In determining how this gown would go together I reviewed a lot of the photos of the restoration of the original gown. Since it was crocheted it’s not surprising that there are few (if any) shaping seams– it looks as though the top of the gown is shaped only through side seams, and there’s a dropped, pointed waistline (front and back) where the gathered skirt is attached.
I decided to cut the top section in panels for shaping, which would also minimize the stretchiness of the fabric– I figured that the bodice would be more stable if it were interspersed with non-stretchy seams connecting the panels. I started with a basic princess-seamed dress pattern (Butterick Sew Easy B5872) and cut it out according to the size chart for my first mockup. That was a big mistake, since there was a ton of ease in the dress and I ended up pinching out a whopping 8 inches of width to get a fitted bodice.
Eventually I cut the bodice mockup to a deep, rounded point both front and back, and moved on to the sleeves. And let me say right now, they were a serious pain. The problem was that my bodice pattern was for a sleeveless dress, and it’s not as easy as it looks to just graft a sleeve pattern onto a sleeveless bodice. I went through way too many iterations, altering both the sleeve and the armscye, before I finally got my basic sleeve right.
Of course, then I had to add the long, dangling section to make the dramatic sleeve shape from the original. The sleeve itself appears to be cut with the long edge extending from the shoulder– you can see here that it’s almost as long as the entire dress, with the inner curve being the length of the arm. In the second image below (sorry, couldn’t find a bigger one) you can see the shape of the sleeve when laid out flat:
This really is a massive sleeve! Here’s my pattern piece, which is almost 54″ long:
There was also a mancheron-type piece at the shoulder that helps to define the armscye, so I cut out an extra pattern piece, pinned it to my bodice, and fiddled with it until it looked reasonable. It’ll be double-layered and lined only with tulle to keep it from being too stiff. I don’t think my shoulder is quite as dropped as the original, but dropped shoulders are not flattering on me, so I went with this version.
I had a difficult time figuring out how the skirt was cut– after looking at a ton of photos I’ve concluded that the front is probably a gathered A-line panel, but the back is a partial circle (as seen in this photo):
I don’t even begin to understand why there are lines that look like piecing in the photo above, but these museum notes on the skirt repairs appear to indicate that there’s a gore in the back of the skirt, which I interpret as being the above section.
This is seemingly borne out by the photos of the dress on the mannequin, where you can definitely see smallish gathers at the front, but the hem width just doesn’t look as full as it would if it were a full half-circle:
And the back has a lot more fullness in it:
Even if I’m wrong, I’ll feel better about cutting the front as a straight-ish panel since that means the fabric will stretch evenly all the way across the front for a consistent length (I learned my lesson about stretch with the My Fair Lady gown!), while any wonkiness in length caused by the circle-cut back will probably be hidden by the sweep train.
Here are my mockups of the skirt front and back (the back isn’t full-length)– the front is an A-line panel with a top width of 30″ (about double the width of the front of my waistline), and a bottom width of 60″. The back is a half-circle that’s cut so the inner circumference (see explanation of how this works here) is about 30″. Both top edges are then gathered to fit my waist– you can see the huge difference in the effect of the gathering between a straight panel and a half-circle panel below.
Moving on, you can see in the pictures that the dress opens down the center back with lacing, though I’ll be using an invisible zipper instead to make it easier to get into:
Next I need to figure out how to fit all of these pattern pieces onto my fabric!