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!
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.
I know, I know, I’ve already made several Regency gowns out of saris, but they’re just so perfect for this kind of thing! Besides, this one isn’t for me, it’s for a friend of mine who is (luckily) short enough to use the width of the sari as her skirt length, so I used a slightly different cutting layout than I have in the past.
I’ve already mentioned my propensity towards urging my friends to attend historical costume events with me, so it should be no surprise that for an upcoming Victorian ball I managed to convince a friend to let me outfit her in something appropriate– in this case, an altered modern ballgown (of course).
I’m taking a quick break from the Embassy ballgown to post about another project I recently started– a Regency ballgown that I’m going to wear to a dance weekend at the beginning of April. While I do plan on wearing my burgundy dupatta open robe for the first night, I’m ready to make something new for the Grand Ball the next evening!
I do love beautiful textiles. Even when I was a kid I’d go to fabric/craft stores and buy beautiful ribbon by the quarter-yard just to have it, not necessarily to make anything with it (yeah, the people at the cutting counter just *loved* me, I’m sure). And some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world are Indian saris, at least in my humble opinion. I was on a sari-buying kick a while back, figuring that I’d use them to make Edwardian or Regency gowns, and while I’ve managed to use a cotton sari and a silk dupatta, the rest have languished in my closet for far too long.
But no more! For this project I’m going to use a gorgeous navy blue and gold sari– it has a fabulous pallu that’s not only brocaded, but also embroidered with bullion thread and sewn with tiny pearl beads. It’s just begging to be shown off at a fancy event!