Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part I: The Plan

It’s been a few years (three, I think) since I made a new mid-19th century evening gown. I have three evening gowns from this era that currently fit and they are kept constant rotation at events each year. It’s nice to change it up and have different dresses to wear, so I’ve decided I want a new dress!

My goal is to keep the cost down on the new dress, so I went through my stash binder to look for fabrics I already own that would work for this project. I also went through my inspiration for dresses from this period, settling on a lace trimmed dress in an illustration on page 208 of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

It’s the dress on the right that I like, the one ‘Of white tarletan; double skirts flounced with black lace’. However, I’ve decided to make my dress in apricot colored silk. This is due in part to the fact I had yardage enough of apricot silk in my stash, but I think the idea was also influenced by the description of the dress in the center of the illustration. I think I had apricot on the brain!

The apricot silk was purchased in 2016 with no particular project in mind except the general idea of being a historical dress. It has slubs and is definitely a shantung and not a taffeta. That’s not great for historical garments for many periods, but there are a few points in its favor.
a) it was already in the stash in enough yardage for this project
b) the multiple bands of trim on the skirt and generous bertha will distract from the slubs
c) it’s a color of dress that I don’t have too much of and that I don’t have any of in this time period

That explains the color choice, but I’m not planning for my dress to have a double skirt. To me, it looks like the white tarletan dress is drawn in a way that looks like a single skirt with lace trim applied at multiple heights rather than a double skirt. This type of applied skirt trim around the entire circumference of the skirt is common in the first few years of the 1860s, so I’m going with idea. I’ll share more about my skirt trim inspiration that when I get to that point in the process.

For now, if we were to describe my dress in Cunnington’s style, it would be ‘Of apricot silk with cream lace and red silk velvet bows’. There might be some tulle mixed into the bertha as well, we’ll see when we get there. Here are my fabrics, with a stand-in lace (I estimate needing around 35 yards of lace for this dress–not a quantity that was already in my stash–so that was the one section of the project that needed to be purchased).

Plan? Check. Fabric? Check. Next step, a pattern. That’s where we’ll start in the next post in this series.

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1925 Lace Cloche

I knew I wanted a cloche to go with my 1925 Blue Coral Dress from early on in the process of making it. It was going to be hot when I wore the dress, so I knew I wanted something that would both look and feel lightweight. Turns out any hat was warmer than a bare head (well, one with hair on it!), but that being said, I think this was on the right track with a lightweight hat.

I considered making the cloche from fabric, but couldn’t decide on a style with seams that I liked. However, as I was browsing my Pinterest board, my eyes kept settling on straw, horsehair, and lace hats. It seemed like that was the way to go.

I didn’t have any particular materials on hand or in mind for that type of hat but I had come across a modern cotton lace cloche on Amazon for $14 that seemed like a good starting point. It’s no longer available, but I’m sure a careful search could find something similar. To the right is what it looked like before I started changing it up.

Generally, modern cloches have such a deep crown that they don’t leave any space for hair arranged on the back of the head. I have long hair, so that just doesn’t work for me. Cloches from the 1920s frequently have a cutout in the back to allow for your neck… or hair! They also have more interesting brims than modern cloches often do. Perfect. That’s what I wanted. An interesting brim and a cutout for my hair.

With my design plan in place, I started disassembling the modern cloche. First, I removed the braided band and flower. Then, I started unwrapping the lace on the brim, taking out the stitching that held one circumference to the next. I stopped at the bottom of the crown. I removed the inner hat band for most of the way around the hat, so I could stitch the new brim shape and the back cutout without stitching through the hat band.

Next, I played with the lace I had unwrapped for the brim to decide on a new shape. Once I made some decisions I had to make a few shorter pieces out of the lace, but most of it I tried to keep intact. In the back, I decided where I wanted my cut out to be… and cut it! Then I bound the edge using the lace and topstitched it down to encase the edges.

It was a bit tricky to find an acceptable shape for the new brim. The first few tries were so similar in shape to the crown of the hat that they hardly showed when I put it on my head. I ended up with a brim that flares out a bit so it stands away from the crown of the hat, especially in the front. I had to be careful to cover the ends of the plastic horsehair braid that backs the cotton lace, as it is very poky when cut. I covered the ends either by turning them under or having the inner hat band cover them.

After sorting out the brim and back cutout it was time to reattach the inner hat band. Then I sewed on my trim. Here’s what the hat looked like on the inside after all that.

I’ve loved Leimomi’s cloche decoration in this post since she posted about it in 2014. Having that in mind, I thought of what bits of trim I already had in my stash and what might work for this hat. I decided on a random yard of navy grosgrain ribbon, which I cut into thirds, pleated, and attached in imitation of this hat.

When I styled my hair, I tried to have hair come down to my jawline more than I usually do. I think cloches look less silly if there is some hair showing around them. My hair didn’t really look like a bob, but at least there was some hair showing in the front. In the back, it was pinned into a low twist-y mass of curls.

The great thing about the materials of this hat is that they are intended to be flexible for packing and traveling. Not only is it easy to store this hat but it’s also easy to remove it at a picnic and leave it on the blanket or put it in a bag without worrying that it will be damaged. It can get crushed and bounce back into shape!

In the end, I continue to think my head looks like an egg when I wear a cloche. I like styles that don’t hug my head better! That’s my own feeling–other people don’t think it’s nearly as egg-like as I do! But as egg-heads go, this was better than some attempts, so I think we’ll call it a success! It certainly looks cute on the fence!

A Gown Worthy Of A Duchess

On the same January shopping trip that I unexpectedly found the blush sparkle fabric I made a 1920s dress out of I also unexpectedly found an excellent fabric for a new Regency evening dress. I hadn’t made one in awhile, but I had a Regency weekend coming up and I was wanting something new for the fancier ball (and of course nothing in my stash was inspiring me). In my wanderings around the store, I discovered an organza curtain sheer that brought to mind this particular fashion plate that has been on my ‘to-sew’ list for years.

1819 – Ackermann’s Repository Series 2 Vol 7 – March Issue

I’d been on the look-out for a sheer with black stripes but hadn’t found anything suitable. Once I found the curtain fabric, I debated whether to use it for a dress in this style or to hold out for the black stripe. As you’ll see, I decided to call this inspiration fulfilled by the gold striped fabric that I found. It’s polyester, but that means it was a good price. Occasionally, a polyester can be just the thing.

In addition to the Ackerman’s fashion plate, I also borrowed design ideas from two other striped evening gowns: this earlier Costume Parisien fashion plate from 1809 and this image of the Duchess d’Angoulême c. 1815. My dress is a conglomeration of these and the 1819 fashion plate. I borrowed the sheer overdress idea from 1819, the single row of scalloped trim from 1809, and the bias cut sleeves from 1815. I date my dress to 1817, as the fluffy nature of the organza pushes the silhouette towards 1820, but the single row of trim pulls it back from 1819 just a bit.

I have a full compliment of nicely finished underthings that are perfect for making the sheer dress opaque. It was never my intention to be a scandalous Regency lady with minimal underthings! In fact, to make the ensemble sufficiently opaque, I wore my chemise plus two petticoats under the sheer dress. Without the second petticoat it was clear where my chemise ended (at my knees, in case you’re curious), but I didn’t want to have the illusion of scandal with this, I really wanted opacity all the way down.

Like the new pelisse, the sheer dress provided another perfect opportunity to make further use of my Vernet petticoat, which has a lovely eyelet border at the hem. Here’s another view that shows off the lace on the petticoat.

It’s usual for me to meticulously finish the insides of my garments, but in the case of a sheer dress, that desire became a necessity. Accordingly, all of the inside seams are nicely finished with a mix of French, flat felled, and folding seam allowances to hide raw edges and whipping them together. I kept the finished seam allowances small, so that they wouldn’t detract from the stripes.

The bottoms of the sleeves and the front and back necklines are all adjustable with tiny drawstrings made from champagne colored embroidery floss. The goal was to have ties that would blend and not be noticeable through the sheer fabric.

The pattern for this dress was adapted from other Regency dresses I have made. I think I most closely referenced the patterns for my tree gown and square neck gown, but adjusted the fullness to give this dress a little more oomph.

This dress is machine sewn and hand finished. All of the French seaming was done on machine, as was the assembly of the bodice, waistband, and skirt to make a dress, but all of the other stitching (casings, hems, trim, finishing seam allowances in non-French ways, etc.) was done by hand.

The dress has a scalloped trim band around the bottom, set up high enough to show off the lace on the Vernet petticoat. It’s hand hemmed and it seems like miles… though I think it was only about 9 yards. Hemming, gathering, and attaching this was one of the last tasks and it was going right up until about 2am on the morning of the ball. By the time it was being sewn on there was no measuring or sectioning, just eyeballing, so it’s a little wavier than I would normally allow, but one has to make accommodations (sometimes). I was envisioning the scallops would be spaced out more and therefore be more defined, but as I was furiously sewing the trim on I was not about to cut it up and resew it, so all 9 yards made it onto the dress. It’s fine. I’m happy. I do not plan to re-do the fullness of the trim or the placement!

I decided that such a dress needed grand hair and hair ornamentation, and so I justified my desire to wear a tiara by scouring my Pinterest boards for documentation. The Duchess d’Angouleme sports a pretty grand tiara in 1818. And here she is in 1817 wearing what I think is the same tiara.This is Victoria, Duchess of Kent, sporting a fabulous tiara and giant hair poof/bun. Empress Josephine and Caroline Murat (Queen of Naples) have some pretty fabulous tiaras, too. To match the tiara, I accessorized with a pearl necklace and pearl earrings. Worthy of a duchess? I think so!

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1814 Orange Boven Pelisse

At least three years ago I was inspired by a fashion plate, as one often is, and started working on a Regency pelisse following the design in the image. I got really far along, finishing the construction and even part of the trimming, but then stalled and let the ensemble languish for years before determining to pick it up and finish it off this year or else! I’m excited to have finally reached a ‘done’ point in this project so I can remove it from the UFO list!

The pelisse (and hat) are directly inspired by the following fashion plate, which can be seen here with slightly different coloring and here in black and white. In the first of those two links, the garment is labeled as a dinner dress, but I thought the design would make excellent pelisse trimming and so I adapted it.

You’ll notice, perhaps, that the finished pelisse does not have as much trim on it as the inspiration image. Early in this project, before it languished, I cut out all of the appliqués for the neck, sleeves, and hem as well as the front edges. I pressed under a 1/4″ on each side of each piece, too. And then, as I was finishing all that triangle trim on the front earlier this year, two things happened:

#1- I lost steam and really just needed to be done with this project.

#2- I decided I liked the simplicity of the pelisse without the extra trim. It’s so easy to draw lots of details, but then in a real garment the details don’t always translate. For example, the triangles around the neck just looked bad and awkward (plus, I wonder if that is a chemisette collar and not trim on the dress itself?) and the sleeves just looked too crowded. I was also afraid that putting all that work into triangles around the hem would just get dirty and not be a good use of many more yards of the vintage lace I used to edge the triangles.

In fact, despite the somewhat-simplified trim, there are actually a lot of details in the construction of the pelisse. Each back seam is piped and the belt has double piping above and below it. The neck is bound with piping, which is sewn with small, invisible stitches around the neck to hold the seam allowance to the inside. Also, the skirt is knife pleated into the back, allowing for a nice silhouette from all sides.

The pelisse is made entirely from peach colored cotton. It is unlined, except on the belt, where it is lined in order to hide the raw edges. The other seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. Here is an inside view of the bodice section. I do like my insides to be tidy!

The trim fabric is a cream colored poly/cotton blend. Each triangle is edged in very light tan vintage lace. Then, to top it all off, there are peach tassels on each triangle down the front as well. The peach tassels were removed from a length of upholstery trim that happened to be a perfect color match!

The pelisse is machine sewn on the interior seams and hand finished, including the hem, neckline, seam allowances, and all that trim. The darts are also sewn by hand with a small running stitch, a detail I picked up from looking at extant pelisses, though of course it’s been so many years now that I can’t find a specific example. I like how the top stitched darts at a little extra interest.

The pattern for this pelisse is of my own design. I’m pretty sure it was based on my 1819 spencer, but adapted slightly for a different fit. It’s hard to remember since it’s been so many years since I made the pattern! The skirt is a large rectangle–two panels of fabric seamed at center back.

I’m wearing the pelisse with the following garments: a chemise and my short stays, my Vernet petticoat , my recently finished chemisette, and the hat that matches the whole ensemble. I’m excited to have found a use for the Vernet petticoat that shows off the trim at the hem! I did take out the tucks that made it the right length for my Witzchoura so that it would be the right length for the pelisse, but that’s what tucks are for, right? On picture day there was a nice breeze blowing everything around and showing off all the layers nicely.

I was lucky to take these photos in and around some of the Regency period buildings in Salem, MA. You can’t beat buildings from the right period for a suitable backdrop for a garment like this!

Now I have my first pelisse. More outings will hopefully arise in the future so I can wear it again. I’m so glad I’ve decided it’s finished and that it was a comfortable garment to wear, though I maintain that the hat is a bit silly.

 

Orange Boven Hat, 1814 (HSM#4)

I am pleased to report that I made a garment which qualifies for the HSM challenge #4: Circles, Squares, and Rectangles! I wasn’t sure I had anything on the sewing list that would do, but then I remembered years ago when I started this hat and it was only two pieces, a circle for the crown and a rectangle for the binding. Perfect! (I’m not counting the triangular trim. That’s just the trimming!)

As you might guess from the photo, this hat is part of a matching ensemble: a pelisse and hat from 1814. I’ve got lots of details planned regarding the inspiration for this ensemble as well as more pictures of the finished outfit, but for now this teaser will have to suffice. It gives context to the rather silly hat.

Just the facts:

Fabric: Pale peach cotton and cream (likely) poly/cotton blend.

Pattern: My own based on my head measurements.

Year: 1814.

Notions: Thread, two ostrich feathers, and about 1 yard of vintage lace.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. It’s entirely recognizable in its own time and made in a way that is straightforward and consistent with historic garments. The materials are not 100% accurate.

Hours to complete: If I’m only counting the hat, about 3 or 4, since it is entirely hand sewn.

First worn: April 9 for a Regency tea.

Total cost: About $8 for the hat without the pelisse.

Sophie, 1861 Cotton Print (HSM #8)

Last week, I introduced Eleanor, a newly made plaid gown from 1862. Today’s introduction is to Eleanor’s friend, Sophie. Sophie actually came first, back during the summer when I was intending to participate in the same dance performance for which I’ve worn Georgina in the past (here are a selection of past posts about Georgina: the construction which is similar in some ways to Sophie, Georgina in action, and Georgina with a new collar).

This year, the performance was rescheduled due to rain and I couldn’t attend the new date, meaning that the new dress, Sophie, languished until October, when I was able to wear it during part of a recent mid-19th century dance weekend. The nice thing about the delay is that the pictures all have stunning fall leaves, which would not have been in the case in the summer.

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Also, had I worn this dress on the first intended date, it would not have been entirely completed. Having extra time allowed me to officially finish all the trim and closures which made this dress the perfect entry for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #8 “Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better.” I didn’t have any pictures of the dress on a body at that point, so I submitted a rather sad picture of the dress on a hanger at that time. It’s exciting to have real pictures now!

Just the facts:

Fabric: 7.5 yards cotton print.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #701, 1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices.

Year: 1860-1863 based on my extant inspiration, but I’m calling it 1861.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, muslin scraps, and narrow yarn for cording.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. This is as accurate as I can be given the research I have done and the materials I used, though the use of a facing on the front edges is guesswork. Regardless, this would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: Unknown. A fair bit.

First worn: October 23 for an afternoon tea and dance games.

Total cost: $23.

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Sophie was directly inspired by this extant dress at the Kent State University Museum. I was considering what to wear for the performance, thinking that I’d worn Georgina enough to want something new, that I’d had an 1860s cotton print fabric in my stash for a few years, and then I remembered this dress. I decided to leave off the ruffle on the skirt (and also didn’t have enough fabric), but was so pleased that my cotton print is so perfectly suited for playing with the pattern in the same way as the extant dress!

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Dresses from this period with v necks are not common, but they do exist. This Pinterest board has lots of examples. My Pinterest board has a few other dresses that helped move me along as well.

As I mentioned in my post about Eleanor, finding and making use of subtle differences between dresses from similar years brings me joy. For example, Sophie has a v neck, no boning, cartridge pleated sleeves, gathered trim, and is actually sewn together as a dress, rather than hooking together at the waistband as with all my other dresses from this period.

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In other ways, Sophie is similar to Georgina, being partially machine and partially hand sewn, having a cartridge pleated skirt, cuffs with little ruffles at the ends, and pockets.

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Personally, I love having pockets in day dresses. It brings me peace of mind to know that modern things like my keys are close by and not sitting around somewhere. Plus, chapstick, fan, gloves, etc. are also excellent choices for stashing in pockets. These pockets, which you can see the top of in the picture below, are sewn in the same way as Georgina’s pockets, shown here. I love this collection of references to pockets from the 1840s, 50s, and 60s that Anna Worden Bauersmith put together. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to share it for what seems like ages.

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Here are two more interior shots of the dress. The first shows the muslin facings. I don’t have documentation for this method being used to finish a lightweight summer cotton dress, but it makes sense that this method might have been used to finish the edges nicely while keeping the main body of the dress breathable and light. The second picture shows in the inside of the top of the sleeve, particularly to show the cartridge pleats.

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In addition to the dress, I also made a new cage crinoline. I’ve been wanting a slightly smaller, less bell shaped one, particularly to wear with cotton dresses. I love my old cage crinoline (seen here) for evening dresses, but it is just a bit too much for a more practical daytime look. The new crinoline shape just looks ‘right’ with the cotton dress. The difference is subtle, but pleasing. Unfortunately, it did not perform well in its first wearing. The vertical tapes were sliding all over the place and causing the hoops to drop and be tripped on. Not good! It needs revision before being finished and shared, so for now you’ll just have to believe that I’m wearing it with this dress.

Now that you’ve heard all about the dress itself, here are some pretty pictures of it in action. These first ones are in the spirit of the development of rural cemeteries in the mid-19th century, which you can read more about in this blog post at Plaid Petticoats.

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The next few are a celebration of the autumn season. The gorgeous leaves were beckoning us to have some laughs. Incidentally, I tend to jump in the air with my arms up whenever I’m having an amazing time in this period. Take this memory, for example. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing!

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We have so many things to be grateful for. I am always thankful for the many blessings in my life, particularly at this time of year. I hope that your life is also overflowing with blessings and reasons to give thanks, in autumn and always.

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Vernet Project: Silly Shoes

One of the five pieces of my Vernet Project was creating the silly up-turned-toe elf shoes in the fashion plate. Clearly, these are not shoes that could be purchased, as they are so specific in style, so I set out to make my own!

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In the beginning, I was thankful to have another Vernet project maker’s experience making her boots before mine to work from. Jenni posted a two part tutorial showing how she made her boots as well as sharing information behind-the-scenes with project participants earlier in the process (Part 1 and Part 2). She closely referenced Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker, published in 1855 (a little late relative to the date of the project, but still useful for construction advice), for construction methods and carefully documented her process. In fact, she did a much better job at documenting the actual sewing than I did… I also read Anna’s information about making mid-19th century shoes multiple times to help get my mind acquainted with the project (again, a little later than the period of the project, but still helpful). She also has lots of great construction pictures.

I started by creating a pattern for my shoe using patterns in Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker. Given that my shoe has the unusual turned-up-toe, I necessarily needed to make adjustments to the general slipper pattern. Here is my shoe at the mockup stage. The upper pieces fit pretty well! I adjusted the width of the sole as well as the shape of the turned-up section before moving on to cut out the final pieces.

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Here are all of the final pieces cut out and ready to assemble. The soles have three layers: heavier tan leather for the outer sole, cardboard for the inner sole structure, and white linen to cover the cardboard insole. The uppers have two layers: lightweight raspberry leather for the exterior and white linen for the interior. Later in the process I also added a faux fur cuff.

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To help the shoes keep their turned-up-toe shape I soaked the leather soles in water, taped them to a lysol wipe container, and let them dry. You can see the results below. Not perfectly curved up, but still helpful. I also tried boiling leather soles to thicken them before shaping, but found that the leather shrank unevenly which created soles that wouldn’t work for this project. I did save them, though, and hopefully will get to use them for a future shoe making endeavor. I repeated the soaking and shaping for the cardboard insoles before gluing the linen to them. There’s a picture of the insoles at this stage in this past post.

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After shaping the soles it was time to construct the uppers. I did the interior and exterior separately, then basted them together around the top opening and around the bottoms. Then I sewed the bottom edges of the uppers to the soles, using the slanting stitch through the side of the sole that Jenni shows in Part 2 of her tutorial. She used all sorts of nifty leather tools as well as a wooden last during construction. I purchased the nifty leather tools but found that they didn’t work for me and a simple non-leather needle worked just fine. (I think my leather was too thin and soft for these to be needed). As for the last, I looked online for a wooden one, never found one in my size foot, and eventually decided to give it a go without one, especially since I had to do the turned-up toe. In the end, I don’t think it was a problem not to have a last.

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Once the soles were attached, I bound the front slit with matching silk ribbon. Then I cut a piece of faux fur for each shoe that went around just the top of the foot opening and could double over on itself. There are non-functional silk ribbon loops that are sewn to the front of the fur that encases the top edge of the shoe. The shoes actually close with a twill tape threaded through hand sewn eyelets on each side of the opening.

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They’re actually quite comfortable for walking around in. I have very flat feet, so don’t really need arch support to be comfortable. The only thing is that my feet did get cold during our photoshoot due to the freezing ground only separated from my feet by a few thin layers of fabric. So, for the second wearing, while caroling at Christmastime, I added a faux fur insole. Problem solved! They were toasty and even more comfortable!

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Interestingly, witzchouras are mentioned as being popular in Paris during the year 1827 by La Belle Assembleé, after a mention of other popular pelisses and mantles (well worth checking out!), and are are described as being worn with boots laced in front and with fur around the leg.

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Doesn’t that description sound oddly familiar? It reminds me so very much of the Vernet fashion plate and my silly shoes!