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?
I recently attended a Regency ball, which is usually my excuse to make something new and pretty to wear. However, as I’d just finished cleaning out my closet I couldn’t really justify making a brand-new gown (also, no time), so I decided to freshen up an old one– my ivory sheer ballgown, originally worn under a burgundy open robe made of a vintage dupatta.
I’d worn the burgundy open robe a few times already, but without it the ivory gown just seemed too plain. I dug through my stash and pulled out a vintage chiffon dupatta in forest green, leftover from when I was collecting fabric for my 1920s green evening dress.
Let me just start by saying that Dickens Fair was tons of fun– I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve attended! As always, I think that being in costume contributes immeasurably to my enjoyment of events. Here’s me posing in a bookshop at the Fair:
I accessorized the dress with a shawl, pair of brown vintage gloves, and a bonnet (next post!).
To provide the necessary dome-shaped skirt silhouette, I wore the dress over a crinoline/hoop combination skirt from eBay— it came with three hoops and a layer of stiff nylon netting over them. While actual 1840s dresses would’ve had multiple petticoats to get the right shape, I figured that I could lighten the load by using small hoops (I tightened down the circumference of the hoops by simply pushing them in and taping the loose ends down) with the netting on top– that way I didn’t need all of the layers. I’d have made a cotton petticoat to go over it all if I’d had time, but it just didn’t happen. Besides, I think that the netting softened the outline of the hoops enough that extra petticoats weren’t really necessary.
Once I finished my mockup, it was time to cut into my fabric. I made the bodice lining out of ivory cotton sateen– it’s a nice, firmly-woven fabric that’s silky-smooth on one side, so perfect for sturdy linings. I couldn’t tell from the pattern whether the center front seam was supposed to be facing the right side or wrong side, so I made it face the wrong side. In retrospect, it probably should’ve gone the other way, to make the foldover neckline easier to do on the overlay, but it was fine.
So last year I whipped up a quick 1920s evening dress using a vintage silk dupatta and a basic One-Hour Dress pattern. It was fast, easy, and the fabric made it interesting despite its shapelessness. I learned that I really enjoy sewing with vintage saris and dupattas, simply because of all the fantastic details that are already present in the fabric– no extra embellishment needed!
That being said, you knew I couldn’t stop there, right? Having made a bunch of 1920s-style day dresses, I decided to revisit the evening dress and my love of vintage dupattas to make a glamorous emerald green flapper-style dress. While I don’t ordinarily wear a lot of green, I admit to having been inspired by Cyd Charisse’s sultry green costume from Singin’ In the Rain– I may not be quite as fabulous as she was, but I can aspire!
Obviously, Charisse’s costume isn’t anywhere near historically accurate, but it’s the feel I’m going for more than the actual look.