1915 Picnic Dress, Part I: Fabric and Sketch

So this is my third year organizing a Historical Costumers’ Picnic, and in honor of the event I’m going to make something new to wear (as I do every year). Since I’ve got a bunch of other projects going on for Costume College I decided that this one should be relatively simple– no complicated fitting issues, no elaborate handmade trims or fastenings, no insane underpinnings. So the Victorian era was out, of course, as was the very early Edwardian period. I already had a 1920s summer dress from last year, so this time I opted to go a few years earlier, when the dresses were starting to get lighter, airier, and shorter (just hitting the ankle) but still had natural waistlines and relatively slim skirts. 1915 seemed about right from the fashion plates and extant gowns:


So here’s my sketch:


I wanted to use my Edwardian kimono-sleeved blouse pattern from Truly Victorian, TVE45 (from 1911 but the general shape was in use for a few years on either side, it appears), since it looked simple to make. I had a tough time figuring out how full to make the skirt to keep the feel light and airy, but avoid the dumpiness that so often comes with full skirts and blousy tops (at least on me). And I’m hoping that the button details and the little apron-thingie in front are Edwardian enough to make this historical-looking, rather than like a standard 1980s Laura Ashley dress.

I could picture the exact shade of peachy-pink I wanted for this– kind of like a cross between pale peach and pink grapefruit. Unfortunately, getting it right proved to be an issue.

Since it’s so hard to judge color online, and since I don’t have a good source of fabrics nearby, I decided to use Jacquard iDye to dye some white cotton voile I had on hand. However, it was impossible to get the right color, despite my meticulously measuring out my dyes (Scarlet with a touch of Golden Yellow) with a syringe to maintain accuracy, doing multiple test swatches, and soaking my fabric for only about 7 minutes in an extremely diluted dye bath to keep the color delicate. Instead of a lovely rosy peach, I ended up with fabric of a distinctly cantaloupe-like shade that was definitely too bright. (it may be tough to tell onscreen, but it really was)


I tried using a color remover (Jacquard iDye Color Remover) on it in the hopes of toning down the color, which after an hour of simmering lightened it a tiny bit, but not very much– disappointing. I then tried bleaching it with diluted Clorox bleach, and that helped a tiny bit as well, but again not much. Rather than weaken the fabric with extended bleaching, I cut my losses and looked for a different option.

I ended up finding a nice pale peach cotton lawn on Etsy, and (mindful of previous misadventures) ordered a swatch to check the shade. It arrived looking a bit too close to nude for my taste, so I gave the swatch a 10-second dip in a very, VERY diluted solution of Scarlet iDye and it came out perfect. Oddly enough, as a single layer the newly-dyed peach lawn looked surprisingly similar to my pale canteloupe-dyed voile, but it had just enough of a hint of brown in it from the nude-colored base (as opposed to the bright white voile I’d originally started with) that it looked antique rather than modern, especially when there were multiple layers of fabric involved. The finished fabric was perfect.


While I was getting my fabric straightened out, I commenced the search for some reasonably-priced antique lace to use to trim the dress. I wanted this one to look like an actual antique piece, but while authentic handmade lace was out of my budget, modern machine-made lace was out of the question (it just looks wrong). What I really wanted was a set of triangular lace inserts to accent parts of the dress, and a lace collar to match. These proved to be impossible to find at any price (at least on Etsy or eBay). I was about to settle for some somewhat-coordinating pieces that weren’t perfect but which I thought might do, when I hit the jackpot.


I found this tray cloth/napkin set on eBay– it’s beautifully sheer and the embroidery looks oh-so-Edwardian, but honestly it’s probably from the 1930s at the earliest. I don’t even know if it’s cotton, since I haven’t done a burn test on it yet. I’m not complaining, though, since I got the set for under $20! Now I just need to soak it in a little Woolite to brighten it up a bit, and figure out exactly how to get my inserts and collar out of it. I figure between the main tray cloth and the six cocktail napkins, I ought to be able to manage it.

Finally, I picked up 12 yards of this 1/2″ wide vintage lace on eBay as well– it’s really lovely and delicate-looking, and I’m hoping it works well with everything else.


Fingers crossed that it turns out well!


2 thoughts on “1915 Picnic Dress, Part I: Fabric and Sketch

  1. Pingback: 1915 Picnic Dress, Part III: Skirt | It's All Frosting...

  2. Pingback: Lady Macbeth Beetlewing Gown, Part II: Supplies | It's All Frosting...

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