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!
The 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.
The front panel, pinning the darts
Next up was stitching the back and side pieces together and pressing open the seams.
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!
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.
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.