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.

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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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1864 Evie Hair (Returning Heroes Ball 2018)

In March, I again had the pleasure of attending The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers‘ annual Returning Heroes Ball (you can read about other years I’ve attended here). I decided to wear Evie, my 1864 ballgown, simply because it had been a year or so since the last time I wore that particular gown.

In order to change things up I did two things differently with this wearing: I wore different earrings and did my hair differently. Small changes, but it makes wearing an old dress feel new and exciting!

I don’t think I’ve ever worn these earrings for mid-19th century events before (only for things later and earlier than this period), though now that I’ve tried it I think they work quite well. I made them from triple drop earrings that I bought from a modern store (I forget now, but I think it was New York and Company). I just took off the bottom drop and attached them to clip hardware. They catch the light and sparkle nicely.

1860s and earrings together reminds me of the scene in Gone With The Wind in which a straggling soldier try to steal ‘ear bobs’ from the house. Not that these look at all similar (and luckily my story ends on a happier note than that scene), but a GWTW reference generally makes me smile.

I was going to do a simple hairstyle (my usual go-to c.1860 style with a center part and the hair in a low mass at the back of my head), but as I was getting ready I chanced a look at Pinterest and got excited about trying a more complicated style than I usually do. In particular, I liked the puffed fronts on some of these styles from 1864 and the curls on the sides like some of these from 1861.

I sort of mashed these two looks together, using small rats to puff the front sections of hair and a curling iron to get smooth curls for the sides. My hair is getting to be so long that I had to pin the hanging curls up to shorten them! The rest of my hair was just twisted and pinned on my neck without too much attention paid to it. I was running out of time and knew I’d be adding my hair piece on top, which would cover most of the back of my hair anyway.

I really like the end result for this particular dress of mine. I feel it compliments the hair piece and the silk dress nicely. Isn’t it lovely when all these little details come together to create one cohesive end result? Yay!

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If At First You Don’t Succeed… (HSM #1)

I made this 1928 evening dress and first wore it in 2012. Back then it was simple, with just a small cascade of fabric and no sash or bow (I show the construction in detail in this past post). Three years later, I decided to add the sash, bow, and extra cascade of fabric (and wrote a post about it). I liked the effect but wasn’t pleased with the slippery silk moving all over and sliding around. The armholes were also a bit high under the arms from the beginning, causing the trim to dig in a bit which wasn’t very comfortable.

Due to these issues and the addition of other 1920s evening dresses to my wardrobe I hadn’t worn this dress in a few years. But for an event this January, I decided to give it another go. Luckily, the dress still fit and didn’t cling in unwanted places! The first HSM challenge of 2018, Mend, Reshape, Refashion, was the perfect complement for the updates I wanted to complete.

To be specific about the updates, this time I lowered the armholes about 1″ and then pieced in extra trim to fill in the gap, sewed the sash/bow in place, and added an interior waistband that supports the weight of the bow and keeps the dress from pulling down on one side.

Our hotel room had a bonus vanity table and stool that was a perfect prop for photos…

I did my hair like I did last year but added a gold hair comb I recently discovered at my parent’s house. I’m pretty sure my mom gave it to me when I was a child or maybe a teenager… It’s just been sitting there waiting for me to put it to use again!

Just the facts:

Fabric: The only new fabric was a scrap of tightly woven polyester for an inner waistband.

Pattern: My own, based on measurements.

Year: 1928.

Notions: Extra trim to piece under the arms, thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 95%, with points lost for the polyester.

Hours to complete: The updates took about 4 hours. I felt like hand sewing most of it so I could watch Netflix!

First worn: With the updates in January, 2018.

Total cost: Free!

I love how this dress looks and fits now! Yay! It only took three tries… It’s a good lesson: if you don’t succeed the first time, try again! And keep trying…! Third time is the charm on this one!

 

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1850s Chenille Headdress At The Victoria & Albert Ball

It’s been almost exactly a year since the inspiration for a new mid-19th century headdress stuck in my mind. I was attending a workshop at the Civil War Weekend last October and watching others make lovely floral headdresses with low hanging flowers, like this. Another inspiration headdress was similar in having two sections of decoration on each side of a headband, but made of loops of silk chenille rather than flowers. I decided then and there that I wanted to try out this more unusual style. The image below was my main inspiration, followed by a similar style made of silk ribbon.

MFA. Hair Ornament. Mid 19-th Century. Accession number 53.2245.

MFA. Headdress. Mid 19-th Century. Accession number 51.376.

It’s charming, right? I thought it would be silly, fun, and different, so I went on a hunt for chenille yarn to complement one of my mid-19th century dresses, Annabelle. It was rather harder than I thought it would be to find just the shade of purple that I was looking for as well as an off white, but I persevered and found them on Esty.

The base of my headdress is millinery wire. I formed loops at the ends in order to have a section to easily bobby pin to my hair. The over-the-head millinery wire is covered in black acrylic yarn from the stash to blend in with my hair, while the ends are black because I colored them with a sharpie–easy and quick. No yarn to get stuck in the bobby pins on the ends.

The loops of chenille vary in length. Each piece was folded in half, twisted, and then tied to the base. The chenille I found is not as plush as my inspiration, but with overlapping twists I was able to achieve a similar overall shape.

Here are two pictures of the headdress, one from the back, which better shows off the chenille headdress, and one from the front, which also shows one of our lovely bouquets from the ball.

As the title mentions, I was able to wear this ensemble to a mid-19th century Victoria and Albert themed ball. In addition to the usual loveliness of balls (live music, refreshments, etc.), we had added decorations, special fan shaped dance cards, a quadrille performance, and sashes. Here are the dance cards laid out on a silver tray in the entryway.

And here’s the whole ensemble worn with my sash. The chenille frames the sides of my face and puffs out a bit farther than my hair. Fun and different! I really like this somewhat quirky and unusual headdress!

Masquerade! Paper Faces On Parade…

Masquerade!
Hide your face so the world will never find you!
Masquerade!
Every face a different shade…
Masquerade!
Look around there’s another mask behind you!

I’ve always wanted to attend a masquerade. This wasn’t quite the masquerade of The Phantom Of The Opera, not having sweeping orchestral music and head-to-toe colorful costumes, but it was nonetheless fun and a bit surreal in the masks-plus-fabulous-location-ness (I think a bit of a surreal experience is what makes a masquerade a unique experience, so this is entirely a positive description here).

Digressions about masquerades aside, back in November of last year I had the good fortune to attend such an event myself. The theme was 1960s, but I had recently acquired a 1950s dress that fit me so perfectly that it just HAD to be worn, so I opted to be a bit old fashioned for the theme of the party.

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The event was held in a very nice downtown hotel. We had a series of rooms including the ballroom, its foyer, and a parlor-type space far enough away from the music to easily chat and lounge. It was quite elegant feeling!

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Usually I don’t wear vintage or historical garments. I’d prefer to use them for study and don’t want to damage them. But I made an exception in this case and did my best to be gentle with the dress. I carefully mended it before wearing and then again after, as the delicate lace was pulling apart at the seams under the arms when I received the dress as well as after wearing it. My second version of the mend was to put gussets under the arms, using a tiny bit of leftover fabric I had from shortening the sleeves (I wanted to do this during the pre-wearing mend, but ran out of time). I think the sleeves were full length on the original owner, but they came down to an awkward mid-forearm length on me, so I shortened them to be a nice 3/4 length. I know! It was a hard decision to make, changing the dress, but I think it is in keeping with the period the dress is from and it allowed me to better fix the underarm problem, so I’ve come to terms with the choice.

Here’s a slightly clearer view of the bodice. The lace is backed by nude net and there is a silk faille band around the waist. The entire skirt is faille with an overlay of the same lace and horsehair around the hem for stiffening.

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For my hair, I decided it was go big or go home, so I used my largest bun form (part of the base of my Versailles hairstyle) to create a giant poof-bun-thing on top of my head that’s a nod to the 1960s beehive. I think it was balanced out well by the feathers on my mask. Plus, in general I’m pretty good at making big hair work.

I put the mask on a stick so that it wouldn’t irritate my face and so that something like an elastic wouldn’t squash my huge hair. A bonus is that I could peek out from behind it, as in this picture.

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With this ensemble, I wore the same sparkly earrings I wore to Versailles and my silver American Duchess Seaburys with silver rhinestone shoe clips to make the ensemble even more bling-y!

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The event included food and dancing and chatting. I had a great time that was even better than I was expecting, though I think that was due to being tired after a long week of work and not really sure if the event would be a hit or not.

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My friends and I did lots of silly 1960s dances–the monkey, the swim, etc. (Are these really 1960s? I don’t know for sure, but in my mind they are…) These pictures of my dancing in the lobby are some of my favorite, partly because swishing around in my 1950s dress was so much fun!

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