Victorian Fancy Dress

I was very excited when Shari from La Rose Soiree announced that she’d be holding a Victorian Fancy dress ball. It’s a very specific theme, but it also gives opportunity for some very fun costuming!

I based my dress on fabric I already had, and it turned out to be a purple gold fairy. A short video of how it turned out!

 

I had this purple gold shot silk organza in my closet already. Originally I planned to maybe make a fantasy type of francaise with it as it was a cheaper find, but that never really happened. So when this theme was announced, I figured it’d be perfect for it! Colored organza is not really something you see a lot historically, but it does fit the fancy dress theme quite well.

For the design, I started with looking at a lot of different plates for inspiration.  I knew I wanted something flowery/fairy like, as that would fit the fabric best.  I also knew I wanted a ‘short’ dress, as that’s so specific to fancy dress, and looks so fun! (It’s also great for dancing ;)! ) In the end, I settled on two main inspiration pictures.

This was the main fairy inspiration. Although a different color, I like how this dress could very well have been made of organza as it has the same light feel to it. I also liked the fairy with flowers concept, and the length.

 

The skirt design I wasn’t 100% sure about, so I did some more looking for dresses with flowers, and eventually settled on this pink dress as main inspiration for the skirt. I really like the pleats on the under skirt, and the flowers to the side of the drapery.

Right, gold flowers

 

With those ideas, I went to work! The very first step was deciding how to treat the sheerness of the organza, as it’s definitely see-through. I settled on lining it with cotton in a light blue color. The blue makes the purple a tad less bright, and a bit more lavender-like, which I preferred.

I cut the lining as mock-up, and fitted it that way first. Then all the pieces were flat-lined, stitched together, and the darts were pinned through all layers on the body to get a smooth fit.

 

For the base skirt, I cut the cotton following the basic 1880s underskirt from Truly Victorian. The organza layer was cut nearly twice as wide for the front and side pieces, to allow for the pleats in front. The organza was hemmed with french seams, and all the layers were caught at the top in the waistband.

 

Fitting time! This is always the exciting stage where things start coming together. At this point, the center front is still pinned to do a final check of the bodice fit over the skirt, before it’s sewn shut.

 

The bodice is boned center back, with eyelets to close it. I had a look, and saw both offset and parallel rows of eyelets (for spiral and criss-cross lacing respectively) on 1880s dresses, in the end I went with a parallel line. I worked the eyelets with silk machine thread doubled up, which worked quite nicely.

 

The overskirt was based on Truly Victorian TV362, but shortened. In this picture it’s still un-hemmed. I already shortened it when cutting, but this shows that especially the apron needs further shortening still, to give room for flowers on the underskirt! The right picture shows the gathers at the top back of the underskirt.

 

For the bodice decoration, I draped some pieces of organza on top until I liked the look.

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The skirt decoration is made of plastic flowers, as I didn’t really want to make flowers myself (nor had the time). I ordered a mix of gold and purple flowers, and spray painted them with white gold in various thickness to make them match with my fabric. On the underskirt, there’s two roses glued to one gold flower, then backed (first glued, than stitched) with felt, and then the whole thing is stitched on.

 

For the side drapery, I used a purple garland and just twisted gold and purple flowers into it. The whole thing is attached to the side gathers of the overskirt on both sides.

 

Final touches were the roses on the bodice and shoes, both which I backed with leafs originally attached to the gold flowers. The shoes are American Duchess Tissots, and the roses are sewn onto shoe clips to make them versatile!

 

The sleeves were finished with some leafs as well, and I also had some leftover time to make wings! I based these on plates of Victorian ballet dancers, as I wanted a small shape which wouldn’t hinder any dancing. They are made of wire, with fabric glued on. The fabric is glued around the edge of the wire, and the raw edge was hidden with some glitter glue I found in an old crafting box.

 

So that’s the whole look put together! It was such a fun project to work on, and the finished result is so whimsical it really makes me happy to just look at. It was also very comfortable to wear! The shorter skirt makes dancing a breeze, and I had to check myself when I didn’t even have to lift my skirt when going up the stairs. I definitely showed a lot of ankle, but fairies can be a bit scandalous, right?

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New-year ball in Ghent

As mentioned in my 1830’s dress post, I wore it to the new-year’s ball in Ghent. The theme was 1830-1860 this year, and it was the perfect excuse to finally make this dress.

The ball is held in the opera of Ghent, in a beautiful baroque style room. This year, there was a dance workshop in the afternoon, which we went to as well.

After the workshop, it was time to eat, and then prep for the evening! I started on my hair, as I’d never done 1830’s hair before. I tried to photograph the process, maybe it’s helpful!

As I don’t have any hair shorter than hip length, I used fake hair for the side curls. This is such a typical thing for the era, I didn’t want to do without. These are real-hair extensions which I modified, and I’d curled them with rollers (wet-set) before.

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My other piece of fake hair was a very long weft. I used this to supplement the braid. Although my hair is very long, it’s not very thick, so I can usually use a little extra volume.

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Firs step was making the typical v-shaped parting. I then put everything up in a very high ponytail.

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Next was clipping in the front extensions. I then took two pieces from my ponytail and made two small rope braids, which go over the line of the extensions to hide them. (A quick note: this took a lot of fiddling and even more pins, I really want to find a quicker way to do this…)

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The front done, I pinned the weft into my ponytail and braided the whole lot. I then wrapped it into a bun, taking care to wrap the second time on top of the existing braid to create height. I then hid the ends and elastic inside the bun.

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And done! To finish it, I clipped in two huge flowers to the side of the bun. For another tutorial (including the famous loops), my friend Nikki has a wonderful tutorial on her youtube channel here.

The ball itself was really nice. There was a lot of dancing, and swooping crinolines. I quite liked my corded petticoat, it was definitely easier to dance in than a hoop!

 

 

In-between dancing there was social time with friends, taking pictures, and just looking at all the other lovely people. Some pictures!

The golden girls, with Josselin (my partner in crime for the weekend) and Corina. Gold was quite a popular color in this era! I love how we’re slightly chronological, early 1840’s, midway 1830’s and early 1830’s.  (It shows beautifully in the hem length!)

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We did a 1830’s group picture at the end. It took a while to get us in order, but eventually we managed to behave.

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Some more pictures of my finished dress

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1830s dress

I started thinking about a 1830s dress quite a while back, mostly inspired by the wonderful Nikki, who does this era so well. About half a year ago, the theme for the new-years ball in Ghent was announced to be 1830-1860, and I figured that this would be the perfect excuse to finally start this dress.

I already had the fabric, a wonderful pale gold figured silk. So I started looking at pictures, and was immediately drawn to the pleated sleeves you see appear around 1836. The 1830’s is known for the huge sleeves, and I do like those, but I love the pleats, so that’s what I went for. (When in doubt: do what excites you most). I looked at quite a lot of originals (online) in the MET museum, and eventually settled on this dress:

Jan historical - gold 1830s gown

 

I love the sleeves on this dress, how they still have the fabric fullness, but also the pleats. I also quite liked the shape of the bertha, and the little rosettes. Extra bonus was that I figured I could make the ‘sleeve bands’ removable, and make the dress more versatile this way. It also has removable undersleeves, and a pelerine which transforms it into a day dress. I’m all for versatility, so that’s great.

Ensemble, silk, AmericanEnsemble, silk, American

 

In making this dress, I tried to copy it as much as possible. That meant lots of piping, and double piping, which was quite a bit of work, but definitely worth it.

The process of making double piping I found in the 1876 ‘Guide to dressmaking ‘, which can be found online (page 30). Basically, you take a bias strip, put a cord in one half, then a cord in the other half, then fold double to get a double cord.

 

The bertha was made following Janet Arnold’s ca. 1840 dress. It has a cotton canvas base, and the silk are bias strips which are stitched on top. It looks like pleats when finished, but the construction is quite different.

 

For this dress, I also really wanted to try out padding, inspired by a talk by Luca Costigliolio on padding in 19th century bodices. (The gist: it’s extremely common, for all types of figures, through the eras. Sometimes visible, sometimes hidden.). The silhouette in this era is quite wide, and I can use a little help in the bust era in general. I made my padding of cotton quilting sheets. Cutting in layers of 2, I cut 4 circles in increasing diameter.

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I ended up taking off the smallest one, and folding it up to fill in the space above the bust a bit. This is a place you often see padding in originals as well. The padding was placed quite wide in the end, as the main goal was to increase width. I really love how it ended up, the effect is subtle enough that you don’t immediately think it’s padded, but it helps the whole shape so much.

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I sewed a cotton ‘lining’ to the padding before sewing the whole thing into the bodice. This is the final shape.

 

The sleeves are pleated towards the middle at the top, and then stitched a bit further down as well. The armhole is piped, and the shoulder seam as well. For the final sleeves, I made sleeve bands which are pinned around the fullest part of the sleeve.

 

I also followed Janet Arnold for the skirt, taking inspiration for the skirt fullness, and gathering the very back, then pleating the rest forwards, as the original also shows. I choose not to fully line the skirt, as my original shows a line of stitching where the facing is attached, so I faced the hem as well.

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Hem facing. The long stitches are to catch the silk where it’s folded double, so the hem is basically 2 layers of silk and one of cotton.

I sewed all invisible seams by machine for this dress, but all the finishing is by hand, as usual. The dress closes with hooks in the back, and the final touch are the little rosettes. One to hide the endpoints of the bertha, one on each sleeve band and one in the back. They are made by covering a button, and then gathering a folded strip of bias to form a circle.

 

I managed to finish the whole dress just in time for the new years ball last weekend. I’d counted on skipping the sleeve band, or not finishing the insides, due to lack of time, but it was done! I made this in about 5 weeks, (2 of which were holiday), which I think is a record for me. I also managed to finish without rushing through anything, which I’m really pleased with. Now I just have to make under sleeves and a pelerine with a whole number of small petals….

So, some finished pictures of the dress on me! More on the ball itself in a next post!

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2019 plans

With looking back, there’s also time to plan new things!

As per usual, my plans mostly focus on the first half of the year, and are centered around events.

First up is the new-years ball, with theme 1830-1860. I figured that this would be a perfect excuse to finally make that 1830’s dress I wanted to make. The dress is mostly done now (which is good, as the ball is in a week). I do need to add some finishing touches, first priority is to get it wearable for the ball! (No tacked down allowances needed for that 😉 ).

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A little peak at the dress

 

After that, I’ll start sewing for a Victorian Fancy dress ball in April. I really love the idea of this ball, and my idea for a dress is mostly based on what I have in my stash. I have a purple/gold changeant silk organza, which is very lovely, but also very purple, and not very period looking. It’d be perfect for fancy dress though.

I love the shorter skirts you sometimes see in fancy dress costumes, and I’ll be going for an 1880s look. Probably some fairy/queen type of thing, hopefully with gold flowers all over.

Victorian fancy dress. Feb & March

The lady on the left is one of my inspirations. I might make a change or two to the drapery etc, but the silhouette and flowers is what I’m going for.

 

I have one more event planned so far, which is a Regency ball, but I’ll probably re-wear my red/white dress, or my blue/silver one for that. The final plan I have is related to the Victorian picnics I’ve been organizing. It’s a pretty low-key event, but a lot of fun and good excuse to dress up. I found out last summer though, that all of my victorian costumes are either silk, velvet, or wool. Not the best for hot summer weather. So I really want to make a cotton bustle dress, and I have my eye on the tennis style dresses you see in the 1880s.

After April

I love this one, it’s relatively simple, yet a lot of fun.

 

For the second half of the year, it’ll depend on events again what my plans will be!

2018 in review

The new year has started, so it’s time to look back at 2018!

I had few concrete historical costuming plans at the start of this year, mostly planning underwear and accessories. Those plans were the 1660s shift, 18th century stays, and the steeple henin. Those all got done, so that’s good! I didn’t do so well with my modern wardrobe, as I planned to make 2 dresses, but only got half-way on one.

Looking back at what I did make, it’s mostly underwear and accessories. I made two shifts, one pair of stays, one corset, one false rump, one corded petticoat, three 18th century petticoats, a fichu, a hat, and a henin.

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Top-Bottom, Left-Rithg: 1660s shift, Burgundian henin, 18th centuy stays, false bum, petticoat, fabric for other 2 petticoats, hat, 1830s corded petticoat & early victorian corset. I don’t have ‘separate’ pictures of the 18th century shift and fichu.

 

For outer garments, I only really finished one piece; my 1780s silver dress. But honestly, given that it was sewn all by hand, and how busy last year has been, I’m pretty happy with it. It wasn’t rushed, and I didn’t take short cuts, which usually lead to regrets. It took me half a year to sew, but I really enjoyed making and wearing it. That definitely makes it worth it, although I’m not yet planning to make everything entirely by hand in the future. I’m also really happy with how the whole look came together. I made quite a bit of underwear and accessories for this dress, and for my first attempt at the 18th century, I think it came together quite well!

 

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At the Winterball at D’Ursel (picture courtesy of Irina Krutasova)

 

However, when thinking about this year, what really comes to mind is not the costumes I made, but the events I went to. In 2017, I visited one historical ball, and that was only the second one ever. I’d mostly been wearing my costumes to fantasy fairs. I did that in 2018 as well, but I also visited four historical balls, one salon, organized two historical picnics, and went to a conference. This was one of my big goals, and I’m so happy it worked out so well, as all of these were wonderful experiences.

2018

The events from last year! Top-bottom, Left-right: Winterball at D’Ursel, Salon de societe de raffinee, victorian picnic 2, Structuring Fashion conference, victorian picnic 1, Societa di Danza ball Brussels, Persuasion ball, Elfia fair, New-years ball Ghent.

 

A big bonus of visiting more events was that I got to know more people in the historical costuming scene, or got to know them better, which was so lovely. So thanks to everyone for making it a great year!

A corset for the late 1830’s (sort of)

When I started my 1830s project (which up to now just consisted of a petticoat), I knew I also wanted a new corset.

I’ve got a somewhat slimmer corset which I’ve used for my 1870’s dress, and a curvier one for the 1880s. And I’ve got a pair of regency short stays, which actually act more like stays in that they ‘lift’ more than ‘separate’. For the 1830’s, the goal is a high, still slightly separated bust, though not as high as regency.

Most ‘typical’ 1830’s corsets are transitional, meaning that they are somewhere between the soft, cupped, corded regency stays, and the more waist-defining corsets of the 1840’s.

Something between these:

regency long stay

Kyoto costume insititute

And this:

Corset, dated "1839–41," American or European. Medium: silk. Met # C.I.38.23.10b–d. Ten views available. An early strapless design.

MET museum, 1839-1840

 

This was a very transitional period, so you get a lot of different styles which are a bit difficult to date. Many original pieces are dated something like ‘1815-1840’, so quite a long range.

Somewhere in the 1830’s, corsets start losing their straps, and gain a defined waist. This one is a nice example of the transition:

An incredible original 1830s ladys ivory sateen corset with its original blue steel busk in its front pocket. Elaborately hand quilted and embroidered, top stitch reinforced, with woven braces tied in place, and at the busk pocket. A drawstring cord at the top front and early ringed brass eyelets at the lace up back closure.

 

In the end, I decided to base my corset on the ca. 1840 example from the MET shown above. I did not want straps, as they can show underneath a dress. And I wanted to, ideally, be able to wear this corset for 1840’s, and possibly 1850’s stuff as well. The main difference is the waist definition which gets more pronounced, but a more pronounced waist is not a problem for an 1830s dress. The only other thing which slightly changes  is that the bust drops a little, but given my shape that would not really be noticeable. I also wanted a defined hip-spring, as I need a large difference between waist and hips naturally, so the more ‘straight’ shapes wouldn’t work very well on me in any case.

I chose to make one more concession to accuracy for practicality reasons. In the late 1830’s, all corsets had a wooden busk, and spiral lacing. The split busk was invented in the 1850’s, and with it came the ‘typical’ straight lacing you see on corsets to today. The split busk makes it a lot easier and quicker to get into a corset by yourself, so I decided to add one.

Technically, this makes my corset more like the 1850’s and early 1860’s styles, which are actually cut very similarly, but with a split busk.

Like this one, which has the same wide hip panel:

Corset, 1864  The Victoria & Albert Museum

1850’s, V&A

 

The 1840 one from the MET does not have bust gores, which is actually quite unusual for the time, I think. However, I definitely don’t need them (they’re mostly handy for larger busts), so that was not an issue. And I really like the ‘hip’ panel, as that gives a lot of room for a large hip spring. A final advantage was that this piece was photographed really well, so I could actually see where the seams were, and figure out what the panels should sort of look like.

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Drawing lines on seams.

 

I ended up drawing the pattern from what I saw shape wise, and then made a number of mock-ups to actually make it work for my body. It took some trial and error, and no very systematic process was followed, but I ended up with something workable.

For construction, I used two layers, one cotton canvas and one plain cotton. I first inserted the busk, and then attached both lining and canvas layer of the second piece to the first, at the same time. By laying the canvas layer on the canvas layer (right sides together), and the lining to the lining (right sides together), and then stitching the seam in one go, you get the seams ‘within’ the corset. This gives a clean finish, and provides extra layers as strength for the boning. I think this was also the way the original was finished, as it shows the same clean interior, and the top-stitching, although I cannot be sure from pictures alone. In any case, it worked!

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Finished insides

 

I opted to cut the hip panel on the bias, to give some flexibility there, and just to experiment. I tried to see the grain on the original, but the weave of the fabric makes it impossible to see despite the high resolution. It does pull a bit, creating a bit of a wrinkle, so I’m not fully sold on this method yet, but otherwise it works.

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It’s very curvy when just taking it off the body!

 

I did not really take many construction pictures, as the corset was made during quite a busy time, with low light in the evenings, but I’m actually quite happy with how long it took me to make. It’s boned on the seams with synthetic whalebone, plus two bones in the side/hip panel all the way down, and extra bones in the back, as in the original. I’ve got one steel bone to support the eyelets center back.

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Diagonal bones in the back, and extra bone casing on the inside

 

It’s quite curvy, which is something I’m really happy about. I feel like this might be the first corset I made where I didn’t have too little room in the hips/bust in the end. I tend to underestimate the hip spring I need because I need to always increase this, and I tend to overestimate how much I need to take in the bust. But a corset works best if it actually leaves room at the top and bottom, and only reduces in the waist. This corset actually does that, which is nice!

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A gore at the back to allow room for the hips

 

It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, being of quite utilitarian fabric, but it works, and the shape is good. I might floss it at some point in the future, but for now, it’s time to start looking towards actually making a dress to go on top! (Which, if you’ve been following my instagram, you’ve already seen some peaks of. It’s looking good so far!

Some pictures of the corset on me!

 

Corded petticoat

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that my next big project will be a late 1830’s dress. As this is a completely new period for me, that meant new underwear!

The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons 1836 Plate 23 by CharmaineZoe, via Flickr

You don’t get a shape like this without some help! (The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons 1836 Plate 23)

 

The 1830’s see the rise of the big round skirt. It’s before cage crinolines were invented, though, and so the silhouette was achieved through many layers of petticoats instead. This was made a little easier through structuring the petticoats, making them stand out. Most noticeably, through running cords through petticoats. The cords stop the fabric from folding up, and so the skirts stand out more. Add starch, and a couple of extra layers on top, and you get a pretty big skirt!

Ah ha ha I love seeing the superstructure under Romantic Era fashion of the 1830's.  :)  Someday I'll recreate this ridiculousness.

An existant petticoat from the MET museum

 

For my corded petticoat, I roughly followed the guidelines in Izabella Pritcher’s book the Victorian dressmaker. I found fabric which was 3.2m wide, and decided to just use the full width. This makes my skirt on the wide side, but I figured I might be able to wear it with 1840s as well this way (as the skirts keep growing!). I cut the whole skirt in a double layer, so it’s two layers of fabric. The cords are then stitched between these.

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I did get neater as I got along…

 

I started with 5 rows, and then did another 5 rows. Above that, I switched to 3 layers, all the way up to my full hip. There’s no ‘rules’ for how to cord your petticoat, although more on the bottom than at the top, and stop at hip-level seems to hold for most existent petticoats I’ve seen.

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The seam to the side. Extra stitches along side to keep the cords in the seam allowance flat

 

I ended up buying not nearly enough cord, and again the second time, and the third, so I think I’ve got at least 4 different types of cord in there. All roughly the same size though, so it truly doesn’t matter. What I’ve learned: you need a lot of cord for these! I did 28 rows in the end, for 3,20 wide fabric, so that’s almost 90m of cord…

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Loads of little rows…

 

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about cording, but I actually quite liked the process of making this. I just did a couple of rows in the evening, not trying to finish it all in one go. It helps that cording is about the most mindless activity in sewing you can think of, and after a full work day of focusing that was actually pretty nice.

 

 

I hope to make at least 2 more petticoats to go on top of this one. Maybe one other with just a couple of cords at the bottom, and pin tucks. And at least one ‘prettier’ one with tucks and lace to go on top.

First up for this project is a new corset though, stay tuned for that!

 

 

1780 dressing

When I was getting dressed for the Salon de la Societe raffinee, I also took pictures of my finished 1780s dress. And I figured that it would also be a good time to take pictures of the layers of my undergarments, as I hadn’t actually shown everything yet!

Under my dress, I’m wearing a shift, under petticoat, stays, false rump, two more linen petticoats, a cotton petticoat, a fichu and pocket. Of those, only the fichu is hand-sewn (hand-hemmed at least), and the shift is hand-finished. The petticoats and false rum I just made by machine for speed.

The first step is the shift. A quick note, a 1780’s shift should probably still have cuffs to the sleeves, as those really only disappeared towards the 1790s. However, from the 1780s on, they don’t show underneath the gown sleeves, and it’s always harder to fit gown sleeves over wider sleeves than over narrower ones. So I opted for the more versatile and slightly less HA option to make them rather narrow and without a cuff.

After the shift, It’s stockings, and shoes. Then I put on the bottom petticoat, made of white linen. Then it’s stays (for which I made a simple boned stomacher to further support the center front), and then the false rump. This is what I’m wearing in the following images

 

Then it’s additional layers of petticoats. I wore mine underneath the front point of my stays, but on top of the rest. The front is underneath to keep the center front straight for my dress later on.

 

I made the grey petticoat above for my 1660s gown initially, but it works fine for 18th century as well. After that, it’s another linen (mix) petticoat, this time with stripes.

 

And then yet another petticoat. This one is of cotton (Ikea), and prettier, as this one could show when lifting the skirts.

 

Those are the petticoats. Then it’s accessories, namely fichu and pocket (which is a bit invisible here, as it’s the least historical thing about the whole outfit. I need to make a new one, but the current ugly one is functional at least). After that, it’s finally time to put on the dress. The front of the skirt is put on first and tied around the back. Then the bodice is put on. These pictures show the process before the bodice is pinned shut in the front.

 

And then it’s done! All signs of undergarments are hidden, but the layers are really important for getting the right shape!

 

Some people asked me if the 4 petticoats weren’t too heavy, and I have to say I found it no problem at all. Linen is not very heavy, nor is cotton, and my silk dress is the lightest of all. It might be different if one of the petticoats were wool, or stitched, which would make it a bit heavier. But in general, I think we are just not used to heavy skirts, and modern costumers (myself included) are typically inclined to wear too few petticoats rather than too many. They are all worn on top of the hips, and those can carry a bit of weight easily, especially when worn on top of stays.

1780s Silver round gown

I posted about the bodice of this gown before, but it’s now officially done!

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This was my big project for this year. A completely hand-sewn 18th century dress, out of silver silk.

It was my first foray into 18th century dressmaking, and I used the American Duchess book as a guide. The pattern is strongly based on the Italian gown in the book. I made some slight alterations to the back neckline, and to make it fit me. To turn it into a round gown, I simply added an extra skirt panel center front.

The bodice construction was done as described in the book (blog post here), and also the main reason I wished to do this by hand, as it’s not quite possible to follow the same techniques when sewing by machine. For instance with the shoulder piece, which is attached to the outside.

 

The skirt was fairly straight-forward, just 3 panels of 150cm wide, with slits on either side of the front panel and pleated at the top.

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Pleating the back skirt, here basted together with red thread. I basted both a couple of cm above and below where the bodice would be attached, so the pleats would stay properly in place when attaching it to the bodice.

 

The skirt was attached to the bodice by top-stitching through all layers from the outside. I then removed the visible basting at the bottom

 

The front panel is attached to a waistband which is tied around the waist before putting on the bodice, while the back panels are stitched to the dress.

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The top of the front panel of the skirt, attached to a waistband

 

Spot the hem! The hem seen from outside (left) and inside (right)

 

The dress is currently untrimmed, and so relatively simple on it’s own. To complete the outfit, I planned to have a sash, fichu and a hat.

The sash was simply a vintage blue ribbon, and the fichu a triangle of very thin white cotton, which I hemmed by hand.

The hat was more work, and the biggest hat I’ve ever made. I based the proportions on a portrait, drawing lines through the face and hat to see how wide the hat was relatively to the head.

One of my main inspirations, and the one I used for scale, is this portrait. Her hair is deceptively wide, just look how it extends almost as far on either side as her head is wide. The hair definitely makes the hat look ‘not quite as huge’.

Portrait of Susanna Gyll by John Hoppner.

 

I’ve long admired the hats made by the Modern Mantua maker, and she really inspired me to look at fashion plates for hat options. In the end, I settled on stripes at the bottom of the brim, and ribbons and bows around the crown.

This fashion plate was one of my main inspirations:

Hats from 1787.

 

I didn’t have striped fabric, and not too much of my base fabric (the dark grey). So I got some paler ribbon, and cut strips of the fabric, and stitched those together to form the covering for the bottom of the crown. I finished the hat by adding two ribbons around the crown with little bows. My method was a bit of a mix-up between the one from the Modern Mantua maker, and from the 1790s hat in the American Duchess guide to 18th century sewing.

 

To finish the full ensemble, I styled a wig. I have very long, quite thin hair, and the idea of untangling it after doing a hedgehog style was slightly terrifying. So wig it was. When I wore it, I curled the front of my hair and blended that into the wig, which worked quite well. The hat really needs the huge hairstyle to give some proportion to it, and I’m quite happy how it worked out!

 

This dress will have a second outing in November, for a ball this time. I have some beautiful antique cotton lace, which I plan to use to trim the neckline and sleeves. Stay tuned for version nr. 2 in a bit over a month!

For now, pictures of the whole thing worn!

The dress from the back and sides.

 

With the sash:

 

And some portraits of with the hat!

 

Round gown – bodice progress

My past couple of post have been about undergarments for my 18th century project. At the same time I’ve been slowly progressing on the gown itself. I’m making a round gown, so with a full skirt, and aiming for 1780s.

My fabric is a light grey / silver silk. The pattern is somewhat old-fashioned for the 1780’s, which sees similar two-toned patterns, but which are generally more flower-like, and less baroque.

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Nevertheless, the pattern does have some more naturalistic elements. And given the penchant people had for re-using ‘older’ fabrics, I’m calling it plausible enough.

I started my patterning with the pattern for the Italian gown in the American Duchess Guide to 18th century dress making. My first mock-up was just exactly the pattern in the book, and that was already pretty close. In the end, the things I changed most were the angle of the shoulder strap, the height of the back, and the width of the strap. Below is the last mock-up.

 

After that, it was time for the scary part, cutting the fabric! Taking great care to match the pattern on all the pieces.

 

I’m sewing this dress by hand, which is why progress is relatively slow. It’s quite a suitable project for a first ‘all by hand dress’ though, as I’m not planning on adding much trim.

First up were the boning channels center back, and then constructing the back. On the back pieces all allowances were folded inward, and then all 4 layers were stitched together in one go.

 

Next up was attaching the front silk to the lining with small prick stitches. After that, I could fit again. My silk was a little less stretchy than my mock-up, so I had to let it out a bit on the side seams. (So definitely good that I did this fitting). I also took out the center-front line on each side, and re-did those as they weren’t really straight on the body after all.

 

Then it was time to sew the side seams. These were first sewn with the back silk piece and both lining pieces, allowance to the right side. The front silk piece was then folded over and in, and prick-stitched. I actually did the second seam the wrong way first time, including the front silk instead of the back…  So I ripped it out and re-did it. A bit more painful than when the seam is sewn by machine, but if I’m going to do this by hand, I’m going to do it right…

All seams are sewn with grey silk thread (if only because it’s easier to source than linen). Some close-ups of the insides. From left to right: the back seam, side seam, and center-front.

 

Final thing to do was to sew the front strap lining to the bodice. This is what it looks like now. The shoulder strap in silk will be one of the last things, sewn in place after the sleeve is in. I’m currently working on the skirts first though.

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