1880s Squirrel Dress, Part VI: Trimming

Once I’d finished the basic dress, it was time to trim the skirt. Originally I’d planned a double row of wide pleats on the underskirt, with another row of pleats along the bottom edge of the apron overskirt. However, the more I looked at the ensemble the less I liked the idea of all those pleats– they seemed fussy, somehow, and not as tailored and simple as the bodice. It was time to rethink.

I decided to make one wide row of pleats to put along the hem, and to put off further decisions until that was attached. Accordingly, I pieced together a 300″ strip of my fabric (with the stripes oriented horizontally for a fun variation), did a narrow hem on both long edges, got out my homemade pleater board (more on that later), and started pleating. It was really annoying. It took forever. My pleats kept pulling out of the board as I worked, and waiting for the pleats to cool completely before moving on to the next section was extremely tedious. But I suppose it could’ve been a lot worse– I could’ve had to pin them individually before pressing them, right?

For what it’s worth, I sprayed my pleats generously with a 2:1 mixture of water and white vinegar, ironed them with plenty of steam, and let them cool completely before basting each long edge to keep the pleats in place. And then, paranoid that my pleats would come out, I sprayed and ironed the pleated fabric AGAIN once it was off the pleater board to get those extra-sharp creases, and put a long strip of painter’s tape down the center of the pleated fabric to keep the pleats completely stationary as I worked.

I pinned the pleated trim to the bottom of my skirt and stitched it on, then stood back to look at the skirt to see what else I could do. It looked fine, but kind of boring. Not connected enough to the bodice, being made of only one kind of fabric. I thought I might want to add some flat bows or tabs made out of my accent fabric, to tie things together, but couldn’t really envision it. Oddly enough, I actually liked the look of the painter’s tape down the center of the pleats.

And I thought, if that were velvet it would look fantastic, wouldn’t it? If only I had some velvet ribbon of exactly the right color…

I didn’t have the ribbon, of course, and trying to stitch perfectly straight parallel lines on velvet to make my own sounded like a recipe for disaster– I truly detest sewing velvet. But I was able to get the general look by cutting my wide pleated trim into two narrow strips of pleated trim, with a panel of velvet in between. To cut the pleated trim, I taped all the pleats in place with parallel rows of tape, then did two lines of stitching on either side of center, all along the length. Once the stitching was in place, I just cut between the lines (making that first cut into my pleated trim made me cringe a little– all that work!) to make two separate lengths of trim. I folded a narrow hem over the already-pleated edge to keep it nicely finished.

The velvet strips were cut from the selvedges of the fabric to ensure at least one straight, stabilized edge, and interfaced with lightweight fusible interfacing. I stitched the non-selvedge edge to the top of the pleated trim, right sides together, with about 1/4″ seam allowance. Then I attached the pleated strip to the skirt hem by “stitching in the ditch” next to the velvet. I flipped the velvet up and folded the selvedge under, whip-stitching it to the underskirt to make a clean edge. Finally, I stitched the second pleated strip above the velvet, overlapping it by about 1/2″. That overlap is key to concealing the wonky edge of my velvet strip, which I couldn’t avoid no matter how carefully I pinned, basted, and stitched, because the skirt is gored and therefore has a slightly smaller circumference the higher up you get.

After I attached the velvet I thought I’d be done, but the more I looked at it, the more I thought that something was missing. (sorry, forgot to take pictures) I really wanted to bring in the vest fabric somehow– after much consideration, I made a bunch of tabs out of the fuchsia shot cotton and added matching buttons (complete with non-functional buttonholes, which you can barely see). I spaced them out around the skirt, overlapping the velvet strip, and I really liked the effect.

Of course, once I finished the hem treatment, the overskirt seemed a little bare, so I decided to extend the “tab” motif and make two sets of longer tabs with more buttons, one to go on either side of the overskirt. I made them out of velvet and shot cotton and stacked them on top of each other; they go right over the seam between the apron front and swagged back on either side, and the tops are hidden by the lower edge of the bodice. The set on the left has hooks and eyes so it can cover the side opening.

And there you have it! The finished skirt! Not exactly what I’d planned, but I really love the effect– it’s tailored but still a bit over the top, the way a bustle gown should be…


7 thoughts on “1880s Squirrel Dress, Part VI: Trimming

  1. The trim really pulls the entire ensemble together. The stacked tabs on the bustle were a brilliant addition, picking up the interplay of pinks in the bodice. Sometimes, the most inspired decorative touches emerge through serendipity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 1880s Hat Conversion | It's All Frosting...

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