1875 Reception Dress: Bodice Construction

Recently, I’ve been hinting about my new 1875 reception dress. We’ve looked at the hat that I made to accompany it as well as how the hat was made. Now, I’d like to share focused details about the construction of the bodice of the dress.

Here is the finished bodice!

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.

L’Elegance Parisienne, June 1875, LAPL

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.

Revue de la Mode, c. 1875

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.

1875 Hair & Finished Hat (HSM #7)

Last post, I shared details about the style I decided on for the hat to accompany my 1875 reception dress, as well as how I made the hat.

Today, we get to see the finished hat being worn and take a look at the hairstyle I created to support the it!

This hat qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #7: No-Buy! I was pleased that I had everything I needed for this hat on hand and it was a bonus that I was even able to use scraps in a lot of places!

Make something without buying anything.  Whether it’s finishing off a UFO, using up scraps of fabric from earlier challenges in the year, sewing entirely from stash, or finding the perfect project for those small balls of yarn, this is your opportunity to get creative without acquiring more stuff.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  Scraps of buckram, scraps of cotton flannel, scraps of pink, green, and ivory silk, 2 green-ish/brown ostrich feathers, 9 vintage silk millinery flowers, and a bit of cotton velvet.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: Millinery wire and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 85%. It’s pretty good on shape, materials, and methods, I believe, and it would be recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: 10 ¾ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so I count it as free; however, not counting fabric scraps I think I spent about $12 on the other materials at some point in the past.

Hairstyle Possibilities

When I was deciding on the style of hat I would be making, I also had to consider what my hairstyle might be, as the two support and complement each other. The post showing how I made this hat also shows a variety of hat styles popular at this time.

Along those same lines, let’s look at possible hairstyles from the years around 1875. Hairstyles changed throughout the 1870s, sometimes in subtle ways… and sometimes in not subtle ways! Here is not subtle for you.

Guy Little Theatrical Photograph, V & A, S.145:535-2007

I love this look (though I can see why you might chose to have a differing opinion), with ginormous braids and twists that use much more hair than most people naturally have on their heads. However, this style (with all of the additional hair at the back of the head) does not coordinate with the type of hat I chose–one that would sit on the back of my head, creating a crown effect.

Looking at the years right around 1875 (the year of my reception dress), I found hairstyles with lots of curls and twists hanging down. 1875 is the part of the decade when the fashionable silhouette of dresses changes from the very round styles of 1870-1874 (like this, for example, from 1870) to the styles from 1875-1877 that have fabric starting to slide down the backs of skirts (like this, for example, from 1875).

As if in sympathy with the dresses, I notice that hairstyles start to slide down, too. It is these years when I see curls and twists hanging down the back, while the top parts of the hair are still sculptural, decorative, and large. Here is another example showing both the cascading fabric and the sympathetic hanging curls.

La Mode Artistique, 1875, via Yesterday’s Thimble

Interestingly, there are lots of advertisements for hair pieces to help achieve these styles–for ready-made curls, twists, braids… we know that women were not achieving this with only their own hair!

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, May 1875, via Hats From History

Another hairstyle option is much more subdued and most popular starting in 1878. This is the Natural Form period, when skirts are quite narrow by comparison with earlier years (like this, for example, from 1880). In keeping with the streamlined silhouette, the hair is now generally swept up, but with much less ornamentation and volume than we see in the previous years. Here is an example. No hanging curls or twists and no masses of faux hair.

1880, Le Journal des Modes, via the LAPL

Hairstyle Decision

I settled on the mid-century hairstyle of decorative bits hanging down the back with sculptural hair on the top of my head, to complement the hat. This style provided a solid base that helped visually and physically balance and anchor the hat. Indeed, without all the extra volume on top of my head the hat just looks out of place.

As you can see in the front view photo (above), I used a giant braid for the top/front of my style. There’s a whole blog post about how I created the braid here. Behind that, there is a bun form to help create volume on top of my head. This worked wonderfully for anchoring my hat pin, which you can just see poking out on the right side of the photo below–it’s tipped in a green glass leaf.

I attempted to create loops and swirls of hair around and below the bun, but I’m afraid that part of the style wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for. It’s difficult to do on the back of your own head and it’s hard to make the loops distinct, especially with my hair texture. I suspect it would be easier with smoother hair and definitely easier to do on someone else instead of yourself. I’ll have to try this style again some day. For this first attempt the back of my head was completely covered by my hat, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like!

Below the loopy/swoopy bit I left curls hanging down at a few different lengths, as I saw in many fashion plates. This part turned out well!

That’s it, really. Massive hair, some hanging curls, plop the trimmed hat on top, secure it with a hat pin, and suddenly my head is about double the size it normally is! Here is another photo showing the hat and a sneak peak at more of the dress. Lots of details are coming up about the dress in future posts!

Style Decisions & Making A 1875 Hat

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
via historicaltidbits.blogspot.com
  • 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
Journal des Demoiselles, 1875 via Guy RIVIERE
  • Bonnets: tiny little things with basically no brim, sitting upon the back of the head
MFA Boston ACCESSION NUMBER46.324

And then there are a variety of hats and bonnets that fall in between these categories. Fashion doesn’t always fit firmly within categories!

Journal des Demoiselles, 1877 via Guy RIVIERE

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!

c. 1880 Petticoat (HSM #5)

I decided I needed a new petticoat as part of the 1875 ensemble I’ve been working on for the last few months. I have a very ruffly petticoat from 1883 (shown in this past post) that helps with the shelf backside shape that became popular in that year, but I wanted a different shape for 1875… something to produce a more rounded silhouette and support the train I was expecting to include on my new dress.

My original thought was that my balayeuse would button to this new petticoat to create the support for the train of my dress (as opposed to making a trained petticoat and then potentially needing an additional petticoat without a train in the future). The idea is that the balayeuse + new petticoat will provide lots of wearing options for the future.

Along those lines, this new petticoat is able to fit over my large bustle from 1883 as well as having the ability to contain the back fullness so that it can also be used for the Natural Form years of approximately 1877-1882 (you can see the bustle in the same past post as the super ruffle-y petticoat). I don’t have a Natural Form dress yet, but it is on the to-do-someday list and in the spirit of reusing garments and saving time, this seemed like a reasonable decision.

Here is the new petticoat over my large bustle. The drawstring partway down the back allows for the adjustment for different bustle shapes. It is anchored in the side seams.

Here is the petticoat without the large bustle. This is approximating the Natural Form look. While the hem pulls up a bit over the large bustle (above), it is pretty even for the Natural Form look (below). The great thing is that once there is a dress over the petticoat you can’t tell what the hem is doing!

The pattern for my petticoat is from Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1, page 107. It’s a pretty simple shape. Accordingly, I made mine using straightforward details and machine sewing/finishing.

The petticoat has a drawstring at the waist, for adjustability. The drawstrings run through the waistband and are anchored along the sides with a line of machine stitching.

At center back the drawstring closes the top of the placket. The placket is just a slit that is bound with a strip of cotton cut on the grain. No bias here–this saves fabric and makes things easier to sew! The waistband and placket biding are finished by stitching in the ditch.

I decided on a medium width pleated ruffle for the bottom edge of this petticoat. I used a fork to help space the pleats, eyeballing and ironing as I went along.

The ruffle is edged with a stiff lace from my stash. I’ve had this for nine years and always wondered what to do with it, because it is so stiff. Turns out it was perfect for a petticoat, when a little stiffness is helpful! The lace comes in the stack of three that I used to top the ruffle. To get the single width I simply cut apart sections of the stack.

Here’s another view of the stack of three lace, the pleated ruffle, and the drawstring. Both this drawstring and the one in the waist are cotton twill tape.

This simple garment qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #5: Basic. I imagine it will be used for any project I make, day or evening, from about 1875 through 1882.

Make a garment that can be used for many occasions (like a shift, or the classic ‘Regency white dress’), or a simple accessory that will help you stretch the use of an already existing garment.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  3.5 yards plain cotton.

Pattern: From Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1.

Year: c. 1880.

Notions: 1 yard ⅝” cotton twill tape, 1 yard ¼” cotton twill tape, 5 yards lace, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to give this one 95%. It’s good on shape, materials, and methods. I believe would be recognizable and plausible for its time.

Hours to complete:  8 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so free, but the original cost of the materials were $10.50 for the fabric, $2 for the lace, and about $2 for the twill tapes, so $14.50 total.

While not the most exciting project, this was a great start on the way to making my 1875 ensemble. I’m pleased to have made a garment that is easily adjustable, useful for multiple types of events and silhouettes, and is functional but still pretty!

The Amazing Balayeuse (HSM #8)

I am super pleased with a recently completed addition to my historical closet, my brand new balayeuse! Practical, utilitarian, and still managing to be a little frivolous looking, this thing is amazing!

I’ll tell you all about it, but first… what is a balayeuse? Our go-to source for etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has the following information.

balayeuse, n.
Pronunciation:  /balɛˈjəːz/
Frequency (in current use)
Etymology: French, feminine of balayeur sweeper.
Dressmaking.
1882   S. F. A. Caulfeild & B. C. Saward Dict. Needlework 18/2   Balayèuse, or Sweeper.—A French term to signify the frilling of material or lace which lines the extreme edge of a dress skirt to keep the train clean as it sweeps along the floor. The balayèuse is allowed to project beyond the edge of the dress, so as to form a decorative as well as a useful trimming.
1894   Daily News 20 Jan. 5/7   Three flounces of..silk forming a richly-rustling balayeuse beneath the hem.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to this definition as you will not be able to access it simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so I suggest you start there for access.

Are you curious how to pronounce balayeuse? The OED provides us with the correct pronunciation, but the official pronunciation notes don’t mean too much to me. I think of the word as bal-ay-yuhz.

Ok, so now we know what this thing is and how to pronounce it. We even have an idea of the purpose, from the OED definition.

As you saw in the first photo, my balayeuse is it’s own garment. But there is another type of balayeuse mentioned in the first OED quote, from 1882. Also called a ‘dust ruffle’, this type of balayeuse is directly attached to the skirt. I’ve had great luck with this in the past and I really like the look of lace peeking out from under a late 19th century skirt, so I included that type of balayeuse on the pink skirt as well, but that alone was not enough to keep its shape.

I decided to make a second type of balayeuse–one that, in addition to the wonderful job of keeping the underside of the skirt’s train from becoming soiled, also helps the train to keep its shape and not collapse on itself. Caroline (of the blog Dressed In Time) mentions this function in a blog post showing her own balayeuse. Here is the train of my skirt laid out (sneak peak!).

I felt I had to make my skirt before the balayeuse, in order to make the balayeuse the right shape to hide under the skirt when it was finished, and so I’ve tried it on a few times without the balayeuse. The train is great looking when I twist and turn in my corset to get the skirt to lay just right, but it doesn’t stay that way when I move around.

But with the balayeuse it was so different! The skirt just magically lays exactly how it should as soon as I put it on and it stays that way no matter how I move–backing up, turning, it is amazing!

So how does this balayeuse really help keep the shape? Well, the main thing is that the base is a double layer of stiff cotton poplin (from Dharma Trading–I love them for my natural fiber, white, black, and unbleached fabric needs). This photo of the balayeuse with the ruffle side face down (as it would be worn) shows the poplin off nicely.

The poplin base is basically a big rectangle with the bottom edge curved up at the sides. I used the full width of the poplin, which was a little less than 60″ wide. The center is 17″ tall and the sides taper to about 9″. The base is gathered to a band that is 28″ wide and 2″ tall. I didn’t add extra stiffening to the band, as the poplin is pretty hardy all by itself. This blog post at Atelier Nostalgia has an image that was great inspiration for my shape (though my balayeuse is wider than this) and the button attachment method I’ll show you below.

The poplin base has three rows of ruffles attached to it. I decided to use unbleached muslin for the ruffles for a few reasons: #1 gathering three rows of stiff poplin didn’t sound like fun (and the base is plenty stiff enough as it is), #2 I figured that the muslin would be less obviously dirty looking, already being unbleached as opposed to very white, and #3 the muslin will be easy and cheap to replace someday, if needed.

As you can see in the photo above, the band of the balayeuse has buttonholes in it. This allows the balayeuse to be easily removed for cleaning and storage, or use with a different dress (thinking ahead, here!). To accommodate the buttonholes, there are buttons sewn to the lining of the skirt.

The buttons are reinforced with extra squares of muslin whipped to the lining, as you can see in the photo below.

It seemed too much to ask the buttons to hang on to a single layer of muslin while dragging the balayeuse around. Here’s what those whipped on squares look like on the other side.

The end result is this. As you can see, the non-ruffled top of the balayeuse overlaps with the skirt lining and would not be dragging on the ground. The muslin ruffles actually continue the muslin underskirt nicely, I think, though no one is likely to ever see that!

It might not seem super stiff, but this ruffle-y contraption spreads out beautifully when it hits the floor. For comparison, here is a photo of my mockup balayeuse, made from an old sheet (and without ruffles). It’s spread out for the photo, but you can imagine how an old sheet would collapse on itself when picked up.

One last thought… the ruffles! I decided to try out a new tool for these ruffles: a narrow hem foot. This is one of those things I should have tried before but haven’t ever used for a project, but miles of ruffle edges seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice!

I can report that practice definitely helped! For example, I had some trouble going over my french seamed joins in the ruffles. In the photo below, my first try is on the left, my fifth try is in the middle, and my last try is just coming up on the right. The french seam was just too bulky to fit through the hook on the presser foot that turns under the hemmed edge. I discovered that if I eliminated some bulk with a diagonal cut of the seam allowance it worked so much better!

I didn’t bother to go back and fix my first few sad-looking french seam crossings. I figured this was going to drag around on the ground, and who would be looking? Also, it’s more fun to make beautifully colored dresses than muslin ruffles… There was a bit of ‘done is good’ on that front for this project.

Yay for learning things! I also found I needed to move my needle just a tad bit to the right of center to easily (and speedily) stitch the narrow hems.

The mention of the narrow hem foot reminds me that this project qualifies for the HSM challenge #8: Celebration.

Make something for a specific historical celebration, make something generally celebration worthy, make something that celebrates a historical hero, or just make something that celebrates some new skills you’ve learned.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  1 yard cotton poplin and 1 yard cotton muslin.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: 5 light yellow plastic buttons and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I haven’t seen an extant stand-alone balayeuse before, so I can’t be sure, but I would say 90%. Materials and style completely recognizable and plausible for their time.

Hours to complete:  5 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for fittings. I need to complete my ensemble (only the hat is left!) so I can wear it with the dress it was made for to get photos.

Total cost: $6.25 for the poplin and $4 for the muslin. The buttons were gifted to me. And the thread was negligible. There was a bit of shipping to get the poplin, so let’s say $15 total.

Further information I found helpful as I made my balayeuse included this blog post at Yesterday’s Thimble. It’s also worth mentioning that if this idea sounds great, but patterning your own balayeuse is too much, Truly Victorian has a pattern for a petticoat with detachable train that you can check out.

Fezziwig’s Ball 2019

I’m a bit slow to post about it, but last December I again attended The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual holiday event: Fezziwig’s Ball. (You can check out posts about past years here.)

This year, I decided to wear my 1832 Burgundy Velvet Gown again, but I changed up my hairstyle slightly by adding a new element, since I was wearing a dress I’ve worn before. In addition to some new decorations, I also added a faux hair braid to make a giant swirly bun on the back part of my head. I wrote a blog post in January focusing on the hairstyle and my new faux hair braid that you can read here.

1830s hair is absurd and very fun. I enjoy the challenge of trying to style my own hair into these crazy styles. This year I had the faux braid and a few mesh supports under the front curls, but all the rest of the hair is my own. Those front curls are different each year… this year they have a sort of marching-in-a-line look that is interesting and different than in the past, but still documentable. Check out these curls from 1826 and these from 1829.

It’s fun to wear 1830s, as it’s a decade I don’t get to wear the clothes for as often as some others. The giant sleeves take a bit of getting used to but are entertaining in the end.

Looking festive with the addition of my Refreshing Apron, cranberry punch, hot apple cider, some real and faux fruit lurking near the punch bowls, and another 1830s-clad friend wearing a Refreshing-Apron-sibling.

1830s is more in fun (and maybe less ridiculous looking?) in groups. Here is a contingent of even more 1830s ladies from this holiday ball! It’s as though we sprouted from the column!

 

c. 1855 Wool Cape

Finally, I actually have photos of a garment I made back in 2011!

The story starts with my desire to be warm for caroling at the Christmas ball, so I went looking through my books and came across the image below in ‘Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive’ by Carol Belanger Grafton. It looked warm and I liked the fringe, so off I went on my sewing adventure!

Since then, I’ve managed to wear my cape a number of times, often for Christmas caroling. Even though its date is c. 1855, I’ve found that the loose shape is perfect for wearing over the large sleeves of my 1830s dress as well. Here’s proof, from 2017:

 

That’s really the only photo I have that looks nice and shows the cape. Other photos that show the cape are washed out or blurry.

Last year I decided it was time to get pictures. I settled on a day I’d already be wearing 1850s (Annabelle is my dress and I’m also wearing a matching chenille headdress). It was important that there would be daylight (that’s the other problem with some of the photos I have, they’re taken during dark winter evenings–that’s usually when I’ve been caroling). Then I brought the cape (despite not actually needing to be outside for the event) and coerced the usual camera toting suspect into taking photos.

I made the pattern by looking at the inspiration image and drawing the shapes I thought would make it up, although I did take a bit of liberty in terms of closure and arm openings. I also referenced shapes and proportions in ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh and ‘Patterns of Fashion 2’ by Janet Arnold.

I wanted simplicity for the closure, so my cape has a single heavyweight hook and loop at the neck. For the arm openings, the fronts are simply separate from the curve that wraps around to the back of the cape.

For warmth, I decided on a wool exterior (also good for shedding moisture). To add even more warmth, I also added a layer of high loft polyester batting to the entire cape. That may not be the most accurate choice (at least in terms of fiber content), but it is quite practical. I thought of quilting the lining to the batting but decided it would be too time consuming. I’m sure the batting extends to the edges and is stitched down, but honestly I don’t remember exactly how that was accomplished.

I loved the fringe in the image and wanted fringe on my cape, too. But not just any fringe. Wool fringe. That was a hunt! I eventually found it at an upholstery company called The Fringe Factory.

To keep the lining soft against my skin,  I decided to line the entire cape with natural cotton flannel  to match the fringe as well as including a stand up ruffle of the flannel at the neck.

As you can see, the cape is quite long. That’s quite a bit of wool, batting, and flannel! I achieved my goal of warmth, but this cape weighs quite a bit!

Looking back at my notes, this cape was more expensive than I remembered (though that’s not actually surprising, given the yardage I needed and my desire for 100% wool). I didn’t record the yardages, but I did record the costs. I spent $58.67 on the flannel at JoAnn, $81.00 on the wool at Dorr Mill (I love their wools! They are gorgeous!), and $96.36 on the fringe at The Fringe Factory. The total is $236.03. That’s way more than I often spend on a single historical garment! I had better keep wearing this to get the cost-per-wear down!

Despite the cost, I’ve been very pleased with my cape over the last 9 years and I’m extra pleased to finally have well lit, full length photos so this garment can make an official appearance on the blog!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part X: Photos From The Ball

I was able to wear my new 1863 dress, Genevieve, to the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ Victoria and Albert Ball in September. I’ve spent a very long time sharing all about the dress and you’ve seen some photos of the wonderful staircases in the hall as I’ve shared finished construction photos, but I thought it would be fun to share a few photos of the ball as well, for context.

On the night of the ball, there were many dresses and tailcoats to admire in a range of years focused on the 1840s through 1860s. There was also the lovely ballroom to admire, with a famed organ at one end and many pretty details and portraits along the walls.

The guests of the evening filled the ballroom with dancing and socializing, while, in a side room, a spread of delicious refreshments was waiting to be devoured by hungry guests.

While getting more serious documenting-sewing photos, a few silly photos made their way in as well. They started off staged but reasonably not silly…

Then we tried to point at a non-existent something…

And that turned into silly-ness! I think this last one was: ‘Oh no! We’ve made the invisible object disappear with our magical powers!’

Thanks for sticking with me through so many posts about one dress!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part IX: Braided Crown Hairstyle Details

I am very pleased with how my hairstyle turned out for the first wearing of Genevieve, the 1863 dress I’ve been blogging about for the last few months. I took the idea directly from my inspiration drawing, though I changed the hair decoration that accompanied the style.

I’ve used false hair to have braided crown styles before (here’s an example of the same braid used for a Regency hairstyle), but that old braid is only about 1 ½” wide, which is a bit subtle for the look I wanted for this dress. It’s also long enough to wrap around my head about 1.5 times, which is longer than what I wanted for the new hairstyle.

So I decided to buy some new false hair and make a new, fatter braid. I used this hair in dark brown. It’s intended for African style braid extensions, so it has a texture that’s great for matching my curly hair–I don’t think it would work well for someone with straight hair. I also bought these black hair nets.

I used one bundle of the false hair for this braid. The hair comes braided already, but I took it out and re-braided it a little tighter than how it was originally. Then I cut the elastic on one of the hair nets so that it would stretch out to be as long as my braid.

I laid the braid on top of the hair net and wrapped the hair net around to the back side of the braid. Then I used large whip stitches to secure the net to the braid. You can see one of those stitches mostly centered in the next photo. Covering the braid with a hair net helps keep all the frizzies from making the braid look messy. (My old braid isn’t covered in a hair net, so it looks very organic, like my real hair… nice and frizzy!)

The final step was to go back and stitch the hair net down in the dips between each section of the braid. In the photo above you can see the hair net traveling between braid bumps, but in the finished photo below those are mostly sewn down and much less visible.

For the actual hairstyle, I secured the braid to my head behind the sections near my face that get swept back over my ears. (I also pinned the braid to the top of my head to keep it in place while dancing. Those pins were put into the back side of the braid (to keep them hidden) and secured into the roots of my hair.) After securing the braid I was able to arrange the front sweep sections on either side of my face. I made sure to cover the ends of the braid with these sections.

Then I arranged the back of my hair. I wanted to keep it simple to showcase the braid and the velvet bow, so I arranged the back of my hair into a low puff. It continues the ring of the braid around my head while being more unobtrusive than the braid itself.

The final step was the bit of lace and the velvet bow. I opted for those instead of the lace framing the braid in the inspiration image. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish that without essentially creating a cap… and that’s not the look I wanted. So I made up something else!

The bow is one I was able to make after my bow disaster. I think it adds a nice touch of color on my dark hair. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it and the lace until the ball, so I bobby pinned each piece in place for that first wearing. Then one of my after-the-ball tasks before I could put this away was to sew these two pieces together and add a comb so that it is now an official accessory that will be easier to put in my hair the next time I wear this dress.

Here’s a side view of what all of that amounts to. I intentionally placed the bow and lace off-center on my head in order to pick up on the asymmetrical bow on the skirt of the dress.

When I did a quick trial with the braid in modern clothes it felt very large and I was worried it would be too big, but once dressed in Genevieve I think the scale of this new braid is great–an excellent hair crown size and length, and the hair net keeps it looking super tidy and frizz free!

 

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VIII: ‘Of Apricot Silk With Cream Lace And Red Velvet Bows’ (HSM #10)

DONE! I am so glad to be done. I’m also excited to have a new dress (and, despite the challenges and worries along the way, one I like the look of! YAY!).

I’ve kept you waiting to see photos of the finished dress. Life got a bit busy after the ball and then I wanted to share my final sewing details with you. But now it’s time to introduce you to Genevieve, my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown, also known as the Orange Monster for the last few months. Here she is!

I’m excited that this dress qualifies for the October HSM challenge.

Details: Sometimes the little things really make something fabulous. Focus on the details of your garment, to create something that just gets better the closer you look.

This dress is definitely one of those garments! I’ll explain and show you lots of reasons why in these finished photos, but there are currently seven other posts in this series sharing tons of details about the planning, patterning, sewing, and trimming process as well.

First, the facts:

Fabric:  6 ⅔ yards of apricot silk, ½ yard of dark red silk velvet, approximately ½ yard of ivory tulle, muslin scraps for hem facing, a scrap of canvas for stiffening the waistband, and about ½ yard of drab cotton for flat lining.

Pattern: It originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2 but has been adapted over the course of a few dresses.

Year: 1864.

Notions: 25 yards of 3 ¾” lace, 2 brooches, 3 yards of ⅜” polyester ribbon, a few plastic cable ties, about 1 yard of bone casing, a variety of hooks and bars, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. A few substitutions of modern materials exist but aside from that it’s pretty much as close as I can get.

Hours to complete: 57.

First worn: September 28, 2019.

Total cost: $112.78

The cost breakdown is as follows: $66 for the silk (local discount store in 2016), $12.50 for the velvet (WM Booth Draper in 2011), ~$2 for the tulle (local discount store in 2011),~$1 for the drab cotton (local discount store in 2018), ~$15 for the lace (Debs Lace and Trims in 2019), $6.28 for the brooches (Etsy in 2019), ~$6 for the ribbon (Farmhouse Fabrics in 2019), and we’ll say $4 for the scraps and other notions since they’re from the stash, reused from other projects/mockups, or used in very small quantities.)

Visible details, you ask? Well, in addition to sharing so many other details along the way, the finished dress has many visible layers of details. The most time consuming detail is the hand sewn 3 tiers of lace ruffle/silk scalloped & pleated trim around the skirt. This detail alone took 17.5 hours. There is a whole post dedicated to this aspect and the details that went into it.

That form of decoration is continued on the bodice sleeve caps. Here’s a closeup where you can see the pleated silk. It is meticulously hand stitched with tiny stitches everywhere it is used.

Another layer of detail is the bertha and sleeve caps. Those have tulle, gathered tulle, and lots of velvet details. My last post explains how these are made.

I found the sleeve caps to be rather unusual amongst dresses from this period, so I was pleased to find this fashion plate which has a similar look.

(This next one is a great ‘I’m plopped and tired of standing’ photo!)

And as for details, let’s not forget the velvet bows in addition the velvet trim. Especially that oversized skirt bow! I also spent quite a bit of time looking for the gold brooches to go on the velvet bows.

Aside from the photo above I don’t have many directly front facing photos of this dress–I guess I did a lot of my posing at an angle–but here is one that is slightly less angled and gives the full effect of all the trimmings.

I was super pleased to wear my American Duchess burgundy satin Amelie shoes with this dress! They matched my velvet trim quite well and were fun to have peeking out from under the giant skirt. It’s such a fun piece of history to have contrasting shoes that actually match your dress! Yay! You can see them in this next photo.

The venue we were in for the ball not only had a number of fabulous staircases leading to the ballroom but also many photos of generals and other military figures from the Civil War. It seemed fitting for this period of dress even if they do occasionally seem to be ‘photo-bombing’! Here’s an example. I love this photo! But does the painting look amused, or disapproving? Hm…


I’ve got a post coming up specifically about my grand crown hairstyle as well as a few photos of the ball in general. For now though, thanks very much for bearing with me through this project! I’ve appreciated your encouraging words and excitement about seeing the finished product!