Surprise, I’m not dead! And I have an explanation (kind of).
This year I’ve tried to make my social media presence (if you can call it that) a little more profitable to justify the amount of time I devote to it. And unfortunately for my blog, that has meant focusing on platforms that allow monetization. So I’ve been making a lot of simpler garments which allow me to keep a more regular video schedule.
This has meant my time for elaborate historical things is limited. And there isn’t a whole lot to write about/document when making more modern items or simpler pieces.
But I’m trying to find more balance – (It’s hard when you work from home and every hour can be a work hour) and find the time to focus on projects I’m really excited about. Projects that have enough substance to them that I can actually blog about them.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be as regular about posting as I was in 2015-2016, but do want to try to write when I can.
That’s not an excuse or anything! It’s an explanation, totally different.
Now onto the true topic of todays post – a new dress!
Last month I had a spare week or two that I could devote to projects of my own choosing. And I decided that two weeks was enough time to make a summery dress.
I was kind of creatively exhausted and didn’t want to make anything *too* complicated, so I decided to make a pair of mid 1800s dresses based on extant examples.
This specific design was based on two dresses from the Met. And when researching it further I found several other examples (take a scroll through this) which are almost identical. I always find it interesting when fashion trends are so obvious in historical pieces.
I think I was drawn to this style since It’s kind of the opposite of projects I’ve made before, while still being really similar. I’m used to the ruched/pleated/gathered portions of a bodice being around the neckline, with a fitted bodice to the waist. Where this has a fitted yoke, and gathering around the bust. I thought it was just different enough to be a fun challenge for me, without actually being challenging (creatively burnt out, remember?)
And I was right! I like this dress, and I loved working on it.
The main material for this dress is a dotted cotton with a reddish orange base. It’s a nice quality quilting cotton which I purchased in Lancaster for $4.99/yd. I had eight yards of it, and I ended up using a matching apparel fabric purchased on the same trip to trim the bonnet.
I like this fabric, but the colors remind me of condiments. A ketchup base with dollops of mustard, relish, and a sprinkle of pepper. It’s like elegant hot dog fabric. Mmm…
Now let’s talk construction! I started by (not so professionally) draping the pattern. This was harder than I expected. The extant example I was imitating had a very high, modest neckline…but also nearly fell of the mannequins shoulder! Which is pretty contradictory.
This is what I ended up with.
I transferred that to paper, then made it into a mockup. I was being obnoxiously lazy and actually fitted this over a 1950’s girdle instead of my 1830’s stays.
BUT IN MY DEFENSE, they have a really similar effect of lightly shaping the body to the waist, and separating/lifting the chest. 10/10 would recommend if you are too lazy to lace up regency stays.
Now you might be able to tell that I made some slight alterations. The gathered portion was really droopy, and needed to be lifted by over an inch. It fit well over the shoulder, but the neckline was really low and arched. I raised and flattened it by quite a lot.
However, in general I was pretty pleased with this. I’ve had some bad experiences with gathering and bodice patterns. Unless there is a lot of tension on the gathering, it poofs out and can look really silly. So this gave me confidence moving forward!
After making the pattern alterations, I could get to work! And step one was making piping. All the piping. Something I don’t love about the mid 1800s is the quantity of tiny pointless piping that borders EVERY edge of the garment. What purpose does adding piping around the armscye have? None. And usually, matching piping was used, so you could barely see it!
But it is a staple for this period, and something I’m determined to improve at. So I used some cording from home depot, tiny bias cut strips of fabric, and my piping foot to create a dozen yards of it.
In the past I’ve done this with silk and had horrible, very puckered results. But it went really well this time – and after a quick iron my piping was ready to be used!
The first place it is featured is in the seams of the back panel.
I stitched the piping onto the rounded edge of the side panel by machine.
Then I stitched a half inch away from the edge of the back panel, and used that line of stitching as a guide for ironing the edge inward.
The folded edge was pinned to the edge of the piping.
Then I stitched the pieces together by hand, using a backstitch.
Onto the front panel! I cut this out, then marked lines 2″ and 3″ away from the bottom edge. The bodice was gathered down by hand at these points, with the bottom row of gathering being 6″ wide, second row 6.5″ wide, and the final row 7″ wide.
I did this all by hand so the gathers would be all cute and precise. The top edge was also gathered down by hand.
The bottom edge of the bodice will be covered with a 3″ wide band, and I didn’t want the bulk of gathers to be visible underneath it. So the gathered panel was sewn to a 3″ wide strip before being sewn to the other bodice pieces.
This was sewn by machine to the side panels – this might be the only seam on this thing that doesn’t involve piping.
But it DID involve boning! I was worried the gathered portion would ride up and poof out, so I stitched the seam allowance together to form a boning channel. Then I added a plastic bone on either side. This worked really well in keeping it positioned – I’m so glad I chose to do this.
Then I cut lining from a very lightweight cotton. Every part of the bodice is lined except for the gathered portion. Traditionally this probably would have had a pieced lining to offer more support, but I didn’t think that was necessary to achieve the shape I wanted.
I stitched piping onto the top edge of the main bodice piece by machine, then hand stitched the yoke on top of that.
The same process was repeated for the shoulder seam.
Except I goofed up and made the shoulder allowance too small, so I couldn’t actually get my arm through the armscye. Gotta love off the shoulder pieces which have ONE inch of difference between “Too small to get on/move in” and “Too big, falls off”.
Luckily this piece didn’t have a lot of decoration on the collar/yoke, so I managed to figure out a fix for it. After a several hour long break, of course.
Since this is when I took a break in the project, it seems like a natural breaking point in this post!
So I think this is where I’m going to end this post and todays musings. But the dress is done, and all the progress photos are edited. So I should have more updates soon.
Thanks for reading!