1860’s Ballgown bodice

My 1860’s ballgown bodice is done! Over a year after first drafting the pattern, but it was always meant to be a long-term thing. I drafted the pattern back when making the dinner bodice, just as a try out. I then cut the fabric a little while later, because I also wanted to make my Irish dance dress out of the same velvet. Luckily, I had enough!  The construction was started a couple of months ago. I’m afraid I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures…

This was the drafting stage

The front. Don't mind the ugly left part, that was just for fitting and I didn't have enough fabric.

The front. Don’t mind the ugly left part, that was just for fitting and I didn’t have enough fabric.

And here I’m planning the lace trimming. I looked at a lot of extant ballgowns, and most actually have more complicated trimming. I really liked the lace though, and even though you see this more on 1850’s bodices, I decided to go with 2 rows of lace. It could be a re-fashioned bodice, right?


Planning the trimming. I decided I liked the lace sleeve best.


The bodice is made with a point in front, just in case I ever want to wear it over my skirt. I have a belt for the skirt with a big bow though, and I love the bow, so I’ll probably tuck the bodice into the skirt. So, now onto the photo’s of the finished thing! (The lace is nearer in color to the velvet in real life. The lace reflects much more light, and these photos were taken with a flash because it was dark, so it show up a little lighter).



And the back:


You’ll have to forgive my dress form for not filling up the bodice completely, it’s just a bit smaller than me in the waist. Wrinkles should be a lot less on me! (photo’s with the dress on me will follow soon hopefully)

The trim is 2 rows of lace on the neckline and 1 on the sleeves.


2 rows of lace on the neckline and 1 around the sleeves


The back has little hand-sown eyelets (20 of them… why do I keep doing stuff like this?) and laces closed. They’re not extremely even and round, but overall I’m happy with them.


Eyelets. There’s 2 more at the top (between the layers of lace) and 2 more at the bottom


And with the skirt! (and new 1860’s hoop!)


Sewing – 1860’s bodice finished

The bodice for my 1860’s black velvet ballgown is done! This will be my entry for the Historical Sew Fortnightly (my first one actually…). So some details:

The Challenge: Bodice

Fabric: Black velvet. I think it’s cotton, but I’m not entirely sure. Black cotton for the lining

Pattern: Truly Victorian 400, with my own sleeve flares

Year: The pattern is listed as 1871, but it seems very similar to the dress I was imitating from 1866, so I’m assuming it’s correct for that period as well.

Notions: Black velvet covered buttons, black lace, bones made out of large cable-ties

How historically accurate is it? I believe the fabric is correct, though silk-velvet would’ve been more probable than cotton. The patterning is correct for the period as far as I know. Cable-ties are obviously not correct for boning, but whale-bone would’ve been a bit difficult. I’ts mostly machine-sewn, so that’s not correct, but most of the lace and the buttonholes were done by hand. 

Hours to complete: I didn’t really keep track, but I’d guess somewhere between 25 and 30.

First worn: Hopefully, in April. (I first have to finish the rest of the dress!)

Total cost: Again, I didn’t keep track, but I got a good price for the velvet at about 8,00 euros per meter. The most expensive was probably the lace. I’d guess somewhere between 30 and 40 euro’s.

And here’s the final result:

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Pictures of it being worn will come when the whole thing is done.

And some progress pictures. Since the last post I sewed the button holes and did the trimming on the dress. I spent a lot of time practicing button holes before I finally dared to actually start cutting in my dress!

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Practicing button holes. I kept running out of thread. I now know I need at least 85 cm 😉

Without trim & playing with rows of lace, 1 or 2? I settled on 2.

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Trim on the sleeves.

Sewing – Progress on the 1860s dress

This summer I unexpectedly had extra time on my hands, and I decided I’d try to make a 1860 black velvet mourning dress. The only problem was; I didn’t have any Victorian undergarments yet, so I’d have to make those as well. Of course, my planning was way too ambitious and in the end I didn’t even start on my dress, although I did finish my corset and crinoline, and got halfway with the petticoat. I’ll post about those garments later. This Christmas holiday, I finally started working on the dress and made some good progress on the bodice.

The inspiration for the dress was this 1861 dress from the Met museum:

I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the picture. It’s so dramatic, and that without too much details and trimming. As this is my first Victorian dress, I didn’t want to make it too difficult for myself, so it was perfect. I bought the fabric back this summer, and it was actually a challenge to find black velvet of good quality at a reasonable price. There’s way too much stretchy, shiny stuff out there. My usual fabric market didn’t carry what I wanted, but the second one I visited had just enough left in pieces of 3 meters that I got it at a very good price. It’s so lovely!

For the bodice, I decided to use Truly Victorian TV400. It’s slightly later than this dress (early ’70s instead of ’60s), but the shape looked very much the same to me, and this was the only pattern I could get second hand. The only thing I changed was the length of the sleeves, and added the flare at the bottom. My mock-up fit almost perfectly, so I didn’t have to make any alterations to the pattern.

Next up was the scary part, cutting into the velvet. I still get nervous whenever I start cutting, and spend a lot of time rearranging the pattern pieces on the fabric!

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he sleeve pieces. I ended up shortening them even more.

Once cut, I first attached the lining of the front bodice to the velvet in the center, as this is where the bodice will open. Once I got this right (after 3 tries, as my velvet stretched differently than my lining and the machine pulled terribly…), I stitched the velvet and lining together at the other edges to avoid any more slipping of fabrics. Next, I pinned and sewed the darts.

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The front panel, pinning the darts

Next up was stitching the back and side pieces together and pressing open the seams.

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The back and side panels put together

I then sewed the front and back pieces together, cut the boning and sewed on the boning channels. I forgot to make pictures here. I used large cable ties as boning.

Final step of construction were the sleeves. I first sewed the under and upper sleeves of both the lining and velvet together, and cut the flares. I knew there was a way to sew these together in such a way that no seam would show, but it took my 30 minutes of staring at the fabric pieces and 3 attempts when pinning to get it right. The second sleeve only took 2 attempts, so I guess I’m getting better at this… At least it worked out!

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Pinning the sleeves together. How do these fit together again?

Finally, after sewing on the sleeves, I pinned on the buttons and fit if they were placed correctly. I changed the placing slightly and sewed them on. I’m so glad I found velvet-covered buttons in the right size! I was afraid I’d have to cover them myself, and as I’ve never done this it would’ve been very time consuming. Luckily, there’s a shop in Utrecht which is completely filled with buttons and lace and trimmings. Whenever I need something specific, I know that if they don’t carry it, it can’t be found. They’ve never let me down so far.

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Pinning the buttons on the front.

So this is where I’m at now. I just have to sew the buttonholes, and I’m currently debating if I should do them on the machine or by hand. I don’t really care if it’s a 100% historically correct (I did all other seams by machine), but I’m afraid they’ll look too sloppy. On the other hand, I’ve never done them by hand before, so I’d need to practice first. After the button holes, it’s time for trimming! I have the most lovely black lace, so I’m looking forward to this.

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Inspiration – 1860s mourning

I’m currently working on a black velvet 1860s balgown. It’s going to be dramatic, and a bit gothic, but should also be fabulous.  Since starting to work on this dress, I’ve been looking at a lot of images, and I’d like to share.

The main inspiration will be this dress at the met:

Out of 1860s dresses, this is the type I particularly love. A square neckline, a waistband, dramatic fabric and a lot of lace.

It still has a pretty round crinoline, but it is starting to shift more to the back, just beginning to shift into the bustle-style of the 1870s. It also has a large train, which though awsome, I’ll probably leave out for practical reasons.

Here are some photographs period showing other mourning dresses:

I especially love the veils in the second photo. Although these photos are very serious, black was actually used in ball-gowns, which are generally happy occasions.

I guess that this is good for me, as it means that black was worn for all kinds of occasion.

To wrap up the post, some more black headwear pieces.