An event! With vintage clothes, and people, and sun, and croquet! The weather was perfectly reasonable–warm without being absurdly toasty–and the ground was dry–perfect for laying out blankets to picnic in style.
I decided to wear my rayon 1943 Mauve Print Dress. I made it in 2017, but have only worn it once, I think. I thought this would be a great opportunity, plus it allowed me the chance to wear my American Duchess Peggy spectators and do my hair in victory rolls. I’m pretty much a fan of big hair in any era, so the victory rolls sounded more appealing than close-to-the-head 1920s styles (1920s being an oft visited decade for summer events since the clothes are easy to wear even when it’s very hot).
(As a side note, I feel like this photo with Plaid Petticoats makes me look like a giant! I don’t think we’re actually that far apart in height (maybe we are?), but the combination of natural waist dress vs dropped waist dress, plus heels vs flats, plus big hair vs hat really makes us look drastically different in height!)
I was very pleased with my victory rolls. I’ve practiced them a few times over the last year or so and have tried a few different products as well. I’ve found that I can make them work (even with my curly hair, yay!) with some Lotta Body on dry hair that hasn’t been washed that day. The biggest challenge is actually that my hair is getting quite long, so the rolls start even farther away from my head than when I wore this dress the last time with victory rolls. My arms almost aren’t long enough anymore!
The long hair also makes figuring out the back a little tricky. I was pleased with what I came up with, though I don’t remember exactly how I did it. It’s something with each side separated, twisted, and then dented in the middle so it’s not one big puff. I guess I have to do it again so I can figure that out!
The picnic included a croquet tournament. I was doing unexpectedly well in the first game, but faltered towards the end and didn’t make the cut to the next round due to the fierce competition (said only somewhat jokingly!).
Croquet involves serious thinking and set up!
This was a lovely outing, perfect for easing back into events. It was wonderful to go digging in my historical clothes closet to get out all of the garments, accessories, and picnic things I would need! I’ve really missed that!
My 1830s apple picking adventure last fall was followed by a ramble through the woods for exercise and to get more photos. I shared a bunch of the photos in the construction posts for my 1834 dress (here and here), but even after that there were still a bunch of lovely photos I wanted to share. At that point, I decided to take a break and post about other topics since I’d posted a few blog posts in a row about 1830s things and so the photos from the woods have been patiently waiting to have their moment to shine. Today is the day! I bring you an 1830s armchair ramble through the woods!
On our way to the wooded area, we stopped to take advantage of this stone wall and gate.
I find great joy in the pursuit of researching and making historical clothing. Here on the blog, I post most often about the garments I make for myself, but I rarely post about commissions to make custom historical garments for private individuals, museums, historical institutions, etc. Today’s post is different from the usual in that I’m going to share a commission project with you!
This commission came about through the kindness of Myrthe, who blogs at Atelier Nostalgia. (And how fitting, that we were just communicating about how wonderful it is to connect with people who love historical clothes from around the world!) The commission was from the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA-MA).
The NSCDA-MA owns the beautiful William Hickling Prescott House in Boston, which was built in 1808 and upgraded throughout the 19th century. The NSCDA-MA website (linked above) shares many more details about the various owners of the house and its architecture. In addition to the house itself, the NSCDA-MA also holds a wonderful collection of historical clothing, some items of which have been used for display purposes throughout the house (though most of the garments are in storage and only available for research visits by appointment). Unfortunately, historical garments are often not suited to permanent display as they can be made of delicate fabrics that can be damaged by light, dust, and gravity, just to name a few possible problems. The NSCDA-MA was looking for custom made historical dresses to display instead of the extant historic garments and I was very excited to work with them to make that goal a reality!
The commission involved two dresses: one from about 1810 and one from about 1845. The two dresses haven’t been mounted yet and aren’t available to visit due to ongoing closures, but I hope to eventually go see them in one of the glorious rooms of the house. For now we’ll have to make do with flat photos that were taken for my own archival purposes.
The c. 1810 dress was inspired by a few different dresses, including this c. 1810 cotton dress held by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The goal was to merge the inspiration dresses into one dress with a repeated pattern on cotton, an adjustable drawstring neck, and long sleeves. In order to support the silhouette and provide opacity I also made a bodiced petticoat to go with the dress. Below are front and back views.
Unlike the first dress, the c. 1845 dress was inspired by this specific c. 1848 silk dress held by The Met. The goal was to keep the details of The Met inspiration dress but make the new dress proportional to the measurements of the form that would be wearing it. The dress includes extra structure to help the bodice keep its shape even without a corset underneath. Below are a full length front view and a close up of the bodice.
I had lots of fun finding trimmings for this dress that recalled the original. In the case of the tassels, I combined sections of the fringe with tassel tops and vintage passementerie buttons in order to get the right look and create tassels. Below, a closeup of tassel parts and the final result.
The designs of each dress were settled on with much collaboration to determine fabrics, trimmings, style details, and more. Both patterns were individually created to fit the requirements and specifications for each dress. Both dresses use a mixture of machine sewing/modern methods on the interiors and hand finishing on the exteriors. This speeds up construction and provides the necessary foundation for the dresses even without a full set of supportive undergarments.
I love projects like this! It’s so wonderful to collaborate with others who appreciate the minute details of historical clothing while also making garments that can be used to help interpret history to the public. These sorts of projects are often initiated through word of mouth suggestions, so please reach out if you know of museums, historic sites, historical societies, etc. who are looking for this type of collaboration!
Long before winter had arrived, I had a vision for getting atmospheric winter woodland photos of my recently posted about 1884 Wool Plaid Dress and 1885 Wool Mantle. (The links are to previous posts about these garments that have tons of inspiration, patterning, construction, and finishing details–check them out if you want to see more details up close or learn about how these garments were made.) I was joined in my plans by a friend (who blogs at Plaid Petticoats) who also had a winter-y bustle dress that, like my ensemble, needed to be appropriately documented and photographed. In this post, I’d like to take you with us on our photographic ramble to show you some of the beautiful winter sights that didn’t make it into the detailed construction posts.
We began our adventure with photos at a local ruined estate called Bancroft’s Castle. We’ve walked up the long, steep hill to this location multiple times in modern clothes, but wanted to prove it was possible in corsets, bustles, and snow, as well as having the wonderful setting for some of our photos.
Bancroft’s Castle was built in the early 20th century but destroyed by fire within a few decades. Now, the only parts left standing are the stone walls and fireplaces. The site is open to the public and often quite crowded, but in the freezing temperatures we had it pretty much to ourselves. I love this photo, which captures the ruined walls, open levels, and stark trees. Even the iron fence seems to suit the mood!
There are lots of other photos with Bancroft’s Castle as the background in my details posts about my dress and mantle, if you want to see more.
After taking advantage of the different sections of the castle, we moved on to a path along the nearby river .The path meanders across fields, up and down hills, along the river, through the woods… and more!
It was a beautiful, sunny, very cold day. There was relatively new snow that covered everything. Being just a few inches, it was not deep enough to be a hassle to walk through in a long skirt.
The open field trekking felt very much in the spirit of adventuring women of the late nineteenth century, though it was made slightly easier by the fact that we could follow existing tracks rather than having to blaze our own trail.
After crossing the fields, we arrived in the woods along the river. The bare trees made wonderful views for musing as they stood in the snow.
The river is large enough to not freeze over entirely, though the shallow edges were covered with ice. I appreciated the bands of interest provided in this view. Snow, bare shrubs, ice, wonderfully reflective water, grey trees, green pines, and very blue sky.
In particular, I was struck by these trees with their curved trunks artfully reflected in the river. The bursting silhouette of the trees is fun all on its own but even more pleasant to look at when joined by the reflection. It feels exuberant, despite the bare branches.
The wooded area was soon interrupted by a stand of pine trees. I could easily envision them being foreboding, in an Anne of Green Gables way, but they were also bathed in golden sunlight which brought a certain magic that was cheery and bright.
It was a great place to stop and take photos. I love the next one for the depth, but if you look carefully you can also see that both bustle ensembles made it into the shot, which amuses me.
A bit of post-production on the part of my Plaid Petticoats friend produced this Harry Potter patronus image. Her dress is Slytherin inspired!
After the stand of pine trees was a small creek that fed into the main river. We looked into going around it, but of course finding the end wasn’t really feasible and the other side had a river. So… It was over the creek time!
Other trekkers had laid logs and branches across the creek to create a makeshift bridge. With the help of the ‘bridge’ we made it across with no problems!
After that it was easy going along the river and then back through the woods and fields. Both of our dresses were none the worse for wear, though part of my hem facing had been pulled loose on a branch and then collected quite a bit of snow inside. Getting all the snow out was a bit challenging, but it was easy to resew the hem once the more difficult task was completed.
I had a great time tromping about in my dress–proving that climbing hills and scrambling down ravines and across creeks is completely do-able in a bustle!
I’m very excited to share the details of my (somewhat) new 1884 Plaid Wool Dress! It’s ‘somewhat new’ because I actually finished it 8 months ago, but at that point it was July and the temperature was absolutely not acceptable for wearing a wool dress for photos! Instead of putting the dress away, I kept it out, waiting for colder weather and the opportunity for a photo shoot. I was hoping for snow… and this winter, I got it!
This dress is entirely inspired by the dress on the right in the fashion plate below from La Mode Illustree. I love the relative simplicity of the overall design and the waterfall of folded fabric on the skirt. Unfortunately, I don’t have an official source of the fashion plate or the year it is from, though my best guess is 1884.
I thought the design would be a great use of the tan and plaid wools that have been in my stash since 2012 (wow… that’s longer than I remembered!). In addition to those, a small piece of plain purple wool had made its way into my stash over the last eight or nine years and when I started this dress in November 2017 I decided it would be a nice addition to the tan and plaid wools in the form of trim. While not an exact match to the purple in the plaid, I think it helps to perk up the plaid and bring out the non-tan tones (the green and purple).
I started the process of this dress with the skirt. I wanted the fabric to hang just like the fashion plate, so I decided to drape a custom pattern as opposed to starting with anything that already existed. The only exception to that (in the skirt) is a base of drab greyish-brown cotton. The base pieces were adapted from a Janet Arnold pattern.
I used the skirt base for the front and side areas, in order to have something for the wool layers to be attached to. In the back of the skirt there is nothing but the tan wool.
Here is a look at the inside of the finished skirt. You can see the tan waistband along the top and the drab cotton base with tacking stitches all over it. The tacking stitches are holding the plaid fabric in place–you can just see the plaid selvedge poking out on the right side.
The pleats in the plaid aren’t part of the original fashion plate, which instead has a draped apron-type front. I tried that, putting my plaid with a vertical grain and a tan apron over top, but I really hated how it looked in wool–too heavy and rather unattractive. I played with the fabrics until I settled on the bias plaid. I hinted at the draping in the fashion plate by adding tucks to the plaid to help it drape just slightly rather than just being flat. You can see the resulting folds pretty clearly in the next photo.
The various overlapping pleats of the plaid front, waterfall side, and back were complicated. I was trying to achieve a back that looked like this dress held by the Met, in addition to the various lovely folds shown in the fashion plate.
It’s easy to draw things, but sometimes they don’t really work in actual fabric… I found that with the waterfall, especially. There’s actually an added loop of fabric tucked between the folds that isn’t part of the side piece at all! It’s just a little fake bit to help create the look of the fashion plate. I couldn’t figure out any other way to do it!
Given these various challenges and lots of other things to keep me busy in life, this poor skirt sat in a half finished state on the dress form in my sewing room for at least a year. I couldn’t remove it without marking everything… and I couldn’t make up my mind about what I wanted! (I say poor skirt, but it was sort of poor me, as I definitely reached a point of wanting the dress to get put away!)
Eventually, I did make up my mind and remove the skirt, but the partially finished skirt still sat around for ages before I finished it. Part of marking the skirt also meant figuring out the facings of the waterfall bits, because the fully finished edges had to be set into the waistband. Mr. Q actually asked at one point after the skirt was off the dress form whether I had intended it as decoration in my sewing room because it was there for so long… Nope!
All the various pleats on the skirt wound up making for a rather thick layer of things to sew through for the waistband. Here’s what the side with the waterfall trim looks like on the inside. I count at least 9 layers of wool in one spot! Given that, I decided to cut the inner side of my waistband on the selvedge of the fabric and leave it hanging down into the skirt instead of turning the seam allowances up as you would normally do for a waistband.
Setting the hems on the skirt was another challenge, though this was due to the fact that I did it by myself. It involved dressing in my corset, bustle, petticoat, and skirt, twisting and contorting while putting pins in the hem to mark the floor, then standing to look in the mirror to see if they were even, then adjusting… many times!
I eventually had everything marked to my satisfaction and could move on with the sewing. All sections of the hem are finished with wide bias strips of the drab cotton, the goal being to make the hems durable and less likely to catch on twigs, etc. than if they had more textured wool exposed (and I can say, after romping about the woods in this dress, that the hems did an admirable job!).
After using the drab cotton for both my 1896 Bicycling Ensemble and to line my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown I was starting to run low for this project. I cut the skirt base pieces, cut the bodice lining pieces, and then used pieced scraps to make the wide bias to hem the skirt. As you can see in the above photo, some of my bias pieces were only 6″ or so in length. And in the photo below, you can see the only bit of wide bias that was leftover when I was finished!
The final skirt detail to share is a hidden patch pocket! The skirt opens on the side front, along one side of the plaid, and underneath that opening is a pocket, perfectly sized to fit a cell phone and keys. The pocket is oddly low, near the knees, but that is because I wanted to make sure that any bulk from items in the pocket would press in towards my legs and not make an unsightly bulge on the exterior of the dress.
The photo below shows the pocket, as well as some of the hooks and thread loops that allow the tan fabric to attach to the plaid wool.
In addition to this rather complicated skirt, there was also a bodice to be made! The bodice is actually pretty straightforward. The pattern is adapted from the one I used for my 1885 Frills and Furbelows summer dress which in turn was adapted from a Janet Arnold pattern.
The bodice is completely flat lined in the drab cotton. There is a ribbon waist tape to help keep the back of the bodice tight against the body and to keep the bodice from riding up while being worn.
The bottom and front/neck edges are finished with bias strips of the drab cotton. The seam allowances are unfinished. The bodice closes in front with hooks and loops.
There are two other details I want to discuss, as well. First, there are the bust pads! I came across these in this c. 1885 extant dress and decided I wanted to give them a try to see if I could get that really exaggerated bust to waist ratio in my inspiration fashion plate (here’s the link to it again).
Turns out… no. I did not achieve that bust to waist ratio… but I think that’s more a factor of my waist size than anything. (It’s not as small as it was 10 years ago…) To keep the proportions of the fashion plate I would drastically need to increase the bust size. Perhaps in another dress.
In the meantime, this dress tried out the bust pads. They are made from cotton scraps with shaped batting layers inside. Below you can see the steps to creating the pads. Once sewn, these were tacked inside the bodice to keep them in place.
The second detail still to discuss is the neck ruffle. I finished this dress shortly after completing my 1875 Reception Dress last summer and I had my antique fluting iron on the brain. After pondering the fashion plate neck and sleeve ruffles for awhile I decided to use my fluting iron to ruffle some cotton to use for my dress’s neckline and cuffs.
Attached to the neckline the trim looks like this. The waves are a little crushed where they are tacked down, but the folded edge maintains a nice wavy shape. I found that my cotton frayed more than I wanted it to, so I went back and whip stitched over the raw edge to keep it tidy.
I used the same cotton for small ruffles on each cuff, as well. Like the neck ruffle, these are hand sewn inside the finished sleeve openings.
You can see the finished effect of the ruffles in the next photo! Subtle, but adding a nice edge finish.
While the ruffles are sewn to the inside of the finished bodice, the purple bodice trim and plaid cuffs are sewn similarly but on the outside of the finished bodice. I didn’t want them to add bulk by turning all the way under into the bias edging, so they have the raw edges turned under and then they are hand sewn to the outside of the bodice.
I decided the purple trim around the neck wasn’t quite interesting enough and so I added a narrow fold of bias cut plaid to help transition between the two solid colors. This also helps the bodice to feel that it belongs with the skirt, so that the only plaid isn’t just on the skirt front and cuffs.
Both skirt and bodice are mostly assembled by machine with hand finishing, including trimming, hemming/facing, closures, etc.
I used about 8 yds of the different wools and drab cotton for the ensemble. These materials, plus notions etc., cost just under $30. This was definitely helped by the fact that most of the fabrics were purchased for just $3 per yard at the local discount fabric store!
The skirt is a bit heavy, being made of about six yards of wool and cotton, but it’s not unreasonable. And, it’s quite warm! I was perfectly warm in the approximately 20 degree Fahrenheit cold for all of these photos except for my nose, chest, and hands. Never fear, though, I was wearing the additional layers of my newly completed mantle and muff except for during these photos! (And there will be posts coming up about them as well, with lots more photos!) With all my layers the only part of me that was cold was my nose!
In the end, I’m more pleased with the overall dress than I expected to be! I was always excited about the skirt and the purple swoop of the upper bodice trim, but once I started making the dress in wool I was worried the bodice might be too plain and maybe even boring… but I like the fit and shaping very much (especially in the back!) and I think that helps balance out the relatively simple style. It makes sense for a wool dress to be well tailored but more simple in decoration and style than its silk counterparts.
Also, I’m very pleased that my idea from 2012, to use these fabrics for a bustle dress, has finally been achieved! I think there’s still a yard or so of tan wool in my stash, but I’ve sewn my way through a good 8 yards of it. That’s great stash busting!
Today’s post is going to share more details about and photos of my new 1834 yellow dress. If you missed my last post about this dress, it was a lengthy one sharing oodles of construction details and photos. You can read that past post here.
Here is a reminder image of the fully accessorized dress!
The biggest accessory is my newly completed 1831 bonnet. There is a recent (lengthy) post about the construction of that here, if you want to learn more about it.
Back to the dress itself. Let’s start off with the Historical Sew Monthly details. Challenge #9 is Sewing Secrets:
Hide something in your sewing, whether it is an almost invisible mend, a make-do or unexpected material, a secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).
In this dress, I have two secrets, both of which I mentioned in the dress construction details post. One is pockets in the skirt and the other is that the bodice of this dress is detachable.
First, the pockets. Yay! My pockets are made from the dress fabric. They are French seamed and set into the side front seams of the skirt. On the inside, they look like this.
On the outside, they look like this. They’re a secret because they camouflage so well that you really can’t see them at all unless I pull them open or my hand is disappearing inside!
Second, the bodice detaches. This is very unusual (and possibly unheard of) for the 1830s, though it becomes common practice by the 1850s and 1860s. This system allows me to attach the current bodice, which I’ve dated 1834, or a second bodice that I have in the works which is dated 1838. That opens a whole world of possibilities in terms of showing changing bodice and sleeve styles without needing to create an entire second dress!
A bit closer up, you can just barely make out a loop on the skirt waistband that connects to a hook at center front. There are hooks and loops all around the skirt and bodice waistbands to connect them together.
Now that we’ve seen the relevant dress features, let’s look at the other HSM facts:
Fabric/Materials: 7 ¼ yds of reproduction print cotton, 1 yd muslin, a scrap of canvas for the waistband of the bodice, and a scrap of flannel for the cartridge pleats.
Pattern: Adapted from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1, with adjustments for fit and style, as well as The Workwoman’s Guide.
Notions: 2 ½ yds narrow cotton yarn for cording, 2 ½ yds of narrow white lace, and about 23 hooks and loops.
How historically accurate is it?: 95%. The pattern, silhouette, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good, but there is machine sewing on the interior seams.
Hours to complete: 25.75 hours.
First worn: In early October, for an apple picking outing, picnic, and photos!
Total cost: Approximately $60.
In addition to the HSM details, I want to share some more photos as well. These photos were taken during an all day outing in October. There’s still a post coming that will share apple picking photos from the outing, but there were many good ones from our later in the day photo shoot as well.
These next photos were taken in a neat conservation area that has beautiful, varied scenery that includes a pond area, open fields, wooded paths, huge rhododendrons, a meandering river, and this lovely row of pine trees.
I enjoy the line of trees and the interesting perspective they provide. So here you go, a front and back view of this ensemble.
Farther along our walk through this beautiful area we stopped to take some artistic detail shots of the sleeves of this dress. First up, the mancheron on the shoulder of the dress. There’s some pretty good pattern matching to admire and it’s fun to see the gathers up close, too.
Here’s another view of the mancheron and sleeve puff, with the zig zag cuff trim in the background.
I can’t decide if I like that photo or this next one best! The next one is similar, but the focus of the photo is on the zig zag cuff trim instead of the mancheron.
The last detail photo shows the cuff trim in even greater detail, as well as my new belt buckle from Ensembles of the Past!
I purchased the ‘antique gold’ color. I love it! It’s substantial in weight, has precise and delicate details, and will probably outlast me in terms of durability. (This is just my opinion–I’m not paid to say these nice things!)
The last photos I have to show you are a bit of a teaser for the apple picking photos that are still to come. We had the most gorgeous autumn New England day!
The sky was a brilliant blue. The temperature was wonderfully comfortable–neither hot nor cold. The leaves were changing and were starting to crown the trees in vibrant red, yellow, and orange.
And a fresh breeze lifted our spirits and our bonnet ribbons! I’ve so missed events and outings. This was much needed (socially distanced) relief for weary souls. I hope that you have also found relief and joy in these trying times!
Some of my recent posts have mentioned my excursion into sewing clothing from the 1830s. Most recently, in September, I posted about making a corded petticoat to help support a fashionable 1830s silhouette. I also shared a reminder about the fabric I’ve had in mind for an 1830s dress since I bought it seven years ago. It’s finally time to share the finished ensemble created with that fabric!
Today’s post is going to focus on the construction of this dress, but, never fear, upcoming posts will share more finished garment photos as well as construction details about the bonnet.
There is a lot of information about this dress to share and many photos of the process, so I hope you’re ready for a lengthy post!
As you probably guessed from the title of this post, this dress is from the year 1834. The trimming details and shape are directly inspired by the dress pictured below, which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The V & A Dress is dated to 1830-1834. From a style perspective, this makes sense as these are the years from this decade with the largest sleeves, but it is also around this point in the decade that sleeve fullness starts to slide down the arm. This look that is just beginning to show in the V & A dress, which achieves the falling look with the addition of the mancherons at the top. The mancherons both practically and visually push the fullness of the sleeve off the shoulder.
What is a mancheron? The Oxford English Dictionary has the following entry):
mancheron, n. 1.French Heraldry. A sleeve used as a charge. Obsolete. 2. A piece of trimming on the upper part of a sleeve on a woman’s dress. Now historical.
The pattern for this bodice is based on patterns contained in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes. I was able to start with my basic darted 1860s bodice and adapt it for the 1830s using information about grain line, dart placement, etc. from the books. This worked well because I know the basic darted bodice fits in areas that can be fussy to fit such as neckline, armhole, etc. and those things (in the 1860s) are still very similar to the shapes from the 1830s.
The sleeve pattern is from Plate 12 (page 84) in The Workwoman’s Guide (published in 1838), which can be viewed on Google Books here. I used the big circle sleeve (Figure 8–shown made up in Figure 7) and varied the top shape so that it forms a downward V shape to allow for my mancherons, which are patterned based on the V & A inspiration dress.
The ladies at American Duchess created a very helpful video discussing sleeve shapes from the 1830s, including showing mockups of a few different sleeve patterns from The Workwoman’s Guide. It is wonderful for seeing how the flat patterns turn into 3D shapes, which I found to be very helpful as I dithered about sleeve patterns.. You can view the video here. Lauren also has a blog post talking about 1830s sleeves, which shows the pattern I chose to use in various stages of its construction, from being flat to being made-up.
The skirt is based on information from the same books as the bodice pattern. It is made of 3 panels of my 45″ wide cotton fabric.
Construction Method Disclaimer
I chose to construct this dress in the mid-19th century way of separate bodice and skirt. This is odd for the 1830s (in fact, I can’t think of any examples that are done this way) as they are usually sewn together to make a one piece dress. However, as I was pondering sleeve options and considering my yardage I was faced with an exciting prospect.
There are so many sleeve variations in the 1830s–super poof, takes-a-while-to-get-used-to-looking-at elbow poof, meticulous pleated details as the poofs are reduced and contained… I wanted to make more than one! Also, I had 10 yards of my beautiful reproduction cotton and I expected my 1834 dress to only use about 7. What would I do with the last 3 yards? That’s not enough to make another dress. But… it is enough to make another bodice, even with giant 1830s sleeves that use a full yard for each arm!
I decided to make one skirt with two bodices, so in addition to this 1834 dress I also have an 1838 bodice halfway completed. It is a variation on a theme, using mostly the same bodice pieces, but with a different front style and different sleeves. More on that in the future, but for the purposes of this post it is an explanation for the fact that the skirt of my 1830s dress hooks to the bodice in a way that is common in the mid-19th century, as you can see below. (The loops on the skirt waistband blend really well with the pattern on the fabric, but you can see them if you look really carefully.)
As I mentioned earlier, my skirt is made up of 3 panels of my 45″ wide cotton. They are carefully pattern matched to keep the scrolling consistent across the panels and to help hide the seam lines. They’re not perfect, but they are pretty darn close.
Two seams are on each side of center front and one is at center back. The two front seams have french seamed pockets set into them below the cartridge pleats. This is wonderfully helpful while wearing the dress! I made sure to make the pockets big enough to hold a phone, keys, etc.
The fullness of the skirt is cartridge pleated to the waistband. I find that this quantity of cotton is weeny looking when cartridge pleated to a waistband without a little help to create loft, so I sandwiched a single layer of cotton flannel into the pleats to help them have a little bit of puff. I just used scrap flannel from my stash for this–the fun dot print pictured below. This is the top of my skirt pressed and ready for pleating!
Here is the skirt in the process of being pleated. The top edge is left raw and folded over the flannel before I ran two rows of parallel stitches to form the pleats.
I absolutely eyeball my cartridge pleats! My stitches are vaguely even but I really don’t worry too much about that. I mark the quarter points of the skirt and waistband and then adjust the pleats to fit. No math for this process!
The waistband has a single layer of canvas inside (a scrap from a decorating project) to help stiffen it and provide stability for the cartridge pleats and closures. This is machine stitched to the cotton where it will not show.
The cotton is then wrapped around the canvas and whip stitched in place. I finished the waistband entirely before whip stitching the cartridge pleats in place.
There are other inspirational dresses on my Pinterest board for this project, as well. Many of them are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Those are excellent because you can really zoom in on the photos to look at details, but unfortunately they don’t often show interior views of the dresses.
The hardest part about this bodice was the pattern matching! It was mind boggling to keep the flowers growing upwards, match the wave, keep the dark pink flowers at corresponding places, and keep some parts on the bias and some on the straight.
For example, here is my first attempt at the front bodice, which is cut on the bias. It’s not awful… but it’s just not quite right, and that bothers my eyes.
I very carefully tried again…
And was able to get this, which I was much happier with!
And I was able to use the reject front piece to cut out a pocket piece (and later a bit of bias as well)… no waste here!
Here is the front piece after flatlining (the fronts, side backs, and backs of the bodice are all flat lined with muslin), stitching the darts, and putting cording down the center front seam.
Ah yes, the cording! There is 1/16″ cotton cording in most of the bodice seams (front, side back, shoulders, armholes, neckline, and to finish the cuffs). This detail is taken directly from extant 1830s dresses.
My cording is made up of bias scraps, some as small as about 4″ long, that are pieced together. The cording is machine stitched. I made it with even seam allowances for most of the seams, but thought ahead and offset the seam allowance for the neckline cording, to make it easier to turn it under and whip stitch later. The photo below shows the neckline cording (on the top) and regular seam cording (on the bottom).
Here are the side back pieces with the cording attached, before being sewn to the back pieces. As you can see, I carefully matched my pattern across these two pieces as well.
And here is one side back sewn to its corresponding back, with the cording in the seam. Even across these pieces my pattern matching is pretty good, especially at the bottom!
And the back! It also makes me very happy, but was a super mind boggle to figure out! I have a flap that overlaps past center back, covering a pleat on the other side that will anchor my loops. I found this detail on a number of 1830s dresses, including this 1835-1836 dress at The Met and this c. 1837 dress at The Met.
It doesn’t look like much until it’s lined up to be closed… and then it’s perfect!
The final step was to finish the bottom. I wanted to have a self fabric waistband on this bodice, as with the bodice at the V & A, so that I would have the option of wearing my dress with or without a belt, while still having the visual change of pattern in the fabric.
The outer waistband and inner muslin facing encase the bottom seam allowance of the bodice. They are machine stitched at the top, have graded seam allowances, and then the muslin is whip stitched along the bottom.
With the bodice mostly assembled, I moved on to the sleeves. These are not flat lined.
I upgraded my sleeve puffs for this ensemble by giving them ties to attach to the armsceye of the dress so I can control the height that they sit at. This is essential for getting the right shape poof with this sleeve style. Looking into a sleeve, here is one sleeve puff tied in place.
I edged my decorative mancheron and cuff zig zag with narrow lace before attaching them to my sleeve. The cuff zig zags are sewn on by hand, while the full tops of the sleeves are gathered and machine sewn to the mancherons (you can see a the seam allowance from this seam in the photo above).
After the trim was added to the cuffs, I sewed cording to the bottom edge and then a muslin facing to finish everything off. This allows me to have nicely finished edges for the sleeve openings, which extend up about 8″ and allow for the tight fit of the forearms.
Here’s what that looks like flipped up and ready to be slip stitched along the top edge. You can see my hand sewing from attaching the cuff zig zag.
So… I got this far and realized that my sleeve was too narrow (even though I’d had no trouble in my mockup!) and my hand wouldn’t fit through the opening! Even if I made the opening higher, the sleeve edges wouldn’t butt, but would have a gap!
It’s good to have extra fabric… Having extra allowed me to make the decision to cut off the old forearm pieces and piece on new ones (with careful pattern matching, of course!). This meant redoing the cuff trim and finishing, but I couldn’t find a better solution. The seam hides under the crazy big sleeves, so it’s really not noticeable at all (even if I hadn’t pattern matched the seam!).
Finally, after these various successes and challenges… the dress was done! Here are some more photos of it in its finished state.
This is the inside of the bodice with the skirt attached. You can see machine stitching, seam allowances mostly left unfinished (they really don’t fray at all), neck binding, closures, etc.
This closeup shows a shoulder seam, as well as the neckline and armhole finishing. The bias on the neck is turned under and whip stitched. The lace is sewn on top of that. The armhole seam allowances were trimmed and then roughly whip stitched to hold the layers together. You can also see a little square of the twill tape tie for the sleeve puff (it is sewn to the armsceye seam allowance below the shoulder seam).
Here is the finished cuff opening. Hidden under the zig zag are the hooks that correspond to the loops on the muslin facing.
This is the center back opening with all of the closures in place. Those hooks really do camouflage well on the brown scroll, don’t they? Doing the closures this way leaves lots of seam allowance at center back for me to make alterations in the future if I need to.
This photo shows the inside of the skirt and bodice. Specifically, you can see the raw edge of the top edge skirt seam allowance folded to the inside (the skirt is intentionally shorter in the front than in the back, which you can see in the varied top edge seam allowanced length), the french seam of the pocket, and the skirt opening, which is simply an opening in the back seam (no placket on this skirt, the fullness of the cartridge pleats easily hides the opening).
One last photo! This is the cartridge pleats and bodice waistband from the exterior. Cartridge pleats are always visually intriguing to me and I also love how the waistband of the bodice is perfectly cut to show off the scroll and flower pattern.
After so many construction photos, here is a reminder of what the completed dress looks like from the exterior. I’m looking forward to sharing more photos in future posts!
Thanks for sticking with me through this very long post!
Since this photo was taken my shape has changed, making the dress a garment that could no longer be worn.
I’ve also never worn this dress all that much. It’s easy to draw a seam along the bust, but hard to pattern it so that the stripes are straight and it actually follows a curved body comfortably. It was ok, but not the most comfortable dress I’ve ever made. And it was a lot of purple.
I have limited fabric leftovers from this dress–certainly not enough to make a whole new front bodice, which is what would be necessary– and not being completely sold on the idea of the dress as a whole, I decided to turn it into a skirt! This eliminated the bodice problem and instantly cut down on the quantity of purple in one seam-ripping swoop.
I started by removing the bodice and taking out the zipper where it crossed the waistband, as well as down into the skirt just past the seam that connects the waistband to the top of the skirt, as you can see below.
My waist is larger now than it was when I made the dress, but I was saved by the fact that the waist of the skirt had been a few inches too big when I originally made the dress. Whew!
At the time I made the dress, I’d solved the problem of the skirt being too big by adding tucks on the back. This kept me from needing to alter the side seams, which I didn’t want to do because I’d matched the stripes perfectly.
To alter the dress now, all I had to do was take out the tucks and the waist fit! (I’m reminded that I had a similar problem/good fortune while letting out the waist of my 1904 Anne of Green Gables skirt–I mentioned it in this past post. Interesting that they’re both inspired by Annes!)
Luckily, I had enough extra waistband length to accomodate letting out the tucks. It was a little annoying to do, because I had to take the waistband off entirely to reset it with the extra across the back and I had serged the skirt and waistband seam allowances together. It was a bit of extra seam ripping, but that was better than trying to piece the waistband and match the stripes.
The next step was adding a waistband facing. I used a scrap of white striped cotton for the facing. It is machine sewn on the top edge, understitched (to keep the facing from rolling out and being seen), and then hand whip stitched on the inside.
Here’s a closeup view of the waistband. I shorted the zipper so it stops below the waistband, but I did not re-sew the whole zipper length–I still didn’t want to mess up the stripe matching on the side seam!
The final step was a hook and bar to close the waistband.
Ta da! The dress is now a skirt.
I’m not completely sold on the skirt. I like it, but I don’t know if I love it.
And I still feel it’s a lot of purple.
I thought it would go with more tops in my wardrobe, but it doesn’t really. I like it with white. I think it would look nice with yellow, but the yellow top I had in mind is horizontally striped and that just seems like too much with a vertically striped purple skirt!
I think I need to try wearing it for awhile and see how I like it. I haven’t really had a chance to wear it this summer given that I haven’t been going out, or wearing real clothes (as opposed to comfy clothes) very much. So a judgement about whether I like the dress-turned-skirt is on hold. That being said, I’m still excited that at least the garment is wearable now, whereas when it was a dress it was not.
I was recently inspired to finish off not just one, but two UFO ‘this doesn’t fit anymore’ projects that fall into the closet shrinkage category. I’ve decided to post about them separately, since I have a number of photos for each, so today we’ll look at my 1953 Dot Dress and next time we’ll look at my 1940s Inspired Anne Adams Dress.
I loved (and still do) the lightweight fabric, the fun dot print, and the pink, purple, and and rust colors of the dots. I wore this dress for the next few years–to a few historical/vintage events as well as in my everyday life.
This next photo is from 2016–the last time I could squeeze into the dress and actually close the zipper.
After that, I had to accept that the dress no longer fit. My shape had changed and it just wasn’t feasible. I was sad!
Fast forward to 2019, and I had the courage to decide to remake the dress, somehow, to make it fit. I got started by cutting straight down the front, stopping just short of the waistband, to see how much I needed to adapt the bodice…
It was rather a lot! I ran out of inspiration… and let the dress hang in my closet until recently.
I had thought I would just be able to add a piece to the front, somehow, and that would be enough. But when I started really looking at things again, I realized that the dress needed more than that to really do it justice. The side darts needed to be let out, the underarms need to be raised and filled in, the waist was still very tight, and there was the bust issue.
Oh, and I had minimal scraps for these alterations, partly because I’d used some of the larger ones to make ice skate soakers in 2015. (I’m not saying I shouldn’t have used my scraps to make a second project that brings me joy, but… the alterations would have been easier if I’d had wider scraps to work with!)
The front needed to have more more space created, about 3″ worth, but I had no scraps both wide enough and long enough to make a straight panel without seams. So I decided to get creative with a straight panel, adding tucks to it so I could hide seams within the tucks. I was inspired by the dotted dress Miss Hero Holliday wears in this wardrobe roundup post.
Here’s what my pieced piece looked like before pleating (lots of P’s!).
After a fair bit of complicated math (I’m pretty sure I made it more complicated than it needed to be), I was able to achieve a dress front that looks like this.
Essentially, I added princess seams. It was complicated to figure out, because I had cut straight down to figure out what was needed and I needed to add as much as 3″ at the bust while adding nothing at the waist, while actually adding in the panel that was 3″ wide from top to bottom. That means that I basically created a curve on the old center front line that was filled in with the straight pleated panel.
While being worn, it looks like this.
On the inside, I carefully bound all the raw edges in pink hug snug, just as I had when I first made the dress. However, I realized when trying on the altered dress that the pleats just opened up instead of staying put.
This seems like it should have been an obvious problem from the beginning, but my brain missed it until I tried on the dress with the pleats in place.
So I had to figure out how to hold the pleats in place. The middle ones are held by the bits of grosgrain ribbon, while the side ones are invisibly tacked in place under the fold.
In addition to the front pleated panel, I also let out the side darts, which helped to create bust space and also raised the armhole a little bit as well. When I put the bias binding back on after doing all the other alterations I maxed out my meager seam allowance, which also raised the armhole up a bit.
You can just barely see my old stitch line on the side dart (on the top left side of the photo below). (You can compare this updated inside view to the original inside view in this post showing the original construction.)
And as you can see in both the photo above and the one below, I added a piece at the side seam, both above the waistband and in the waistband. There’s also a little crescent of added fabric on the back armhole (on the right sides of these photos), that fills in the raised underarm area.
I was very careful to re-finish the insides of the dress as nicely as I had the first time. That includes binding all the raw edges in hug snug (sometimes piecing in little pieces to do so) as well as adding pieces of bias to finish the new, wider neckline.
I decided to put in the zipper by hand this time around, as my first attempt on this dress with a machine sewn lapped zipper was a bit clunky where it went over the waistband.
All of these steps definitely added a bit of time to the alterations, but it makes me happy to still have lovely finished insides even after altering the dress.
The underarm area looks like this on the outside now. The busy print really helps to hide all my piecing seams! You can just make out some old stitch lines (like the one to the left of the zipper), but they’re not noticeable when the dress is being worn, thankfully.
I’m so pleased that I can wear this dress again! It actually fits better now than it did the first time, imagine that!
I wouldn’t have been able to make these alterations happen if I hadn’t kept my scraps!
I’m so grateful to all those seamstresses from the past few hundred years who have shown me that piecing is ok and making do/repairing/altering to keep getting wear out of clothes is ok, too! It’s a wonderful benefit of making my own clothes and knowing how to sew.
Yay! This project is complete and photographed! I’m so excited to be able to share more finished project photos with you.
This is my 1875 Reception Dress. I’ve been documenting its construction over the last few blog posts and have been documenting the construction of the undergarments and accessories to accompany it since early this year.
To recap, if you would like to learn more about the individual parts of the ensemble you might want to visit the following links to past posts:
This dress qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #10: Get Crafty.
Make use of your own skills or learn a new one to make something from scratch rather than buy material. The possibilities for learning and applying new skills and techniques are endless. Lace, pleated self-fabric trim, knotted fly trim, embroidery, dyeing, knitting your own corset laces, hand painting your own fabric
Since this dress qualifies for the HSM, here are the facts:
Fabric/Materials: 7 yds pink silk taffeta, 2 ⅜ yds green silk taffeta, 1 yd yellow polyester organza, 3 ½ yds pink polyester organza, 5 ½ yds muslin, 15 ¼ yds ivory lace, 8 ½ yds black rayon soutache, scraps of old green cotton bedding, a bit of polyester batting, and scraps of white cotton.
Pattern: Many of the pieces came from Patterns of Fashion 2, though they were tweaked for fit and style. Other pieces were draped to imitate the inspiration fashion plate.
Notions: 2 yds 1″ grosgrain ribbon, ¾ yd ⅜” petersham ribbon, 1 yd ½” twill tape, ¾ yd ⅝” twill tape, 1 ¼ yd ⅝” bone casing, 4 18″ long ⅜” wide plastic zip ties, regular as well as skirt hooks and bars, 8 plastic buttons, and 1 Canadian quarter.
How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Pretty good in terms of silhouette, construction methods, and materials; however, there are a few modern materials mixed in.
Hours to complete: 80.5 hours.
First worn: In May, for photos!
Total cost: $138.46.
Here are a few more photos. Every time I look at a new angle or view of the dress my eyes are drawn to different details–perhaps you will notice new details, too.
I’m very glad to be finished with this large project, while also being bummed that the event that I was planning to wear it to was cancelled. That just means I need to find a reason in the future to wear the dress, I guess. I’m not sure what that will be, but I’m hoping for a fabulous historical house or museum, or something else suitably grand and indoors, as that seems to be the appropriate setting for a reception dress.