Two weeks ago I was invited to participate in a Colonial Dance display team and I realised that I had nothing to wear that fitted the Colonial description. Strangely, even though the Australian colonial period spans from 1788 through to 1901, the style of dress that is considered iconically colonial (especially for dancing) is the 1850s and 1860s. Even so, I did not have enough time to make anything that required me to make a hoop (or any additional undergarments that I did not already have), so I decided to venture into the realm of the late 1840s.
During the 1840s, skirts had been gradually increasing in size with the help of several petticoats, often corded to enable them to stand out nicely. The first crinoline was not patented until 1856, so until then skirts were fairly limited in their width. The skirts of this era were generally cartridge pleated to a waistband or bodice to enable a large amount of fabric to be condensed to a small area. In most instances, the bodices were attached to the skirts to form one dress, rather than a separate skirt and bodice. This meant that openings were generally at the centre back.
I particularly wanted a front opening bodice with a separate skirt, which became more common in the 1850s. The picture shown above shows a dress on the right with buttons down the centre front, however I think these are decoration rather than functional.
I used Jean Hunnisett’s book, Period Costume for Stage and Screen, as a reference for the skirt, and then looked at the 1840s dresses in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 1. This gave me the general shape of the dress and some ideas of how to construct it.
I used three spans of material (selvedge to selvedge, 60 inches wide), cut to my chosen length (46 inches long, including an allowance for the hem and cartridge pleating). There were two panels on either side of the centre back (with a seam for the CB placket), and one more panel at the centre front.
I used a light cotton fabric with a woven stripe, as well as some white cotton broadcloth inside the waistband and for the hem facing.
Step One: All the skirt seams were sewn. The top of the centre back seam was left open 12 inches for the placket. I also decided to put a pocket into the right-hand seam at the side.
Step Two: The waistband was sewn into a 1-inch-wide tube, and interlined with white cotton broadcloth. The ends of the waistband were turned in and slipstitched. The waistband has a finished length of 33 inches, which enabled a generous overlap at the back.
Step Three: The top of the skirt panels were neatened, then turned over 1 1/2 inches and cartridge pleated. I used two rows of stitches for my pleating, the rows being 1/4 inch apart, and the pleating stitches 1/4 inch apart, resulting in 1/4 inch deep pleats.
Step Four: The cartridge pleats were drawn up and then whipstitched to the waistband. I left the cartridge pleating stitches in to help them sit properly. A waistband hook and eye was used for fastening.
Historial Sewing has a great tutorial on cartridge pleating, so have a look there for all the finer details of how to do it!
Step Five: The hem was finished with a hem facing (5 inches deep) made from white cotton broadcloth. It was sewn right-sides together to the bottom of the skirt, then folded to the inside and hand sewn down.
This skirt took me two days to complete and is worn over a basic bridal petticoat without a hoop. This saved me having to make any undergarments.
Dappled sunlight does not really make for a good photo – I am sorry! Overall, I am very pleased with my skirt. It is not an elaborate skirt, like I usually like to make, however it works fine for a simple day ensemble – which is what it was supposed to be!
A late 1840s day bodice to match the skirt will be coming soon!
Sources and Relevant Links
Image Source: Two 1840s day dresses – Costume and Lace Museum
Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909, by Jean Hunnisett – buy on Amazon
Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon
How to sew Cartridge Pleats – by Historical Sewing