Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Silk Dress for Tombstone

Back in May, my husband and I finally got to Tombstone, Arizona for the first time. We went for Wyatt Earp days, and it was such a blast! A long drive from Las Vegas, but we road tripped with our Airstream and made a two week trip out of it. It was absolutely fantastic, getting to explore Arizona.

When we first decided to go to Wyatt Earp days, we had many, many months before the event. There was no way we were going without dressing up! I could have worn the 1885 dress I wore to Calico, California, last year, but I had so much time before the event, I decided a new dress was totally doable. I settled on 1880 because Wyatt Earp went to Tombstone in 1879, and the famous OK Corral gunfight was in 1881. Also, I wanted to do a silk dress, because I didn't have one.

In planning the silk dress, I looked at sooooooo many extant dresses and sooooo many paintings and photographs and fashion plates. I saved them on a Pinterest Board called "1880ish Inspo", if anyone wants to browse. I settled on what is often referred to as a "dinner dress". It's not a "ball" gown, but is often of silk with ornate trimming, but with longer sleeves and a low neckline.

I decided on two complimentary silks (a taffeta and a thin jacquard), in shades of yellow, that I had in the stash. The only thing I bought for this project was some pleated lace. I had been seeing it for years at my local Hobby Lobby, but couldn't justify buying it since it was synthetic (and I was being fabric snooty)... But I got over that, fast, and I'm glad I did because it was fantastic for this project! And I needed so much of it...

To make it easy, I started with Truly Victorian's fantail skirt, split pannier overskirt and 1870's cuirass bodice patterns. The bodice was heavily modified, but the skirts were straight out of the envelope, just heavily trimmed.

I used the Perfect Pleater soon much for this. It takes a bit of practice, but it was a fantastic tool. That, and a spray bottle of vinegar water! Pleat, spray, press, cool, remove, repeat!

Speaking of pleating, because I had so long to work on this dress, it got ALL the trimming! I even went to town and made a pleated, organdy and lace balayeuse.

Pretty much every part of this dress was based on something from an original. From the color, to the trim, to the dust ruffle... Here are some pics of all the details I squeezed into this dress. I really enjoyed decking it out!

A couple things I will never again make a dress without: pockets and skirt hangers (the white twill tape). They're not appropriate for every era, but for eras in which they were used, they are fantastic! No need for a purse, and no dealing with clamp hangers!

The above and below photo here, show period french tacks, which were done differently than modern chain style tacks. These are very sturdy. You basically take multiple long stitches and then work a loose buttonhole over them. They are fantastic for keeping layers in order while still remaining loose and light.

Another very handy thing to incorporate in skirt making is a center front mark, which is often done with two cross stitches. With asymmetrical designs, a mark to note the center of the waistband is extremely helpful when getting dressed!

We pranced around Tombstone for two days, and I wore this the second night. Before we arrived, we didn't know it would be a whole weekend of dressing up (soon many people were in period clothes!). Luckily, last minute, I made a second dress, because I was afraid I would be too hot in the silk. It was fortuitous (wink wink, Tombstone movie fans...) that I did this, because two dresses were perfect for the weekend.

Next up, I'll share the second dress. Until then,  leave you with a few more pics of this dress when I wore it a second time, to costume college. 


  1. Oh it's so lovely. I've never dabbled in this era but all the extra detail you put into it just makes it a little work of art.

  2. This is so beautiful! You really hit the level of detail that you see in extant pieces, and it fits like a glove, too.

  3. Looking forward to watch a video about this!

  4. Your dress is s work of art!!! I cannot even imagine the time and work you put into all that pleating...:o!! The layers are gorgeous!!! I do lots of ruffles and that is time consuming enough! And what is this gadget called the Perfect Pleater? In 50+ years of sewing I've never heard of it. But I am just getting into this period after 20+ years in the Elizabethan era. I have fabric for several (like 4 or 5) dresses (isn't fabric shopping the best part!!???) and have made all my undergarments so I'm ready to start the main dresses. I may need to make the Grand Bustle from TV, but I have about 6 of their patterns and am excited to start making! Thank you for sharing!!! And thank you for sharing about Tombstone Days in AZ. I don't know of any Victorian era re-enactment events so if you do please let me know! We also will have a motorhome to travel in and am excited to attend some events. My name is Sue and my email is

  5. do you clean your train after roaming around dusty Tombstone for 2 days??? Any helpful hints are TRULY appreciated!!!

  6. do you clean your train after roaming around dusty Tombstone for 2 days??? Any helpful hints are TRULY appreciated!!!