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.
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.
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.