1875 Reception Dress (HSM #10)

Yay! This project is complete and photographed! I’m so excited to be able to share more finished project photos with you.

This is my 1875 Reception Dress. I’ve been documenting its construction over the last few blog posts and have been documenting the construction of the undergarments and accessories to accompany it since early this year.

To recap, if you would like to learn more about the individual parts of the ensemble you might want to visit the following links to past posts:

This dress qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #10: Get Crafty.

Make use of your own skills or learn a new one to make something from scratch rather than buy material. The possibilities for learning and applying new skills and techniques are endless. Lace, pleated self-fabric trim, knotted fly trim, embroidery, dyeing, knitting your own corset laces, hand painting your own fabric

In this case, I spent a bit of time in April learning how to use my antique fluting iron so I could make fluted trim to adorn this dress. I documented my experiment here on the blog in this post: A Practical Experiment: How To Use A Fluting Iron.

Since this dress qualifies for the HSM, here are the facts:

Fabric/Materials: 7 yds pink silk taffeta, 2 ⅜ yds green silk taffeta, 1 yd yellow polyester organza, 3 ½ yds pink polyester organza, 5 ½ yds muslin, 15 ¼ yds ivory lace, 8 ½ yds black rayon soutache, scraps of old green cotton bedding, a bit of polyester batting, and scraps of white cotton.

Pattern: Many of the pieces came from Patterns of Fashion 2, though they were tweaked for fit and style. Other pieces were draped to imitate the inspiration fashion plate.

Year: 1875.

Notions: 2 yds 1″ grosgrain ribbon, ¾ yd ⅜” petersham ribbon, 1 yd ½” twill tape, ¾ yd ⅝” twill tape, 1 ¼ yd ⅝” bone casing, 4 18″ long ⅜” wide plastic zip ties, regular as well as skirt hooks and bars, 8 plastic buttons, and 1 Canadian quarter.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Pretty good in terms of silhouette, construction methods, and materials; however, there are a few modern materials mixed in.

Hours to complete: 80.5 hours.

First worn: In May, for photos!

Total cost: $138.46.

Here are a few more photos. Every time I look at a new angle or view of the dress my eyes are drawn to different details–perhaps you will notice new details, too.

I’m very glad to be finished with this large project, while also being bummed that the event that I was planning to wear it to was cancelled. That just means I need to find a reason in the future to wear the dress, I guess. I’m not sure what that will be, but I’m hoping for a fabulous historical house or museum, or something else suitably grand and indoors, as that seems to be the appropriate setting for a reception dress.

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!

The Amazing Balayeuse (HSM #8)

I am super pleased with a recently completed addition to my historical closet, my brand new balayeuse! Practical, utilitarian, and still managing to be a little frivolous looking, this thing is amazing!

I’ll tell you all about it, but first… what is a balayeuse? Our go-to source for etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has the following information.

balayeuse, n.
Pronunciation:  /balɛˈjəːz/
Frequency (in current use)
Etymology: French, feminine of balayeur sweeper.
Dressmaking.
1882   S. F. A. Caulfeild & B. C. Saward Dict. Needlework 18/2   Balayèuse, or Sweeper.—A French term to signify the frilling of material or lace which lines the extreme edge of a dress skirt to keep the train clean as it sweeps along the floor. The balayèuse is allowed to project beyond the edge of the dress, so as to form a decorative as well as a useful trimming.
1894   Daily News 20 Jan. 5/7   Three flounces of..silk forming a richly-rustling balayeuse beneath the hem.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to this definition as you will not be able to access it simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so I suggest you start there for access.

Are you curious how to pronounce balayeuse? The OED provides us with the correct pronunciation, but the official pronunciation notes don’t mean too much to me. I think of the word as bal-ay-yuhz.

Ok, so now we know what this thing is and how to pronounce it. We even have an idea of the purpose, from the OED definition.

As you saw in the first photo, my balayeuse is it’s own garment. But there is another type of balayeuse mentioned in the first OED quote, from 1882. Also called a ‘dust ruffle’, this type of balayeuse is directly attached to the skirt. I’ve had great luck with this in the past and I really like the look of lace peeking out from under a late 19th century skirt, so I included that type of balayeuse on the pink skirt as well, but that alone was not enough to keep its shape.

I decided to make a second type of balayeuse–one that, in addition to the wonderful job of keeping the underside of the skirt’s train from becoming soiled, also helps the train to keep its shape and not collapse on itself. Caroline (of the blog Dressed In Time) mentions this function in a blog post showing her own balayeuse. Here is the train of my skirt laid out (sneak peak!).

I felt I had to make my skirt before the balayeuse, in order to make the balayeuse the right shape to hide under the skirt when it was finished, and so I’ve tried it on a few times without the balayeuse. The train is great looking when I twist and turn in my corset to get the skirt to lay just right, but it doesn’t stay that way when I move around.

But with the balayeuse it was so different! The skirt just magically lays exactly how it should as soon as I put it on and it stays that way no matter how I move–backing up, turning, it is amazing!

So how does this balayeuse really help keep the shape? Well, the main thing is that the base is a double layer of stiff cotton poplin (from Dharma Trading–I love them for my natural fiber, white, black, and unbleached fabric needs). This photo of the balayeuse with the ruffle side face down (as it would be worn) shows the poplin off nicely.

The poplin base is basically a big rectangle with the bottom edge curved up at the sides. I used the full width of the poplin, which was a little less than 60″ wide. The center is 17″ tall and the sides taper to about 9″. The base is gathered to a band that is 28″ wide and 2″ tall. I didn’t add extra stiffening to the band, as the poplin is pretty hardy all by itself. This blog post at Atelier Nostalgia has an image that was great inspiration for my shape (though my balayeuse is wider than this) and the button attachment method I’ll show you below.

The poplin base has three rows of ruffles attached to it. I decided to use unbleached muslin for the ruffles for a few reasons: #1 gathering three rows of stiff poplin didn’t sound like fun (and the base is plenty stiff enough as it is), #2 I figured that the muslin would be less obviously dirty looking, already being unbleached as opposed to very white, and #3 the muslin will be easy and cheap to replace someday, if needed.

As you can see in the photo above, the band of the balayeuse has buttonholes in it. This allows the balayeuse to be easily removed for cleaning and storage, or use with a different dress (thinking ahead, here!). To accommodate the buttonholes, there are buttons sewn to the lining of the skirt.

The buttons are reinforced with extra squares of muslin whipped to the lining, as you can see in the photo below.

It seemed too much to ask the buttons to hang on to a single layer of muslin while dragging the balayeuse around. Here’s what those whipped on squares look like on the other side.

The end result is this. As you can see, the non-ruffled top of the balayeuse overlaps with the skirt lining and would not be dragging on the ground. The muslin ruffles actually continue the muslin underskirt nicely, I think, though no one is likely to ever see that!

It might not seem super stiff, but this ruffle-y contraption spreads out beautifully when it hits the floor. For comparison, here is a photo of my mockup balayeuse, made from an old sheet (and without ruffles). It’s spread out for the photo, but you can imagine how an old sheet would collapse on itself when picked up.

One last thought… the ruffles! I decided to try out a new tool for these ruffles: a narrow hem foot. This is one of those things I should have tried before but haven’t ever used for a project, but miles of ruffle edges seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice!

I can report that practice definitely helped! For example, I had some trouble going over my french seamed joins in the ruffles. In the photo below, my first try is on the left, my fifth try is in the middle, and my last try is just coming up on the right. The french seam was just too bulky to fit through the hook on the presser foot that turns under the hemmed edge. I discovered that if I eliminated some bulk with a diagonal cut of the seam allowance it worked so much better!

I didn’t bother to go back and fix my first few sad-looking french seam crossings. I figured this was going to drag around on the ground, and who would be looking? Also, it’s more fun to make beautifully colored dresses than muslin ruffles… There was a bit of ‘done is good’ on that front for this project.

Yay for learning things! I also found I needed to move my needle just a tad bit to the right of center to easily (and speedily) stitch the narrow hems.

The mention of the narrow hem foot reminds me that this project qualifies for the HSM challenge #8: Celebration.

Make something for a specific historical celebration, make something generally celebration worthy, make something that celebrates a historical hero, or just make something that celebrates some new skills you’ve learned.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  1 yard cotton poplin and 1 yard cotton muslin.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: 5 light yellow plastic buttons and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I haven’t seen an extant stand-alone balayeuse before, so I can’t be sure, but I would say 90%. Materials and style completely recognizable and plausible for their time.

Hours to complete:  5 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for fittings. I need to complete my ensemble (only the hat is left!) so I can wear it with the dress it was made for to get photos.

Total cost: $6.25 for the poplin and $4 for the muslin. The buttons were gifted to me. And the thread was negligible. There was a bit of shipping to get the poplin, so let’s say $15 total.

Further information I found helpful as I made my balayeuse included this blog post at Yesterday’s Thimble. It’s also worth mentioning that if this idea sounds great, but patterning your own balayeuse is too much, Truly Victorian has a pattern for a petticoat with detachable train that you can check out.

HSM #1: Brown Silk Petticoat

While making my 1832 velvet gown at the end of last year, I decided that a generic 1830s/40s petticoat might add to the silhouette, besides being elegant and fun to own. Silk petticoats remind me of Mammy, in Gone With The Wind, who is very excited (and a bit scandalized) about a red silk petticoat gifted to her by Rhett.

I had purchased this silk taffeta a number of years ago on clearance, but it was languishing in the stash due to its unflattering shade of brown. I had 3 yards, which was just right for a petticoat. And since the garment is never seen nor worn near the face, the color was perfectly suited to the project.

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I made a tube of the yardage, then cut off the excess length and used that to make the ruffle. I had thought of making the ruffle twice as high, but realized that I needed to have more than a 1:1 ratio to gather… duh! I was sick while making this and clearly my head wasn’t working terribly well. Anyway, I cut my tall ruffle in half to make a 2:1 ratio and that was that.

The waistband is made of small bits of leftover cotton from some other project. There is evidence of quilted petticoats from the 1830s and 1840s having waistbands made of other fabrics, which was my inspiration (examples can be found here, here, and here). It was a perfect idea, as I was trying to make the best use of my fabric and I did not want to cut a waistband piece out of it.

Petticoats of this type also sometimes close with buttons (like this one), so I chose to close this petticoat in that way as well. It used up a single, random, khaki colored button from the stash and matches the fabric perfectly!

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I added tucks to the petticoat after trying it on with the 1832 dress and realizing it needed to be shorter. Those are hand sewn, but the rest of the construction was done on a machine except for the buttonhole and sewing down the inside of the waistband.

This garment fits the first HSM challenge of the year, Firsts and Lasts (create either the first item in a new ensemble, or one last piece to put the final fillip on an outfit), as it was the start of the 1830s ensemble.

Just the facts:

Fabric: 3 yards brown silk taffeta.

Pattern: None. Just rectangles and math, sort of.

Year: 1830s/40s.

Notions: Thread, a button, and a cotton scrap.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. The materials are good and so is the method. The only thing off is the machine sewing and the plastic button.

Hours to complete: Not many, for me. Maybe 10? It didn’t help that I was sick  and not thinking straight.

First worn: December 10 for a ball.

Total cost: $18.

Sophie, 1861 Cotton Print (HSM #8)

Last week, I introduced Eleanor, a newly made plaid gown from 1862. Today’s introduction is to Eleanor’s friend, Sophie. Sophie actually came first, back during the summer when I was intending to participate in the same dance performance for which I’ve worn Georgina in the past (here are a selection of past posts about Georgina: the construction which is similar in some ways to Sophie, Georgina in action, and Georgina with a new collar).

This year, the performance was rescheduled due to rain and I couldn’t attend the new date, meaning that the new dress, Sophie, languished until October, when I was able to wear it during part of a recent mid-19th century dance weekend. The nice thing about the delay is that the pictures all have stunning fall leaves, which would not have been in the case in the summer.

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Also, had I worn this dress on the first intended date, it would not have been entirely completed. Having extra time allowed me to officially finish all the trim and closures which made this dress the perfect entry for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #8 “Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better.” I didn’t have any pictures of the dress on a body at that point, so I submitted a rather sad picture of the dress on a hanger at that time. It’s exciting to have real pictures now!

Just the facts:

Fabric: 7.5 yards cotton print.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #701, 1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices.

Year: 1860-1863 based on my extant inspiration, but I’m calling it 1861.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, muslin scraps, and narrow yarn for cording.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. This is as accurate as I can be given the research I have done and the materials I used, though the use of a facing on the front edges is guesswork. Regardless, this would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: Unknown. A fair bit.

First worn: October 23 for an afternoon tea and dance games.

Total cost: $23.

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Sophie was directly inspired by this extant dress at the Kent State University Museum. I was considering what to wear for the performance, thinking that I’d worn Georgina enough to want something new, that I’d had an 1860s cotton print fabric in my stash for a few years, and then I remembered this dress. I decided to leave off the ruffle on the skirt (and also didn’t have enough fabric), but was so pleased that my cotton print is so perfectly suited for playing with the pattern in the same way as the extant dress!

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Dresses from this period with v necks are not common, but they do exist. This Pinterest board has lots of examples. My Pinterest board has a few other dresses that helped move me along as well.

As I mentioned in my post about Eleanor, finding and making use of subtle differences between dresses from similar years brings me joy. For example, Sophie has a v neck, no boning, cartridge pleated sleeves, gathered trim, and is actually sewn together as a dress, rather than hooking together at the waistband as with all my other dresses from this period.

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In other ways, Sophie is similar to Georgina, being partially machine and partially hand sewn, having a cartridge pleated skirt, cuffs with little ruffles at the ends, and pockets.

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Personally, I love having pockets in day dresses. It brings me peace of mind to know that modern things like my keys are close by and not sitting around somewhere. Plus, chapstick, fan, gloves, etc. are also excellent choices for stashing in pockets. These pockets, which you can see the top of in the picture below, are sewn in the same way as Georgina’s pockets, shown here. I love this collection of references to pockets from the 1840s, 50s, and 60s that Anna Worden Bauersmith put together. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to share it for what seems like ages.

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Here are two more interior shots of the dress. The first shows the muslin facings. I don’t have documentation for this method being used to finish a lightweight summer cotton dress, but it makes sense that this method might have been used to finish the edges nicely while keeping the main body of the dress breathable and light. The second picture shows in the inside of the top of the sleeve, particularly to show the cartridge pleats.

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In addition to the dress, I also made a new cage crinoline. I’ve been wanting a slightly smaller, less bell shaped one, particularly to wear with cotton dresses. I love my old cage crinoline (seen here) for evening dresses, but it is just a bit too much for a more practical daytime look. The new crinoline shape just looks ‘right’ with the cotton dress. The difference is subtle, but pleasing. Unfortunately, it did not perform well in its first wearing. The vertical tapes were sliding all over the place and causing the hoops to drop and be tripped on. Not good! It needs revision before being finished and shared, so for now you’ll just have to believe that I’m wearing it with this dress.

Now that you’ve heard all about the dress itself, here are some pretty pictures of it in action. These first ones are in the spirit of the development of rural cemeteries in the mid-19th century, which you can read more about in this blog post at Plaid Petticoats.

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The next few are a celebration of the autumn season. The gorgeous leaves were beckoning us to have some laughs. Incidentally, I tend to jump in the air with my arms up whenever I’m having an amazing time in this period. Take this memory, for example. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing!

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We have so many things to be grateful for. I am always thankful for the many blessings in my life, particularly at this time of year. I hope that your life is also overflowing with blessings and reasons to give thanks, in autumn and always.

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Belated HSF 2013 #13: 1885 Frills and Furbelows

For my 300th post on the blog, I thought I’d share a dress that makes me smile. This dress makes me smile because of the frilliness of it which reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, because of the fact that it was very enjoyable and comfortable to wear, because I love that it is a UFO from 2013 that is finally complete, and because of the stunning backdrop I had for the pictures of it, which also remind me of Anne of Green Gables.

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I wore this dress to the Nahant Vintage Dance Weekend Formal Tea and Seaside Promenade in August. It was also the first outing for the my new 1880s steam molded corset and my recently made 1885 straw hat. I am pleased to report that they were all comfortable garments and accessories to wear. Being heavily boned, the corset was very supportive and thankfully didn’t feel heavy, and because it is shaped exactly to my body it was super comfortable–smoothing my figure without squishing it uncomfortably. The dress was perfectly reasonable to wear, with the exception of sitting, which required a slight sideways perch that was a bit precarious. And the hat stayed in place perfectly with two hat pins, as you can see from the pictures where my head is tilted in various directions.

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This dress has an association in my head with the puffed sleeves that Anne wants in Anne of Green Gables. While being from the wrong decade, it seems exactly like the sort of dress covered in frills and furbelows that Marilla wouldn’t waste fabric on. And just like Anne, I would often rather have the ridiculous, fashionable styles in historical clothing than the plain and sensible ones!

MARILLA: I’m not going to pamper your vanity. These are good and sensible dresses. This one is for Sunday, and the others you can wear to school.

ANNE: I am greatful, but I’d be even more grateful if you’d made this one with puffed sleeves.

MARILLA: I cannot waste material on ridiculous looking frills and furbelows. Plain and sensible is best.

ANNE: I’ve always dreamed of going to a picnic in puffed sleeves. I’d rather look ridiculous with everyone else than plain and sensible all by myself.

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This dress was started in 2013. I had grand hopes of finishing it that summer for the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge #13: Lace and Lacing

Lacing is one of the simplest and oldest forms of fastening a garment, eminently practical, and occasionally decorative.  Lace has been one of the most valuable and desirable textiles for centuries, legislated, coveted, at times worth more than its weight in gold, passed down from one garment to the next over centuries. Elaborate and delicate it is eminently decorative, and rarely practical.  Celebrate the practicality of lacing, and the decorative frivolity of lace, with a garment that laces or has lace trim, or both.

And while I did make significant progress on the skirt that summer (getting all of the trimming figured out, cut, and assembled, as well as getting the skirt base and side panels constructed), I didn’t get anywhere near far enough along to have a wearable outfit. So it sat in my “in-progress” sewing box with hopes to be worked on, but didn’t really make it to the top of my sewing list again until this summer. I had enlarged and sized a pattern from Janet Arnold in between 2013 and 2015, even cutting and assembling a mockup, but that had been waiting for a fitting because I wanted to wear my new specifically 1880s corset with the dress and the new corset didn’t get completed until June. Once I had the corset done, I set to work on the dress again, fitting the mockup bodice, finishing the skirt, and making the bodice, as well as a slight delay while I made the hat to match. It’s handy to make a hat part-way through the process of making the dress, because you don’t wind up running out of time at the end and not having matching accessories!

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The first inspiration for my dress was this white summer dress at the LACMA. The skirt was pretty much directly taken from the original, except for the back, which has a cascade of fabric instead of tucks as on the original–I figured there was already enough fluff for me on the front of the dress. I originally planned to edge all the front ruffles in lace as well, but ran out of lace. Running out of lace also made me rethink how I was going to trim the bodice. I went back to my inspiration boards and found these dresses with inspiring bodice treatments: a seaside ensemble and an afternoon dress with very different fabrics and intent, but I thought this could be adapted for my summery seaside dress. I had only a few yards of lace left when I got to working on the bodice and I decided to save some for edging the top of the 1880s corset because the shape of the lace is perfect, but that didn’t leave me much for the bodice. It turns out I had just enough to execute the final trimming plan I decided on.

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Since this was originally intended to be part of the HSF, here are just the facts:

Fabric: 7ish, I think, yards of cream satin stripe cotton, 1/3ish of a yard of blue polished cotton, and 1.5 yards or so of cream polished cotton for flat lining the bodice.

Pattern: Created by me, but the shapes are based on a dress in Janet Arnold.

Year: 1885.

Notions: 9 yards of ivory lace, hooks and eyes, scraps of white cotton for finishing off the bodice edges, and vintage ivory buttons.

How historically accurate is it?: As accurate as I can be using the research I’ve done and the materials that are available in 2015. It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time.

Hours to complete: Tons over two years.

First worn: In August 2015.

Total cost: I bought the all the cottons for super cheap, probably $3/yard, the lace was probably about $8, the buttons were a few dollars, and the rest was from the stash, so around $30-$35.

There were so many good pictures it was very hard to limit myself for this post! So here’s some more, with a bit of commentary to go along with them.

We had a beautiful day for the Tea and Promenade. It had been very hot prior to this, but the day of the event was a little cooler and the stiff ocean breezes made for a temperature that felt perfect for me in my layers and ¾ sleeves. The formal tea part of the day was at Egg Rock on Nahant (the same location as the Formal Soiree I attended last August). There was a lovely concert inside the house as well as guests lounging around outside, including me, playing croquet. At that point the stiff breeze had me worried that my hat wouldn’t stay on without pulling at my hair, so I chose not to wear it for awhile. (Thank goodness I gave it a try later, though, because it is perfect with the dress and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss wearing the two together!)

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After the concert and some refreshments, the guests assembled for the promenade. As you would expect, we stopped traffic, attracted stares, and received questions from the more brave souls who would talk to us rather than just making up stories in their heads about our unusual clothing. The promenade took us to East Point, former site of the 19th century Nahant Hotel. The hotel is no longer standing, but there were stunning views of the Atlantic and the rocky coast to clamber on!

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Not me, but such a gorgeous view and cute picture that I had to share it, too!

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Some of us decided to head back a little early so we could stop at a small beach we had passed on our way to East Point and go wading! After the walk, the cold Atlantic water felt quite good on our feet. Here I am with stockings and shoes off, ready to head into the water.

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And here I am, wading in my bustle dress!

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There’s this picture of two ladies in bustle dresses from 1885 who look like they are collecting shells. That’s what I had in mind when I took this next picture, although looking at the 1885 picture again I see that the ladies in the picture are still wearing their stockings and shoes… I guess I’m pretty scandalous for 1885 in my bare legs and feet!

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Here we are, the whole wading group. It was a pretty fun adventure. I don’t think I’ve been wading in historical clothing since Newport in 2012.

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Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown Part III: Innards

It’s been a little while since I posted about my new 1864 ball gown. Over a month, I think, because in February I posted about the plan/inspiration and then about the progress I made on the trim. I was steadily working on it during the month of March and had it ready to go for the Returning Heroes Ball a week ago. That’s not to say there wasn’t a little bit of last minute sewing the afternoon of the ball. My last minute sewing was gloves and hair piece, though, not dress, so that’s an accomplishment! And I wasn’t alone in my afternoon sewing… friends were sewing with me! There are lots of upcoming pictures but for now I’m going to post about the insides of the skirt and bodice. It’s a sneak peak, since you have to wait for the others pictures to see the full ensemble!

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Completed skirt trim! I was SO ready to be done with it by the time I was sewing down the green zig zag (the last step of the skirt trim).

My other 1860s dresses have names: Belle is my dark blue gown and Annabelle is my white gown. I haven’t really been thinking of this dress by name until recently. Upon consideration, I’ve decided that she’s named Evelyn, or perhaps Evie for short. Why that name? I just like it, it’s old fashioned, and it has Y, and I have a fondness for the less commonly used letters of the alphabet. So here she is: Evie.

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Skirt waistband of self fabric, to which the box pleated skirt is sewn. There is a cleverly hidden opening on the fold of one of the pleats.
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Magic! The pleats are deep enough that you can’t see the opening when the skirt is hooked closed, even with my hoops underneath.

The raw top edges of the skirt are just turned to the inside and left alone. The silk skirt is flat lined with muslin, which helps give it some body, preventing creasing, and some stability at the hem for all that trim. There are six double box pleats evenly spaced around the skirt, as you can see. I haven’t tried this evenly distributed method on an 1860s skirt before (my previous dresses have knife pleated fronts and cartridge pleated backs, which makes them much heavier in the back than the front… I suppose I could divide the skirt in half and do that method, but given how those skirts are weighted, I’m sure there’s more fabric in back than in front). All that to say that I love how evenly weighted this skirt is! It means I don’t need a giant bum pad to keep my hoops level with the floor. (Come to think of it, I suppose I could remount the skirts of my other dresses onto new waistbands and redistribute the fabric… hm… I’ll have to think about that!)

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Inside of the bodice at center front. The bodice is flat lined in ivory polished cotton. The edges are finished with cording (even the top edge, which you can’t see on the outside because it is hidden by the bertha, grrr, but oh well!).
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Inside of the left front and outside of the right back.

The sleeve is lined in muslin. I originally intended that it wouldn’t be seen, but then changed the sleeve design so now the muslin is visible on the inside of the bodice. It doesn’t matter, though, but I do like it when everything matches. The seam allowances of the bodice are just left unfinished (I might whip stitch over the edges some day, but that’s unlikely, since I’ll probably be sewing something else!). The armhole seam allowances are whip stitched together to keep them from fraying and to keep all those layers together. The armholes also have cording in them. The bodice closes at center back with lacing. The eyelets, like everything else, are hand sewn. The bertha also closes at center back (unusual, since a lot of them close on the shoulder, but I didn’t want my bertha pleating to be able to move or show the top of the ruffle). You can see the stitching holding the bertha in place in the first bodice picture, because those stitches go right through to the inside of the bodice.

I stopped keeping track of how many yards of hand sewing went into this dress… but now I’m curious again. So when I finished stitching the gathering stitches I was at 86 1/2 yds just for the trim. I’d estimate about another 22 yds of stitching to attach the trim and about 12 yds of stitching to construct the skirt before attaching it to the waistband. Waistband attachment was probably about 7 yds (it’s quite sturdy and all those pleats are well sewn!). That puts the skirt at a total of about 127 1/2 yds of hand sewing. Then there’s the bodice, which is maybe 12 yds of hand sewing total? That’s a harder one to estimate. That brings Evie to a total of approximately 140 yds of stitching.

I’m proud to say that every single stitch is hand sewn. Next time, though, I’m planning on machine stitching the inside seams. It’s super satisfying to have an entirely hand sewn dress, but it took about two months, and that could have been much sped up with the use of a sewing machine, which means I could have made more things! Who knows, I might change my mind, but right now even I am tired of hand sewing that dress.

Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown Part I: The Plan And The Trim

It’s time. I’ve been wearing Annabelle, my flounced not-so-new-anymore white 1860 ball gown, to all Civil War events for about a year straight, with no relief on the horizon. Not that I dislike Annabelle, I just want options, and a change. I have Belle, a dark blue 1860 ball gown, as well, but I haven’t worn her since 2011, and since most of the women in our dance troupe have blue dresses it’s not likely that I’ll get to wear her soon, and anyway, she’s too heavy for summer, and summer is coming up. So it’s time. Time for a new 1860s gown! Yay!

This gown was included back in autumn of 2012, when I made my 9 month sewing plan. It’s my goal to have it finished by mid-March, for the annual Commonwealth Vintage Dancers Returning Heroes Ball. My inspiration is this fashion plate from 1864 (pictured below).

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From The Bartos Collection. 1864.

Specifically, I’m going to be making the dress on the left. Or one inspired by/sort of like it. As I’ve been working on it I’ve made changes to my plan, as you’ll soon see. My dress will be green silk shot with gold and with gold silk trim. I bought the silk remnants for the project months ago, so I have had to make my plan work with the yardage I have. The green isn’t an issue, but the gold had to be carefully considered to make sure I have enough for all the trimmings. After lots of math, I realized I didn’t have enough to do all the trim, so I thought about what was visually most important and decided to eliminate the vertical lines of trim, as well as the waist trim. Here is the same fashion plate, with my changes:

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Of course, me being me, I’ve decided to hand sew the entire gown! Yes, sometimes I like my big projects. But I’ve got time (I think). I’ve sewn the skirt and the polished cotton lining and hemmed them, though the skirt isn’t attached to a waistband yet. I’ve sewn the bodice seams, so now it needs boning, and cording, and trim, and closures in the back. And, most importantly, I’ve cut and hemmed the MANY yards of gold trim for the skirt.

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Skirt trim: on top is the zig zag, in the middle is the rosettes, and on the bottom is the ruffle. Not gathered yet, but all hemmed!

Did I mention I’m hand sewing all of this? All of these trim bits on the skirt will be gathered to a ratio of just over 1 1/2 to 1 (that was all that my yardage would accommodate). The zig zag is hemmed on both sides and will be sewn onto the skirt with a band of green silk running down the middle. The rosettes will be gathered in the middle and the raw edges hidden, which is why that bit is hemmed on only one side. The ruffle at the bottom will be bound at the top, which is why only one edge is hemmed.

Hem-age: 13 1/2 yds of zig zag, hemmed on both sides equals 27 yds of hem; 10 1/2 yds of rosette hem (there will be 18 finished rosettes on the skirt, if all goes according to plan); and 7 1/2 yds of ruffle hem. Total hem-age: 45 yds, and that’s just the skirt trim!

I love hand sewing, which makes me excited about that total, rather than bored. And I really enjoy the sense of satisfaction I have when I’ve completed the different pieces of this project, so I can only imagine how great it will be when the entire gown is complete!

Project Journal: 1815-1820 Regency Ensemble: Part VII: Gown Progress

I’ve been stitching away at the re-make of my 1819 Regency gown. The progress:

  • the bodice and skirt ruffles are all being hemmed by hand and there is only one skirt ruffle left to complete
  • the bodice has been put together, with the exception of sleeves and the finishing of the neck edge
  • the seams on the bodice are finished by hand (each seam is flat felled to hide the raw edges on the inside)
Skirt ruffles in progress: I've actually completed more than is pictured
The hem and join of one skirt ruffle
The bodice seams with ruffles inserted
The rolled hem on the bodice ruffles
Center front on the bodice has a double edged ruffle
The flat felled seams on the inside of the bodice
The flat felled seam used on each seam on the bodice and the hand sewn top stitching (which is only along these curved back seams)

Here is a refresher of the bodice inspiration image. My bodice looks like a reasonable interpretation to me. I am quite pleased with the progress and overall look so far. How do you think my interpretation compares?

The inspiration for my bodice

Lastly, here is the image of the sleeve I plan to use. I described the sleeve in my last post, an overview of my planned gown updates. The sleeve is on a page with many other sleeve variations from the 1830s, but I think that it will suit my 1819 Regency (pushing 1820s) dress quite well. I am debating the possibility of outlining the triangular inset with piping. Do you think that would suit the dress and be a faithful representation of the double line delineating the inset in the image? Alternatively, there is a possibility that I might use green piping or ribbon (the same shade of green used  in my 1819 spencer) to delineate that line. But then must I also use the green somewhere else to create visual harmony? Hmm…

From the first few pages of Janet Arnold's early 19th century pattern book

Project Journal: 1815-1820 Regency Ensemble Part VI: Updating the Gown

Original construction

I have decided to remake my ivory 1819 cotton gown for an upcoming Regency ball. Originally, my plan was to add trim to the dress as it currently exists, but I realized there were many things about the dress I wanted to change: with my new late Regency corset the neckline tended to sit away from my body in front, the back closure was too tight for comfort, the bust line in front was so high that it was very hard to get it to sit below my bust, the sleeve openings were uncomfortably tight, the sleeves weren’t puffed enough, I wanted to separate all the petticoat layers to be individual layers rather than petticoats built into the dress, and I wanted to add ruffles to the skirt  to really bring it up to the years just before the 1820s. Indeed, the things I wanted to change were so numerous that I decided to just remake the dress!

In the end, the only thing that I decided to keep the same is the skirt base fabric… Using just one additional yard of the original fabric, I plan to complete the following changes: constructing an entirely new bodice with ruffled trimming, creating entirely new puffed sleeves with a cute v-shaped detail, making stand alone petticoats out of the original built in petticoats, and adding bias ruffles to the skirt.

From Ackermann's Repository 1822

My dress is from the period just before the 1820s and I felt that I needed to go more in an 1820s direction with the new trimming and adornment. The main feature of trimming in the 1820s is wide sections of trimmings on the skirt, in combination with corresponding trim across the bodice and sleeves. Thus, there two horizontal lines of interest with a simple, unadorned mid-section (as in the fashion plate on the left, from 1822).

Before I had decided to make so many changes, my original intention was to simply add ruffles to the bottom hem, along the lines of the dress (below) from the Kyoto Costume Institute.

c. 1820 Silk Day Dress (Kyoto Costume Institute)
Ribbon trim on 1819 dress before the remake

However, as I thought about it I realized that the ruffle style (above) just would not have a corresponding look to the current zig zag ribbon trim on the dress bodice (right). Those two styles did not make sense on one dress.

The logical step was to change the trim on the bodice. But remember that I had other complaints about the bodice as well… So came the decision to remake the bodice. But how to trim it to correspond with the ruffles on the skirt? I was not at all interested in the bodice trimming on the Kyoto dress for my dress, because the fabric doesn’t lend itself to that look. Well, I started researching trimming from the late 18-teens to see if I would be inspired. The image below is one of my favorites that didn’t make the cut, and there are more on my 1819 dress trimming ideas Pinterest board (thank you to Lauren, at American Duchess, for linking to her Pinterest board in a post and sparking my interest in this fabulous organization tool).

From Ackermann's Repository 1819

Many of my Pinterest images come from the same place: the blog “My Fanciful Muse” by EK Duncan. She has a series of posts that contain text and fashion plates from Ackermann’s Repository beginning in 1808 and going through 1828! Here is the link for the post on 1828: if you scroll to the bottom you will see a list of links to all of the previous years. It is absolutely fabulous! If you haven’t seen this yet you MUST visit! (Thank you for sharing, Evelyn!)

In the end, I decided on a combination of the two dresses in the image below: the ruffles on the skirt of the dress on the right (for some reason I really like the idea of ruffles on my skirt!) and the bodice of the dress on the left. The repeated use of ruffles on the skirt and bodice will produce the corresponding style I am aiming for. The sleeves will be a style from the first few pages of the first half of the 19th century Janet Arnold pattern book: a puffed sleeve with a triangular inset coming from the shoulder. I’ve wanted to use that sleeve style for months and now I finally have a way to use it that makes sense!

1820 illustration from Cunnington's English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century (the illustration is based off of contemporary fashion plates)