When I decided to make my 1830s day dress, I knew that I was going to go BIG. Sadly, the gigantic sleeves of my dress were never going to *stay* gigantic without some kind of support on the inside. While the Truly Victorian pattern suggested that I make a version of the evening puffed sleeve out of netting or something similarly stiff to use for a sleeve puffer, I decided to go in a different direction.
Once the bodice was done, the skirt was relatively straightforward. 1830s skirts are just rectangles pleated to the bodice, so rather than follow the pattern I cut three lengths of fabric to use.
I added some non-historically-accurate pockets to the side seams– I do intend to carry a reticule with this dress, but pockets are nice for things you really don’t want to lose.
Because I had a center back seam I figured that I didn’t need to stitch in a separate placket– I just used an extra-wide seam allowance and folded it over to one side. Sadly, this did not end up working out, as once I’d pleated my skirt to my bodice and basted it in place, I realized that it was just too full– my fabric was 54″ wide, making for a 160″ skirt circumference. It looked more like an 1860s skirt than an 1830s skirt, so I cut out a section from the center back (12″ on each side) and re-stitched the center back seam. That required me to rip out my skirt pleats and start again, which was a pain. And I ended up doing it a third time once I tried it on and was dissatisfied with how I’d distributed the skirt fullness. And then a fourth time when I decided that my waistline was just 1/2″ too high, so I needed to re-set the skirt (and waist piping) entirely to bring it down just a bit. And then a FIFTH time when I realized that in order to balance the hemline properly I’d need to take it up from the waist due to the difference in length between front and back. (sigh)
Ah, gigantic sleeves– is there anything more iconic of the 1830s? I was very excited to get these onto my dress to get the real 1830s look. That being said, after reading a bunch of blogs about 1830s sleeves, I came to the conclusion that the sleeve pattern that came with the pattern wasn’t quite big enough. You heard me: not big enough.
The first thing I do for any new pattern these days is make at least a partial mockup– and in this particular case I’m extra-glad that I did, because the bodice was just WEIRD on me as originally drafted. I must have extremely square shoulders or something, because when I pulled the neckline out to the correct width, the center front got pulled up to make a really prominent bulgy area right at the bust.
At first I tried taking a fisheye dart right in the center to pinch out the extra fabric, but eventually I realized that it was a shoulder issue. Once I added a little extra space to the shoulder line (an extra size’s worth, front and back), that opened things up and smoothed out the center front. Whew! I suppose it might not have been a big deal anyway, given that the smoothly-fitted bodice lining is covered up by an over-layer, but I want the fit to be right even if I can’t see it. One more thing I did change was to add an extra 2″ to the side seams to allow for some expansion if required in the future.
Until recently I’d never much cared for the 1830s in terms of fashion– the giant sleeves were off-puttingly wide (unlike 1890s sleeves, which somehow seemed more normal, perhaps because they were higher on the shoulder?) the ankle-length skirts looked awkward, and the giant bonnets were insane. No, I thought, the doll-like silhouette was not for me. But while at Costume College last summer I attended a really fun class on crazy 1830s hair, and then I saw a bunch of attendees walking around in smashing 1830s day dresses, and before I knew it I was hooked!
I picked up Truly Victorian 455, the Romantic Era dress pattern, and started browsing through Pinterest for fabric ideas.