Making a Taffeta Dress, 1890’s Inspired, Part One

This post is long overdue since I finished this part of the project back in January! I put off writing about it for a while because the skirt was giving me trouble, and I wasn’t sure if the project would even get completed. But now it’s done! So I can finally share the process of making it.

This project is an 1890s themed dress made from purple polyester taffeta. I based the neckline of this dress on this fashion plate, and planned on it having a very full skirt with pleats on each side like this example. The dress will be worn over a set of foundation garments and this partial shirtwaist.

My original sketch and the fabrics for this project are shown in this post. My sketch didn’t end up being very accurate, but I did use it as a guide for draping the bodice.

Speaking of draping the bodice…

After fiddling around I came up with a five piece pattern. The front panel is gathered slightly at the waist and fitted over the chest.

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I turned that into a pattern that looks like this. The gathers are marked on this as well as the button/hook closure placements on the side and back of the bodice.

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At this point I also drafted the sleeve pattern, which is MASSIVE. I wanted the sleeves to be fitted below the elbow so they would look nice underneath a jacket (which will hopefully be a companion piece to this project in the near future) so I cut them as two pieces, which is a bit unusual for this period.

To add a bit of interest to the sleeves I made the fitted portion pointed at the top.

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I made a mock up of the sleeves from some damaged cotton sateen and stuffed them with quilt batting. The finished result had the amount of poof I wanted, but was a bit too big at the wrist. So I ended up making a few alterations there.

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I also made a mock up for the bodice. This was a bit large so I took it in at the sides. I also widened the neckline a bit.

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Here is the bodice mock up + the sleeve mock up. So much poof!

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After making my pattern alterations I cut out the bodice. Then I faced the bottom half of the right side seam with strips of faux wool flannel.

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This finished the edge nicely and creates a base for the hooks/bars that will run down the side of this dress.

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Then I sewed up the side seams normally, but left the faced portion on the right side open.

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Interior view.

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Now we skip a few steps! I originally sewed the back panels together and stitched buttonholes into the top few inches…but the buttonholes looked bad so I ripped out the stitching and covered the raw edges  with a scrap of taffeta (as seen on left).

Before doing any of that I added a faux wool flannel facing to the neckline and shoulder of the bodice and stitched them in place by hand. Then I gathered the bottom edge slightly and stitched in elastic so the gathers have a bit of stretch which makes the bodice easier to get on and off.

And somewhere along the way I also stitched up the side back seams. If those look funny to you it’s because those panels were cut on the wrong grain line to save fabric. When I was sewing them on I realized they were puckered, and that was likely the reason why, but after ironing they seemed okay so I moved on.

That was a mistake. Not only as they still puckered, they also look like they were cut from a different fabric. This fabric is two tone, but that quality is only visible on one of the fabrics grain lines. See how the front panel has a grey shift to it in the folds? The back panels don’t have that and appear darker.

 I didn’t realize all of this until I tried the finished bodice on and noticed how terrible it looked from the back. At that point it was way too late to fix it, which really sucks. On the bright side I definitely learned my lesson and will never make that mistake again.

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I ignored the issues and buttonholes for a while and focused on the side closure instead. This involved sewing in six hooks.

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Then I moved on to beading. For this I used 6mm glass pearls and two different types of glass seed beads. At this point I wasn’t completely sure what beading pattern I was going to use, but these matched the costume and I figured I could come up with something as I worked.

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I ended up stitching pearls with seed beads on each side about an eighth (tenth?) of an inch apart all the way across the neckline.

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Here it is from a distance.

In this photo you can also see the new and improved (though still pretty ugly) button holes I stitched into the right side.

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I finished off the beading by stitching the grey seed beads into a pattern that wraps around the pearls. This was pretty easy to do once I got the hang of it and I really like how it looks.

I ended up making a tutorial on the process, if you’re curious it can be watched here.

After taking this photo I thought the neckline was still a bit bland, so I decorated it with vintage cluny lace which really brings it all together!

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With the detailing done I pinned polyester lining into the bodice.

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Then stitched the lining in by hand.

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Look at how pretty it is!

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Here is a close up of the finished neckline.

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I did up the back seam, then sewed bias tape onto the bottom edge.

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After a quick fitting I realized it was difficult to get on and off. So I reopened the back seam and added another button hole and three hooks to the back of the bodice. The end result isn’t as seamless as I’d hoped, but it’s a lot more practical.

The final step was sewing on the buttons (which I switched out for different ones later) and the bodice was done! All it needs is sleeves.

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That’s it for this post! I should be writing about the skirt and sleeves very soon!

Thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “Making a Taffeta Dress, 1890’s Inspired, Part One

  1. SJ Kurtz says:

    Amazing work as ever. Having seen a few items from this era, I can tell you so much of the fabric was used any which way to conserve yardage, so using it crossgrain is on point.
    And once the sleeves go in, there is virtually no way anyone can see or will want to look at anything under the sleeves.
    I cannot wait to see how the sleeves turn out (and how you accomplish that).

  2. Like it Random says:

    I think I saw this on your weekly update vlog on the YouTube channel, it looks really good! Do you always complete a project before writing about it or do you just blog as you go along? It looks really good nonetheless and I always look forward to your updates! 🙂 also I wanted to ask, I’ve seen snippits of you working on your Burgundian dress on the YouTube channel, but I haven’t seen a blog update here. I really want to see it because it looks gorgeous and I want a closer look :).

    • Angela Clayton says:

      Thank you! It really depends on the project. I like blogging as I go since I tend to have more enthusiasm about the project when i’m actually working on it.

      But I don’t like having big gaps between posts about a single project – like I could have posted this back in January, but the write up about the skirt won’t be up until May. Which kind of ruins the continuity of things.

      The Burgundian dress is finished! There will be a write up about making it eventually, I’ve just had other things that i’m more inspired to write about. I’d also like to get it photographed before talking about it too much so it might be a while!

  3. Jane Jefferies says:

    Golly Gosh..You are brave….Taffeta frays like all get out if handled a lot. You managed not to let this happen…Your beadwork is superb Angela.No puckers !!!!!!….Its beautiful , even if the buttonholes were a fiddly ..You have done a lovely job..Now the skirt!!!….Good Luck !!! Can’t wait to see how this goes for you…Its a lovely colour…..Thankyou again for sharing….Jane Jefferies..

    On Sat, Apr 23, 2016 at 8:02 AM, Angela Claytons Costumery & Creations wrote:

    > Angela Clayton posted: “This post is long overdue since I finished this > part of the project back in January! I put off writing about it for a while > because the skirt was giving me trouble, and I wasn’t sure if the project > would even get completed. But now it’s done! So I can fin” >

  4. Irene says:

    It is really a great job, I love especially the nice colour of the taffeta and your beading.
    Can´t wait to see some next parts
    Have a nice day

  5. Amy Barber says:

    Wonderful addition of the lace. It really did change the look. I am curious, did you sew it on behind the neckline? It seems amazing that you have the patience to do such intricate beading.

  6. Ayden Grace says:

    This is awesome! I’ve been trying really hard to create sleeves like that. Do you think you could post a tutorial on how you patterned it? Thanks for always sharing your hard work.

  7. sooze98148 says:

    Hi, Angela, I’ve been following you for only a short time but, every time I see a dress out of the past, I always think of you.

    This link showed up in my FB timeline. At first, I figured that you probably already knew about it but then I realized that, if you already use the museum as a resource, you could just ignore this comment.

    “MetPublications is a portal to the Met’s comprehensive book and online publishing program with close to 700 titles published from 1964 to the present. Over 450 full-text art books by The Metropolitan Museum of Art available to download and read online for free.”

    http://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/titles-with-full-text-online?searchtype=F

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