Annabelle, adorned with flowers

Over the summer I built Annabelle, a white flounced 1860 ball gown, in order to have an alternative to my dark blue 1860 ball gown. My intention was to adorn Annabelle with flowers, as in my inspiration fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book (Annabelle is based off of the gown on the far right); however, I did not have time over the summer to add the flowers.

September 1860 "Dressed for a party" (Fitting title, don't you think?)

I decided to wear a be-flowered Annabelle to the Commonwealth Vintage Dancer’s German Cotillion last week. My original plan was to hand make the flowers from hand painted pink silk organza. I started on that endeavor, but the process was time consuming and so I have only made perhaps 100 flowers (first: cut 5 rounded point shapes, second: fray check the edge all around, third: gather the center of each flower). Each flower is about 1 1/2″ across. When I went to sew the flowers on the dress I realized two things that made me change my mind about using them: the flowers were too small for the scale of the dress and I would need so many more hundreds to make the look work. In the end I used purple millinery flowers, from the fantastic stash I mentioned in the post about my 1860 hair crescent, to adorn the dress. I actually really enjoy the purple flowers and the scale is far better for the overall look as well.

Annabelle with flowers!

I used matching flowers plus a few others in the pink family to create a wreath for my hair to match the dress.

Annabelle back
Matching hair wreath

If you would like to see what Annabelle looked like without the flowers, you can visit the following posts and see pictures: Of Flounces and Dance Cards: Part I and Ochre Court 1860s Ball 2011. And, to finish off this post, here are a few pictures of Annabelle in action at the German!

Playing dance games at the German Cotillion
Playing dance games at the German Cotillion

Pleated trimming on 1860s gowns

I absolutely love the use of pleating as a trim motif in the 19th century! I also admire the immense amount of time and fabric required to edge the dresses of the 1800s in pleated trim.

Take a look at the dress below and note the rolling wave pattern of the pleated trim on the skirt as well as the pleated trim on the sleeves. You can see that the trim is made of the same fabric as the dress, which was a technique often employed in the 19th century for the trimming of gowns.

c. 1862 Afternoon Dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Now, take a look at this dress from 1860-1861 (which was also include in this post). Doesn’t the trim style look familiar? Yes, it’s a more bunting-like placement of the trim, but the idea is exactly the same as the dress above!

1860-1861 Dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

So now that we’ve looked at a few actual garments with the pleated trim, let’s look at some fashion plates. You know, I went through about 50-100 fashion plates from 1860-1865 and I was surprised by the lack of plates that included dresses with pleated trim! Considering that I have frequently seen pleated trim used on existing garments I am intrigued by their relative absence in fashion plates… I wonder if pleated trim is just challenging to execute when creating a fashion plate? Certainly I found some with bands of trim, and perhaps those could have been executed with pleated trim when constructed?

Godey’s Fashions for September 1861
Godey’s Fashions for September 1862

In both of these fashion plates the ladies on the far left are the ones I’m looking at and think that they are wearing dresses with pleated trim. The one from 1862 as especially clear detail that shows the trim being pleated. It is interesting to note that these two fashion plates correspond directly with the two existing dresses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of flounces and dance cards: Part I

PART I: Of flounces…

Flounced 1860s dresses seem to be pure confections: cupcakes iced with lace and frothy ruffles. That is the vision in my mind while I was looking for inspiration for my latest crinoline dress.

Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book September 1859 "Dressed for a Party." (The dress on the right is the inspiration for my latest gown)

I already made one 1860s dress for myself. Named Belle, it is a dark blue satin and velvet gown with a three tiered skirt. It’s very heavy and a dark color: neither of those two features seemed fitting for a summer ball in temperatures around 80 degrees! And so I decided to create an all new gown… in my head this one is named “Annabelle.” (I hope you are also amused by the name!)

"Annabelle" my new 1860s ball gown

As you can see, there is one crucial element missing… the pink flowers! My goal is to make the flowers by hand from silk organza and to be perfectly honest, I ran out of time. I just decided to wear the dress as-is and finish the flowers later. I also ran out of time to bone the front, as you can see by the wrinkles along my tummy. No worries though, as I’m sure I’ll be able to wear this gown again.

"May I have this dance?" Side view of Annabelle.

In order to be to light and breathable, Annabelle is constructed entirely of cotton. The skirt has a medium weight cotton foundation to which cotton voile flounces are attached. The bodice is three layers of cotton for the sake of being opaque: two of medium weight cotton and one layer of voile. The layers are flatlined together and treated as one piece. The flounces on the skirt and bodice are cotton voile edged in narrow white lace.

This gown was flat patterned using research from books by Janet Arnold, Norah Waugh, and Kristina Harris.  View this post about patterning from my Project Journal: Women’s Tailoring to see which titles I used and get a smidgeon of bibliographic information. The skirt pattern is fairly simple: a big tube cartridge pleated at the waist. The bodice has narrow v-shape seams front and back with puffed sleeves and a flounced bertha. It is worn over a chemise, corset, double thickness bum pad, hoops, and petticoat.

While this dress is eventually intended to be a reconstruction of the dress in the 1859 fashion plate above, I was also inspired by these other, similar fashion plates for further information. Enjoy!

Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book October 1859 "The Soiree"
Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book August 1859 "Godey's Fashions for August"

Bolero and Zouave jackets of the mid-19th century

Throughout the 19th century, civilian clothing for men and women imitated all sorts of military uniforms in cuts, trim styles, and names. Let’s look at some women’s styles from the the mid-19th century inspired by military wear.

First: the Bolero style jacket

From Peterson's Magazine August 1865

Popular during the mid-19th century, the Bolero is simply a short jacket, usually worn open in front, often fastened at the neck. In the mid-19th century Bolero jackets were worn in all sorts of colors and with all sorts of trim; however, they were often seen in military uniform colors and with trimming styles reminiscent of military trimming, especially braiding.

1863 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1860 Dress with Bolero Jacket and braid trimming

Second: the Zouave style jacket

From December 1859 Godey’s Lady’s Book

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Zouave jacket as follows: “A woman’s short embroidered jacket or bodice, with or without sleeves, resembling the jacket of the Zouave uniform.” The following quotes are included in the OED definition:

1859    Ladies’ Treas. Sept. 285/1   One of the most decided novelties of the present season is the Zouave jacket.
1859    Ladies’ Cabinet Dec. 335/1   Nothing can be prettier for the interior than the little oriental jackets which we call to-day Zouaves.

During the 19th century, this style gained the most popularity during the 1850s, when French Zouaves were fighting in the Crimean War, and during the American Civil War in the 1860s. You can see a few images of Zouave uniforms by looking at this post from a few weeks ago.

The description of the above image from Godey’s is as follows: “Morning-dress for young ladies, of plain merino or cashmere; the skirt trimmed by an inserting of velvet, several shades darker than the dress, with a row of buttons passing through it, and bordered by a rich braid pattern, known as the Greek. The Zouave jacket, which we have before spoken of, forms the waist. It is modelled from the Greek jacket, and has a close vest, with two points; the jacket, itself, rounding over the hips, and fitting easily to the figure. A Gabrielle ruff, and neck-tie finish it.”

Further information about this style was included in the Chitchat section of the same issue of Godey’s: “The Zuoave jackets may be made in black cloth or velvet, for home wear, with skirts whose waists have “outlived their usefulness.” They are especially suitable with dark silks, and a waist of this kind with a black silk skirt will do any amount of street service. Black silks are trimmed with a combination of black and crimson, black and purple, etc. when intended for dress occasions.”

c. 1862 Dress with Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Given the description (above)  from Godey’s about the Zouave jacket fashion plate, I think this c. 1862 dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art falls into the category of a Zouave jacket rather than a Bolero. Clearly, this yellow dress has a jacket with a double pointed vest silhouette, rather than the Bolero style of the jacket with a blouse underneath. Regardless, this dress is quite fabulous! The pattern matches the trimmings exceptionally well in terms of style, and the whole ensemble is quite wonderful (including the crisscross braiding and tassels!).

The quotes are from the digital Godey’s excerpts at the University of Vermont, which can be viewed here.

My favorite period-the 1860s

Hoop skirts and crinolines make me so excited I get the wiggles. I was in ninth grade the first time I read Gone With The Wind. Scarlett O’Hara, while being a debatably lovable character in my mind, has inspired my absolute love of the 1860s, crinolines, hoops, and costume history ever since that first time I read the book. It only took once.

Years later, I am fascinated by costume, material, and social history. I get excited about the entire 19th century–but the only period that really gives me the wiggles remains the 1860s. There’s just something about women resembling giant moving cupcakes that is fascinating and inspiring.

There is something very dreamy about imagining the world these huge constructions moved through. The world had to adapt to these gowns: chairs for ladies had no arms and doors were wider to accommodate their skirts. Can you imagine wearing clothing five feet across? That’s two feet too wide to fit through a modern door! How does a person cope with that all day every day? Sometimes I can envision it and sometimes it just seems impossible. But these questions just remind me that THIS is why the 1860s are particularly fascinating to me.

Gone With The Wind is definitely a controversial story. I found this report to be an interesting and factual discussion of its merits and faults. It clearly states why it is such a classic story and how it glosses over reality. This blog also has an interesting post about Gone With The Wind, discussing if it is a “great American novel.”

As a side note, I love both the book and movie versions of Gone With The Wind. While both are moving, sweeping epics, the book has much more depth and character exploration than the movie. Thus, I encourage you to read Gone With The Wind for yourself and to be inspired by history and by skirts with a circumference of 124″!