An 1880s evening gown – inspiration & ideas

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog, as I haven’t had many new projects to share. However, I did start my next big project, so I figured I’d do a bit of an introduction to that!

This autumn I hope to have a bustle-event, and although I do already have a number of gowns from that period, I figured it’s also be the perfect opportunity to make something new.

The dress below has been a favourite of mine for years. I initially mostly fell for the bodice neckline.

Evening dress, Wechsler & Abraham, silk, American
MET museum, Evening dress ca 1880

And then I saw pictures of the back, and fell for the train

Evening dress, Wechsler & Abraham, silk, American
MET museum, Evening dress ca 1880

At some point, I found some beautiful gold brocade fabric that instantly reminded me of this dress. It’s a little cooler in tone and the pattern is different, but it works perfectly for the style and the era, and it’s really lovely. I bought this a couple of years ago, with this design in mind for ‘sometime’.

When looking at the original dress more, I realized I really only liked the golden parts of this dress. The lilac underskirt just isn’t my favourite. I’m not a big fan of the color when combined with the gold, I’m generally not a fan of asymmetry, and I don’t like the very large pleats on the skirt.

So I figured I wanted to recreate this one day, but with a different underskirt. I initially was thinking about green.

When this event came up I decided it’d be the perfect time to start this dress! Only I didn’t really have a green silk that would work, and finding affordable taffeta here is quite a challenge. I dug around a bit in my stash, and realized that although I didn’t have green, I did have black. So I played around in photoshop, thought on it for a bit, and decided I liked the idea. So black it will be!

One of my main inspirations for the trim on the underskirt is this dress:

Day Dress NGV, ca 1880

I’ll try to do a combination of stacked pleats and gathers, a bit smaller and finer than in the MET dress. I still need to figure out the exact lay-out. I’ve already made the base of the underskirt, out of black cotton. The silk pleating will cover it, but only for the visible areas. It’s not necessary to go all the way to the top for instance, as that part won’t show.

I’ve also started work on both the train and the bodice. For the train I’m using the Truly Victorian Butterfly train pattern, which is very close to what the original looks like. It’s a little different, but it has all of the important things, namely a bustled up back and train bottom. I’ve played around with it, and it also works bustled up further, so I could do that for dancing.

I was a bit scared to run out of fabric, but so far it seems I’ll be fine. That’s good, as I also want to make a ballgown bodice! The original gown is for evening activities, but not really for dancing, given the long sleeves and high neck. I also want to wear this for dancing, with the train tied up, so I plan to make a second bodice.

My initial idea was something like this, with the black silk in the middle of the bodice. This was planned with the idea of saving on the gold fabric.

I might have enough for a full bodice from the silk though, and given the gold overskirt I might like that more, so I have to think about that a bit more. I might also see if I can use some black lace for the bodice, and I have some organza ribbons in gold and black which I’d like to use, perhaps for flowers?

These are the main ideas and inspirations! I’ve gotten most of the evening bodice done, the base of the train and the base of the overskirt, as well as the cotton underlayer of the underskirt. I’ll try to do some more posts on each of those when they’re fully finished.

Selina Blouse

Somewhere in March, Leimomi from Scroop Patterns sent out a call for pattern testers for her new pattern. The Selina blouse is a 1910’s style blouse.

As it happened, I had a length of blue cotton in my stash which was (once upon a time) meant for a 1910s style blouse for history bounding. I also had time to make it within the timescale for testers, so I signed up!

I’d been eyeing Scroop Patterns for a little while already, I just hadn’t had the occasion to try any out yet. I’ve also been reading Leimomi’s blog (https://thedreamstress.com/) for years, it was one of the things which got me into historical costuming. Plus, I met her when I was in NZ for work before pandemic times, and she’s a lovely person! All in all, I was really happy to be able to join in as a tester here, and work with one of her patterns.

Selina Blouse 1913-1919

As tester, we’re sent a first version of the pattern and instructions. Our first deadline was the mock-up stage, to report general fitting issues. For me, the fit was pretty good, but the peplum was too narrow. I have rather wide hips compared to my waist, so the peplum didn’t quite fit. Please note that this issue might be resolved in the final pattern! The main point of us testing was to figure out how the pattern worked on diverse body shapes.

A still from the little fitting video I took

Based on tester input, we then got sent some fitting/adjustment instructions and help, and I could get started on the actual blouse! I picked view A, with the false lapels and collar. In the actual blouse I ended up lengthening the sleeves just a little bit (I have wide shoulders for my size) and widening the peplum at the bottom for more hip flare.

The blouse itself sewed up very nicely. In general, I was very impressed with the instructions and the pictures, which made it very clear what to do. The blouse has a number of different types of seams, which can be finished in different ways, and the pattern gives you several options including historical notes. I folded some seams into themselves, and zigzagged others. I also chose to top-stitch whenever possible, in white, for a little bit of contrast.

For the buttons, I debated between using pearls or metal, both coming from my stash. In the end, I picked the metal ones, both because they’re a little bit more neutral with the blouse and the white top-stitching, and because I have more of the pearls than I’d need and those are good for other historical projects too.

For the pictures, I wore the blouse with my blue wool circle skirt. Because I’m wearing the skirt on top of an extra petticoat, the peplum was still a bit tight with all the skirts, and I decided to just tuck it in. This works quite well, although it is best with a belt as the waistline is just a smidge high, so to hide the waistline peeking above the skirt band. I’m mostly planning to wear this blouse in a history-bounding setting, but now I know that if I want to start an 1910’s outfit, I’ve already got one piece!

A 1890s ladies vest

About a month ago I posted about my vest project, in which I’m making a 1890’s ladies vest from the leftover wool of my split skirt. That post finished with the mock-up done, and the pocket practiced. I had to wait a bit for my lining and back fabric to arrive, but after that I could finally get started on making this. I finished it last week, and wore it for a photoshoot this weekend!

Photographer: Martijn van Huffelen

I started the sewing with the basic construction of the back, which is a single layer of black cotton. This also means that the seams are finished nicely, as this bit won’t have lining. Basically, one edge of the seam allowance gets trimmed away, and the other edge is folded over and in, to hide the raw edge. Then it’s topstitched in place. In this picture I’m ironing it in place.

The fronts were where the main work lay. I interlined my wool to give it just a little bit of extra body. The pocket was made right after. A scary part, but it went well!

Then there was the canvas structure layer, which was pad stitched to the wool/cotton layer, and tailor’s tape was attached in certain areas to avoid it stretching. I totally applied the tape first, and did the pad stitching after, which is not what you’re supposed to do. I’d luckily taken into account the turn of cloth when stitching on the tape, so I was fine. My pad stitching was a little unnecessary, but something I wanted to try out. I do better understand how it works now, so I call that success enough! I also completely forgot to take pictures here, of course. So here’s one after the facing was already in place, but showing a peek at the layers.

The canvas, tailors tape and pad stitching are what help shape the garment. When those were attached, I could stitch the fronts to the back, and do a final fitting to double check the size.

Fitting time, it looks good!

Then, there was attaching the facing (basically the part of the collar that you can see) and then finally the lining. Final step was to attach the buttons and sew the button holes. I debated closing it left over right, instead of the (modern) ‘normal’ for ladies garments right over left. In the end, I left it as on the pattern though. My buttons were ordered, I normally try to pick those out in person but of course shops were closed. I ended up ordering 4 different styles just to be able to check the color and size. Hopefully I’ll be able to use the other buttons some time in the future!

Last weekend I got dressed up, as I had a photoshoot! The photographer I usually collaborate with contacted me, as we’re still allowed to meet 1 on 1 outside, so with the current measures such small shoots are pretty much the only costumy thing we can do. I wore the vest with my 1890s sports blouse, the split skirt, American Duchess Balmoral boots and an antique boater I bought this summer. I added a watch with a chain to the pocket. I really loved wearing this outfit, it makes you feel a little like a late 19th century explorer :).

I already got some pictures, which are really lovely. Thanks to Martijn van Huffelen for these:

A last-minute bodice

I had predicted that this would be a year of more sudden changes in plans than normal, and so far that’s proving to be true. I’m still waiting on the fabric for my vest to arrive, and in the meantime I decided to make a day bodice to wear with my green 1890s skirt.

I’m participating as an extra in a Dutch show about history, and I was asked to wear my green ballgown with a cloak on top of it for an outside scene. I suspect they just chose that outfit because they wanted darker colors, but a ballgown in the middle of the day is a bit odd. It would be covered by a cloak, so in theory invisible, but then the weather turned, and the prediction for filming day was -2 degrees. Not the best weather to have bare arms.

I didn’t have any plans in the weekend before (because, you know, covid), so I decided I might as well try my hand at making a new bodice. I still had plenty of green and black silk left, so this could be done entirely from my stash. The bodice will have long sleeves, which I could even wear extra layers underneath as well. I had 3 full days for this, as well as a couple of evenings after work, so I wanted a design that wouldn’t take a lot of figuring out or trimming. In the end, I settled on this dress as inspiration:

It’s interesting without being overly complex, and as a bonus, the Victorian Dressmaker book actually has a pattern for this. Not to my size, but with the Truly Victorian pattern I’d used for my ballgown bodice as base and the rough shapes in the book, adapting became a lot easier. I still have some black velvet from my 1860s gown, so the velvet details were covered as well.

So I set to work! I didn’t make a lot of pictures, but after day 1 I had the main bodice drafted, cut out, sewn together and fitted! This seems like the most work, but as it’s nearly all machine work, it actually comes together relatively quickly. It also helped that I skipped the mock-up. I’d used this pattern for my ball gown, so I knew it fit, and pinning the darts on the body allows for last-minute adjustments.

Day 2 was for the sleeves. These are fairly complex because they have 7 pieces of fabric each. An organza, dupioni and cotton layer for the inner sleeves, and an organza, dupioni, tarlatan and cotton layer for the outer sleeve. The outer sleeve lining was fitted (with slight gathers) to the armhole first, then the tarlatan was pleated and pinned in (this is just a small strip, meant to give volume), and then the large fashion layer with dupioni and organza was pleated down to fit the smaller lining. Then the inner and outer sleeve were sewn together, and the whole thing was set in by hand, as wrangling layers is just easier that way.

Day 3 was spent on finishing the edges. This dress has a collar and belt of pleated velvet. I pleated them and stitched down the pleats by hand to make them invisible. Then they were both lined in cotton, stitched on along the velvet edge, and then the cotton layer was hand-sewn in place to finish it off. The sleeves I bound in bias tape, finished by hand.

That was the end of my weekend, and it was nearly there! The main thing left was closures, as that’s really essential to wearing, this was done in evenings. It closes with a combination of hooks and eyes, hooks and bars and snaps.

Final touches were a big velvet bow on the back collar, and a smaller one on the belt to hide the closure. I also decided to add a strip of black velvet ribbon along the sleeves.

All in all, I’m pretty happy I got this done within a week, and I can now wear my green outfit for day events as well as balls!

First steps towards an 1890s vest – practicing pockets

After finishing my split cycling drawers, I had quite a bit of wool left over. So I figured that I could actually make a shirt and vest to go with it, for a slightly more summery version of the outfit (as opposed to a heavy sweater). I made the blouse last summer, and now finally got started on the vest!

I’m using the 1890s vest pattern from Black Snail patterns.

Edwardian Ladies Vests 1890 Sewing Pattern 0220 Size US 8-30 image 0

It’s made to go over a corset, and has a beautiful line. I went for the double breasted view (B), with a small pocket for a watch. This pattern covers a number of tailoring techniques, and welt pockets, which were all new for me.

I started with a mock-up, and actually found I had too much room in the upper chest area.

I took out a bit of room there by basically putting a dart in the pattern. This slightly rotates the angle of the shoulder, taking out space where I needed without needing to put a dart in the fabric itself. (Thanks to Foundations Revealed for helping out with this!). Other minor changes were to let it out just a little in the hips, and take it in a tiny bit right under the arm.

The red lines show where the fabric is folded into a dart.

I fitted the pattern both with and without a corset. My plan is to make it fit just right without a corset on, and then when wearing a corset to use the little straps at the back to pull it in. I won’t wear my corset very tightly anyway as this is more of a sporty outfit, and this way I have the option to wear it in more history bounding situations as well. I’ll have to see whether I add boning to the vest at some point to keep it smooth without corset underneath. I’ll see how all the layers work together first though, it’s difficult to estimate whether this will be necessary when a single layer of cotton is so different from wool, cotton and interlining together.

After fitting and pattern adaptations, it was time to cut the fabric! I cut the wool and the horsehair interlining, and then discovered that the brown cotton I’d planned to use for the back was nowhere to be found. I thought I had some leftover from lining the split skirt, but apparently not.

So while I’m waiting for new fabric to arrive, I decided to practice the pocket instead. Noelle from Costuming Drama made this vest and shared her process on her YouTube channel, including her iterations of pocket practice. I have a tendency to just dive in with new techniques, but I’m glad I did try it out, as I now actually understand how these pockets work.

I made one version in plain cotton (from scraps, which my iron then decided to bleed on, so forgive the slight stains):

And then a version with my wool:

My main takeaways from practicing were to mark well (a thin chalk pencil is a life saver here), stitch very precise and snip corners all the way. Also, when working with the wool, to perhaps use some fray-check on those snipped corners, as the wool has a tendency to unravel quickly. You need to snip corners all the way to not get any puckering, but there’s a fine line between not cutting enough (puckering) and cutting too much (fraying holes)!

These welt pockets are made in the 19th century way, which is slightly different from the modern method. I believe the main change is that the welt itself is folded inwards and stitched down, rather than out behind the fabric to be secured with the pocket itself. This way is not necessarily easier , and if you want a good tutorial on the modern way, I definitely recommend this video by my friend Nikki, who explains how to do it step by step! (She also includes a bit of the outer fabric beneath the welt, so your pocket fabric doesn’t show, which I’m not using either).

Now these are practiced, the next step is to cut the back, and the flatlining of the front, both of which I need to wait for the new fabric for. Stay tuned for further progress once those arrive!

1830s Pelerine

I finished another UFO! When I made my gold 1830’s dress, I also cut out the fabric for a pelerine, as my inspiration original had a matching one. However, I didn’t have occasion to wear my dress outside, nor did I have a hat to do so, so the pelerine didn’t have any urgency. It also had many scallops, so I left it. But I’ve been on a UFO finishing streak and I now have a 1830s bonnet, so it was time to finish the pelerine!

I chose to finish my scallops by lining them instead of binding them as it would cost less fabric and I thought it might be easier. I don’t think it was all that much easier in retrospect, but I’m happy enough with how it turned out. I did add the piping between scallops and the pelerine though!

I tried two versions of the scallops beforehand, and settled on the deeper scallops. In retrospect, I should have drawn them out fully, as the trick to clean scallops is that you can cut the seam allowance all the way to the point. Turns out that’s very difficult if your stitching lines are too close. I did this right in the sample, but in many places in the eventual thing I had to snip some stitching to make it lay nice (and then use fray check, which is definitely not what you’re supposed to do…). Drawing out the scallops would have helped to keep enough space between the stitching lines.

I’ve tried to illustrate this below. Red is how to do it, with the green arrows showing you could cut all the way between the red lines. Blue is how not to do it, as there is a large overlap of the stitching lines of both sides which will make the scallops impossible to turn around.

I like how I now have a pretty versatile set of 1830’s things. I have 2 dresses, one green and one gold. The gold has detachable lower sleeves, so can be worn for both evening (ball) and day wear. The green would work for (non-ball) evening and day activities as well, it’s copied from an evening gown but has long sleeves to work for day. I have a brown/white bonnet which will go with both dresses. I have an antique white cotton pelerine which will go with both (though probably looks best on the green), and I have a gold silk pelerine which would work both with the green and the gold dress. Ideally, I’d have two more additions to this: a white bodice/blouse to wear with the green skirt (as the gold dress doesn’t have a separate skirt/bodice it won’t work with that) and make it more informal; and a coat, for which I actually already have green wool fabric. Those aren’t up next though, because I’ll first be making an 1890s vest of the leftover fabric of my split skirt. I’ve already started on that!

Plans for 2021

After looking back, it’s time to look ahead!

Usually, my plans for a new year are pretty directly correlated to plans for events to attend. I want to make the things I can wear somewhere.

Obviously, that makes planning for 2021 a little bit different. Any events which are tentatively planned are those that got moved or cancelled last year. And mostly, I’ve already made the outfits for them.

This makes planning more difficult obviously, but is also an opportunity in a way, to tackle some projects that never happened because no events came up.

So far, I’ve already started on some UFO’s. I finished a winter dress I started last year, my 1830s hat, and an 1940’s dress which has been in my UFO basket for at least 2 years.

1940s style dress

I also want to finally make the 1830’s golden pelerine to go with my golden dress, which I’ve been stalling a bit because it has tons of scallops. I started on that last weekend!

And obviously, I want to continue working on my hand-sewn stays. I’m getting an increasing itch to do more 18th century stuff, and it would be really nice if I could actually fit things over new stays. The good news on these is that I’m now on the back-panels, which are both the last ones, and the one with the least boning in them. So the end of sewing channels is actually in sight!

I’ve also been thinking of making a vest to go with my split skirt. I’ve already got the fabric and pattern for that, so it would be a really nice venture into tailoring.

The final thing I’ve got plans for is slightly different, as I’ll be making my sister-in-law to be’s wedding dress! I’ve already started on it, as I wanted to make sure I’d have plenty of time to work on this. It’s a little different from what I usually do, but I’m very excited to work on it. It gives me the opportunity to work with different fabric and use new techniques, which is really exciting.

So, as you can see, I don’t have a lot of full-outfit plans yet! I’m taking this slight ‘lag’ in event-sewing as an opportunity to not plan quite so far ahead. And to do first whatever strikes my fancy first. I have plenty of long-term projects, a lot of which I actually have fabric for already. So some of that list might finally happen! Below are some inspirations of things that are floating in my mind somewhere.

Early 1850s Mourning perhaps? I have some lovely thin black cotton which would work well.

I also have white silk and black lace, which I want to make into a late 1850s ballgown. Though I’d have to check whether I have enough lace for this precise design, I do love it.

Of course, I’ve also still got green wool for an 1830’s coat

Or, if I’m in a mood for bustles, I’ve got the perfect checkered silk for this outfit on the left?

And, if I finish my stays, I can perhaps even finally start on that chemise gown I have the perfect fabric for….

Of course, a lack of events is also a chance to sew on a whim a little bit more, so we’ll see which of these actually happens. But it’s fun to cream of all the pretty things!

2020 – Looking back

I make one of these posts every year, looking back at my plans at the beginning of the year, and what I actually did. Obviously, the big difference with other years is that all of the events I planned to sew for were cancelled this year. Despite that, I did actually end up making quite a bit from my list. I couldn’t wear the outfits to events, but I did dress up and make pictures, and I now have some nice additions for my wardrobe when events can happen again.

My plans started with the 1890’s, wanting to finish my new corset, make a blue petticoat, and then a green/black silk ball gown.

I actually did all of these, although I think I never even showed the finished corset? I’m wearing it in the top two pictures, it matches nicely with my petticoat!

For the day time, I planned to either re-make my Edwardian corset and tartan skirt to fit better, or to make a split skirt to go with a (modern, but fits the shape) sports sweater.

In the end, I did both. I enlarged the hips on my Edwardian corset, and added some gussets to my tartan skirt to fit my rib-cage. They aren’t the prettiest fixes, but definitely worth being able to wear them again.

I also made the split skirt, and later in the year added a sport’s blouse for a more summery version of the sport’s outfit. (Even though I haven’t actually worn the sport’s blouse with the split skirt yet…)

For the second half of the year, my plan was mostly to focus on the 1830’s, again for an event. I wanted to make a new dress, and then a white bodice for mix-matching and a hat, and maybe a coat.

In the end, I finished the dress, and started on the hat, which got done right after the new year. Because any urgency of an event was off, the blouse and coat never happened. I’d still like to make both, though.

The final plan I wrote down was to work on my 1780’s hand-sewn stays. I did work on them, though they didn’t progress quite as much as I’d hoped, and I’m still sewing boning channels. These are definitely a slow but steady type of project!

I did also make a number of things which weren’t planned. In April, American Duchess released a pattern for a lovely wrap cape, which I couldn’t resist making up.

In May and June, I went on a bit of a Regency sewing spree. (At that point, I still had some hopes for a Regency weekend in November…). I made new stays, which fit me quite a bit better than my old ones, made two dresses, and altered two spencers and a dress to fit better again.

Over the summer, I picked up an old project, for which I’d only done the drafting, and made my folded jacket.

And finally, after finishing the 1830’s dress I made a stripey bustle gown. This really was a palate-cleanser type of project, using cotton and poly taffeta, and making the design such that I could use patterns without any adaptation. That made the whole process much quicker, and it is such a fun dress to wear!

For the final months of the year, I took a step away from the big historical projects, and just worked on my bonnet and some unfinished stuff. The main thing I finished was a modern dress made from a fun panel fabric (adapted from “IJsvermaak bij een stad”, painted by Avercamp ca 1620). This project had been in the ufo basket since I had to change plans due to too little fabric. It isn’t the prettiest thing I’ve ever made sewing wise (and reminded me I don’t know enough about sewing knits…), but I’m glad it’s done, and it does look nice when worn!

A new hat to start the new year

Happy 2021 everyone! With the new year, it’s time for the looking back & looking forward posts, but I thought I’d start with my first finished project for 2021. A new hat!

I started this 1830s bonnet after finishing my 1830s dress, which I took pictures of with my Regency bonnet. The styles are similar enough to work, but hats did grow a bit more in the 1830s to match the wider skirts and bigger sleeves. For my bonnet, I wanted something that’d work with both my green and my gold dress, and I settled on a white/brown combination of fabrics.

And, I actually used a pattern! That was quite helpful, as bonnets are complicated. Mine was the Romantic period bonnet pattern by Lynn McMasters.

My main inspiration for the trim and look was this bonnet from Costumes Parisiens (1834)

I found some ribbon which was perfect for the style, and set off to work. That took a while, as I don’t particularly enjoy making hats, so I worked on it on and off since October. I made the frame, wired it, mulled it, and covered it, and these last past days I stitched on the trim to finish it.

My bear kindly tried it on for me before I covered it

So now it’s done, which means I have a full 1830s outfit to wear to outside events as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to take these out on a picnic sometime this year!

Holiday inspiration

Time has been a bit odd this entire year, but November in particularly disappeared very quickly. I have done some sewing since finishing my stripey bustle, but haven’t started any big new historical projects. Instead, I’ve picked up a modern dress I started on last year, worked on an 1830s bonnet, and got back to sewing on my hand-sewn 18th century stays. None of those things are ready to show though.

So instead, I figured I’d share some inspiration pictures. I love dark red and dark green as colors, and love how they look combined. There’s just something very festive about it. As a theme, here are some 1890s fashion plates in holiday colors. I hope they make you smile the same they do to me.

Some snassy stripes,combined with red and green? The left outfit is also quite fabulous.

Plaid is always a good choice for the holidays.

A little brighter, but they make such a striking pair I couldn’t leave them out.

Again, fairly summery, but the colors are definitely festive!

Although these don’t have green, I did think they fit the theme:

And her friend was just too fabulously wacky to leave out:

Wouldn’t this make a great new-year’s look?

And to finish off, this fabulous lady. I had planned to only include fashion plates, but she was too good to pass. The color, the silhouette, the shine of the fabric. I might need to put this one on my own wish list…

Élegante au coucher du soleil by Yvonne de St Cyr