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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Arnold’

Evening gown, c. 1913-1914, from Na

Evening gown, made from silk and linen, embroidered with metal and glass beads, c. 1913-1914, from the National Museum of Norway.

Talk about Titanic Panic! Work had to begin on the gown!

Gowns had begun to change in a new and different way during 1908. Waistlines suddenly rose. Skirts suddenly clung to the legs. And an entirely different set of undergarments were needed to achieve this hip-hugging new look.

Evening gowns during the early 1910s were all generally “built” on a bodice, which could often be completely hidden beneath all of the outer draped layers. This bodice was often boned and could reach from above the bustline to below the natural waist.

On top of this bodice was mounted all of the other layers. The skirts, often several layers in contrasting colours and different lengths, was sewn or tacked to the bodice. The first layer of skirt was most often a soft, flowing silk satin, and was then followed by a lighter and more sheer layer, such as silk chiffon or netting. Sometimes there were several of these sheer layers, of two or more colours, to add depth or interest, and these layers were often beaded, sometimes very heavily. Evening gowns could be trained with either a square, pointed or rounded shape.

Evening gown, made from silk satin and chiffon, c. 1912, from Augusta Auctions.

Evening gown, made from blue silk satin and chiffon, c. 1912, from Augusta Auctions.

The sleeves of this era were cut in the same style as a Japanese kimono sleeve, which gave a very draped and flowing appearance. These soft sleeves were often mounted on top of a fitted sleeve made from chiffon or net, which provided the structure to the outer sleeve to prevent them falling down. They generally reached to just above the elbow, but could be shorter. Sometimes these kimono-style sleeves even formed a part of the bodice, as the sleeve did not attach to the armhole, but rather the sleeve and the shoulder were one piece. This line of drapery was then just extended down to the waistband at the front and the back.

Once the sleeve-shoulder-bodice pieces were themselves tacked onto the under bodice, a wide waistband was used to cover it all. This waistband clearly marked the higher waistline of this period, and a sash could often be hanging from the waistband at the back.

Pattern

I used the pattern of an evening gown from 1909-10 (made by Madame Hayward), in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. There was some alterations I was keen to make, but it provided a good starting point.

An evening gown in ivory silk satin and black net, c. 1909-1910, from Patterns of Fashion 2.

An evening gown in ivory silk satin and black net, c. 1909-1910, from Patterns of Fashion 2.

This gown uses a small kimono sleeve, which has a larger bodice mounted on an under bodice which cannot be seen. I decided to use the underbodice from this pattern, making it a bit higher at the front, and then extend the sleeves so they came down to the waistband, and thereby do away with the outer bodice you can see in the picture. The skirts I intended to make were basically the same as this pattern.

The construction of this dress seemed very complicated when reading it all through, so I did skip some minor things that didn’t seem necessary to me. However, due to its complicated nature, the length of this post is much longer than normal.

I used a polyester taffeta for the dress (I was pleased to find one dress in this era made from taffeta!), flatlined with cotton broadcloth and overlaid with a silk chiffon. The undersleeves were made from soft polyester tulle.

Construction Steps

Step One: The bodice

First I drafted the pattern out, did a mock up and fitted it with my corset on. The calico mock up pieces became my new pattern.

The pattern for the bodice

The pattern for the bodice, showing the original pattern below and my adjusted calico pattern above.

I flatlined each panel with white cotton broadcloth and sewed all the panels together. The raw edges were neatened as one.

The bodice panels are all sewn together.

The bodice panels are all sewn together.

Then I attached boning channels to the seams. I used some twill tape and sewed each side of the tape to the seam allowances, so the channel sits in the centre of the seam but is not seen from the outside. I used solid nylon (plastic) boning.

The bodice seams are all boned.

The bodice seams are all boned.

As per Janet Arnold’s instructions, the top of the bones stand free.

The boning channel stands free at the top.

The boning channel stands free at the top. You can see that I have hand stitched the top of the casing to hold the bones.

Note: It was clear to me when I fitted the bodice with the boning attached, that the original gown was probably meant to go over a mid-bust corset, rather than an underbust, as there is little bust shaping in the bodice. As I had made an underbust corset, the boning in the bodice did not behave as it normally would have. I ended up increasing the length of the boning strips in three of the seams; the centre front and the two side-front seams. This helped the front of the bodice to conform to my shape better.

A thin flat metal bone was put in the centre back edges. Then I attached hooks and eyes on the centre back seam, which met edge to edge. (Later on I did sew a little flap on the inside so that any gaping on the centre back seam was less noticeable.)

The hooks are attached to the gown beneath a facing.

The hooks are attached to the gown beneath a facing. There is also a facing on the “eye” side, which are both slipstitched down.

Step Two: The net undersleeves

The pattern for the net undersleeves.

The pattern for the net undersleeves, cut in polyester tulle.

The undersleeves were sewn together. The pattern indicates that a line of elastic is sewn along the neckline edge to help the sleeve stay on the shoulder.

The undersleeve sewn, with the elastic sewn on the lefthand edge.

The undersleeve sewn, with the elastic sewn on the lefthand edge.

The undersleeve was sewn to the top edge of the bodice. A fitting at the point is good to establish that your sleeves are in the right spot for your body.

The undersleeve is attached right-sides-together to the bodice. There is a bit of extra fabric in the allowance to trim away.

The undersleeve is attached right-sides-together to the bodice. There is a bit of extra netting fabric in the allowance to trim away.

To finish the top edge of the bodice, I sewed a strip of insertion lace which could be drawn up with a ribbon.

A length of lace is sewn around the top of the bodice to neaten the edge. The eyes can be seen on the left of picture.

A length of lace is sewn around the top of the bodice to neaten the edge. The eyes can be seen on the left of picture. You can also see the lengthened boning on the right of the picture.

The bottom edge of the bodice was hemmed with a length of bias binding, sewn right-sides-together, turned to the inside and handsewn down to cover the raw edge.

A grosgrain ribbon (to act as a petersham waistband) was stitched at the natural waistline on the inside of the bodice. It was attached at the centre front boning channel and the two side-front boning channels with herringbone stitch. This waistband is fastened with a hook and eye.

The petersham waistband sewn in. You can see the lace inserts tacked in at the neckline too.

The petersham waistband sewn in. You can see the lace inserts tacked in at the neckline too (Step Six).

The bodice was now finished.

The front of bodice

The front of bodice

The back of bodice

The back of bodice, showing the ribbon that ties up and keeps the top edge of the bodice tight.

Step Three: The skirt layers

I cut out the underskirt and sewed the side seams and back seam, leaving a bit open for a placket. There is also a small piece added along the placket edge to hide any gaps in the skirt.

It was important to re-fit at this stage, as the skirts are designed to fit fairly snugly over the hips but should still be roomy enough to sit down in.

The underskirt (with train) is cut out.

The underskirt (with train) is cut out. You can see the placket “flap” already attached on the left.

I cut out the chiffon overskirt and sewed the seams together. (I always zigzag all raw edges of chiffon before I start sewing it too!) An opening is again left in the centre back for the placket.

The top edges of both skirt layers were neatened with a zigzag, and the top edge of the chiffon skirt was gathered to help with the easing of the skirt around the bodice. The skirts were then pinned in place, flat against the bodice, and handsewn through all layers with a running backstitch.

The skirts are attached to the bodice with a back stitch.

The skirts are attached to the bodice with a back stitch. (The lace at the bottom was eventually used at the neckline.)

At the back placket, the chiffon was hand stitched to the underskirt. Hooks and “thread loop” eyes were added to the back placket to close the skirt opening.

The back skirt placket, shown here half done up.

The back skirt placket, shown here half done up.

Step Four: The chiffon oversleeves

I cut out the chiffon oversleeves, first draping them to get an idea of how long and wide they should be. They are cut in the same style and shape as a kimono style sleeve.

The chiffon sleeves cut out, with the neck edge against the selvedge.

The chiffon sleeves cut out, with the neck edge against the selvedge. The under-arm shape is yet to be cut out.

Once I had neatened the raw edges of the chiffon, I draped it on the stand to work out the under-arm shape. I made sure to test out the range of movement of the arm as well, as this can be adjusted by how the sleeve is pinned at the waistline.

The under arm section is pinned, ready to sew and then trim.

The under arm section is pinned, ready to sew and then trim back.

The underarm seam goes down the underside of the arm, and then down the side of the body. The resulting side seam should mean that the bottom edge of the sleeve can be sewn to the bodice around the waist area. I sewed this edge down (already neatened) with the same running backstitch through all thicknesses as before with the skirts. This untidy looking midriff area will be covered with the sash in following steps.

I sewed overlapping sequins along the neckline of the gown. This had the double effect of attaching the chiffon sleeves to the net sleeves underneath, whilst also attaching the chiffon sleeves to the front and back of the bodice. I sewed a similar row of sequins along the arm edge of the sleeve, turning under the zigzagged edge to neaten it.

The sequins are handsewn around the neck edge of the sleeves.

The sequins are handsewn around the neck edge of the sleeves (shown only on the right here).

Step Five: The waistband and sash

I cut the sash and waistband out as per the pattern given by Janet Arnold, only adding a bit of extra length in case I should need it. The waistband was a straight piece of fabric, 3 inches wide, which had to be pleated to fit the tapered angle of the high waist. Once pleated to my satisfaction (which took a long time!), and with the raw edges turned under, I hand stitched the waistband in place on the bodice using a slip stitch, making sure to go through all layers to properly anchor it. I also stitched the waistband pleats in place with small slipstitches, as the taffeta did not want to stay in its pressed position.

The waistband, side back view, showing the pleating to help shape it.

The waistband, side back view, showing the pleating to help shape it.

I cut two layers of each sash, sewing them right-sides-together and turning them the right way to get two sashes. I did an inverted box pleat in the top of each sash, making sure that the resulting size fitted the waistband area.

The two sashes, with a box pleat at the top.

The two sashes, with a box pleat at the top.

The bigger sash was attached underneath the waistband (on the left side) with hand stitches, making sure to go through all layers to properly anchor it.

The larger sash is attached on the left side, underneath the waistband.

The larger sash is attached on the left side, underneath the waistband.

The smaller sash was attached to the left side of the waistband on an angle, which required some adjustment and pinning in place so that it hung down straight. It was hand sewn onto the waistband securely.

The smaller sash is attached on an angle on the right side of the waistband. It hangs down over the larger sash.

The smaller sash is attached on an angle on the right side of the waistband. It hangs down over the larger sash.

Hooks and eyes were added to do up the overlapping waistband.

Step Six: Decorating and embellishing

A beaded fringe was attached to the bottom edge of the chiffon skirts, with the zigzagged edge turned up to neaten it. Another row of overlapping sequins was sewn over the top of these stitches.

The beaded fringe is sewn on by machine, turning up the zigzagged edge.

The beaded fringe is sewn on by machine, turning up the zigzagged edge.

Beading and sequins were then sewn in a graduating way up the chiffon skirt.

The beaded fringe, the sequins and beading.

The beaded fringe, the sequins and beading, all completed.

Lace sections were sewn to the front and back neckline to conveniently cover some of the undergarments that kept peeking through. The raw edges of these lace sections were bound with cotton tape and then tacked in place.

Lace was cut to fit in the front and back neckline.

Lace was cut to fit in the front and back neckline. The one pictured is for the front.

The back lace section was cut in half at the centre back and then had a hook and eye attached so it could be done up.

Step Seven: The hem and train

The hem was faced with a piece of cotton flannette (wool flannel in the original example), which reached up 12 inches from the front hem. This hem facing was sewn, right-sides-together, around the bottom raw edges of the skirt and up the side slit.

The front hem facing is pinned and cut to shape to match the skirt.

The front hem facing is pinned and cut to shape to match the skirt.

The back hem is cut to form a pointed train and the hem facing pinned ready to sew.

The back hem is cut to form a pointed train and the hem facing is pinned ready to sew.

The facing was then handsewn down from the inside. Any stitches that were showing are covered by the chiffon overskirt.

A lead weight was sewn into the facing to help weight the train down, and a hook and eye was attached so that the train could be folded up if needed.

The lead weight sewn into a little square of flannelette, with the hook shown.

The lead weight sewn into a little square of flannelette, with the hook shown.

I found this gown was quite complicated to make, but I was very pleased with my efforts when it was finished. There were many low points, like cutting a hole in it and struggling with fitting issues.

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

Finally, it is all completed and now its time for some real Titanic panic!

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening out!

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening out!

I hope you have enjoyed my Titanic-costuming-adventure as much as I did. Now its time for a cup of tea and a lie down!

Related Posts

Titanic Panic! – Making a chemise/drawer combination suit

Titanic Panic! – Making a 1911 corset

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: An evening gown, c. 1913-14, from the National Museum of Norway (Nasjonalmuseet).

Image Source: An evening gown, c. 1912, from Augusta Auctions

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

Evening gown (c. 1909-1910) made by Madame Hayward, from Museum of London.

How to do a running backstitch, by Felt Magnet

How to make thread loops, by Historical Sewing

Dressing for Dinner on the Titanic: Early 1910s Evening Dress, by Demode Couture

Free pattern from an extant evening gown at Chapman Historical Museum, made from silk and chiffon, c. 1911-1913, patterned by Cassidy Percolo.

“Titanic” Theatre Restaurant – Williamstown, Melbourne, Aus.

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The next part of my latest 18th century ensemble is the closed-front robe a l’anglaise, with en fourreau pleats at the back.

The robe a l’anglaise was fashionable for an extended period of time during the 18th century. Literally, “the English gown”, it was characterised most generally by a fitted bodice, in contrast to the robe a la francaise which had a pleated-and-draped back that flowed free from the shoulders.

During the 18th century, the Anglaise often had a long centre-back panel piece, extending from the shoulder to the floor. This back piece was then formed into a series of sewn-down pleats on the dress bodice (the “en fourreau” back) which were then released to form fullness into the skirt of the gown.

Towards the later half of the 18th century, the gown began to be seen with a closed front bodice, even though the skirt could remain open revealing a matching or contrasting petticoat. The front of the gown could be closed with hook and eyes, or by long pins. The skirts could be trained, or pulled up polonaise-style, or left at the same length as the petticoat.

A robe a l'anglaise with an en fourreau back, c. 1770-1780, from Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.

A robe a l’anglaise with an en fourreau back, shown over a quilted petticoat, c. 1770-1780, from Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.

Pattern

The pattern I wanted to do for this dress was another of Janet Arnold’s patterns, in Patterns of Fashion 1. It has a closed front bodice, with an open skirt. The back is cut en fourreau, and the skirts are gathered up in a polonaise-style. The gown is shown over a quilted petticoat, whereas mine will be over a matching petticoat.

The pattern is made up of several pieces:

  • Front bodice panel
  • Front bodice lining panel
  • Back (bodice and skirt) panel
  • Back bodice lining panel
  • Sleeves
  • Shoulder band
  • Skirt Front

A few points to note: Janet Arnold’s patterns do not include seam allowances; and I always do a mock up of the bodice over the correct stays before I begin. In this case, I did a mock-up of the lining pieces so I had an accurate idea of how it would fit me and could adjust the pattern accordingly.

This gown is made with a printed cotton fabric and lined with white cotton broadcloth. It is entirely hand sewn.

Construction Steps

Step 1: The first place to start seemed with the en fourreau pleats in the back panel. I happened upon a great article by The Merry Dressmaker (En Fourreau Back – The Lazy Dressmaker’s Version) and decided that this was a great way to do it.

The back lining piece had a curved centre back seam to allow for fullness at the bottom of the bodice for a false rump, so this seam was sewn first. Then I began pleating the back panel, making sure I had the back lining piece to use as a comparison of finished size.

Most of these types of gowns had 3 pleats on each side of the back bodice. The first pleat was generally pleated into the middle of the back, and the second and third pleats were turned to the sides, however there are some instances where they were all pleated in towards the back. They tended to be curved pleats, which accentuated the slimming look of the waistline. It took me quite a few tries to get the pleating to look right.

The en fourreau pleats have been pinned down to the lining. (You can also see in this picture that the front panel has been pinned to the back panel at the sides as well.)

The en fourreau pleats have been pinned down to the lining.  The first pleats are curved and have been drawn into meet at the centre back. The second and third pleats are straight and have been folded in towards the centre back. (You can also see in this picture that the front bodice panel has been pinned to the back panel at the sides as well.)

Then I laid the back bodice lining piece underneath (wrong sides together) and did a running stitch through all layers to secure the pleats. The pleats are secured down to where the skirts begin, and are then released to allow the fullness into the skirt.

Step 2: The front bodice panel was then sewn to the sides of the back panel. I did this by laying the outer-fabric front panel with the outer-fabric back pleated panel, right sides together. The front lining panel was put with the back lining panel, also right sides together. This created a seam with four layers. Then the seam was pinned and sewn through all thicknesses.

The front panels are pinned to the back panels.

The front panel in the outer-fabric can be seen on the left. The front panel in lining fabric can be seen to the right. The seam (in the middle) is sewn through all thickness, which means the seam allowance is pushed towards the side.

This means that, once the front panels are placed together, the raw seam allowance is already hidden within the lining of the garment.

Step 3: The skirt panels were sewn together, front skirts to back skirt-bodice piece. I left a 10-inch gap in the top of the side seams for a pocket slit.

The skirts are then pleated and sewn (right sides together) to the outer fabric. The skirts do not meet in the front, as there is a large opening for the petticoat to be seen.

Interestingly, Janet Arnold comments that the skirts of her gown were sewn to the lining fabric and then the outer fabric was pulled down, the raw edges folded in, and then caught down to the waist seam (on the outside of the garment) with some stitches.

The skirt is pleated and attached to the bodice.

The skirt is pleated and attached to the bodice. You can see the second row of stitches that holds the pleats in position.

Step 4: Once my skirt was sewn on, the bodice lining was pulled down, with raw edges folded under, and stitched down with a slip stitch.

The lining is pinned down ready to sew.

The lining is pinned down ready to sew. You can see the running stitches that secure the en fourreau pleats on the left. On the bottom right, you can see that the skirts stop very short of the centre front.

Step 5: The centre front bodice could be finished by folding the raw edges in and edge stitching. Instead, I folded the outer fabric over the lining and sewed it down with a slip stitch. I then inserted a very thin piece of boning down each side of the centre fronts. Boning in the centre front does not seem to be a common practice, however boning was often inserted in the backs of these bodices. I just thought that a more firm centre front bodice would help me with fastening.

Initially I had wanted the centre front to be fastened edge-to-edge with hooks and eyes, but I changed my mind when I couldn’t get the hooks and eyes to sit properly. I ended up making a bit of overlap on the left centre front piece so that the right edge could be pinned over the top, to match up the stripes more accurately.

The centre front closure, shown closed with two pins.

The centre front closure, shown with right overlapping left, and closed with only two pins. I had used about 6 pins during wear.

Step 6: The sleeves were flat-lined with cotton broadcloth, and the sleeve seams sewn through all thickness. The seam allowances were then folded under and slip stitched down.

The sleeves were then attached to the bodice with a backstitch, ONLY under the arm. For an explanation of how to fit sleeves the 18th century way, American Duchess has done a great tutorial which I found very useful!

There is also a great video on how to pattern sleeves to have greater mobility in garments, particularly in fitted bodices. I found this a great video, as it explains to me why the shape of sleeves look so different in historical garment pattern pieces. I used this technique in this gown, and it greatly increased my arm movement!

Step 7: The sleeve head was then pleated to fit over the shoulder and the shoulder band was stitched on top. Once again, see the American Duchess tutorial for a great explanation of this technique.

The finished sleeve head

The finished sleeve head.

The bottom of the sleeve was hemmed and finished with trim.

Step 8: The back top edge of the bodice in Janet Arnold’s book was finished by turning the raw edges in and edge stitching, however my en fourreau pleats were sewn to the lining and prevented me from doing this. I decided to cover it with a “back-binder” piece, common for gowns of this period. There is a gown in Costume Close-Up (by Linda Baumgarten) that is constructed in this way.

The back-binder piece

The back-binder piece

If you look closely you will see that the back binder piece does not join the shoulder band properly, however by that stage I was happy that it covered the raw edges!

The rest of the raw edges of the bodice (along the neckline and along the front of the waist) were turned in and edge-stitched.

Step 9: Finishing touches! The bottom edge of the gown was hemmed, allowing for a slight train if left down.

The front edges of the gown skirts and the neckline were finished with trim.

The trim around the neckline.

The trim around the neckline.

Four tapes were sewn to the inside of the gown skirts; two on the bottom of the back bodice, and two on the skirts at the back. These can be tied together to create a polonaise effect over the false rump.

The tapes sewn to the inside of the skirts, and tied up to form a polonaise.

The tapes sewn to the inside of the skirts, and tied up to form a polonaise.

Here are some of the finished pictures from the Jane Austen Festival Australia, 2016. This outfit was worn on the Georgian Day of the Festival.

The Front

The front view; I ended up wearing my pockets over the top of the petticoat, but under the gown. This meant that they could be easily reached through the front of the gown, instead of through the pocket slits.

The side view

The side view

The back view. The fichu is a little crooked!

The back view. When the polonaise is down, the skirt trains slightly on the ground. And sorry, but the fichu is annoyingly crooked!

The gown is shown here with my pair of embroidered lawn ruffles, my embroidered muslin fichu and my embroidered pockets (sitting over the petticoat but hiding under the gown). I am very pleased with the outfit overall!

Related Posts

Does My Bum Look Big in This? – Making an 18th Century Rump

Making a Robe a l’Anglaise: Matching Petticoat

Sources and Relevant Links

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – on Amazon

En Fourreau Back – The Lazy Dressmaker’s Version, by The Merry Dressmaker

Setting 18th Century Sleeves the 18th Century Way – by American Duchess

How to modify sleeves for better arm mobility – video by Threads Magazine

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

Classic Georgian Hairstyle – by Locks of Elegance

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A robe a l'anglaise, with a matching petticoat, from MET Museum.

A robe a l’anglaise, with a closed front and a matching petticoat, c. 1785-95, from The MET Museum.

This year I have had a long list of costumes planned to make, but a Robe a l’Anglaise was not one of them. However, I quickly changed my mind when a friend decided to make one and it became convenient and easy to work on the project together!

The robe a l’anglaise was fashionable for an extended period of time during the 18th century. Literally, “the English gown”, it was characterised most generally by a fitted bodice, in contrast to the robe a la francaise which had a pleated-and-draped back that flowed free from the shoulders.

A gown cut en fourreau, from MET Museum.

A robe a l’anglaise, with the back cut en fourreau, c. 1776, from The MET Museum.

The Anglaise saw many different variations through the 18th century: open and closed bodices; long and elbow-length sleeves; worn polonaise style; etc… During this time, the Anglaise often had a long centre-back panel piece, extending from the shoulder to the floor. This back piece was then formed into a series of sewn-down pleats on the dress bodice (the “en fourreau” back) which were then released to form fullness into the skirt of the gown. Towards the end of the gown’s popularity, the bodice was cut separately to the skirts and attached with a waist seam.

Another transition in this gown was with the front. Gowns that had been worn open to reveal a stomacher earlier in the century, began to be worn closed, either pinned or closed with hooks and eyes. The skirts could also be closed in front (called a “round gown”), or be worn open to reveal a matching or contrasting petticoat.

For this particular costume, I decided that I wanted a petticoat to match the gown, and with a pinked flounce. It also needed to have pocket slits so that I could wear my new pockets!

The petticoat

The petticoat, c. 1775-1785, in Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.

Pattern

In looking for a suitable pattern for a petticoat, I went with one in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 1. It is dated 1775-1785 and is part of a matching petticoat/gown set. It is a very basic skirt pattern, made up of a large rectangle of material (pieced where necessary).

The FINISHED WIDTH of the front panel of my petticoat (not allowing for seam allowances) was 62 inches wide (and then made as long as I needed it for my height). The back panel was exactly the same as the front.

This gown is made of a cotton printed material, and is completely handsewn.

Construction Steps

Step 1: After you have cut out the large rectangles that make up the skirt, sew the side seams together. I had to piece several pieces of material together to get the required width, but I made sure I had two side seams to make allowing for the pocket slits easier. The top 10 inches of the petticoat side seams were left open for the pocket slits. All seams are either on the selvedge or flat-felled.

Step 2: Pleat the top of the front panel onto a waistband. My pleats start from the centre front and go out to the sides. Pleat the back panel in the same manner with a second waistband. Often petticoats of this era could also be attached to a length of twill tape as a waistband.

Step 3: After finishing the waistband, attach ties to the ends of both the back and front waistbands. I made an eyelet through each end of each waistband and then tied a length of cotton tape to it.

The two halves of the waistband, with ties on each end.

The two halves of the waistband (back and front), with ties on each end.

Step 4: Hem the bottom edge of the petticoat. I inserted some cord into the hem to help it stand out better.

The hem, with a length of cord threaded through the hem casing.

The hem, with a length of cord threaded through the hem casing.

Step 5: Using pinking shears, pink the flounce with a scallop at the top and a zigzag at the bottom. Attach the flounce. My flounce is 9 inches deep, and twice the length of the bottom of the petticoat. It is box-pleated to fit the petticoat, and it should only just overhang the hem.

The flounce, box-pleated to fit.

The flounce, box-pleated to fit.

Step 6: Add any trim. My trim is just a piece of plain gimp-like braid with a ribbon threaded through it at intervals.

The trim; a length of gimp-like braid with ribbon threaded through it.

The trim: a length of gimp-like braid with ribbon threaded through it.

The finished pictures!

The front, shown over my hip roll.

The front, shown over my hip roll. The front half is tied around the waist first, and the back half is tied around the waist second.

The side view. Because the petticoat is not shown with my stays, you can see the pocket slits in the side.

The side view. As the petticoat is not shown with my stays, you can see that it doesn’t quite fit the dummy. There is normally a bit of an overlap between the front half and the back half. The pocket slits can be seen in the side.

I was quite pleased with the end result, though I do think I need another plain petticoat underneath (over the hip roll) to help with the skirt’s body.

Look out for the next post in this series, the closed-front gown to match. – coming soon!

Related Posts

Does my Bum Look Big In This? – Making an 18th Century Rump

An 18th Century Robe a l’anglaise – a very early and non-historical attempt!

How Heavy is Too Heavy for a Dress? – about a quilted petticoat

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Robe a l’Anglaise, c. 1785-95, from The MET Museum

Image Source: Robe a l’Anglaise, c. 1776, from The MET Museum

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – on Amazon

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The 1871-3 three-piece-gown described and patterned in Janet Arnold's book. (Photo found on Pinterest, from manchestergalleries.org,but I can't find the original entry.)

The 1871-3 three-piece gown described and patterned in Janet Arnold’s book. From Manchester Art Gallery.

This is Part Three of a series I have been doing on making an early 1870’s gown. Part One was about making the skirts, and Part Two concerned the construction of the evening bodice. In this post I will be making a day bodice for this ensemble. I am hoping to wear this outfit for the Bi-annual Melbourne Victorian and Gothic picnic in Australia later in the year.

Day bodices of this era often had full length sleeves (with a somehow 3/4 length look) with closely-fitted sleeve heads that dropped off the shoulder and large flared frills or cuffs at the bottom of the sleeve. A high neckline was also often popular.

The drawing in Janet Arnold's

The drawing in Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion 2”.

Pattern

The pattern for this Victorian ensemble is in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 2. It comprises three skirts (underskirt, overskirt, and basque) and two bodices (evening and day).

The pattern for the day bodice was a lot looser than the evening bodice, which made it a lot easier to fit. As with all of my bodices, I did a mock-up of calico to check the fit before beginning.

This bodice was made from a printed striped cotton material and lined with cotton broadcloth. The ruched trim was made from a polyester maverick shantung. The netting used around the neck was a soft polyester tulle – the most similar to silk netting that I could find.

Constructions Steps

Step One: I flat-lined the bodice with white cotton broadcloth and treated both layers as one. First I sewed the centre back seam, then the side seams and the shoulder seams. Then I made two diagonal darts at each side on the front to fit the bodice properly to the figure. On the left side of the front opening, a bone casing and bone was added to the vertical edge.

The bodice has been sewn together, with an opening at the centre front.

The bodice has been sewn together, with an opening at the centre front. The lining of the sleeves is also attached in this picture.

Step Two: I made the sleeves up (the outer fabric and the lining) separately. The lining was sewn to the bodice first (as can be seen in the picture above) and then the outer sleeve was sewn on the same stitching line as the lining. The sleeves were then turned in the right way, so that the wrong sides of both layers were facing each other.

The sleeve pattern

The sleeve pieces cut out, showing the upper sleeve and lower sleeve.

In hindsight I should have flatlined the sleeves as I did with the bodice. The sleeve outer and the sleeve lining were tricky to get the same because of the pattern. This made the two layers slightly different and they feel a little uncomfortable to wear. In addition to this, it was quite difficult to sew the sleeves on the garment, as the entire bodice had to be inside the sleeve lining in order to attach the outer!

The bodice with sleeves attached.

The bodice with sleeves attached.

Step Three: There were two layers of flounces; one positioned around the elbow and one around the wrist. The wrist flounce was bound on the bottom edge with bias binding and was then eased to fit around the sleeve using gathering stitches. It was sewn to the sleeve so that the bottom edge of the flounce and the bottom edge of the sleeve were the same.

The wrist flounce, bound at the bottom with bias binding, and with a single line of gathering stitches around the top.

The wrist flounce, bound at the bottom with bias binding, and with a single line of gathering stitches around the top.

The elbow flounces each consisted of two layers of flounce joined together. Both layers were bound with bias binding along the bottom edge. The top edge of the bottom flounce was gathered to fit the bottom edge of the top flounce, and then handsewn to it. The top flounce was then gathered to fit the sleeve, and was handsewn to the sleeve along the sleeve’s central seam line.

The elbow flounces were made up of two layers.

The elbow flounces were made up of two layers. Here you can see one flounce made up (top), the top layer of flounce (middle) and the bottom layer of flounce (bottom).

The inside of the double elbow flounce, showing the hand stitching.

The inside of the double elbow flounce, showing the hand stitching, and the top raw edges folded over and gathered.

It was at this point that I realised that I had done the skirt flounces wrong, as the flounce was supposed to be slightly gathered and I had sewn mine flat and just stretched the bottom bias edge so it would sit properly.

Step Four: The bodice was trimmed with the same ruched bias trim I made for the evening bodice and the skirt. To read more detail on how I made it, go to Making an Early 1870’s Gown: Skirts. This trimming was around the neckline and around the top of the two flounces on each sleeve.

The trim attached to one of the skirts.

The trim attached to one of the skirts.

Step Five: In addition to this ruched trim, the neckline was filled in with a lacey trim. I made this by folding a layer of poly tulle in half lengthwise (with a finished width of 2 1/4″) and then pleating it into 3/8″ pleats. Once pleated, the trim was bound with white bias binding along the raw (not the folded) edge, and an insertion lace was sewn 1/2″ from the folded edge. Ribbon was threaded through the insertion lace so it could be pulled closed and tied at the centre front.

The

The “lace” trim

Once the neckline was bound with some bias binding, I sewed the lace trim on, with the bound edge hidden inside the garment and 1 3/4″ of the trim showing on the outside. The ruched trim was then handsewn on top to cover the bound edge of the neckline.

Trim detail

Trim detail

Step Six: The bodice was hemmed with a white piece of bias binding, all of which was folded to the inside and handsewn down. The front closures were 5 hooks and eyes, with 4 covered buttons sewn on the outside of the garment, over the top of the top 4 hooks. There were three waistband “eyes” or “bars” sewn on to the back of the bodice for the basque to attach to.

The front view

The front view; the skirt is terribly creased but no time to iron!

The side view

The side view

The back view

The back view; unfortunately in these hurried pics I had forgotten to pull the back of the bodice down properly, which caused a ridge at the top of my corset line.

I am really pleased with how this has turned out, and it is all ready to wear to a Victorian picnic I am attending in October. Now I just have to decide if I should making a hat for this ensemble! The list of things to make is neverending.

Related Posts

Making an Early 1870’s Gown: Skirts (including how to make the trim)

Making an Early 1870’s Gown: Evening Bodice

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Janet Arnold’s dress – from Manchester Art Gallery

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

Another reproduction of an 1871 day dress, made by Before the Automobile

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The drawing in Janet Arnold's

The drawing in Janet Arnold’s “Pattern of Fashion 2”.

In the first part of this series, I concentrated on making the skirts of this early-1870’s gown. The skirts have such a nice drapery about them!

For this post I will be looking at the construction of the ballgown bodice. Ballgown bodices of this era often had short sleeves or were occasionally sleeveless. They were quite decorated around the bust and sleeve area, and often appeared to be almost off-the-shoulder.

Pattern

The pattern I am using is from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. This particular gown has three separate skirts (the underskirt, the overskirt and the basque), as well as two bodices (the evening bodice and the day bodice).

I normally post pictures of all the pattern pieces, but I have found this gown slightly more complicated than others that I have done, so I suggest purchasing the book if you are intending to make this particular garment. Instead I have listed the pieces below:

  • Bodice front (cut 2, plus 2 lining)
  • Bodice back (cut 1 on fold, plus 1 lining on fold)
  • Bertha (left, right, front and back) (cut 4, plus 4 lining and 4 net)
  • Sleeve (cut 2)
  • Sleeve lining and gusset (cut 2 of each)
  • Sleeve band (cut 2)
  • Waistband (cut 1, plus 1 lining)

This garment was made from a printed striped cotton fabric and the lining was a white cotton broadcloth. The trims on the garment are made from a polyester shot maverick shantung.

I made a mock-up of the bodice first, just to sort out any fitting issues. I had to adjust the bertha quite significantly to fit it properly, and the waistline had to be enlarged.

Construction Steps

Step One: Once the pattern pieces were cut out, I mounted the outer fabric of the bodice pieces onto their corresponding lining pieces and treated them as one.

Step Two: I sewed the bodice side seams, then the front darts to fit. I sewed the shoulder seams.

The darts and side seams all sewn.

The darts and side seams all sewn. The shoulder seams are yet to be sewn.

Step Three: The bertha has an outer layer (cotton), lining layer (cotton) and inner layer of stiff net. There are four bertha pieces (front left and right, and back left and right), so altogether you should have cut out 12 pieces (four bertha pieces each in outer, lining and net).

Note: In the pattern the bertha pieces are all the same shape (for both front and back) but I had to adjust this in order for the garment to fit properly. My front and back bertha pieces, therefore, are different shapes.

I sewed each of these four bertha pieces to their corresponding layers (outer, net, lining layers) together on the upper edge.

The net sewn to the outer and lining pieces.

The bertha (front left piece) sewn to all its layers (outer, net, lining) along the upper edge. It is now opened up and pinned to the front right piece along the centre front.

You should now have four bertha pieces that are all attached along the upper edge. Now they need to be attached in the centre front and centre back. Do this by opening the pieces out and pinning right sides together at the centre front/back and sew.

Bertha is sewn at centre front and back.

The bertha is sewn at centre front (and likewise at centre back, not shown). Clip seam allowances and turn right side out and press.

The front and back bertha pieces are now sewn at the shoulder seams.

Step Four: The bertha can now be attached to the bodice. Match centre fronts and backs and shoulder seams. Sew the bertha outer layer (including the net) to the upper edge of the bodice (right sides together). Press the seam towards the bertha and turn the raw edge of the bertha lining under. Slip stitch it down.

The bertha is attached.

The bertha is attached. The bertha lining is being turned under and hand sewn down.

Step Five: Sew the sleeve seam. Gather the top and bottom edge of the sleeves (outer).

The sleeves are gathered top and bottom.

The sleeves are gathered top and bottom.

For the sleeve lining, slash the mark and insert the gusset. Sew the sleeve seam.

The lining sewn, showing the slash with gusset inserted.

The lining sewn, showing the slash with gusset inserted.

Mount the sleeve outer on top of the sleeve lining (wrong sides together) and pin. Attach the sleeve band, turning the excess to the inside and slip stitching the raw edges under.

The sleeve mounted on the lining and cuff strip attached.

The sleeve mounted on the lining and sleeve band attached. The raw edges of the sleeve band are pinned under and are ready to hand sew.

The sleeves can then be attached to the bodice.

Step Six: Attach the waistband to the bottom edge of the bodice.

Step Seven: Attach lace around the bottom of the sleeves and around the neckline. I used a 2 inch wide insertion lace. A thin cotton cord can be used to draw the fullness of the lace in so that the bodice does not fall down over the shoulders.

The front of the bodice, showing the cord lacing up the insertion lace at the front.

The front of the bodice, showing the cord lacing up the insertion lace at the front. The trim is also sewn down.

Step Eight: Make the trim (the same as is detailed in “the skirts” post) and attach it around the sleeve cuff, and around the bertha as per the diagram in Janet Arnold’s book.

Step Nine: Attach hooks and eyes down the centre front of the bodice. The centre front of the bertha meets edge to edge with the trim hiding the hooks and eyes, but further down on the bodice I created an overlap to more effectively hide the hooks and eyes.

The hooks and eyes sewn to fasten at the front. They are tucked behind a slight overlap in the fabric.

The hooks and eyes sewn to fasten at the front. They are tucked behind a slight overlap in the fabric.

Three waistband/trouser bars were also sewn to the back of the bodice waistband to correspond to matching hooks on the basque.

The back of the bodice, showing the hooks and bars sewn to attach the basque.

The back of the bodice, showing the hooks and bars sewn to attach the basque.

All finished! My dressmakers form is not the same shape as my corseted body but hopefully you get the idea.

The front

The front view

The back view

The back view

My last post in this series will be about making the day bodice for this ensemble. For more information on my costuming, go to my Costumes page.

Related Posts

Making an Early 1870’s Gown: Skirts

Making a Victorian Corset

Sources and Relevant Links

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomens’ gowns and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Setting a gusset – by Sempstress

Attaching a waistband – by Fashion Freaks (This tutorial is for a skirt, but the same principles apply.)

1871 ballgown – by Before the Automobile (See this beautiful version of this dress made by someone else!)

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Making a “proper” Victorian bustle gown has been on my list to do for a while. For 15 years actually – ever since I first saw a lady dancing in one and marvelled at its drapery.

There were two distinct periods in history where bustles – in their most “Victorian” extreme – were used. The first was in the early 1870’s and the second was in the 1880’s. Elsewhere in history, bumpads of all sorts have been frequently used, but here I am talking about the much more prominent Victorian bottom enhancer.

The 1871-3 three-piece-gown described and patterned in Janet Arnold's book. (Photo found on Pinterest, from manchestergalleries.org,but I can't find the original entry.)

The 1871-3 three-piece-gown described and patterned in Janet Arnold’s book. (Photo found on Pinterest, from manchestergalleries.org,but I can’t find the original entry.)

From 1871 to 1873, gowns were remarkably similar. Gown ensembles were most often in two pieces; the skirts and the bodice. The skirts were gored (which made them nice and full) and often included an outer or overskirt that ended around the knees. This overskirt was generally pulled up in a polonaise-style over the bustle behind. For day bodices, the sleeves were not highly gathered around the sleeve head, but instead often flared out at the bottom, sometimes in layers, in a manner very similar to 1970’s pants! For evening bodices, the style was almost off-the-shoulder with short gathered sleeves.

The gown that caught my eye more recently was found in one of Janet Arnold’s pattern books, and I even had the material purchased and waiting patiently to be made up!

This particular post will deal with making the three skirt layers: the underskirt, the overskirt and the basque.

Pattern

I used the pattern by Janet Arnold, in her book Pattern of Fashions 2. I had to make several alterations to it so it would fit me. For the skirts, this included increasing the length of the underskirt, and increasing the waistline measurements.

The drawing in Janet Arnold's "Pattern of Fashion 2".

The drawing in Janet Arnold’s “Pattern of Fashion 2”. This gown ensemble is made up of a day bodice, an evening bodice, an underskirt, an overskirt, and a basque.

I normally post pictures of my pattern pieces, but this gown is quite complicated. If you are interested in making this pattern I suggest you either get Janet Arnold’s book or get a similar historical pattern to use.

I dont often bother making a mock-up of the skirts of a gown, so I got straight into sewing!

Construction Steps

The Underskirt

Step One: Sew the underskirt panels together, leaving an opening for the placket, which is on the seam to the left of the centre back. To make the placket, I just pressed the seam allowance open and top stitched around the placket edge.

Step Two: Janet Arnold’s pattern includes a pocket in the front left seam of the underskirt. I highly recommend putting one in! Mine is made from white cotton broadcloth, and set on an angle (facing towards the centre front) in the left seam. Make sure you make an opening big enough to fit your hand in, and that the pocket is big enough to hold your fan or any other item you feel is essential.

The pocket sewn on an angle in the seam. It is positioned ... from the waistband.

The pocket sewn on an angle in the seam. The top of the pocket opening is positioned 5 inches down from the waistband.

Step Three: Laying the two waistband pieces right sides together, sew around them, leaving an opening for to turn it in the right way. Turn it in the right way and press. Sew the opening closed.

Step Four: Neaten the upper edge of the underskirt, pleat and attach to the waistband. I laid the waistband on top and sewed through all thicknesses. (As compared to the normal method of sewing a waistband.) Attach hooks and eyes to the waistband for fastening.

You can see the top stitching on the placket opening, and also the topstitching on the waistband (which secures the pleated skirt). The hooks and eyes are also sewn on.

You can see the top stitching on the placket opening, and also the topstitching on the waistband (which secures the pleated skirt). The hooks and eyes are also sewn on.

Janet Arnold is not clear exactly how to attach the skirt to the waistband. She does indicate cartridge-pleating was used in the overskirt but does not state that this was also done on the underskirt. I initially cartridge-pleated the underskirt, but after it all unravelled at the first ball it was worn to, I decided to pleat it the second time around instead!

Step Five: Bind the lower edge of the skirt with matching bias binding. I cut my own bias strips and made binding that matched my trim.

Step Six: Sew the wide bias strips of flounce onto the bottom of the skirt, folding the raw edge under and sewing through all thicknesses. Attach trim to hide the seam. (See below for trim construction.) Sew binding to the bottom edge of the flounce.

The flounce has been applied to the skirt, and the trim hides where it has been sewn. You can see the two bound edges on the bottom of the skirt.

The flounce has been applied to the underskirt, and the trim hides where it has been sewn. You can also see the two bound edges on the bottom of the skirt. The bottom edge of the flounce does not overhang the skirt, but is the same length as it.

The underskirt is finished!

1871-3 underskirt front

The front view

The back view

The back view

 

The Overskirt

Step One: Sew the skirt panels together, leaving the centre front seam open. Note: On the side seam of the front panel, two upward-pointing pleats are done prior to sewing the side seams.

Step Two: Take two waistband pieces and sew them in the same way as I sewed the underskirt waistband. Note: The waistband needs to be a finished piece (no raw edges) when a skirt is to be cartridge pleated to it. This is a different method of attaching the skirt and waistband than is normally done.

Step Three: Cartridge-pleat the upper edge of the back panel of the overskirt and attach to the waistband. Attach hooks and eyes to the waistband for fastening.

The top edge of the overskirt, being cartridge pleated.

The top edge of the overskirt being cartridge pleated. Note that the raw edge is folded over before the cartridge pleating stitches are started.

The finished cartridge pleats

The finished cartridge pleats in the back of the overskirt.

Step Four: Right sides together, sew the bias strips of flounce to the bottom edge of the overskirt. Attach trim to cover the seam line.

Step Five: Close the centre front seam by using covered buttons. For the bottom four buttons, overlap the two edges (right over left) of the skirt and sew through all thicknesses. For the remainder, sew buttons to the top layer (right) and attach hooks and eyes to fasten beneath the button, hidden from view.

All the buttons are false; that is, they do not have corresponding buttonholes. The buttons are the top are sewn through the left side of the placket and hooks and eyes are hidden beneath (not shown). The buttons at the bottom are sewn through both sides of the placket.

All the buttons are false; that is, they do not have corresponding buttonholes. The buttons at the top of the picture are sewn through the right side of the placket and hooks and eyes are hidden beneath (not shown here). The buttons at the bottom of the picture are sewn through both layers of the placket.

Step Six: The inside of the overskirt is draped using a system of tapes and buttons. The exact placement of these is detailed in Janet Arnold’s pattern, but can otherwise be done by pinning to see what looks best.

The tapes are sewn to the waistband and have buttonholes sewn into them. The buttons are sewn to the skirt. There are two tapes sewn to each side of the skirt which tie together to keep the skirt sitting at the back.

The tapes are sewn to the waistband and have buttonholes sewn into them. The buttons are sewn to the skirt. There are two tapes sewn to each of the side seams of the skirt which tie together to keep the skirt sitting at the back.

The overskirt is completed!

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

The Basque

Step One: Sew the pieces of the basque together. Sew the pieces of the basque lining together in the same way.

I discovered that there is a mistake in the Janet Arnold book, which confused me for awhile. The CB FOLD instructions are on the wrong pattern piece (the front), but when changed to the other (back) pattern piece, it all makes sense again.

The "CB to fold" instruction has been mistakenly put on the wrong pattern piece.

The “CB to fold” instruction has been mistakenly put on the wrong pattern piece.

Step Two: Right sides together, sew the basque and the lining together along the bottom and centre front edge. Fold the right way and press. Trim can now be added to the bottom edge.

Step Three: Make the pleats in the waistline and bind the top edge with bias binding to hold the pleats. Janet Arnold’s example was not bound with bias binding, but I found it easier to do that to properly hold the pleats in place. You could also attach it to the waistband in the normal manner instead.

The basque, with the trim attached and the waistline bound with bias binding, ready to attach to the waistband.

The basque, with the trim attached and the waistline bound with bias binding, ready to attach to the waistband.

Step Four: The waistband is made up of two main pieces: the outer layer cut on the bias, and the lining on the straight grain. The two layers can be laid wrong sides together and bias binding sewn around the top and bottom edges. The raw edges on the two short sides of the waistband can be turned to the inside and sewn down.

Step Four: Hand sew the bound upper edge of the basque to the waistband. I stitched “in the ditch” between the waistband binding and the outer material, through all thicknesses. Add hooks and eyes to fasten.

The basque is finished!

The front view

The front view. The bound waistband meets edge to edge.

The back view

The back view

Making the Trim

Step One: Cut bias strips from your chosen material, joining the strips until you have the necessary length. Fold the raw edges in on the wrong side and press. You piece should now look similar to bias-binding that can be bought in the store.

Anchor your thread with a few stitches to one folded edge of the strip.

Use a few stitches to ancor the thread at one side of the trim.

Use a few stitches to anchor the thread at one side of the trim.

Step Two: Using a running stitch, weave your needle in and out of the material until you have reached the other folded edge of the strip. Don’t pull your needle out, as it makes it more difficult to gather the threads in the next step.

Weave the needle in and out across the strip, creating a running stitch.

Weave the needle in and out across the strip, creating a running stitch.

Step Three: Use your fingers to squeeze the material together whilst it is still attached to the needle, creating a series of gathers.

Use your fingers to squeeze the material together whilst it is still attached to the needle.

Squeeze the material together whilst it is still attached to the needle.

Step Four: Pull the needle through the material, still holding the material tight in its gathers. Make a few small stitches on the other folded edge to anchor the thread.

Anchor the thread by stitching a few more stitches on the other folded edge.

Anchor the thread by stitching a few more stitches on the other folded edge.

Step Five: Hand sew the trim onto your gown, trying to make your stitches as invisible as possible. I hand sewed the top edge and the bottom edge of the trim to the gown, rather than just securing it at the gathers. That then ensures the raw edges are all anchored securely.

The trim attached

The trim attached

And here is the skirts all layered together. My dressmakers form doesn’t seem to hold the bustle in the right place on the waist, so the back does tend to droop. However, it doesn’t do that when I am wearing it.

The skirt layers together.

The skirt layers together.

Keep an eye out for the next post in this series, the evening bodice.

Related Posts

Making a Victorian Corset

Making a Victorian Chemise

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Pinterest (but the original is reported to have come from manchestergalleries.org)

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomens gowns and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Sewing a waistband in the normal manner – by Fashion Freaks

How to sew cartridge pleats – by Historical Sewing

1871 ballgown – by Before the Automobile (See this beautiful version of this dress made by someone else!)

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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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