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!

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Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IV: Bodice Progress

In the most recent post in this series, I left off my discussion of the creation of my new 1860s dress with an assembled bodice with nicely finished seam allowances. Since then I have made a significant amount of progress on bodice finishing and have also moved on to the skirt and its multitude of trim! But more on the trim in the next post–for now we’re sticking to the bodice.

The next step in my bodice sewing process was boning. The boning helps keep the front point of the bodice smooth over the skirt, keeps the center back edges smooth under the lacing, and supports the other seams, allowing the bodice to fit smoothly over the corset without wrinkling. In the past, I’ve used both steel and plastic for boning 1860s dresses. I’ve found that both options work equally well, though plastic is lighter and easier to cut and shape.

For this dress I chose plastic again. I used ⅜” wide zip ties from the hardware store. They are quite long (18″ I think), so sometimes one zip tie will make multiple lengths and one package lasts for multiple projects, and they are easy to cut with a sturdy pair of scissors (I used my kitchen shears). In addition to cutting the length I needed, I also used the scissors to snip off the pointy corners and, in the case of bones that intersect an edge at an angle, angled the edges to snug up agains the finished edge of the bodice. Here’s an example of what I mean. This is a side back bone sitting next to its bone casing on top of the seam where it will be sewn in.

I cut a length of pre-made bone casing for each bone in the bodice except center back. This densely woven flat tube can be purchased from speciality sewing supply stores by the yard or roll in black and white in different widths. It’s not perfectly accurate, but it approximates the bone casings I’ve seen in 19th century bodices without needing to create my own from scratch. I’ve made some bodices that have used the seam allowances or darts for bone casings, but this fabric and pattern didn’t accommodate that choice.

Here is that same side back bone in its casing, sewn onto the seam allowances with whip stitches. The bone casing end at the top is tucked under to keep the bone from poking out. At the bottom the bone casing is left alone–the bias binding will cover it and keep the bone from poking out without adding bulk.

The photo above also shows the center back edge progress I’ve made. I left extra seam allowance here in order to provide a self facing for my eyelets, then sewed all of the eyelets that won’t intersect with the bias binding (I’ll finish the ones that intersect the binding later in the process). There is a half width plastic bone between the eyelets and the center back edge. This allows for a narrow edge (less than ¼” rather than the full ⅜” width of the zip ties) and stabilizes that edge so it will stay smooth after being laced.

After those steps, I cut, pieced, and sewed very narrow cotton cord into the bias strips for the top edge, armholes, and bottom edge. For this bodice I decided to try something new (based on this 1860-1861 dress at The Met) and do double piping on the bottom edge of the bottom (zoom in on the photos at The Met to see the double piping up close). It’s a subtle detail, but so very 19th century! I made my bias a little wider for the double piping than I did for the single piping.

Here’s the assembled double piping being sewn to the bodice bottom edge. I just winged my method for creating double piping by sewing a first row of cord into the bias, then a second row next to that. For attaching it to the bodice, I sewed between the rows of cord. I graded my seam allowance, then flipped it to the inside to hand sew, just as I would with single cording.

I did run into a few ‘oops’ spots when I sewed the double cord on. Below is an example. Just below the seam is an extra fold of the bias seam allowance. I had to go back and fix a few of these spots.

Aside from that, it was pretty painless! The only problem at this point was that the two rows of cord were pushed apart a bit by the three rows of machine stitching between them, so I ran a line of thread, by hand, between the two rows to snug them together.

Here’s the inside of the bodice with all of those steps complete except for the bias being flipped to the inside and hand stitched down.

And here’s what the outside of the bodice looked like at this point.

Finishing the bias top and bottom edges really pushed the bodice along towards looking done (although it doesn’t have sleeves or a bertha yet… I’m working on the skirt trim first so I can balance the whole thing out in terms of trim). Here’s the bodice in it’s current state: waiting for sleeves, bertha, and a few more eyelets, but otherwise wearable and done!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part III: Starting On The Silk

The previous post in this series stopped at the point of my successful pattern changes for this new dress. Now we’re on to the more fun part of getting to work on the visible parts of the dress!

The first step after ensuring that my ‘mockup’ flat lining fit was to take the seams apart and press the pieces flat. Rather underwhelming as sewing steps go, but it meant that I didn’t have to cut out a separate mockup of my bodice. Yay!

After that I was ready to cut out the silk bodice pieces!

Before cutting out my bodice, I had to very carefully calculate the yardage I needed for my skirt, the self fabric trim I have planned, the bodice, and the sleeves. It turns out that what seemed like plenty of fabric turned into not as much as I thought once I calculated how much fabric I needed to make pleated trim bands that would circle my skirt three times! 160ish” hem + 3 rows of trim + x2-3 fullness for the pleated bands + maybe seam allowance to do hems on the trim… yikes! I think I’ll be doing a whole post dedicated to my trim plans sometime soon, but back to the bodice for now.

When I checked the fit I didn’t worry about sleeves. I knew that if the armhole fit I could decide on a sleeve option after seeing how much silk I really had to work with.

After measuring all the skirt pieces out and laying out the bodice pieces, I decided to use the sleeve pattern I made for Eleanor with a few changes to save fabric. First, I put the grain on the straight instead of the bias. Second, I made the sleeves a little less poofy than the version on Eleanor.

Then I took the plunge and cut off each skirt panel, the bodice pieces, and the sleeves. That left a few pieces still to be cut–the waistband, bias piping for the bodice, and the skirt trim being the main pieces– but most of the silk cutting was done!

I layered each piece of cotton with the corresponding piece of silk and hand basted each piece around the edges. This flat-lining provides extra support for the silk exterior and allows for finishing that can be sewn to the cotton without showing on the exterior. I reassembled the bodice, pressed my seams open, and then whip stitched each seam allowance over the edge to control the fraying silk.

The next step is to add boning to the bodice to keep it nicely smooth while it is being worn. After that I’m not sure exactly what steps I’ll be inclined to work on. Options include initial work on the skirt and more bodice finishing. Then there’s the trim to think about and execute, too! We’ll just have to see what task appeals most.

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part II: The Pattern

Fabric and design decided on, the next step in the process of creating my new 1863 evening gown was to decide on a pattern.

I decided to start with the pattern I used for the bodice of Evie, my 1864 evening gown (this originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2). You might remember that I needed to adjust Evie to fit me two years ago, so I knew that the pattern would not work as is. For the new pattern, I added some space to the waist circumference, bust area, and across the shoulder blades in back.

To test out my pattern changes before cutting into the silk, I cut my flat lining and basted it together to check the fit. Looks good in the front!

And also looks good in the back! Success! No further alterations needed! 

The zipper in the back is my fitting zipper–a long separating zipper I can baste into mockups to check the fit without having to pin anything. This is great for fitting on myself! The zipper ensures the my center back edges will meet nicely so I can move on knowing that the bodice will fit.

As a side note, I have to mention how silly bodices from this period look without skirts! The bodice stops at the natural waist on the sides, which makes my legs look super long and my torso super short! This bodice actually stops even a little higher than my natural waist. The layers of hoop, petticoat, and skirt waistbands all add bulk that needs to be accommodated for smooth lines on the finished bodice.

The next step will be to work with the lovely apricot silk that will be exterior of the dress.

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.

1920s Beaded Bag (HSM #11)

The November Historical Sew Monthly Challenge was Purses and Bags (you’ve got your arms covered in July, your hands in September, now make something amazing to dangle from them). Late in the month I realized this was a great poke to finish an idea I’ve had for about six years. It was a bit of a challenge to complete my project before the end of the month, but I just slipped in, finishing it on November 30.

The idea came from my 1912 Tea Gown. I had intended it to have elaborate beading, but decided not to do that for a variety of reasons detailed in that past post. However, I had already beaded one panel that I decided not to use. I’ve been holding on to it waiting for the opportunity to put it to use in some other way. And so, I decided to turn it into a handbag.

Saving your scraps comes in handy on projects like this, because I had plenty of velvet to cut the additional pieces I needed for the bag. I looked through my stash to find a lining and came up with grey silk shantung as the best option. This was also a piece of fabric that I only had scraps of. It was originally used for the boning channels on an 1883 corset I made way back in 2011 (you can see it in this rather old post).

My inspiration is this page showing handbags from 1922 (source). It inspired me to go in a more structural direction rather than a gathered top bag, which was my initial thought.

I had the idea in mind, but I was restricted in the shape of the bag based on the beading that already existed on the main piece. So I cut out another rectangle the same shape as the beaded piece, a long strip for the outside edges of the bag, a strap piece, and a triangle piece to make a flap that would close the top.

Along the way I realized that interfacing wasn’t going to stiffen the bag enough for what I was envisioning. I cast about for ideas of what to use for stiffening and settled on cutting up a shoe box that was in my recycle bin. It was a great weight of cardboard–not too thick, not too thin, and not too bendy. There are cardboard pieces on each flat side, along the bottom, and a strip along the top edge to keep the flap nicely shaped. The pieces on the sides and bottom are (shhh…) masking taped together to create a flexible but stiff foundation for the bag. The piece in the top is stitched into a channel that is only sewn through the interlining so it doesn’t show on the velvet or the lining.

I assembled my pieces, thinking hard about which part to leave open to set in the lining, and struggling a bit with the shifty velvet. I wanted to sew most of the seams on the machine for speed, but sewing it by hand would probably have been more pleasant. I wrangled it mostly into submission, only needing to restitch a few sections as I went along. The only hand sewing came when I needed to close up the lining after putting all the pieces together. Things had become a bit wonky with seam allowances and shifting velvet, so I did my best, figuring that the seam would be on the inside and I really just wanted to finish the darn thing.

After that seam, the only thing left was a closure. I decided on a simple hook and bar. Not quite as classy as a real purse, but it gets the job done and I had it on hand. On the outside is a decorative button.

And that’s it, except the facts!

Fabric: Scraps of silk velvet, silk shantung, and cotton canvas.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1925.

Notions: A shoe box, thread, beads, and a button.

How historically accurate is it?: 60%? The silhouette and fabrics are plausible, though the cardboard probably isn’t. The beads are certainly too big and the method of closure is unlikely unless the item was made at home.

Hours to complete: Not counting the beading, approximately 3 hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: Free! All of the materials and notions came from my stash.

Eleanor ‘On The Continent’

When I was in Denmark last year, we got some lovely show-off-the-dress shots of Eleanor (my 1862 plaid ballgown) that I haven’t shared yet. This is the gown that I wore to the grand ball at the end of the week. I decided on it because I appreciate its simplicity and understated elegance: the only real decorations, aside from the interest provided by the large scale plaid, are the coordinating brooches on the neckline and belt.

I absolutely love how this gown looks wonderfully historical without being flashy. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for flash in some instances, but for traveling on a plane and being squashed into a suitcase, this seemed like an option that would travel well and still look elegant, especially when paired with my coordinating necklace and earrings.

Before the ball we took a short walking tour during which were able to capture these cooler-toned photos in addition to the warmer first photo (that first one was taken in the ballroom).

Looking at these photos reminds of the trip, which brings smiles. It was fun to attend a ball ‘on the continent!’

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