A few months ago, I had the privilege of being present once again at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Returning Heroes Ball. It was a lovely evening full of dancing, admiring the well turned out ladies and gentleman, chatting…and lots of dish washing (that’s what happens behind the scenes at these things–someone has to do all of the dishes.)
Here are two very similar views of the ballroom. I thought I’d include both because you see different dresses in each one and that’s one of the things that I greatly enjoy about attending historical events!
I didn’t spend all my time watching, however. Here I am participating in a quadrille. I wore my most recently constructed mid-19th century dress, Eleanor. I was grateful that the only change I needed to make after the first wearing was shortening the hem one turn so I didn’t step on it while dancing.
I made my refreshing apron a few years ago, but since then others have joined me in my apron endeavors (they really are quite practical when doing dishes, filling punch bowls, and setting out refreshments!). Aprons in a row!
The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for October is Heroes – Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero.
You may or may not know that one of my favorite movies is Gone With The Wind. (I posted about this topic years ago when the blog was in its infancy–most of what I claimed then is still true and the 1860s will always have a special place in my heart, but I can now say that other periods give me excited wiggles too!) You can read the old blog post to get more specifics, but the essential point is that despite her personal shortcomings and the turbulent and controversial history of the period, Scarlett reminds me of the clothing that I love and therefore is an historical costuming hero to me.
And this gown has an added historical hero, Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull, who came to my rescue when I was contemplating what sleeve style to give my dress.
Prior to finding her image, I had been planning to name this dress Johanna, in honor of the friend who convinced me that I needed the fabric a few years ago. But I had sort of decided this was weird, since all my other dresses from this period have names that I like, but that are not from a specific living person. Once I found this image I was completely overtaken with excitement–I love the name Eleanor and there she was, helping me out! The choice was obvious.
I made a new hair decoration to go with Eleanor. I had the perfect stem of purple velvet leaves, but no flowers to match the dress. So I dyed some white millinery flowers to a golden yellow. They have a fluffier texture than before being dyed, but the color is perfect. Using millinery flowers brings me so much joy, because it’s easy to shape any section since each stem is fully wired. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to wear my Dames a la Mode purple earrings and necklace.
Regarding dress construction, we must start with a bit of a personal habit, or perhaps a theory, though I’m not sure it’s as thought out as that. When the opportunities arise for me to make multiple garments from the same period that could be carbon copies of each other in different fabrics (so much speedier on the patterning and planning front!), I hardly ever take that easy road. I am drawn to exploring the small variations.
So it is with Eleanor. I decided to: knife pleat her skirt instead of box pleating, cartridge pleating, or gathering; to make a plain darted bodice instead of using seams or gathers; to make the bodice straight across all around, which is more unusual for evening gowns made of silk than having points in front and back; to overlap and topstitch her side back seams; to omit the oft-seen bertha around the neckline; and to have single puff bias cut sleeves. These things all make this dress just slightly different than my others from this period, adding a bit of thought and time to the process. And if we’re talking about time, let’s just mention how mind-boggling cutting plaid pieces with curved seams and darts is when the pattern matching is important to you!
I collected images of plaid gowns with a focus on evening bodices and noticed these features, which is why I decided on them. The most useful images are in one place here, on my Pinterest board for the project. I was contemplating the sleeve type when I came across Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull. Interestingly, she shows all of those traits I’d decided on. I loved her simple sleeves and restrained bodice trimming, which then set me on an extensive Ebay and Etsy hunt to find just the right brooches to replicate her style. Yes, I did look through about 150 pages of bow brooches to find just the right one for less than $15. Plus many pages of gold oval brooches. I couldn’t have wished for better results! Remember the look I gave you a look a few posts ago? The only thing I did was to brush the oval brooch (which is new, not vintage) with a bit of brown acrylic paint to bring it down to the old gold color of the bow brooch.
Other construction details include flatlining the bodice and facing the skirt in a remnant of dusty mauve cotton from my stash (used it up, yay!), creating boning channels in the darts to keep the front nicely shaped, and finishing the neck and bottom edge of the bodice as well as the armholes with very narrow cording.
Just the facts:
Fabric: About 6 yards of silk taffeta and 1 yard of cotton.
Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #702, 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices and Period Costumes for Stage and Screen as a reference for the sleeves.
Year: 1862, given the details that I decided on.
Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, canvas to interline the belt, narrow yarn for cording, and plastic wire ties for boning the bodice.
How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 99% on this one. Materials and methods are well researched and executed. This would be entirely recognizable in its time.
Hours to complete: I really didn’t keep track. But I can safely say many!
First worn: October 22 for a ball.
Total cost: $98 total: $68 for the silk, $10 for bow brooch, and $18 for the oval brooch.
I’ll end this with my photographic homage to Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull.
Way back in April, I was excited to be part of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Regency Dance Weekend again. As usual, there were lots of dance classes, an informal ball, an afternoon tea and promenade, and a formal ball. It’s always a joy to do Regency dancing in Salem in historical halls built during this period.
I thought I would share an overview of the weekend to start off my six-months-late sharing of the event. I did actually post about one thing from the Regency Weekend a few months ago. My new shoe poms! Here I am showing them off while artfully covering our refreshment table at the beginning of Saturday evening.
Unveiled, here is the refreshment table from the informal ball. Yummy! There was even a homemade jelly (visible in the back).
On Sunday, we took the opportunity to take a group picture in our lovely hotel. The building is quite full of history, though the hotel is new in that building. We enjoyed our stay very much. It was great to have a common living room to relax in as a group. Plus, who can complain with having historical paintings on the walls?
After group pictures, we headed to Salem Old Town Hall, where we were meeting for tea and as a starting point for a promenade to the water. It was a bit chilly for April this year, making shawls rather welcome to stay warm.
Hamilton Hall is lovely with a sprung floor intended for dancing and large mirrors around the walls. Here are the dancers all lined up and ready to go!
Another neat feature of Hamilton Hall is that the dance floor is actually on the second floor, meaning that every guest is able to ascend and descend the stairway to get to the ballroom–perfect for pictures!
All in all it was a lovely weekend. I’m really looking forward to next one in April 2017! It’s really special to have a weekend to get in such depth for one period. Here are my accounts of past years: 2013 and 2014. In particular, 2014 had blog posts which really express the special quality of this event.
In the words of journalist Heywood Broun, “The Jazz Age was wicked and monstrous and silly. Unfortunately, I had a good time.” I don’t know about wicked or monstrous, but I certainly had a silly and good time recently at the Greater Boston Vintage Society’s White Lightning Ball.
I wore my 1924 robe de style from last summer, updated with new dramatic trimmings that suit the dress much better than the last iteration. It’s such a fun, unusual, and distinctive style to wear. I fielded quite a few questions about the style and happily encouraged people who knew things about it such as that it looked like Lanvin. For my hair, I didn’t have time to attempt waves, so I aimed for a romantic style that was less time consuming, inspired by these: no waves worn with a robe de style, a romantic bun (on the right), and long hair pinned up. Also, this set of drawings shows a large hair comb worn with a robe de style which reminded me that I haven’t worn mine in a long time.
My accessories include: my vintage celluloid hair comb; silver drop earrings with peachy faux stones, which don’t often match things, so it was nice to wear them since they don’t get worn often; and a recent purchase from American Duchess, black Seaburys! (Never fear, there’s a whole post coming about the Seaburys, but for now we’re focusing on the event and the clothes.)
This event is held at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in what was the Anderson family’s carriage house in the early 20th century. It is a large building with multiple levels used for stabling horses as well as storing carriages and cars. The upper floor of the carriage house housed an exhibit of motorcycles during the event, if you’re wondering about the background. Downstairs was the collection of Anderson family cars from the 1900s and 1910s. They were very fun to look at and so tempting to sit in… I know it wouldn’t be good for the cars… And there were security cameras… so I had to content myself with looking at them and dreaming of reproductions that we could ride in.
My other silly accessory was a candy cigarette. It does rather add to the 20s look, but of course I don’t smoke, so there was rather a lot of me flipping it around in my hand trying to figure out how to hold it and not look ridiculous. I didn’t ever try eating it, so I can’t report how it tasted, but I was pleased that it lasted almost until the end of the night when I dropped it for the second time and it broke in half. Until then it was going strong and gave me something to do with my hands in pictures, which is always a good thing.
Mostly I stood around and talked to friends, hatched dreamy plans for how to sit in the cars, and took pictures, but we did go out on the dance floor a few times for some Charleston. Too bad nobody got pictures of that!
This was the third year of the event, I believe, but only the first year I had been free to attend. It was fun, and nice to attend an event that I wasn’t helping to run.
(I thought I was very clever when I came up with the name for the post… and then a few days later I couldn’t remember what I was thinking the content should be! I guess if I confuse myself that easily I should certainly explain my cleverness so you can appreciate it, too!)
“It is recommended that the lady, when waltzing, leave herself to the direction of her partner, trusting entirely to him, without in any case seeking to follow her own impulse. A lady who should endeavor to avoid an encounter with other dancers, would risk interfering with the intention of the gentleman, to whom alone should be trusted her security amid the crowd surrounding and crossing her in every direction.”
I thought, “Hm! Trusting myself entirely to my partner’s care is something I rarely do! I’m often giving non-verbal hints about my opinions on where we should go, how much we should rotate, etc… and depending on the ability of my partner, my hints sometimes come down to downright back-leading.” I’m sure this partly comes from eight or so years of competitive modern ballroom dancing, in which the leader is in charge, but the lady has the duty to do her part to see what’s going on around the floor and help ensure that crashes, etc. don’t occur, as well as my independent-modern-woman mindset. However, despite these reasons, I imagine Hillgrove would have taken exception to my dancing style!
I started thinking about whether it made sense for me to attempt Hillgrove’s method while dancing historical dances. I dance in three settings, at private rehearsals when the dance troupe I am part of is practicing for performances, during performances with said dance troupe, and at public balls when I am dancing with guests of varying abilities or with members of the dance troupe.
I think it boils down this way: when dancing in a performance there are goals of elegance, nice spacing between couples, etc. that we are aiming for, and my interpretation of our artistic directors’ instruction in addition to my own feeling is that every person dancing should contribute to these goals, so a bit of hinting makes sense for the context. I feel similarly about hinting while dancing at balls depending on the ability of my partner, and if the goal is to ensure the safety of myself, my partner, or other people who might cut us off, etc. I also feel justified in back-leading a partner who needs some assistance to stay with the music, avoid crashes, or know how much rotation to complete in a given step, etc… but it sounds like I don’t really ever follow with trust!
With these thoughts in mind at a recent ball, I attempted to follow partners (whose abilities I have faith in) with trust. It was surprisingly uneventful! I think it really comes down to the ability of a partner in order to determine if I’m comfortable with that level of trust. Do you entirely follow your partners with trust at historical dance events? Or are you like me, picking and choosing when you feel comfortable doing so?
(As another side note, it’s been just about a year since my last 19CBRE post. If you’re not sure what that’s all about, check out this introductory post. You can see all of the posts relating to 19CBRE here. Perhaps this year I’ll get around to posting more of the interesting tidbits I’ve been thinking of posting over the last year!)
I already had inspiration pinned to a board, I had fabric in the stash (the fabric is more of the same elusive blue I used to make my 1811 evening gown in 2014–it time travels!), and I had an opportunity to wear an 1890s gown this past month! With a vague plan in mind, I started the skirts* sometime in the fall with the sincere hope of getting a fair bit done on them, but only got as far as cutting them out, after which they languished in the closet while I worked on other projects. Languishing is a variation on procrastination, which is the HSF challenge for this January. And so, with the languishing having finished its course, here is the finished new gown.
Just the facts:
Fabric: 5 yards or so of(likely polyester) elusive blue chiffon, 3 yards or so of elusive blue polyester for skirt lining, 3/4 yard or so robin’s egg blue cotton, 1 yard or so of pink glazed cotton, 1/8 yard or so of taupe silk shantung, some small bits of ivory polyester tulle and ivory silk gauze.
Pattern: Created by me, with reference to Janet Arnold dresses from the 1890s.
Notions: Wide grosgrain ribbon, bone casing, 1/4″ plastic wire tires, narrow grosgrain ribbon, black velvet and organza millinery flowers, hooks and eyes, and thread.
How historically accurate is it?: Definitely recognizable in its own time. The silhouette is spot on. The colors are inspired by extant clothing. The construction is mostly accurate. The materials are a mix of accurate and inaccurate. I’ll give it 80%.
Hours to complete: Many. I worked on this over a few months.
First worn: January 9, 2016.
Total cost: About $15-$20.
(The low cost is due to the fact that the chiffon and lining fabrics were purchased for the amazing price of $1/yard and that many of the notions and small bits were in my fabric stash.)
For the bodice, I started with the pattern for my 1893 gown (which was adapted from Janet Arnold originally). The back needed very slight alteration, but the front had quite a few changes, due to being worn over my new 1880s corset and because I wanted different dart placements, neckline, a front/side hidden closure, etc. I did multiple mock-up fittings (no pictures, sorry) before feeling ready to cut real fabric.
Here is the bodice in the middle stages on construction. You’d never guess from the exterior, but the bodice is flat lined with pink! This is not a standard lining color, but I had it on hand, it is the right weight (with a glazed finish, which is standard), and it amused me. By this point, I’d finished my edges, adding boning, nicely finished my interior seam allowances, and covered the back with elusive blue lining and chiffon cut on the bias.
Next was creating the front bodice main piece, which is also on the bias. I draped it and then bagged the lining/chiffon with the robin’s egg cotton to create nice finished edges. The flapping bit on the left of the picture was turned under and hand sewn later in the process.
Draping the silk was next. There are actually a number of small pieces carefully pleated before being hand sewn in place.
My original main inspiration was this gown at the Met (and the alternate skirt follows this idea quite closely), but when I looked at my material options, I really loved this variation, also from the Met. Other dresses with a similar cut were also influential, including this, this, and this. Here’s a similar example that clearly shows the shadow of a side closure.
In the next picture, both the left and right sides have been covered in silk. Each side of the bust layers and attaches separately. I also started playing with flower placement at this point. I was inspired to add black accents to the otherwise subdued colors by this dress. I really like how the black pops!
Here’s the back around the same stage.
At this stage, I’ve added gauze and tulle to the front and am playing with the chiffon edging. The flowers are tucked into place to see the effect. I’ve also sewn down the proper right (left in the picture) side. The proper left (right in the picture) side is pinned and tucked, waiting for a final fitting before finishing and adding closures.
The back also received a treatment of gauze and tulle in addition to a chiffon edging. You can see that the flowers came in stems of three (these are another part of one of two huge hauls of millinery flowers for super cheap that I’ve had in the last few years, yay!).
Sewing down all the pleats just so, in order to look natural and not constrained, took rather a long time, as did nicely tucking all the silk around the armhole. But it was worth it!
Here is the inside of the bodice, finished. I decided to bind the seam allowances in the same robin’s egg blue cotton that I used for bias binding for the edges and armholes. A hong kong finish is not accurate, but I didn’t feel like hand whip stitching all the seam allowances (although, in the end, it probably would have taken just as much time, or less), plus, I enjoy the effect. There are also closures (yay!) and a waist tape.
And here’s what the bodice looks like with center fronts together. The bit with the tulle actually hooks over the other side (but pictured this way, you can see the closures). After that, the front panel hooks across the front and is securely hooked at the side seam, effectively covering my pink lining.
The untrained skirt is flat in front and gathered at the back. It is cut in an umbrella shape (like my 1895 skating ensemble skirt), so that the only seams needed are center back, and a diagonal seam across the back to add width to the panel. The waistband and placket are standard 19th century style, with the exception of the fact that the ribbon I used to stabilize the thin fabrics is leftover gift wrapping ribbon from wedding gifts we received from Crate and Barrel. Yay! It’s hidden on the inside and folded in half, but it amuses me, because recycling is great and it’s nice to have a bit of Mr. Q-related-something in a dress.
The most annoying thing about fitting this gown was marking the hem on the skirt. (Fitting the bodice on myself with all the layered closures was also a feat, but more uncomfortable twisting than annoying.) Chiffon is annoying to hem most of the time and it only gets more complicated when you’re marking the hem on yourself. It meant looking in the mirror, bending over to place a marking pin while everything shifted, standing up to check things, and then repeating that over and over again to shift pins by tiny amounts until they all looked good (while wearing a corset and fluffy petticoat of course, so the whole thing would hang properly on my body). Once that was all over, I hemmed each layer with self fabric bias that is turned to the inside and invisibly hand stitched in place.
I was quite successful, but it took a whole afternoon to mark and cut and sew the hem of the chiffon and of the lining (because of course the lining couldn’t stick out or be too short!). The whole thing would have been much speedier if I’d had someone else to mark the hem for me. (I thought of using my hem puffer, but the floor is too close for the puffer to reach and I didn’t have anything to stand on.)
Anyway, the end effect was fabulous. The chiffon and lining swooshed so beautifully that it was necessary to get “swooshy skirt” pictures at the ball just to highlight their movement.
The ball also gave me an opportunity to have fabulous hair and a new hair ornament instead of a tiara as well as an opportunity to photograph my new 1880s corset completely finished and the fabulous petticoat I have for 1890s/1900s styles. It gets worn often, but hardly ever seen (which I suppose is rather the point of a petticoat, but when you have one as lovely as this, it really should be seen!). There will be future posts for the hair and undergarments, as this post is getting pretty long.
Overall, 1890s ball was lovely, with beautiful dresses and beautiful dancers. There were fun new people as well as quiet moments to sit and have engaging exchanges with friends.
And the new gown was very comfortable and fun to wear. I’m looking forward to completing the trained skirt (hopefully without too much procrastination) and wearing it this summer!
*My plan is to have two skirts for this gown, one without a train, for dancing, and one with a train, because trains are fun! I only finished the non-trained skirt for the ball, though the trained skirt is assembled and mostly finished with the exception of a closure and hems.
#1: Because like many dresses from the first few decades of the 20th century, the method of closure is cleverly hidden, rather complicated, and definitely secretive–you really can’t tell how the dress goes on just looking at it once it’s all hooked up. (Right? Can you figure it out before I show you later in the post?)
#2: The beaded panel on the front might look familiar if you’ve been reading my blog for a few years. It is actually the sleeve (turned upside down) from a 1980s evening gown that I remade into a sleeveless 1925 evening gown.
#3: I made this dress with a train because I had enough fabric, it’s elegant, and I don’t get to have many dresses with trains because I’m usually dancing in them. However, I do plan to dance in this dress, so I included a secret hidden button under the decorative knot at the back and a loop on the center back skirt seam so that the skirt can hook up (bustling, essentially) to be a uniform length all around so I can dance unhindered!
I paired this new dress with my American Duchess Astoria shoes, because they are super comfy and made sense color-wise with my other accessories: plain white stockings, a super long strand of faux pearls, lovely clear/white dangle earrings I’ve had for at least ten years, and two matching metallic silver wrapped hair pins I think my mother gave me also a number of years ago. Underneath is my 1913 chemise and corset.
I’ve had all the fabrics in the stash for at least three to seven years. The underskirt was leftover from a former project never fully pictured here on the blog–an 1890s 2 part dress taken directly from an extant bodice with an extrapolated skirt (the skirt was worn by a friend in Newport in 2012–there are pictures toward the bottom of this past post, and I forgot that the ensemble I’m wearing in that post also uses this same fabric as trim). I had purchased way more fabric than I needed and had more than enough for the new project, so I guess I’ll be using it on another something someday. The matching chiffon and charmeuse I’d purchased with the intention of making a 1910s evening dress back in 2012, but ran out of time that year.
When I was first seriously thinking of making this dress, I thought I had enough fabric to do something like this dress, but I hit a snag when I realized I only had about ½ yd of the charmeuse and that the beaded sleeve I was hoping to incorporate into the dress was entirely unsuited for the shape of the beaded bit on the inspiration dress. I decided to make a dress like my original inspiration someday, but to go back to the beginning for the current dress and rethink what the dress might look like. I would up with something I am quite happy with that is drawn from a variety of inspirational dresses on my 1909-1914 evening gown Pinterest board with this as the most obvious inspiration.
Just the facts:
Fabric: One beaded silk sleeve from a 1980s evening dress that I deconstructed two years ago to make a 1925 evening dress, about ¼ yd of plain weave cotton for the base, less than ¼ yd of silk charmeuse, about 2 yds of silk chiffon, and 3-4 yds of lightweight silk faille for the underskirt.
Pattern: Created by me, loosely starting with the pattern for the bodice of my 1912 burgundy and gold evening gown and referencing skirt shapes in Janet Arnold for inspiration.
Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, and two pre-made tassels.
How historically accurate is it?: It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time. It uses accurate materials and accurate techniques. 95%.
Hours to complete: More than I kept count of.
First worn: In September 2015.
Total cost: Technically this is a stash project because all of the things I used have been in my stash for years, except the tassels, which I bought within the last year knowing this project was high on the to do list. If I had to guess at the cost of the materials it was probably $50-$60 dollars.
The dress was sewn with a mixture of machine and hand sewing. Most of the assembly of the bodice and skirt pieces while they were separate was done by machine, as was the hemming of all the chiffon and faille (though the hem edge of the chiffon is actually the selvedge). The hand sewing came in when I went to mount all of the pieces together. I started with the under bodice and kept adding layers and figuring things out as I went. The closures are also hand sewn.
Incidentally, I’m not really sure what color to call this dress. I’ve been calling the colors orchid and mauve, but I’m not really sure those are the best color names. The chiffon and charmeuse are a shade of pinky/purple that’s hard to put a finger on and the contrast faille is more grey than anything when it’s by itself, though it really takes on a pinky/purple cast when paired with these other fabrics. Does any really perfect color name come to your mind? If it does I’d be happy to know what it is!
As I mentioned, the closure for this dress is quite complicated and as I knew I was going to include it in the sewing secrets challenge we took pictures specifically of the closures to document how it works. If I tried to explain only with words I’m sure there would be confusion, so I think the pictures will clarify things. We’ll start hooked up and unhook as we go.
Overall, I’m super pleased with this dress. It’s very comfortable, has lots of fabric in the skirt so is easy to dance in, and is a nice transitional style between the full skirts and pigeon breasts of the years around 1908 and the much slimmer, longer lines of the years around 1912. Plus, it has a train!
Here’s a comparison of the dress with the train down and then with it looped up. Luckily, these pictures were taken before dancing. Turns out that while I was dancing a very fast waltz, either my or my partner’s foot caught the hem of the dress and caused the loop to break, so I’ll have to repair it more sturdily for the next wearing. Ah well, that’s why they make safety pins!
I was quite pleased with how my hair turned out, so I had to make sure to get a reasonable close-up. Some of the curls are natural and some are made nice and smooth with a curling iron. The key is to put the hair up in a lot of different sections–and I mean a lot!
I call this dress the “Dowager Countess” gown because the shape of it reminds me of what Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey often wears to dinner parties. Look at the bodices on these dresses: this dress, this dress, and this dress are all examples of a similar style–one that the Dowager Countess wears often! And why wouldn’t I want to be reminded of Maggie Smith when I think of this dress? Her snarky comments are highlights of Downton Abbey! (Incidentally, one of my friends wore the just-emerging-in-the-1910s style of pants in the ballroom to this ball–gasp!–and we took some posed snarky pictures. Head over to her blog, Plaid Petticoats, to take a look at her scandalous outfit. When you get to the bottom you’ll find the snarky pictures. You might even find that you think I’m there twice, because I was wearing this new 1910 dress and I loaned my 1912 evening gown from 2012 to a friend who happens to be being snarky with me.)