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:
With all the pattern alterations I’d be making to TV432, I knew I’d have to make at least one mockup, likely several. Since I don’t have a ton of experience altering patterns so drastically, I decided to cut a mockup from the straight pattern just to see how it fit. Oddly, the size according to my measurements ended up being too small, so I cut the front two sizes bigger to give myself tons of room, marked (but did not stitch) the darts, and then tried on the mockup so I could pinch darts and seamlines to fit.
I determined (like the Modern Mantua Maker) that the best way to incorporate my center front panel was to morph the darts into princess seams, one of which would form the closure of the gown. I basically put the mockup on, pinned the center front closed, and pinched in princess seams on either side. You may be able to see that I tried two (very slightly different) options for the shape of the curve– I ended up going with the one on the left. There are also single darts to the outside of the seams, for better fit.
I will note that while the original center front line was shaped to allow the two pieces to be sewn together for a nicely curved bustline, I pinned the center front down a straight line so I could cut the center panel as a single piece later on. I’m small-busted enough that this didn’t cause any issues, but if you’re well-endowed you may want to keep the center front panel as two pieces so you can sew in that curved bustline. As long as you add an overlay to cover the seam it won’t matter.
I can’t remember where I got the idea, but I’ve been wanting a Victorian tea gown for a while now. What’s a tea gown? It started off as a casual morning wrapper to be worn for informal at-home occasions, and then apparently got more stylized and formalized over time until it became a whole new mode of dress– still for wearing at home, but no longer something it was unacceptable to be seen in by visitors. Jennifer Rosbrugh has a nice history of them here, and The Dreamstress has another excellent explanation here.
Anyway, I loved the concept, and after a little bit more research I decided to base my own tea gown on Truly Victorian 432. It looks relatively straightforward, and has Watteau pleats in the back (shades of a robe a la francaise!) that I love the look of.
While I was in Los Angeles last year I saw some gorgeous embroidered fabric for $2.95/yard (!) that I just had to snap up– at the time I’d had a vague notion of making this project but wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do with it, so I got 8 yards of embroidered fabric, plus another two yards of coordinating sea-green dupioni and an extra yard of pinky-bronze taffeta to match the embroidered flowers. Plus several yards of coordinating trim, because it was on massive sale at $0.99/yard! I figured that would be enough for anything. Behold, my collection!
I’m fairly sure it’s all polyester/acetate, but it’s so darned beautiful and I’ll line it with cotton, at least, so that’s something, right?
So it’s time to make the bertha (weird name for an article of clothing, but whatever). Berthas can be made of flat or pleated/gathered pieces of fabric, trimmed in any number of different ways. TV442 comes with two options– a flat one and a gathered one.
I decided to make the gathered bertha, which was really just a long, hemmed rectangle with angled lines of gathering to form the ruffles. I figured that I’d cover up my gathering lines with some blue and gold trim to add some visual interest. Accordingly, I cut out the fabric, ran gathering stitches along the appropriate lines, and started pinning things to see how it would look.
Unfortunately, it ended up looking like this (ribbon is tacked down as a placeholder only, but you get the idea). Ugh.
Once the skirt was done, I got out my bodice pattern– Truly Victorian 442– and started cutting out a mockup. I cut size D for the front and size E for the back, per the measurements in the instructions, and stitched the pieces together as instructed. It went together pretty fast, all things considered– I’m particularly happy with how well the curved back seams match up and how easy they were to stitch… take note, Simplicity 4055!
I tried it on first over my dress form just to see if it was anywhere near the right size. The dress form is about right for my corseted measurements, anyway, since the corset doesn’t actually reduce my waistline so much as shape it more attractively. It looked reasonably close.
Then I actually tried it on myself, over the hoop skirt and skirt, to see how much work I had to do to get it to fit. The problem, of course, was that my husband isn’t so great at pinning fabric on me, so had a difficult time lining things up to see where the trouble spots were. Also, he’s reluctant to pin things too tightly, even though I pointed out that a bodice like this is supposed to be form-fitting. In the end, I determined that there weren’t any major problems with the pattern as drafted (at least none that couldn’t be fixed by a little tweaking at the side seams), and decided to leave the pattern unaltered.
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 started by cheating.
Yes, cheating. I knew that I couldn’t get started on my dress until I had the correct underpinnings, and I didn’t have the energy to make myself a hoop skirt from scratch, so I bought the biggest one I could find on eBay– a 6-hoop skirt that was at least made from cotton, so it wasn’t quite as bad as shiny polyester. Don’t I get credit for that much?
Anyway, I knew from experience that the hoops on these cheap skirts are adjustable in size, so once it arrived I tried it on and took a look to see what needed to be done. Continue reading