Making a 1840s Floral Red Dress, Part One

This project was really spontaneous. Usually i’m a planner and I think about things for days or weeks before starting on them, but this project is an exception. I was feeling overwhelmed by other projects and wanted a break, but I still wanted to be productive. So I decided to make something new, and to try and make it from start to finish in forty eight hours!

I succeeded and in two days I had a fabulous [18]40’s dress.

The dress is a bit odd. Probably because I made it on a whim and spent about five minutes planning it before I got to drafting. The skirt and fabric choices are the type you would see on a day dress, but it’s an evening style bodice, so it’s kind of all over the place. However I still think it’s really lovely and I adore the end result because it’s so girly and delicate!

The original inspiration was this painting, I really loved the neckline and sleeves with the lace trim. I chose to use the floral home decor fabric I got many months ago in April, along with the matching buttons and a few yards of lace I bought on etsy over two years ago.


I started by pleating a panel of fabric for the collar, then draped everything around that.




When I was happy with that I removed it from the dress form and made a proper paper pattern. I’m really pleased that I managed to draft this without any seams in the front…even though front seams are more historically accurate I like how it looks without them so much more.


The first piece I tackled was the pleated neckline, because I knew it would be the most difficult part.


After cutting it out I marked all the pleat lines with a colored pencil.

DSC_8929Then pinned them into place.


I used my iron on the highest setting and a very potent starch/water mixture to make sure these would stay in place.

DSC_8933When the pleats were finished I cut each panel down to match the “finished collar size” pattern, which will be used to cut out the lining later on.

I sewed across the front edge of the panels to keep the pleats in place when sewing the front seam.


To make sure they would line up I pinned them very carefully, then used a pen and ruler to mark exactly where the seam needed to be.


I hand basted across the line I drew.


And they lined up perfectly, yay!


I repinned the panels together, then sewed the seam with my machine.  I pressed the seam “open” from the front and back to make everything really flat.


And they looked pretty damn good! Not completely perfect but pretty close.

I set aside the collar and moved on to the main part of the bodice, which is made up of three pieces.


On the back panels I sewed in loops of ribbon, my plan was that the bodice could be laced up, then closed with a false front of buttons and snaps.


Once all the pieces were sewn together the ribbon became encased in the seams.


I set my bodice aside and resumed work on the collar. The next step involved tacking the pleats down. I do this by marking out lines every three inches and pinning the pleats in place.


Then using a matching thread color and tiny whip stitches I secure the pleats together. If done right the stitches should not be visible from the front.


Once the tacking was finished I hemmed both edges.


I also hemmed the lower edge and arm holes on the bodice.


Before attaching my collar I added the lace. This lace was originally a pure, bright, blue toned white that didn’t match at all. I put it in a plastic bag with hot water and two tea bags for ten minutes until it was the ivory tone I wanted.

I draped and pinned it to the neckline until I liked how it looked, then trimmed it and repeated the process on the other side.


Here is how it looks cleaned up, just before it was sewn down.


 After the lace was sewn down I attached the pleated neckline.



Lastly I attached buttons and snaps to two strips of floral material. These serve as the closures on the bodice and were stitched on to the center back.


On the finished bodice they look like this!


Next week I’ll talk about adding the lining, making sleeves, and the skirt.

Thanks for reading!

12 thoughts on “Making a 1840s Floral Red Dress, Part One

  1. alijaggard says:

    This is amazing! I can definitely see how the painting inspired you but you’ve really made it your own, can’t wait to read the rest 🙂

  2. marsi says:

    I am so amazed at your dedication & patience with your sewing. It is always so intricate! Btw….what kind of dress form do you have? It looks like it’s true to your size. I have one that’s kind of clunky that I need to pad up or just get me a better kind. Thanks in advance for your input.

  3. Ann says:

    Gobsmacked I tell ya, gobsmacked. To be able to go from a painting , to a muslin, to a finished,and I do mean finished, creation is nothing short of awe inspiring. Your attention to detail and painstaking handwork results in a work of art. Like alijaggard I shall be impatiently awaiting the finished design.

  4. Karen K. says:

    Lovely! I adore the lace on the bodice! I am not big on floral prints, but this dress may change my mind! I can’t wait to see the rest!

  5. Molly Brooks says:

    I love the bodice! The lace is so beautiful. Of course, I’m a lace freak, but still. I personally am not too big on floral prints, but I love the way this one looks on the bodice. great job!!!!

  6. Rachel Fagan says:

    I found you! Someone doing exactly what I want to do! I made a duct tape mannequin of myself, searched tons of pinterest pics of dresses and found your blog! I may be able to start now!

  7. Lexie M says:

    I think this dress is absolutely gorgeous! It is my favourite that you have done so far! I would really like to see pictures of it worn as well 🙂 you are so inspirational 😀

  8. Yelena says:

    How much fabric did you need in total? I’d love to sew an 1840’s dress, but I’m not sure about the amount of fabric I’d need.

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