I find great joy in the pursuit of researching and making historical clothing. Here on the blog, I post most often about the garments I make for myself, but I rarely post about commissions to make custom historical garments for private individuals, museums, historical institutions, etc. Today’s post is different from the usual in that I’m going to share a commission project with you!
This commission came about through the kindness of Myrthe, who blogs at Atelier Nostalgia. (And how fitting, that we were just communicating about how wonderful it is to connect with people who love historical clothes from around the world!) The commission was from the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA-MA).
The NSCDA-MA owns the beautiful William Hickling Prescott House in Boston, which was built in 1808 and upgraded throughout the 19th century. The NSCDA-MA website (linked above) shares many more details about the various owners of the house and its architecture. In addition to the house itself, the NSCDA-MA also holds a wonderful collection of historical clothing, some items of which have been used for display purposes throughout the house (though most of the garments are in storage and only available for research visits by appointment). Unfortunately, historical garments are often not suited to permanent display as they can be made of delicate fabrics that can be damaged by light, dust, and gravity, just to name a few possible problems. The NSCDA-MA was looking for custom made historical dresses to display instead of the extant historic garments and I was very excited to work with them to make that goal a reality!
The commission involved two dresses: one from about 1810 and one from about 1845. The two dresses haven’t been mounted yet and aren’t available to visit due to ongoing closures, but I hope to eventually go see them in one of the glorious rooms of the house. For now we’ll have to make do with flat photos that were taken for my own archival purposes.
The c. 1810 dress was inspired by a few different dresses, including this c. 1810 cotton dress held by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The goal was to merge the inspiration dresses into one dress with a repeated pattern on cotton, an adjustable drawstring neck, and long sleeves. In order to support the silhouette and provide opacity I also made a bodiced petticoat to go with the dress. Below are front and back views.
Unlike the first dress, the c. 1845 dress was inspired by this specific c. 1848 silk dress held by The Met. The goal was to keep the details of The Met inspiration dress but make the new dress proportional to the measurements of the form that would be wearing it. The dress includes extra structure to help the bodice keep its shape even without a corset underneath. Below are a full length front view and a close up of the bodice.
I had lots of fun finding trimmings for this dress that recalled the original. In the case of the tassels, I combined sections of the fringe with tassel tops and vintage passementerie buttons in order to get the right look and create tassels. Below, a closeup of tassel parts and the final result.
The designs of each dress were settled on with much collaboration to determine fabrics, trimmings, style details, and more. Both patterns were individually created to fit the requirements and specifications for each dress. Both dresses use a mixture of machine sewing/modern methods on the interiors and hand finishing on the exteriors. This speeds up construction and provides the necessary foundation for the dresses even without a full set of supportive undergarments.
I love projects like this! It’s so wonderful to collaborate with others who appreciate the minute details of historical clothing while also making garments that can be used to help interpret history to the public. These sorts of projects are often initiated through word of mouth suggestions, so please reach out if you know of museums, historic sites, historical societies, etc. who are looking for this type of collaboration!
Last post was a detailed look at the 1884 Plaid Wool Bustle Dress that I completed last year. This post is going to look at the details of the accessories I made and wore to stay warm while taking photos of the 1884 dress: a mantle, a new muff cover, and a quick mention of the hat.
First, the mantle, which qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly 2021 Challenge #5:
Purple: Make an item in any shade of purple.
Easier to see the color in the next photo! Purple!
Just the facts:
Fabric/Materials: 1 ½ yards purple wool, 2 ¾ yards drab polyester lining, and about 1 yard of faux fur.
Notions: 4 ¼ yards brown braid trim and 4 coat size hook and loops.
How historically accurate is it?: 85%. The pattern and silhouette are good, but the polyester lining and faux fur are not accurate. I’ve also never examined an extant 1880s mantle up close, so the construction methods are guesses that made sense to me.
Hours to complete: 18.5 hours.
First worn: In January, for a ramble and photos!
Total cost: Approximately $40.
This accessory adventure started with a passionate desire to make a specifically 1880s shaped mantle to go with my new dress. I don’t remember the details exactly, but it’s possible that I fell in love with the red mantle on the right in the fashion plate below even before I fell in love with the shape of the bustle dress that I’m wearing underneath my mantle.
The shape! The fur! The matching muff! So cute! It seemed like it would go very well with my dress.
I started the mantle soon after finishing the 1884 dress last year, beginning with the pattern. The pattern is from The National Garment Cutter Book Of Diagrams published in 1888 (the entire book is digitized and available here).
The pattern I started with is on page 33: Ladies’ Wrap. It has the same general shape as my inspiration plate, including the very specific-to-the-1880s outerwear sleeve set into the side back seam. Figuring those out was an eagerly anticipated part of the challenge.
The brief instructions are to use the scale corresponding to the bust measure to enlarge the pattern. I didn’t feel like finding the right scale in the book, so instead I guessed at a scale that generated proportions that made sense for my size. I think it was somewhere in the realm of ⅛” to 1″.
After the pattern was enlarged, life became busy and I put this project on hold. Fast forward to the first days of 2021 and I decided to knock this project off the to-do list so it would be ready at the first sign of snow for photos!
I made a mockup from my pattern, adjusted a few things including the length of the front piece (it was much longer than my inspiration!), then altered the mockup to check the changes. At that point, I was satisfied and ready to move on to real fabric!
Mantle: Sleeve Puzzling
Along the way in this process I had to figure out the sleeves. Below is what the sleeve pattern piece looks like when cut out. It’s not your usual sleeve shape. The top looks mostly reasonable, but what’s with a dart on the bottom edge? And the point at the bottom? Odd! Folding this in half (as you would normally do for a sleeve) would produce a strange sleeve, indeed.
I pondered this… looked up extant garments (there are a number of mantles with sleeves like this on my general 1880s outerwear Pinterest board) and did some searching for other people who had made this type of garment before.
The thing that suddenly made the sleeve click for me was a series of posts from Caroline (who blogs at The Modern Mantua Maker) showing the construction of an 1880s dolman that she made. This post, in particular, contains a photo showing the sleeve before it was set into the body of the garment. Ah ha! I realized that the bottom of my sleeve folds up and the dart goes against the body. That creates the right shape!
This post from Caroline shows her finished dolman. It was also very helpful as I tried to wrap my brain around these unusual sleeves. And, Caroline has another dolman she made as well, which I also looked at as I was figuring out my pattern.
I had the fashion plate to reference for the overall design of the mantle, but I needed a bit more detail to confirm my material choices. Many 1880s mantles are made from fancier fabrics: silks, velvets, brocades… I only had a heavy purple wool in my stash in a quantity I thought would be just the right amount for the mantle and I didn’t want to buy something new (especially something likely to be expensive, as many of those fancier fabrics would be).
I had the braid trim in my stash already, purchased a few years ago from Deb’s Lace and Trims because I liked the look of it and thought it would be useful someday (I love Deb’s Lace and Trims–you absolutely can’t beat the prices and the products are lovely–I’ve been using them for historical projects for the last ten years!). It was great to find a use for this braid. With just five yards on hand I had to reduce the amount used relative to the Met inspiration mantle, but I think the end result is in keeping with the simple style of the dress. The braid highlights the shape of the mantle but doesn’t distract or seem too gaudy for the plain wool base.
After creating my first mockup I did have a very justified fear that my purple wool would not be enough for the mantle. Thankfully, after altering the pattern to suit my taste and size I was just able to eke out all of the pieces. Whew!
I love the quilted lining of the Met opera cloak and I considered quilting silk myself to do it. My stash didn’t have any appropriately colored silk, though, so that idea was out if I was to stay on the stash busting course. I thought of buying pre-quilted silk (completely abandoning my stash busting idea), but the colors I could find were bland and the dark brown I eventually decided on after months of indecision was sold out.
In the end, I decided I just wanted the project to be finished, so I would go the low-cost route of purchasing a polyester lining from the $3 per yard store. It helped me use other stash materials, so it seemed a reasonable trade off.
Here’s that polyester lining. It’s unintentionally the same greyish-brown drab color as the cotton lining of the 1884 bustle dress. The mantle is fully lined, as you can see.
In order to make the lining of my mantle tidy, the sleeves were fully lined before being set into the side back seams. Here is one sleeve assembled and ready to be set in.
The assembled/lined sleeves were set into the exterior wool side back seams while the lining side back seams were sewn plain. After attaching the sleeves around the armsceyes in the exterior wool, the lining was turned under and whip stitched to finish the edges.
All of the braid trim is machine sewn on using a zipper foot. I was able to sew it in place on the wool before setting in the lining, so none of the attaching sew lines are visible.
The lining was machine sewn around the edges with the neck left open to turn right sides out. After that was completed, I machine sewed the collar lining (interfaced with cotton) to the neck edge by machine. Then I sewed the exterior fur collar on the neck edge by hand (shown in the next photo).
After that I flipped the lining up, turned all of the seam allowances in, and whip stitched the lining to the fur edge. It seemed easier to do it this way rather than machine sewing the fur.
The faux fur trim around the bottom edge is pieced where there are seams in the wool. This allows the fur to have the exact same shape as the wool underneath. These edges have no seam allowance. The edges are just butted together and then (roughly) whip stitched, as in the photo below. From the right side of the fur the seams are completely invisible.
The top and bottom edges of the fur trim have seam allowances that are turned in and hand sewn along both edges. The outer (bottom) edges are sewn right sides together with the bottom of the purple wool. Then, the inner (top) edges are turned under and stitched. Here is that process in progress.
The mantle closes with 4 coat weight hook and loops spaced down the front edges. They kept popping open while being worn, so when I got home I pinched them with a pair of pliers to make the hooks grab onto the loops better. I haven’t been out wearing this again since then, but I’m confident this solves the problem, as I’ve used this trick in the past.
New Muff (Cover)
Next, I want to share a bit about the muff I have in these photos.
But I didn’t want to make an entirely new muff. Instead, I decided to make a new cover for a muff I’ve had since 2012 (you can see it in this post from 2019, when I used it with an early 19th century outfit). The muff is from a workshop I took with LadyDetalle. (She has an Etsy shop that often stocks muffs like this as well as many other beautiful and historically inclined goodies.)
The base is essentially a pillow (stuffed with real down–quite luxurious!) that can be rolled into a tube and have a cover put on. The idea is that the muff cover can be changed out so that you can have all sorts of beautiful muffs and only need to store the one base. The muff is sized for the 18th century, but I thought it just might work for my 1880s look, too.
Accordingly, I measured my existing muff cover and cut a rectangle of faux fur that size. I butted my edge to make a tube and whip stitched it, in the same way as I whip stitched the mantle trim. Next, I machine sewed twill tape on the tube ends. (I had no worries about the fur getting caught in the machine sewing because that whole edge turns into the muff in the end anyway, so none of that will show.)
Once whip stitched in place the twill tape covers the raw edge of the fur and also provides a casing for the ribbons at each end. I used tobacco brown polyester ribbon that was gifted to me. By way of justification for the polyester ribbon, I’d already used polyester for the mantle lining and this seemed like a good use for this particular ribbon.
Below is the muff cover after those steps were completed.
And here is a closeup of the twill tape with machine stitching on one side and whip stitching on the other. The ends of the twill tape are just turned under and butted together, leaving an opening for the ribbon ends to come through.
And ta da! A muff that is the right size and perfectly matched to the mantle! The additional muff cover takes up hardly any storage space and now I have more versatility in my wardrobe.
While making my mantle and debating how to stay warm, I figured I would need something to keep my head warm. I’d already made the dress and the mantle and I didn’t feel like creating something all new for my head, as well. And I loved this image from the McCord Museum of 1880s ladies curling in the cold with their hats.
I thought I could repurpose my 1917 faux fur hat to suit the purpose, as it has a generally similar tall, straight shape. That hat is nice and warm, being lined in flannel and interlined with layers of batting to insulate the head.
The look of it was a little bland with this outfit, though, and not really coordinated with everything else. I liked the idea of bringing in some of the mantle fur to make the hat look like it belonged. After fussing with various ideas I decided on fur poms, or baubles.
The baubles are sort of like large-scale cloth stuffed buttons. They are a circle that is gathered, the edges turned into provide stuffing, and the backs sewn together to close up the opening. (This tutorial shows how to make these types of buttons, though I started with a circle of fabric rather than a square.)
I like that the finished baubles pull in the look of the tan fur, that they are silly and amusing, and that they are easily removable. In fact, they are attached with safety pins on the inside of the hat! You can’t get much more easily removable than that!
I’m very pleased with my stash-busting-and-using-things-I-have-on-hand winter bustle ensemble. It’s warm. It was a great patterning challenge. It’s really fun to wear (it feels super elegant!). And it (mostly) reduced my fabric stash.
Thanks for sticking with me through this second detailed (and rather long) post! Next post will be further photos of the bustle dress in action on a woodland adventure.
I’m very excited to share the details of my (somewhat) new 1884 Plaid Wool Dress! It’s ‘somewhat new’ because I actually finished it 8 months ago, but at that point it was July and the temperature was absolutely not acceptable for wearing a wool dress for photos! Instead of putting the dress away, I kept it out, waiting for colder weather and the opportunity for a photo shoot. I was hoping for snow… and this winter, I got it!
This dress is entirely inspired by the dress on the right in the fashion plate below from La Mode Illustree. I love the relative simplicity of the overall design and the waterfall of folded fabric on the skirt. Unfortunately, I don’t have an official source of the fashion plate or the year it is from, though my best guess is 1884.
I thought the design would be a great use of the tan and plaid wools that have been in my stash since 2012 (wow… that’s longer than I remembered!). In addition to those, a small piece of plain purple wool had made its way into my stash over the last eight or nine years and when I started this dress in November 2017 I decided it would be a nice addition to the tan and plaid wools in the form of trim. While not an exact match to the purple in the plaid, I think it helps to perk up the plaid and bring out the non-tan tones (the green and purple).
I started the process of this dress with the skirt. I wanted the fabric to hang just like the fashion plate, so I decided to drape a custom pattern as opposed to starting with anything that already existed. The only exception to that (in the skirt) is a base of drab greyish-brown cotton. The base pieces were adapted from a Janet Arnold pattern.
I used the skirt base for the front and side areas, in order to have something for the wool layers to be attached to. In the back of the skirt there is nothing but the tan wool.
Here is a look at the inside of the finished skirt. You can see the tan waistband along the top and the drab cotton base with tacking stitches all over it. The tacking stitches are holding the plaid fabric in place–you can just see the plaid selvedge poking out on the right side.
The pleats in the plaid aren’t part of the original fashion plate, which instead has a draped apron-type front. I tried that, putting my plaid with a vertical grain and a tan apron over top, but I really hated how it looked in wool–too heavy and rather unattractive. I played with the fabrics until I settled on the bias plaid. I hinted at the draping in the fashion plate by adding tucks to the plaid to help it drape just slightly rather than just being flat. You can see the resulting folds pretty clearly in the next photo.
The various overlapping pleats of the plaid front, waterfall side, and back were complicated. I was trying to achieve a back that looked like this dress held by the Met, in addition to the various lovely folds shown in the fashion plate.
It’s easy to draw things, but sometimes they don’t really work in actual fabric… I found that with the waterfall, especially. There’s actually an added loop of fabric tucked between the folds that isn’t part of the side piece at all! It’s just a little fake bit to help create the look of the fashion plate. I couldn’t figure out any other way to do it!
Given these various challenges and lots of other things to keep me busy in life, this poor skirt sat in a half finished state on the dress form in my sewing room for at least a year. I couldn’t remove it without marking everything… and I couldn’t make up my mind about what I wanted! (I say poor skirt, but it was sort of poor me, as I definitely reached a point of wanting the dress to get put away!)
Eventually, I did make up my mind and remove the skirt, but the partially finished skirt still sat around for ages before I finished it. Part of marking the skirt also meant figuring out the facings of the waterfall bits, because the fully finished edges had to be set into the waistband. Mr. Q actually asked at one point after the skirt was off the dress form whether I had intended it as decoration in my sewing room because it was there for so long… Nope!
All the various pleats on the skirt wound up making for a rather thick layer of things to sew through for the waistband. Here’s what the side with the waterfall trim looks like on the inside. I count at least 9 layers of wool in one spot! Given that, I decided to cut the inner side of my waistband on the selvedge of the fabric and leave it hanging down into the skirt instead of turning the seam allowances up as you would normally do for a waistband.
Setting the hems on the skirt was another challenge, though this was due to the fact that I did it by myself. It involved dressing in my corset, bustle, petticoat, and skirt, twisting and contorting while putting pins in the hem to mark the floor, then standing to look in the mirror to see if they were even, then adjusting… many times!
I eventually had everything marked to my satisfaction and could move on with the sewing. All sections of the hem are finished with wide bias strips of the drab cotton, the goal being to make the hems durable and less likely to catch on twigs, etc. than if they had more textured wool exposed (and I can say, after romping about the woods in this dress, that the hems did an admirable job!).
After using the drab cotton for both my 1896 Bicycling Ensemble and to line my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown I was starting to run low for this project. I cut the skirt base pieces, cut the bodice lining pieces, and then used pieced scraps to make the wide bias to hem the skirt. As you can see in the above photo, some of my bias pieces were only 6″ or so in length. And in the photo below, you can see the only bit of wide bias that was leftover when I was finished!
The final skirt detail to share is a hidden patch pocket! The skirt opens on the side front, along one side of the plaid, and underneath that opening is a pocket, perfectly sized to fit a cell phone and keys. The pocket is oddly low, near the knees, but that is because I wanted to make sure that any bulk from items in the pocket would press in towards my legs and not make an unsightly bulge on the exterior of the dress.
The photo below shows the pocket, as well as some of the hooks and thread loops that allow the tan fabric to attach to the plaid wool.
In addition to this rather complicated skirt, there was also a bodice to be made! The bodice is actually pretty straightforward. The pattern is adapted from the one I used for my 1885 Frills and Furbelows summer dress which in turn was adapted from a Janet Arnold pattern.
The bodice is completely flat lined in the drab cotton. There is a ribbon waist tape to help keep the back of the bodice tight against the body and to keep the bodice from riding up while being worn.
The bottom and front/neck edges are finished with bias strips of the drab cotton. The seam allowances are unfinished. The bodice closes in front with hooks and loops.
There are two other details I want to discuss, as well. First, there are the bust pads! I came across these in this c. 1885 extant dress and decided I wanted to give them a try to see if I could get that really exaggerated bust to waist ratio in my inspiration fashion plate (here’s the link to it again).
Turns out… no. I did not achieve that bust to waist ratio… but I think that’s more a factor of my waist size than anything. (It’s not as small as it was 10 years ago…) To keep the proportions of the fashion plate I would drastically need to increase the bust size. Perhaps in another dress.
In the meantime, this dress tried out the bust pads. They are made from cotton scraps with shaped batting layers inside. Below you can see the steps to creating the pads. Once sewn, these were tacked inside the bodice to keep them in place.
The second detail still to discuss is the neck ruffle. I finished this dress shortly after completing my 1875 Reception Dress last summer and I had my antique fluting iron on the brain. After pondering the fashion plate neck and sleeve ruffles for awhile I decided to use my fluting iron to ruffle some cotton to use for my dress’s neckline and cuffs.
Attached to the neckline the trim looks like this. The waves are a little crushed where they are tacked down, but the folded edge maintains a nice wavy shape. I found that my cotton frayed more than I wanted it to, so I went back and whip stitched over the raw edge to keep it tidy.
I used the same cotton for small ruffles on each cuff, as well. Like the neck ruffle, these are hand sewn inside the finished sleeve openings.
You can see the finished effect of the ruffles in the next photo! Subtle, but adding a nice edge finish.
While the ruffles are sewn to the inside of the finished bodice, the purple bodice trim and plaid cuffs are sewn similarly but on the outside of the finished bodice. I didn’t want them to add bulk by turning all the way under into the bias edging, so they have the raw edges turned under and then they are hand sewn to the outside of the bodice.
I decided the purple trim around the neck wasn’t quite interesting enough and so I added a narrow fold of bias cut plaid to help transition between the two solid colors. This also helps the bodice to feel that it belongs with the skirt, so that the only plaid isn’t just on the skirt front and cuffs.
Both skirt and bodice are mostly assembled by machine with hand finishing, including trimming, hemming/facing, closures, etc.
I used about 8 yds of the different wools and drab cotton for the ensemble. These materials, plus notions etc., cost just under $30. This was definitely helped by the fact that most of the fabrics were purchased for just $3 per yard at the local discount fabric store!
The skirt is a bit heavy, being made of about six yards of wool and cotton, but it’s not unreasonable. And, it’s quite warm! I was perfectly warm in the approximately 20 degree Fahrenheit cold for all of these photos except for my nose, chest, and hands. Never fear, though, I was wearing the additional layers of my newly completed mantle and muff except for during these photos! (And there will be posts coming up about them as well, with lots more photos!) With all my layers the only part of me that was cold was my nose!
In the end, I’m more pleased with the overall dress than I expected to be! I was always excited about the skirt and the purple swoop of the upper bodice trim, but once I started making the dress in wool I was worried the bodice might be too plain and maybe even boring… but I like the fit and shaping very much (especially in the back!) and I think that helps balance out the relatively simple style. It makes sense for a wool dress to be well tailored but more simple in decoration and style than its silk counterparts.
Also, I’m very pleased that my idea from 2012, to use these fabrics for a bustle dress, has finally been achieved! I think there’s still a yard or so of tan wool in my stash, but I’ve sewn my way through a good 8 yards of it. That’s great stash busting!
Many years ago (well, in 2012), I started a bonnet that was intended to match my 1822 Walking Dress. I was making a whole ensemble, with the dress, a muff and tippet, and also a bonnet and chemisette. It was more than I had time to complete for the deadline at the time. The chemisette was not even started, but the bonnet was patterned, cut out, started, and then abandoned.
In the intervening years, the bonnet pieces have sat in my UFO box, patiently waiting for me to come back to them. This year, as I was making my 1834 yellow dress and thinking about how to accessorize it, I remembered the bonnet and wondered if the shape and color might work for the 1830s. It seemed more useful to use something that already existed, and was already partly finished, as opposed to starting something new, so I decided to go for it!
This is the state of the bonnet when I picked this project up again this fall. It’s not bad progress, actually. All the pieces were cut out of buckram, flannel, and slightly slubby silk; the buckram assembly was started; the flannel was basted on; and the edges of the pieces were wired.
All of that turned into this!
In this post, we’ll follow along with my construction process. Future posts will have more finished ensemble photos as well.
First, let’s go back to the inspiration for this bonnet.
This is what I was aiming for when I started patterning in 2012. However, after finishing my bonnet, I realized that my brim shape is more open and high, and less forward, than the shape of this bonnet. This surprised me! And actually, it worked out in my favor, as the shape I patterned is more 1830s than 1820s.
Despite the shape not being quite like The Met bonnet (maybe someday I’ll alter the pattern and try again for the 1820s shape), I still took much color and material inspiration from it. I liked the tone on tone silk with velvet trim, the edges trimmed in velvet, and liked the lightweight silk ties (plus, I had all of these materials in the stash in perfectly coordinating purples!).
The trim needed to be different for the 1830s, though. I liked this 1830 bonnet, particularly for the inside of the brim trim, and this 1826-1830 bonnet for the fabric loop trim. There are other inspirational fashion plates showing floral trim inside and outside the brim on my Pinterest board for this project, as well. My bonnet is a melding of all of these sources of inspiration.
With my half finished pieces in hand, I decided to attach the tip of the bonnet to the side. Here is that step, pinned in place. These pieces were hand sewn together.
I’d decided to baste my flannel in place in order to help it follow the contours of the shapes instead of pulling away. On some bonnets (such as one covered in transparent fabric) these stitches might be seen, but I was confident that my silk would hide these quite well. The alternative would be to use spray adhesive to hold the flannel in place, but I didn’t have that at my fingertips 8 years ago.
In addition to the basting stitches in the middle, I also roughly whip stitched over the outside edge of the brim to hold the flannel in place.
I took this brim piece and basted it to my assembled crown, then stitched those two layers together using a Z stitch. Pinning this was fiddly, as I had to get the buckram seam allowance of the side to slip under the flannel of the brim smoothly.
The next thing to do was cover the brim with my silk, but I still had the problem of getting the fabric to follow the contours of the curves without pulling away. When I started on this step I only had rubber cement on hand. I (smartly!) tried a sample to see if it would show through the silk. It definitely did! The rubber cement sample is on the bottom of the photo below. Not what I wanted! So, I ordered Krylon spray adhesive, which I knew would do the job. When it arrived, I tried another sample. The spray adhesive sample is on the top of the photo below. Success!
I used the spray adhesive for the inner and outer layers of the brim covering. It worked wonderfully, just as I had expected it to. The only exception is that I accidentally left a mark on one of my brim pieces where I’d let too much spray build up and had to recut that piece. So if you try this, make sure to do very light coats with the spray adhesive if your fabric is thin enough for it to show through!
Here is the inside of the brim, with the seam allowance clipped where it meets the crown.
And here is the outside of the brim, with the seam allowance clipped so it can lay along the outside of the side band. You can see the interior of the brim showing on the extreme left of the photo, on the other side of the wired edge of the buckram. You can also see that by this point I’d put the silk covering on the tip of the bonnet. The seam allowances of that piece are clipped and then stitched over onto the side band through all the layers.
This photo shows the Z stitches holding the silk tip piece in place a little better than the last photo. It also shows the side band. For this piece, I pressed under the brim side seam allowance ahead of time, pinned it in place, and then turned the top edge under as I went along, so it would be just the right width. Stitching this piece on covered all of the seam allowances you can see in this photo.
In the next photo ,a few more steps have been completed. The side band was sewn on, the silk edges were trimmed and bound with bias velvet, I cut bavolet pieces (out of my glue stained brim piece!), edged the bavolet with bias velvet, and attached the bavolet. The great thing about the spray adhesive is that it’s not so glue-y that it gums up a needle or makes things hard to sew through, so I had no problem with any of these sewing steps.
As a side note, what is a bavolet? Interestingly, my go-to source for definitions, the Oxford English Dictionary, does not have an entry for this word! I believe that is because it is actually French, not English. I would define bavolet as ‘the curtain piece at the back of the bonnet’. There is more information about this word, including examples of the word in use from the 19th century, in this French Vocabulary Illustrated blog post. If you know of other good places to find a definition or etymology of the word bavolet I would love for you to share!
Back to the photos! All the long purple stitches around the side band are from attaching trim. I find that double thread makes it much easier to attach trimmings such as feathers and flowers, as you can double back through your looped thread to hold things in place and it makes it a little extra sturdy. The nice thing about doing all of that before lining the hat is that it makes for a really elegant interior when all is finished!
Below, you can see what that trim looks like from the exterior. I used some scraps of velvet to make loops and a variety of vintage paper and velvet millinery flowers and leaves in white, pink, and gold.
I’m super pleased with how it turned out, but it took hours to decide on the placement and then sew everything in place. It was finicky… The trim kept causing the bonnet to fall over as I was trying to place it and when sewing it the thread kept getting wrapped around the different elements and getting stuck. Plus, to make the stitches on the brim invisible they had to catch just one layer of the silk (as opposed to being stitched all the way through all of the layers) without pulling the silk away from the flannel.
Finally, it was time to make a lining! This used the same pattern pieces as the tip and side band and was cut from scraps of ivory shantung. The seams for the lining were machine sewn.
After I put the lining inside the crown of the bonnet, I covered most of the raw edges of the purple and ivory silk with a band of brown cotton velvet. This blends with my hair and provides a bit of a velcro effect to help keep the bonnet in place, in addition to providing nice finishing! This is the same process that I used when making my 1875 hat earlier this year.
At the bavolet edge, where there is no brown velvet, the ivory silk was turned under and sewn in place. I also added lightweight silk ribbon ties as a finishing step.
Here is the finished bonnet, being worn with my 1834 yellow dress! I love that the purple coordinates with my yellow print dress fabric without directly matching any of the colors in the print. It was also fun to choose white, pink, and gold floral trimmings for the bonnet to echo the colors in the print. I think the combination is anchored well while still being distinctive parts.
This photo clearly shows that the ties are purely decorative. I left them hanging free so that they could elegantly (usually!) move around. So what keeps this giant sail in place on my head? (Because I can say with certainty that a bonnet this big is basically just a wind catcher on the top of your head!) It will stay on its own… until moving around. I used the back section of my hair to make a bun, at just the right height so it would sit in the crown of the bonnet, and then used two hat pins at different angles to anchor the hat in place through the bun
I found that I placed the curl bunches too far back on the sides of my head when I tried to put on the bonnet and had to push them forward to get it to sit in the right place. It was unexpected how far forward the curls needed to be. As I’ve done in the past for 1830s side curls (explained here in 2016 and again in 2019), I used my own hair on top of mesh poufs to create the side curls. The combination of my hair getting very long and the curls needing to sit in front of the bonnet means that these curls are larger looking vertically than what I’ve had in the past. It seems to fill in the shape of the bonnet well, so I guess it’s good!
The other thing that the above photo does a good job of showing is the trim on the inside of the bonnet, which was also finicky to place. I had to get it in the right location so that it would organically grow out of my planned side curls hairstyle. The bonnet looks quite silly without the 1830s hair to go with it (and one might argue that it looks silly, in scale at least, even with 1830s hair!).
Speaking of scale, this bonnet is quite large. With the trim, it stands more than 8″ high on top of my head. I had to hold the brim when wind picked up while wearing it–the hat pins kept it in place but it would pull at my hair which wasn’t comfortable. Also, it required a pretty severe slouch in the car in order to not hit the roof! Thankfully, I was able to be a passenger while wearing the bonnet, so that I could arrange it, with the hat pins, in front of a mirror and then not need to sit up or look around while driving. Pretty silly! A carriage would have made so much more sense!
Just The Facts
While this bonnet does not qualify for any of the remaining challenges of the Historical Sew Monthly this year, I would still like to share the facts about this bonnet in the format I would use for an HSM garment. So, without further ado, the facts!
Fabric/Materials: ½ to ¾ yard each of floral cotton flannel and purple silk shantung, scraps of purple polyester velvet and ivory silk shantung, about ½ yard of buckram, about 3 yards of millinery wire, and a small piece of brown cotton velvet.
Pattern: My own.
Notions: Vintage millinery flowers, thread, and about 1 ½ yards lightweight silk ribbon.
How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Pretty good in terms of silhouette, construction methods, and materials; however, there are a few modern materials mixed in (such as spray adhesive).
Hours to complete: 15.75 hours to finish, plus maybe 6-8 from years ago.
First worn: In early October, 2020.
Total cost: Approximately $35.
Thanks for sticking with me through another long construction post! I have one final photo that also hints at an upcoming post… 1830s apple picking adventure photos! Happy autumn!
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!
Yay! This project is complete and photographed! I’m so excited to be able to share more finished project photos with you.
This is my 1875 Reception Dress. I’ve been documenting its construction over the last few blog posts and have been documenting the construction of the undergarments and accessories to accompany it since early this year.
To recap, if you would like to learn more about the individual parts of the ensemble you might want to visit the following links to past posts:
This dress qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #10: Get Crafty.
Make use of your own skills or learn a new one to make something from scratch rather than buy material. The possibilities for learning and applying new skills and techniques are endless. Lace, pleated self-fabric trim, knotted fly trim, embroidery, dyeing, knitting your own corset laces, hand painting your own fabric
Since this dress qualifies for the HSM, here are the facts:
Fabric/Materials: 7 yds pink silk taffeta, 2 ⅜ yds green silk taffeta, 1 yd yellow polyester organza, 3 ½ yds pink polyester organza, 5 ½ yds muslin, 15 ¼ yds ivory lace, 8 ½ yds black rayon soutache, scraps of old green cotton bedding, a bit of polyester batting, and scraps of white cotton.
Pattern: Many of the pieces came from Patterns of Fashion 2, though they were tweaked for fit and style. Other pieces were draped to imitate the inspiration fashion plate.
Notions: 2 yds 1″ grosgrain ribbon, ¾ yd ⅜” petersham ribbon, 1 yd ½” twill tape, ¾ yd ⅝” twill tape, 1 ¼ yd ⅝” bone casing, 4 18″ long ⅜” wide plastic zip ties, regular as well as skirt hooks and bars, 8 plastic buttons, and 1 Canadian quarter.
How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Pretty good in terms of silhouette, construction methods, and materials; however, there are a few modern materials mixed in.
Hours to complete: 80.5 hours.
First worn: In May, for photos!
Total cost: $138.46.
Here are a few more photos. Every time I look at a new angle or view of the dress my eyes are drawn to different details–perhaps you will notice new details, too.
I’m very glad to be finished with this large project, while also being bummed that the event that I was planning to wear it to was cancelled. That just means I need to find a reason in the future to wear the dress, I guess. I’m not sure what that will be, but I’m hoping for a fabulous historical house or museum, or something else suitably grand and indoors, as that seems to be the appropriate setting for a reception dress.
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!
I did a lot of Pinterest scanning to choose a style for the dress (as one does, of course!). There are a number of dresses from 1875/76 that appeal to me, with their swags of fabric, elaborate trimmings, and sweeping trains, but I decided on the fashion plate below partly because I had fabrics in my stash that I thought would work in terms of yardage as well as complementing each other in terms of colors.
If you’re looking carefully, I imagine you’ll notice pretty quickly that my finished bodice does not have the pleated sleeve trim and large cuff shown in the fashion plate. I ran out of fabric! Oops. So I decided to eliminate these details and focus on all the other trimmings on the dress. For example, if you look at the neckline and hem of the finished bodice you will notice that those two edges have similar treatments as in the fashion plate. However, not using the sleeve style in the inspiration fashion plate left me with a style decision to make. How to trim, or finish, the sleeves? Back to Pinterest!
I settled on the sleeve style of the fabulous burgundy and tan dress on the right. This would use less fabric but maintain a similar feeling as other parts of the dress.
Below are my partially finished sleeves.
I started by cutting them off at a length that made sense with the addition of the pleats and hemming them. The pleats are pressed in the center so that no hemming is needed and the top edges are left raw. These raw edges are then covered by the green pleated bands. The lace is actually two rows of lace (to make the lace twice as wide) that are gathered and then sewn into sleeves. The final step that you can’t see here is a green bow to finish off the back sleeve seam area. The bow covers the raw edges of the green pleated band.
The bodice pieces of silk are flat lined with muslin. The seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. The bottom edge of the bodice is finished with self bias. The bodice is boned–at the point of this photo only the center back seam has a bone stitched in.
In addition to the center back, I added bones to the side back seams as well. I also added a waist stay. That is the grosgrain ribbon that is stitched to the boning channels. This helps to keep the bodice anchored around the waist if I raise my arms and to keep the back tight against my body. It also takes some strain off of the buttons.
At this point you can also see the green ruffle has been added to the bottom of the bodice. Like the pleats on the sleeves, the ruffle is pressed in half so that no hemming is needed. The top raw edge is hidden by the twill tape.
Here’s another view of the inside of the bodice that shows the green ruffle a little bit more. It also shows the bones on the side seams and a hint of the lace around the neck opening, the edge of which is also covered with ribbon–in this case, petersham. I found the lace too scratchy against my neck on it’s own, even though it feels relatively soft against my hand.
The photo below also shows the bust pads. These are graduated crescents of batting that are stitched together and then covered with cotton. They help to fill out the area just in front of the arm, which often has a natural dip without assistance of this sort. Filling the dip in creates a fashionable rounded shape. Adding the pads is an experiment I was trying out. (Here is an example of a c. 1885 extant dress that has bust pads.)
Here’s an up close shot of the seam allowances of the bodice, also showing the lace and petersham around the neck a little more. You can just barely see the armsceye seam allowances, which are trimmed and whip stitched to keep them tidy.
Finally, here is a view of the front of the bodice in a half finished state.
The two front darts have boning channels stitched into them. All of the ‘bones’ in this bodice are plastic zip ties. The front zip ties are split in half to make them narrower.
This photo also shows the pleats around the neck opening (finished as with the sleeves and bottom ruffle). There are facings on the front edges. This photo was taken before I stitched the buttonholes. They were eventually machine sewn.
After all the internal construction was complete, I added the buttons (they are rubbed bronze looking plastic shank buttons) and the green trim around the neck. The neck trim is a strip of silk that has the long edges pressed under and gathered. The long edges are tacked to the neckline and then black soutache is sewn on top to cover the machine stitching lines. The finishing touch is the bow at center front.
Ta da! Next time, I’ll do an in depth post about the skirt construction, including back views that show off the giant bows, which are probably my favorite part of the skirt.
A reception ensemble would not have been complete in the late 19th century without headwear. To that end, I needed a hat to complete my 1875 reception dress. Despite having a number of hats in my historic closet, I’ve never needed one for this particular section of history, so… not finding anything suitable, I decided to make a new one!
I started by carefully observing hat styles from the 1870s to decide what would be appropriate and pleasing for my 1875 reception look.
Hat Style Possibilities
There were a variety of styles a lady could choose for her headwear in the 1870s. Here are some of the large categories I identified. All of these images are from about 1875-1877.
Forward perching hats: these sit upon masses of hair at the back and tilt down towards the face
Hats crowning the back of the head: these sit upon masses of hair, but tilt up in the front and have trim starting to drip off the back, mimicking the look of the hairstyles and dresses from the middle part of the 1870s
Bonnets: tiny little things with basically no brim, sitting upon the back of the head
And then there are a variety of hats and bonnets that fall in between these categories. Fashion doesn’t always fit firmly within categories!
My Hat Choice
I decided to make the type of hat that crowns the back of the head. This seemed like an appropriate choice for an 1875 reception dress while also providing some new challenges in terms of patterning and hairstyling (and I do have a soft spot for crown-like hairstyles, be it in the 1810s, mid-19th century, or, apparently, the 1870s).
Making My Hat
I decided that this hat would have a buckram base covered in silk. It’s pretty wonderful that I had all of the materials on hand, including remnants of my fluted trim, scraps of the silks used for my dress, greenish/brown ostrich feathers that just happened to perfectly match the unusual shades of my silks, millinery flowers, buckram, millinery wire, and flannel for mulling the pieces.
I started by spending a bit of time with paper, scissors, and scotch tape, creating my pattern. Getting the brim to be the right shape and proportion took a few tries.
Once I had a pattern, I cut out my pieces from buckram and flannel (and was able to use up some scrap pieces, yay!). I used my machine to zig zag millinery wire around the inner and outer edges of the brim and the edge of the tip.
Then I used my machine (and a little bit of glue on the concave curves) to attach my flannel. Normally I would use a less brightly patterned flannel, but this is what was easily available and it doesn’t show through my silk. (I love that this fun patterned dot flannel is left over from a pair of pajama pants I made about 15 years ago! Yay for keeping things and eventually using them!)
After being sufficiently amused by my colorful dot choice, I cut out my silk pieces. I had very little pink silk left after my dress was done, so I had to piece the tip and both of the brim covering pieces. Thankfully, there is enough trim on the finished hat that the seams are not noticeable!
Here you can see the silk seam allowance clipped, curved over the edges, and tacked to the flannel with hand sewing stitches.
And here is what the brim looked like flipped over at this stage. I also hand tacked the silk around the head opening, to keep the tension even across the curves of the brim.
This is the crown of the hat, showing off my center seam and those hand sewing stitches that hold the clipped seam allowance in place.
Next, I covered the top of the brim. To do this, I clipped and turned under the outer edge seam allowance, pinning it in place. The head opening was also pinned in place. Then both edges were carefully sewn by hand.
Once that was done, I attached the brim to the crown with sturdy hand sewn stitches through all the layers. These stitches were covered with a green silk band (that really can’t be seen after all the trim was added…).
Here, I am laying out trim options. I am amused at the feathers, which at this point have zero shaping and so are standing out like propellers.
I thought it would be fun to use the remnants of my fluted trim on the hat (read all about how I made it here). I wanted it to resemble wide ribbon (and I wanted to hide the hems, partly because they are only pressed and not sewn in place).
To achieve this, I carefully tacked two layers with the wrong sides together before attaching the loops of fluted trim to the hat.
The tip of the hat is mostly covered by a radiating section of fluted trim with an opening in the middle that was eventually covered with flowers. There are loops of the fluted ‘ribbon’ trailing off the back of the hat as well as standing up in the front.
Then there were the feathers that needed taming.
I started by curling the feathers, as having them stand straight out around the brim of the hat looked a little mad rather than elegant. Curling was achieved using a butter knife. It’s a motion similar to curling ribbon, and requires just the right amount of pressure and firmness not to just rip the feather to shreds. It took awhile to get the hang of the motion and find the point on my knife that worked best.
It wasn’t the most fun… it rather hurt my wrists to twist the knife each time… but over the course of a few hours (yes, this took awhile), I was able to get softly curling feathers.
Here is a half curled feather (on the left) next to an uncurled feather (on the right). In addition to curling the feather fluff I also shaped the center shaft of the feather to curl around the brim of my hat. You can see that I’ve started that process with these feathers, as well.
At this stage the hat has the hat band and fluted trim attached. The curled feathers are prepped and ready to be placed.
After adding the feathers, I added the flowers on the top of the hat and underneath the brim. Trim under the brim of hats is pretty common in this period. It adds to the floating effect of these hats on top of the grand hairstyles.
Though it seems a bit abrupt to me looking at the underside of the hat, the transition from flowers to brim is more subtle when the hat is placed on the head. The flowers here also serve the purpose of hiding the center front seam I added due to my small pieces of silk!
This photo shows the stitches holding the brim to the crown as well as all of the tacking stitches that hold the trim in place.
The final step was to add a lining to cover all of those tacking stitches!
The lining of this hat is silk shantung, leftover from my 1903 petticoat. The join between the pink silk and the lining is covered by a band of brown cotton velvet. The velvet helps grip the hair to keep the hat in place. I chose dark brown because that will camouflage against my hair. (And, both the silk lining scraps and the brown velvet are leftover from projects in 2011, so yay for using what is on hand!)
And that’s it! It takes a bit of time to hand sew all those sections of the hat (even longer if I don’t machine sew the first few steps), but it’s worth it to have a super sturdy, beautifully covered saucer of trim.
This post is getting long enough, so photos of the finished hat being worn are coming in a future post!
Way back in 2012, I posted with great excitement about a new to me sewing tool that Mr. Q called the Cast Iron Crinkle Cutter. These antique specialty irons are actually called fluting irons.
Here is mine, in action!
Despite my best intentions of actually creating trim with my fluting iron, instead it has been used as a door stop and decorative item (near my modern iron in my sewing room!) since I’ve owned it. I’m currently working on a project from 1875 that has pleated trim around the skirt and I thought that perhaps instead of knife pleating I would try a sample with my fluting iron! I figured that if I liked it (and I could get it to work) I’d use it for the trim on the dress.
Specialty irons have been used for hundreds of years to create different types of ruffles and trims. I came across two sites that had really interesting information about the fluting iron I have as well as many other types of irons from around the world and for the last few thousand years. This one is summary of ironing throughout history. This one is more about types of historical irons. Also, this video from the Oshawa Community Museum looks specifically at some ironing tools that were used to create late Victorian ruffles, including various types of fluting irons.
Along the way to learning more about fluting irons, I also learned that flat cast iron irons are called sad irons. (I might have read that before but didn’t remember the term, so it feels like new information!) They’re called that not because they’re melancholy, but because in the past ‘sad iron’ meant the iron was solid as opposed to hollow (to be filled with heating devices, such as charcoal). The word ‘sad’ also meant heavy and a sad iron could weigh up to 15 pounds. That only further reinforces the fact that laundering in the 19th century was strenuous work (hand scrubbing, hauling buckets of water to heat, maintaining the stove or fire, harsh soaps, refreshing the rinsing water… hard work!). *This is edited from my original description of sad iron. To read all about the etymology of the terms ‘sad’, ‘sad iron’, and ‘box iron’ (the term for a hollow iron), check out this post, published after the one you are currently reading.
Practical thoughts about getting started
In terms of my fabric, I had the strips I wanted to flute prepared and ready to go before ironing them. I had hemmed one long side and just pressed the other edge under (that would become the top edge). With the crisp silk I’m using I probably could have gotten away with just pressing under both the hem and the top edge, but oh well. I prepared and hemmed these long before I officially decided to flute them.
In terms of the fluting iron, I followed these steps (or considered them, anyway):
Cleaning: I used dish soap and a toothbrush, to really get into all the grooves on both pieces of my fluting iron and remove the accumulated dust and grime (I don’t want those on my silk fabric!).
Drying: To prevent rust from forming, I carefully dried the iron and then also let it air dry overnight (though I realized that if I were to immediately use it the heat would cause all of the water to evaporate anyway…).
Seasoning: This is done on non-coated cast iron pans to keep them from rusting. I chose not do this with my iron at this time. I might do it later (I read that well-seasoned cast iron will not release oil onto your fabrics), but right now I just wanted to get started on my experiment.
It’s worth noting that the cast iron gets much too hot to hold with bare hands or put directly on the counter to use, so in addition to the two parts of the iron, I also used a variety of other kitchen tools in this experiment.
I used the baking sheet, cookie drying rack, and cast iron frying pan you’ll see in photos at various points, as well as the silicone baking supplies pictured below: a hefty mitt, a small trivet, and a large trivet.
I also used a spatula to help get a grip on the base of the iron while lifting it out the frying pan, a small spray bottle, white vinegar from my pantry, and tap water.
Method #1 (the slow and steady way to heat the fluting iron)
Heating/Using: I used my conventional oven to heat both parts of my fluting iron on a baking sheet. I could not find specific directions for temperature or length of time, so I started conservatively with 175 F for 15 minutes. (Partly due to the basic information on Wikipedia about specific temperatures for different types of fabrics, but also check out the image of the tailor’s stove on the right side of the page: a multi-sided stove to heat sad irons simultaneously makes so much sense if you’re ironing a lot, as tailors would be!).
When tested on my silk this hardly made an impact. So I put the iron pieces back in the 175 F oven for another 10 minutes. This was better, but not as effective at getting tight flutes as I wanted. On the left are the barely visible results from the first 10 minutes of heating and on the right after the second 10 minutes of heating.
I increased the temperature to 225 F and put the iron pieces back in the oven for 10 more minutes. This time I also decided to use vinegar to help set the flutes. I mixed ½ white vinegar and ½ water in a spray bottle and then sprayed the section of silk I intended to iron. Here you can see the sprayed silk ready to feed into the iron on the left and the results coming out on the right.
This worked much better, but still feeling like I needed more heat to get a good sizzle and press, I increased the oven to 275 F and put the pieces in for another 10 minutes. This seemed like the right temperature! A bit of sizzle from the evaporating liquid on the silk and tight flutes as a final result.
Here is a comparison of two silk samples. The one on the bottom used vinegar and lower heat: 175 F and 225F. The one on the top is the sample that used vinegar and 275 F for heating.
Reheating: I found that the iron lost heat pretty quickly. I reheated it for 10 minutes after every 5 minutes of use. It wasn’t the most efficient process (I can really understand why you would have a set with multiple irons to keep them heating while not in use), but it got the job done on a Saturday afternoon. Experimenting with temperature and fluting 106″ of fabric took about 4 hours.
Setting: In addition to using vinegar (which made huge difference in terms of getting crisp flutes!), I also found it quite important to move the iron very slowly over the base to create the flutes. A quick pass did not do the job and getting each and every flute to line up perfectly to go over it multiple times is much easier to say than to do! I rocked the iron from one side to the other, trying to hold each little section in place for at least a few seconds before moving to the next. I got through about two full rocks with the iron before needing to reheat it.
Method #2 (the much more efficient way)
Heating: After I completed the first of three 106″ sections of trim, a science-minded friend suggested that I would have much more efficient transfer of heat to the iron pieces if I were to heat them directly on my stove in a cast iron pan. This was genius!
I started with my pan on pretty low, as it’s much easier to heat cast iron up than cool it down. This particular burner on my stove gets super hot, so I kept the pan around 2 out of 10 in terms of heat. Harder to translate for other people, but I let the iron heat up for about 10 minutes, until I could feel radiant heat coming from the base when it was out of the pan and I held my hand 1″-2″ away. Another way I tested the head was with a drop of water. At this temperature it quickly evaporated when dripped onto the cast iron.
Reheating: Using the cast iron pan was much more efficient than the oven! I still reheated the iron after about 5 minutes of use, but now I only had to let it reheat for 5 minutes. And because I wasn’t lifting a pan in and out of the oven it was much easier to let the top part of the iron sit on the pan while I moved the fabric along the base piece of the iron. Because the iron was warmer than with the oven, and I’d had more practice at using it, I was able to do three or four full rocks of the iron before needing to reheat it. That meant that my second and third 106″ lengths of fabric only took about 1 hour each. So much faster than with the oven!
You can see the crisp flutes that this method acheieved.
Setting: I used the vinegar/water spray to help set all of these flutes. It should help the fabric to keep this shape permanently (short of me completely soaking the fabric). I experimented with a light spritzing, but the heat quickly evaporated the liquid so I started just making it pretty soaked. Sometimes I even sprayed a bit on the fabric right under the iron if it evaporated before I reached that section of the rocking motion.
Here’s another view of the half finished strip of fabric.
Post Experiment Thoughts
This was fun! I would definitely like to use my fluting iron for more projects–and it should be easier now that I’ve figured out how.
I will say that practice makes a huge difference in terms of being able to flute quickly, so that the iron doesn’t cool down. You don’t have too long to think once you take the iron off the heat source!
A finished pile of about 318″ of fluted trim! I’m curious about how I will sew this on. I think that a sewing machine would crush the flutes (and I don’t think I want a line of machine stitches anyway), so I will likely sew it on by hand, catching only the valleys and not the hills in the fabric. Good thing I like hand sewing!
I came across few people trying out antique fluting irons while looking for information to get started on this experiment. For the sake of anyone else who might be looking, here are a few other practical experiments to check out:
Katherine of The Fashionable Past tried out a fluting iron in 2011 and posted about it on her blog here, including a video.
@isabel.northwode tried out a fluting iron in 2018 and posted about it on Instagram here.