Back to the 1830s

At the beginning of the year, when I was roughly planning out projects, I decided to work on 1830’s things after the big 1895 project was done. The main reason was a romantic (so, 1830s) weekend in the UK I was hoping to go to. Of course, that weekend got cancelled, but I decided to just go ahead with my plans. My main inspiration was this dress from the Concord museum:

#concordmuseum hashtag on Instagram • Photos and Videos
Satin Dress, 1834-6. Concord Museum. Worn by Harriet Tufts Russell of Arlington to the inaugural ball of Martin van Buren in 1837

I really love the bodice treatment in particular. You see a lot of pleats in 1830’s bodices, but I’d never seen this particular style which creates a diamond shape in the middle. I’ve since looked at fashion plates for something similar, but it seems to have been a fairly unique design.

While I was working on the base of the bodice, I also found a photo of the back. I’d only seen exhibition pictures up to that point, all taken from the front as the back was to a wall. But the museum actually posted the back view on their Instagram, which was super useful! It has this fun little ‘cape’ going around the back, which I never would have seen otherwise.

Concord Museum on Instagram: “This beautiful white satin gown was once worn to a President's Ball. Tag someone you think would look great in it. Come enjoy more…”
Satin Dress, 1834-6. Concord Museum. Worn by Harriet Tufts Russell of Arlington to the inaugural ball of Martin van Buren in 1837

I started this project in June, and first up was patterning. I wanted to achieve a couple of things with this. First, was to use padding and really strive for the very ‘wide’ off the shoulder silhouette. The second was to pattern everything before I started cutting, including all the pleats. That was mostly because my fabric was only 80cm wide, and even with 8m of it, it was going to be a bit tight.

The pattern gave me some trouble this time, and it took a while to get everything fitting like I wanted to. A big shout-out to the Foundations Revealed community here for helping me out. But, eventually, I got there, and had all the pattern pieces in place!

I opted to use my silk only where visible. So there’s no silk underneath the pleats on the front, nor at the top back which is hidden by the cape. The sleeves had to be pieced, as my fabric wasn’t wide enough otherwise. That’s exactly what they also did in the period due to similarly small widths, so I am actually quite pleased with that.

The blue line is where the join in the sleeve is. The sleeve is cut on the bias, so this blue line runs along the fabric edge. The little red lines show the width of my fabric.

I started sewing with the skirt, which is fairly simple, just rectangles. The front is pleated with knife pleats, the back is cartridge pleated. The whole skirt is lined, as the silk is rather flimsy on it’s own.

Skirt done, it was time to start on the bodice! I only cut those parts that would be visible out of the silk, so the front base is entirely out of cotton, and so is the top of the back. The side panel of the silk actually extends to the front to end where the pleats begin, and the center front ‘diamond’ is a square of silk whose edges are hidden by the pleated panels.

The pleats are stitched down strategically in places by hand, just taking small bits of the silk under a pleat to make sure the attachment wouldn’t be visible.

After the pleats were stitched down, I could add the padding. I’d already made the shapes out of thick flannel layers to fit my bodice pattern over. They were pinned in, and covered by a layer of cotton which I stitched around by hand.

This is the final inside, showing the padding. There is a bit over the bust, but the bulk is above and to the outside to give the smooth round and wide shape

Then came the sleeves. There’s a join in the silk, and the sleeves are again fully lined to give a bit more structure. There was a lot of gathering involved! I tried to get as much volume as possible towards the back, but in the end it’s pretty evenly gathered as tightly as possible all the way around to make it fit. I finished the slits in the sleeves first, by simply laying the lining to the silk right sides together and turning inside out. This gives a neat finish to the edge.

The cape was piped with double piping, which was quite fiddly as it needed to go around all the points. I decided not to line the cape, as I was afraid the lighter cotton would show too much, and I didn’t have enough silk left to fully line them with that. So the piping around the edge is stitched down as small as possible to not show too much on the right side. The cape was stitched onto the neckline first, which was then finished by a row of single piping, with a slightly larger cord. It’s actually important to finish the necklines of these gowns with something non-stretchy, as you don’t want an off-shoulder gown to stretch and slip off.

Final touches were the waistband, boning, and the hooks and bars. The back was finished the same way as my friend Nikki shows in her wonderful video here.

As a quick wrap-up, I made myself some sleeve plumbers from the AD pattern here. These are quite important for keeping the dress in shape, though I think I want to experiment a bit more on how to attach them best to the dress.

And then she was done! This project took some time, mostly as I took long stretches off to wrap my head around what to do next. With the bodice taking a number of drafts, and the layers of silk and cotton and pleating in the bodice all needing some figuring out, it took more brainpower than I had most evenings after work. I’m really happy with how it turned out though, and can’t wait to wear it out when it’s possible to have events again.

Meanwhile, I took it for a brief spin during our holidays near the forest, to get some pictures! I took my antique pelerine and Regency bonnet as accessories, because I’m still working on an 1830’s bonnet. It’s not quite big enough, but has an okay shape.

The pelerine is very pleasant for covering your shoulders, but also effectively hides the most interesting part of the dress: the bodice pleats. So I also took some pictures without.

10 thoughts on “Back to the 1830s

  1. I love love love 1830s, and also look for different versions of the bodice since all I’ve made are the pleated down front and back. My next one I’d like to make with front closures, cotton ones, since I never have anyone around to hook me up in the back,
    This was beautiful, and great job on the patterning and construction!

    • Thank you! There are a lot of little variations in the bodices which I think are really interesting. I’m lucky enough to have a partner which has become handy enough to hook up bodices which close in the back, but I completely understand the comfort of a front-closing bodice!

  2. Fun! It looks great. The pleats in a diamond shape are unusual, as is the sewn on cape. I think your choice of woodsy background is quite lovely. The glistening leaves provide a nice contrast to the silk of your dress.

    I’m just writing a post about my own 1830s ensemble! Your post reminds me that I had some similar issues. For example, my center front seam also stood away from my body. I chose to shape it instead of leaving the whole seam straight (so that effectively the necessary dart is taken out of the seam). I also thought of adding a pelerine but (ran out of time… and) didn’t want to hide the details on the dress. It’s nice to have options though, so you can wear the dress with and without the pelerine!


    • Thank you! I really fell in love with the unusual bodice pleating, it’s just different enough to really capture the interest!
      I’m curious to see your ensemble! I considered shaping it, but because of the shape of the ‘diamond’ at the front, I was a bit hesitant to do that. I wasn’t sure if that shape would still work over a curved front. I also saw that bodices from the era (at least the ones in Patterns of Fashion) mostly had straight center-front seams, so I knew it had to be possible to do otherwise.
      Having a pelerine is great for adding variation! And my experience with wearing this dress out on a chilly morning was that the pelerine definitely made it more comfortable, the open neckline does make you a bit exposed otherwise.
      Best, Myrthe


    I’ve been following your blog for quite some time and love it. I volunteer at a genealogical society that has a large costume collection housed at our headquarters, which is also a museum house open to the public (in normal times)

    I know you are based in Europe, but do you have any contacts in the US, preferably the East Coast? Our organization would like to have some copies made of our dresses from the periods of the 3 resident women that we talk about in the house tours. For two summers we dressed three mannequins in dresses from our collection, one from about 1810, the next about 1845, and the last circa 1775.

    Using our dresses this way puts too much stress on them, but everyone loved the idea of having the three women represented by a mannequin wearing a dress from the period during which she lived in the house.

    We now also are interested in having a male mannequin dressed in the period of the 1845-55 to represent our most famous male resident.

    We’ve talked about doing this for a while, but don’t know how to find an expert in reproduction vintage clothing. Any help will be much appreciated.

    Thanks & Stay Well,


    • Dear Nanny,
      Thanks for your comment! I don’t have any specific contacts, but I know there are a lot of historical costumers in the US as well. Do you have a facebook account? If so, you could have a look at some of the groups dedicated to historical sewing. If you want I can give you some names. There are a lot of people on there, who might also then know specific people who take commissions. It would probably also be good to figure out how much you can pay them to see if it’s feasible 🙂
      Best, Myrthe

    • Dear Nanny,

      To follow up on your comment, I actually got an email from another reader of my blog who does exactly the type of thing that you are looking for! She’s on the east coast of the US, her website includes contact details and is at: . So that might be a great starting point for you. The best of luck!.


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