So at last my 1860s ballgown is finished! I got to wear it, hoop skirt and all, to a Victorian ball this summer, and it was a hit! It took a little getting used to, dancing with such a gigantic skirt, but it was just so much fun!
Besides my floral hair wreath, I accessorized with some simple pearl earrings (leverback, so not technically historically accurate, but close enough) and a blue cameo strung on a black velvet ribbon. I also had short white gloves, but had abandoned them by the time these pictures were taken– just as well, they kind of made my hands blend into my skirts, which looked weird.
All in all I’m very happy with the dress– it’s got just the right silhouette and the embroidery makes it extra-special. Looking forward to wearing it again sometime!
The last thing I made for this outfit was a floral headpiece to wear with it– during the 1850s and 1860s it was popular to wear floral crescents for eveningwear, so I got out my paper-covered floral wire from my daughter’s flower girl wreath and went shopping for artificial flowers. I purchased several different shades of blue, with some ivory thrown in for good measure.
First I made a ring out of wire, twisting the ends under, then figured out a general idea for how I wanted my flowers to be placed. After that it was just a matter of hot-gluing things down one by one!
I painted the visible brown parts of the wire with black paint, just to make them blend into my hair color better.
When it came time to wear the wreath, I twisted my hair into a low-rolled updo, and pinned the wreath to the rolls.
So as you recall, I had some issues with the seams rippling in my bodice— I wasn’t sure what was causing it, but after some consultation with other costumers online we determined that it was likely due to the bodice being too long. The extra length was being pushed up and forwards by the curve of my skirt, causing the seams to buckle.
One way to remedy this issue is to fix the shape of the bottom of the bodice– since the original pattern hadn’t provided a stitching line or directions for how to shape it, I’d just done a basic pointed bodice, front and back. However, closer examination of the fashion plates and extant gowns showed that pointed bodices back then had an entirely different shape– much more curved, with a distinctly long front point when compared to the rest of the bodice. This allows the skirt more room to bell out without pushing out the bodice edges.
I removed my piping and adjusted the shaping of my bodice hem to get it closer to that high arch on each side of center front– I couldn’t make it nearly as extreme as the example above, but I think it’s a little better– besides, not all period gowns had the extreme arch shape anyway.
Once I had my underpinnings set I decided to make the skirt, so I could be sure that when my bodice was constructed it would fit over all of the skirt layers and still be able to close at the waist. I found a nice tutorial online for making a basic pleated skirt from a rectangular length of fabric, so I took a few pointers from that, but mostly I just winged it.
I never intended to make an 1860s ballgown– despite my Dickens Fair adventure into the 1840s for a casual daytime dress, the ruffled berthas that appeared on virtually all of the 1860s ballgowns just didn’t appeal to my sense of aesthetics. So imagine my surprise when I came across a fabric lot on eBay and immediately thought “this would look fabulous as an 1860s ballgown.” And then it was just a short step from “AN 1860s ballgown” to “MY 1860s ballgown.”
The fabric is ivory embroidered with blue flowers* and wheat-colored leaves (label says it’s a rayon-acetate blend). It actually came in a set of four panels, each 48″ wide and 3.5 yards long, and cost me $50 including shipping– meaning that I got 14 yards of fabric for under $3/yard! Score! Especially since the still-affixed tag had each panel priced at $80 on sale!
Interestingly, the fabric is shiny on one side and matte– almost dupioni-ish– on the other, and the embroidery is on the matte side. I didn’t realize this at first, but I think I like it this way– too much shine (however much it would’ve been loved historically) just reads as “cheap” in modern times.
The panels were originally intended to be curtains, so the embroidered design is set up to hang at the base of each curtain, making for a total of about 172″ of embroidery across the four panels (accounting for the blank borders on the edges). As soon as I saw it I could envision that embroidery around the hem of a full skirt, and I knew that the remaining length of each panel would be plenty for constructing a ballgown bodice with all the trimmings.