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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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