It’s taken me two months but I finally have another post about making my 1860’s ball gown! I’ve already showed the process of making the bodice and sleeves, and today i’ll be going through the first steps in making the matching skirt.
The skirt wasn’t hard to make, it’s just massive so every step involved in making it was time consuming. And the underskirts for it took up half my sewing room, so working on it was a commitment which required packing away the other things I had in progress. Because of this it took ages to finish, but it’s finally done!
The first step in making this skirt was making the support structure for it. When photographing a more casual 1860’s costume I had success with layering petticoats over my farthingale to get the shape of an elliptical hoop. I decided to use this method again, but instead of pinning existing petticoats onto the farthingale, i’d make a massive one to sit overtop of it.
I thought this was a great idea. It meant I didn’t have to buy sixty dollars worth of hooping wire (and wait for it to arrive), and I thought it would save time since even if I did make a new hoop skirt, i’d still have to make a petticoat to go overtop of it to smooth out the shape.
This was stupid. It didn’t save time at all. In fact i’m pretty sure it took me twice as long to make this petticoat than it would have to make a new hoop skirt and a smaller petticoat. I also massively screwed up my neck while making it since I was hunched over my machine hemming for days…
And the petticoat didn’t really work. Because it collapsed. And by that I mean the netting compacted under the weight of all the ruffles, making it much smaller (and longer!) than it was originally, so it doesn’t have the silhouette i’d wanted at all. I tried steaming it and storing it in a variety of different ways (laid flat, hanging upside down, laying upside down, on the dress form, etc.) but it refused to come back to life.
Because of all that i’m not going to talk about how I made it, but you can see photos of it above. Those were taken right after it was finished, before it started collapsing and losing it’s shape. You’ll probably notice it looking smaller (and sadder) throughout this post, and now you’ll know why!
*bonus photo of petticoat standing on its own looking like a creepy ruffly ghost haunting me with its failed ruffly potential*
After the petticoat disaster I did look into making a proper elliptical hoop, but it turns out hooping wire has been discontinued! And the replacement is twice the price, meaning the hoopskirt would cost more than the dress did to make.
Plus by this point the skirt was finished and made to fit over the petticoat/farthingale combo, and likely wouldn’t hang properly over an elliptical hoop without major alterations. I still haven’t figured out a solution for this, so unfortunately my dress doesn’t have the silhouette i’d hoped it would. But it’s still ruffly and pretty so i’m going to talk about it anyway!
When it came to actually making the skirt, I failed to photograph the first few steps. But they weren’t very interesting anyway.
I began by cutting out eight strips of fabric that were seventeen inches wide. I sewed them all together with french seams, and hemmed them by machine with lace tape.
Then I cut the borders off three yards of alencon lace fabric. This particular lace had two thin borders on each edge which could be fussy cut away from the mesh and serve as lace trim. It took me a few hours (and a few hand cramps) but eventually I got all the lace cut out. Then I sewed it onto the bottom edge of the massive strip I assembled earlier – by hand, of course.
The top edge of the strip was gathered down by hand until it was five yards long. Then it was set aside and I got to work on the rest of the skirt.
I put the petticoats onto my dress form, then adjusted the form to sit at my height. I measured from the waistline to the floor at a half dozen points and wrote the measurements down. Then I came up with a simple seven panel pattern for the skirt that could be cut from the fabric I had leftover.
The pieces were cut to sit approximately ten inches off the ground, with the hem trimmed to a more even length after I figured out the pleating of the waistline.
I could have sworn I took photos of my pattern, but this is the only one I have. I believe this was one of the back panels (maybe?)
They were all sewn together with french seams, though the back was left open to make embellishing the skirt easier.
After sewing the panels together I pleated the waistline. It has three double box pleats at the sides and front, and double knife pleats at the back.
I’m so grateful I cut the pieces to be longer than I thought they needed to be. Though each panel should have hat 5 inches to spare, some were just barely long enough!
And I know it looks really messy here, but it will be steamed and trimmed later on which makes a huge difference.
I sewed across the top of the skirt to secure the pleats.
Then I pinned the ruffle onto the skirt and fiddled with it until I was happy with the length. I looked at a lot of evening dresses from this period and many of them had long hems that dragged on the ground, so I chose to leave mine long as well.
I used a pen to mark where the hem should be cut. This was marked before removing the ruffle.
After trimming the hem I pinned the ruffle on. Even though I gathered the ruffle down long before knowing the exact size of the skirt, it ended up being the perfect length! It was only off by a half inch, which was a very happy surprise.
Here is the skirt after sewing the ruffle on.
At this point I chose to do a try on test with the skirt and realized it was a bit too long (and one side was longer than the other). I didn’t want to hem the skirt again, so I chose to sew a half inch wide seam a few inches above where the skirt attached. This lifted the hem by an inch.
Now it was time for the frills. In my original sketch i’d planned on doing scalloped panels that were embellished with lace appliques and covered with gathered tulle, which is the same technique used on the collar of the bodice. This was challenging since I didn’t have very much cotton sateen left over, but I managed!
Step one was draping the scalloped pattern.
I transferred it to paper and cut out five from the sateen. Since I was working with limited materials, some of the panels had seams running through them or were made from multiple pieces sewn together.
Then I fussy cut out a ton of appliques and pinned them onto the scalloped pieces. The tulle overlay will be denser near the edges so I kept the appliques towards the center of each piece.
They were all sewn on by hand.
Then I gathered down strips of tulle and sewed them onto the top edge of each piece.
The bottom edges were gathered down as well, then sewn in place. The excess tulle was trimmed away.
For maximum frillyness I wanted the edges of the scallops to be finished will lace. I ordered twenty yards of trim from etsy, which was advertised as being white but was actually light blue! Luckily all it took was a two minute bath in tetly tea to get it to a more neutral ivory.
I trimmed the lace to be one inch wide, then pinned it onto the edges of the panels.
The lace was sewn on with a half inch seam allowance.
Then I turned the lace inward and sewed it in place by hand to avoid visible topstitching. The finished edges looked like this!
Of course they still weren’t finished. There weren’t even any ruffles on them! To fix that I sewed together four pieces of chantilly lace to make a twelve yard strip.
Then I gathered the top edge down by pushing it under the presser foot as I sewed.
The lace was sewn onto the hem of each scalloped panel, and now they were finally done!
Look at this stack of them.
Before attaching them to the skirt I decided to jazz the skirt up a bit with some more alencon lace. I debated about whether or not to use so much of this lace (since it isn’t very accurate) but ended up going for it since it’s so pretty.
These are also lace borders that were fussy cut out, but these ones are much wider.
I sewed the widest one onto the front of the skirt, and the narrower one onto the back. This was stitched on by hand as well, which took quite a while. Here you can see it pinned in place.
And here it’s sewn on!
The lace originally came up higher at the center front, but I cut it down to a more even length since I thought this was a bit too much. Also the gap between the lace and the ruffle is intentional, since the scalloped panels will cover that area up.
After another fitting (this was after my petticoat problems) I realized the skirt was now too short. So I removed the seam I made earlier. This was kind of a pain since some of the lace trim was sewn overtop of it, but it ended up working out alright.
Now the scalloped panels could finally be pinned in place!
This photo shows them before they were sewn on, but I think it gives you a good idea of how they look!
And with this, I finally reached adequate levels of frilliness.
The next post will cover adding the bows (did you think I would forget bows?!) and boring stuff like the waistband and closure methods. I’ll also have worn photos up along with it!
If you want a sneak peek of all that, I do talk a bit about this project in my most recent weekly progress log!
Thanks for reading!