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Archive for the ‘Historical Costumes’ Category

An embroidered coat, c. 1770-1780, from Manchester Art Gallery.

In the 18th century, menswear was generally quite elaborate. Not only was it colourful (including pinks and purples) with suits of clothes often matching, but court clothes could also be extensively embroidered.

The coat of the late 18th century began to be cut further away from the centre front below the waist, revealing more of the breeches and waistcoat than it had before. This meant that the coat could not be buttoned up, and often had only one or two functional buttonholes at the chest level, or sometimes a few hooks-and-eyes to fasten it closed at the top.

The skirts were not as full or as wide as they had been previously in the 17th and early 18th centuries, but there was still a significant amount of fabric pleated at the back in the skirts of the coat. These “skirts” reached to behind the knees.

Court suits, including the coats, were made from silk and were elaborately embroidered. Silk coats were generally lined, whereas their woollen counterparts could often be unlined.

Collars, particularly small standing collars, were becoming more common as the 18th century progressed, and it offered a prominent place to put embroidery for those coats designed for court use.

Fabric was very expensive during this era, more expensive than the labour to make the clothes, and so fabric would often be pieced together when the panels were not going to be big enough to fit the body. This is frequently seen in the skirts of the coats of this period. With embroidered coats, the join could also be performed for the purposes of conserving the look of the embroidery.

After I had finished (mostly) embroidering the jacket onto lengths of fabric, I was ready to turn it into an 18th century coat.

The finished panel, showing the two fronts at the top, the pocket flaps on the right, the buttons (unfinished here), and the cuffs at the bottom.

Pattern

I used the pattern from the book, Costume Close-Up, by Linda Baumgarten, as a guide. I did a mock-up and fitted it to check and see what alterations to the pattern were needed. Extra width around the middle, extra length to the skirts, and extra over the shoulder area were the major changes I made to the pattern.

Construction

Step 1: I began by cutting out the pieces of the body of the coat. These were: Front panels, back panels, pocket flaps. (I saved the sleeves, cuffs and collar for later!)

The front panels have been cut, along with a strip to serve as interfacing. You can see the join in the fabric on the right.

Step 2: The back pieces were sewn together, for both the lining and the outer.

The back panels are sewn together at the centre back seam. The vent is left open.

Step 3: The front pieces were sewn to their lining pieces at the centre front. At this stage, I have also sewn the lining fronts to the lining backs along the side seams.

The front panels have been sewn to the lining pieces (with a strip of cloth for interfacing). In this photo you can also see the pocket flap being put in place.

Step 4: The pocket flap was sewn, pinning the embroidered panel right sides with a lining piece.

The pocket flap sewn, but not turned the right way yet.

Step 5: A slash was made for the pocket bags. I make a slash that has a sideways V at each end, and looks like this: >—-<

Then I folded over the raw edges and whipstitched it to the pocket bags, which also had their raw edges folded outwards.

The finished pocket with flap raised and bag attached to the slash.

The pocket flap, finished.

Here is the coat so far, with the centre back outer panel still not sewn in.

The coat so far, laying spread out – inside down – with the outside showing.

Step 6: The back outer panel was then sewn to the front outer panels. To be honest, this could have been done earlier (more in the manner of making a normal coat with lining!) but I had really wanted to sort out the front panel with the embroidery first. In some ways it would have been easier to leave the back lining off and then slipstitch it in place, rather than leaving the back outer off and then fiddle around figuring out how to sew it on. I think I did it this way because the lining was a bit sturdier than the outer fabric and easier to do fittings with. The shoulder seams of the outer layer were then sewn.

Step 7: The sleeves were cut in two pieces, as sleeves were in this period, and sewn together. The sleeve lining was inserted into the sleeve outer and then sewn to the coat as one layer.

The two-piece sleeve outer, with the lining inside.

Step 8: The cuff panels were cut out. Firstly I sewed the cuff to its lining along the embroidered edge.

The cuff has been sewn to the lining along the embroidered edge.

Then it was opened out and sewn along the side seam. This meant that the raw edges on the side seams of the cuff would be contained.

The cuff and lining have been opened out, folded over and sewn along the side seam.

Then the seams were pressed open, the lining was folded over to properly back the embroidered panel, and it was ironed again. Then the cuff was sewn to the bottom of the sleeve.

The cuff is pinned ready to sew. The RIGHT side (embroidered side) of the cuff is pinned to the WRONG side of the sleeve. This means that when the cuff is folded to the right side, the raw edges of the seam will be not be rubbing on the wrist.

Step 9: The collar was cut out. I did not embroider this part initially, as I was not confident of it fitting correctly! I had planned to do the embroidery once it was fitted, however I ran out of time. My consolation was that another collar can be attached later!

The collar is cut out, from top to bottom: the pattern piece, the outer, the interfacing, the lining.

Step 10: A horizontal slash was made at the back for the back pleat, and it was pleated and sewn. Then the raw edges of the back panels were folded in and slipstitched together. The same was done with the front panels. Once all the raw edges were dealt with, the skirts were pleated, ironed and held in place with tacking stitches and buttons, as is outlined in Costume Close-Up.

The back view, finished. You can see the horizontal slashes and pleats at the centre back.

Step 11: The buttons were embroidered and covered and sewn on. I used some plastic pirate money for the button base! I ran out of time to do the centre front buttons, but all the others were done.

The finished buttons

Once the coat was finished and tried on, I discovered something was wrong with the fit around the shoulders, neck and arms. This necessitated it being unpicked and reworked, which was very annoying!! This meant that the centre front no longer meets as I had wanted it to. The importance of fitting is restated again!

The front view, shown on a female dress form (which alters how it looks a bit).

However, there are many portraits of men wearing their coats open that look the same as this one, so I am slightly mollified!

The side view

The cuffs, all finished.

This was an extremely challenging project. If I were to repeat the process, I think I would have made a plain 18th century coat first. Then I could have dealt with all the pattern alterations on something that could be easily altered, and then had a good pattern to work with when starting the embroidery.

The embroidery of this coat took 2 months, sewing almost everyday for up to 5 hours. The bits that were not completed were the collar, the front buttons, and embroidery at the back vent. As this was for an event (so I had a firm deadline), I just had to do as much as I could manage.

I am really happy with how it turned out, but I would love to finish off the rest of the embroidery at some stage. Stay tuned for my next post on making the waistcoat – coming soon!

Related Posts

Making an Embroidered Suit: Embroidery

MY Mr Knightley: Making a Regency Tailcoat 

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source, An embroidered coat, c. 1770-1780, from Manchester Art Gallery

Costume Close-Up, by Linda Baumgarten – buy on Amazon

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Embroidered suit, with matching breeches, waistcoat and coat. c. 1780’s

I have wanted to make an 18th century men’s suit for a while, and my eye had been drawn to the amazing embroidered court suits popular during this time.

During the 18th century, the men’s suit consisted of knee-length breeches, long waistcoat and full-skirted coat. Suit ensembles could be made from matching fabric, with either coordinated breeches and coat and a contrasting waistcoat, or sometimes all three items matching.

A sample of embroidery, from the early 19th century.

Clothing that was worn to court was more elaborate than other clothing, and the embroidered mens suits generally fit into this category. Some ensembles were truly elaborate in embroidery, but others were much more simple in design and sedate in colour.

Suits were embroidered in panels, and then sold uncut to the customer. A tailor would then be employed to make up the panel into clothing.

The detail from an 18th century waistcoat.

The Pattern

I have always been a bit scared of embroidery, as I used to often start a difficult project – outside of my skill level – and then feel disappointed in the result. My trick to combat this has been to plan the embroidery pattern well (with sketches), to plan the types of stitches I will use, to practise the stitches on a scrap sample, and to make sure that all (or at least most) of the techniques are within the scope of my skill.

The first sample, practising stitches, colour placement, size, etc…

Sometimes I have stepped out of my skill area for a small part of an embroidery, to stretch myself, so that if only a small part goes awry it doesn’t affect the final result as much. As a result I feel like I have really improved in my embroidery skill over the past 7 years!

A second sample once the design had been decided on. This was to practise spacing, how large it should be, and how long it would take to do one repeat of the design.

Understandably, I was quite daunted taking on this type of project, but I searched for embroidery patterns that I thought were manageable for me, and looked for stitches that I could complete with a level of proficiency.

It was also important at this planning phase to get “approval” from my husband for the design. (I did want him to feel comfortable wearing it!) Embroidered coats of the 18th Century were very flowery, which is not something that necessarily appeals to the modern man. In the end, my husband really wanted a much more monochrome colour palette (compared to some of the coats of the time) and was happy with some flowers, but not heaps.

The Materials

The stitches I have used are chain stitch, heavy chain stitch, backstitch, satin stitch, beetle stitch, colonial knots and feather stitch. I also used spangles and beads as part of my design. I used cotton DMC for the embroidery, and the fabric was a polyester taffeta that I have had great success with in the past.

The Process

I decided to firstly do a mockup of the coat on my husband, to make sure that the pattern pieces were the right size. I used, as a starting point, the three-piece suit in Costume Close Up, by Linda Baumgarten. Once the pattern pieces were finalised, I would then be able to embroider in a panel, rather than embroidering the separate pattern pieces or the finished coat. (As you will see in future posts, there are problems with each option!)

The finished panel, showing the two fronts at the top, the pocket flaps on the right, the buttons, and the cuffs at the bottom. The picture is not very clear, but I did want to try and get one photo with the whole panel in it!

My finished panel included the two fronts, the two pocket flaps, the two sleeve cuffs, and a whole stack of button shapes. I decided to leave the collar until the coat was pretty much fitted and then draft and embroider the collar last.

The detail of the embroider on the centre front.

The embroidery took two months to complete (for the coat alone), and I embroidered almost every day for around 5 hours a day. It was unfortunate that I was sewing to a deadline, as it created much more stress than my other embroidery projects had! It also meant that there were some elements of the embroidery that I had to change so that it could be completed in the time frame.

In the end, I was pleased with the way the embroidery looked! The grey and blue was a really nice colour combination. Stay tuned for the next post in this series, making the coat.

Related Links

Making a Stomacher (c. 1700’s-1770’s)

Making an Embroidered Stomacher, from 1725

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Embroidered Suit, c. 1780s, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Image Source: Embroidery sample, early 19th century, at Met Museum

Image Source: Embroidered waistcoat, 18th century, at Ruby Lane.

Costume Close-Up: Clothing, Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790, by Linda Baumgarten – buy on Amazon

18th Century Men’s Coats, by 18th Century Notebook – a list of extant 18th century men’s coats available to view online.

The Lives of a Man’s Eighteenth Century Coat, by National Gallery of Victoria – an interesting article about repurposing clothing in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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I recently ran a workshop at the Jane Austen Festival, Australia, on the use of ribbon in 18th century clothing, with a particular focus on the stomachers used to fill in the front portion of a woman’s 18th century gown.

I have made several stomachers before (links to them are below), and I do enjoy the nature of a small project that entails a bit of handwork! This project was no exception.

Pattern

I used as a guide the pattern in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 1. This particular extant stomacher uses a bordered silk ribbon with silver thread lace. This original example was not a boned stomacher.

One of the stomachers that is pictured and patterned in her book.

Construction Steps

Step 1: As I have done previously, I boned the foundation layer of the stomacher. This was not always done, as there are plenty of examples of stomachers that are just mounted onto a layer of unstiffened linen, however I do find it a bit easier to hold it in place when it is a bit firmer!

I used two layers of grey cotton broadcloth and sewed boning channels down them. It was then boned with solid plastic boning.

A view of the finished stomacher from the underside, showing the boned foundation.

Step 2: The top layer can now be decorated. I tried to use a very similar pattern as Janet Arnold’s stomacher used. I drew the pattern shape onto the cloth so that I could see an outline. I used silk ribbon, a metallic lace, and some little beading decorations. These were all mounted by hand onto the material, starting with the lace and the ribbon.

Attaching the ribbon and lace to the top layer of the stomacher.

I gathered the ribbon into little ovals so that it was symmetrical, and the lace was slightly gathered so that it would bend around the corners sufficiently.

The basic decorations are all attached, and half sewn on at this point.

I tightly gathered some ribbon along one edge so that the ribbon would fan out to become a circle. The raw edges were folded on themselves and a basic running stitch held them together. Then these flower circles were handsewn to the stomacher. This type of flower decoration was very popular in the 18th century, especially with two-toned – or, what we call – ombre ribbons.

Silk ribbon flowers were handsewn in place.

Step 3: I turned the raw edges of the two layers in, and then stitched the folded edges. I have generally bound the edges with binding, but I wanted to try something different this time.

The raw edges of the stomacher and stitched closed.

The photo shows that some areas were whipstitched, and in other areas I did a running stitch. I basically did whatever stitch I thought would work best in keeping the raw edges secure!

Step 4: The tabs were hand stitched to the sides of the stomacher during the edge-stitching phase above. These tabs help with pinning or attaching the stomacher to the front of the dress or stays.

The tabs attached

The finished piece!

All finished, with some little dangly pearl beads included!!

Now I’ve got to figure out what to wear with it!!

Related Posts

Making an Embroidered Stomacher, from 1725

Making a Stomacher– an “embroidered carnation” stomacher

Sources and Relevant Links

Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Ribbon Embroidery in the 18th Century – from 18th Century Notebook (examples of 18th C. clothing that have used ribbon embroidery)

Jane Austen Festival Australia– website

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One of my earliest attempts at costuming was a sacque-back gown, however – as is normal for one’s first attempts – not all aspects of the gown were historical. One of my first corrections of this was to make a set of 18th century stays that would more accurately shape the torso for the dress, but because the “stomacher” for this gown was embroidered onto the front of the previous stays that I used for this dress, it meant that the gown was left without one!

An embroidery pattern for a stomacher, by Margaretha Helm, ca. 1725.

I have made an embroidered stomacher before, to go with my caraco jacket, and I really enjoyed making it! It really stretched my embroidery skills, and ever since then I have wanted to make another to match my sacque-back gown.

Pattern

In my search for ideas for a pattern, I happened across several drawings from a pattern book by Margaretha Helm, on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. Here is what is written about the particular one I chose (pictured above):

This is a printed design for embroidery, with some drawn-thread work, for a stomacher featuring a floral pattern. Drawn-thread work is a form of counted-thread work in which the embroidery threads are used to pull the fabric threads apart. This creates an openwork pattern of holes and stitching. A stomacher is a stiff panel, usually triangular in shape and often heavily decorated, inserted in an open bodice to cover the corset in eighteenth-century dress. It is from a pattern book for embroidery (about 1725) by Margaretha Helm (neé Mainberger) (born in 1659 in Deiningen, died in 1742 in Nuremberg, Germany). Helm worked in Nuremberg as an embroiderer, a teacher of embroidery and a copperplate engraver who had her designs published by Johann Christoph Weigel. The V&A has a series of pattern books for embroidery in three parts by Margaretha Helm of which this volume is Part I. It is entitled Kunst-und Fleiss-übende Nadel-Ergötzungen oder neu-erfundenes Neh-und Stick-Buch or
The Delights of the Art and Industry of the practising Needle or the newly invented Sewing and Embroidery Book.

from Victoria and Albert Museum website

The design is symmetrical but not perfectly identical on both sides. I printed off the pattern and enlarged it to the size I needed to fit the front of my gown. I traced the full-sized pattern onto a large sheet of paper (as enlarging the pattern with the photocopier reduced its clarity), and then I traced it onto my fabric and began stitching!

Construction

The stitches I used are all ones that I have found before on extant embroidery pieces. Despite the V&A description stating that the pattern included “drawn” (or maybe more accurately, “pulled”) work, I did not do any of this on my stomacher. Instead I used laid work or various types of filling stitches that provided a patterned look to the finish.

The stitches I used were chain stitch, satin stitch, backstitch, seed stitch, long-and-short stitch, colonial knots, buttonhole wheel, laid work (called lattice work in this video), feather stitch, and stem stitch.

The beginnings!

I used a blue, water-erasable, pen to draw the design. This works well for me, although the colour does have a tendency to reappear after a while.

A flower, showing detail of the laid work, chain stitch and stem stitch.

A flower, showing detail of satin stitch, seed stitch and chain stitch.

More flowers, showing the detail of satin stitch, laid work, french knots, and chain stitch.

Flowers with satin stitch, laid work, and eyelet stitch (or buttonhole wheel), plus the chain stitch stems.

Once the embroidery was finished, it was mounted on to a boned base made from cotton broadcloth and synthetic whalebone.

The back of the stomacher, showing the boning channels.

The edges were bound with a bias-binding strip and tabs were handsewn on.

All finished, with a boned base and tabs handsewn on.

And some photos of it being worn!

I wore my stomacher for the first time to a Georgian High Tea!

I have a new embroidery project on the go now, so keep an eye out for posts about it later in the year!

Relevant Posts

Making a Stomacher

A Sacque-back gown (one of my earliest costumes)

A Caraco Jacket

Making 18th Century Stays

Sources and Relevant Links

Image and Quote Source: Embroidery design for stomacher, ca. 1725, from Victoria and Albert Museum

18th Century Embroidery Techniques, by Gail Marsh – buy on Amazon

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A reception dress, Journal les Demoiselles, 1894.

After the long reign of the crinoline and bustle had ended, it was once again the turn of the sleeves to take centre stage. So after finishing my 1890’s skirt, it was time to turn to the evening bodice.

During this period, sleeves received all the inspiration possible from their enormous counterparts in the 1830s! And it did not take them very long to grow. What had been sedate in 1892 became quite top-heavy in 1894! The long-sleeved (and very full around the bicep) leg-o-mutton and gigot sleeves abounded! But the shorter evening dresses did not get neglected. Rather large “balloon” sleeves adorned many an upper-arm.

By about 1896 the sleeves had reached their maximum size, quite dwarfing the head, and then began to rapidly collapse. However, the size of the sleeves at their height does gives some reason for the similarly timed advent of big hair and big hats, as they were needed to bring some balance to the outfit.

Bodices for evening wear were often made in two contrasting or complementary colours that matched the skirt. Decorations, such as lace or ribbon, but also ornaments (like flowers) or trim in the contrasting fabric, were also routinely used.

An evening bodice, silk and velvet, c. 1893-6, from Museum of London. This is the same bodice patterned in Janet Arnold’s book.

Pattern

I used the pattern of an 1893-6 evening dress in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 2. The bodice of this garment uses a silk bodice base, boned, over which is overlaid turquoise velvet. Then striped silk is mounted over the top of the velvet. I did mine slightly differently to this.

I decided to simplify my bodice and do the whole base in ivory taffeta and overlay the mint-green satin over the top.

I did a mock up of the bodice first, in order to make any fitting adjustments.

The pattern, with adjustments made from the mock-up.

The sleeve pattern pieces, with a slight enlargement.

I used ivory polyester taffeta, flatlined with white cotton broadcloth. The bodice was overlaid with mint-green duchess satin and then trimmed with glass pearl beads. The bustline was finished with some fine bridal tulle.

Construction Steps

Step 1: Beginning with the ivory taffeta under bodice, I flatlined all the panels. The back panels were sewn to the lining (right sides together) on the centre back seam, and then turned right sides out and treated as one layer. (The bodice will be laced at the centre back seam, hence the finishing on the centre back seams.)

The back panels, seamed to the lining on the centre back seam and turned the right way. This bodice opens at the centre back.

Once all the panels were flatlined, I sewed them together.

The back and side-back panels are sewn together.

The front and side front panels, sewn together. The darts are yet to be sewn in.

Once the bodice was sewn together, I did a fitting in order to properly fit the darts in the front panel. The shoulder seams were also sewn at this point.

The bodice was boned on every seam, including the darts. I used some twill tape for the casings and sewed it to seam allowance so that the stitching did not show through to the right side. The top edge of the boning casing was turned over before sewing to prevent the bone poking out.

The boning channels, using twill tape sewn to each seam allowance. On the right is the folded over edge of the boning casing.

Step 2: The sleeve is made up of a sleeve lining, a sleeve outer, and an over sleeve. The ivory taffeta outer sleeve was sewn together. As seen from the pattern piece above, one side of the sleeve seam is gathered to fit the other side of the sleeve seam. The bottom edge is gathered to fit the lining piece, and the sleeve head will also be gathered to fit the sleeve.

The ivory taffeta sleeve sewn together. The sleeve seam (shown on the right) is gathered on only one edge. The bottom edge (shown at the bottom) is also gathered to fit the sleeve lining.

The sleeve lining was made up.

The sleeve lining is sewn together. The sleeve seam is shown to the right. The gathered edge will form the sleeve head. The bottom edge is not gathered.

The sleeve lining and the outer sleeve were put together.

The sleeve lining is attached to the outer sleeve along the bottom edge.

In order to help the sleeves retain their “puff”, I inserted a crescent of stiff tulle. The tulle was folded over on the flat edge and then cut in a curve to form a crescent. The cut, curved edge was gathered.

The stiff tulle crescent, gathered along one edge.

This crescent was then put in between the two layers of sleeve. Janet Arnold’s original dress appears to have had no sleeve supports, however it was common in this era of large puffs to have some sort of support for the sleeve head.

Then the sleeve was sewn into the armhole.

The sleeve is inserted into the armhole. You can see the layers of the sleeve in the seam.

I used bias binding to bind the sleeve seam, as the tulle can get rather itchy if left to poke into your armpit!

Step 3: The over sleeve functions almost more as a collar, as it is attached to the neckline and hangs down over the sleeve.

It was basically a straight strip of material, with a rolled hem on one edge. The raw edge was then pleated to fit between the balance marks at the front of the bodice and the centre back. The over sleeve piece is angled to form a point where it meets the centre back.

The over sleeve is sewn in at the neckline. The back of the over sleeve is angled to meet the centre back at a point, shown on the right side of the photo. (The neckline casing is already sewn in this photo.)

The front corner of the over sleeve (which would hang awkwardly free) is pulled under the front of the arm and held under the armpit with some tacking stitches.

The one irritating thing I have found with this bodice is that the over sleeve does not hang straight. This is because I sewed it too low at the front of the bodice neckline.

Step 4: In the original example, the over bodice was a straight strip of material, which was mounted on the bodice to angle slightly around the body to sit fairly flat. A small tuck was taken at the bottom of the centre front to allow for the sharp angle of the waistline. However, when I tried this method of fitting the over bodice, I found that my corseted shape was not sloped enough to make it work. That is, my waist was not small enough in relation to my bust.

This meant that I had to take a large tuck under the arms to take in the fullness of the material. I also altered the type of tuck I did at the centre front in order that the fabric sat flatter on the body. (Once I looked at the original photos online – highly zoomed in – I felt better about it all, as their tucks did not look fantastically neat either!) In addition to this, because I had already sewn the sleeve in, I had to fold under the raw edge around the arm scythe and hand sew it down.

The over bodice is being handsewn down. The over sleeves are pushed up to show where the over bodice reaches to. The tucks under the arms can be seen and have been handsewn down. (The front corner of the over sleeve has not been tacked under the arm as yet, and that is why they can be pushed as they are.)

The back view of the over bodice.

Note: If I had of been sensible, I would have mounted the over bodice before I did the sleeves! However, I was struggling to figure out how to do this step while fitting myself, so I moved on with the sleeves instead. So I think this step would fit better as Step 2 and save a lot of grumbling later on! (As you might be able to tell, this was the point where I wanted to throw the bodice in the bin!)

Step 5: A casing was sewn to the top, around the neckline, with a drawstring to tighten it at the centre back. This prevents the weight of the sleeves pulling the bodice off the shoulder.

The neckline casing, pinned ready to sew. It will then be turned to the inside and handsewn down.

The bottom edge of the bodice was bound with bias binding (as this bodice was worn tucked in to show the waistband of the skirt).

Hand sewn eyelets were put in the centre back, with lacing to tie up the bodice. This was a fairly common way of fastening bodices closed during this era. The original dress used hooks and eyes, which is the other main way used for fastening.

Step 6: Pearl beads were sewn around the over bodice edges, around the bottom of the oversleeve, and hung in two strings over the bust. A total of 933 pearl beads hand sewn onto this bodice. A square-ish piece of fine netting was gathered up in three lines and hand sewn down at the centre front to form a soft cloud-like strip.

The pearl beads and the fine netting are sewn on.

And here is the whole ballgown all finished!

The front view

The side view

The side view shows how the over sleeve is positioned too low at the front.

The back view

My chemise does show slightly at the centre back, but as I am hoping to redo this chemise I was not concerned. Overall, I am pretty pleased with this gown. I had been worried that the sleeves would be too large, but I think a large hairstyle does help to balance the sleeves. It is a nice gown to dance in as well!

Related Posts

Making an 1890s Ballgown: Skirt

Making an Early 1870s Gown: Evening Bodice

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: A reception dress, Journal des Demoiselles, 1894, from Pinterest.

Image Source: An evening bodice, c. 1893-6, from Museum of London.

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Details of the Bronze and Pink 1893 Gown – by The Quintessential Clothes Pen (Read another costumers journey in making a gown inspired by Janet Arnold’s pattern.)

1893 Evening Gown – by Rhiann Houlihan: Costumier (Another costumers reproduction of this gown.)

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An evening gown, c. 1894, original source unknown.

The late Victorian period falls in the middle of a period of time retrospectively called belle époque. This period – from 1871 to 1914 – was characterised primarily by a period of international peace and economic stability in the Western world. As a consequence the arts flourished during this time, which had an impact on the fashions of the populace. It became possible for even the middle class women to dress quite richly, with lace and flounces. The gowns of the period became quite ornate with multiple trimmings of various sorts.

The skirts of the 1890s had recently fallen from the heights of the final bustle period that ended with the 1880s. The fullness of the skirts remained at the back, with the fabric cut in a sort of semi-circle, but it was closely and smoothly fitted at the waist. The skirts became slightly simpler, with less drapery and adornments than the previous decade, which created a tall and elegant silhouette.

But now that the skirts had resumed more sensible dimensions, it was the sleeves turn to increase astronomically! More on that later…

Fan skirt with matching bodice, silk and velvet, c. 1893-6, from Museum of London.

Pattern

I used the pattern in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 2. I have had my eye on this pattern for a while – indeed, I had even bought all the material and supplies for it about 5 years ago! The actual skirt that Janet Arnold patterned is in the Museum of London and is pictured on the right.

The main alteration I made was to omit the train, as this dress was intended for dancing. I also left off the padded hem.

I used a mint-green duchess satin, with ivory taffeta for the contrasting waistband. The skirt was flatlined with white cotton broadcloth.

Construction Steps

Step 1: Cut out the pieces and flatline them.

The back panel, using the white lining as a pattern. Note that the back panel had to be pieced in order to make it big enough at the centre back seam.

The back panel piece is quite large and so joins were made in order to make it big enough. Any joins need to be made on the straight grain.

The front panel, flatlined with white cotton.

When I flatline, I usually iron the lining and the outer layer together A LOT, whilst pinning all over. Then I sew 1cm from the raw edges on the side seams. I also sew 1cm from the raw edge around the waistline and I leave the bottom edge pinned. (I deal with this edge later when hemming.)

Step 2: The panels were sewn together. The centre back seam was left open for 12 inches to form a placket.

Step 3: The pocket was sewn and the placket piece prepared.

The pocket and the placket flap, cut out.

The pocket was sewn between the placket piece and the left back panel. A short piece of twill tape was used to anchor the weight of the pocket to the waistband.

The pocket is sewn in, with the placket on the left and the inside of the skirt showing.

The pocket opening seen from the right side.

Step 4: The original skirt was gathered at the centre back, but my duchess satin was too thick to gather into such a small space. Instead I decided to make deep pleats to draw in the fullness. At the same time as the pleating, I also did the darts, as this required a fitting to do it accurately.

Then a very thin “waistband” or binding was attached to the top edge.

The waistband from the inside. The inner waistband measures 1/2 inch in width, and the ivory waistband is hand stitched on top. On the left you can see the CB pleats and the stitched dart.

The ivory waistband, cut on the bias, was mounted on top of this and handsewn down. The centre front of the waistband has a triangular dart in it to give it a V-shape.

The ivory waistband is mounted on top and handsewn down.

Step 5: The skirt was hemmed with a deep hem facing (9 inches, in white broadcloth) as well as a “brush braid”.

The hem facing, shown pinned and ready to handsew. The brush braid has already been sewn to the facing, but is held flat with pins.

I have noticed recently that my skirt hems take a real beating when I wear them. (On one of my skirts it took only 2 outdoor outings for a hemline hole to appear.) Historically, a brush braid was used to preserve the part of the hem which wears the most, which is the bottom edge. I have struggled to find much information on brush braids and how they were attached, so I invented my own way.

I decided to use a stiff polyester twill tape, which was sewn to the hem facing after the facing was attached to the dress (this way the stitching does not show on the outside). The brush braid overhangs the hem by 1/8 inch. This means that the braid is the part that drags on the ground the most, and it can be easily replaced when it is worn out.

Step 6: Hooks and eyes were used as fasteners at the centre back. An ivory taffeta rose was made to cover the centre back closure.

A 8-inch strip of fabric was folded in half and gathered along the raw edge. (The other raw edges were tucked under.) The gathered strip was then rolled up to form a rose, and stitched on to the waistband.

The rose is gathered and ready to roll up. The finished width was 1 and 1/2 inches.

The centre back pleats and the taffeta rose.

I really love the late Victorian and early Edwardian skirts. They are so slimming (for my figure at least) and elegant, and I would love to wear them everyday!

The front view

The back view

My gored petticoat goes perfectly underneath this style of skirt. I also wear my 1880’s corset underneath it as well. Look out for the next post in this series; making the bodice.

Related Posts

Making a Gored Petticoat

Making a Victorian Fan Skirt

Making a Victorian Corset

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: 1894 Belle Epoque gown, from flickr

Image Source: Fan skirt, silk and velvet, c. 1893-6, from Museum of London.

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Tutorial: How to sew flatlining, by Dreamstress

A picture of an 1860s gown, the hem-facing and remnants of the brush braid – from Pinterest

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A cage crinoline, with metal and cane supports, held together with cotton tape, c. 1865, from LACMA.

One of the costumes that has been on my list for the past year has been a mid-19th century ball gown. I have an “Alice in Wonderland” Ball coming up, and – since Lewis Carroll published this novel in the year 1865 – it seemed a perfect event to make it for.

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, the skirts had been gradually increasing in size with the use of multiple petticoats, often stiffened with horsehair or cording. When the crinoline was patented in 1856, it reduced the necessity for many layers of heavy petticoats, as the hoop did everything that petticoats could not! It also allowed the dress to increase in size much more easily, as all that was needed was a wider hoop.

By the mid-1860s the hoop began to change shape from the conical fashion of the 1850s to an elliptical shape, where the skirts began to stand out more at the back of the dress. Towards the end of the 1860s the skirts began to be draped to the back to accentuate the rump, in preparation for the first bustle period that came in the early 1870s.

Not all the powers of ridicule, nor the remonstrances of affection have been able to beat down that inflated absurdity, called Crinoline! It is a living institution, which nothing seemingly can crush or compress.

“The Despotism of Dress” (1862),

quoted in Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh

Whether the rebukes were in the name of “ridicule” or “affection”, I can see why women kept wearing crinolines! They are so much fun!

Pattern

I used a pattern from Truly Victorian, which was their 1865 Elliptical Cage Crinoline (TV 103). There was also a useful pattern in Jean Hunnisett’s book, Period Costumes for Stage and Screen, that provided extra information.

I really wanted to make a red crinoline, but in the end (in the name of saving costs) I dug into my stash and found some pink supplies that I could use. I used pink poly-cotton material, with polyester bias binding for the horizontal channels and pink polyester twill tape for the vertical supports and the waistband. I used white flat steel for the boning.

Construction

I have not detailed all the construction steps here, as the Truly Victorian pattern has great instructions. Instead I have given a brief overview.

Step 1: Sewing the bag together.

The bag is sewn up, ready to be folded lengthwise in half.

Step 2: The bag folded in half, with four horizontal boning channels sewn.

The boning channels are sewn in the bag, leaving a gap for the boning to be inserted.

Step 3: The half moon piece is sewn and then quilted.

The half moon shape is sewn and machine quilted for strength.

Then the vertical supports are attached with the waistband.

The vertical supports have been sewn to the crescent and the waistband attached as well.

Step 4: The two centre front vertical supports are sewn to the waistband so that they can slide along it.

The vertical supports at the front are attached to the waistband with a loop so it can move along.

The vertical supports should all be marked as to where the horizontal boning channels will intersect. Once all the vertical supports are attached to the waist and attached at the bag, then the boning can be cut and inserted into the channels. Once again, the boning channels need to be marked as to where they will intersect with the vertical supports. The TV pattern instructions go into great step-by-step detail as to measurements for this part.

Step 5: Inserting the boning and attaching the boning channels.

The boning channels are being attached with pins at the moment.

Step 6: In order to support the back of the bustle, I stuffed a crescent pillow with wadding and sat it underneath the quilted half moon piece on the crinoline. This was suggested in Jean Hunnisett’s pattern and it made a huge difference in the stability of the hoop.

This crescent shaped pillow is stuffed HARD with wadding and then sewn to the waistband very sturdily.

Step 7: Try it on, and – once you are happy with how it sits – the boning channels can be handsewn to the vertical supports.

I am really pleased with how it turned out!

All finished! The hoop is not as balanced on my dummy as it is on me, which reinforces the need for a fitting before the final fixing of the horizontal and vertical supports.

My next post will involve making the petticoat. – coming soon!

Related Posts

A Victorian Bustle

Making a Victorian Corset

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: A cage crinoline, c. 1865, from Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon

TV 103 – 1865 Elliptical Cage Crinoline, by Truly Victorian Sewing Patterns

Period Costumes for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress, 1800-1909, by Jean Hunnisett – buy on Amazon

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