When I decided to make my 1830s day dress, I knew that I was going to go BIG. Sadly, the gigantic sleeves of my dress were never going to *stay* gigantic without some kind of support on the inside. While the Truly Victorian pattern suggested that I make a version of the evening puffed sleeve out of netting or something similarly stiff to use for a sleeve puffer, I decided to go in a different direction.
Once the bodice was done, the skirt was relatively straightforward. 1830s skirts are just rectangles pleated to the bodice, so rather than follow the pattern I cut three lengths of fabric to use.
I added some non-historically-accurate pockets to the side seams– I do intend to carry a reticule with this dress, but pockets are nice for things you really don’t want to lose.
Because I had a center back seam I figured that I didn’t need to stitch in a separate placket– I just used an extra-wide seam allowance and folded it over to one side. Sadly, this did not end up working out, as once I’d pleated my skirt to my bodice and basted it in place, I realized that it was just too full– my fabric was 54″ wide, making for a 160″ skirt circumference. It looked more like an 1860s skirt than an 1830s skirt, so I cut out a section from the center back (12″ on each side) and re-stitched the center back seam. That required me to rip out my skirt pleats and start again, which was a pain. And I ended up doing it a third time once I tried it on and was dissatisfied with how I’d distributed the skirt fullness. And then a fourth time when I decided that my waistline was just 1/2″ too high, so I needed to re-set the skirt (and waist piping) entirely to bring it down just a bit. And then a FIFTH time when I realized that in order to balance the hemline properly I’d need to take it up from the waist due to the difference in length between front and back. (sigh)
Ah, gigantic sleeves– is there anything more iconic of the 1830s? I was very excited to get these onto my dress to get the real 1830s look. That being said, after reading a bunch of blogs about 1830s sleeves, I came to the conclusion that the sleeve pattern that came with the pattern wasn’t quite big enough. You heard me: not big enough.
The first thing I do for any new pattern these days is make at least a partial mockup– and in this particular case I’m extra-glad that I did, because the bodice was just WEIRD on me as originally drafted. I must have extremely square shoulders or something, because when I pulled the neckline out to the correct width, the center front got pulled up to make a really prominent bulgy area right at the bust.
At first I tried taking a fisheye dart right in the center to pinch out the extra fabric, but eventually I realized that it was a shoulder issue. Once I added a little extra space to the shoulder line (an extra size’s worth, front and back), that opened things up and smoothed out the center front. Whew! I suppose it might not have been a big deal anyway, given that the smoothly-fitted bodice lining is covered up by an over-layer, but I want the fit to be right even if I can’t see it. One more thing I did change was to add an extra 2″ to the side seams to allow for some expansion if required in the future.
Until recently I’d never much cared for the 1830s in terms of fashion– the giant sleeves were off-puttingly wide (unlike 1890s sleeves, which somehow seemed more normal, perhaps because they were higher on the shoulder?) the ankle-length skirts looked awkward, and the giant bonnets were insane. No, I thought, the doll-like silhouette was not for me. But while at Costume College last summer I attended a really fun class on crazy 1830s hair, and then I saw a bunch of attendees walking around in smashing 1830s day dresses, and before I knew it I was hooked!
I picked up Truly Victorian 455, the Romantic Era dress pattern, and started browsing through Pinterest for fabric ideas.
I’ll admit now that although I’m posting about this nearly last, it was actually the first thing I worked on– it just took forever to finalize because 1) I was extremely indecisive about the design, and 2) That indecision forced me to place several separate orders for the various widths of ribbon, which took a while to arrive. But I finally figured out what I wanted to do, AND managed to get it done, so here goes!
As you recall, the plan was to stitch lengths of black velvet ribbon down the front of my skirt, with small gaps in the stitching to allow for attachment of ribbon bows when a dressier look was called for.
The first thing I did was go searching for velvet ribbon in various widths– I wanted the bows to be graduated in size, which meant I needed at least four different sizes to work with. After a bit of experimenting with ribbon I had in my stash I determined that the smallest bows would be made of 1.5″ ribbon, so that was a good starting point. I ended up doing my bows out of 1.5″, 2″, 3″, and 4″ ribbon. I also bought some 1″ with my initial order just in case I needed it (spoiler: I did not).
One I had all the structural elements done, it was time to decorate! To add interest to the bodice, I draped some more of my striped netting over the top of the bust and into the armscyes, tacking down pleats asymmetrically for texture. I pinned the netting in place while it was on the dress form, tried it on to ensure I liked it, and hand-stitched it all down, similar to the bodice on my wisteria gown.
For the back I took a slightly different approach– I wanted to hide the closure rather than having the tulle get all bulky from overlapping at center back, so I only tacked down the pleated tulle on the left side of the neckline, leaving the remainder loose. I pleated the loose side down to a short length of black twill tape and added two hooks so I could fasten it at the right shoulder with thread loops.
To make the evening bodice for this outfit, I could’ve bought a whole new pattern but decided (after some conversation with Heather from Truly Victorian at Costume College last year) to modify my Truly Victorian 442 ballgown bodice, which is dated to 1860. I’d used it for my embroidered ballgown before and knew that it fit me well through the torso, so it was a good starting point.
I wanted to lengthen the bodice slightly at the sides to flare out just a bit over the hip, and also change the neckline to bring it up onto the shoulder, because I’d read that an on-shoulder neckline was correct for the period.
I had a whole post written out about how I adjusted the off-shoulder neckline to be on-shoulder instead, then cut out a squared-off neckline to complement the puffed sleeves I had planned– I even made the whole bodice and bound off the neckline, basted in the sleeves, and took pictures for this post!
And then I saw a fashion plate from 1899 with an off-shoulder neckline and instantly started picturing how my gown would look better with a wider shoulder to make my waist look smaller in comparison. I spent an afternoon trying to convince myself that my (already finished) bodice was just fine, but eventually I caved and decided to fix it. In other words, to undo almost all of my pattern modification and hard work. (sigh)
I decided that rather than trying to stitch the beetlewings onto the individual bodice sections before assembly, I’d put the bodice together first to ensure proper fit and placement of the beetlewings. I was actually really excited for this step, because my pieces were finally starting to look like an actual dress after months of collecting supplies, dyeing, patterning, etc.
As noted before, the bodice was cut with princess seams to add stability. I basted the pieces together by hand to make sure that everything went together smoothly (had a moment of panic when my first iteration seemed to be HUGE, then realized I hadn’t used wide enough seam allowances), then machine-stitched the seams. They were kind of bulky with all the layers in there, so I trimmed down the seam allowances before folding one of the gauze layers over and flat-felling each seam. It wasn’t the neatest process, but it helped clean up the inside and kept the somewhat scratchy tulle layer from irritating my skin.
I was originally going to add a waist stay to support the weight of the skirt, but decided instead that I would mount the skirt on an entirely separate waistband, which would then be tacked to the bodice like a waist stay, so I let that step go for now.
I installed a 22″ long invisible zipper down the center back (would’ve been better to have a 24″ zipper but I couldn’t find one), leaving a 2″ seam allowance on each side to allow for sizing adjustments later on if necessary. I was happy to see that it appeared to fit perfectly, likely helped along by the slight stretch in all of my fabrics. Now I just have to hope that the skirt won’t mess up the line of the bodice after I’ve attached it…
Compared to the pashmina dress, this one was a breeze to put together– a welcome change! Things got a little fiddly when it came to piecing the bodice front– because the diagonal stripes on my fabric were not at a 45-degree angle, it was a little more complicated to mirror them at the center front. Since I had to cut the pieces on a slight bias (both of them, to get the V-shape I wanted), the edges were prone to stretching and wiggling out of place; after trying three times to get the V perfect, I declared that my result was *good enough*.
Given the hassle in matching the V in front, I really didn’t want to have to deal with matching the stripes on multiple pieces for the back to make purely decorative curved back seams. This was particularly true since I was going to have a drawstring back that would mostly obscure those very same seams. I decided to just cut the back pieces as one so I could dispense with the piecing and just worry about matching the diagonal stripes along the center back line.