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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!