My last two posts were aimed at sharing photos of my black wool 3/4 circle skirt and 1950s boysenberry raglan cardigan. Those posts both included a bunch of photos, all of which were taken during a magical walk through the woods, but there were many wonderful photos in addition to those that I didn’t feel needed to be added to the garment documentation posts.
Accordingly, I’ve decided to share more in this post!
Hopefully this is a nice ‘armchair’ outing into the snowy, magical woods! Welcome to the adventure!
This snow was very early–occurring on October 30. Due to that early date, there was a beautiful mix of iconic golden bronze New England leaves still on the trees as well as on the ground, mixed with the snow.
The snow was rather sticky, as you can see in the photos, so not only was it clinging to the trunks and branches, but it also clung to the leaves. The combination of slanting sunlight filtering through the trees created an incredible glow.
The snow, only a few inches deep, created a quiet hush over the woods. It provided enticing opportunities to step off the paths, something that is less likely during other seasons, when branches are full of leaves and poison ivy might be lurking in the undergrowth.
In between photos, I donned my coat and orange vest. Safety is important when it’s hunting season in the woods!
I found it quite tempting to pause and listen to stillness, admiring the majestic height of the pine trees and the beauty of the forest.
It was fascinating to see how the wooded areas bathed in shadows retained much of the snow throughout the walk, while areas that were in more direct sunlight were quite clear of snow. Look at the contrast!
The colors were so vibrant! The mix of bronze leaves on the trees and ground, green algae on the river, boysenberry sweater, and blue sky are such a contrast to the snowy scenes that we found only a mile or so back on the wooded path.
The colors look even more vibrant in this photo. I think the green branch really brings out the green in the river and pops against the purple of the sweater.
By this point in the walk my down coat was rather too warm, combined with all my other layers. The snow felt the same way, I think, as most of it had melted, leaving bare leaves and trees.
The pine trees in this part of the forest were a different variety. I’m not an expert on tree types, but these remind me more of drooping Douglas Fir trees than the very tall pine trees.
Scattered around were also many baby pine trees, pushing their way up through the snow and leaves to get their share of sunshine!
There are always many photos that don’t make the cut, but I found some of the ones from this outing to be particularly amusing, so I thought I’d share a few outtakes, too!
This is probably the most logical one. As the day warmed up the sticky snow was falling off the trees in clumps and landing everywhere… including on my head! Easy to dust off, but amusing!
Next, I have this photo, in which I believe I’m trying to keep a branch from poking me in the head. I actually love the background… this little gully is lovely, with the floating leaves and curved shape leading out to the river. But… my arms remind me of a family joke about ‘keeping the elephants’ away, which is amusing.
Lastly, my favorite outtake. The ‘what??? confusion’ face! This one just makes me laugh.
I hope you enjoyed this beautiful, snowy armchair outing!
I’ve found it so easy to make wool circle skirts to fill out my wardrobe with warm, vintage inspired styles. I started with the brown wool ¾ circle skirt I posted about in 2017. Last year, I posted about the burgundy wool ½ circle skirt I made. In between those, in the first months of 2019, I decided to add a black ¾ circle skirt. It’s a great basic!
It really is basic: a ¾ circle skirt with side seams and a center back seam.
I used 1 ¾ yards of 60″ wide wool, a scrap of interfacing, thread, a zipper, and a few yards of hug snug for the hem. The total materials cost was about $33.
The side seams allowed for the easy addition of pockets! Here are my pockets ready to be set in. They’re made from the black wool and have serged seam allowances to keep everything tidy.
The main circle part of the skirt is set into a basic rectangle waistband. The waistband is interfaced with a strip of upholstery canvas to keep it from crumpling while being worn. Because my wool fabric is opaque I used this random geometric scrap for the interfacing.
The waistband closes at the back with a button and buttonhole above a lapped zipper. The geometric interfacing was showing when I cut my buttonhole open (top photo, below), which just wouldn’t do! To fix it, I used a black sharpie to darken the white threads that were showing (bottom photo, below). It worked like a charm!
Here’s a back view of the skirt. You can see the zipper lap and also just barely see a pocket opening on the right side.
This skirt is mostly machine sewn with the edges finished with a serger. The waistband is finished by hand. The hem is faced with black hug snug sewn by machine and then hemmed by hand for an invisible finish.
I’ve been wearing this for well over a year, but hadn’t yet found a moment to take photos. This day was perfect, as I was also documenting the completion of my sweater (a post on that will be forthcoming!). Plus, we had the most magical snowy winter woods to take these photos. It felt like Narnia!
Some of my recent posts have mentioned my excursion into sewing clothing from the 1830s. Most recently, in September, I posted about making a corded petticoat to help support a fashionable 1830s silhouette. I also shared a reminder about the fabric I’ve had in mind for an 1830s dress since I bought it seven years ago. It’s finally time to share the finished ensemble created with that fabric!
Today’s post is going to focus on the construction of this dress, but, never fear, upcoming posts will share more finished garment photos as well as construction details about the bonnet.
There is a lot of information about this dress to share and many photos of the process, so I hope you’re ready for a lengthy post!
As you probably guessed from the title of this post, this dress is from the year 1834. The trimming details and shape are directly inspired by the dress pictured below, which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The V & A Dress is dated to 1830-1834. From a style perspective, this makes sense as these are the years from this decade with the largest sleeves, but it is also around this point in the decade that sleeve fullness starts to slide down the arm. This look that is just beginning to show in the V & A dress, which achieves the falling look with the addition of the mancherons at the top. The mancherons both practically and visually push the fullness of the sleeve off the shoulder.
What is a mancheron? The Oxford English Dictionary has the following entry):
mancheron, n. 1.French Heraldry. A sleeve used as a charge. Obsolete. 2. A piece of trimming on the upper part of a sleeve on a woman’s dress. Now historical.
The pattern for this bodice is based on patterns contained in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes. I was able to start with my basic darted 1860s bodice and adapt it for the 1830s using information about grain line, dart placement, etc. from the books. This worked well because I know the basic darted bodice fits in areas that can be fussy to fit such as neckline, armhole, etc. and those things (in the 1860s) are still very similar to the shapes from the 1830s.
The sleeve pattern is from Plate 12 (page 84) in The Workwoman’s Guide (published in 1838), which can be viewed on Google Books here. I used the big circle sleeve (Figure 8–shown made up in Figure 7) and varied the top shape so that it forms a downward V shape to allow for my mancherons, which are patterned based on the V & A inspiration dress.
The ladies at American Duchess created a very helpful video discussing sleeve shapes from the 1830s, including showing mockups of a few different sleeve patterns from The Workwoman’s Guide. It is wonderful for seeing how the flat patterns turn into 3D shapes, which I found to be very helpful as I dithered about sleeve patterns.. You can view the video here. Lauren also has a blog post talking about 1830s sleeves, which shows the pattern I chose to use in various stages of its construction, from being flat to being made-up.
The skirt is based on information from the same books as the bodice pattern. It is made of 3 panels of my 45″ wide cotton fabric.
Construction Method Disclaimer
I chose to construct this dress in the mid-19th century way of separate bodice and skirt. This is odd for the 1830s (in fact, I can’t think of any examples that are done this way) as they are usually sewn together to make a one piece dress. However, as I was pondering sleeve options and considering my yardage I was faced with an exciting prospect.
There are so many sleeve variations in the 1830s–super poof, takes-a-while-to-get-used-to-looking-at elbow poof, meticulous pleated details as the poofs are reduced and contained… I wanted to make more than one! Also, I had 10 yards of my beautiful reproduction cotton and I expected my 1834 dress to only use about 7. What would I do with the last 3 yards? That’s not enough to make another dress. But… it is enough to make another bodice, even with giant 1830s sleeves that use a full yard for each arm!
I decided to make one skirt with two bodices, so in addition to this 1834 dress I also have an 1838 bodice halfway completed. It is a variation on a theme, using mostly the same bodice pieces, but with a different front style and different sleeves. More on that in the future, but for the purposes of this post it is an explanation for the fact that the skirt of my 1830s dress hooks to the bodice in a way that is common in the mid-19th century, as you can see below. (The loops on the skirt waistband blend really well with the pattern on the fabric, but you can see them if you look really carefully.)
As I mentioned earlier, my skirt is made up of 3 panels of my 45″ wide cotton. They are carefully pattern matched to keep the scrolling consistent across the panels and to help hide the seam lines. They’re not perfect, but they are pretty darn close.
Two seams are on each side of center front and one is at center back. The two front seams have french seamed pockets set into them below the cartridge pleats. This is wonderfully helpful while wearing the dress! I made sure to make the pockets big enough to hold a phone, keys, etc.
The fullness of the skirt is cartridge pleated to the waistband. I find that this quantity of cotton is weeny looking when cartridge pleated to a waistband without a little help to create loft, so I sandwiched a single layer of cotton flannel into the pleats to help them have a little bit of puff. I just used scrap flannel from my stash for this–the fun dot print pictured below. This is the top of my skirt pressed and ready for pleating!
Here is the skirt in the process of being pleated. The top edge is left raw and folded over the flannel before I ran two rows of parallel stitches to form the pleats.
I absolutely eyeball my cartridge pleats! My stitches are vaguely even but I really don’t worry too much about that. I mark the quarter points of the skirt and waistband and then adjust the pleats to fit. No math for this process!
The waistband has a single layer of canvas inside (a scrap from a decorating project) to help stiffen it and provide stability for the cartridge pleats and closures. This is machine stitched to the cotton where it will not show.
The cotton is then wrapped around the canvas and whip stitched in place. I finished the waistband entirely before whip stitching the cartridge pleats in place.
There are other inspirational dresses on my Pinterest board for this project, as well. Many of them are held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Those are excellent because you can really zoom in on the photos to look at details, but unfortunately they don’t often show interior views of the dresses.
The hardest part about this bodice was the pattern matching! It was mind boggling to keep the flowers growing upwards, match the wave, keep the dark pink flowers at corresponding places, and keep some parts on the bias and some on the straight.
For example, here is my first attempt at the front bodice, which is cut on the bias. It’s not awful… but it’s just not quite right, and that bothers my eyes.
I very carefully tried again…
And was able to get this, which I was much happier with!
And I was able to use the reject front piece to cut out a pocket piece (and later a bit of bias as well)… no waste here!
Here is the front piece after flatlining (the fronts, side backs, and backs of the bodice are all flat lined with muslin), stitching the darts, and putting cording down the center front seam.
Ah yes, the cording! There is 1/16″ cotton cording in most of the bodice seams (front, side back, shoulders, armholes, neckline, and to finish the cuffs). This detail is taken directly from extant 1830s dresses.
My cording is made up of bias scraps, some as small as about 4″ long, that are pieced together. The cording is machine stitched. I made it with even seam allowances for most of the seams, but thought ahead and offset the seam allowance for the neckline cording, to make it easier to turn it under and whip stitch later. The photo below shows the neckline cording (on the top) and regular seam cording (on the bottom).
Here are the side back pieces with the cording attached, before being sewn to the back pieces. As you can see, I carefully matched my pattern across these two pieces as well.
And here is one side back sewn to its corresponding back, with the cording in the seam. Even across these pieces my pattern matching is pretty good, especially at the bottom!
And the back! It also makes me very happy, but was a super mind boggle to figure out! I have a flap that overlaps past center back, covering a pleat on the other side that will anchor my loops. I found this detail on a number of 1830s dresses, including this 1835-1836 dress at The Met and this c. 1837 dress at The Met.
It doesn’t look like much until it’s lined up to be closed… and then it’s perfect!
The final step was to finish the bottom. I wanted to have a self fabric waistband on this bodice, as with the bodice at the V & A, so that I would have the option of wearing my dress with or without a belt, while still having the visual change of pattern in the fabric.
The outer waistband and inner muslin facing encase the bottom seam allowance of the bodice. They are machine stitched at the top, have graded seam allowances, and then the muslin is whip stitched along the bottom.
With the bodice mostly assembled, I moved on to the sleeves. These are not flat lined.
I upgraded my sleeve puffs for this ensemble by giving them ties to attach to the armsceye of the dress so I can control the height that they sit at. This is essential for getting the right shape poof with this sleeve style. Looking into a sleeve, here is one sleeve puff tied in place.
I edged my decorative mancheron and cuff zig zag with narrow lace before attaching them to my sleeve. The cuff zig zags are sewn on by hand, while the full tops of the sleeves are gathered and machine sewn to the mancherons (you can see a the seam allowance from this seam in the photo above).
After the trim was added to the cuffs, I sewed cording to the bottom edge and then a muslin facing to finish everything off. This allows me to have nicely finished edges for the sleeve openings, which extend up about 8″ and allow for the tight fit of the forearms.
Here’s what that looks like flipped up and ready to be slip stitched along the top edge. You can see my hand sewing from attaching the cuff zig zag.
So… I got this far and realized that my sleeve was too narrow (even though I’d had no trouble in my mockup!) and my hand wouldn’t fit through the opening! Even if I made the opening higher, the sleeve edges wouldn’t butt, but would have a gap!
It’s good to have extra fabric… Having extra allowed me to make the decision to cut off the old forearm pieces and piece on new ones (with careful pattern matching, of course!). This meant redoing the cuff trim and finishing, but I couldn’t find a better solution. The seam hides under the crazy big sleeves, so it’s really not noticeable at all (even if I hadn’t pattern matched the seam!).
Finally, after these various successes and challenges… the dress was done! Here are some more photos of it in its finished state.
This is the inside of the bodice with the skirt attached. You can see machine stitching, seam allowances mostly left unfinished (they really don’t fray at all), neck binding, closures, etc.
This closeup shows a shoulder seam, as well as the neckline and armhole finishing. The bias on the neck is turned under and whip stitched. The lace is sewn on top of that. The armhole seam allowances were trimmed and then roughly whip stitched to hold the layers together. You can also see a little square of the twill tape tie for the sleeve puff (it is sewn to the armsceye seam allowance below the shoulder seam).
Here is the finished cuff opening. Hidden under the zig zag are the hooks that correspond to the loops on the muslin facing.
This is the center back opening with all of the closures in place. Those hooks really do camouflage well on the brown scroll, don’t they? Doing the closures this way leaves lots of seam allowance at center back for me to make alterations in the future if I need to.
This photo shows the inside of the skirt and bodice. Specifically, you can see the raw edge of the top edge skirt seam allowance folded to the inside (the skirt is intentionally shorter in the front than in the back, which you can see in the varied top edge seam allowanced length), the french seam of the pocket, and the skirt opening, which is simply an opening in the back seam (no placket on this skirt, the fullness of the cartridge pleats easily hides the opening).
One last photo! This is the cartridge pleats and bodice waistband from the exterior. Cartridge pleats are always visually intriguing to me and I also love how the waistband of the bodice is perfectly cut to show off the scroll and flower pattern.
After so many construction photos, here is a reminder of what the completed dress looks like from the exterior. I’m looking forward to sharing more photos in future posts!
Thanks for sticking with me through this very long post!
Last fall, I had the opportunity to take part in a presentation focused on the clothing of middle and upper class African Americans in Providence, RI around the turn of the 20th century (you can see photos of and information about this event here). In order to generate some promotional materials that incorporated both of the presenters (as opposed to having separate photos of each of us), my co-presenter, Lady Estelle Barada, suggested that we schedule a photo shoot together and so we spent a beautiful, sunny summer morning traipsing around a state park, accompanied by photographer David Cruz.
The outfit I chose to wear, my 1904 Anne of Green Gables Ensemble, has been a difficult outfit to photograph in the past, especially the blouse with its white-on-white lace trim and the subtle changes in the direction of the stripes. Given that challenge, I was extra excited when I saw the results of David’s work. He clearly captured the small details of our clothing, including the blouse details!
There are many wonderful photos from our shoot and I enjoy the captivating liveliness that each photo shares–you can just image that movement will continue as soon as you blink or look away.
On the outfit front, I love how comfortable my ‘Anne Ensemble’ is. I had no difficulty tromping through tall grass, climbing over rock walls, sitting on a picnic blanket, and more!
I was also pleased with how my hair turned out. I was able to achieve Edwardian volume around the face while maintaining a side part that gave me two separate poufs on the top/side of my face.
I’m very grateful that David graciously gave permission for me to share these photos with you. As always, please do not share these photos without appropriate photographer credit and a link back to this source.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The final step of making this dress was trimming! Lots of it!
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!
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!
It can be cold in New England during the winter and over the years I’ve lived here I’ve realized that I prefer bundling up for the cold more in skirts than pants. Wool skirts, in particular, are great for staying warm, looking put together, and warding off snow all at the same time (I even clear my driveway of snow before work wearing wool skirts and have no problem with wet clothes). However, it can be difficult to find 100% wool skirts in stores. And even if I do find them, new or thrifted, they’re not always styles I want to wear every day. So to solve that problem I’ve made a few wool skirts over the last few years to fix that hole in my wardrobe.
I have 3 wool circle skirts. The first is a brown ¾ circle skirt that I posted about in 2017. A second is a ¾ circle skirt in solid black that has yet to be photographed or blogged about despite having been completed in February 2019. The third is the burgundy ½ circle skirt this post is about!
All of these skirts are variations on circle skirts because I like that they are easy to pattern, simple to sew, flattering to wear, and have a subtle vintage look. (I greatly admire people who dress in obvious vintage every day, but I generally think I’m more of a nod-at-vintage-style person.)
I decided to make this skirt a ½ circle mostly to vary up the silhouette from my other skirts. I love the silhouette of ¾ circles (I wear a lightweight vintage petticoat with them to help maintain the silhouette and swish–I talk about that in the brown ¾ circle skirt post), but it’s nice to have something different and this skirt doesn’t need the petticoat, so that’s nice, too!
I have a vintage pattern making textbook that I use to make my circle skirt patterns: Pattern-making For Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong. This book has updated editions and is still available, but I have the edition copyrighted in 1987. The instructions create ¼, ½, ¾ and full circle skirts for any waist measurement and are easy to adjust to any length. I also reference a yardage calculator like this to figure out how much fabric I need when making these skirts.
This burgundy skirt is made from a lovely, soft, light-to-mid-weight plain weave wool. The seams are bound with hug snug, there is a pocket on the right side, and an invisible zipper on the left side.
I thought it would be fun to use the contrasting grey hug snug color for both the binding and the hem finishing, but I found that the hem looked like a mistake when it flipped around while walking. So I covered the grey hug snug with burgundy hug snug. Now it matches and looks more intentional (as in, you just don’t notice the hem when the skirt is worn).
I really wanted to be ice skating for photos of this skirt last winter. As you’ve seen, this was successful… but it was also hysterical.
I removed my coat, was posing for photos, and it was all going fine… until I lost my balance and fell right down on my backside! I actually have a hilarious photo with my legs in the air over my head as I hit the ice (because my photographer understands that capturing these things is better than rushing to help, usually!). With all my layers to stay warm all modesty was preserved, but you’ll just have to imagine the ridiculousness because I’m not convinced that photo needs to be officially preserved for all to see on the internet. I wound up with a bruised backside, but an amusing story and photos I’m happy with!
On the staying warm front, I would like to take a moment to praise some of the other garments I’m wearing, solely because they are awesome and not because I get anything for saying nice things. The cream wool sweater is from Emmy Designs. These sweaters are a bit expensive, but amazing and completely worth the price–I consider them to be investment pieces. They’re durable, warm, wonderfully cute and vintage styled, and the waist length is perfect for wearing with skirts and dresses. I cannot recommend them enough! Plus, Emmy Designs is a small, woman-owned business! From a second small, woman-owned business, the boots I’m wearing in the one photo without ice skates are made by the Royal Vintage Shoes–soon to be rolled into American Duchess, their sister company. The boots are wonderful! Made of real leather, durable, comfortable, and so, so cute… it is impossible not to walk with confidence in these boots. Also, I find the burgundy is a neutral (who knew?) and matches most things in my closet! I added shock absorbing insoles to these boots and that makes a huge difference in the comfort for all day wear.
Those special pieces aside, I thought I would also share the layers I wear to stay warm in a skirt in the cold, just in case I can inspire you to try it, too! It might seem intimidating, but it’s really not.
My layers include: fleece lined tights (I like the Berkshire brand, because the length is nice and long so they don’t sag between the legs), another layer of old fleece lined tights that I’ve cut the tops and bottoms off of so they’re full leg length leg warmers OR polar fleece base layer ski pants, a wool skirt, a long sleeve tee shirt, a wool OR acrylic sweater (wool is ideal but sometimes those non-breathing acrylics are great for staying warm, too!), tall wool socks, and boots of some type (ankle boots, knee high boots, snow boots… I love flats but I’ve realized they really don’t keep my feet warm. Accordingly, I’ve slowly built up my boot collection so I have boots for all occasions and weather types!). Accessories include a down coat, acrylic OR cashmere scarf, cashmere lined leather gloves (or if it’s really cold and I care less about looking put-together, ski gloves), earmuffs, and an acrylic OR wool hat (I like round, beret shapes, like the burgundy wool one in this post or the grey acrylic one in this post).
This would likely be expensive if I went out and bought all of these things at once, but I have a few strategies to save money while still buying high quality items that last for years. First, I buy items such as tights when they are on sale and items such as cashmere at discount stores rather than from full price retailers. Second, I keep these garments until they are full of holes… and then I try to fix or re-use them (for example, I repaired holes in my cashmere scarf and turned old hole-y tights into leg warmers). Some things, like the fleece ski pants, I’ve had for about twenty years. (Thankfully, they still fit!) The point is that you can slowly accumulate warm items, and look for them at discounts, so that building this type of wardrobe can be economical and long-lasting.
And sure, I could wear all the same layers of tights and socks under pants, but it gets a bit tight and uncomfortable. I’d rather wear a skirt and have a great vintage shape while staying warm!
DONE! I am so glad to be done. I’m also excited to have a new dress (and, despite the challenges and worries along the way, one I like the look of! YAY!).
I’ve kept you waiting to see photos of the finished dress. Life got a bit busy after the ball and then I wanted to share my final sewing details with you. But now it’s time to introduce you to Genevieve, my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown, also known as the Orange Monster for the last few months. Here she is!
I’m excited that this dress qualifies for the October HSM challenge.
Details: Sometimes the little things really make something fabulous. Focus on the details of your garment, to create something that just gets better the closer you look.
This dress is definitely one of those garments! I’ll explain and show you lots of reasons why in these finished photos, but there are currently seven other posts in this series sharing tons of details about the planning, patterning, sewing, and trimming process as well.
First, the facts:
Fabric: 6 ⅔ yards of apricot silk, ½ yard of dark red silk velvet, approximately ½ yard of ivory tulle, muslin scraps for hem facing, a scrap of canvas for stiffening the waistband, and about ½ yard of drab cotton for flat lining.
Notions: 25 yards of 3 ¾” lace, 2 brooches, 3 yards of ⅜” polyester ribbon, a few plastic cable ties, about 1 yard of bone casing, a variety of hooks and bars, and thread.
How historically accurate is it?: 95%. A few substitutions of modern materials exist but aside from that it’s pretty much as close as I can get.
Hours to complete: 57.
First worn: September 28, 2019.
Total cost: $112.78
The cost breakdown is as follows: $66 for the silk (local discount store in 2016), $12.50 for the velvet (WM Booth Draper in 2011), ~$2 for the tulle (local discount store in 2011),~$1 for the drab cotton (local discount store in 2018), ~$15 for the lace (Debs Lace and Trims in 2019), $6.28 for the brooches (Etsy in 2019), ~$6 for the ribbon (Farmhouse Fabrics in 2019), and we’ll say $4 for the scraps and other notions since they’re from the stash, reused from other projects/mockups, or used in very small quantities.)
Visible details, you ask? Well, in addition to sharing so many other details along the way, the finished dress has many visible layers of details. The most time consuming detail is the hand sewn 3 tiers of lace ruffle/silk scalloped & pleated trim around the skirt. This detail alone took 17.5 hours. There is a whole post dedicated to this aspect and the details that went into it.
That form of decoration is continued on the bodice sleeve caps. Here’s a closeup where you can see the pleated silk. It is meticulously hand stitched with tiny stitches everywhere it is used.
Another layer of detail is the bertha and sleeve caps. Those have tulle, gathered tulle, and lots of velvet details. My last post explains how these are made.
I found the sleeve caps to be rather unusual amongst dresses from this period, so I was pleased to find this fashion plate which has a similar look.
(This next one is a great ‘I’m plopped and tired of standing’ photo!)
And as for details, let’s not forget the velvet bows in addition the velvet trim. Especially that oversized skirt bow! I also spent quite a bit of time looking for the gold brooches to go on the velvet bows.
Aside from the photo above I don’t have many directly front facing photos of this dress–I guess I did a lot of my posing at an angle–but here is one that is slightly less angled and gives the full effect of all the trimmings.
I was super pleased to wear my American Duchess burgundy satin Amelie shoes with this dress! They matched my velvet trim quite well and were fun to have peeking out from under the giant skirt. It’s such a fun piece of history to have contrasting shoes that actually match your dress! Yay! You can see them in this next photo.
The venue we were in for the ball not only had a number of fabulous staircases leading to the ballroom but also many photos of generals and other military figures from the Civil War. It seemed fitting for this period of dress even if they do occasionally seem to be ‘photo-bombing’! Here’s an example. I love this photo! But does the painting look amused, or disapproving? Hm…
I’ve got a post coming up specifically about my grand crown hairstyle as well as a few photos of the ball in general. For now though, thanks very much for bearing with me through this project! I’ve appreciated your encouraging words and excitement about seeing the finished product!
Next post will be photos of my finished apricot dress… YAY! But first, I have the final finishing details to discuss. Most of the finishing left was on the bodice, so let’s start with that.
Side note: have we ever talked about what a bertha is? A bertha is a collar of lace or other thin fabric, particularly popular during the 19th century. Check out this link to learn a little more about the history of the word.
In my last post, I included a photo showing the assembled front of the bertha for this dress before I attached it to the bodice. My goal was to make the bertha completely separate so that it would be easy to change if I decided to do that at a later time.
The foundation is a single layer of ivory tulle cut to the shape of the front (and one for the back) of the fully assembled bodice. A gathered piece of my lace trim was machine stitched to the bottom edge of the tulle, about ½” up from the cut edge.
On top of that foundation is a second layer of tulle that is gathered at both the top and bottom edges. The top edge is folded under by about ½” and the gathering stitch run through both layers so that the top edge is a fold rather than the cut edge of the tulle.
It took quite a few pins to secure the gathered tulle to the tulle underneath. It was finicky–tulle on tulle… not fun!
And I might have made a mistake while ironing my first foundation piece of tulle. Any guesses about what that was?
Oops! I like to iron with a hot iron but the nylon tulle was having none of that! I had to cut a new piece… and turn down my iron for a bit! The bottom gathered tulle in the above photo shows another failed experiment. That tulle is a full double width folded at the top and gathered top and bottom. I decided it was too bulky and not as elegant and decided to go with my previously explained method of only turning the top to create a fold.
After machine sewing my successful gathered tulle to the base layer of tulle it was time to add velvet trim. The velvet was cut on the bias, both edges pressed under, and then it was slip stitched over the stitch lines in the tulle. I also created velvet bows, as I hinted about last time. This is one of the bows I created before I realized I needed more than I had cut out… oops again!
After recutting my bows, this is the velvet I had left. I didn’t include anything for scale, but the longest piece in this photo is about 6″!
Remaking the bows (or rather, cutting new ones and disassembling ones I had already made) brings us back to where we were in the last post. The old velvet bows had top bow parts and dangling bow parts cut on the straight of grain, but due to my limited fabric I cut out the new bows with bias dangling parts. In the end I’m glad I did, because I think they hang more elegantly than the straight cut version.
You might have noticed that the center velvet bow on the bertha has a gold filigree oval on it. In my inspiration it looks like these are buckles or brooches of some kind. I started by trying to use my stash, finding two matching football shaped buckles that I hoped could work. But the more I looked at them the more I didn’t like them.
So I spent a long time looking for something else low-cost that would work. Ideally, I wanted two sizes of the same style, but that quickly proved to be hard unless I wanted smallish very sparkly rhinestone buckles. But of course the scale of this dress is not small. Eventually I found the right search terms to find open centered brooches intended for creating your own cameos. I purchased these and painted them gold using acrylic paint. Despite being the same size for the bodice and skirt, I think they worked well!
I suppose I should also mention the sleeves. They made it onto the bodice but I haven’t talked about them at all. They are cut on the straight of grain and are basically a round-top trapezoid shape, with an outer layer of silk that is larger than an inner layer of my flat lining cotton. The silk was gathered around the bottom and around the armhole to fit. Due to the longer measurement of the silk it rolls up inside the sleeves by about 1″, which keeps the cotton from showing while being worn. Here you can see the poofy sleeves as well as the bertha before it had velvet added.
Oh, but those sleeves weren’t done yet! My inspiration had sleeves that appeared to be droopy continuations of the bertha. This is a detail that is different from all of my previous dresses from this period, so I felt it would be a neat detail to include. It took quite a bit of pondering to decide how to achieve the look and it was something I didn’t feel I could tackle until well into the process when I could see what the bertha and sleeves were doing without the extra layer.
My solution was to create sleeve caps of single layers of tulle with more of my lace and silk pleated trim on top. The tulle rather disappears when worn, giving the effect of floating trim. It’s pretty neat, actually.
Sewing the lace on was easy and relatively fast, as I did it by machine. But the silk… well, I thought I had enough left over from my crazy skirt trimming for the sleeves but those pleats eat silk so quickly! I only had about 75% of what I needed.
It was less than a week before the ball. I had returned the scalloped scissors to my friend so I couldn’t cut more silk. I tried spacing out what I had as much as possible without looking different from the skirt. And I was still short! UGH! Last minute challenges aren’t very fun. I pleated and re-pleated. Got a few more inches covered. Then I decided to harvest some pleated trim from my skirt, from underneath the big velvet bow where it wouldn’t be seen. Not terribly fun, to seam rip something you’ve just made. And the pieces I got were about 5″ in length. But I got them. And I put them on those sleeves. And even though they’re pieced you can’t tell at all and those sleeves got done!
This photo shows the first sleeve in progress, before I realized I didn’t have enough silk trim…
I sewed the sleeve caps on with small top stitches to the outside of the bodice at the armsceye seam. Again, this makes them easy to remove if I want. Also, I’d already set the sleeves… so I couldn’t easily put them into that seam (oops?). In the end, it doesn’t matter that they’re on the outside, because the bertha lace completely hides the armsceye along the top of the sleeve.
Bodice Finishing Details
In addition to sewing on the sleeve caps, I also attached both the front and back bertha layers to the bodice.
I finished my eyelets and ran the lacing ribbon through the top half. I find that 3 yards of ribbon allows me to leave the ribbon laced through the top eyelets and still get in and out, which makes getting dressed faster as the person helping me then only has to lace the bottom half of the bodice and tighten the ribbon at the top.
I added hooks and thread bars to the bertha at the right shoulder, as well as two along the right back neckline to hold it in place along that edge. There is also a hook on the lace to secure it to the lace on the front of the bertha. Once hooked it looks seamless!
The final step was to sew hooks on the front and sides inside the bodice to allow it hook to the skirt. You can see the hook on the boning at the center front in the photo below.
Skirt Finishing Details
The skirt was basically done once I added my giant velvet bow except for a few things.
I added two hooks and bars to the waistband to close the skirt. The narrow hemmed opening is hidden under a pleat and will allow for future changes in waist size if needed.
I added loops to hook the bodice to. You can see one of those on the left. Turns out I didn’t line the side ones up very well (I think this was the very last task late one night on the last night I was stitching), so we added a safety pin at the ball and hooked the bodice to that. The safety pin is visible just to the right of the loop. At some point I need to move the loop to the location of the safety pin. Boo! There’s always something to fix or repair or change once you wear a garment!
And finally, when I added the waistband I also added hanging loops for the skirt. There’s one poking up on the right. These allow me to easily hang the skirt to keep it from getting wrinkled in storage.
And finally… after many, many hours of sewing, this dress is done. I like big projects but I confess to getting a bit sick of this one after sewing on it every day for about a month at the end of the process. Next post will be photos of the finished dress. (And I can report that I was happy with it in the end! Yay!)
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!
Over the summer, my dance group was invited to create a turn-of-the-century atmosphere for a weekend on Bakers Island, off the coast of Salem, MA. Today, the part of the island we were on is managed by Essex Heritage and is home to a lighthouse, but for our visit the idea was that visitors to the island could get a sense of what the island would have been like over 100 years ago when there was a large hotel located there.
We didn’t actually dance, but we played historical games and activities and explained our context to the visitors. They came upon us along various paths during their walking tour.
I wore my 1904 Anne of Green Gables ensemble. This time, though, I had a new belt and I got my hat to behave. It’s supposed to flip up in back, but was misbehaving last time I wore it and was flipped down in back. Boo!
The new belt is green silk covered with the same lace that I used on the skirt. The green isn’t a perfect match to the skirt, but I like that it coordinates without being too match-y. Taking a photo of it also allowed us to capture the subtle lace detail and woven stripe in the fabric of the blouse better than we did last time, which was a bonus outcome.
In between tours, we took some group photos around the lighthouse and the light keeper’s house. The light keeper’s house, in particular, provided us with some really adorable photos. These were provided to us by the light keepers, who keep their own charming blog (currently about their stay on Bakers Island this summer) which you can view here.
Behind the scenes, we needed to arrive before the visitors to set up. Given when boats were available that meant we had to arrive the day before the visitors. There aren’t any indoor accommodations we were able to take advantage of, so it was camping in tents for us. I’m not really a camping kind of person, but thankfully other people had tents to share. Between the modern equipment and food that we needed as well as the historical clothes, games, and amusements, we had quite the pile of luggage for two days and seven people! Here we are waiting for the boat back to the mainland.
A new adventure complete! The croquet set is still in place but the players are gone! Maybe someday there will be others (or maybe us, who knows?) to once again bring history to life on this island.