1875 Reception Dress: Skirt Construction

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

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

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

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

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

So where was I with the skirt construction?

Base Layers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waistband & Closures

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

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

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

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

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

Flat Lining & Apron Folds

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

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

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

Secret Pocket

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

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

Hems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trimmings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1875 Hair & Finished Hat (HSM #7)

Last post, I shared details about the style I decided on for the hat to accompany my 1875 reception dress, as well as how I made the hat.

Today, we get to see the finished hat being worn and take a look at the hairstyle I created to support the it!

This hat qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #7: No-Buy! I was pleased that I had everything I needed for this hat on hand and it was a bonus that I was even able to use scraps in a lot of places!

Make something without buying anything.  Whether it’s finishing off a UFO, using up scraps of fabric from earlier challenges in the year, sewing entirely from stash, or finding the perfect project for those small balls of yarn, this is your opportunity to get creative without acquiring more stuff.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  Scraps of buckram, scraps of cotton flannel, scraps of pink, green, and ivory silk, 2 green-ish/brown ostrich feathers, 9 vintage silk millinery flowers, and a bit of cotton velvet.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: Millinery wire and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 85%. It’s pretty good on shape, materials, and methods, I believe, and it would be recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: 10 ¾ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so I count it as free; however, not counting fabric scraps I think I spent about $12 on the other materials at some point in the past.

Hairstyle Possibilities

When I was deciding on the style of hat I would be making, I also had to consider what my hairstyle might be, as the two support and complement each other. The post showing how I made this hat also shows a variety of hat styles popular at this time.

Along those same lines, let’s look at possible hairstyles from the years around 1875. Hairstyles changed throughout the 1870s, sometimes in subtle ways… and sometimes in not subtle ways! Here is not subtle for you.

Guy Little Theatrical Photograph, V & A, S.145:535-2007

I love this look (though I can see why you might chose to have a differing opinion), with ginormous braids and twists that use much more hair than most people naturally have on their heads. However, this style (with all of the additional hair at the back of the head) does not coordinate with the type of hat I chose–one that would sit on the back of my head, creating a crown effect.

Looking at the years right around 1875 (the year of my reception dress), I found hairstyles with lots of curls and twists hanging down. 1875 is the part of the decade when the fashionable silhouette of dresses changes from the very round styles of 1870-1874 (like this, for example, from 1870) to the styles from 1875-1877 that have fabric starting to slide down the backs of skirts (like this, for example, from 1875).

As if in sympathy with the dresses, I notice that hairstyles start to slide down, too. It is these years when I see curls and twists hanging down the back, while the top parts of the hair are still sculptural, decorative, and large. Here is another example showing both the cascading fabric and the sympathetic hanging curls.

La Mode Artistique, 1875, via Yesterday’s Thimble

Interestingly, there are lots of advertisements for hair pieces to help achieve these styles–for ready-made curls, twists, braids… we know that women were not achieving this with only their own hair!

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, May 1875, via Hats From History

Another hairstyle option is much more subdued and most popular starting in 1878. This is the Natural Form period, when skirts are quite narrow by comparison with earlier years (like this, for example, from 1880). In keeping with the streamlined silhouette, the hair is now generally swept up, but with much less ornamentation and volume than we see in the previous years. Here is an example. No hanging curls or twists and no masses of faux hair.

1880, Le Journal des Modes, via the LAPL

Hairstyle Decision

I settled on the mid-century hairstyle of decorative bits hanging down the back with sculptural hair on the top of my head, to complement the hat. This style provided a solid base that helped visually and physically balance and anchor the hat. Indeed, without all the extra volume on top of my head the hat just looks out of place.

As you can see in the front view photo (above), I used a giant braid for the top/front of my style. There’s a whole blog post about how I created the braid here. Behind that, there is a bun form to help create volume on top of my head. This worked wonderfully for anchoring my hat pin, which you can just see poking out on the right side of the photo below–it’s tipped in a green glass leaf.

I attempted to create loops and swirls of hair around and below the bun, but I’m afraid that part of the style wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for. It’s difficult to do on the back of your own head and it’s hard to make the loops distinct, especially with my hair texture. I suspect it would be easier with smoother hair and definitely easier to do on someone else instead of yourself. I’ll have to try this style again some day. For this first attempt the back of my head was completely covered by my hat, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like!

Below the loopy/swoopy bit I left curls hanging down at a few different lengths, as I saw in many fashion plates. This part turned out well!

That’s it, really. Massive hair, some hanging curls, plop the trimmed hat on top, secure it with a hat pin, and suddenly my head is about double the size it normally is! Here is another photo showing the hat and a sneak peak at more of the dress. Lots of details are coming up about the dress in future posts!

Style Decisions & Making A 1875 Hat

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

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

Hat Style Possibilities

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

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

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

Journal des Demoiselles, 1877 via Guy RIVIERE

My Hat Choice

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

Making My Hat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there were the feathers that needed taming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, the facts:

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

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

Year: 1864.

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

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

Hours to complete: 57.

First worn: September 28, 2019.

Total cost: $112.78

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

1904 Anne Of Green Gables Inspired Ensemble

The Background Story

In 2012, I made and wore a c.1900 green skirt and straw hat at Newport Vintage Dance Week. I had plans to make a blouse as well with it but ran out of time and wore a 1913 blouse I already had instead. I wasn’t terribly pleased with the whole look, so I didn’t ever focus on it in a blog post, though I did include it in my overview of the dance week.

At Newport Vintage Dance Week in 2012.

Since then I’ve worn the skirt a few times, but haven’t been able to for the last few years because (and this shouldn’t be surprising given the subject of my last post) the waist was too small!

Thankfully, I had two things going for me that made changing the waist size quite simple. First, I had extra fabric. Second, when I’d originally made the skirt the waist circumference was a few inches too big for the waistband, so I took a tuck on each side of center back. Now all I had to do was let out the tucks and extend the waistband with my extra fabric!

Updated ensemble in 2017.

It took me years to finally get around to doing it, but I’m glad I did, because I really like this skirt and it’s fun to remember the lovely wading adventure we had back in 2012 while I was wearing it! What gave me the final push to do the change was the opportunity for an early summer picnic, for which I had clothes but really wanted to have something new. Who hasn’t experienced that desire?

More About The New/Updated Ensemble

Ducks (and baby ducks) at the picnic!

The picnic provided some lovely backgrounds to take documentation pictures of all the new and updated pieces that form my Anne-inspired ensemble! I ironed out all the wrinkles in the skirt ahead of time… and then sat on picnic blanket before taking pictures, so the back pictures have a rather wrinkly bum.

The Blouse Inspiration

In addition to wanting to update the skirt, I’ve also had that blouse to go with it on my to-do list for years. Instead of going back to the blouse plan from 2012, I started over with new inspiration. (Never fear, the unfinished blouse from 2012 is still in a box waiting for me to go back to it… someday.)

The new inspiration came directly from the scene in Anne of Green Gables when she’s walking down the lane with Gilbert and his horse (just before she gets mad and whacks him with her basket!). I’ve always love her silhouette and decided a blouse with a similar shape would suit the green skirt nicely.

Anne and Gilbert! (And the horse.)

I researched blouses from this period and decided on the year 1904 for my blouse. I was particularly inspired by this ivory c. 1905 blouse, this black c. 1905 blouse, and this blouse that The Met dates to 1899-1902. The idea to play with the direction of the stripes and to have curling lace trim (mimicking embroidery) was taken directly from this page from The Ladies’ Home Journal for April 1904 that Lauren of Wearing History kindly shared on her blog. Other views of some of these blouses as well as other inspiration are gathered on my Pinterest board for this project, here.

The Blouse Construction

My blouse is made of an ivory cotton that is woven with narrow stripes. In the center front panel the stripes are horizontal, while on the rest of the blouse they are vertical. The blouse is trimmed with lace appliqués in the same pattern as the Ladies’ Home Journal blouse from 1904. Unfortunately, all of the subtle ivory on ivory details are hard to photograph.

The blouse is mostly machine sewn and uses French seams except at the armholes, which are left raw. It is finished by hand and closes up the front with concealed hooks and thread bars. There is a twill tape channel for a drawstring at the waist to help control the fullness and the pigeon front.

The silhouette was looking a little deflated for a 1904 pigeon breast look, so I tacked ruffles down the front seams to help fill out the blouse. It’s subtle-but-useful method and was easy since I already had the circular ruffles in my stash.

The Hat Inspiration

The most direct inspiration for my hat was this image from 1903. While I decided against feathers, the general trim placement as well as the poofs under the back of the brim are present in my hat.

There are more inspirational hats here, on my Pinterest board for this project.

The Hat Construction

The hat in the 2012 version of this ensemble was an admirable idea in theory, but not execution. (I was displeased enough that it was remade into my 1885 Flower Pot Hat in 2015.) However, I had another of the same straw base that I decided to remake for the new Anne ensemble.

In 2012, I had used the second straw base to make a Regency bonnet, another project I wasn’t entirely happy with (this is not the right type of straw to get a good bonnet shape). All that needed to be done was removing the trimmings from the hat and taking out the stitching holding the wire around the edge… and I had a straw hat blank ready to be remade into a new hat!

For a hat block, I used a shallow glass bowl covered in tin foil and plastic wrap. I wet the straw base in the bathtub, then used a paintbrush to cover the straw with a layer of my sizing (a bit of elmer’s glue dissolved in water–no formula, I just winged it). I set the hat out in the hot sun to let it dry, holding the edges down with spice jars to keep it from blowing away. (Can you tell I just wandered into my kitchen to see what I had that would work to help me with this hat?)

Reshaped straw hat base next to my improvised hat block.

I tidied up the edges of the hat with scissors, bound the edge of the straw with narrow strips of tulle to keep the straw from fraying, and then reshaped my wire and resewed it around the edge of the hat. I covered these edge treatments with a binding of ivory silk satin, trimmed the hat, and I was done!

The tulle was sewn with a straight stitch. The wire was then stitched with a zig zag.

Sundries

In order to achieve my desired pigeon breast silhouette of 1904, I needed some omph in the back in addition to the ruffles inside the blouse in the front. I tried wearing a small bum pad (about 10″ wide), but then my hips looked sunken by comparison. I determined I needed a new bum pad that would fill in both my hips and backside to help create the illusion I was aiming for.

I also made a new belt to go with this ensemble. I wanted something a little more V shaped in front and a little less dramatic in terms of color. I actually reused the lining from the previous iteration of my new hat to make a new belt. The two shades of green don’t quite match, but they also don’t offend, so I’m pleased.

Instead of a traditional Gibson Girl hair style, I tried a style more like this, with a center part and poofs on each side. It was a bit squashed by my hat, but I was quite pleased with it overall. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any perfect shots of just my hair style. I’ll have to try it again someday and get hair pictures.

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A Gown Worthy Of A Duchess

On the same January shopping trip that I unexpectedly found the blush sparkle fabric I made a 1920s dress out of I also unexpectedly found an excellent fabric for a new Regency evening dress. I hadn’t made one in awhile, but I had a Regency weekend coming up and I was wanting something new for the fancier ball (and of course nothing in my stash was inspiring me). In my wanderings around the store, I discovered an organza curtain sheer that brought to mind this particular fashion plate that has been on my ‘to-sew’ list for years.

1819 – Ackermann’s Repository Series 2 Vol 7 – March Issue

I’d been on the look-out for a sheer with black stripes but hadn’t found anything suitable. Once I found the curtain fabric, I debated whether to use it for a dress in this style or to hold out for the black stripe. As you’ll see, I decided to call this inspiration fulfilled by the gold striped fabric that I found. It’s polyester, but that means it was a good price. Occasionally, a polyester can be just the thing.

In addition to the Ackerman’s fashion plate, I also borrowed design ideas from two other striped evening gowns: this earlier Costume Parisien fashion plate from 1809 and this image of the Duchess d’Angoulême c. 1815. My dress is a conglomeration of these and the 1819 fashion plate. I borrowed the sheer overdress idea from 1819, the single row of scalloped trim from 1809, and the bias cut sleeves from 1815. I date my dress to 1817, as the fluffy nature of the organza pushes the silhouette towards 1820, but the single row of trim pulls it back from 1819 just a bit.

I have a full compliment of nicely finished underthings that are perfect for making the sheer dress opaque. It was never my intention to be a scandalous Regency lady with minimal underthings! In fact, to make the ensemble sufficiently opaque, I wore my chemise plus two petticoats under the sheer dress. Without the second petticoat it was clear where my chemise ended (at my knees, in case you’re curious), but I didn’t want to have the illusion of scandal with this, I really wanted opacity all the way down.

Like the new pelisse, the sheer dress provided another perfect opportunity to make further use of my Vernet petticoat, which has a lovely eyelet border at the hem. Here’s another view that shows off the lace on the petticoat.

It’s usual for me to meticulously finish the insides of my garments, but in the case of a sheer dress, that desire became a necessity. Accordingly, all of the inside seams are nicely finished with a mix of French, flat felled, and folding seam allowances to hide raw edges and whipping them together. I kept the finished seam allowances small, so that they wouldn’t detract from the stripes.

The bottoms of the sleeves and the front and back necklines are all adjustable with tiny drawstrings made from champagne colored embroidery floss. The goal was to have ties that would blend and not be noticeable through the sheer fabric.

The pattern for this dress was adapted from other Regency dresses I have made. I think I most closely referenced the patterns for my tree gown and square neck gown, but adjusted the fullness to give this dress a little more oomph.

This dress is machine sewn and hand finished. All of the French seaming was done on machine, as was the assembly of the bodice, waistband, and skirt to make a dress, but all of the other stitching (casings, hems, trim, finishing seam allowances in non-French ways, etc.) was done by hand.

The dress has a scalloped trim band around the bottom, set up high enough to show off the lace on the Vernet petticoat. It’s hand hemmed and it seems like miles… though I think it was only about 9 yards. Hemming, gathering, and attaching this was one of the last tasks and it was going right up until about 2am on the morning of the ball. By the time it was being sewn on there was no measuring or sectioning, just eyeballing, so it’s a little wavier than I would normally allow, but one has to make accommodations (sometimes). I was envisioning the scallops would be spaced out more and therefore be more defined, but as I was furiously sewing the trim on I was not about to cut it up and resew it, so all 9 yards made it onto the dress. It’s fine. I’m happy. I do not plan to re-do the fullness of the trim or the placement!

I decided that such a dress needed grand hair and hair ornamentation, and so I justified my desire to wear a tiara by scouring my Pinterest boards for documentation. The Duchess d’Angouleme sports a pretty grand tiara in 1818. And here she is in 1817 wearing what I think is the same tiara.This is Victoria, Duchess of Kent, sporting a fabulous tiara and giant hair poof/bun. Empress Josephine and Caroline Murat (Queen of Naples) have some pretty fabulous tiaras, too. To match the tiara, I accessorized with a pearl necklace and pearl earrings. Worthy of a duchess? I think so!

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1814 Orange Boven Pelisse

At least three years ago I was inspired by a fashion plate, as one often is, and started working on a Regency pelisse following the design in the image. I got really far along, finishing the construction and even part of the trimming, but then stalled and let the ensemble languish for years before determining to pick it up and finish it off this year or else! I’m excited to have finally reached a ‘done’ point in this project so I can remove it from the UFO list!

The pelisse (and hat) are directly inspired by the following fashion plate, which can be seen here with slightly different coloring and here in black and white. In the first of those two links, the garment is labeled as a dinner dress, but I thought the design would make excellent pelisse trimming and so I adapted it.

You’ll notice, perhaps, that the finished pelisse does not have as much trim on it as the inspiration image. Early in this project, before it languished, I cut out all of the appliqués for the neck, sleeves, and hem as well as the front edges. I pressed under a 1/4″ on each side of each piece, too. And then, as I was finishing all that triangle trim on the front earlier this year, two things happened:

#1- I lost steam and really just needed to be done with this project.

#2- I decided I liked the simplicity of the pelisse without the extra trim. It’s so easy to draw lots of details, but then in a real garment the details don’t always translate. For example, the triangles around the neck just looked bad and awkward (plus, I wonder if that is a chemisette collar and not trim on the dress itself?) and the sleeves just looked too crowded. I was also afraid that putting all that work into triangles around the hem would just get dirty and not be a good use of many more yards of the vintage lace I used to edge the triangles.

In fact, despite the somewhat-simplified trim, there are actually a lot of details in the construction of the pelisse. Each back seam is piped and the belt has double piping above and below it. The neck is bound with piping, which is sewn with small, invisible stitches around the neck to hold the seam allowance to the inside. Also, the skirt is knife pleated into the back, allowing for a nice silhouette from all sides.

The pelisse is made entirely from peach colored cotton. It is unlined, except on the belt, where it is lined in order to hide the raw edges. The other seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. Here is an inside view of the bodice section. I do like my insides to be tidy!

The trim fabric is a cream colored poly/cotton blend. Each triangle is edged in very light tan vintage lace. Then, to top it all off, there are peach tassels on each triangle down the front as well. The peach tassels were removed from a length of upholstery trim that happened to be a perfect color match!

The pelisse is machine sewn on the interior seams and hand finished, including the hem, neckline, seam allowances, and all that trim. The darts are also sewn by hand with a small running stitch, a detail I picked up from looking at extant pelisses, though of course it’s been so many years now that I can’t find a specific example. I like how the top stitched darts at a little extra interest.

The pattern for this pelisse is of my own design. I’m pretty sure it was based on my 1819 spencer, but adapted slightly for a different fit. It’s hard to remember since it’s been so many years since I made the pattern! The skirt is a large rectangle–two panels of fabric seamed at center back.

I’m wearing the pelisse with the following garments: a chemise and my short stays, my Vernet petticoat , my recently finished chemisette, and the hat that matches the whole ensemble. I’m excited to have found a use for the Vernet petticoat that shows off the trim at the hem! I did take out the tucks that made it the right length for my Witzchoura so that it would be the right length for the pelisse, but that’s what tucks are for, right? On picture day there was a nice breeze blowing everything around and showing off all the layers nicely.

I was lucky to take these photos in and around some of the Regency period buildings in Salem, MA. You can’t beat buildings from the right period for a suitable backdrop for a garment like this!

Now I have my first pelisse. More outings will hopefully arise in the future so I can wear it again. I’m so glad I’ve decided it’s finished and that it was a comfortable garment to wear, though I maintain that the hat is a bit silly.

 

Vernet Project: A Witzchoura Tangent

I started this post soon after joining the Vernet Project, so I think it must have been in my drafts for close to two years at this point. I didn’t want to leave it in the drafts folder forever, though, so I thought I’d include it as I’m wrapping up my Vernet posts.

Throughout my research, I’ve looked through many hundreds of pins on my Pinterest boards from the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and have found only a handful of plates that show outerwear specifically labeled as witzchouras (these can be seen in this past post showing examples). There are a much larger number of other, similar, types of outerwear.

(If you’ve missed out, this post explores the origins and qualities of a witzchoura, while this past post explores witzchouras in even more depth, with multiple excepts from the first part of the 19th century mentioning them.)

Examples of garments similar to witzchouras

Common garments in this category are labeled using words such as pelisse and pardessus. Then there are also carriage dresses (example), promenade dresses (example), and redingotes (example) trimmed in fur, but it seems clear in the fashion plate descriptions that these garments were not considered witzchouras.

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Fashion plate showing a Pardessus from 1811.

Here is another similar garment, a Russian mantle, described in The Ladies Pocket Magazine in 1838 under the chapter English Fashions and Novelties: Remarks On The Prevailing London Fashions.

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Descriptions of garments similar to witzchouras

In 1849, La Belle Assembleé addresses this for us (while also mentioning yet another type of outer wear, a burnous. The Dreamstress defines and explores this garment specifically as it relates to historical fashion, which is excellent and full of images!). The author of this reflection of fashion specifically mentions the weight of a witzchoura and how that compares to the weight of a pardessus, as well as the types of outings that these garments would have been worn for. Interesting that they would be worn for carriage dress, when, alternatively, one could also wear a ‘carriage dress’.

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This next excerpt, from La Belle Assembleé in 1825, tells us one distinctive quality of a pelisse which is that the arms were not encased in the garment and could be freely moved about.

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Example of a Pelisse from 1815, showing the armholes that would allow movement.
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A slightly later example of a Pelisse in a similar style. This is from 1821.

Examples of out of the ordinary witzchouras

Then there are garments labeled as witzchouras, but which are odd in a variety of ways. For example, take a look at the interesting witzchoura mentioned in The Lady’s Monthly Museum in 1817, seen below.

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I’m not really sure what qualities allow a witzchorua to keep one’s dress from being rumpled, but what strikes me as odd is that the witzchoura mention is lined with silk and that is has a chapeau bras attached! Also in 1817, La Belle Assembleé mentions this exact garment twice! The first is a description of the garment. The second is about the inventor, Mrs. Bell, who, if you care to read more, has a long list of other interesting things that she supplies.

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In this next case, the witzchoura is described as being lined with sarsnet (a fine plain or sometimes twill weave usually silk fabric) and only trimmed with fur rather than being lined entirely with fur. Haven’t we seen conclusively that a witzchoura should be lined and trimmed in fur? This witzchoura is also interesting because of its colors. It is quite likely a garment made for the general mourning of the death of Queen Charlotte, who passed away in November 1818.

“For out-door costume nothing can be reckoned more completely elegant than the Witchoura pelisse of black velvet lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with real ermine.”

La Belle Assembleé  in January 1818

Finally, there is this fashion plate at the LACMA which is labeled as being a witzchoura but with nothing witzchoura-like about it! A mistake perhaps? This looks like a summer garment, not a heavy winter garment.

What a rabbit hole of obscure information the witzchoura is. I’m rather glad to say that I’ve now exhausted my currnet list of historical references to the witzchoura!

Vernet Project: Photo Shoot!

I thought I’d start the new year off with photos from my Vernet Ensemble photo shoot. (I’ll be doing separate posts with details about the construction of the ensemble as the year progresses.) I’m so incredibly pleased with my ensemble and with the quality of the pictures. I often have lovely pictures after events and when documenting sewing projects, but these are extra special in terms of the sharpness of the images, the clear colors, and the fun use of a historical lens.

Hopefully, you were following along with the release of finished ensembles in December, but in case you missed mine or haven’t figured out yet which fashion plate I was recreating, here it is.

Plate No. 20 “Toque de Velours. Witz-choura de Satin.”

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Below is the “official release” picture. I did my best to mimic the pose of the fashion plate, but it was really hard to wrap my brain around the left and right of things in my own pose relative to the fashion plate. Left was right and right was left, and in the end we did the best we could and called it done. I think we actually did it right, it’s just that I’m facing the camera at a different angle. It still boggles my brain to try and figure it out!

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Unfortunately, there was no snow in November when we took these pictures and so I didn’t get ice skaters falling over behind me (also, I would have had to find ice skaters)… but I did get unfrozen water, and you’ll just have to imagine the ice and the skaters!

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These last few pictures with the blurred background were taken using a reproduction 19th century Petzval lens. You can read more about the lens and how it causes this effect here, at my photographer’s blog. 

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I am so incredibly blessed that to have a friend that joyfully enjoys practicing her photography skills with her nice digital camera (with fancy and historical lenses, to boot!) by taking pictures of my endeavors, amongst other things. She happily came over one afternoon in November just to accompany me for the photo shoot and take these absolutely gorgeous pictures. Thank you!!!

Vernet Project: Check Out The Finished Ensembles!

Photos of each recreation of one of Vernet’s Merveilleuses and Incroyables fashion plates start to be released tomorrow (December 8) on the group Facebook page! One fashion plate per day will be shared right next to a photo of the recreation, right up through the 31st of December (my plate will be on the 21st). Check it out! It will be a fun way to end 2015!

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I’ve seen some of the finished ensembles ahead of time, and let me just reiterate how wonderful, weird, and wacky they are! Further posts with more images and specifics about construction, etc. will be released by participants in 2016, so don’t forget to check back to see updates on the ensembles that most capture your fancy.

(You can see all my posts from this past year relating to this project here, and I’ll be sharing more in 2016!)