1880’s Tennis dress

The 1880’s tennis dress is finished! I already wore it about a month ago, but without all of the trim. I since truly finished it and wore it again last weekend!

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The idea of this dress started last summer, when I realized I did not have any Victorian dresses truly fit for summer weather. And that if you organize Victorian picnics, that is quite a handy thing to have as Dutch weather is most reliable in summer.

I’ve always loved the idea of the ‘sporting’ dresses which you see becoming more popular in the 1880’s. My main inspiration for this project was this dress in the Manchester Art Gallery:

Manchester Art Gallery

 

Although it, unfortunately, does not show any pictures of the back, it does feature a very good description. Including some interesting features. The skirt has boning in it (something also seen in this tennis dress at LACMA), so no separate bustle is necessary. The apron is actually one with the main skirt, while the back bustle is buttoned on over a back-closure. I incorporated all of these features in my skirt as well.

And, of course, I had to have striped fabric for this! Tennis dresses in pictures are nearly always either stripes or a light solid color. I found a lovely thin cotton with blue, red and white stripes, which was perfect for this project. I did line the bodice and skirt, as it is rather thin. The bodice was lined for structure, the skirt to support the weight of the ruffles.

The basic pattern of the skirt is TV261 – 1885 Four-Gore Underskirt. I sewed 3 horizontal bones in the back, and a fourth in a curve, similarly to the TV101 bustle. The bones are sandwiched between the main skirt fabric and lining. The fabric is gathered up to fit the bones, and three ties (one at the end of each bone) keep the curved shape behind the legs, similar to the LACMA dress. The apron I drafted myself, and is caught in the back-side seams of the main skirt. The skirt closes center back, and the slit is actually a bit shorter than I’d normally make it, as it needs to stop right before the first bone.

A close-up of the gathered channels with the boning, and the base skirt (sans hem and waistband at this point.

 

The back drape is very simple, and buttons on the waistband sides and back. I added pockets in the skirt on both sides, the entrance between the first and second horizontal bone. This works okay, but the pocket entry is rather narrow as it needed to fit between the bones. It’s good I have small hands, and I can’t fit very large things in it. It makes me wonder what the original’s pocket looks like, as I’m sure it’d need to be a tad bigger to fit a tennis ball.

The bodice base is TV462 – 1883 Tail Bodice, but without tail. The lining is fitted, while the striped fabric was extended (with a little guidance from Izabella Pritcher’s Victorian Dressmaker book), and gathered to the front. It buttons up front, and has a little lace around the collar and sleeves.

Below a picture of the bodice fronts, and sewing the button holes.

 

I wore the dress for the first time with the main bodice and skirt done, but without all the pleats on the skirts. These are 4 strips, with a 1cm hem and 2 1cm tucks, pleated down. They took a while (it was about 18m unpleated), but do really finish the dress!

I first pleated the strip and pinned it on both sides. Then the pleats were sewn down at the top, leaving the bottom pins in. I then sprayed it with a vinegar/water mix and ironed it. Then took out the bottom pins, sprayed and ironed that bit again. I used some painter’s tape to keep the bottom pleats in tape when sewing on the strips to the dress. They held up okay on wearing! Some of the pleats at the back were a bit mangled, but that was to be expected as I sat on them half of the day, and they were quite good about being ironed back into shape afterwards.

 

The pleats being sewn on, and a little close-up showing the the finished result and the tucks.

 

To finish the ensemble, I cut down the brim of a straw hat I had lying around, slightly curved up the back brim, and sewed on some big bows.

 

To finish off, some more pictures of the final dress on me! I wore it with a simple blue ribbon (leftover from trimming the hat) around the waist, but I might make an embroidered belt as the one on the original in the future.

 

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Victorian tennis dress

It’s been a while! Right after the fancy dress ball, I dove into a new project. However, it’s not quite done yet, and I’ve been away from home for a couple of weeks, so nothing finished to show off yet. So this post will be about some of the inspirations instead!

I’ve been working on an 1880’s tennis dress. This dress started with the realization that I only owned silk, wool and velvet Victorian dresses. Which are fabrics I love, but they’re not ideal for warm summer days. So I set out to remedy that, and when looking at possible designs for cotton bustle dresses (as I love the 1880’s), I stumbled on tennis dresses.

This is one I’ve always really liked in particular:

Ephemeral Elegance  Cotton Tennis Dress, ca. 1884-86  via Manchester Galleries  http://manchesterartgallery.org/collections/search/collection/?id=1947.4150

Manchester Art gallery

 

But there are some other great existent examples, such as these:

Article Image

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Tennis Dress 1885 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

MET museum

 

One of the questions I had initially, was what makes these dresses tennis dresses, and not just cotton bustle dresses? Partly, it was probably just that they were made with a specific purpose in mind, but looking at these garments more closely does give some more clues!

The first thing (which I know is a feature of the first two of these dresses, although I’m not sure about the third), is that the boning which creates the bustle shape is actually a part of the dress itself.

This is a feature I first ran into in Izabela Pitcher’s book ‘the Victorian Dressmaker’. She has a yachting dress which features boning in the skirt. The dress from LACMA actually has pictures of the boning structure, and for the Manchester Art Gallery dress you can read about the boning in the description. I’ve also seen this being mentioned for light cotton summer dresses.

Woman's Tennis Dress | LACMA Collections

The inside of the LACMA dress, showing the boning and tapes to create the bustle

 

 

This inclusion of boning in the skirt means that the outfit does not require a separate bustle case, nor a petticoat to go on top of the cage. Although you might still want one petticoat to go underneath, this definitely does cut out at least 2 layers of skirts, making the whole thing lighter, and probably easier to move around in. The Manchester dress even sports an apron in one with the main skirt to reduce layers, and a back overlay which is buttoned on. So the goal definitely seems to reduce weight! This is my own theory, so I am curious to find out if I can feel the difference when wearing the finished dress!

Another feature the tennis dresses seem to have are special pockets to keep the tennis balls in. Although bustle dresses feature pockets more often, these are definitely shaped and sized for tennis balls. Pleats are a popular choice for trimming, otherwise the dresses are relatively simple, with just a little lace. All these examples also feature a bodice which has extra fabric in the front, and which is gathered into a band which sits at the natural waist. Pictures of tennis dresses do show other types of bodices, although the ‘looser’ gathered look does seem to be the most popular.

Some pictures of ladies in tennis outfits:

Victorian Era Tennis | Share

Early 1890s

 

Finally, there’s of course the little references to tennis, such as the embroidery on the belt. These three examples are all made of cotton, although different fabrics such as light wool could probably also be used. And they are all striped! When looking at pictures and prints, you see that most dresses are light colored, and either a solid color or made in stripes.

1888- Tennis

All the stripes!

Tennis outfits

The stripes weren’t just for the ladies either!

 

For my own dress, I’ll be using the Manchester dress as main inspiration. It has a very good description on the website, although the pictures don’t show the back. Main features will be: bustle cage included in the skirt, gathered front bodice, apron sewn in one with the skirt and separate back drapery, a ball pocket, pleated ruffles, and striped cotton fabric!

I’ve now got most of the skirt base and bodice together. It needs some finishing (closures, hem, etc), and then all the ruffles on the skirt. Here’s a little glimpse of the fabric, and the gathered channels which hold the boning for the bustle in the skirt.

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Finally, I also found this lovely article, which has some more info on tennis dresses in the period, including some original source quotes!

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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1880s Winter bustle – pictures

Yesterday I wore my 1880’s dress for the first time, to the Midwinter Fair. It was really nice to wear, and even though it was rainy I had a good time.

Because of said rain, we only took some pictures inside. By this time my curls had started to sag a bit, but I was quite happy with how my hair turned out. Not having bangs, I flipped two curls towards the front and pinned them in place underneath the hat. Looks ridiculous without the hat, but with hat you’d never know!

 

Today it’s been snowing all day. Snow doesn’t happen that much around here, and when it does it usually disappears very quickly again. So I thought I’d take advantage, and dragged my boyfriend outdoors for a couple of minutes to take some more pictures. I didn’t curl my hair this time, too much effort, but the braid this way also works okay. And the dress looks really pretty in the snow!

 

You can’t really see it in these pictures above, but I’m wearing my winter boots with them! Very nicely warm and comfy.

 

 

Some more pictures!

 

Construction post is here!

1880s Winter bustle – construction

If you’ve been following this blog you might remember that when I got the Victoria winter boots from American Duchess, it got me thinking of wintery wool bustle dresses.

The shoes. I’m still in love (and they’re so comfy and warm!)

 

So when I was making sewing plans in September, an 1880’s winter wool bustle dress was put on the list next to the golden 1660’s gown. I had an event to wear it to in December, so a good deadline as well!

I decided on making it in burgundy, with black faux fur and black trim. This was the plan.

Winter bustle

 

It’s strongly inspired by fashion plates and pictures. The main inspiration was this one, mainly for the shape and fur placement.

1880s winter ensembles

 

But as I also really love the loopy trim that became popular, I wanted to incorporate that.

This plate is awsome as well.

early 1880s winter ensemble

 

And this is a great example of swirly trim.

Close up of 1880s photograph depicting a Victorian jacket with beautiful soutache decoration, embellishments. Passementerie. Detail.

 

The fabric I’m using is a wool/polyester mix. Not accurate of course, but it is a nice quality fabric still and has the advantage of being a bit cheaper than full wool. The fur trim is black faux fur.

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Main construction was relatively straight forward. I used the 1880’s underskirt from Truly Victorian, which came together really quickly. Only change was that I added the pocket from the 1870’s underskirt, because pockets are awesome.

Pleating the back. They’re cartridge pleats, so much width had to be fit into the back normal pleats wouldn’t have worked. Pretty!

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The bodice pattern was adapted from the 1883 tail bodice from TV. I took away the pleats in the back and lengthened it a bit. That lengthening caused it not to close in the bottom (I should’ve also added more width), but I actually really liked the look, so I kept it. Make a mistake and like the result anyway: just pretend it was done on purpose.

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Fitting the bodice. Another mistake: making the mock-up of cotton instead of wool, which makes it looser. The wool version was a bit smaller, oops. It worked out in the end though.

 

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The eventual shape of the bodice, falling open at the bottom. We’ll just pretend I planned it that way.

The overskirt I ended up draping myself, because I wanted that particular shape seen in the fashion plate. Took some fiddling with old sheets, but I’m quite happy with how it turned out.

Rather bad lighting, but the base of the under and overskirt together.

 

 

Then it was time for button holes! I spaced them really closely together, as seen on the photo I showed above. I didn’t have much overlap, so needed small buttons, and those always look better without too much space between them.

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With the fur trim on it already looks almost done, but I wanted more trim, and loops, and more loops. I eventually got 50m of the cotton cord for a bargain, because I needed 30 and the whole roll was 50 and the seller didn’t really feel like unrolling so much.

The overskirt first got a velvet ribbon next to the fur, and then the cotton cord next to that, with a knot in the corners.

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The inspiration for the knot:

Military Braid, Gold Lace, and Other Trimmings for Uniforms and Decorative Accents

 

The underskirt also got a velvet ribbon, but then more loopy trim and another cord above that. I made a template for this one to get the sizing the same everywhere. And it miraculously almost fitted around the whole skirt without weird overlaps being necessary! (I’d like to pretend that was measured out and done on purpose, but I was too lazy do do that so it was pure luck)

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Template and chalk marks.

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Done!

 

For the bodice I took the photo of the original bodice shown above as inspiration, but omitted some loops as my cord was a bit on the thick side.

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Playing with the trim to settle on the design.

 

Finally, I trimmed the sleeves, and then decided the back was too empty, so I trimmed the back of the bodice as well.

 

And then it was done! I’ll be wearing the dress next weekend, so proper pictures of everything finished and worn will follow!

1880s corset

The mid-1880’s are all about the dramatic silhouette. The bustle is back in full force, and the fashion is for a small waist, full bust and relatively broad shoulders. In fashion plates you can clearly see this fashionable shape, which is of course exaggerated to near impossible proportions.

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I’ve started working on my first 1880’s dress, which will be a burgundy wool winter gown. Although I already have a 1870’s corset, I wanted to try to approximate the fashionable shape of the 1880’s a bit more. In my case that meant padding in the bust area, as there’s no way I can achieve (or even approximate) it naturally…

That’s when the idea for a new corset started, to be patterned on top of a padded bra. In my previous post I showed the process of patterning, and afterwards I could finally start making the corset!

It’s a single layer coutil corset, so there’s no extra lining or fashion layer. First order of business was inserting the busk. Because there’s no extra lining, I cut a facing for the center front, and the bust is inserted between the facing and outer layer.

 

 

 

I really love cording on corsets, and wanted to incorporate it in this one as well. As first I was wondering if it’d be possible with a single layer, but then I saw this corset on a visit to Stockholm. As you can see, there’s an extra piece of fabric placed on top of the main fabric to serve as corded panel.

Corset ca. 1860-90  From the Nordiska Museet

 

I decided to copy this method. Using small pieces of black taffeta, I stitched 15 thin cords onto the two front panels (on each side). As in the example above, I left the bottom and top piece of the taffeta uncorded.

I made a test piece first. cm next to it to see the tiny cords.

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After that, I corded the actual corset panels.

 

 

 

Construction was done after the cording, and was pretty straight-forward, I didn’t take a lot of pictures of these steps. All pieces were stitched with wrong sides together, leaving the seam allowances on the outside.

The boning channels were made from a cotton polyester mix, leftover fabric from my red spencer. The red with the black gives a lot of extra drama, and you do see contrasting boning channels in the 1880’s quite a bit, such as this yellow-black combination.

Corset, 1880-93

 

5cm wide strips were cut and sewn into tunnels with a 5mm allowance, creating 2cm wide tunnels. Those were then stitched on top of the (trimmed) seam allowances and stitched on in the center and to the side. This created space for 2 5mm wide bones (synthethic whalebone) in each channel. The center back also has a facing, creating 2 layers for the eyelets and an extra channel next to the bones. I also added one more boning channel for 1 bone next to the eyelets. Both this one and the center back were flat steel bones for extra strength.

 

 

 

After the boning channels the boning was cut, the edges molten (plastic is so much easier to finish than steel!), and inserted into the corset. The binding was machine stitched on, I used regular black cotton bias tape.

 

 

 

The final big step was the flossing. I love the fancy decorative flossing you see so often in the 1880’s. I looked around for inspiration, and eventually settled on the design of the corset below. I like the flowers, and how it covers 2 bones.

Terminology: What’s the difference between stays, jumps & a corset | The Dreamstress

 

I made a little prick-template so I could place dots on strategic places of the embroidery pattern. This way, all the bones will have the same size and proportion flossing. I adapted the pattern slightly to also floss the single bones in the center back.

 

 

 

Before you begin flossing it feels like you’re almost done, but I think the embroidery might’ve taken as much time as all the rest of construction… I did 20 double bone motifs and 4 single bone, the double bone ones took about 25 minutes to complete each. And that’s without the test sample.

But, it’s done! I’m really happy with how this came out and I really love the shape. If I ever find some narrow antique black lace I might decorate the top, but as I don’t have that in the stash for now I’m calling it done.

The front and side:

 

 

And side-front and back:

 

Corset patterning

I’ve started a new corset, 1880’s this time. My goal for this one was two-fold, firstly to try to pattern it on top of a padded bra to give a little more curve. Corsets tend to flatten me a bit up top, and while fashionable in some periods, the 1880’s were all about the hourglass. The second goal was to take a little more time patterning to get it just right.

I haven’t even cut the coutil I’ll be using yet, but that first step of patterning is done. I thought it might be interesting to see the process of slowly adapting the pattern to fit.

I should also give a shout-out to the corset making community of ‘Foundations Revealed’, a online magazine/coaching subscription website including facebook group, where I got some great feedback on my progress.

I started with the 1880’s pattern from Corsets & Crinolines by Nora Waugh.

1880 waugh

 

I didn’t have a scanner, so I eyeballed the pattern onto gridded mm paper until I had the height and waist measurement about right, and the pattern pieces had the same proportions as in the book. I then copied the pattern to full size cm paper and started from there.

The black lines were the pattern as roughly copied from the book. I measured it and found it small, so the red lines are the added width for the first mock-up.

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When fitting, I found I shouldn’t have added the extra space, the corset was too big. So the second mock-up went back to the black lines. Additionally, I found that the corset was too short on me. So I lengthened the pattern by adding a couple of cm above the waist line. This picture shows that pattern, laid out on top of the original.

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This one was much better, starting to fit. It was still short, so I added some more length to the pattern. I also added a little room to the hips on the side, and took some away from the bust and center front bottom curve, as those were too big.

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This was the first one I made a mock-up off in sturdy fabric, including busk and lacing, but no boning yet. The overall fit wasn’t bad, but the busk was tilting quite badly. I’ve had this happen on previous corsets, and thought it might just be me not lacing it straight, but it was too extreme to be a coincidence.  I also didn’t really like the inverted ‘c’ shape the third panel was making over the hip.

Mockup1

 

I suspected the tilting was because I wasn’t symmetrical, so to test this I took a picture of myself, standing solidly on 2 feet. I then traced my outlines on both sides, and then copied the lines to overlap on the other side. As you can see quite clearly, one hip is both a little higher and wider than the other. The things you learn about yourself when sewing…

Bodyshape

 

So, for the next mock-up I made a left and right version. Basically, I added some hip space for the right-hand version. I also transferred some hip room from panel 3 to 4 to make the pattern shape a bit nicer, and I added 1cm at the top. I’d added that in the previous mock-up and it was still a bit low, so I figured 1cm extra room at least would be good.

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This next mock-up I also boned, which makes quite a difference. Also: the hip fixes worked, as it wasn’t tilting anymore, yay! The whole corset was still a bit low at the top though, and I still had too much room center front bottom.

Mockup2.jpg

 

I added even more space up top, and took away a bit of the bottom. I also took away more of the curve on the bottom of panel 2.

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The final mock-up was really close. The height is finally good here, and it’s curving quite nicely. It was a slightly sturdier fabric than the previous one, and I noticed that made it a little tight in the hips.

Mockup3.jpg

 

So the only things I changed for the last draft was to add a little more hip room, mostly on panel 5 as that didn’t have much flare yet. In this picture you can see the final pattern, laying on top of the one I started with!

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The main changes were that I added some length above the waist, and above the original bustline, lengthening the corset quite extensively. I took away some bust and tummy space, and added space for my hips. Finally, I made a left and right hand version to accommodate my own asymmetry.

Now it’s time to cut the coutil, and start planning the boning channels and cording. It’ll be a single layer black coutil corset with red external channels.

 

Inspiration – Outfit break-down

I’ll be trying a new idea in this post. As anyone following this blog might’ve noticed, I have a tendency to think about and plan sewing projects a bit faster than I actually sew. That’s probably because you can dream and plan on the train, or at work in breaks, but you can only sew at home. As I work full time and am away a couple of evenings per week and travel quite a bit, I don’t get around to actually doing as much sewing as I might like sometimes. But I also know that reading about actual sewing, and seeing work in progress is the best part of reading a blog like this (at least, that’s my personal experience with other blogs). So I’m trying something new, which is a little closer to actual sewing than a pure inspiration post, but doesn’t require me to do the sewing.

With this concept, I’ll be taking 1 outfit from a painting, fashion plate, or an extent ensemble. I’ll try to analyse what’s going on, and how one would go about recreating it. From fabric, to possible techniques and patterns. I might do more in the future! And I hope that if you’re the type to look at images and dream about recreating them (like I am), this might give some insights on where to start!

 

So, for this outfit break-down, I’m going to start with one of my personal all-time favourites. This bustle-dress from ca. 1880, owned by the Met.

I loved this dress as soon as I saw it. I especially adore the gold fabric, and the neckline treatment.

So, let’s say I’ll ever get around to making it, where to start?

Well, first it’s always a good idea to see if there’s more images of a dress. For a fashion plate or painting we usually only have one view, but with an actual dress there might be pictures of the sides and back!

Luckily for us, the Met usually has their collection photographed from different angles. So we also get a shot from one of the sides and the back. Unfortunately, they only photographed one side, which for most eras would be enough, but this dress is clearly a-symmetrical, so the other side remains a bit of a mystery.

 

So, where to start? Well, fabric is a good first step. What is this dress made of? In this case, we can just check the museum website. Most museums specify the materials an object is made of, which in case of garments is usually the fiber content. For this dress, it reads ‘silk’, so we can safely assume that at least the outside (visible) fabric is silk.

So, what type? Silk exists in many different versions, usually named for the way the raw silk is processed, the way it is weaved or the weight. You can determine the type of silk in several different ways. Most practical in this situation, you might be able to distinguish types visually. Not all silks reflect light the same way, or have the same visible weave. Another good way to start is to first determine what fabrics were used in the period. I won’t go into too much detail here, but Izabela from Prior Attire has a very complete post on what fabrics were used when here.

In historical uses, most silk used in dresses is taffeta, followed by satin, brocade, damask and velvet. Taffeta refers to a pretty stiff silk with a smooth finish. Satin is much drapier than taffeta, and usually has a bit more shine to it. Brocade and damask are patterned fabric, and the term refers to the manner in which the pattern is created. (This post by the Dreamstress is a great post on the terminology) Velvet is created with a pile, which is the softness you feel when touching it. Be aware that these terms refer to the process of making the fabric (or the weave), and are also sometimes used on other materials than silk. Taffeta can also refer to rayon fabric, and satin to polyester. And velvet can be made out of cotton or polyester as well. So a historical taffeta or velvet might not look the same as a modern one!

So how do you see which is which? Velvet can usually be identified by the way it catches the light. I’m personally not familiar enough with them to distinguish brocade and damask, but you can see what they are if there’s a pattern woven in the fabric (so not printed or painted or embroidered on!). To distinguish between taffeta and satin, look at the stiffness and the shinyness. Satin is much shinier, and very drapy. Taffeta could be so stiff it would stand on it’s own.

So, back to the dress. My best guess is that the purple fabric is a taffeta (very sure), and the gold a brocade (a little less sure). (When in doubt, zoom in! Not all websites upload in high resolution, but the Met museum does, as well as the Dutch Rijksmuseum).

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Now, if recreating this dress, you might also go for other fabrics or combinations. I usually decide based on 1. How accurate do I want it to be, 2. How much time am I willing to spend finding the fabric and 3. How much am I willing to spend. Silk is expensive, and that also means I usually can’t find it anywhere. We don’t have so many fabric stores around, and the markets usually cater to the more budget-aware. And there are many good quality polyester fabrics out there, so not a lot of people are using real silk anymore. I usually try to find something which feels accurate, with the right drape and shinyness. If I can find a true silk or wool that’s great, if not I’ll go with what I can source. (because ordering from China online for a lot of money is just scary!).

For the rest of the dress, we’ll need a little more materials. The lining of the fabric will probably be in cotton. The bodice will have boning (usually baleen or steel), and there looks to be lace underneath the train. Then we can see that the front closes with covered buttons. And, if we again zoom in, a row of pearls next to the neckline and cuffs, and the keyhole closes with a hook and eye.

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So now we have an idea of what we need for the dress! Now how do we get it to look like in the picture? The first step would be to ensure the proper underwear. In this case we’re talking about the 1880s and there would be a shift, drawers, corset, bustle case and petticoat. There might also be a corset-cover, and maybe a second petticoat. I’ll not go into this as much here, but a dress like this will never look right without the proper underwear, its absolutely a vital part of the outfit!

So, assuming we already have all the correct underwear, how to make a dress like this? It’s time to start looking at the possible patterning. A good first start is to look at available historical patterns to see if there’s anything which matches. A next step would be to modify existing patterns, or look for historical patterns which need to be drafted to fit. A final possibility is drafting the pattern yourself, but that will take more experience to get right.

For this dress, a great place to start are the Truly Victorian patterns. They’re one of the main pattern companies for Victorian historical patterns, and I’ve had a very good experience with them. What’s more, they have some patterns which suit this dress perfectly!

To break it down again, there’s patterns needed for the bodice/train, the overskirt and the underskirt.

You can see in the pictures that the bodice and skirt are connected. I’ve never seen a pattern for this, but Truly Victorian does have a pattern for a bodice with this exact neckline treatment, and another train pattern which looks very similar.

TV462 is the bodice pattern:

 

And TV361 the train:

 

So, what about the skirts?

This is where it gets a bit trickier, as there’s no patterns for this exact shape. A good starting point for the under-skirt would be TV261-R, which is a base-underskirt.

The bottom of the trim can be made with box pleats. The middle seems like wide box pleats with a big of baggyness at the bottom, and the top is yet another type of trim.

For the over-skirt, both TV368 and TV365 could be used as a base, if made a little shorter.

I hope this post was able to inspire! For anyone interested in this dress, I’d invite you to take a look at Fashion through History’s version, her posts are here and here.

Inspiration – Blue bustle gowns

I’m busy working on my regency dress, and it’s actually starting to look like something! No pictures yet though, but working with the lovely blue fabric is amazing. It’s such a lovely shade, and it catches the light in a very sublte way which makes it change color, it made me think of the color of the sea. A bit blue, a bit gray and a hint of green somewhere.

So as I don’t have any pictures yet, I was inspired to do a post on blue dresses. And because there’s so many amazing blue bustle gowns, a focus on the 1880’s.

Some deep-blue dresses from the period:

Metmuseum

William Benton Museum of Art

 

Metmuseum

Metmuseum

 

And some blue/white seaside dresses in fashion plates:

 

And one extant example:

Metmuseum