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.
Many years ago I was obsessed with this dress by Luly Yang Couture:
I thought it was fabulous, I desperately wanted it, and I went so far as to custom-paint panels of yellow chiffon with diluted fabric paint (stretched over custom canvas stretchers) to match the butterfly-wing skirt panels so I could make one myself. But I never finished it, and I never had any place to wear it anyway, so it languished in the back of my closet, stuffed into a paper grocery bag with my other unfinished projects. And now, of course, replica dresses are available online and Spoonflower is a thing (and has basically the exact design available that I’d have wanted) so I wouldn’t have to hand-paint the fabric anyway. But I still have no place to wear it…
About four years ago I dug it out to use in a Halloween costume, stitching the panels to a red crinoline and painting a black bustier top with a hasty orange/yellow/gold design to tie in the colors and be a butterfly fairy. And then it went back in the closet.
However, when it was announced that the Costume College 2018 pool party theme would be “Realm of the Goblin King” it was clear to me that it was time to revive the costume, at least to give the fabulous skirt another outing. But the bodice would have to be re-done, because my quickie paint job was looking pretty amateurish in the harsh light of day.
To make my lilypad-shaped fascinator, I started off by picking out a remnant of celery-green fabric from my stash– it’s satin on one side and dupioni-ish on the other, and I’d originally bought it to line my Regency ribbon-rose reticule. I thought it would coordinate well with my suit– however, once I actually got it out it was clearly too pale a green to stand out next to the bright turquoise suit. I decided to try dyeing it with Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow, which is my go-to for tiny dye jobs like this since it works on both natural and synthetic fibers.
I did a few test swatches and ended up using a combination of Turquoise and Chartreuse in a 3:1 ratio. Because my fabric was super-non-absorbent (seriously, water and dye just beaded up on its surface) I had to soak it in water for a good long time to get it wet, and then painted the undiluted dye directly onto the dampened fabric. The dye still wouldn’t spread naturally, so I ended up rubbing dyed parts of the fabric onto the un-dyed parts to get it to distribute evenly. It was a hassle, but the finished shade was a nice springy green.
The most important part of the suit embellishment was the appliqué. To create the design, I eyeballed the dimensions of the suit and started cutting some grass shapes out of paper and placing them on the suit.
I traced the shapes onto tissue paper and numbered the pieces from left to right, assigning them each a color so I could get an idea of how to distribute the four shades of green– I had a light spring green, a medium spring green, an olive green, and a teal, and I wanted to use all of them pretty much equally.
Once the tea gown was wearable, I added a few extra bits and bobs.
First, covered buttons. I bought several sizes, since I didn’t know which would look best on the finished gown, and ended up using sizes 45, 36, and 30 on the top, and sizes 60, 45, and another 45 on the bottom, all covered in turquoise dupioni. (I tried using 60, 45, and 36 on the bottom but it just didn’t look right) I stitched them not only to the lapels themselves but also to the gown fabric behind them, so they kept the lapels from flipping forward. I will note that I bent the wire shanks slightly so the buttons would stay flatter against the fabric.
I also added two size 24 buttons to the cuff of each sleeve, and let me tell you, covering buttons that small is kind of a pain. Quick tip: don’t try cutting out circles to the correct size and maneuvering them into the mold– instead, cut out larger pieces of fabric, push them into the mold with the button-top, and then trim around them.
After stitching together the body of the tea gown, it was time for the center panel. I cut my center panel lining out of my favorite ivory cotton sateen (I bought 12 yards of it a while back and it’s perfect for this kind of thing). It was actually cut in two pieces with an extremely large seam allowance in the center, just in case I need to let the gown out in the future. I hemmed the top and bottom edges with a narrow hem.
I cut the bodice and skirt sections of lace separately, figuring that I’d want a lot more fullness in the skirt. Then I ran a line of hand-stitched gathering stitches along the top and bottom of the bodice section, then at the top of the skirt section. I laid the panels wrong side up over the cotton lining, set my hems so the border matched up at the bottom and top, then drew the gathering threads up until they matched the dimensions of the lining at the neck and waist. I hand-basted the top and bottom lace pieces together through the gathers at the waistline, then trimmed the excess.