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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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From the Delineator, 1897.

A cape and skirt, published in the Delineator, 1897. The magazine states: “The seven gored Princess skirt has a fan back.”

In the 1890s, the era of the bustle skirts had faded away. Instead, skirts became fitted closely to the waist but full along the hemline at the back. This look was achieved by making the front panel A-line in shape and the back panel shaped like a semi-circle. Because of the way the skirt fanned out at the back, often falling in natural pleats, it became known as the “fan” skirt.

There were many other skirts of similar design that were used during this period, all called rather unique names. Janet Arnold provides some of the names in her book, Patterns of Fashion 2, and they include the “Bell” skirt, the “Restoration” skirt, the “French” skirt, the “Rejane” skirt, the “Papillon” skirt, and the “Umbrella” skirt, among others. Essentially they were all the same in that they were fitted at the waist and full at the back hemline.

A fashion plate from 1896.

A fashion plate from 1896.

The way in which the back of the “Fan” skirt spread out when moving made it a very pretty skirt for ball dancing, and for this reason I have been very keen to make one of my own.

Pattern

There are several basic patterns in this style reproduced just as they were printed in newspapers and fashion magazines, in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. For this particular garment I used Illustration 70 and 71 – “Illustrations and diagrams of the ‘Fan’ skirt, from Le Moniteur de la Mode, The Lady’s Magazine, 1 June 1894.”

Unfortunately for present-day dressmakers, many of these types of patterns and the accompanying instructions that have been extracted from historical sources presumed a fair bit of knowledge on the contemporary reader. For instance, there is no instructions about what sort of a waistband to construct or how the back or side fastens, especially when there is no allowance for a placket. In the absence of this information, I have had to look at extant examples to discover what sorts of waistbands and fastenings were used during this period and do my best!

One beneficial inclusion in the sewing directions is the precise instructions of how to make the garment to your own figure. However, the instructions also presume the wearer will be using a corset and has a relatively small waist measurement. (The pattern uses a waist size of 24″ as an example.) I wanted to make this skirt to my uncorseted waist size and, whilst I still used the sizing instructions, I found I needed to adjust them a little when using a much larger waist measurement. Basically I just applied the measurements to the cloth and then cut out the fabric, allowing a little extra for the seam allowances.

The front panel of the fan skirt, centre front on the fold.

The front panel of the fan skirt, centre front on the fold.

The back panel of the fan skirt, with the centre back on the fold.

The back panel of the fan skirt, with the centre back on the fold.

For the outer fabric I used a soft thick cotton (woven similarly to drill) and for the lining I used cotton broadcloth.

Construction Steps

Step One: Sew the side seams. Here, I treated the lining and the outer fabric as one. This made the fabric thicker and helped it stand out properly.

Step Two: Make two darts in the front panel at the waistline (one on each side). I also made two darts on each side of the waist, near where the back panel meets the front panel. You can see the darts in the photos below. Mine are a bit dodgy and I think I will need to go back and fix them.

Step Three: I was initially going to make a basic waistband which fastened at the centre back, but where to place the placket really baffled me, especially since the centre back was on a fold. In the end, I changed the design of the waistband, using this extant example as a guide.

This dress appears to still have a back placket and the centre back edges overlap and fasten with two buttons.

This skirt appears to still have a back placket and the centre back edges overlap and fasten with two buttons.

But I wanted the back of my skirt to look more like this:

This skirt has a lovely pleated back which I really like.

This skirt has a lovely pleated back, where two pleats fold to meet each other at the centre back.

So, using these two ideas, I developed a way to have a centre back opening without the need for a placket. Most extant Victorian skirts I have seen have plackets, so I am unsure of exactly how they were done in this case where the centre back is on a fold and the side seams are so close to the front of the skirt.

The waistband is in two parts; the normal waistband is cut to reach almost all the way around to the back but there is a second waistband "tab" in the centre back which the sides attach to.

The waistband is in two parts; the normal waistband is cut to reach almost all the way around to the centre back but there is a second waistband “tab” in the centre back which the sides pull in and attach to. This creates a pleat in the centre back.

The finished back closure is pictured below. It is not what I would call strictly historical, as most Victorian skirts had plackets and were generally fastened with hooks and eyes, but I am happy with it nonetheless.

The finished closure

The finished closure

If you are interested in looking at the way other skirts of this era are fastened, I have since found that Nancy Bradfield’s book, Costume in Detail: 1730-1930, has several drawings of extant garments from this period with different types of fastenings.

Step Four: Then the skirt just needs to be hemmed.

Here are the finished pictures:

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

Side view, with the fullness of the back held out.

Side view, with the fullness of the back held out.

It was really a fairly quick and easy sewing project to make. I have been thinking about also adding two tabs onto the waistband that I can tie in to make the skirt wearable with a corset. All that would change in the appearance will be that there will be an extra set of pleats at the centre back.

I am looking forward to my next dancing evening now!

I have since made a matching 1890’s bolero jacket for this skirt.

Related Posts

Making a Gored Petticoat

Sources and Relevant Links

First Image Source: at Victorian Trends by Vintage Field and Garden

Second Image Source: at All the Pretty Dresses

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their construction c. 1860-1940 – buy on Amazon

Black and purple extant Victorian ensemble (1895) – at All the Pretty Dresses

Tweed Victorian ensemble with a pleated skirt back (1890’s) – at All the Pretty Dresses

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