Last Minute 1830’s Dress in Psychedelic Cotton Print – Planning and Mock Up

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:

Reproduction 1830's Cotton Print, "Merchant's Wife" line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics
Reproduction 1830’s Cotton Print, “Merchant’s Wife” line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

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:

Truly Victorian (TV455) 1830's Romantic Era Dress
Truly Victorian (TV455) 1830’s Romantic Era Dress
Period Impressions (440) 1830's Day Dress and Pelerine
Period Impressions (440) 1830’s Day Dress and Pelerine

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:

1830 vs 1630
1830 vs 1630
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.

Last Minute 1830’s Dress in Psychedelic Cotton Print

We are planning an 1830’s Christmas event on Dec 12 for our costume group at Old Economy Village.  Afterwards we are going English Country Dancing!  Several ladies are making new dresses for this, and all the talk about fabrics has sucked me in.  I have two 1830’s dresses and both are over 17 years old.  I think it is time for a new one.

I started by looking over my Pinterest board for 1830’s.  Also I saved a link from Samantha’s blog (Couture Courtesan) with a dress I really like from this period.  It is more late 1820’s, but the basic design idea still applies:

Beautiful reproduction 1820s Dress by Couture Courtesan
Beautiful reproduction 1820s Dress by Couture Courtesan

What I like about this dress – the striped fabric, the bodice cut on the diagonal, and the trim around the bottom of the skirt.  I really like the striped gowns – here are some originals:

Circa 1836 cotton dress, England. Via National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Circa 1836 cotton dress, England. Via National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum
Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum

So what fabric to buy?  Nothing modest or matronly will do, I want to be as loud as the wallpaper in the Rapp House …

Rapp House wallpaper from Adelphi - YES you can have this in your living room too!!!
Rapp House wallpaper from Adelphi – YES you can have this in your living room too!!!

These prints are so ugly they’re beautiful!  While looking for some fabric ideas for a friend, I blew 45 minutes on Sunday looking at Reproduction Fabrics and I found it: the loudest 1830’s print I think I have ever seen:

Reproduction 1830's Cotton Print, "Merchant's Wife" line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics
Reproduction 1830’s Cotton Print, “Merchant’s Wife” line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

I can make up this dress fast as a print that busy doesn’t really need any trim!  I am thinking of wearing a lace pelerine with it, like this:

Wool dress, England 1836 - 1838 at Victoria and Albert Museum
Wool dress, England 1836 – 1838 at Victoria and Albert Museum

This is the one I have – hopefully it will look good:

My lace pelerine
My lace pelerine

For the pattern, I have this great 1830’s pattern from Truly Victorian that I have not used yet:

TV455

Not sure how that pleated bertha collar will work with this fabric – we will have to wait and see!

Battle of the Stays: Contestant #3 Late 18th Century

I started with this pair as I was waiting for both the synthetic whalebone and the JP Ryan stays pattern to arrive in the mail.  This pattern only has 5 pieces total – one front, two sides, two backs.  For 18th century stays that is very minimal.  Only 4 seams!  I decided to leave the seam allowances in and bone each piece before sewing together by machine.  Here is the front with boning channels drawn in, similar to the picture on the pattern envelope:

Front with boning channels drawn in - ready for (annoying) sewing stint.

Front with boning channels drawn in – ready for (annoying) sewing stint.

I have not done horizontal boning channels this way before but I read about it on other blogs, and it worked very well for me.  Instead of adding the horizontal bones in a third layer of fabric, you just don’t sew over the little square areas where the bones overlap.  Then you can insert both the vertical and horizontal bones between the two pieces of fabric.  It does make for a lot of starting and stopping though.  Here is the front with the boning channels sewn.  See all of the loose thread ends from stopping and starting?

Front with boning channels sewn and bones inserted.
Front with boning channels sewn and bones inserted.

No worries – those threads will be hidden by the silk cover, which gets basted on right before assembly.

Now for the sides.  It is very important to make sure there is at least one bone extending into each tab:

Sides

The back has to be done in a different sequence since the center back seam on each side is sewn and turned.  I sandwiched the silk cover between the 2 canvas pieces and seamed them together, turned, and pressed with the silk cover on the outside.  The two center back boning channels with the lacing eyelets between will be sewn through the cover fabric as well.  I flipped the cover up to so the one channel next to the side back seam though.

Backs - inside out to show the side back boning channel.
Backs – inside out to show the side back boning channel.

At this point I basted the silk cover pieces to the sides and front, and then seamed them all together.  I did a quick try on and they do fit!  However I didn’t reinforce the seams before I tried it on, and one seam started to rip, so I didn’t get any pictures.  I will not try them on again until I finish binding them.  But here are the stays assembled with the top binding of petersham ribbon applied:

Late 18th Century Stays - front and back
Late 18th Century Stays – front and back

Note: the metal eyelets are NOT period correct.  To be 100% accurate it should have hand bound eyelets.  I decided to use them in this case, since I do not expect to ever wear these stays without a gown or jacket over them.

The Battle of the Stays: The Battle Plan

OK to make a long story short, I have quit dieting.  So it is now necessary to make a new 18th century wardrobe that fits me at my current size, which will (hopefully) be the size I will remain for the foreseeable future.

Also since I now do a lot of costuming events that are NOT music related, I don’t need to wear stays with elastic in the sides all the time.  I have a great pair of modified stays I made a couple years ago using the JP Ryan fully boned strapless stays pattern.

JP Ryan Strapless Stays Pattern
JP Ryan Strapless Stays Pattern

I used power net for one of the side back panels.  When I play flute or sing with our musical groups I cannot get enough air in regular stays so I developed these expanding ones for that application.  Believe it or not I still get a 2 inch waist reduction!

I have also purchased a couple ready made modern corsets and have learned a lot through this adventure.  The corset makers seem to agree that a four inch waist reduction is about the maximum you can get with the 18th century design.  If I can pull that off, I can still squeeze into a couple of my older gowns with some slight alterations.

I seem to be on an endless quest for better corsets and stays, so I decided to do something crazy: make FOUR pairs of stays to see how the various patterns available on the market work for me.  Keep in mind that some of these styles may work better for some figure types than others, so this is not the final verdict on any of these patterns.  I am a US size 12-14 and somewhat apple shaped so it really is only useful as a study for this figure type.  Here are the competitors:

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays
Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Contestant # 1  I have to admit I am really excited about this pattern.  It comes with a large booklet with extremely detailed instructions on how to assemble them in an authentic fashion.  The pattern comes with separate pieces for the left and right side, which I didn’t use as I didn’t feel like making the same alterations to each pattern piece twice.  You just have to remember to flip over each piece so you end up with both sides (as it turns out, it didn’t need much in the way of alterations anyway).  I can see how the separate left and right pieces would be useful for someone who hasn’t made 18th century stays before.  I am going to follow her method and see how it works.  The other thing I like about this pattern is that the side seams are curved near the waistline just above where the tabs begin – I think this will result in a better overall shape and less stress on the tabs.  The separate stomacher means these stays have much more adaptability in terms of fit.  This pair will be covered in red silk taffeta, bound in the same fabric and laced with black satin ribbon.  I am not sure what I will use to cover the seams.  Maybe self fabric, or maybe black ribbon or braid.

I am going to experiment with a new boning material – synthetic whalebone.  I have not personally had great results with cane – it just adds too much thickness. Steel boning on a fully boned stay is VERY HEAVY.  Plastic zip ties are also a bit thick and tend to meld into one shape and stay that way forevermore, which is great if that happens to be the shape you want, and not so great otherwise.  This new product says it can be reshaped with heat.  So we’ll see how it does!

Here is an original stay that represents the shape I think this pair will have:

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Stays 1725 -1750

Philadelphia Museum of Art – Stays 1725 -1750

Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays

RH Stays_

Contestant #2: is the pair in the upper left corner in red – a front lacing stay with shoulder straps.  While admittedly it is similar to the Larkin and Smith pattern, the pattern pieces are somewhat different in shape.  I will admit I laid awake half a night trying to decide if I should make these lace over the stomacher or lace up the middle.  In the end I went with the stomacher due to the ease of adjusting the fit that this design offers.  They will be covered in pink silk taffeta and bound in white petersham ribbon, and will lace in the front with white satin ribbon.  Seams will be covered in narrow white grosgrain ribbon.  I will construct this pair in the same manner as the Larkin & Smith pattern and make it fully boned with the same synthetic whalebone.  If it turns out looking anything like this (only with fewer tabs) I will weep with joy:

Metropolitan Museum of Art Corset, 1770s
Metropolitan Museum of Art Corset, 1770s

I lengthened the entire pattern to create more of this shape.

I have not heard much about Reconstructing History in general, but they offer a lot of neat stuff you can’t find anywhere else (like mantuas).  This stay pattern has many different options – you can do this pair of stays as lacing over the stomacher, lacing closed in front, or lacing in the back only.  Also there are the wide front options, which brings me to contestant number three:

Reconstructing History Wide Front Stays

RH Stays_

Contestant #3: Now I’m looking at the pink stays in the lower left side of this pattern.  This option comes with the tabs or without, and is supposed to create a wider front to go with 1780’s and 1790’s styles, which I could really use!  I will definitely use the shoulder straps as this style seems to need the extra support.  This style is very different from the other three – in addition to having the wide front, it only has 3 pieces: the front, the side, and the back.  The historical notes (which are aplenty and very good) explain that late in the century they figured out that the shaping comes more from the direction of the boning and less from how many pieces are used, so the pattern complexity decreased.  I had to do a fair amount of altering on both Reconstructing History patterns but the styles are so cool looking I have high hopes!  This stay will be covered in white silk and bound with white petersham ribbon – indeed if they turn out good, I will be wearing them under my white chemise a la reine.  Since there are only 3 pieces on each side, I left the seam allowance in and will sew them together after the individual pieces are boned.  Since it is half boned the bones will be 1/4″ steel.  Here is an original stays that appear to have this wide front:

Mccord Museums, Costume, 18Th Century, Catevix Corsetri, 1785 1790
Mccord Museums, Costume, 18Th Century, Catevix Corsetri, 1785 1790

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays
JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

Contestant #4: A relative newcomer to the market, I really like the looks of these stays.  They will be back fastening only since I want to keep the horizontal boning unaltered.  As this is a good candidate for wearing under late 18th century gowns that tend to be made from lighter fabrics, they will be made from white domestic coutil and boned with 1/4″ steel boning, 1/4″ spiral steel if any of those channels end up curved.  The binding will be 3/4″ white petersham ribbon (coutil is too tough to make decent binding).  Here is an original with the shape I am hoping for:

 

English Stays (1770-1790), made from red silk damask, Victoria and Albert Museum.
English Stays (1770-1790), made from red silk damask, Victoria and Albert Museum.

I can’t help but notice the similarity between this pair and Contestant 3.  I have found the drawing on the front of the pattern is not always an accurate representation of how they turn out.  Hence the need to have a battle in the first place!

Pink Thing Debut and Postmortem

Pink Thing had a debut at Tavern Night at the Depreciation Lands Museum, and I wore it again to Fort Ligonier Days.  Overall I think it turned out great.

Postmortem analysis: add a strip of boning down the inside center front to keep it smoothly fastened and deflate the Georgian bum pad by about 1/3.

Inside the tavern at Tavern Night, Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township, PA
Inside the tavern at Tavern Night, Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township, PA
The back of Pink Thing, in the Tavern at DLM. My curls have fallen out and I think I need to deflate this bum pad just a tad.
The back of Pink Thing, in the Tavern at DLM. My curls have fallen out and I think I need to deflate this bum pad just a tad.
In the garden at Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township PA with my husband Bill in his silver brocade waistcoat.
In the garden at Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township PA with my husband Bill in his silver brocade waistcoat.
Pink Thing, with a better cap, in Bill's teaching room before I left for Fort Ligonier Days.
Pink Thing, with a better cap, in Bill’s teaching room before I left for Fort Ligonier Days.

Pink Round Gown Front

The original I copied for comparison.