Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part VI: Fitting 1903 Garments

Well, if you remember from a few posts ago, I completed my mockup undergarments and exterior garments for this 1903 look in muslin (the same fabric I used for the 1883 and 1913 mockups). But now I’ve completed first fittings for my garments in their actual fabrics!

Let’s start at the outside and work our way in. The exterior “suit” is two pieces: a jacket and walking skirt. Both layers are constructed of fairly heavy wool, so tightly woven it is almost like melton. Melton is a felted wool frequently used for outerwear and constantly used historically for it’s water resistance and ability not to fray–thus allowing tailors to leave their cut edges raw and not finish them with time intensive seam finishes. The walking skirt is intended for use out of doors: specifically for talking walks (hence the name) and promenading about in the public eye.

Under the jacket is a silk crepe blouse with a lace yoke, collar, and cuffs. If you look closely you can see the three points of the lace yoke on the blouse. The blouse is pulled off-center in this picture because of the alterations I needed to make-only one side has the alterations pinned.

Under the skirt there is a cream colored lace edged silk shantung petticoat. The petticoat has two circular, gathered ruffles at the bottom. The top ruffle has a wavy hem edged in lace and the bottom ruffle is edged in matching lace. There are also arches of lace above the ruffles.

There is also a cream colored corset cover that is not pictured in these photos. This s-shape corset is made of green silk shantung flat lined with coutil. The seams are flat felled on the inside. The edges are bound in bias cut shantung and the top is also edged with white lace threaded with pink silk ribbon. Under the corset is a cotton combination that buttons up the front. A combination is an undergarment that is functions as a chemise but has bifurcated leg openings, like drawers. This pair is edged in white lace at the leg openings and neck edge. The neck opening is threaded with a green silk ribbon to coordinate with the corset.

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Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part V: Fitting 1883 Tailor Made Suit

As you saw in my last post, the undergarments for my 1883 look are complete. The understructure, especially the corset and bustle, is essential to the creation of the silhouette in 1883: without these pieces the exterior garments would crumple and sag. The thing is, the exterior garment is tailored to fit this exact shape: if that silhouette is not created by the undergarments then the exterior garments just don’t fit!

Let’s take a look at the exterior garments. First, the skirt. This skirt is many layers: the one you can see now I call the “foundation skirt.” It is the part of the skirt that hangs from waist to floor without any draping on it. In reality, the foundation skirt is actually made of two layers. The first layer is the one you can see with the velvet knife pleats along the hem–the knife pleats are 10″ high (ending just above the tabs in the wool)–but don’t be fooled, the knife pleats are attached to a cotton underskirt that extends up to the waist. Why? Multiple reasons: 1-this skirt is already super heavy with just one layer of wool and the velvet trim, and I haven’t even added the drapery yet; 2-the skirt is already super warm as well, it would be too warm with velvet all the way to the waist; 3-the Victorian mindset was to not waste precious money on beautiful fabrics that weren’t seen, so this technique of using cotton underskirts edged with fancy trim is very common; 4-velvet rather than cotton would add more bulk  to the circumference of the waist, and the goal is to make the waist as small as possible. You can’t see the pins, but I did have to make alterations at the waist, since the bottom edge was already finished. There are more skirt layers coming: a gathered and draped “back drape,” and an asymmetrically pleated “front drape.”

The jacket is the other exterior garment. This garment is actually a really good example of the alterations I almost always have to make before I am able to finish a garment. The left side is how the garment fit when I put it on my model. On the right side you can see all my safety pins moving and adding darts to make the jacket fit better. Although it looks wrinkly, once I stitch all those alterations it will actually allow the jacket to fit smoothly over the torso. You can also see my mockup collar on this jacket.

What comes next? Well, because I needed to basically take out all my front darts and seams and move them, I had another fitting with my model before starting to finish the garment. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera! I’ll try to finagle pictures, but they’ll be coming later. After the second fabric fitting I move on to finishing my garments completely!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part I: Overview

My current historic sewing project is reproducing three tailor-made garments and their undergarments from the end of the 19th century. The project aims to show the development of women’s tailoring from the 1880s to the 1910s–essentially the turning point between a tailored dress and a suit.

Look 1: 1883.

This garment is characterized by its bustle. The bustle goes in and out of use, changing shape and size, throughout the 1870s and 1880s. In 1883 the bustle is at a point where I call it the “shelf bustle,” extending from the back at an almost ninety degree angle once being covered by the voluminous skirt layers. During the 1880s, in particular, “tailor-made” garments were fashionable, but these were essentially dresses, not suits.

Look 2: 1903.

This garment is characterized by its romantic figure, featuring “pigeon breast” blousing and gracefully flaring skirts. The foundation of this shape is the new corset design introduced at the turn of the century, augmented by extra padding at the bust and rear. Tailored looks of this period separated jackets from skirts, but still these do not qualify as suits.

Look 3: 1913.

This garment stands between the corseted Victorian woman of the 19th century and the independent, working woman of the 20th century. Just a few years after this the rigid corset disappears in favor of new, lighter undergarments such as brassieres, knickers, camisoles, and girdles. Clearly, this garment is a suit, not a dress, but its undergarments remain in the past where dresses, not suits, were what women wore.

More journal entries will be coming with more information about each look as well as updates on the actual construction of these garments. Stay tuned!

Sources of Images:

1883. http://www.digitalchangeling.com/sewing/periodResources/Delineator-July1883/

1903. http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam312/fashindx.html

1913. http://www2.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1910s_clothing_women.php