Tuesday, August 14, 2012

1860's Gowns, a New Corset and Some Undies

Cotton lace, MOP buttons and feather stitch
embroidery on the bands.

Let's start from the inside out. First things first: some mid Victorian undies. 

I found these pretties for sale on Etsy. I find so much on there! The chemise is in amazing condition! All I had to do was give it a little rinse. It had a couple brown spots on one shoulder but they faded a lot with just a gentle wash in a little free detergent and oxy clean. There are no holes and the fabric is very strong.

It's cotton with self fabric ruched trim and fine cotton lace. The buttons down the front are mother of pearl. It hangs just on the edge of the shoulders.

The drawers were a little worse for wear. They came with a nasty rip right up the center of the crotch. Surprisingly, they were not split crotch to begin with. The had slits on the sides with mother of pearl buttons at the hips. 


But they're split crotch now. Instead of getting into fancy patching and mending, I neatened up the rip and made a narrow hem on both sides. I also put a little patch over a hole and strengthened one of the button holes that was fraying. I don't know if I will actually be wearing these or not, since the fabric feels a little weak. They also have some period mending at the waistband, which is actually pretty neat to investigate. 

Aside from the mending and crotch business, they are gorgeous! The tucks, ruching and whitework trim on the legs are beautiful! I tell you, nothing gets you in the spirit like 150 year old undies. Usually, when sewing whole outfits, the undies end up being pretty plain, since the embellishments are usually saved for the outerwear that everyone sees. These are so frilly and fabulous they give getting dressed a whole different feel. It's a different experience, especially knowing that these pieces were around last time a crinoline was in fashion. Very cool.

Little reinforcement patches on the original slits.

Period mending to the waistband.

Next, on to the corset. (Keep going, there's lots after the jump!)

Since the last time I made a mid Victorian corset, I shrank a couple inches, making the first one now too big. Actually it was the first piece of historical costume I ever made. I was in high school. Looking back it was actually really well done, except the fabric, which was a brocade more suited to the 18th century. 

I needed a corset fast so I could start on the dresses, so I used the same pattern as the high school corset, since I knew it fit: Simplicity 9769. I still had the pieces cut out (back when I was naughty and cut out the pieces tisk tisk). The only altering I did was take in waist. 

I used cotton coutil left over from the Edwardian corset I made a few months ago. It was after I was putting the grommets in that I learned mid Victorian corsets used fabric similar to denim than modern herringbone coutil. Oh well, next time.

So on to dress number one. This dress started out as a mock up - I'm trying to be really good and make mock ups instead of diving into the real fabric. Lucky I did because I had to make a couple before I sorted out my size. I used the Truly Victorian Darted Bodice pattern as a base. From there I referenced CDV's, books and my own original bodice to tweak it. One important change from the pattern: the sleeve openings at the wrist were huge, so I traced the original bodice's sleeve, which gave a more delicate wrist with a wider elbow.

So I say "it started out as a mock up." This means that it started out as a mock up and then I got carried away. It's become a full blown dress. I had this cotton print fabric on hand and I wanted to test different sewing techniques and styles of bodice. Then I wanted to check the skirt. Half way through I decided to just go on and make it a real dress.

Pretty antique jasper brooch. 

Sorry, we're a little wrinkly.
The dropped shoulder seam really gives the
illusion of a sloped shoulder.
The lining in the front is darted, but I decided to gather the front like the original blouse below. I was reading how cotton dresses were often gathered instead of darted and I wanted to see the effect. I pulled the gathers more toward the center to heighten the small-waist-wide-shoulders illusion. As I understand it, most likely if a dress was gathered in the front, presumably it would be gathered in the back as well. Mine isn't, since I was testing out the piping on the back, like the pattern said to do.

Testing out a belt with original buckle.
I ended up going with a gathered front,
like the original blouse below. The lining is
darted on the inside.

Green Sprig Blouse. 1860's.
via All The Pretty Dresses

The sleeve is taken in to fit the hole with an
inverted box pleat, like on my original bodice, below.

Under the arm of an extant silk bodice.

I shortcut and used hook and eye tape. Sooo much
easier than sewing on all those hooks and eyes!
Especially to test fit.

I faced the hem with fabric I had on hand,
much like this extant dress in the photo below.

Hem facing on an 1860's American
gown of bizarre print cotton
via All The Pretty Dresses

Adding on the hem braid. I didn't have wool braid so
I used wide cotton tape.

I gauged, or cartridge pleated, the skirt panels to the waistband. I used
five 50" panels for the skirt, with a dogleg closure at the left hand CF.

"Lovely fabric. Is this for me?"

The skirt is basted to the bodice with a
piped, self fabric belt and belt buckle pin.

Some idea of the fit. Sorry for the background :(
It's worn over a 108" hoop and two petticoats

I was lamenting the fabric for a while, thinking it wasn't appropriate enough, until I came across a swatch in my fabric dating book. It looked similar enough for some peace of mind. I also found lots of yellows.

Now on to the real dress! I love the trim design, which I saw on an original carriage dress in one of my books. The dress is green silk with a polished cotton lining. I couldn't find brown polished cotton that didn't lose it's finish after washing, so I went with a white polished cotton that keeps the polished finish.

The trim will be black velveteen and the buttons are antique ball buttons. The collar and cuffs will be basted in to whatever I will wear. 

I love the military vibe of the trim!
Since you can see the cage in this one, it's purchased
from Kay Gnagey, Originals by Kay.

The whitework collar and cuffs are based on a pair of undersleeves from
the Met Museum, pictured below.

Cotton Undersleeves. Mid 19th Century
American or European
C.I.69.32.9a, b

The glass buttons have a geometric,
floral design pressed into them.

The dress from which the trimming in based.
"1864 Carriage Dress of Tartan Glace"
from the above book.

Whew, that was a long one. I guess I'm catching up for a week with no posts. Ok, back to sewing. Bye!


  1. Whoa, what a great post!

    Occasionally drawers were closed-crotch, usually for active wear like horseback riding (and I suspect ice skating). That may be what yours were intended for.

    Your wearable muslin is lovely! I haven't used the TV pattern myself, but there's nothing wrong with a 3-piece back and a gathered front. There are lots of combinations of 3-piece back, 1-piece back with sewn tucks to look like a 3-piece, and solid 1 piece either smooth or gathered. I understand that the 1-piece with sewn tucks if definitely the most common; it's actually rather unusual to have piping in the back seams, because a true 3-piece back wasn't common in the first place. But it's still just fine.

    I love the silhouette you get with both bodices, too. The way you've gathered close under the bust and the way your darts angle in is so good for getting the narrow-waist appearance. You really get the period aesthetic! Your collar and undersleeves are so pretty, too. I'm looking forward to more updates!

    1. Thank you for all the great info! I've been pouring over books and am absorbing so much 1860s seeing info it's hard to keep it all straight. I like the TV pattern but I find that the smaller sizes are a little fiddly so it was great to have the original bodice to refer to. So far the green silk has top stitched back seams since I'm looking and I'm not finding piped back seams really anywhere, even though it instructs you to do so in the patten. Making up that first yellow dress was such great practice. I'm really trying to get into the habit of practicing fit etc before chopping up the good stuff. I've wasted so much time and fabric like that!

  2. Everything is gorgeous but I especially love your printed gown. I will be making something 1860's-ish next year and I'm debating my options. Funny in that I live in the middle of Civil War country.

    1. Thanks so much. The printed gown is growing on me. At first I was like ugh I'm sick I this fabric already! But the more I look at it the more Im liking unusual color combos, like yellow and brown.

  3. That was great! Lots of detail. Thx. I LOVE both the Civil War dresses! The green is really turning out well. The trim is perfect. Can't wait to sew again with you!

    1. Thanks! I do love the trim on the green. Very military inspired.

  4. Wow, I love everything, particularly the brown with the black trim and buttons. Very sharp. :-)

    1. Thanks! I love the style of the trim. I wish I knew what the original dresses colors were. Too bad the pic is black and white.

  5. This post was exactly what I have been looking for! I am planning on making a corset using this simplicity pattern when school gets out in a few weeks (when I finally can have a life again :P), and the I also plan to make a 1860's day dress! :)
    In your opinion, how is the sizing for the simplicity 9769 pattern? If you don't mind me asking, what size did you make your corset? My measurements are 32-25-33 and I was wondering whether I should make the pattern size that corresponds with my measurements... or a size smaller.
    You opinion will be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi there! The simplicity pattern has not disappointed me yet!

      I'm not 100% sure, because I cut out the pattern pieces like ten years ago lol, and the pieces are now up in my mess of a sewing room (maybe I can find them tomorrow...), but I think I cut out a 6 or 8.

      The original corset I made is now too big in the waist for me and too small in the bust, but since I only had those already cut pieces to work with, I used them and made a mock up and then took it in a few inches all around. My current measurements are 34-23-36. I know I didn't cut out a size 10, though, so I think the corset runs a bit big around the bust.

      I would go by the bust and waist measurements on the packet, since the corset doesn't go anywhere near the hips. For sure, make a mock up to test the fit and save later headache.

      Good luck on your project and please, always feel free to ask me more questions!