I must first explain that due to some unbelievably bad timing, as soon as I pulled in the parking lot on Tursday evening, I discovered I had gotten my monthly bill, fallen off the roof, or had a visit from Aunt Martha – however you want to put it. I have never had this experience while dressed in period clothes thankfully, and I hope never to again!
Really, I am too old for this shit.
Friday night was OK since we were only dressed for a few hours. Saturday? Not so much.
I arrived back in my room Saturday afternoon to take care of business. I found doing that – while wearing a corset and cage crinoline, plus 2 starched petticoats, drawers, and a dress – to be pretty near impossible. I also discovered that my cage, being a good many years old, had gotten rough around the edges a few places. While engaged in aforementioned battle, I scraped the back of my hand on a sharp piece of metal in my cage and ended up with a nice gash right below my thumb. I will spare you pictures of this.
So there I am, thankfully in my room, trapped on the can and bleeding out of both ends like a stuck pig! I couldn’t get up or try to get undressed without bleeding seeming endless yards of fabric, so I had no choice but to sit there and apply pressure to the cut with toilet paper. It took 30 minutes, more or less, for the cut to finally stop bleeding. At which point I started carefully removing garments, still having to stop every few minutes and re-apply pressure as the cut would start bleeding again if I got too vigorous with the undressing.
This took yet another half hour. By then I was back in normal underwear and had washed off blood from the hem of my dress which got dripped on while I was getting my maimed hand out from under my skirt. Really I was surprised it wasn’t worse! I called my husband . I was ready at that point to chuck everything in the car and just go the hell home.
Fortunately he talked me out of it and suggested I take a nap instead. Which I did, and by then the cut was more stable and I was able to get dressed for the ball that evening, albeit slowly ,and make my way to the front desk where I got a band aid to ensure that I didn’t bleed on Grandma Anderson’s last pair of clean white kid gloves.
I missed dinner but that turned out to be no problem since there was plenty of food and drink at the ball. Turns out it was one of the nicest balls I have been too in a long time! It had everything you could want:
Caller who could be heard clearly
Logical order to dances so that you are learning new steps gradually
Enough people mixed in who know what they are doing so that as soon as someone gets that WTF look, intervention occurs.
I am very glad I didn’t give in to PTSD and leave early.
Phew that took a long time! The worst part of making stays? Binding. Ugh took forever! But they are finally done and photographed. Photographing them was almost as much work as making them. The photos were taken in two different sessions with helpers and with a selfie stick, so the hair and chemise change sometimes. I learned a lot about how to do (mediocre) photo shoots though! But here it is – a comparison between four different 18th century stays patterns.
I am a modern size 14/16 so this gives a good idea how these patterns will look on the average lady of today. Compared to the standard measurements of these patterns, I am slightly longer waisted between waist and bust, and slightly shorter waisted from bust to hip (details like that matter when making corsets). My waist is wider than the assumed waist on the patterns because I am apple shaped, so I sized the pattern using bust size. I am reduced three inches which is about the maximum for most 18th century stays. They are not really designed for tight lacing.
High Level Comparisons
Stays: Larkin & Smith, Reconstruction History Front & Back Lacing, Reconstructing History 1790’s, JP Ryan Diderot Stays
Contestant # 1 Larkin & Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays
I have worn these to several events and they are VERY comfortable! Great for most of the 18th century, these will get you through both the French & Indian and Rev war (unless you are going super high style, then use the Contestant #4 JP Ryan stays). These are easy to get on and off and give me a nice (as can be expected) figure. The inner layers are cotton canvas and the outer covering is red silk; construction notes can be found here. This pair is boned with synthetic whalebone, which is very light weight and thin. It was also very easy to work with. I highly recommend this pattern if this is your first pair of stays or if you only plan to make one pair. The pattern is worth its weight in gold just for the amazing instructions! Once you go through them, you can use the method on any pair of stays, including diagrams from costume books. They are easy to fit, and stays without shoulder straps are easier to move around in. Front lacing makes it so much easier to put them on and take them off by yourself. Most of us don’t have ladies maids so this is an important consideration. Here is how they turned out:
Contestant # 2 Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays
This pair of stays is longer than the others, and is boned with reed. The reed is thicker than the synthetic whalebone, but interestingly my waist measurement ends up exactly the same in this one as the Larkin & Smith stays above. Go figure! The bust is two inches smaller as it is a much more long, narrow stay. Perfect for the first quarter of the 18th century, and surprisingly comfortable! I was not sure about the reed but it worked out quite well. My only recommendation is to use steel bones on either sides of the eyelets both front and back. I did use them in the back, but not in the front. I could hear them complaining as I laced it up and I had to be careful to tighten it gradually or the reed would have snapped. The inside layers are cotton canvas and the outer fabric is blue silk brocade. Construction notes are here. This pattern has great bang for your buck as you get four different stay designs, including the rare 1790’s stay (Contestant #3 below). Drum roll please ….
Contestant # 3 Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays
These are one of the two pairs of half boned stays, and for half boned stays I use spring steel boning. The unique thing about these stays is the very wide front. This is to help create the wide pooched out front bodices of the 1790’s. They are also much shorter than the other three pair, so they are not as flattering by themselves. However I do believe they will create the perfect silhouette for the 1790’s, which is not about looking thin! They are lined with cotton canvas and the other covering is white silk taffeta. As I plan to wear them under a chemise a la reine I wanted to stick with white that will not show through the thin fabric of the dress. I cheated and used metal eyelets with cross lacing on these, because I was afraid they would be hard to lace up on me otherwise. I also discovered that it does much better if I leave off the bottom three eyelets. I cannot remember if I copied the eyelet placement from the pattern, but most likely not. You really only need the eyelets to go down a couple of inches below the waist, and the ends – which are really tabs – know what to do. Construction notes are here. Without further ado ….
Contestant # 4 JP Ryan Half Boned Diderot Stays
This pair of stays is also half boned, and therefore boned with spring steel. It has cotton canvas as the lining and green silk taffeta for the cover. Interestingly this pattern has slightly different pieces for the outer layer, but they do fit together correctly. I love the shape of these stays! One of the differences between stays in the earlier part of the 18th century vs. stays from the latter quarter is the shape of the front. Earlier stays have a conical front, that is a straight line from the waist to the top of the bust (tends to curve out a bit at the bottom on me, due to fat gut). Starting around 1780, the stays began to curve outward from the waist to the bust. This is most extreme in the example above but this pair is also cut that way, and is perfect for the 1780’s and into the 1790’s (before waistlines started to rise). They are very comfortable, but somewhat challenging to get on and off by yourself, but it can be done. I love how long and slimming they are! They are good at what they do – I feel like I am wearing a lard tutu as it squashes all that fat downwards with great efficiency. Don’t need as big a bum roll! I had some fun with this one and the new selfie stick. Pardon the side shot glasses – I just could not get a decent side view without being able to see. Construction notes are here. Last one!
Getting a nice looking en fourreau back is one of the most noticeable struggles when sewing an 18th century gown. Like it or not, you will be judged on the back! For most of the 18th century, the robe a l’anglaise, English gown, or English nightgown was cut with a one piece back. The back is then pleated onto the lining, usually in 4 pleats that taper in towards the waistline. These pleats must be hand tacked to the lining before the sides of the gown are sewn.
I recently made up two test dresses to fit two different patterns that are on the market right now. The first is Larkin & Smith English Gown:
I have to say this pattern has THE BEST instructions I have ever seen in a pattern, historical or otherwise. It is like getting a workshop in a pattern!
The other pattern is Reconstructing History’s Open Robe Anglais pattern:
This pattern has some unique features that are not available in other 18th century costume patterns, such as the robings and bottom center fronts that nearly meet. This is PERFECT for early 18th century – 1740’s (think Outlander) and I don’t think there is any other pattern out there that has these features. The sleeves are also very wide, suitable for early 18th century. If you want to make a gown for 1750’s or 1760’s (or later) use a sleeve from a different pattern – I used JP Ryan’s English Nightgown as I already have that pattern fit to myself. Interestingly, the pleating template for this gown’s back is more suitable for 1770’s-1780’s and I will explain why in a moment, just stick with me here. It is hard to make one pattern to cover every little style change over the course of 80 years, so you have to know the style changes and know what time period you want to recreate, and mix and match patterns accordingly.
The pleating pattern from Larkin & Smith is spot on for mid 18th century.
My research in online images from museum costume collections (The Met Museum and Victoria & Albert primarily) and the opinions of many other experienced 18th century seamstresses is this: the width of the pleats for both the robe a l’anglaise / English Gown and robe a la francaise (Sacque Gown) became more narrow as the century progressed. This includes both the pleats in the back – en fourreau back and watteau pleats – and the pleats in the skirts. That said, the size of the skirt pleats is wider depending on how heavy the fabric is. Wool or heavy brocade is around an inch while chintz gowns are more like 3/4 inch and then thin silk taffeta gowns of the later 18th century can be as small as 1/4 inch. However, the fabrics also tended to get lighter as the century wore on, although much older fabric was also remade to update the look. So this trend isn’t 100% – it is just a guideline. Here are some illustrations:
And here is a comparison for the English Gowns:
By the 1780’s some gowns were being made with separate gowns and skirts, often with a deep V in the center back. It is not easy to tell from a full length photo if the gown has very tiny pleats that face the CB, as the yellow example above has, or if the skirt and gown are separate pieces entirely:
Having done the research, on to the sewing!
The Red Dress was inspired by this:
I just lucked into some dark red print cotton while shopping on Etsy one day, and decided to make this. The original is a wool/silk blend, but my dress is cotton. I used the Reconstructing History pattern for this because it has both the narrow center front and the one piece front – the shoulder strap is cut out with the front, and it only has one seam where it joins the back. There is less margin for fitting this way but I found it was pretty easy to fit just tweeking the back seams. I did not have enough fabric to make a petticoat, so the petticoat and stomacher are made from cream colored cotton matelasse.
For the second dress I used a dark purple fabric with a small woven stripe in it – it is a cotton / linen blend. In 18th century terms this fabric was known as fustian. I did have enough fabric for a petticoat front (the back being made from a similar colored linen) but I wore it first with a stomacher and petticoat made from linen embroidered with a pattern that imitates tambour embroidery.
The Larkin & Smith pattern instructions tell you to use pins to mark the pleats, and then remove the template without moving the pins, but I have used tailor’s chalk for marking these pleats for years without any problems. Just to be on the safe side, I put the line just slightly on the underside of the pleat, and overlap the second line enough to hide the chalk, if there is any left by the time I am done handling it. Use whichever method works best for you.
So the first thing I did was sew the center back seams per the pattern instructions, and then lay the pleating template from each on top, and marked the pleats. Then using my fingers, I finger press the fold line for each pleat.
Once the pleats are all pinned in, it is time to fit to the back lining. You want to sew the back lining together at the center back, but not at the side seams or the shoulder strap. Line them up with the center backs together. It helps to stick a pin up inside the seams to match them perfectly, then pin in place.
Once they are pinned the next step is to “stitch in the ditch”, meaning sew the back and lining together through the center back seams. Sewing it this way will make the seam invisible. Do this before beginning to stitch the pleats down, or you risk having the lining shift on you.
Now we are ready for the real fun, sewing the pleats down! First smooth the lining down and pin it through both layers in a few places to prevent shifting. You can use a running stitch to secure the pleats, but I prefer to use a narrow prick stitch. I find it is nearly invisible if done carefully enough. If you are really accurate and not as worried about authenticity, you can machine top stitch the pleats down 1/16 of an inch from the edge. But I don’t recommend it. Stop stitching just below the waistline. This is indicated on the pattern(s).
To do the prick stitch, come up through from the back so you are just barely catching the edge of the pleat, and then go down just over the edge of the pleat:
Move down 1/8 of an inch, rinse, lather, and repeat. I do not tie off between each stitch. When the pleats are sewn down, they look like this on the inside:
Next, trim the fabric along the top and sides so the match the lining. Cut a slightly upward sloping line for top of the skirt panel. Bigger side hoops or pads = more drastic upward slope. The length of the sides of your two skirt panels should match the length of the side back skirt panels. Your pocket slits will be in these seams.
Note: Only cut about 1/2 inch in along the bottom of each side of the lining. This will allow you to sew the side seams. Once the side seams are sewn, sew the skirt fronts to the skirt backs and put in the pocket slits. At that point, it is safe to trim the rest of the bottom lining, to just slightly under the back pleat on each side. Now you are ready to pleat the skirt and attach to the bodice!
Note 2: If I had this to do over, I would make the back of the red lining shorter below the waistline. This deep V would look great with a separate skirt and bodice, but the extreme slope of the back skirt top edge that resulted from this made it REALLY difficult to pleat nicely to the bodice. Note for next time!
I will try to get better photos of the completed dresses next time, but here are two photos of the completed gowns:
I also did a mock up of these stays, as they needed a bit of tweeking to fit me. I made them longer overall, and I had to do some fiddling to get the tabs somewhat even especially using the front lacing option. There are fewer pieces than the Larkin & Smith stays and none of them have curved 3D boning channels. That said, I assembled them exactly the same as the previous post.
For these stays I will be using reed boning. It is shown below on the right in comparison to a piece of synthetic whalebone:
The boning is a little thicker than the synthetic whalebone and a little harder to slide into the boning channels. It does look interesting as it is rounder and has more texture. It will be interesting to see how it wears in comparison to the synthetic whalebone.
The difference in construction comes at the assembly stage. Sewing all of the pieces together using a hand whip stitch is a PITA! So for this pair, I decided to try it using the machine. So I lined up the pieces, front sides together, but instead of whip stitching I used a 3.5mm machine zig zag stitch – I like how this turned out! It is much more even than the hand whip stitch so it will be easier to cover with trim.
Binding is also somewhat simplified, at least for the top of the stays and stomacher – using the cane instead of the reed. The reed can be sewn through, using a strong enough needle and going very slowly:
Let then hand sewing commence! At this posting, the stomacher and top binding is done. Binding the bottom, with all the tabs, takes forever but I will do my best to finish this while it is still 2016 and conclude the Battle of the Stays!
As many costumers will tell you, looking at original garments is the best form of learning and inspiration there is. While studying 18th century gowns I found this really interesting example of an 18th century petticoat with adjustable sides. This will allow the petticoat to be worn with different sized hooped petticoats, side hoops, hip pads, or bum roll. Given than petticoats often due double duty with several different outfits, this is a really great feature. So I decided to figure out how to replicate this. Here is the original gown:
Bless whomever took these photos, they included a closeup of the construction details of the petticoat!
There are quite a few take aways from this photo:
They used blue linen for the upper part of the back panel – a great thing to do to save expensive fabric. This will not work for a later century dress worn retroussee (looped up in back) but it is a wonderful hack for gowns mid century or earlier.
The pocket slits are finished with a running stitch.
The waistband is narrow and fastens on the side with a hook and eye. Hooks and eyes were around in the 18th century (and indeed much earlier) but they are not the first thing we think of for 18th century petticoat closures. Most of us are accustomed to having them tie in the front and back. With 18th century originals one must always keep in mind that the Victorians loved to alter these garments and recycle them for fancy dress occasions, but blowing this up very large it doesn’t appear to me that the waistband has been altered. It looks like the back is made from the same linen as the back panel, and the front is made from the same silk that was used to trim the gown. It is likely there is an identical fastening on the other side, but we don’t know for sure from the picture.
The skirt in the front and back is sewn into the waistband, but the sides are narrow hemmed and have a drawstring. The change happens approximately where the skirt support meets the hip.
The drawstrings emerge from either side of the pocket slit.
After putting the petticoat on, the sides can be drawn in or let out to make them hem horizontal.
I planned two petticoats to be worn with several different mid century and later gowns, so they will be my guinea pigs in working out the details of this waist treatment. One is embroidered linen that looks like tambour, and the other is cotton matelasse. Cotton matelasse is a woven fabric with texture that is a pretty good fake for quilted fabric, so many of us use it to make “faux” quilted petticoats. I used the Charleston Oyster colorway, the maker is Pindler & Pindler, from The Online Fabric Store:
This type of fabric is also available from big box stores like Jo Ann Fabrics, but the patters are less elaborate and they tend to have some synthetic content. But I have used them before with perfectly acceptable results. The Pindler & Pindler is 100% cotton but is more expensive than Jo Ann’s.
You really don’t need a pattern to make a petticoat! The main measurement you need is how long you want the petticoat to be in front, which will of course depend on how tall you are (with shoes) and how long you want it to be. 18th Century petticoats can be anywhere from ankle length to mid calf. Work and everyday petticoats would be shorter than formal gown petticoats. To this measurement add the hem at the bottom (I used a 1 1/2″ hem) and 1/2″ seam allowance at the top, AND extra length for the sides and backs. I have found that 3″ is enough to accommodate the underpinnings I wear. So that is 35″ (my finished front length) plus 1.5″ hem plus .5″ seam allowance plus 3″ for the back is 40″. Unless the fabric is really narrow (less than 45″) I use 2 lengths of fabric, so I cut 2 panels of fabric 40″ long.
Next, fold the front panel in half and scoop out 3″ from the center front TOP, tapering to nothing at the sides. This keeps the pattern of the fabric straight along the hem.
Next, sew the two sides seams leaving about 8″ for the pocket slits on each side, and hem the bottom of the skirt. Now you have a big tube, all ready for pleating. Pleat the center front and center back to the approximate point where your skirt widening device (bum roll, hip pad, etc) meets your leg:
Now sew the pleats down using the 1/2″ seam allowance:
Here is the linen petticoat with the pleats sewn down:
And the rest of the cat ….
Then I made a cut 1/2″ in right next to the pleated section. This will allow me to turn down the seam allowance and make a casing for the drawstrings on the sides:
Next, fold the seam allowance for the side casings down and sew to create the casing for the drawstrings. Since my fabric is very thick, I zig-zagged the raw edges and just turned it down once. If your fabric is medium or light thickness you can turn down 1/4″ twice to make a neater casing.
Next I threaded some narrow 1/4″ grosgrain ribbon through each casing and stitched it down firmly where the casing ends and the waistband begins.
Since I am using a 3/4″ linen tape for the wasitband, I trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/4″.
Time to apply the waistband! If you are not using a finished tape, sew the waistband on normally. Since I am using the tape, I sewed the tape to the back side first, then the front, so that errant seam lines would not show on the front. This can also be applied by hand for a truly authentic finish.
I did not put a hook and eye on both sides, so the right side just has the waistband sewn in half where the casing begins.
On the left side, I turned the ends of the casing in 1/4″ and sewed them together:
Completed left side fastening of waistband.
Finally, I sewed a hook and eye on the left side. Gathering up and tying the side casings, it looks like the original!
For this pair of stays I did do a mockup – the style is very different from stays I have made in the past. I just did a single layer of cotton drill (canvas) with the front panel sewn in and lacing tape sewn to the back. The fit was overall pretty good.
The basic construction of these is as follows. For each piece, you trace it onto the fabric and cut AROUND the piece, leaving about an inch extra on all sides. Both the left and right sides are provided – even though they are mirror images – but this actually does help keep things straight. You need 2 layers of interlining fabric for each piece (that would be 4 layers if cutting without the left/right pieces) and one covering of fashion fabric for each piece (2 if cutting without left/right pieces). I cut them out 2 layers at a time, tracing onto the top layer only. Then you sew the boning channels, trim the interlining fabric, insert the bones, and press the cover fabric to the back. Tack the excess fabric down and the pieces are ready to be whip stitched together.
Here we go through all the steps on the first piece, the stomacher. The 2 layers of interlining and cover fabric have been roughly cut out – you can see the line that is the edge of the piece in the photo below. To determine where to sew the boning channels, I measured and drew a light pencil line down the very center on the back side. Since the boning channels will show on this pair of stays, I am using red thread but sewing from the back side of the interlining. It really helps to have a sewing machine where the bobbin and top side stitches both look equally nice when doing this!
In my stash of sewing machine feet I have an edge stitch foot that is exactly 3/8 inch from the center needle position. This is the perfect size for 1/4 inch boning. Still, always do a test channel on scrap fabric to make sure first. As you can see above, the edge of the foot runs along the previous channel. Fill the entire piece with boning channels. Now it is ready for boning:
For this pair of stays I used a new product, synthetic whalebone. It is plastic boning created to imitate the whalebone used in original stays, and is available from Larkin and Smith. It can be cut with a pair of wire cutters – it is a bit stiff for scissors. I like that it is about as flat as a piece of metal boning, so it will not add much to your waist circumference. Here is a picture of a piece of the synthetic whalebone and a piece of cane boning:
When all of the channels are boned, trim the interlining back to the cut lines.
After boning has been cut and inserted into all full width boning channels, the extra cover fabric is pressed to the inside, and then tacked down.
Cover fabric pressed to the back.
The same basic steps apply to the other pieces, with two unique differences. Both the side front and back pieces will have eyelets, so for these pieces, be sure to leave enough cover fabric to press inside over the entire eyelet area. The lining should not extend into the eyelets.
I saved the first boning channel to be sewn after this strip of fabric was pressed to the inside. This helps hold the first bone in place. The edges of this piece will be hidden under the lining, which will come up to the line where the eyelets begin.
The other odd piece is the side back, which appears to be curved. What happens is when you insert straight boning into this piece, it causes the piece to flair out nicely over the hips. It was a little tricky to map out these boning channels. Here is how I did it, so that it looks like the illustration in the booklet.
Measure the center of the piece, and draw a light pencil line 3/16 inch on either side – so that the boning channel is running down the very center:
Next I measured how many 3/8 inch channels will fit along the narrow top of the piece, and marked the far edge boning lines to be sewn. These channels need to be curved, so marking this first curved seam line is important to getting the others sewn in:
Then I started sewing 3/8 channels along that curved line using my sewing machine foot as a guide.
All that remains is to sew straight channels from the bottom up to fill in the spaces on the bottom between the straight channel and the curved channels.
Metal eyelets did not appear until the second quarter of the 19th century – before that, eyelets were hand sewn with thread. Here is a great tutorial on making hand sewn thread eyelets.
However if you are like me, you are always looking for ways to use technology to make this easier and faster. I discovered this great accessory for my sewing machine that allows me to make thread eyelets. This product is for Husqvarna Viking but I would be surprised if similar accessories are not available for other sewing machine companies, especially more expensive brands like Babylock, Pfaff, etc.
Here is the eyelet plate installed on my Husqvarna Designer Diamond. It comes in 4mm and 6 mm sizes – I find the 4mm to be the best size for corset eyelets. When using the eyelet plate, the feed dogs must be lowered in the machine’s settings.
In a nutshell, you are going to set the machine to a basic zig zag stitch and then rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate as you sew. The width of the zig zag stitch can vary depending on how thick the fabric is. I always do a test eyelet on scrap fabric from the project first, but usually the stitch width is between 4 and 4.5mm.
First, mark the placements of your eyelets. This can be done with a regular ruler, or with an expanding ruler (one of my favorite tools):
For the examples I am using green thread on white fabric to make it easier to see, but in practice you would use thread to match the fabric.
Next, using an awl, work a hole in the fabric for the eyelet, just big enough to fit around the eyelet plate:
Now begin sewing – slowly! I usually go around the hole quickly as a first pass, and then go around a second time more slowly to fill in. But in this example I just began sewing so that it is easier to see how the thread is sewn around the eyelet hole:
Here are the front and back appearances of the eyelet:
After some deliberation I decided to cover this pair in green silk taffeta. I have enough for a matching petticoat which could be used as a colored undergarment set for a chemise a la reine, or be worn together over a nice chemise during the summer, or be worn as undergarments for gowns and jackets. I plan to embroider the hem of the petticoat with my embroidery machine, but that is a project for another time!
Now, on to the stays.
This pattern is interesting in that that front panel has 2 pieces for the cover and 1 piece for the lining. Here are all the pattern pieces for the main layer of the stays:
And here are the front pieces – the 2 pieces for the main fabric and the 1 piece for the lining:
After doing some measurements and checking some of the individual pieces I did not do a full mock up on these. Keep in mind that I have made many pairs of 18th century stays for myself over the years – if you do not have this much experience it is always better to do a full mock up.
This seems odd at first but actually they go together quite nicely. The 2 main pieces are stitched together and then are laid on top of the lining piece, and from then on they are treated as one piece. I cut the front cover using the lining piece to avoid extra seam lines. The other pieces I assembled and boned, then add the cover:
Since many of these boning channels are curved, I used spiral steel boning for them even though it is not historically correct. For the straight channels I used regular steel boning. I am not sure how well the synthetic whalebone will work for half boned stays.
Here is the assembled front with the first side pieces sewn on:
I put the eyelets in the back piece after attaching the cover but before assembly, using my eyelet plate. I wanted the look of handmade thread eyelets without the time it takes to hand sew them. See post Making Thread Eyelets By Machine.
The stays are now ready for binding, which has to be done by hand. They will be bound with bias strips of self fabric.
To get the period look with the fabric pattern cut on the diagonal for the fronts and backs, here is a picture of my favorite way to match patterns. Cut out the first piece, then lay it upside down and match the pattern. Then cut around it to get 2 pieces that are mirror images of each other:
Here is the front sewn together with the matching diagonal pattern:
The pattern piece for the fashion fabric front and back included extra for a gathered “bertha” type look – this fabric was too heavy for that design, and I did not feel like figuring out a pleating pattern. So I cut the bodice the same as the lining. To give it some character I finished the neckline with double piping (which is made the same way as single piping – just sew a second row of piping after the first.
Here is a great trick with piping – use a 1/2 inch metal stay as a guide to cut the piping strip so that it has exactly 1/2 seam allowance, making it easier to apply. You do need a rotary cutter to do this:
Despite buying special piping feet for my machine, I still find it easier to apply piping with a zipper foot:
I cut interlining for the sleeves out of black cotton organdy, which is thin but stiff and should help the sleeves to poof nicely.
When I tried on the bodice I found one alteration – the sides of the neckline were sticking up a bit, so I took in the shoulder seams 1/2 inch on the outside edge. The other issue I ran into was the sleeves, which I fully admit was my fault! I did not measure the circumference of the narrow part of the sleeve to make sure it would fit my tree trunk arms. When I tried it on I could not get them to close. But it was close, so I will explain how I unfucked the sleeves.
There was length to spare, so I trimmed 1 1/2 inches off the bottom of each sleeve eliminating 1 1/2 inches of not-fitting sleeve.
I reduce the seam allowances to 1/4 inch for the lower part of the sleeve, gradually easing back to the normal 1/2 inch where the full part of the sleeve is. This added 1/2 inch to the circumference and it just barely fit.
So to prevent gap-osis, I added a placket. The top side of the sleeve opening is finished with the piping in the sleeve seam:
The under side of the opening would normally be turned under and hemmed. But there was only 1/4 inch seam allowance there now. So I cut a piece of fabric the length of the sleeve opening by about 2 inches, folded it in half, and sewed it to the right side of the other sleeve opening, using 1/4 inch seam allowance:
The placket is then pressed flat outwards, so that the piping side of the sleeve opening covers it:
When closed, you cannot see the placket but it is there, anchoring things and preventing gaps:
Then I finished the bottoms of the sleeves with piping. 1830’s is all about piping. I piped the sleeve seams, the waistline, the neckline, and the armscye seams. The bodice closes with hooks and eyes in the back.
The skirt was easy – just cut 2 panels long enough for the hem plus 1/2 seam allowance at the top. The pattern also had a cutting guide for the top of the front skirt panel, to scoop it out and make the skirt slightly shorter in front. I find skirts always look better that way, so I took advantage of the template. I pleated the waist (using Clinton Pleat Maker) and sewed the skirt directly to the bodice, with piping in the seam, per the pattern instructions.
Here are some photos of the finished dress at our event, Christmas At the Village (Old Economy Village) on Dec 12, 2015. I wore the lace pelerine with it and a large black velvet Romantic era bonnet that I made last year. The weather was beautiful – it was almost too hot outside for the muff! Thank you to Janet for the photos!
Fabric has arrived! Now I can take a larger photo of it, to give a better idea of what it really looks like. This is oriented vertically to show what the pattern will look like once made up into the skirt:
Last night I began the struggle of deciding the details. Really the first part boils down to two decisions:
Decision #1: Which pattern to use. I have two patterns:
The Period Impressions pattern is more of the look I am going for, but the Truly Victorian patterns are much more professionally drafted and take less time to fit. I did a quick and dirty mockup of the Period Impressions pattern and the fit was quite off – the arm holes were waaaay too big and the neckline bunched up when the back was pinned closed. It would take time and possibly 2 additional mockups to fit it, so I decided to use the Truly Victorian pattern and alter it to look more like the Period Impressions. I will also make the pelerine from the Period Impressions pattern, but at a later date since I am pressed for time. For the first wearing I plan to wear a lace pelerine.
The primary issue with the Truly Victorian pattern is the waistline. The pattern has two possible waistlines – either at the natural waist or a pointed V. My understanding has always been that 1830’s dresses were slightly above the natural waistline. After looking at a lot of originals on Pinterest I came to the conclusion that the higher waistline is the early part of the decade – like 1830 – 1832, and after that the waistlines dropped to the natural waist as drafted in the pattern. Since my other two 1830’s dresses have high waistlines I think I will do this one with a more natural waistline. I want to wear a solid color dark belt with it to visually demarcate the place where the waist ends and the sleeves begin. I debated whether or not I should add a waistband, but the end decided to just leave it as a straight piped waistline. I shortened the waist 1/2 inch, and added 1/2 to the neckline in the back and on the sides (the front was fine). That is all I am changing on the pattern.
Decision #2 – Which Corset to Fit Over
If it were not for the fact that we are going English Country Dancing that night, it would be an easy decision. I would fit over a regular Victorian corset since I don’t actually have a waist. A waist is a terrible thing to waste, and I don’t have one without a good fitting corset. On the other hand, my regency corset made recently in Jennifer Rosbrugh’s Regency Corset class is correct for this era and it is so comfortable – it feels like pajamas! But the trade off is it does not provide any waist reduction. This is not an issue wearing Regency and other high waisted styles. I just hesitate to plan this dress in a way that I know I will be unhappy with in the end. So right now I am thinking of a compromise – fit with the Victorian corset laced more loosely than I normally wear it.
When I fitted the mockup I made an odd discovery! On Friday I went to a Civil War event and wore this same corset, a new one I made recently covered in pink silk (I love this corset BTW, and will feature it in an upcoming “battle of the corsets). Since I was expecting some fitting issues with my dress I laced it down as tightly as I dared in a relatively new corset, and still felt like a stuffed sausage in the dress. I barely got it hooked. My waist measured 35”. Fast forward to Sunday, when I put the corset on again and laced it so that it felt stable but not tight. I measured the waist – 34″! The only explanation I can think of is water retention. Maybe I will try taking a mild diuretic the morning before the next event.
On another tangent – as I looked at these gowns I was struck by the similarity in shape to the 1630’s. There are many periods of history where the basic silhouette is the same as another era (Regency/Edwardian, 1780s bustle / 1880s bustle) but I didn’t register this one until I was deep in the design phase of this project:
Left Image: Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum.
Right Image: Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus; Print made by 1640. British Library.