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Posts Tagged ‘Late Victorian costumes’

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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