I recently took a trip into the garment district, and for the first time in years I didn’t have a list of projects I was shopping for. However I did have a list of materials to keep an eye out for, and one of those was lightweight cotton.
Lightweight cottons are incredibly versatile – they can be used for foundation garments from any period, gauzy dresses from the 18th century to the mid 1800’s, and more practical pieces from the beginning of the 20th century.
I’ve always found it difficult to find lightweight, soft, yet sturdy cottons that would work for these pieces. Especially since (for me) a big part of a garment looking authentic is it’s texture – which is one of the challenges with plain cottons. They don’t have a lot of it, and garments can look cheap or flat regardless of how well constructed they are.
Which is why I really lucked out when I came across this striped cotton. It has a faded look to it, and the dots buried in the stripes add a bit of life to it. I originally thought it was red and white, but it’s more of a mauve. It’s very soft and slightly sheer – exactly what I hoped to find, and perfect for an edwardian day dress, which is what I decided to use it for!
If you read my recent Progress Report you may recall me raving over fashion plates of 20th century ladies in antique magazines, which definitely served as inspiration for this style of dress. But my main reference was this dress – it was listed on etsy, with a bunch of close ups which helped me figure out the construction.
I think the end result is pretty lovely – but let’s start at the beginning!
Step one was draping. This was tricky to drape, since I wanted the oh so glamorous pigeon breast shape, where volume from the bust carries down the the waist, which is cinched in with gathers. It’s very easy to over exaggerate this shape and end up with way too much fabric in the front.
I was also challenged by the pleats in the shoulder – they look okay here, but I was concerned the ends of the pleats would splay open when it was worn.
The back has a box pleat in it, for decoration more than anything else.
I transferred that to paper, then made a mock up. The pleats and amount of volume worked surprisingly well, so I moved on without any alterations.
I cut all the pieces out, then marked the pleats on the wrong side of the fabric with pencil. They were ironed, pinned, then sewn down by hand. I also gathered the front of the bodice pieces.
And the back. For some reason the pleat wasn’t symmetrical, which really bothers me! But I wasn’t sure how much fabric I would need for the skirt, and I didn’t want to waste any by recutting this piece, so I didn’t bother redoing it.
Then I cut out a “facing” for the collar, which will actually serve as a base for the lace trim that will be shaped into a collar.
This was pinned on top of the striped fabric to prevent the stripes from being visible through the lace.
(before doing this I sewed up the shoulder seam with a french seam)
For lace I used a gathered eyelet trim from Jo-ann’s (I removed the gathers with a seam ripper, then ironed it flat) and a lace I got in a grab bag when I went to Lancaster. I wasn’t a big fan of this combination at first, but I don’t have a lot of white lace in my collection, so my options were limited.
I sewed the lace together by hand, to create a single two inch wide unit. Then I pinned that onto the collar.
And here it is sewn down. I had to pleat and gather parts, but after ironing it looked pretty smooth. It’s a bit hard to tell with the lighting, but the closure point is on the left side of the collar, imitating the dress I based this on.
Now it was starting to look like a bodice! Since one of my goals for this was to keep it very lightweight, I decided not to fully line it.
Instead I sewed the interior seams as french seams, and created a facing that extended from the neckline to the waistline. This was cut from muslin, then pinned to the right side of the fabric. I sewed it on with a half inch seam allowance, then turned it inward to hide the raw edges. I topstitched a quarter inch away from each edge by hand to prevent the facing from shifting and peaking out. I also tacked the far edges of the facing every few inches.
Now onto sleeves! The pattern I created for this is pretty shoddy, but it worked! The sleeves have four tiers, three made from striped fabric, and one made of lace.
The top tier has the stripes going vertically, tier two has the stripes going horizontally.
Tier three is actually muslin, which the lace was sewn over, and tier four is more horizontal stripes. I’m really happy with how the sleeves turned out, I love playing with the grain lines in fabric, but it can be hard to do without wasting a lot of material – not to mention tedious. This was an easy way to sneak it in and add some interest to a simple dress.
The lace pinned together – ready to be sewn together, then onto the sleeves.
And here they are in all their glory!
Then the bottom edge was turned inward by a half inch. I loved working with this fabric since the stripes served as guidelines for where to sew.
The tops of the sleeves were gathered down by hand and sewn onto the bodice by machine. Then the seam allowance was whip stitched together by hand. This isn’t the cleanest finish, but it was popular in the 19th century and avoids additional bulk in an area where mobility is important – so it works for me!
Now I did a quick fitting and the end result wasn’t great. Though the pleats looked nice on my mockup, during this fitting they bunched really badly above the bust. There was a lot of folded material at the sides too, which was frustrating.
I ended up mostly fixing this by tacking the pleats down further, and tapering the ends off almost like darts. I did this with pins on the left side, which looks a lot better than the right side.
I think the folded material at the sides was caused by excess fabric in the back, which I fixed by gathering the center back portion down to be an inch and a half smaller. I also regathered the front panels so the volume was more focused at the front of the bust.
Later on I played around with foundation garments, and improved the shape even more – I found a ruffled corset cover made me look too barrel chested, but bust pads really improve the crinkling at the top of the corset.
With the fit fixed, I pinned on the waistband.
And that’s it for this post! Next up: the skirt, closures, hat, and finishing touches!
Thanks for reading!