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!

c. 1880 Petticoat (HSM #5)

I decided I needed a new petticoat as part of the 1875 ensemble I’ve been working on for the last few months. I have a very ruffly petticoat from 1883 (shown in this past post) that helps with the shelf backside shape that became popular in that year, but I wanted a different shape for 1875… something to produce a more rounded silhouette and support the train I was expecting to include on my new dress.

My original thought was that my balayeuse would button to this new petticoat to create the support for the train of my dress (as opposed to making a trained petticoat and then potentially needing an additional petticoat without a train in the future). The idea is that the balayeuse + new petticoat will provide lots of wearing options for the future.

Along those lines, this new petticoat is able to fit over my large bustle from 1883 as well as having the ability to contain the back fullness so that it can also be used for the Natural Form years of approximately 1877-1882 (you can see the bustle in the same past post as the super ruffle-y petticoat). I don’t have a Natural Form dress yet, but it is on the to-do-someday list and in the spirit of reusing garments and saving time, this seemed like a reasonable decision.

Here is the new petticoat over my large bustle. The drawstring partway down the back allows for the adjustment for different bustle shapes. It is anchored in the side seams.

Here is the petticoat without the large bustle. This is approximating the Natural Form look. While the hem pulls up a bit over the large bustle (above), it is pretty even for the Natural Form look (below). The great thing is that once there is a dress over the petticoat you can’t tell what the hem is doing!

The pattern for my petticoat is from Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1, page 107. It’s a pretty simple shape. Accordingly, I made mine using straightforward details and machine sewing/finishing.

The petticoat has a drawstring at the waist, for adjustability. The drawstrings run through the waistband and are anchored along the sides with a line of machine stitching.

At center back the drawstring closes the top of the placket. The placket is just a slit that is bound with a strip of cotton cut on the grain. No bias here–this saves fabric and makes things easier to sew! The waistband and placket biding are finished by stitching in the ditch.

I decided on a medium width pleated ruffle for the bottom edge of this petticoat. I used a fork to help space the pleats, eyeballing and ironing as I went along.

The ruffle is edged with a stiff lace from my stash. I’ve had this for nine years and always wondered what to do with it, because it is so stiff. Turns out it was perfect for a petticoat, when a little stiffness is helpful! The lace comes in the stack of three that I used to top the ruffle. To get the single width I simply cut apart sections of the stack.

Here’s another view of the stack of three lace, the pleated ruffle, and the drawstring. Both this drawstring and the one in the waist are cotton twill tape.

This simple garment qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #5: Basic. I imagine it will be used for any project I make, day or evening, from about 1875 through 1882.

Make a garment that can be used for many occasions (like a shift, or the classic ‘Regency white dress’), or a simple accessory that will help you stretch the use of an already existing garment.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  3.5 yards plain cotton.

Pattern: From Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1.

Year: c. 1880.

Notions: 1 yard ⅝” cotton twill tape, 1 yard ¼” cotton twill tape, 5 yards lace, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to give this one 95%. It’s good on shape, materials, and methods. I believe would be recognizable and plausible for its time.

Hours to complete:  8 ¼ hours.

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

Total cost: This was a stash project, so free, but the original cost of the materials were $10.50 for the fabric, $2 for the lace, and about $2 for the twill tapes, so $14.50 total.

While not the most exciting project, this was a great start on the way to making my 1875 ensemble. I’m pleased to have made a garment that is easily adjustable, useful for multiple types of events and silhouettes, and is functional but still pretty!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IX: Braided Crown Hairstyle Details

I am very pleased with how my hairstyle turned out for the first wearing of Genevieve, the 1863 dress I’ve been blogging about for the last few months. I took the idea directly from my inspiration drawing, though I changed the hair decoration that accompanied the style.

I’ve used false hair to have braided crown styles before (here’s an example of the same braid used for a Regency hairstyle), but that old braid is only about 1 ½” wide, which is a bit subtle for the look I wanted for this dress. It’s also long enough to wrap around my head about 1.5 times, which is longer than what I wanted for the new hairstyle.

So I decided to buy some new false hair and make a new, fatter braid. I used this hair in dark brown. It’s intended for African style braid extensions, so it has a texture that’s great for matching my curly hair–I don’t think it would work well for someone with straight hair. I also bought these black hair nets.

I used one bundle of the false hair for this braid. The hair comes braided already, but I took it out and re-braided it a little tighter than how it was originally. Then I cut the elastic on one of the hair nets so that it would stretch out to be as long as my braid.

I laid the braid on top of the hair net and wrapped the hair net around to the back side of the braid. Then I used large whip stitches to secure the net to the braid. You can see one of those stitches mostly centered in the next photo. Covering the braid with a hair net helps keep all the frizzies from making the braid look messy. (My old braid isn’t covered in a hair net, so it looks very organic, like my real hair… nice and frizzy!)

The final step was to go back and stitch the hair net down in the dips between each section of the braid. In the photo above you can see the hair net traveling between braid bumps, but in the finished photo below those are mostly sewn down and much less visible.

For the actual hairstyle, I secured the braid to my head behind the sections near my face that get swept back over my ears. (I also pinned the braid to the top of my head to keep it in place while dancing. Those pins were put into the back side of the braid (to keep them hidden) and secured into the roots of my hair.) After securing the braid I was able to arrange the front sweep sections on either side of my face. I made sure to cover the ends of the braid with these sections.

Then I arranged the back of my hair. I wanted to keep it simple to showcase the braid and the velvet bow, so I arranged the back of my hair into a low puff. It continues the ring of the braid around my head while being more unobtrusive than the braid itself.

The final step was the bit of lace and the velvet bow. I opted for those instead of the lace framing the braid in the inspiration image. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish that without essentially creating a cap… and that’s not the look I wanted. So I made up something else!

The bow is one I was able to make after my bow disaster. I think it adds a nice touch of color on my dark hair. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it and the lace until the ball, so I bobby pinned each piece in place for that first wearing. Then one of my after-the-ball tasks before I could put this away was to sew these two pieces together and add a comb so that it is now an official accessory that will be easier to put in my hair the next time I wear this dress.

Here’s a side view of what all of that amounts to. I intentionally placed the bow and lace off-center on my head in order to pick up on the asymmetrical bow on the skirt of the dress.

When I did a quick trial with the braid in modern clothes it felt very large and I was worried it would be too big, but once dressed in Genevieve I think the scale of this new braid is great–an excellent hair crown size and length, and the hair net keeps it looking super tidy and frizz free!

 

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!

 

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VII: Finishing Details

Next post will be photos of my finished apricot dress… YAY! But first, I have the final finishing details to discuss. Most of the finishing left was on the bodice, so let’s start with that.

Bertha

Side note: have we ever talked about what a bertha is? A bertha is a collar of lace or other thin fabric, particularly popular during the 19th century. Check out this link to learn a little more about the history of the word.

In my last post, I included a photo showing the assembled front of the bertha for this dress before I attached it to the bodice. My goal was to make the bertha completely separate so that it would be easy to change if I decided to do that at a later time.

The foundation is a single layer of ivory tulle cut to the shape of the front (and one for the back) of the fully assembled bodice. A gathered piece of my lace trim was machine stitched to the bottom edge of the tulle, about ½” up from the cut edge.

On top of that foundation is a second layer of tulle that is gathered at both the top and bottom edges. The top edge is folded under by about ½” and the gathering stitch run through both layers so that the top edge is a fold rather than the cut edge of the tulle.

It took quite a few pins to secure the gathered tulle to the tulle underneath. It was finicky–tulle on tulle… not fun!

And I might have made a mistake while ironing my first foundation piece of tulle. Any guesses about what that was?

Oops! I like to iron with a hot iron but the nylon tulle was having none of that! I had to cut a new piece… and turn down my iron for a bit! The bottom gathered tulle in the above photo shows another failed experiment. That tulle is a full double width folded at the top and gathered top and bottom. I decided it was too bulky and not as elegant and decided to go with my previously explained method of only turning the top to create a fold.

After machine sewing my successful gathered tulle to the base layer of tulle it was time to add velvet trim. The velvet was cut on the bias, both edges pressed under, and then it was slip stitched over the stitch lines in the tulle. I also created velvet bows, as I hinted about last time. This is one of the bows I created before I realized I needed more than I had cut out… oops again!

After recutting my bows, this is the velvet I had left. I didn’t include anything for scale, but the longest piece in this photo is about 6″!

Remaking the bows (or rather, cutting new ones and disassembling ones I had already made) brings us back to where we were in the last post. The old velvet bows had top bow parts and dangling bow parts cut on the straight of grain, but due to my limited fabric I cut out the new bows with bias dangling parts. In the end I’m glad I did, because I think they hang more elegantly than the straight cut version.

Brooches

You might have noticed that the center velvet bow on the bertha has a gold filigree oval on it. In my inspiration it looks like these are buckles or brooches of some kind. I started by trying to use my stash, finding two matching football shaped buckles that I hoped could work. But the more I looked at them the more I didn’t like them.

So I spent a long time looking for something else low-cost that would work. Ideally, I wanted two sizes of the same style, but that quickly proved to be hard unless I wanted smallish very sparkly rhinestone buckles. But of course the scale of this dress is not small. Eventually I found the right search terms to find open centered brooches intended for creating your own cameos. I purchased these and painted them gold using acrylic paint. Despite being the same size for the bodice and skirt, I think they worked well!

Sleeves

I suppose I should also mention the sleeves. They made it onto the bodice but I haven’t talked about them at all. They are cut on the straight of grain and are basically a round-top trapezoid shape, with an outer layer of silk that is larger than an inner layer of my flat lining cotton. The silk was gathered around the bottom and around the armhole to fit. Due to the longer measurement of the silk it rolls up inside the sleeves by about 1″, which keeps the cotton from showing while being worn. Here you can see the poofy sleeves as well as the bertha before it had velvet added.

Oh, but those sleeves weren’t done yet! My inspiration had sleeves that appeared to be droopy continuations of the bertha. This is a detail that is different from all of my previous dresses from this period, so I felt it would be a neat detail to include. It took quite a bit of pondering to decide how to achieve the look and it was something I didn’t feel I could tackle until well into the process when I could see what the bertha and sleeves were doing without the extra layer.

My solution was to create sleeve caps of single layers of tulle with more of my lace and silk pleated trim on top. The tulle rather disappears when worn, giving the effect of floating trim. It’s pretty neat, actually.

Sewing the lace on was easy and relatively fast, as I did it by machine. But the silk… well, I thought I had enough left over from my crazy skirt trimming for the sleeves but those pleats eat silk so quickly! I only had about 75% of what I needed.

It was less than a week before the ball. I had returned the scalloped scissors to my friend so I couldn’t cut more silk. I tried spacing out what I had as much as possible without looking different from the skirt. And I was still short! UGH! Last minute challenges aren’t very fun. I pleated and re-pleated. Got a few more inches covered. Then I decided to harvest some pleated trim from my skirt, from underneath the big velvet bow where it wouldn’t be seen. Not terribly fun, to seam rip something you’ve just made. And the pieces I got were about 5″ in length. But I got them. And I put them on those sleeves. And even though they’re pieced you can’t tell at all and those sleeves got done!

This photo shows the first sleeve in progress, before I realized I didn’t have enough silk trim…

I sewed the sleeve caps on with small top stitches to the outside of the bodice at the armsceye seam. Again, this makes them easy to remove if I want. Also, I’d already set the sleeves… so I couldn’t easily put them into that seam (oops?). In the end, it doesn’t matter that they’re on the outside, because the bertha lace completely hides the armsceye along the top of the sleeve.

Bodice Finishing Details

In addition to sewing on the sleeve caps, I also attached both the front and back bertha layers to the bodice.

I finished my eyelets and ran the lacing ribbon through the top half. I find that 3 yards of ribbon allows me to leave the ribbon laced through the top eyelets and still get in and out, which makes getting dressed faster as the person helping me then only has to lace the bottom half of the bodice and tighten the ribbon at the top.

I also made and whipped in a placket. That’s the rectangular piece that’s rather wrinkly in the center of the photo below. While this bodice fits perfectly now, you never know what the future will bring and this will allow for a slight gap (if needed) that will still look like dress fabric and not like underwear.

I added hooks and thread bars to the bertha at the right shoulder, as well as two along the right back neckline to hold it in place along that edge. There is also a hook on the lace to secure it to the lace on the front of the bertha. Once hooked it looks seamless!

The final step was to sew hooks on the front and sides inside the bodice to allow it hook to the skirt. You can see the hook on the boning at the center front in the photo below.

Skirt Finishing Details

The skirt was basically done once I added my giant velvet bow except for a few things.

I added two hooks and bars to the waistband to close the skirt. The narrow hemmed opening is hidden under a pleat and will allow for future changes in waist size if needed.

I added loops to hook the bodice to. You can see one of those on the left. Turns out I didn’t line the side ones up very well (I think this was the very last task late one night on the last night I was stitching), so we added a safety pin at the ball and hooked the bodice to that. The safety pin is visible just to the right of the loop. At some point I need to move the loop to the location of the safety pin. Boo! There’s always something to fix or repair or change once you wear a garment!

And finally, when I added the waistband I also added hanging loops for the skirt. There’s one poking up on the right. These allow me to easily hang the skirt to keep it from getting wrinkled in storage.

And finally… after many, many hours of sewing, this dress is done. I like big projects but I confess to getting a bit sick of this one after sewing on it every day for about a month at the end of the process. Next post will be photos of the finished dress. (And I can report that I was happy with it in the end! Yay!)

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VI: Second Thoughts

As I hinted at in my last post, the Orange Monster recently reached a point where I became rather concerned that I wouldn’t like it. First, I was worried that I might not like the pleats facing the back of the skirt (as opposed to the front, as I’ve done before). But then, as a much bigger problem, I was worried about the lace trim.

Here’s the dress in a partially trimmed state… but still with two more rows of lace to add to the skirt and more planned for the bodice as well!

I was nervous the dress would be too twee and sweet for my personality. And after all the hours of work I’ve put in… I’ve enjoyed the process, but I would really like to have a dress that I like and that fits my personality in the end!

I think one of the problems was also that I didn’t like my mockup bow. The proportions were off. So I changed it a bit, shrinking the scale of the loops and also the width of the hanging bits.

And then, despite my worries, I forged ahead.

I cut out all the red velvet bow pieces from my ½ yard of fabric. Assembled them. Had a complete ‘Oh no!’ moment when I thought I was done sewing bows and realized that I’d only cut out and made two bows instead of four… and then needed to figure out how to get two more bows out of my very small scraps! Ahhh!

I just had to cross my fingers and hope that the red velvet trim would give this dress the edge to make it suit my personality. I’m not sure what that edge is in words… drama? excitement? unexpected-ness?

Here’s the state that the bertha is in now. Much better! The velvet is an elegant addition, I think!

So whatever that descriptive word is that I can’t find, I am feeling better about the dress now that I have all four red velvet bows and the other velvet trim sewn. (Taking apart the one of the bows to create the extras even made enough bits to create a hair bow!)

I can finally see the whole dress picture coming together. Four days to go until this dress gets worn!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part V: Starting Skirt Trim

I have more details to share with you about the Orange Monster, as I’ve recently named this dress. More on the tongue-in-cheek name later… Right now it’s time to talk in detail about the skirt for my new 1863 gown. (Check out Part I for the plan, Part II for patterning, Part III for starting bodice construction, and Part IV for very detailed further bodice construction.)

The trim on this skirt is… immense. Not so much in terms of scale (I think I’d call the scale just large, rather than immense), but in terms of quantity required to circle the 154″ hem 3 times each for both the lace and pleated silk. (For a reminder of what I’m trying to achieve, check out my inspiration image in the first post in this series.)

Not too long ago, the skirt was in this state of trimming. Started, but by no means finished.

But let’s back up. To get to this point, I had to decide what my trims would be. The inspiration clearly has lace, but there is trim above that as well. It sort of looks like a tall beading lace, but I couldn’t find anything of that sort that would work. Other trim types also turned up nothing. Plus, I wanted to keep the cost down.

So I looked at originals and decided on pinked, pleated, self-fabric trim to top the gathered lace. Single layer pleats (knife, box, etc.), without spaces between them and without overlap, take 3x fabric, so I used that as my starting point. I did the math and realized I didn’t have enough silk to make enough strips to get 3x fullness, so I opted for 2x instead. I also rationalized that decision with the knowledge that my pleats would be spaced apart, thereby taking less than 3x fabric.

I did a sample of my silk with pinking shears on the grain, cross grain, and bias. I wanted to see how my silk would behave so I could pick the direction of cutting that would fray the least. I found it fascinating that cutting with the grain (the top edge in the photo) was the best option.

My spaced box pleating plan was most directly inspired by these two dresses at the Met: the first is the one that inspired the double piped trim on my bodice and the second is another great example of large scale trim encircling a skirt. When you zoom in on these two dresses you can see that the trim is pinked in little scallops. I only have zigzag pinking shears, but a friend has scalloped ones from our Versailles adventure a few years ago and she was kind enough to let me borrow them. (Also, it turns out that the pinked method was a great idea because it didn’t require using fabric for hems and it didn’t require hemming!)

But… Oh. My. Goodness. I pinked. And pinked. And pinked. I wore one of my knuckles raw and had to wait for my skin to heal before I could keep going… Not to mention the fact that pinking shears seem to always be harder to open than regular scissors (is that related to the not straight blades and more resistance?) and my wrist muscles can’t deal with that for long (spring loaded scissors are my lifesavers!). I wound up with a system where I would open the pinking shears with two hands, then close them like normal, then use both hands to open… Tedious and slow, but hopefully worth it! It was a serious labor of love. And I wound up with a pretty pile of confetti-like strips that amused me.

Eventually, I had about 30 yards of strips scalloped on both sides. I seamed these together and divided them into three pieces–2 of them slightly longer than the others in order to account for the swoop up to the big bow. I was ready to sew!

To sew the trim on (in the sort-of-most-efficient way–if you count circling the skirt 3 times instead of 6), I started by trimming off the very top edge of the lace (and saving the narrow bit for later–it might be good for edging undergarments someday!). This reduces bulk, because the top edge is left with only a bit of net rather than a finished lace edge. Then I ran a gathering stitch by hand along the lace and gathered and pinned that in place. I left that thread hanging and put my needle on another piece of thread, then used running stitches to secure the gathers to the silk. Next, I pinned the pleats in place above the section of lace that I’d just stitched, then used a second needle to stitch the pleats down. I worked in approximately 10″ sections. And went on, and on, and on… yikes that skirt is big!

For the bottom row of trim, I very carefully matched half points, quarter points, eighth points, and probably 16ths and 32nds, too. I wanted to make sure my trim was equally distributed. By the time I started the second row, though, I just eyeballed it. In both cases, the pleats themselves are entirely free form: no measuring. I’m sure there is variation in there, but honestly with so much skirt no one is ever going to know! The pleats are caught in the middle with very small running stitches with the occasional back stitch thrown in to keep the thread from pulling too taut. The pleated trim just overlaps my stitches on the lace. Up close, it looks like this.

Just sewing on the three rows of skirt trim was approximately 14 hours. Whew!

While we’re on the subject of the skirt, let’s just also quickly talk about the waist and hem. Before I got anywhere near sewing the trim on, I’d sewn a muslin hem facing about 5″ high onto the bottom of the skirt, pressed it up, and then slip stitched it in place. I made sure that the stitches would be hidden behind the trim, even though they’re tiny… details, details! The muslin will protect the silk as it brushes along the floor while I’m walking up and down stairs or dancing. It also provides a bit of stability and weight to the hem.

At the top, I added the waistband after putting on the bottom row of trim. I wanted to have the pleats in place in order to determine where the swoop up of the next two rows of trim should be placed. The waistband is silk, faced with muslin on the inside (because I was trying to save silk in any way possible to make my oodles of trim). I added a strip of canvas in there as well to provide stiffness as the silk and muslin on their own were not sturdy enough for my liking.

Here’s the assembled waistband, ready to have the skirt pleated to it. The waistband has the quarter points and my 3″ overlap for center back marked with pins.

 The next step was pleating the skirt. I decided for this skirt to have knife pleats facing the back of the skirt. This is seen on extant dresses and is a style I haven’t tried before. It seemed like it would work for my trim plan.

Pleating is always more time consuming than I expect. It’s hard to get the pleat depths just right and the exterior spaces just right and also fit the correct amount into each quarter of the waistband. One could do lots of math to potentially make it less trial-and-error, but I would rather pin and re-pin than do pleat math. Just saying. To each their own! I’m an eyeball pleater! I made it extra challenging by having that 3″ overlap at the back. That will allow for future variation in size (a goal of mine), but also made the pleating a little extra confusing to figure out, since one quarter of the back was 3″ larger than the other but I wanted the pleats to be the same…

The jury is still out on if I like this pleat style. I might prefer the pleats facing forward, as I did on Eleanor... We’ll see once the dress is done and I look at photos. It’s staying for now!

After the three rows of lace and pleats, there are still more trim bits to think about. There’s a bertha, and that big bow on the skirt, and smaller bows on the bodice as well… so we’re not done yet! Stay tuned!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part I: The Plan

It’s been a few years (three, I think) since I made a new mid-19th century evening gown. I have three evening gowns from this era that currently fit and they are kept constant rotation at events each year. It’s nice to change it up and have different dresses to wear, so I’ve decided I want a new dress!

My goal is to keep the cost down on the new dress, so I went through my stash binder to look for fabrics I already own that would work for this project. I also went through my inspiration for dresses from this period, settling on a lace trimmed dress in an illustration on page 208 of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

It’s the dress on the right that I like, the one ‘Of white tarletan; double skirts flounced with black lace’. However, I’ve decided to make my dress in apricot colored silk. This is due in part to the fact I had yardage enough of apricot silk in my stash, but I think the idea was also influenced by the description of the dress in the center of the illustration. I think I had apricot on the brain!

The apricot silk was purchased in 2016 with no particular project in mind except the general idea of being a historical dress. It has slubs and is definitely a shantung and not a taffeta. That’s not great for historical garments for many periods, but there are a few points in its favor.
a) it was already in the stash in enough yardage for this project
b) the multiple bands of trim on the skirt and generous bertha will distract from the slubs
c) it’s a color of dress that I don’t have too much of and that I don’t have any of in this time period

That explains the color choice, but I’m not planning for my dress to have a double skirt. To me, it looks like the white tarletan dress is drawn in a way that looks like a single skirt with lace trim applied at multiple heights rather than a double skirt. This type of applied skirt trim around the entire circumference of the skirt is common in the first few years of the 1860s, so I’m going with idea. I’ll share more about my skirt trim inspiration that when I get to that point in the process.

For now, if we were to describe my dress in Cunnington’s style, it would be ‘Of apricot silk with cream lace and red silk velvet bows’. There might be some tulle mixed into the bertha as well, we’ll see when we get there. Here are my fabrics, with a stand-in lace (I estimate needing around 35 yards of lace for this dress–not a quantity that was already in my stash–so that was the one section of the project that needed to be purchased).

Plan? Check. Fabric? Check. Next step, a pattern. That’s where we’ll start in the next post in this series.

1926 Silver Robe de Style Second Styling

Today I have a new dress adventure to share with you: the second wearing of my 1926 Silver Lace Robe de Style to a Gatsby Ball in January. The last time I wore this dress was last August, so it was fun to bring it out again. I thought it fit in nicely with the idea of blue and silver for the new year, even though it wasn’t technically a new year themed event.

The robe de style dress was popularized during the 1920s particularly by the designer Lanvin. This alternative to the popular straight silhouette dresses of the 1920s is characterized by a dropped waist with wide skirts. Many of these dresses have panniers in them that are borrowed from the style of 18th century court dresses. Here is a little more information about the robe de style from the FIDM museum if you’d like to read more.

I have another more dramatic robe de style already, so this lace one is more of a nod to the robe de style, with softly gathered sections at the hips and no panniers or other understructure.

(My 1924 Golden Robe de Style is the more dramatic one. I made that dress in 2015 and posted about the construction of it this past post. Since then I have updated the trim on it to be much better suited to the dress. You can see the new trimming in these two past posts: in 2016 and in 2017.)

Last August I wore this dress with silver accessories: silver American Duchess Seaburys and silver hairpins. This time I decided to try my black Seaburys with silver rhinestone shoe clips, an ostrich feather/rhinestone hairpin (this is the same decoration I had in my hair for my 2016 Versailles look–how fitting to wear it again with a dress that has a nod to the shape of the gown I wore that night!), and my newly made black velvet handbag. It’s a bit hard to see the handbag in these photos, but if you look for it you can spot it in one hand or the other in most photos. Trying to show it off and not look ridiculous was a bit of a challenge.

(As a another side note, that same hairpin works really well for the 1890s, too! Who knew it could so easily shift between not only decades, but centuries!)

While packing and getting dressed, I couldn’t decide which dress to wear to the ball: this silver robe de style or my 1927 Blush Sparkle Dress. I brought both of them with me to the event and only made a decision when I realized that a friend hadn’t brought a sparkly dress to wear. (Never fear, she had a dress, just not a sparkly one!) The fabulous architecture of the The Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel really called for some sparkle, so I wore the robe de style and loaned her the blush sparkle dress. It was fun to see it sparkling around the ballroom!

Showing off two different styles of 1920s dresses. Blush Sparkle on the left and Silver Robe de Style on the right. It’s hard to lounge and not look silly. This was one of the best we got!

After the second wearing, I am still pleased with this dress. It’s fun to dance in and a bit unusual in style: qualities that suit me perfectly.

I think I like this dramatic black and ostrich styling best so far. Do you have a preference between the first styling with silver accessories and this second wearing?

 

1926 Silver Lace Robe de Style

One of my summer sewing projects was a new 1920s robe de style. (And yes, I am clearly delayed in posting about it!) I already have one (my 1924 Golden Robe de Style) but I stumbled across a lovely lace at Joann Fabrics in the spring that called to join my wardrobe as a second dress in this category. I attend enough 1920s evening events that I can never seem to have enough dresses. Doesn’t that sound grand written out? I actually do have plenty of dresses, but it’s nice to have variety and cycle through different styles, types of fabrics, weights, etc.

I’ve enjoyed wearing my first robe de style and wanted to try another one with different characteristics. The 1924 golden one is made of silk taffeta and has an ankle length skirt, but I wanted this one to be much lighter weight and shorter in length. I also wanted a different neckline. After looking through my Robe de Style Pinterest board for inspiration I settled on this dress, a Boué Soeurs robe de style from fall/winter 1925-6. This is where my date of 1926 for my new robe de style comes from.

Obviously the lace is not opaque so as with the original dress I needed a lining. I settled on the icy blue because it was from my stash. (You’ve seen this fabric before, in my 1899 evening gown.) It was great to use a stash fabric for cost saving and stash-diminishing purposes as well as the fact that the colors coordinate. And, I was able to accessorize with a large flower pin in a very similar color that has been in my stash since before I had a fabric stash! Isn’t it wonderful to find good homes for odds and ends like this?

In addition to the flower pin, I also wore my extra long strand of faux pearls, my American Duchess silver Seabury shoes, and vintage silver hair pins. Oh, and earrings. But I can’t remember which ones and I can’t tell from the photos which pair they are. I’ll have to figure that out again next time I wear this dress!

The pattern for this dress is me-made, composed of mostly rectangular shapes based on my measurements. The body of the lining is basically an upside down T shape, where the sides are gathered into a slit that extends into the main body on each side by a few inches. (You can see what I’m talking about in the photo below.) The lining has a straight top edge with rectanglur straps attached. The hem angles down slightly on the sides intentionally. I still wanted an uneven hem as with my 1924 dress, but I wanted a less dramatic difference than with that dress.

The lace layer was a little more complicated. I wanted an uneven hem to match the lining, but I also wanted to keep the hem following the scallops across the fabric. So… I had to keep my hem straight. That means I had to make the tops of the sides curve up since the bottom couldn’t curve down, but that meant I couldn’t cut my lace layers as a T, because the curve up would cut into the sides of the dress.

My solution was to add a seam across the lace pieces at the height of the gathers. To do this I perfectly matched the scallops, carefully layered and stitched them with a narrow zig zag, and then trimmed away the excess fabric to make the seam almost entirely invisible. Can you spot it in this photo?

I also had to trim away the ‘eyelash’ bits left over after cutting along the scalloped pattern along the hem. This photo shows that step in progress. A bit tedious, but worth it!

Unlike the lining with its straight top edge, the lace has a v neck on one side and a scoop on the other. This layer is interchangeable in terms of which is front and back, since they’re the same with no special shaping. The edges of the lining are finished by machine while the neckline and the armholes of the lace are narrow hemmed by hand.

This new dress can be worn with or without panniers, but for the first wearing I went without in order to make the full skirt more subtle and to differentiate the dress from my 1924 Golden Robe de Style (which needs to be worn with panniers).

While this dress could be worn at any time of year, I am particularly enchanted with the idea of it being perfectly suited to a 1920s New Year party. The colors and silver lace seem well suited to that theme.

And on that note, in case I don’t get another post in before 2019… happy new year!