Around summer last time, I decided that I really wanted to go to the Victorian ball in Bath coming May. But I was hesitant to go alone, so I called a friend and asked her if she’d like to join me. We’ve been to a couple of Regency-themed events together, but she’s not a seamstress, so I offered to help her with her dress. She agreed, so we’ll be going on holiday together, and plans started on the dress!
She’d seen some images online, and had a particular color palette in mind, so that was our starting point. I ended up taking the 1870-71 day/evening dress from Janet Arnold’s patterns of fashion as main inspiration, as it was close to her inspiration images. This is the original dress with the ball bodice.
Manchester City Galleries
Back in autumn, I found fabric for her at the market, and with that choice made created the following design.
The corset and bustle cage would be made by someone else, as I felt that was a bit too much to take on. The only thing I’ve ever made for someone else before now was a pleated rectangle skirt, so I wanted to be a bit less ambitious. We started back in November with the underskirt, as I had a bustle she could try on and waist size wasn’t too important for the skirt. We used the Truly Victorian 201 underskirt pattern. I’d used this before, and as we’d be making the skirt together I thought using a pattern might be a good idea. At the end of that day, we had the basic very nearly done, only the hem left.
At the end of the day, wearing the skirt on top of my bustle and a substitory underbust corset.
For the rest, we divided the labor. My friend really wanted pleats on the skirt, so I suggested that she make those. It’s not very difficult to do, just time consuming, so perfect for someone with less sewing experience. I would make the overskirt base using the Janet Arnold pattern. I’d also make the bodice, including bertha and the basque (belt-thing). The overskirt base was made sometime in January, scaling up the pattern worked out quite nicely! I took the original waistsize and the one I wanted, and the original length and the new one which would give the same proportions. From that, I scaled the width/height. The back was gathered instead of cartridge pleated, to save some time. The only other change I made was to the closure. Because I didn’t yet know the exact finished waistsize it’d need to be (no corset yet), I made a split at the side. The front is still open, but it always needs to close at exactly the same point to look good. A split in the side will be far less noticable than center front.
Fast-forward to end of February, when her corset was done! This meant we could start on the bodice, so she came to my place another time. She’d already sent me her corseted measurements and I’d cut out the bodice lining with a very generous seam allowance to use for fitting. In that day, I managed to fit and construct the whole bodice, and pattern and cut the bertha and basque.
Fitting time! Second fitting was for marking the final waistline and neckline.
Trying on everything together at the end of the day. It still closes with pins, but we’re starting to see it come together!
She spent all day cutting out strips for the pleats, and managed to seam a lot of it and get started on the pleating. We’ll need 6m of pleated trim, which means there’s 18m of fabric to seam (on both sides) and pleat. (This was the point where she wondered what she’d gotten herself into 😉 ).
The next couple of weeks I spent time making up the bertha & basque, finishing the bodice by hand-sewing all the edges and putting in boning, and trimming everything.
Boning, made of heavy-duty zip ties sewn into bias tape channels.
The bertha and basque are both trimmed in small pleats, first roll-hemmed and then box pleated. Those for the bertha were 3cm wide when cut out, for the basque I made them 4cm. After hemming, I sewed them on in the middle of the pleat, which gives a nice 3D effect. For the bodice I made the mistake of pressing them slightly before sewing them on, which slightly kills the effect. I figured it’d be easier to sew on this way, but in the end it wasn’t worth it. They’ll fluff back in time, but just for anyone trying this type of trim; it works best without any pressing.
The pleating process. About 7,5 m for both the bertha and the basque. It took a lot of pins!
The pleats really set off the bertha. It’s nearly invisible without them, but they give a nice contrast.
The same goes for the basque, which is also lined in the light blue.
The finishing touch for the bodice & overskirt were the fabric covered buttons. I opted to do them the modern way, for practicality’s sake. The buttons are all decorative, everything actually closes with hooks and eyes. I saw that the original had this on the overskirt and decided it’d be a lot easier than sewing all those button holes by hand. It also makes slight re-fitting more easy, moving hooks & eyes is simpler than moving a button hole!
Buttons on the bodice
For the overskirt & bertha I used metal hooks & eyes. The bertha is left open on one side, and sewn to the bodice on both shoulder seams. The front part hangs loose and is attached to the shoulder with hooks and eyes. For for the bodice I decided to do the eyes with thread. This shows a bit less on the right side of the fabric.
Closure of the bodice, metal hooks with thread eyes.
So this is where we are now! The bodice & bertha & basque are done. The overskirt only needs the pleated trim. Pictures were taken on my too small dress form for now, pinned to the back to fit, so only a front view. Pictures of the full outfit worn will follow when everything is complete!