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).
Up next were sleeves. I wanted them to be puffed, to broaden the shoulder line, balance out the skirt, and make the waist look smaller by comparison. Before I changed my neckline back to off-shoulder I originally took my inspiration from the famous Worth ironwork gown– its sleeves are made of gathered tulle with velvet bows, and I thought they’d go well with the bows on my design.
I ordered some black tulle with tiny stripes and spots on it to make my sleeves– I liked the subtle texture of the pattern, as opposed to plain black.
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)
The theme for the Costume College afternoon tea this year is “The Haunted Mansion,” and I wanted something appropriately spooky to wear– but it couldn’t be too involved, since I already had tons of other work to do on my other costumes. After some brainstorming I decided to make a Victorian-ish black outfit with skeleton accents– in this case, a skeleton cameo brooch and a skeleton bodysuit worn under a sheer blouse, so the bones would (subtly) show through.
The brooch, blouse, and bodysuit were easily obtained, but I knew I needed a long, black skirt to complete the look. I considered finding a sheer black skirt to complete the “ghost” concept, but ultimately discarded that idea in favor of something more versatile– a black moiré skirt that I could re-use for other Victorian/early Edwardian ensembles.
I already had the perfect pattern in my stash– Truly Victorian 297, an 1898 flared skirt. I’d used it once before to make a tweed skirt for a steampunk outfit, so knew it was easy to put together.
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.
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.
Once the gown was structurally complete, I had to finish the edges. I first cut out a standing collar from turquoise dupioni– the original collar went all the way around to close at center front, but I wanted to keep the lace ruffle visible at the neckline so I shortened it to more of a 3/4 collar that stopped at the front edges of the lapels.
The original instructions called for me to attach the facings first, then the collar, so I cut out facings from more turquoise dupioni and stitched it around the front opening of the gown. The problem, however, was that the lined Watteau pleats were so thick at the back of the neck (10 layers in the pleats alone at center back!) that once the facings were added it was almost impossible to turn the seam allowance to the inside. I could manage it, but it made an uncomfortable and unsightly ridge that dug into my neck.
Instead, I decided to change things a bit and sandwich the seam allowance of the Watteau pleats inside the collar rather than turning it over. The seam allowance can lie flat (pointing upwards) instead of being folded downwards, making it much more comfortable at the nape of the neck. I will note that I only did this along the center back section, where the pleats were– once I hit the shoulder seams I transitioned back to the regular method. I stitched the facing on after the collar was attached, so the facing would lie flat on the inside rather than flipping up like the seam allowance.