Tag Archives: Victorian clothing

A long awaited party (dress)

Back in the day…

Way back in 2015, I started coordinating a little monthly get-together I like to call the Victorian Sewing Circle, based out of the Marr Residence, the Oldest House in Town* that the City operates as a sort of mini-museum. I was hoping to indulge my latent interest in historical costuming, meet some like-minded people, and give myself a venue to WEAR at least some historical stuff. Since the house was built in 1884, a mid 1880s outfit seemed like a good goal.

Inspiration dress

I picked an inspiration dress from a reproduction of the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalogue, acquired a ridiculous amount of discount wool blend suiting in my favourite muted blue colour, and ordered two Truly Victorian patterns for the bodice and overskirt, TV462 and TV368.

I started work on the skirt in October of 2015. Later that winter, I got sidetracked and made a “quick and dirty” version to actually wear to our little meetups… and then my progress on the blue “good copy” slowed to an utter crawl. And then when I got pregnant early in 2019, it stalled completely. And what started as a planned hiatus of a year or so turned into three, and I didn’t dust things off until this past fall.

At which point pretty much every measurement on my body had gone up 4-5”. And the “quick and dirty” outfit (the first pic in this post) no longer even remotely fits, so making the blue version wearable became a lot more urgent.

I was pleasantly startled, actually, when I pulled everything out again, at how close to complete it actually was. The skirt just needed the waistband finalized. The bodice just needed boning—but it also no longer fit, and I had accidentally used a very rigid ticking for my underlining, which wasn’t ideal in any way. And (which I had completely forgotten), the overskirt was complete, just needing a way to connect the back tails to the front apron. And perhaps some trimmings.

New waistband, new waistband pleats

Adjusting the skirt wasn’t going to be a big deal—I had only basted on the waistband, and it needed length taken out at the top. I marked the new length on the front, basted and trimmed down to it, but then for the back I folded the extra down and just stitched the edge of the pleats to the waistband, so the seam allowance doesn’t add bulk to the waistband. This is a technique I’d read of in both historical sources and costuming articles, but never actually tried before. The transition from “seam allowance in” to “seam allowance out” is maybe not perfectly smooth, but every original Victorian skirt I’ve examined (which isn’t a high number, granted) had the most half-ass slapped on waistband, so I have a hard time being too fussy over it.

I had made a whole new corset, back at the end of summer, so all I had to do now was adjust the waistbands of both petticoats. For one petticoat this was no big deal as I had originally made it far too big and had to put in two large tucks in the waistband to make it fit. Ripping those out took about 30 seconds and it was good to go.

The second, on the other hand, was snug even when I first made it, and by the time I last wore it in 2019 I had already added a hair elastic looped through the buttonhole as a makeshift extender. But that no longer did the trick so the only option was to unpick the gathered back portion of the waistband and attach a substantial additional piece, then re-attach my painfully stroked gathers one by one, just spread out over a larger space.

It’s definitely an improvement though. I think even my hand-worked buttonhole is better, not that it’s a thing of great beauty.

And then there was the issue of the bodice.

I had steeled myself, frankly, to make a new bodice from scratch. The seams were only 1/2” and already somewhat frayed from a ridiculous amount of handling, and the rigid ticking underlining made the whole idea of altering just seem unpromising. I had enough fabric left over, just. But every time I went to start tracing out a new size of the pattern, a wave of exhaustion struck me.

I decided to try, just try, and see what happened if I let all of the back and side seams out as much as possible. Some of them, especially the waist, had been taken in quite a bit in my previous fitting adventure. And while 1/2” seams don’t allow for a lot of letting out, there are quite a few of them. I tried the bodice on again… it wasn’t enough. In particular, actually, the BACK just didn’t seem wide enough. Not at the waist, but the upper back, and there was still a stubborn 2” gap all along the front. I did toy with a plan where I could add a panel to the centre front, creating an “open jacket” look that is pretty common for the era. But the back still felt uncomfortably tight. If only I could just add more fabric, right at the centre back seam.

Well, why couldn’t I?

So I ripped open the CB seam, from just below the collar to about mid back. Try on. Rip a little further. Try on again. And lo and behold, after ripping it all open except for about 3” at the bottom, it closed in the front.

So I pulled out my scraps, cut a long, tapered spindle-shape, and set about stitching a panel into the back.

It’s not an ideal fix—it’s added some of its own fit issues and ripples, and makes boning the CB of the bodice difficult. But it’s also saved me an immense amount of work. Which these days, I’ll take.

My joy when the alterations actually allowed me to close the bodice!

After all that, all I had to do was add all the boning to the bodice, which I wound up doing by stitching the casings on by hand since my seam allowances were both narrow and quite irregular. Unfortunately, I also had to pull off the bias facing at the front hem to add the bones to my darts, because past me got ahead of herself in the finishing department. Mistakes like that played a huge role in why this damn thing took forever to make, by the way.

I swear in real life the hem looks symmetrical.

Anyway, the bones definitely help smooth out the look, though I might need to redo my buttons to get a truly smooth front. I’ll face that some other day.

After a fair bit of waffling, I decided to attach the tails to the overskirt apron the same way I did with my first version, with elastic loops and large buttons. It’s not historically accurate, but it’s easy, comfy, and highly adjustable.

And, at last, I finally got to wear it!

There are a few more tweaks that could be made. The back of the skirt, where I had omitted one of the overlay panels, looks a little plain. I’m not sure that my draping of the bodice tails or the back of the overskirt is finalized, and I do have some black tassel trim that might look good there.

But after a saga like this, wearable, in any degree, is a huge step forward. And for the first time in ages, I can actually say to myself “what’s next?”

(Actually, I finished this back in early December, so what’s next was the Edwardian skirt. But I really wanted some pictures that weren’t taken in my hallway. Thank you to my mom for digging out her good camera to take most of these, and for braving the technological minefields of iCloud and Dropbox to get them to me.) Next up… an Edwardian-style blouse to go with the skirt. Unless I get highjacked by one of my children, anyway…



Filed under Sewing

Victorian Romp

_MG_0155My ersatz Victorian dress is finished, or at least as finished as it is likely to get, which is to say there is trim of some kind on all three main elements. (Waist, aka bodice, skirt, and overskirt.) I’m actually reasonably comfortable that it falls within the range of Victorian “normal” and isn’t too weirdly stripped-down, which is actually the biggest thing that often seems off about costumes (at least to me). Well, the skirt is probably a little too plain. And the whole thing is on the plain end. Just, hopefully not too plain. (And my neckline is completely inappropriate for a day dress as far as I can tell, while my suiting fabric would not be a good choice for evening wear… but this was my “fun” project and I don’t personally like high necks, so I picked the neckline I liked.

Button Fixin

While getting dressed, I lost a button. A significant amount of the editing involved photoshopping the button that popped off when I was getting dressed.

The bodice has a pleated ribbon trim; the overskirt has the same ribbon, but unpleated. For the skirt I took all the remaining bias tape from my main fabric and folded the edges under to make a trim I could stitch down. This was the least successful trim as the bias is somewhat rippled (even though I stitched both edges in the same direction). I wasn’t convinced the placement was any good, either, but actually looking at the photos I don’t mind it. I don’t feel inclined to rip it all off, in any case. If I had more of the red fabric I would add a pleated trim around the bottom of the skirt, but I don’t, and at least at present I don’t feel like buying more.

_MG_0132Anyway, this completion happily coincided with a couple of things. With my most recent Victorian Sewing Circle afternoon. Also, my sister-in-law, who has always dabbled in photography (and even worked as a portraitist a few times) has decided she wants to really get into the game. Photographer with a Real Camera who just wants some serious practice? Sign me up! So I got her to meet me at the Marr Residence that morning for a fun (almost*) period photo shoot.


We started with boudoir shots.

It’s been a really long time since I did a real photo shoot with, like, an actual photographer. It was really fun.


with book light playing 2We bounced around the house, playing with the light.

At the firexcfEvery room was different.

With Tree

The Marr Residence has a great little double-lot park, and the day was warm enough that it wasn’t a huge sacrifice to run around in the snow—although the tail end of winter is not the most scenic time of year anywhere.

Angie was good enough to let me have at the electronic files. It’s also been a really long time since I took the time to seriously edit photos for anything. I am not on the Better Pictures Project. 😉 most of my blog photos are quick snaps with my iPhone, occasionally tripod shots on my point ‘n shoot, and the editing I do is only basic straightening, cropping, and a wee bit of contrast & exposure. Mostly via the built-in iPhone editor. It’s a hard reality that I have accepted—if I wait for good photos before I blog, there will be no blog.


But it was sure nice to actually take some time with these, both the photo shoot and the editing. And I even had RAW to play in! (I am not a good enough photo editor to tell you if RAW actually makes a difference in the final photo, but it sure is FUN!) though most of these were done from the jpeg as it’s just faster for me. RAW is like a rabbit hole from which there is no return.

Water sepia glow (2)

I can’t help it. I love me some cheesy filtering sometimes.

I did most of the editing in GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) which is photoshop’s slightly awkward but most importantly free little brother. It can do pretty much whatever photoshop can, and doesn’t cost a dime (and it took about three seconds of googling for me to find and download the add-ons for processing RAW format and batch-editing. I do find it difficult to bounce back and forth between the two programs, as you have to remember two different ways to do everything, but if you don’t want to shell out for Photoshop it’s a pretty awesome alternative.


Laughing on the path redI may have had a bit too much fun with the editing process, making sepia and low-colour versions. Oh, well. They’re my photos and I’ll cheese ’em up if I want too. I also lost the cover off one of my fabric-covered buttons while getting dressed, so that had to be photoshopped out of a bunch of pics. I will warn you, I also took the liberty of some SERIOUS Photoshopping once or twice—so if you catch yourself wondering “is her waist really that small?” The answer is probably “no, not even in a corset.” PICTURES LIE!!!!

Outside house tight red

PS, should you have the inclination, you can find my photographer at Angel Jems Photography—facebook page for now, hopefully a real website at some point. Also I’ve uploaded a few more photos on my Flickr page:

Victorian Romp


Victorian Romp Sepia

What we didn’t get were any shots resembling an actual Victorian portrait, standing stiffly against a backdrop and not smiling. These pesky modern photographers and their action shots and candid snaps. Maybe next time.

Outside and pensive*you’ve seen my hair, right? Short of concocting a story about how I cut it off and sold it to buy a chain for my husband’s prize watch, which he sold to buy me a comb for my beautiful hair, we’re kinda stuck. I don’t have an appropriate wig, and I’m disinclined to go out and buy one at the moment. I also don’t have a period hat for the outdoor shots.

Tree hug contras

Ok, I’ll stop now.


Filed under Sewing

A Half Ass Victorian


Truly Victorian 462 – 1880s tail bodice

Since the next Victorian Sewing Circle was coming up, last weekend I decided to muslin the bodice for Truly Victorian 462. In my memory, back in the fall I had calculated my size via their weird-ass method (basically you select your back size based on on the width across your back and your front size based on the difference between your back size and your full bust, and then twiddle the shoulders to fit. It’s meant to help you skip the FBA, I guess, not that I’m usually an FBA candidate…) and traced out the pieces. Well, it turned out on inspection that I had picked my size, traced out about half the pieces, and then completely not written down what size I was tracing. >_< Thanks, Past Tanit.

Comparison of my traced pieces with the original pattern and some cryptic notation I had left on the instructions eventually led me to conclude that I had been tracing size C for both front and back. Great! I finished tracing it out, made my most basic adjustment (removing 2cm total length, 1cm above the bust and 1 cm below) and cut my first muslin out of some old curtain last seen in a pair of Ellen pants, if anyone remembers what those are. Um, that was over five years ago. Wow. Blog is turning six pretty darn soon. Who knew?



Version # 1

Muslin version 1 revealed some problems. Um, TOO SMALL, much? I re-took my measurements. Apparently, with the combo of corset and bra, my bust is closer to 38″ than its actual 34.” And for the Victorian silhouette I do want the boob paddage. ALL THE BOOBS. However, everything else seemed really good—back size was great, shoulders maybe needed just a little tweak for squareness—I just needed a little more room in the front. Perfect candidate for an FBA, thought I. Never mind I’ve never done one before. How hard can it be?


Yeah, you can stop snickering now.

So I slashed and spread and ended up actually with quite an improvement, except that there was a bunch of extra fabric right along the CF line—like enough to take out an almost 1″ dart. So I did, and rotated that fullness into the two waist darts.


Version 3

This seemed like it did the trick. V. 3 fit basically like a second skin. Although looking at them now, I think the darts could maybe be spread out a little more evenly across the bodice front—they are both very close to the CF after all my futzing.

But. I wasn’t ready, after all that messing around, to jump right into my good fabric. So I went deep-stash-diving, looking for a suitable fabric that I had enough of that wasn’t otherwise earmarked.

Eventually I settled on this striped suiting. The fabric is some completely non-historical, soft and drapey thin suiting, mainly rayon by the feel. I have absolutely no memory of where it came from except that it must have been a gift. If it was from you, thank you! Anyway, it looked good and felt nice and there was plenty of it.

The deep stash also provided an underlining, in the form of this bublegum pink almost-light-canvas-type fabric (much less drapy) that I was quite happy to find a use for.

12729550_1003650139696488_884951134_nEspecially once I discovered the fabric tag. Yup, this fabric was received at Fabricland on 06/05/85. Over thirty years in stash, people.

I wasn’t overly concerned about authenticity at this point—just going for a fit test here. I didn’t bother with seam finishings (in hindsight I should’ve just serged my underlining to my fabric as the inside is fraying like crazy.) But despite that I was still going for as much “authenticity” in my construction methods as I could handle—so there’s boning, and the edges are faced with bias tape, and I generally tried to follow the method described in Plain Needlework and Amateur Dressmaking. To the best of my limited comprehension and/or patience, anyway.

2016-01-29 19.23.58It felt like it took basically forever, though really I got it done in a week so that’s actually pretty fast.

2016-02-21 18.51.53


The guts aren’t pretty but they are complete—boning in channels, plus a waist stay. I think that’s a good idea with the long tails on this pattern. My materials range from vaguely plausible (cotton twill tape for the bone channels) to completely inappropriate (poly grosgrain ribbon for the waist stay. Rayon suiting)

2016-02-13 21.05.18

Bodice interior from Plain Needlework and Amateur Sewing

And then there were the buttons. Plain Needlework suggested 1″ between buttons. In hindsight (funny how perfect it is) this was a bit much for the size of button I ended up with—I think 1 1/2″ between them would’ve been adequate.

2016-02-15 22.01.37-1

Fabric-covered buttons!

Still determinedly stash-busting, I settled on some smallish coverable buttons that I had three packs of for some reason. I’ve never had much luck with covered buttons before. These went really well, in that I could easily pop them on to their bases once they were fabric-covered, but less well in that they tend to pop back off again quite readily.

2016-02-20 21.58.59

Lots of buttons. Also, a possible neckline trim.

They look nice, though. I did have all the stripes lined up, but as the tops kept popping off it was too annoying to try and get them back on straight. I made the buttonholes on the machine. I’ll drive myself nuts with the hand ones on the Good Copy.

(Oh, the pattern itself has a curve out at the CF bust area. This is a bit of an odd feature, but I gather is period. I had reduced it a wee bit with all my dart-moving, but I wound up making it completely straight for this version due to the stripes. Will I keep that for my “good copy”? If I don’t, my whole test fitting idea becomes kinda useless… if I do, my authenticity quotient goes down (not that I am expecting this to be overly high, mind you…)

2016-02-20 21.33.25

Sleeve with bias facing.

I muslined with long sleeves and (gasp) didn’t even add any length. I did take some width out of the sleeve, especially around the elbow curve, and tweaked the hell out of the sleeve-cap/armscye. It’s still not exactly perfect, but I have a pretty decent range of motion. The sleeve as drafted came just above my wristbone—which, actually, looking at my pinterest boards, seems to be accurate for the period, but would drive me absolutely batty. So I cut back to 3/4″ sleeves. Those I can handle. As per Amateur Dressmaking instructions, I faced both sleeves and bodice with bias tape made from the fashion fabric.

2016-02-16 06.02.37Back in the fall I was playing with some satin ribbon and my ruffler and made this pleated trim. The slightly rusty red colour is perfect—I’m a bit torn about whether to use it or not. I actually like the simplicity of the plain bodice with the menswear-type fabric, but the lower neckline I chose is more of an evening style (which does not go with the menswear fabric at all, by the way, but it’s my party and I’ll show off my upper chest if I want to) and should probably be adorned. We’ll see how I feel once the skirt is gussied up a bit more.

2016-02-21 00.09.06Which brings me to the skirt. Um, yeah. I didn’t have quite enough of the striped suiting for the skirt, or at least not for the skirt plus whatever overskirt draping I might eventually want to do. So I ended up breaking my stashbusting streak and picking up a few metres of this rusy red “wool crepe” (allgedly 65% wool… I am dubious). It was cheap, though, so it’s ok? Anyway, right down to the wire I managed to get it cut into gored panels, mounted on some black broadcloth underlining (salvaged from the same curtain as the cuffs for my blazer, so the walk through Deep Stash was not entirely finished). At 10:30 am Sunday morning, I had to admit, even as I finished pressing the hem facing, that it wasn’t going to be stitched in the hour I had left before I had to leave the house (and be showered and costumed), so I reluctantly but effectively broke out the safety pins. And I won’t even show you the joke of the waistband (more safety pins), but it covered my bottom half adequately, at least once I managed to half-ass a bustle for it.


Bustle, otherwise occupied.

(I made a perfectly good bustle already, but it’s adorning the mannequin that is holding my half-constructed blue skirt at the Marr Residence, so not actually accessible for wearing to said residence. I never said I had good planning skills. (Incidentally, yes, this does mean that I got further on my red skirt in approximately three hours of work than I have on the skirt I’ve been working on since October.)

2016-02-21 11.00.35I did have a teeny little bum pad I made last spring, fairly softly stuffed—probably perfect for an 1890s “figure enhancer,” but not what I was looking for here. I decided to amp it up with a bigger cousin to get something a little more satisfactory; I stuffed it with fabric scraps (serger offcuts work well as they’re so teeny) from the sewing room garbage bag and had to largely hand-stitch it to the other as I couldn’t get the seam allowances anywhere near the sewing machine’s presser foot. This is a much heavier and less convenient option than the collapsible wired bustle I made before (especially for driving) but it was definitely functional, and didn’t collapse much, which I’m a bit worried the wired one will.

2016-02-21 17.04.12

1880s outfit!

It made for a very plain ensemble, but at least the silhouette is there! Well, as close as I am likely to get to it, anyway. I meant to get some pics while at the Marr because DUH, but of course completely forgot. So rather than a beautifully restored period setting, you get narrow-cropped kitchen shots of my bathroom door. Which is probably close to period (well, early 1900s, anyway, and the only original door in our old wreck of a house), but not exactly gorgeously restored.

2016-02-21 16.38.19

Back view. 

I thought the plain tails of the waist (aka bodice) were a little, well, plain, so I tried pinning them up. I think the general principal is sound, but should probably be done by someone who can actually see what they’re doing, and not by me just randomly grabbing bits and pinning them blindly behind me while already dressed.

And just in case you aren’t thoroughly sick of this half-ass outfit yet have some mannequin shots of the half-finished skirt!

2016-02-23 19.07.00

Skirt, front

Why did I let it sit wadded up on the ironing board for two days before I took these?

2016-02-23 19.12.11

Side view. I think my other bustle definitely has a nicer shape (the fluffy petticoats would help, too.)

Pleats in the back. Also, the half-ass waistband. It’s just the black broadcloth (thin yet strong) basted quickly to the inside, and held closed with safety pins. I’ll do something better for next time.

2016-02-23 19.11.54Why yes, there’s a dress form beside my front door in half-Victorian costume.

2016-02-23 19.12.29I’m kinda tempted to leave it there all month.


Filed under Sewing

The Very Boring Corset

A very boring corset

A very boring corset (and some not-so-authentic underpinnings)

I promised my husband I’d make him a shirt, so of course I had to whip up another corset.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I went back to my Butterick 4254. First I re-traced all the pattern pieces 1/4″ narrower than before, then I made a few tweaks around the bust and waist. (Basically, more bust, less waist! Woohoo!) I decided I’m pretty happy with the overall length and shaping, I just wanted to refine the shape a bit more. Then, as I was sewing a quick mockup, I realized that my original pattern pieces seemed to be calling for 3/4″ seam allowances—and I’m pretty sure I sewed both my earlier mock ups and my blue corset with regular 5/8th seam allowances. Which explains where that extra 1/4″ on each piece came from. (I’m still glad I removed it, though, as I don’t need 3/4″ SAs to make channels for 1/4″ boning., and they cause issues like puckering, and or need clipping and things.)

Back view.

Back view.

Although I was tempted by the siren-song of some of my other fancy materials, I resisted, as I really needed this to be a quick sew that I could bang out of the way and move on to other projects. Like shirts for my husband. I did dare to cut into my precious coutil, though (I used about half of the 1m I have, so I still have another corset’s worth. 😉 ). This is it, plain and un-covered, in a single layer, with serged seam allowances (so non-historical!) and hardly a lick of ornamentation.



The only reason the pretty purple ribbon is there as opposed to boring old twill tape like the bottom is my friend Steph gave it to me to use. I enclosed some narrow ribbon within it for a drawstring, and I do like being able to pull it in at the bust (especially as there’s a bit of extra room up there, as I said.)

Silhouette comparison

Silhouette comparison

I think the size is much better this time around—still roomy in hips and bust (arguably the bust is a little too roomy but I really don’t want compression in this region 😉 ), with a smidge (or more than a smidge) more waist definition than before. And a perfectly reasonable, roughly parrallel lacing gap. By the way, I get a whole 2″ of waist compression out of this thing (unlike the other one, which actually doesn’t change my waist measurement at all once you add in the bulk of the corset itself.) I think that’s pretty much my limit, barring serious waist-training that just isn’t going to happen. I wasn’t really expecting more—there isn’t a lot of space between my hips and ribcage to squish in, and I’m a pretty rectangular shape to start.

Have another corset view

Have another corset view

One thing that really stands out is the difference the busk makes. For the first corset, I used a spoon busk, and while I did have to straighten a fair bit of the spooning as it wasn’t hitting at the right spot on my body (it would’ve needed to sit about 2″ lower to work properly) it still does help “hug in” the bottom front—there’s a very distinct gap (shadow) you can see in the newest corset at the bottom front. Not a big deal under petticoats, but something to tweak a bit if I want to make “fashion” versions. (Not sure where I’ll wear a “fashion” corset yet, but then again I’m not really sure where I’ll wear this full Victorian getup either.)

Lobster tail

Lobster tail

And here’s a shot of my American Duchess-style lobster-tail bustle, because I haven’t really done it justice on the blog (nor probably will get around to it, sadly) For this dress-up I experimented with fastening it a bit lower on my hips (rather than right at the waist). My theory is that it elongates my waist and gives me more room between butt and waist to build up the layers of bustled stuff in the back, though I couldn’t really say it makes much of a difference.

Steph in my corset!

One bit of fun I did have was stuffing a couple of my sewing friends (yes, real-life people I get together with and we MAKE STUFF! Slightly more than once in a blue moon) into the corset to see how it looked on different bodies. I think the answer is “better than on me”—but anyway, that was super fun.


Chrissy. She's probably going to kill me for picking this picture, but I love her face! ;)

Chrissy. She’s probably going to kill me for picking this picture, but I love her face! 😉

It was really interesting to see it on different bodies, but even more fun to see their reactions to “corset shape” for the first time! 🙂

With Authentic Vintage Photo Filters (TM)

With Authentic Vintage Photo Filters (TM)

And, well, just for fun, here’s the full ensemble again. Sorry for the cami under the corset—my chemise was awol and I was on a tight time-frame for taking the photos.

In other news, my last “Historical Clothing” workshop is this weekend at the Marr Residence. I’m nervous (cuz I always am) and a little sad that it’s the last, and wondering where to go from here… after all, I’m just about ready to start planning the outer dress!


Filed under Sewing

The Very Boring Petticoat



I made a third petticoat. This was always the plan, though I wasn’t quite expecting to do it, um, this weekend, since there’s about four other higher-priotity projects in the queue… But, I had a couple of metres of muslin lying around after another project, and when I got home from work Friday night it was whispering and, well, that was that.*

A Very Boring Petticoat

It was pretty obvious when I finished my fancy, flouncy petticoat that it needed another layer underneath, to smooth over the ridges and lines of the bustle and corset. Possibly my flannel petticoat would serve that purpose as well, but certainly not in the summer (which is what we are gearing up to here, at long last.)

Lace on Hem

When I first started cutting the muslin, I meant to make it a completely plain white skirt, but, in true Victorian fashion, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and several metres of lace found their way onto the hem. Still, after all the tucking and gathering and more gathering of the last one, it was a pretty quick and dirty affair.

Felled seams

I used my flat-fell foot to fell the vertical seams, and I felt a lot more successful this time, if only because the muslin is like the best-behaved fabric in the universe. The main thing (aside from actually reading up on how to use the foot) is to use the right seam-allowances—1/4″ on the bottom 1/8″ on the top. Still not flawless, but mostly good, and no one’ll see the booboos anyway. 😉 Half my fells are on the inside, however, and half on the outside—after I screwed it up on the second seam I decided I didn’t care and just did whichever side was most convenient. Not the tidiest ever. BUT NO ONE WILL SEE. (Except everyone I show it to because I’m all like LOOK I MADE A PETTICOAT!) I used a total of three skirt-lengths of 44″ wide muslin. To reduce fabric waste, I added a centre front seam to the front gore. Initially I was going to use only two skirt lengths, but it would’ve been a really scrawny petticoat, so I scrounged around and turned up another piece of the same fabric, just long enough for another set of gores.

Long back.

Long back.

It’s more trained (long in back)  than my previous petticoats, because one of the sets of gores I made was cut from a full 44″ width of fabric, not a half-width. This was not my best idea ever since I don’t particularly want a trained petticoat. Oops. I also cut the waistband little large, thinking it could sit a bit lower on my waist (and also not wanting another overly-tight waistband), but this doesn’t seem to work overly well for these skirts—the bustle gets in the way, I suppose. It looks kinda like one of those “look at my old pants!” weight-loss commercials. https://instagram.com/p/2zyEWwr0Mu/?taken-by=tanitisis   Like the flannel petticoat, I made a folded placket in the CB. This time I put the narrow edge of the placket on top and the wide one beneath—this seems to work much better with all the gathering that is going on in a sort like this, although it’s pretty much opposite of the instructions. Untitled As I was trying to throw this together quickly, I was in no mood to try some stroked gathers (pity because I think I might’ve done better counting threads and things on the muslin)—I went with two well-spaced rows of machine gathering, although I tried a little extra-hard to make sure the stitches were as synchronized between the two rows as I could manage. I’m not too bothered, anyway.

Two petticoats!

Two petticoats!

Aside from the waistband, I’m pretty happy with it, and it serves its purpose admirably.

One petticoat vs. 2

One petticoat vs. 2

The hard bustle bone ridges you could see with just one petticoat are much better hidden this time.

Skirts appears a little more full, I think.

Skirts appears a little more full, I think.

Although I’m noticing more “skirt spread” now, angling out of the front part of the skirt. Not quite the 1880s fashion-plate look, although pretty common in actual period photographs. The solution, according to Mrs Church and others, is ties or elastics that run across the inside of the skirt, from one side to the other behind the knees, pulling everything in. This would require adding little slit-type openings to all the petticoat layers for the ties to pass through… We’ll see.



It then occurred to me that I’m taking photos in my back yard in my underwear. Teehee! Alas, my attempts to vamp it up Victorian-style mostly came out looking more “axe murderer” than “come hither” (a problem I often have…), so you’ll have to settle for a peek of ankle. *Yes, as you may have noticed, I have also made another corset. It, like the petticoat, is very boring. I will blog it as soon as I get the chance, I promise.


Filed under Sewing

The Second Petticoat

I finished my second petticoat! FINALLY. If I thought the first one took forever… (though, I did NOT hand-stitch the hem this time.)

Petticoat # 2

Petticoat # 2

Anyway, as with the flannel petticoat, I largely followed the directions from The Home Needle, with a bit of supplementation from the various diagrams of Patterns of Fashion 2, which really drive home that yes, they are describing what you think they’re describing to make those “gores” and yes, it is as weird as it seems, sewing off-grain bias edges to on-grain straight edges, in violation of all guidelines for good drape.

Skirt diagram

Skirt diagram (for this pattern, I used two “side” gores per side.)

I guess when you have that much fabric going on drape is kinda irrelevant? Hard to say. On the other hand, it’s a very, very low-waste method—I used probably about six metres of fabric, mind you (it’s a pretty full petticoat, also, RUFFLES), and the only waste was the narrow triangles cut off the sides of the symmetrical front gore. If you wanted to add a front seam, even that could be eliminated. Because I wasn’t using a yoke this time, I did add a bit more shaping to the top of the front gore, plus eyeballed in some narrow darts to give it a wee bit of tummy room, since Mrs. Church commented that one of the chief problems with the hang of skirts came of them being put in too tightly at the front. Or something like that.

As per Mrs. Church’s instructions, I made my vertical seams flat-felled, but really I would’ve been better off using French seams—either way, though, I was struggling with a lot of puckering on my really freakin’ light-weight cotton (voile or batiste or something of that sort.) So I switched the cotton thread. Upside: no puckering, presses like a dream. Downside: not nearly so strong. So if this petticoat is disintegrating in a year, you’ll know why. Also, right in the middle of the process, Jennifer Rossbrugh of Historical Sewing posted about starching your petticoats. I had been dreading the idea of pintucks in my soft fabric, so I had to jump on the bandwagon. This was a ridiculously-simple process involving mixing a small amount of cornstarch with a slightly larger amount of water, heating until the mixture went clear, adding more water, and then dropping in the petticoat until all was soaked in starchy water, and hanging dry. Then ironing, lots and lots of ironing, but ironing starched stuff is actually pretty darn pleasant as it looks so great. And it made sewing all the 1/4″ tucks in the ruffle far less hellish than it would’ve been otherwise.

Perusal of the page of petticoats (“White Skirts” in both the Home Needle and my mother’s 1886 Bloomingdales Catalogue reprint) suggested that ALL the petticoats seemed to be largely plain but with a deep ruffle along the bottom. Or at least, if they had anything else, the advertisers weren’t advertising it.

The ruffle (pre-ruffling)

The ruffle (pre-ruffling)

So, I cried a little and resigned myself to a ruffle. I still wish I had pleated it, but, meh. I picked my ruffle depth by the highly scientific method of tearing my leftover fabric after making the main portion of the petticoat into eight equal strips. I had already decided I wanted 1/4″ tucks, so then I added those in, three in each panel, starting with a fold right at the middle. Once I had those tucks made, I joined seven of the eight panels (measuring my lace having determined that I wouldn’t have enough to go along the eight panel anyway.) I attached the lace at the bottom using a tuck—basically, sewing a french seam on the outside surface. I thought it looked lonely, though, so I added two more 1/4″ tucks above it. I like the overall look, but I was definitely more precise (which is still a long way from perfect) on the first set of tucks. Eh. I finished the top edge with my narrowest-of-narrow-hemmers, and ran the whole mess through the ruffler on what was supposed to be a roughly 2:1 gathering ratio.

Two ruffles in the back

Two ruffles in the back

Whether due to the weight of the fabric, or my ruffler being loose at times, or me just being a tool, what I wound up with was rather more gathered length than I expected, so I added the second ruffle across just the bustle/back of the skirt. Except that it goes up one gore seam further on one side than the other. HEADDESK. I am not going to change it. Quit looking!

Buttonhole and stroked gathering.

Buttonhole and stroked gathering.

My other big booboo (as opposed to the myriad little booboos in the seams and the tucks and whatnot) came when gathering the waistband. I had measured my waist plus and inch or two for overlap, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the side-back opening as it related to the necessary gathering. Basically, my waistband wound up lop-sided, and I was extremely loathe to unpick the whole thing and re-arrange my painstakingly stroked hand-gathering. Instead, I unpicked the other end, where I didn’t have enough gathering, and tightened that way up, essentially shortening my waistband by about three inches.

It is, um, snug. Maybe my next corset with be more waist-reducing, though.

That hand-worked buttonhole isn’t particularly pretty, now, (and it is worked on the wrong side, oopsie.) But it’s entirely serviceable and only took about ten minutes to put in. So there’s that.



The whole thing is pretty delightfully frothy, once you wriggle into it.



The fabric is pretty thin, and you can see the under-structure pretty clearly. Obviously another petticoat is required, maybe a more plain one, to go under this.

Happy bum

Happy bum

The under-structure, by the way, is my lobster-tail bustle, based pretty much exactly on the American Duchess tutorial, though I did vary the angle of my boning at the top a bit, and I added lacing to hold it closed on the inside, not just ties. This wasn’t quite as brilliant as I had thought it might be, as the lacing tends to pull the whole thing up a little bit, but it works just fine and I think if I added a ruffle to the bottom the pull up would largely be neutralized. Although now that I’ve seen it under the petticoat, and worn it a bit, I don’t actually think I care.

My American Duchess Bustle

My American Duchess Bustle

It’s boned entirely with 1/4″ spring steel from Farthingales Corset Making, which is my favourite corset-supply site, at least partly because it’s Canadian so the shipping is fast and the prices don’t mysteriously skyrocket between my cart and my bank account. Frick I hate having the dollar low again. No complaints, though, about Farthingales. Reasonable prices, quick shipping, arrives promptly. A lot of people seem to use 10mm steels or even wider on these support garments, and while I’m sure that’s strong, I feel like most of the originals I look at had more bones of a narrower width… anyway. The 1/4″ seems more than sufficient for the bustle. I took it with me to my last Marr Residence Historical Clothing thingy, and lots of people had fun trying it on and then practicing sitting down. 😀

Side view

Side view

Of course, now it’s finished and I’m struck by the crushing dissatisfaction that I find accompanies most costume sewing—it’s finished and it’s awesome and I DON”T GET TO WEAR IT ANYWHERE. I mean, I’m already known for pushing the wardrobe bounds at work with my fluffy dresses. I don’t think even I’m going to move into full Victorian mode, though. Even for my final wardrobe workshop,* coming at the end of the month, I probably won’t actually wear it as I will want to have it out for people to look at. /sigh.

Anyway, it’s done and it was a fun process, so we’ll call that a win! Edging ever closer towards… uh oh… OUTER GARMENTS!!!!!)

*Must blog those. They were awesome. To the cool people I met (I know at least one or two of you have buzzed the blog), THANK YOU!!!!!


Filed under Sewing

The Never-Ending Petticoat

A flannel petticoat

A flannel petticoat

This petticoat felt like it took forever. Really, I guess it was only a couple of weeks, and much of that was the hem. God, the hem. >_< We’ll get to that.

So in a bid to bring our brutal winter* to an early end, I started work on a flannel petticoat. Maybe it was the delirious speed at which the corset came together, but I was not feeling patient. That was probably a big part of the problem.

Anyway, this petticoat is based pretty much entirely on the instructions in The Home Needle, (p. 37-38). She is mostly describing a regular muslin petticoat (Er, “white skirt,”), but does give a nod to flannel petticoats:

“A flannel skirt is made shorter and scanter, and has a muslin yoke. For this, three yards, or even less, will suffice. The seams, after being run evenly together, are pressed open on the wrong side, and fastened down with the stitch known as herring-bone or cat-stitch. The bottom of the skirt is often finished with elaborate embroidery in silk ; but a neat hem, headed with a row of chain stitching, either in silk or linen floss, is sufficient for ordinary purposes.” (The Home Needle, p. 38)

I managed the shorter, I think not so much the “scanter,” since I pretty much followed her instructions (later in the book) for cutting out a regular skirt, and didn’t down-scale my fullness much/at all. Though I only did one set of side-gores for the skirt, not two. This petticoat will pretty much work over a bustle, whereas I get the impression that most flannel petticoats were for wearing under the bustle, to keep the legs warm. Not 100% sure, though.

A yoke. (rear view.)

A yoke. (rear view.)

So, phase one: I winged a yoke. According to Mrs. Church, a yoke should have the straight grain at the front and be cut in a single piece with the bias at the back—I, however, added a side-seam, because cutting a curved yoke in a single piece like that seems like it wastes a lot of fabric. My yoke still wound up rather over-size, so I wound up taking it in a lot at the back opening. I stabilized the waist seam with some ratty old rayon stay-tape from stash—not period, but non-bulky and thrifty, so I’ll take a half point for that. 😉

My flannel was 54″, and Mrs. Church’s instructions mostly assume a fabric around 27″ wide, so I basically cut it into skirt-lengths and then sliced those in half lengthwise. Maybe not the best way to maximize my fabric usage, but anyway. 😉

Skirt diagram

Skirt diagram

The skirt consists of three gored panels plus a rectangle for the back; the front I cut on the fold, angling from what seemed like a good width at the top out to the full width at the bottom. As per Mrs. Church’s instructions, I cut the side pieces from one length, with an angled line to make two identical pieces, wider a one end, narrow at the other.  The back is just a long rectangle of my fabric “width” (artificially narrowed) x skirt length.

Tucks & lace

Tucks & lace

Since I was going for a shorter petticoat, I didn’t add to the length to accommodate my tucks. I measured, marked the folds, and stitched them in place on the individual lengths before sewing (or should I say, running) the lengths together. Incidentally, just in case I forget this, the formula for the distance between tuck folds is y=3x+b, where y is the distance between folds on the flat fabric, x=the width of the finished tucks, and b=the space you want between tucks. (Tyo is doing linear equations in math right now. 😉 )

Cat-stitched seams

Cat-stitched seams

Once I had the skirt panels run together, I catch-stitched (which I am assuming is the same as cat-stitched) all the seam allowances open. This was the first part that seemed to take FOREVER. They do look nice now, however.

According to Mrs. Church, petticoats which have yoke & buttons (which are better than drawstrings as there is less bulk at the waist) invariably fasten at the back. The only problem with this is that there isn’t any back seam in my petticoat (since I used a single back width). Now, maybe Mrs. Church didn’t mean at the centre back exactly, but I don’t know. However, while Mrs. Church doesn’t cover it, Plain Sewing and Amateur Dressmaking (1887, p. 11) has a brief passage covering how to make a slash placket, which basically involves adding a pleat at the bottom to give you the overlap. I think. It’s possible I am completely not understanding what they described; I did my best to follow along, anyway. I turned one edge of the slash under twice, narrowly, and then make a big pleat at the other edge to cover the gap. It feels pretty much like a cheater’s solution, but it works.

Buttons & placket

Buttons & placket

I put the front of the petticoat onto the yoke smoothly (no gathering), relying on the back gathering to get everything to fit. I kinda really like this method of skirt fitting. One of these days I will work on those crazy Victorian gathering techniques that all seem to involve making multiple lines of perfectly-even stitches and then stroking each of the resulting pleats to maximum perfection before meticulously stitching each one down. For now, though, I just gathered.

Back View

Back View

Because my yoke is pretty wide, I went with three buttons on the back. The buttonholes are hand-worked, not that my hand-worked buttonholes have any degree of grace or beauty; I also worked them backwards, so the edge that the buttons pull against is probably the wrong one. Oops. They are functional, however. They, also, took forever, as did digging through my massive garage-sale-button-stash (thank you, Mom) for the perfect plain white glass buttons.

And now, we come to the albatross, the Waterloo—the hem. Ugh. Scroll up a bit and re-read Mrs. Church’s words: “… a neat hem, headed with a row of chain stitching, either in silk or linen floss, is suficient for ordinary purposes.”

Chain-stitched hem. Started bad, got only slightly better.

Chain-stitched hem. Started bad, got only slightly better.

So, of course, I had to look up chain-stitching, Fortunately, she had a diagram. OK, I can do this. It’s pretty simple. It also pretty much only looks good if the stitches are teeny-tiny short (the fact that I was using cotton thread, not linen or silk floss, might be a part of this), and teeny-tiny-short-stitches were really hard to get through all the thick layers of my flannel. Not to mention proceeding at even more of a snail’s pace. I also (eventually) figured out that the only way I could keep the chainstitch even was to mark its position with wash-away pen… there is some meandering before I hit that desperate point. No, I’m not going back to fix it.

The hardest part, mentally, aside from the not-terribly-decorative nature of my “decorative hem”, was that it’s not an invisible hem. I hand stitch my hems invisibly all the freaking time, and it’s not a problem, but doing this visible hem (and having it not look AWESOME) made me want to stab my eyes out with the needle. Or just run over to the sewing machine and SEW THE FRICKING THING BY MACHINE. Because then it would be done, in five seconds, and LOOK BETTER.

Ahem. But this is supposed to be about the process, right? If I just want to whip up a costume that’s a whole different beast… this is trying to reproduce, or at least experiment with, period techniques.

It's hard to get a good picture of bustle-bum.

It’s hard to get a good picture of bustle-bum.

Anyway, I did eventually get it finished. And I like how it looks, although it doesn’t look particularly like what comes up when I google “Victorian flannel petticoat.” Two more minor things remain: I would like to add an elastic across the inside to pull in the back (as Mrs. Church recommends), and/or some slits in the side so the ties for pulling in the outer skirts in the same way can pass through.

I’m excited, though, to make a light-weight version next, with ruffles on the butt. And a proper bustle, of course. And after that… (ulp!) after that, I have to begin thinking about the dress! O_o



*OK, February and the first week of March were brutal. Before and after, the weather has been lovely.


Filed under Sewing

Historical Clothing of the Late Nineteenth Century

… is the slightly ostentatious name they came up with for a program (actually, a series of programs, or workshops, or afternoons of hanging out) I am coordinating at the Marr Residence, a local history site, this spring. The first one is tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, May 22, 2015), the other two are the first and last Sundays in May.

I wanted to call it a "Victorian Sewing Bee."

I wanted to call it a “Victorian Sewing Circle.” This way sounds more educational, I guess. 😉

Like my poster?

I probably should have posted this sooner, although if I have five local readers who might even potentially drop by I’ll actually be a bit surprised. And frankly, I feel like a bit of a poser since I’m a long, long way from an expert on historical clothing or costuming. I’m justifying it to myself as a way to network and meet other people locally who might have an interest in historical sewing & costuming (and who may well know more than me.) And it’s my little way of “creating an event” to explore my interest in historical sewing and costuming, since I really don’t want to just make costumes that have no other function but to hang in my closet.

I do have a few hidden resources… like the Victorian Dress, and the rest of my mom’s antique clothing collection (plus a few lovely pieces in the Marr Residence collections) and reproduction catalogue collection. (I haven’t seen as much of the catalogue stuff around the webs, which is interesting… I feel like it gives a more day-to-day view of fashion than the fashion plates or even the period photographs.), and I’ll be there with my own project (I think it’s BUSTLE TIME), and some sewing basics should anyone else want to drop by and do some sewing, or just some hanging out and talking.

So yeah, um, those five of you who are in town (or is that three who’ll actually read this on a Saturday night, or one who might maybe have nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon…) anyway, yeah, stop by!

I think it's cute, anyway.


Filed under Sewing

Remedial Corsetology


Almost a corset.


Remember when I did a mock-up for a corset? Yeah, me neither (well, barely.) I think it was last spring sometime? Anyway, finally this past weekend I had—wait for it—leisure time! Nothing that needed to be made with an instant deadline! (And my husband wasn’t playing Final Fantasy 14, which is also sapping the sewing time these days. I’m not gonna apologize for that, though, down-time is down-time and I love back-seat gaming.)

So, after spending most of my Saturday puttering around tidying the perpetual mess that is the sewputer room and finishing the odd UFO and repair, I finally got the itch to pull out the altered pattern for Butterick 4254 and bash out a second toile. (swayback adjustment and a variety of take-a-bit-out-here, add-a-bit-there-type alterations.) And then made some alterations to that, and then finally bit the bullet and started in.


Pretty details.


The fashion fabric is a lightweight twill with a toile-ish print that I spent ages ogling at my local Fabricland about two years ago. It was 70% off, but I was dead broke and couldn’t justify a random purchase, especially since I didn’t have any idea what I would make with it. Then it sold out, and I was sad. Then, one day, I happened to be at the *other* Fabricland in town (which never happens), and guess what I found… in the bargain centre for $2.00/m.

At that price, even stone-broke me could justify it. The last 2m came home with me… and have sat taking up space in my basement ever since, although I did hit on the idea of using some for a corset a year or so ago.

I chickened out on using my precious coutil (ordered along with spiral steel boning and grommets from Farthingales corset in Ontario) for this first run, instead using a sturdy white twill I got as a hand-me-down from a friend’s de-stash. We’ll see if I regret this later on.




For my instructions, I pretty much followed “The Basics of Corset Making,” for a double-layer, alterable corset. As per the pattern, all the bone casings are on the seams of the panels, and I just serged the edges before topstitching them down, so historical this is not (even though I’m going for a fairly traditional sort of look. I think. >_<) The only other place I added a casting channel was beside the grommets in the back, as I thought it would need a bit more support in that area. Having a channel on each side of each seam makes for what seems like a LOT of bones, but I guess that’s not a bad thing?


Grommets & setting tools


I think my least favourite part of the whole construction was setting the grommets for the back lacing. I ordered grommets, as I said, from Farthingales, just to see how they compare to the ones available at Fabricland. The Farthingales ones have a much wider rim compared to the hole size, which makes them look larger and seem much more substantial, so that’s nice. The setter that came with them (and I don’t recall if it was separate or included), though, was identical to the Unique-brand one I have from Fabricland… that I’ve always used for grommets the next size up. The cupped base fit the wider rim of these grommets nicely, but I found the upper part, that you hammer on, was just too wide to fit in the small hole—I wound up using the upper part of a grommet-setter I already have, for the smaller size grommets. This worked quite well, but if all I’d had was the one that came with, I would’ve been unhappy. It’s not even the hammering that I dislike, (I can say this because I only hammered my fingers once this time.), it’s the poking-hole-and-then-working-grommet


Set grommets. (Baggie to the left is Unique-brand eyelets with the same hole-size, but much narrower rings so they look smaller.)


I haven’t been able to do a proper try on, since I’m still lacking a real lacing cord (I thought I had ordered one when I ordered the grommets and coutil but, um, apparently I forgot to change the “1” metre measurement to the 8 I was intending to order, so, um, one metre of lacing does not do me a hell of a lot of good.) and none of my piddly little wire-cutters are really up to cutting the spiral steel. I did manage to pick up a more robust wire-cutter after work yesterday, and spent the evening merrily cutting and tipping bones, but I won’t be able to get lacing cord before tomorrow at the earliest.

ANYWAY, I was startled how much waist reduction I did get just as a quick, bone-free try on (before my cotton string “lacing cord” broke)… well, reduction for me, anyway. I have very little space between my ribcage and hips, and my ribcage is tubular, or maybe just barrel-shaped. As in, doesn’t taper towards the bottom. Let’s just say I’m not expecting dramatic results.


Corset front with spoon busk.


I did have to un-bend the curve of the spoon busk, as it doesn’t fall in the right place for this style (it was that or replace the busk. >_<) I’m a little disconcerted how hard that wasn’t. And I may yet have to take apart the front bustline seams as I’m not convinced the bust curve is in the right place, but I don’t want to make that call until I can do a proper try-on, which won’t happen until I can get some approximation of lacing cord, maybe later this week.



Looking curvy! (by my standards.)

I kind of got ahead of myself in the finishing department, adding lace and binding to the top of the corset. I will probably regret that when/if I do have to re-shape the bust seams. Oh, well. The lace was one of those random remnants that floats about a stash, but there was just enough to do the top of the corset—perfect. (OK, with five flowers left over. I’ll call that perfect.)


More pretty details.

I hope I can make it work once I get to try it on, because I think it’s really pretty right now…


Filed under Sewing

That Victorian Dress

(No actual sewing in this post, just ogling—may be boring to anyone not a history or historical-fashion nerd. On the other hand, it might make a good sleep aid.)

So we pulled this thing out of a bag…

So this crazy thing happened a few weeks ago. I went over to my mother’s house for dinner (as we often do, now that we live within popping-over distance), and, amidst the pleasant after-dinner conversation, we began to dig through some boxes of vintage and antique sewing paraphernalia an old garage-saling buddy of my mother’s was downsizing. There were old sewing notion, and lace, and more lace, and patterns—those deserve their own post—but one unimpressive bag blew everything else out of the water.

This bag held a dress.

An antique dress.

What I think is a genuine, original, Victorian, bustle-era dress, to be precise.

More or less exactly the kind of dress I’ve been musing, however on-and-off (and let’s face it, everything is more off than on with me these days 😦 ) about making.

Holy fucking shit, Batman.

Like most dresses of the era, it consists of two parts: bodice (“waist”) and skirt. I’m thinking it originally would’ve had an overskirt, as well, as the upper skirt is made in  plain fabric and would be pretty unsightly. The skirt as a whole is kinda weird, but we’ll get to that.

Things You Should Not Do With Antique Dresses: 1) wear them!

The whole outfit is in a black wool ?jaquard, with a woven, textural pattern. The bodice is ornamented with yellow silk underlying black lace black lace yokes and undersleeves (the impression is of pagoda sleeves and engageantes, though they are not removable). And yes, I did try it on, as I was not able to resist. It fits, for a given value of fit—I suspect were I properly corseted it would be too big. The sleeves are a trifle short, but given my monkey-arms anything else would be surprising; the skirt length is remarkably good for me as well. The edge of the shoulder sits in the right plate, although it looks as if it were made for someone with much more sloped shoulders than mine.

Waist (Bodice)

The "Waist"

The “Waist”

The bodice extends about three inches below the natural waist, and has a straight lower edge. The waist closes at centre front, with hooks and eyes, with the “stomacher” added as an overlay attached to one side. The front is shaped with darts, while the back is shaped with double princess seams curving into the armscye. The neck is finished in a simple standing collar. The shoulder seam falls well to the rear of the true shoulder. Although the shoulders are quite sloped (but then I have square shoulders), at least on me, they are not dropped; there is a tiny bit of fullness pleated in at the sleeve cap, but I suspect this is more to do with inexpert easing than a desire for any actual fullness there. The sleeves are very curved, and give the impression of a two-layered sleeve. The outer sleeves are vaguely Pagoda-style, though much narrower than 1860s pagoda sleeves, with shaped, ornamented hems, and are cut in a single piece with the seam under the arm, although they are shaped with a long dart that also lies underneath the arm.  I originally thought this dart might give some shaping, but it is actually a consequence of a major alteration the bodice underwent at some point; someone took in the side-seams (by hand) by about 1″ on each side (total reduction of 4″)—so the sleeve had to be taken in to fit the shrunken armscye. The undersleeve, which is made of the yellow silk & black lace like the yoke, seems to be attached to the sleeve lining, (check this) and is rather puffed above the velvet cuff. Now, pagoda sleeves and engageantes are a classic 1860s look, but I don’t think this dress is quite that old—everything else about the cut makes me think “Bustle era”—fitted shoulders, dropped bodice waistline, narrow skirt with, y’know, bustle accommodation in the back.

The bodice is largely machine-stitched, although the decoration and some later alterations were done by hand. It is entirely underlined with a fairly smooth, sturdy cotton with a printed stripe design. This fabric has held up very well over time. The wool fabric of the main construction is also very sturdy and in more-or-less perfect condition. The main ornamentation of the bodice comes in the form of a yellow silk, which was tucked with 1/4″ tucks before it was attached, overlaid with black lace and finished with a combination of sequined trim and black velvet ribbon. This yellow silk is found in front and back yokes around the neck, the “stomacher,” and the engageantes-style lower sleeve. Although the black lace is damaged in places, particularly on the lower sleeve, the yellow silk is much more badly shattered, resembling ribbons in most places where it has split along the lines of the tucks.

The front and back yokes are strictly decorative, not part of the cut of the garment, as they are underlain by the black wool and not reflected by any seams on the interior. The yellow silk can be seen on the inside of the shoulder-seams, where the tucks are most clearly visible. You can also see very rough hand-stitching on the inside of the bodice where the bottom of the yoke was attached after, or at least attached after the sewing of the CB seam. The stomacher also seems to be basically applique’d to the front of the bodice, with a second row of hooks added to keep it closed on the left side.

The sleeve itself is lined, rather than underlined; the oversleeve (pagoda-style sleeve) is cut in a single piece, while the lining is what I think of as a typical two-pieced , strongly-curved Victorian sleeve. There are a couple of pleats around the elbow of the sleeve lining, though I’m not 100% sure they were intended to be functional. The underlseeve is stitched by hand to the sleeve lining just below the elbow, which I could see by turning the sleeve inside-out. (Another thing I shouldn’t have done) The oversleeve is held in place around its hem by thread-bars, so I wasn’t able to pull it up to see exactly how the undersleeve was stitched on.

Bodice inside: boning and waist-stay

The rear seams of the bodice have short bones around the waist (five in total), machine-stitched to the seam-allowances, which are in turn stitched down to the underlining. The waist-stay is attached to the boning casings of the back three bones only, with variably-neat stitches; however, whoever took the bodice in at the side-seams didn’t bother to shorten the waist-stay, so it is essentially useless in its current form.


Lace stomacher, yoke, and collar.

Lace stomacher, yoke, and collar.

While the yellow silk was attached during the construction of the garment (after the CB seam, before the shoulder seams), the black lace in the yokes was added after; the lace is pleated toward the neck-edge to make it curve around the yokes.

Black velvet ribbon trims the collar, forms the cuffs, and outlines the stomacher, as well as forming a decorative faux-lacing across it. One corner of the stomacher is also ornamented with a slightly bedraggled bow of the ribbon. The bottom of the bodice, which is straight, is trimmed with a wide black velvet ribbon as well. In addition to the black velvet trim, there is a complicated sequined trim applied along the edges of the yokes, stomacher, and oversleeves.


The skirt

Trying to get a full-view of the skirt and failing. It's not particularly full. With all the piecing, I wonder if they were running out of fabric?

Trying to get a full-view of the skirt and failing. It’s not particularly full. With all the piecing, I wonder if they were running out of fabric?

The skirt is maybe the most puzzling part about the dress—it almost seems like an afterthought. It is very narrow, and fits very closely over the (my) hips in the front (This strikes me as odd since I’m neither corseted nor naturally curvy). Most of it is made of the same fabric as the bodice, but the front panel is made in some kind of plain black twill, and the upper portion of the side and back panels are in a plain black fabric as well. (It looks brown in the photos because I lightened them to show details.)

Skirt front, showing upper panels of different fabric.

I wonder if they were running short on the main fashion-fabric, and were making do. The only fullness in the skirt is at the back; while there is very little actual gathering at the waist, there is a triangular panel the middle back waistband, creating space for a distinct, if probably small, bustle. (This is interesting—all the Victorian sewing books I’ve read talk about gathering the fabric in the back waist for the bustle, not about shaping it with darts or seams).

Skirt back, inside, showing seams of triangular “bustle cover” panel.

The waistband itself is made of the brocade fabric, underlain by something else (maybe the same sturdy fabric as the front panel, or maybe a grosgrain tape of some kind) but is not finished on the inside. The skirt opening is on one side of the front panel, and is very roughly constructed, although it has a wide underlap. Or maybe it’s just that there are very few hooks to hold it closed, so it gapes and sits a bit oddly. This rough closure, along with the plain upper panels, make me think that an overskirt may have originally covered most of it. It is unlined (and only the front panel is underlined), and is hemmed by machine.

My mom asked her friend if she knew anything more about the dress. According to my mom’s friend, the dress belonged to her grandmother, although, given the look of the dress, I’m thinking great-grandmother is more likely (Grandmother was born in 1880, great-grandmother in the 1850s). 😉 I’d love to hear if anyone has thoughts on the dating or other features—I’m calling it “Bustle Era” based on the style alone; depending on how bustle-friendly it actually is (I haven’t had the chance to try stuffing the skirt to see how big a bustle it can accommodate) I might even be tempted to suggest “Natural form” (a few years in the late 1870s, early 1880s when the skirts got very slim), as the skirt seems quite slim to me—but then I’m not seeing it all puffed out with petticoats and whatnot. It doesn’t have the bell-shaped flare I tend to associate with 1890s Victorian fashion, and the smooth, narrow sleeve caps make me think Bustle Era as well, as opposed to huge 1890s puffs. But I’m also very, VERY far from being an expert on these things. (Oh, and my mom’s friend said she knew the dress wasn’t in very good shape but perhaps I could use the fabric or trim for something. >_<)

I think my favourite thing about this dress is the way the details call back to other historical time periods (assuming it is 1880s or so, anyway)—the sleeves reminiscent of the 1860s (although slimmed down for a different time-period’s aesthetic) and the stomacher and front-panel of the skirt that remind one of gowns of the 1700s.

I took a whack load of more detailed photos with my mom’s good camera (although the lighting was still not the best), and have placed them on Google Plus as well as in an album on Flickr (Flickr link currently going to my profile as that album is taking FOREVER to load… big pictures. 😉 ), for those of you who want EVEN MORE closeups of actual antique dressmaking.

This stuff really makes me want to sit and make historical costumes… as if I have time. Hallowe’en is coming up and, while that would be a perfect opportunity for WEARING a historical costume, the kids’ orders are taking priority right now (hello, Batgirl and Tiny Tina.)… but a girl can dream, right?


Filed under Sewing