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.
This is a rather long post, so I hope you’re ready to settle in and take a close look!
Skirts from this period are often confections crafted from fabrics and trims–and this one is no different. The inspiration came from a fashion plate from L’Elegance Parisienne (June 1875) that is held by the LAPL.
I think I stayed pretty true to the fashion plate for this portion of the project. Slight changes include leaving off the black trim around the bottom apron edge and at the top of the green fluted bands of trim on the skirt base, as well as choosing to stitch one row of soutache in most places instead of two.
(Also …huh… You know what? I just realized, as I am comparing the photo above to the fashion plate, that I sewed the top green bands of trim on upside down. They are supposed to have the black trim at the bottom. Oops! I know I patterned them to follow the fashion plate. Well… they’re probably not changing now.)
So where was I with the skirt construction?
The base of the skirt is cotton muslin, with the bottom front portion covered by silk, as you can see in the photo below. This drastically saves the amount of expensive fabric used and provides a stable base for the following layers.
I started with a pattern I’ve used for my other bustle dresses for the front skirt panels (I think at some point it came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, but I’ve tweaked it since then). It is closer in shape to 1880 than 1870, but I think it works for this particular 1875 dress, since so much of the back fullness is contained in the waterfall of silk underneath the bows and ruffled trim.
The back panel was draped as opposed to flat patterned. I started as double width of muslin with no shaping, but as I tried to figure out how to pleat or gather the top into the waist I realized I should add some shaping along the center back seam. I think I took out about 16″ at the top, tapering to nothing at the hem.
This next photo shows my silk panels on top of the base as I tried to figure out what they were doing. Since this was an entirely draped process it’s not likely to ever be repeated in exactly the same way. I have notes documenting what I was up to, but no actual pattern.
It was important to me to achieve both the gathered look at the top of the skirt and the wonderfully waterfall-ing pleats at the bottom, just as you see in the fashion plate. It turns out that was easier said than done–one of those things that’s easy to draw but not thought out in terms of actually being made up.
After getting a little farther with the back of the skirt, I moved on to the apron. Here, we have a (very wrinkly) old sheet being draped to create the apron pattern. My apron is not quite as long as the one in the fashion plate because I had limited silk fabric to work with.
Waistband & Closures
Many dresses from this period have the skirt base on one waistband and the apron and/or back draping layer on a second waistband. Essentially they are two separate skirts. I decided that I didn’t want to have to arrange the layers separately so I put them all on one waistband. This is a little bulky at the back, where both the muslin base layer and silk drape are gathered, but that’s all hidden by the point on the back of the bodice. The other thing (I realized later) is that this decision made the closures extra complicated. Let’s start there.
First, the muslin base edges hook together at the waistband (that hook is done up in the photo below). The apron layer then hooks onto the loops on the muslin layer (this layer is open in the photo below so you can see the hooks and loops).
After that, the skirt drape hooks forward, covering the muslin layer completely (this is not done up in the photo below). This completely hides all of the previous closures. To help keep this layer of closures invisible, the hooks attach to thread bars instead of metal loops. You can make them out below if you take a close look.
Pretty neat! It took a waistband extend-o to make it work, and a few brain somersaults, but we got there in the end.
In order to be sturdy enough to attach all of the skirt layers, the waistband is flat lined with muslin and also encases a grosgrain ribbon. That adds a bit of bulk, but it also creates a very sturdy finished product and, again, you can’t see the bulk under the bodice.
Flat Lining & Apron Folds
In the photo above, you might have noticed the rather bold pink organza showing on the back drape panel. That’s just a small portion of what’s actually back there–the entirety of the back panels are flat lined with this pink polyester organza. Polyester organza is not what they would have used in 1875. But other stiff, lightweight fabrics such as silk organza or cotton organdy would have been used to help the silk maintain pouf. I chose the pink because I had the perfect amount in my stash (and both it and the dress are shades of pink, so… it’s not that far off?).
Similarly, I used up some light yellow polyester organza from my stash to flat line the apron. The color was harmonious with the silk and again, I had the perfect amount sitting around, so I think it was meant to be. The polyester organza is springy enough that it keeps the silk from creating tight creases, which helps to maintain the apron folds and the back drape pouf. It’s really quite magical! Both the pink and yellow organzas were left over from old projects and I was happy to be able to use them up. You can see the yellow organza at the top of the next photo.
The next photo is also showing you the quarter bag that is hidden under the apron. You see, I wanted to make sure that all of those folds I took the time to drape for the apron would stay in place and not need to be fussed with to lay nicely with each wearing. My solution was to run a length of twill tape down from the waistband to just above the hem of the apron. The silk is tacked to the twill tape to help keep the folds just so, and the bottom of the twill tape has this small pocket of silk, containing a Canadian quarter (perfect, because I’m not in Canada so it’s not very useful as currency) to help weight it and keep the folds from springing up.
Next, I want to share a hidden detail I added to this skirt. A pocket! This is stitched into the muslin base layer at the left side opening. It’s only accessible when the skirt is partially or completely unhooked, but that makes it a perfect place to stash a phone, keys, etc. if I wear this and don’t want to carry a purse or bag.
I made the size quite generous and placed the pocket low enough that anything in it hides under the skirt without adding a bulge.
There are multiple hems and hem finishing methods used in this skirt. The next photo shows most of the layers of the skirt and their varying hem methods.
Top in this photo is the front base layer of the skirt (that’s the pink with green trim). The pink silk is hemmed with bias strips of muslin that are machine sewn, pressed to the inside, and then hand stitched to the muslin base. This creates an invisible finish. (The apron, though not pictured here, is finished in the same manner, with the bias facing hand stitched to the yellow organza flat lining.)
The middle layer in this photo is the back skirt base. This muslin layer is also finished with bias strips of muslin, but in this case I’ve sewn the bias up by machine since it is always covered by the back drape and will not be seen. I amused myself by using a small stitch length to mimic the machine stitching I’ve seen on extant late 19th century clothing as well as the same bronze thread that I used on the silk.
The bottom hem layer you can see is pretty fabulous and the most involved to make in terms of research and sewing.
The back drape hem is finished with a muslin facing that ranges from about 12″ high at the sides to 20″ high at center back. This completely covers the portion of the train that drags on the ground, effectively keeping dirt off of the silk and organza layers. After piecing the muslin, but before attaching it to the skirt, I machine sewed the three rows of lace to the facing. I didn’t bother gathering, inside I just eyeballed tucks in the lace as I went along to create fullness.
I’ve had fun reading a series of blog posts by Natalie at A Frolic Through Time about creating an 1895 ensemble and her research about the support structures and methods that help maintain the fashionable silhouette. Along the way there have been mentions of the balayeuse! I’m going to include them here, because I am intrigued by them, even though their time period is a little later than this 1875 dress.
In addition to being pretty, trailing white garments on the ground show off that you have the resources to keep the garments clean and also that you have the resources to pay for the extra materials to make them. More practically speaking, the lace helps grip the balayeuse that is attached to my petticoat, which helps to keep the skirt folds in place even with movement. I found that moving forward, backward, sideways, and turning all caused no disruptions to the folds of my skirt while being worn.
The final step of making this dress was trimming! Lots of it!
Here is the fluted trim pinned in place on the skirt base.
After sewing the fluted trim on, it was time to consider the back trim–all those gathers and the massive bows.
The gathers are strips of silk, some shaped, that are hemmed by hand along one edge. Here are my six pieces of green silk: hemmed, gathered, and ready to go.
The non-hemmed edge was pressed under but not stitched: it was stitched down as I attached to the green cotton bands you can see in the photo below. These are made from old bedding (not the perfect color, but green, and you can’t see them, so I’m pleased to be able to re-use old fabric). The cotton bands are shaped and the ruffles sewn to them so that they can float on top of the gathered pink silk.
The gathering threads in the green panels were sewn my machine. After the green cotton bands were hand tacked in place, the gathering threads were covered by the black soutache trim, which was also hand sewn in place. This image shows this part of the process in progress.
The end result looks like this. It reminds me of heirloom lettuce. Not in terms of color (hopefully!) but in terms of the ruffle-y ness. The edges are all nicely finished, the gathers are covered by black soutache, and the whole thing is invisibly held in place.
Then there are the bows. I love these massive bows! Here’s a photo showing the wonderful acid green color of the silk. The bow pieces were cut out, hemmed, and assembled by hand. The bottom edges of the bow ends have the edges pressed under (but not hemmed) and finished with self fabric fringe.
Yes, self fabric fringe. I cut strips of the silk and spent a few hours watching Netflix and shredding the silk to remove the black threads, leaving only the green. Here’s my test piece.
On each fringed piece of silk I left a border of non-fringed fabric at the top. I used this to attach the fringe pieces to the pressed under edges of each bow end. It keeps the fringe looking organic and part of the fabric, without any stitches showing.
Here is one of the bows pinned in place. The bows are tacked at multiple points to keep them permanently in place.
And here is the skirt with all those layers of trim added on!
Whew! That was a long post. There are lots of details in this skirt. Next time, I have more finished ensemble photos for you as well as the HSM facts–quantity of materials used, time spent, etc. Thanks for sticking with me through the details of this construction post!
I’m a bit slow to post about it, but last December I again attended The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual holiday event: Fezziwig’s Ball. (You can check out posts about past years here.)
This year, I decided to wear my 1832 Burgundy Velvet Gown again, but I changed up my hairstyle slightly by adding a new element, since I was wearing a dress I’ve worn before. In addition to some new decorations, I also added a faux hair braid to make a giant swirly bun on the back part of my head. I wrote a blog post in January focusing on the hairstyle and my new faux hair braid that you can read here.
1830s hair is absurd and very fun. I enjoy the challenge of trying to style my own hair into these crazy styles. This year I had the faux braid and a few mesh supports under the front curls, but all the rest of the hair is my own. Those front curls are different each year… this year they have a sort of marching-in-a-line look that is interesting and different than in the past, but still documentable. Check out these curls from 1826 and these from 1829.
It’s fun to wear 1830s, as it’s a decade I don’t get to wear the clothes for as often as some others. The giant sleeves take a bit of getting used to but are entertaining in the end.
Looking festive with the addition of my Refreshing Apron, cranberry punch, hot apple cider, some real and faux fruit lurking near the punch bowls, and another 1830s-clad friend wearing a Refreshing-Apron-sibling.
1830s is more in fun (and maybe less ridiculous looking?) in groups. Here is a contingent of even more 1830s ladies from this holiday ball! It’s as though we sprouted from the column!
Do you ever have an older, well-liked garment that you’ve stopped wearing for some reason or other, but then decided to wear again and were very pleased that: 1) it still fit (though perhaps differently) and 2) brought you more joy to wear than you remembered? It’s a great feeling for both self-made and store bought items!
I had that experience back in January with my 1925 beaded evening gown. With a ‘made’ date in 2013, it’s one of the older 1920s dresses in my closet. It’s not that I didn’t continue to like the dress, it’s just that I’ve been choosing to wear newer dresses to 1920s evening events for the last few years.
My decision to wear it this year was encouraged by the fact that I wanted new photos. My current photos are mostly from this wearing in 2013 and while they’ve done the job for the last 7 years I feel that I’ve upped my photo game in that time.
To start, it was fun to style the dress with different accessories than in the past. The new photos have my silver American Duchess Seaburies (a better match for the colors and evening style of my dress than my American Duchess Astorias in 2013), a thrifted, jeweled bracelet, and sparkly, dramatic clip earrings gifted to me by a friend.
In addition to updated accessories and more confidence with my photo poses (that’s just from practice!), it was wonderful to have the fabulous lobby of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel as my background for these new photos.
The holiday decorations were still up and they are lovely, but even without them I think we can all agree this is a pretty snazzy lobby. I believe it is still true to its original design from the opening of the hotel in 1912, with 21′ high gilded coffered ceilings, Empire style crystal chandeliers, and Italian marble columns (according to Wikipedia).
In addition to the traditional tree decorations, the lobby also had this unusual and gorgeous flower display with a nod towards traditional holiday colors in a more contemporary way.
Look at the green lilies!
It was a pretty fabulous background for updated photos of this dress. I’m so glad it still fits and continues to bring joy!
A few years ago, I made my 1817 Duchess Gown. I started out wearing it rather plainly (if wearing a tiara count as a plain ensemble…), but since then I’ve worn it multiple times and accessorized it different ways. I thought it would be fun to pull some of these wearings together in one place, to look at how accessories can change the look and feel of a dress.
First, a side by side comparison. Do you have a favorite amongst these?
The first year I made the dress I was furiously sewing the hem trim on the night before the ball, so I didn’t have too much time to think about accessories. I wanted the dress to be regal looking and so I decided on the tiara to wear with it, as well as a pearl necklace and earrings.
Fast forward to February 2019, when I’d worn the dress a few times and wanted to change it up with more color than just white and gold. For this wearing, I added a green sash as well as new sparkly jewelry from In The Long Run Designs.
You really can’t see the white sash much, but the purple accessories give the dress a different feel than the previous wearings, I think. (This might be a stronger statement with a purple sash. Hm… But I don’t have wide purple organza ribbon, as I did with the green and white. Maybe that’s something to keep my eyes open for!)
The neat thing is that this dress is also captured on video! At the Regency ball last February, The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers (CVD) did a performance of the type of advanced dancing taught at CVD’s Regency Weekend every April. Check out this blog post by another CVD member showing the Duchess Gown in action as well as great information about the dance we are performing, Paine’s First Set.
Are you ever able to wear the same outfit (modern, vintage, or historical) styled in different ways and with different accessories? I choose to do this with some of my modern clothes in addition to my historical ones and I can think of a few of you who are definitely subscribers to this idea, too!
So, um, I’m about to attend this year’s Christmas ball… but I didn’t ever get around to posting about last year’s ball! So very belated-y, but in the spirit of getting ready for the holidays, here is a quick look at last year’s Fezziwig’s Ball, hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.
Bedecked with garlands, the hall was ready for guests…
…while jingle bells waited for the arrival of eager carolers.
During this quiet lull, I was getting ready with other hosts.
Fully dressed, I was ready to show off my hair. Braids, curls, puffs… it wasn’t huge in terms of size but it had a lot of parts despite that.
I counted the number of bobby pins it took to create this style at the end of the night when I took my hair down (and even kept the information in an easy to find spot for the last 12 months…).
The final count: 63 bobby pins.
The usual crew, fully outfitted for the early 19th century.