1915 Picnic Dress: Done!

DSC_6385-2 edited

So the outfit is finished at last! Here I’m wearing it over a modern sleeveless cotton blouse that passes as a corset cover, and an antique Edwardian petticoat. (I’d planned to wear a corset but ditched it at the last minute because I thought it would be uncomfortable to wear while sitting on the ground) I accessorized with my Edwardian pumps, my bow-bedecked hat, and a paper parasol. Here are some shots of the full outfit!

Channeling my inner Lady Mary… I’m totally judging whatever it is I’m looking at off in the distance.

Image may contain: Tanya Austin, standing, hat and outdoor

With the family, including my little girl in her white eyelet dress!

Image may contain: 3 people, including Wes Austin and Tanya Austin, people smiling, people standing, hat, tree and outdoor

As I’ve said before, I always do appreciate when a dress turns out exactly as I’d pictured it. It doesn’t always turn out that way, which is sometimes a good thing, but there’s just something so satisfying about comparing the sketch to the real thing and seeing it come to life.

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1915 Picnic Dress, Part V: Finishing Touches

After the dress was structurally finished and the main embellishments were attached, I still had a few more things to do to finish it off.

First I made a belt, as it was necessary to cover up the closure at the waistband. I’d originally considered incorporating it into the dress itself, but ultimately decided that I’d rather have a little more flexibility in sizing, so a separate belt that could be cinched in or loosened a bit was preferable.

To make the belt, I cut a long rectangle of fabric and machine-sewed a bunch of 3/8″ tucks into it. I stitched the tucked piece to a flat band of fabric, right sides together, then turned and pressed it flat.

picnic-sash.jpg

I considered finding a sash buckle or pin to close it, but ultimately decided that it would be an unnecessary focal point on the dress when I really wanted the focus to be on the embroidery. Instead I closed the belt in back with snaps, though I left enough overlap to use a buckle later if I wanted to.

Next up were covered buttons, which seemed to be a popular decorative accent in the period. I bought 5/8″ covered button kits and covered them in a double layer of peach lawn– the second layer was necessary because otherwise the shiny metal button base showed through the sheer fabric, though I will note that even with very thin fabric, the extra layer made it difficult to snap the button-back into place. I stitched them to the dress in sets of three. They’re not functional, but I think they added an extra-Edwardian touch to the outfit, even if my fingertips were killing me by the time I’d covered all 18 buttons.

picnic-dress-buttons

Remember the lace I put on the sleeves while I was stitching up the bodice? Well, once I’d added the embroidered appliqués I realized that the lace was too white in comparison to the warm ivory tint of the organdy. I unpicked my hand-stitching and soaked some new lace in strongly-brewed jasmine tea to give it just a bit more of an aged look. I’ve discovered that black tea gives far too much of an orange tint to lace, and the organdy was more yellowish than anything, so jasmine tea was the perfect brew to use for this. I soaked the lace for ten minutes and then let it dry completely before giving it a rinse in cold water and letting it dry again. That gave it just enough of an off-white shade to keep the difference between it and the appliqués from being glaringly obvious.

Then I stitched the lace back into place on the sleeves, and added more of it between the tucks at the hem of the underskirt to tie the whole thing together. I decided this time around to just stitch it so it showed evenly over the edges of the tucks instead of undulating in and out of sight. It’s just easier, and it looks better on the skirt that way, so I changed the sleeves to stay consistent.

picnic-dress-hem-lace picnic-dress-sleeve-lace

So the dress is finished! Stay tuned for final pictures!

1915 Picnic Hat With DIY Wired Ribbon

picnic-hat-done

So to go with my 1915 picnic dress, I needed a hat to shade my delicate complexion from the sun (or something like that). I tried using my flowered Edwardian hat but it seemed too elaborate for the relatively casual dress, so I went looking for something new.

Since it’s summer there are plenty of straw hats available, but most of them are pretty floppy and that wasn’t what I was going for. I thought I’d start with something more boater-shaped, but apparently I was cutting it a bit close time-wise because most of the cheap boater options online had a 2-3 week shipping time, which was too late for my upcoming picnic.

I ended up with a costume gondolier hat, which is coarser straw than I would’ve liked, but it looked about right. Many purchasers complained that the crown was too shallow and the head circumference was too big, making it sit oddly on the head, but one reviewer (a woman after my own heart) noted that it was perfect for puffy Victorian/Edwardian hairstyles, which I thought made it worth a try.

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1915 Picnic Dress, Part IV: Embroidered Appliqués

Once the dress was put together, it was time to do the embellishments. As you recall, I found this beautiful centerpiece/napkin set to use for my dress accents.

picnic-dress-placemat

It arrived looking a bit dingy (as many antique linens do) so I soaked it in diluted Woolite for a bit (testing it first on one of the cocktail napkins to be sure it wouldn’t ruin anything) to whiten it up. It only brightened a little, so I tried Oxiclean. That also brightened it a tiny bit, but finally a 2-minute soak in a Clorox solution (followed by a rinse in diluted hydrogen peroxide to neutralize the excess chlorine, and several rinses in clean water) did the trick to make it a nice antique white.

I will also note that while I’d originally assumed that the embroidery was done by machine, now I’m not so sure. On closer inspection there are actually significant differences between each of the corners in terms of placement and missing/different stitches, which implies that the embroidery was hand-done after all. I wish I had a better idea of the date on this set, but in any case I think it’s lovely. It’s almost a shame to cut it up, but I’d never use it as-is.

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1915 Picnic Dress, Part III: Skirt

As you recall from my sketch, the skirt has several layers to it– an overskirt, an underskirt, and an apron-ish panel in front. When I decided to make this outfit into a dress, I originally planned on stitching all of the layers to a single waistband to ensure that they’d all stay properly aligned. However, after getting most of the way through the process I decided that the weight of the underskirt was pulling everything down too much, so I ended up making it separate from the overdress. The whole process was a serious pain…

For the underskirt I first just cut a single rectangle about 2 yards long and ran two horizontal decorative tucks at the hem. I made them deeper than my sleeve tucks– about 1″. I’d originally planned on doing three tucks to mimic the sleeves, but I had some issues with placement and ended up with only two. I used a folded sheet of paper as a guide to keep the width consistent.

picnic-skirt-tucks

I stitched up the back seam after sewing the tucks, and used the selvedges for the top and bottom of the skirt, hemming the skirt to the correct above-the-ankle length. Happily, my mistake with the spacing of my tucks turned out all right, because turning up my hem twice made it just about the depth of the tucks, which looked intentional.

picnic-hem

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1915 Picnic Dress, Part II: Bodice

I had originally planned on making this a two-piece dress with a separate blouse and skirt, but then realized that my fabric was so sheer that it would clearly show the tucked-in blouse through the skirt, making the whole thing look weird. I decided instead to turn it into a dress and add a closure to the side front. The layered design of the skirt would help with this, since it would disguise the closure once it went past the bodice.

I started with Truly Victorian’s TVE45, the 1911 Narrow Panel Blouse, cutting out a mockup just to see how it would fit. To my surprise, it did not go well.

TVE45 - 1911 Narrow Panel Blouse

The pattern is so basic– two T-shaped side panels connected by a front and back– that I’d assumed it would go together easily and without much trouble. Well, it went together easily, but the fit was all off. The front panel was far too low on the chest, and the kimono sleeves pulled the already slightly-angled neckline even more towards the sides of the shoulders, causing unsightly pulling across the bust and skewing the neck opening. The sleeves were also too baggy, which is probably a matter of preferences vs. a flaw in the pattern, but which still had to be adjusted.

I endeavored to fix things first by altering the shape of the front and back panels to be wider and less angled. I like the angled look in general, but here it was not only causing the above-mentioned fit issues, but also reducing the amount of visible space available for my lace bodice insert, which I’d intended to show off. Making the panels wider gave me more space, and making the sides straighter kept the neckline stable. I also raised both panels up several inches– the front for modesty’s sake and the back to keep the neckline where it belonged.

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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:

picnic-dress-sketch

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