way as the extant dress!

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Dresses from this period with v necks are not common, but they do exist. This Pinterest board has lots of examples. My Pinterest board has a few other dresses that helped move me along as well.

As I mentioned in my post about Eleanor, finding and making use of subtle differences between dresses from similar years brings me joy. For example, Sophie has a v neck, no boning, cartridge pleated sleeves, gathered trim, and is actually sewn together as a dress, rather than hooking together at the waistband as with all my other dresses from this period.

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In other ways, Sophie is similar to Georgina, being partially machine and partially hand sewn, having a cartridge pleated skirt, cuffs with little ruffles at the ends, and pockets.

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Personally, I love having pockets in day dresses. It brings me peace of mind to know that modern things like my keys are close by and not sitting around somewhere. Plus, chapstick, fan, gloves, etc. are also excellent choices for stashing in pockets. These pockets, which you can see the top of in the picture below, are sewn in the same way as Georgina’s pockets, shown here. I love this collection of references to pockets from the 1840s, 50s, and 60s that Anna Worden Bauersmith put together. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to share it for what seems like ages.

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Here are two more interior shots of the dress. The first shows the muslin facings. I don’t have documentation for this method being used to finish a lightweight summer cotton dress, but it makes sense that this method might have been used to finish the edges nicely while keeping the main body of the dress breathable and light. The second picture shows in the inside of the top of the sleeve, particularly to show the cartridge pleats.

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In addition to the dress, I also made a new cage crinoline. I’ve been wanting a slightly smaller, less bell shaped one, particularly to wear with cotton dresses. I love my old cage crinoline (seen here) for evening dresses, but it is just a bit too much for a more practical daytime look. The new crinoline shape just looks ‘right’ with the cotton dress. The difference is subtle, but pleasing. Unfortunately, it did not perform well in its first wearing. The vertical tapes were sliding all over the place and causing the hoops to drop and be tripped on. Not good! It needs revision before being finished and shared, so for now you’ll just have to believe that I’m wearing it with this dress.

Now that you’ve heard all about the dress itself, here are some pretty pictures of it in action. These first ones are in the spirit of the development of rural cemeteries in the mid-19th century, which you can read more about in this blog post at Plaid Petticoats.

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The next few are a celebration of the autumn season. The gorgeous leaves were beckoning us to have some laughs. Incidentally, I tend to jump in the air with my arms up whenever I’m having an amazing time in this period. Take this memory, for example. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing!

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We have so many things to be grateful for. I am always thankful for the many blessings in my life, particularly at this time of year. I hope that your life is also overflowing with blessings and reasons to give thanks, in autumn and always.

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Vernet Project: Silly Shoes

One of the five pieces of my Vernet Project was creating the silly up-turned-toe elf shoes in the fashion plate. Clearly, these are not shoes that could be purchased, as they are so specific in style, so I set out to make my own!

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In the beginning, I was thankful to have another Vernet project maker’s experience making her boots before mine to work from. Jenni posted a two part tutorial showing how she made her boots as well as sharing information behind-the-scenes with project participants earlier in the process (Part 1 and Part 2). She closely referenced Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker, published in 1855 (a little late relative to the date of the project, but still useful for construction advice), for construction methods and carefully documented her process. In fact, she did a much better job at documenting the actual sewing than I did… I also read Anna’s information about making mid-19th century shoes multiple times to help get my mind acquainted with the project (again, a little later than the period of the project, but still helpful). She also has lots of great construction pictures.

I started by creating a pattern for my shoe using patterns in Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker. Given that my shoe has the unusual turned-up-toe, I necessarily needed to make adjustments to the general slipper pattern. Here is my shoe at the mockup stage. The upper pieces fit pretty well! I adjusted the width of the sole as well as the shape of the turned-up section before moving on to cut out the final pieces.

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Here are all of the final pieces cut out and ready to assemble. The soles have three layers: heavier tan leather for the outer sole, cardboard for the inner sole structure, and white linen to cover the cardboard insole. The uppers have two layers: lightweight raspberry leather for the exterior and white linen for the interior. Later in the process I also added a faux fur cuff.

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To help the shoes keep their turned-up-toe shape I soaked the leather soles in water, taped them to a lysol wipe container, and let them dry. You can see the results below. Not perfectly curved up, but still helpful. I also tried boiling leather soles to thicken them before shaping, but found that the leather shrank unevenly which created soles that wouldn’t work for this project. I did save them, though, and hopefully will get to use them for a future shoe making endeavor. I repeated the soaking and shaping for the cardboard insoles before gluing the linen to them. There’s a picture of the insoles at this stage in this past post.

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After shaping the soles it was time to construct the uppers. I did the interior and exterior separately, then basted them together around the top opening and around the bottoms. Then I sewed the bottom edges of the uppers to the soles, using the slanting stitch through the side of the sole that Jenni shows in Part 2 of her tutorial. She used all sorts of nifty leather tools as well as a wooden last during construction. I purchased the nifty leather tools but found that they didn’t work for me and a simple non-leather needle worked just fine. (I think my leather was too thin and soft for these to be needed). As for the last, I looked online for a wooden one, never found one in my size foot, and eventually decided to give it a go without one, especially since I had to do the turned-up toe. In the end, I don’t think it was a problem not to have a last.

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Once the soles were attached, I bound the front slit with matching silk ribbon. Then I cut a piece of faux fur for each shoe that went around just the top of the foot opening and could double over on itself. There are non-functional silk ribbon loops that are sewn to the front of the fur that encases the top edge of the shoe. The shoes actually close with a twill tape threaded through hand sewn eyelets on each side of the opening.

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They’re actually quite comfortable for walking around in. I have very flat feet, so don’t really need arch support to be comfortable. The only thing is that my feet did get cold during our photoshoot due to the freezing ground only separated from my feet by a few thin layers of fabric. So, for the second wearing, while caroling at Christmastime, I added a faux fur insole. Problem solved! They were toasty and even more comfortable!

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Interestingly, witzchouras are mentioned as being popular in Paris during the year 1827 by La Belle Assembleé, after a mention of other popular pelisses and mantles (well worth checking out!), and are are described as being worn with boots laced in front and with fur around the leg.

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Doesn’t that description sound oddly familiar? It reminds me so very much of the Vernet fashion plate and my silly shoes!

Making Waves In 1925

On my to-do list for this summer was a 1920s bathing suit. At first I thought I might knit one, but I wanted a smaller project than that, and also, a friend who hand knit a swimsuit last year reported a fair bit of sagging happening when she wore hers in the water. So I decided to try a different approach and make my suit from wool jersey fabric, a historically accurate option in terms of weave and fiber for a 1920s suit, as far as I can tell from my research.

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After spending lots of time looking at inspirational images on Pinterest and compiling this board of the most inspirational images, I decided on the year 1925, when suits were getting shorter and often sported built in shorts. My main inspiration was this extant suit from 1925 at Abiti Antichi. It’s where my decorative inspiration came from and also justified the visible seam where the shorts attach to the dress. I also referenced this 1920s extant suit at All The Pretty Dresses, which shows interior finishing (serging!) and has narrower straps.

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I knew there was no chance of finding wool jersey at a local fabric store, so I searched around the internet for sources. I believe I found only three–a company in New Zealand, New Zealand Merino and Fabrics, that makes gorgeous colors and sells through their own website and through Etsy; Denver Fabrics, which had wool double knit fabric; and Nature’s Fabrics, which I had never ordered from before, but which had lovely colors. I decided on bottle green from Nature’s Fabrics and vowed to get the whole project out of just one yard.

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For a pattern, I used a tank top from Old Navy as a starting point since I liked the straps, adding length (and width since my wool jersey was less stretchy than the tank). I cut the dress pieces first, then used the extra bits to cut the shorts.

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I wanted to use the pattern from my dotty tap pants for the shorts, but I didn’t have it handy, so I pulled out a finished pair of the shorts and used that instead. Unfortunately, I was a few inches shy of being able to cut all four shorts pieces out of my leftover fabric. My solution was to cut the two fronts out and then piece the back pieces with a seam about 4″ below the waist, hoping that it wouldn’t be noticeable in the finished suit. There’s a slight line, but it’s not something I’m worried about, especially since I basically used up all the fabric I had–no adding to the stash on this project!

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The white trim came from the stash. It’s a lightweight knit terrycloth I bought at JoAnn’s when I first started sewing. I made a robe, but didn’t love it. I did, however, keep it and am happy to have repurposed the fabric.

This would have been a really speedy project if it wasn’t for the trim. I used a serger with four threads to sew/finish the seams all at once, making the construction super speedy (I think I cut and assembled the whole thing in an evening). However, the white lines took a long time to carefully machine sew on and then I still had to bind the arm and neck holes, turning the project into a multi-evening size. The time spent was worth it though, because I love the finished product!

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I love the images of the bathing suit contests here from the 1920s, in particular this one from 1926. All the bathing beauties are wearing their nice pumps with their bathing suits!

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I didn’t have time to get a sash together, but the bathing beauty look is what I was aiming for in this picture, wearing my American Duchess Seaburys with my swimsuit.

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My main goal was to have the suit for an event at the end of August, but it was done in time for a vintage beach outing in July! It was an unusually cold day and therefore the beach was pretty empty, but it meant we had the beach basically to ourselves and got some great pictures!  In August, I’m planning for the whole suit to get wet, so we’ll see how that goes! In the meantime, here are a few more fun pictures from the July beach day.

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Regency Shoe Poms!

I was very excited when Gina posted a tutorial for making shoe pom poms in September 2014. I decided then and there, while reading the post, that I needed some of my own. It only took me about 18 months to get around to it… but I am happy to report that in April 2016, I finally used Gina’s tutorial to finish making my very own!

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What prompted me to really go ahead with making the poms is that I wanted to have something to spruce up an older outfit I wore to the 4th Annual CVD Regency Dance Weekend, but didn’t have the time to create a new dress, as the Versailles sacque and 1885 Fancy Dress were all consuming. I suppose what I should really say is that what prompted me to finish the poms is the opportunity to wear them. I think I actually started them in late 2015.

Let me start by saying that Gina’s tutorial is clear and easy to follow. I highly recommend it!

My issues were all self inflicted… I carefully followed Gina’s instructions, got partway through the process and realized that the scale was much bigger than I remembered and that I didn’t like it at all on top of my foot. Oh no! (But in going back to link to Gina’s tutorial for this post I have realized that of course her poms are not the scale I wanted, because her poms are bigger than I ever intended! Oops! Totally my fault!)

The only solution I could see at the time was to cut off the ends of each pieces and re-fray the silk ends! UGH! It was not a fun process to fray the ends and I could not face the idea of doing it again. So I refused to work on the poms for months because I was so frustrated. Then, in March or April, I had the brainstorm to make the pieces shorter by cutting out the middle so I wouldn’t need to re-fray the ends. Duh! From there it was smooth sailing to finish up the poms.

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Partially finished pom on top (using Gina’s original dimensions). My completed pom on the bottom (smaller in scale). The pin is for scale.

I used a purple silk shantung from my stash for this project so it would match my other purple accessories. The back of the poms have American Duchess shoe clips attached so that I can easily clip the poms to any shoes.

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I was inspired by extant shoes with poms on the toes, such as these. You can also take a look through my Pinterest board to spot more pom-like shoe decorations.

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Poms in action! I really like the look of the neutral dress with the purple accessories.

Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Construction Details

It’s time for some in depth detail about the construction of the robe a la francaise I wore to Versailles in May. My original plan was to use pink silk in my fabric stash to create a robe de cour inspired by Maria Federovna, but I realized when I went to cut out the pieces that I did not have enough fabric.

The change in plan resulted in new fabric and a new plan. I stuck with the decade of the 1770s, but decided to make a robe a la francaise, or sacque, instead of a robe de cour as it seemed like a garment I might be more likely to wear again in the future. Accordingly, I found and ordered new fabric: 11 yards of a very lightweight changeable silk ‘lutestring’ from Burnley and Trowbridge. Luckily, the new fabric still worked with the metallic silver net I’d purchased for trim. It’s the same metallic silver net that is on my 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress, just cut into strips.

The pattern is from JP Ryan: it’s the Pet en Lair pattern, lengthened to create a gown as they suggest. Underneath I’m wearing a shift, stays, pocketsMr. Panniers, a generic 18th century petticoat, and the petticoat that matches the gown. I also have American Duchess clocked stockings and embellished American Duchess Kensingtons. All my jewelry is from eBay. You can read more about how I created my hairstyle and the hair ornament in this past post.

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Regarding the pattern, I found some of the directions to be confusing. For example, making the petticoat seemed way overcomplicated.   You can read more details about how I made my petticoat here. Also, I found the directions for pleating the front robings/facing and the back pleats quite confusing. There, I was saved by this post written by AJ who also used the JP Ryan pattern, got confused, and posted about the confusing bits. Very helpful! Aside from the confusing directions, the gown pieces went together perfectly with no trouble. I did have to alter the front strap area to make the front sit flat against my body. Two friends who used this same pattern did not have to make that adjustment, so I chalk it up to differing body shapes but do not think it negatively affects the pattern.

IMG_0687 (1)The lining of the gown is made from a one yard piece of cotton/linen blend from my stash. Also from my stash and used inside the gown were a scrap of medium blue linen and a scrap of medium blue cotton twill used to interface the stomacher. These were all the bits left of those three stash fabrics–yay! I was also amused that all of the random non-silk fabrics in this gown and petticoat wound up being blue. I used my lining as my mockup, meaning that I had to take a dart in the front strap area, but was able to adjust the pattern to eliminate the dart before cutting out the silk.

The back of the lining is adjustable using a tie threaded through eyelets. The edges are boned with reed. The pattern suggests ties, but you also see lacing in extant garments and this seemed easier to adjust and that it would use less length for the tie(s). There are examples of both ties and lacing on my Pinterest board for this project. The tie is a 1/4″ cotton twill tape. It’s not accurate, but did the job.

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Underneath the decorative stomacher, the gown closes with lacing panels attached to the lining. Again, mine laces closed using twill tape.

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This is the inside of the front lacing panels. You can see the medium blue linen backing. I think I had run out of the cotton/linen blend at that point. As is usual with 18th century garments, the armhole is left unfinished.

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Here’s a close up of the back pleats. These are stitched all the way through to the lining. The directions for the pleats were slightly confusing, but made sense once I started fiddling with my fabric. It was important that I had transferred all the markings from the pattern to make the pleating easier to understand. The pattern uses another four pleats pleats, underneath these, that you can’t see to add volume to the back.

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Due to the unexpected nature of the purchase of the silk fabric for this gown, I decided to do that fabric justice by hand sewing the entire garment. So in addition to the exterior stitching like that anchoring the pleats on the back, all of the interior seams are also hand sewn. I rather enjoy hand sewing and it makes a lot more sense given the way 18th century garments were constructed.

Here is the gown mostly sewn in its essential elements, but lacking trim. The sleeve flounces were individually gathered and sewn to the arm openings. They are pinked with scalloped shears on the top and bottom edges.

The following image is the gown that I followed in terms of trim placement. It took many more hours than I thought it would to pin the trim on. Those big waves are more complicated than they look, plus I had the challenge of creating the smaller scallops as I went along as well. All of the trim had to be sewn along both sides and tacked at each scrunch after it had been pinned.

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Robe a la Francaise. 1765. LACMA.

You can see that I pressed my robings down all the way to the hem, though once the trim was applied on top it was really not very noticeable. I like the finished result, but I think it’s worth pointing out that this pattern is designed to have a wide stomacher. I was envisioning it coming out a little narrower at the waist. But I think adjusting the back opening enough to make a noticeable difference would only create awkward wrinkles under the arms.

The finished stomacher was covered in scalloped trim and finished off with a sparkly brooch. I went to France with an untrimmed stomacher and no clear idea about how I wanted to trim it except that I wanted it to be an all over metallic feast for the eyes. Luckily, early in the trip I was able to go see the 300 Centuries of Fashion exhibit at Les Arts Decoratifs. In addition to being amazing (I got to stand within 6 feet of Dior’s Bar Suit and see many garments I’ve only ever seen on Pinterest!), I also took a picture of a stomacher that was inspirational in terms of the overall wavy patterns and filler shapes. That picture is below.

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Trimming the stomacher took place in the evenings in the few days before the special event. Here is the stomacher in progress. I took it specifically to show the amazing green color that the fabric can appear from some angles. I was hoping to get a picture of the finished gown looking this color, but had to be content with seeing shades of green in some of the pictures as we didn’t capture any where the whole gown was this color.

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Another part of the dress that was finished in France were my engageants. The pattern includes flounces of two lengths to be made of silk and then one longer flounce for an under flounce or engageant. I sacrificed some lace I’ve been intending for another project, threw some darts in at the longest section to get the scalloped edge to be the right shape, and filled in the length with a bit of mystery ivory sheer. The resulting flounce was gathered and sewn to a cotton tape that was basted into the arm opening.

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It sure sounds like a lot of work, recounting these bits of the process. It was! And it paid off. I’m very pleased with the gown. And very pleased that this picture captures some of the stunning green in the fabric!

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1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress

It has been a goal to make a specifically fancy dress outfit for years, but particularly since I made a makeshift 1860s flower basket fancy dress outfit in 2015. This May I had the perfect opportunity in the form of a fancy dress ball!

I decided to make an 1880s bustle dress because I already had all the undergarments, including my still-new-feeling 1880s steam molded corset, and because it’s a period of dress that I rarely wear, especially for dancing. I wanted to experiment with dancing in a bustle to see how it worked and what it felt like.

Design-wise, I was inspired by Mrs. Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt’s Electric Light fancy dress outfit made by Worth in 1883, but wanted to adapt the idea to fabrics I already had on hand. Since the fabric I came up with was navy blue, I decided on Night Sky as my inspiration.

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Mrs. Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt’s Electric Light fancy dress outfit, 1883

I started my outfit in January and worked on it over the next four months or so, but despite all that preparation time I was still working on it right up until the day before the event. Luckily, I did the vast majority of the work of cutting, sewing, and fitting before March and April when I became super busy. Tasks left at that point included finishing the bodice edges, trimming, and closures.

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In addition to the Mrs. Vanderbilt’s inspiration I also looked at other 1880s skirts for draping ideas and other 1880s fancy dress outfits for trimming ideas. You can see the most inspiring images and extant garments on my Pinterest board for this project here.

For ease of documentation, I’ll do the facts as with the HSF:

Fabric: 2-3 yards of navy blue cotton twill for underskirt, 6ish yards of navy blue polyester charmeuse, 1ish yard of pink cotton twill for flat lining, and 1-2yds of silver net.

Pattern: My 1885 Frills and Furbelows Bustle Dress pattern, adapted for evening and for the style of skirt desired.

Year: 1885.

Notions: A 3yd tinsel garland, 6 star brooches, 3yds of navy polyester ribbon for lacing, hook and bar closures for the skirt, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Recognizable in it’s own time, certainly. Reasonable construction, certainly. Materials, not so much. It was much more important to use what was on hand than to purchase new fabrics, especially since this is an outfit that I don’t see getting a lot of use.

Hours to complete: Tons. I didn’t keep track. Bustles are fussy and require lots of time with a dress form to achieve an elegant drape.

First worn: May 21.

Total cost: Most of the fabrics were in the stash with the exception of the silver net and most of the notions were purchased cheaply on eBay. Let’s say $20.

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For the photos I wore the dress with my black Seaburys and the new rhinestone shoe clips that I purchased in March. It was quite sparkly and elegant, but for dancing I changed into navy blue velvet flats. They were just as cute but did not get the special treatment of being shown off in photos.

I had the grand idea to use my curly hair ends flipped up on top of my head like the curled fringe popular in the 1880s. It’s also long enough that I was able to make the bun shape on the back also using only my natural hair. I pinned in star brooches to match those on my dress as decoration.

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All in all I’m quite happy with the final result! Dancing in the bustle was just as easy as any other Victorian style. The differences were that all the extra fabric was behind me making some movements more challenging due to space such as during a quadrille, and that the bustle and layers of fabric on the back gathered a fair bit of momentum when turning, creating quite a swish!

Construction wise the only change I would like to make after one wearing is to bone the center back edges so that the back lies flat when laced onto my body and to sew in a matching fabric piece behind the lacing holes to hide any white from undergarments that wants to peak out. I’ll also need to wear a different chemise or tuck the top down so there’s not white cotton poking out at the armholes. However, these are minor changes and I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to wear this again so it might be awhile before they happen.

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For this ball we set up a double sided picture backdrop, one side of which you’ve already seen. The other side included a large stuffed jaguar/panther I dubbed Jaggy for the night. You often see backdrops in regular Victorian photos as well as fancy dress photos. Unfortunately, with my heels on I was too tall for them! Oops! Being too tall inspired me to take some fun sitting photos.

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Hanging out with Jaggy.

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Tired after a night of dancing.

For decoration out of the ordinary, we had the lucky and unexpected use of the fabulous blue and turquoise lanterns in many of the pictures as well as multicolored paper lanterns with lights inside. We put the lanterns around the room in glass vases as bouquets. First, a picture from the set up part of the evening. Second, a picture with some lanterns creeping into the photo.

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Fancy dress outfit, check!