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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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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 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.

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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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