Today I’ll be talking about making another 1890’s day dress from taffeta. But this time around my posts will be a lot more positive since i’ve already finished this dress and i’m really happy with the end result. The finished dress actually fits, and isn’t too long, which might be a first for me!
Before talking about construction I wanted to explain the design of this, because if you’ve seen the movie Crimson Peak it may look familiar!
If you read this blog post you’ll know my foray into 1890’s fashion was originally inspired by what Edith wore in the film, specifically this gorgeous coat. Back in January I bought fabric for a coat based on that design, and material for a dress to wear underneath it. Even though I really liked the dress Edith wore with the jacket in the film, I chose to create an original design instead.
And it failed horribly.
The design wasn’t the reason why that project failed, but I didn’t want to be reminded of it when attempting another project from this period. So I settled on a simpler design, which features the most common skirt and bodice design from the 1890’s, and the signature puff sleeves. You can see similar designs in Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar* which I had open while sketching this ensemble.
Since my last dress was very heavy I chose to leave this one free of embellishments and trim, with the only decoration being buttons down the front and a brooch. This was the only thing I intended on copying from the dress in Crimson Peak. But when I compared my sketch to the costume from the film, I realized they were pretty much identical!
This was made even more apparent because the fabric I purchased for this project is quite similar to what was used for Edith’s dress. But I like the design, and I like the dress from the film, so i’m okay with them being really similar, even if that wasn’t my original intention.
As I said, I used Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar* as a reference, along with a bunch of things i’ve pinned and the gown from the film.
I purchased seven yards of an orange silk for this dress, and plan on wearing it with this beautiful moth brooch I got for two dollars on ebay. I’ve been wanting to include it in a costume for ages, and I feel like this is my chance – even though brooches this bold aren’t really historically accurate, ecspecially on a day ensemble.
And a more developed sketch.
I started off by draping the pattern. It’s a pretty simple design, but it took a bit of fiddling to get the amount of volume I wanted while keeping the shoulder and sides perfectly smooth.
Here you can see it transferred to paper with the seam allowances added. This picture was taken after I made my first mock up and some pattern changes. Those changes included making the waistband longer, taking the collar in by an inch, adding a dart to the front, and raising the waistline.
Just to be safe, since the fit of my first 1890’s day dress was so bad, I decided to cut out and assemble the lining of the bodice first. This would serve as a second mock up of sorts, and allow me to make minor changes before cutting into the silk. I’m SO glad I did this, because some weird issues popped up.
The collar was too big (I think I took it in by a full inch), the gathers at the front were gaping, and there was a lot of wrinkling and bunching in collarbone/shoulder area. The wrinkling was weird, since every other part of the bodice seemed to fit fine.
I couldn’t find a solution online, or in Patternmaking for Fashion Design* (which everyone says has all the answers) but luckily I found a handy diagram in one of the 1920’s textbooks from the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences which my Great Aunt gave me.
I was skeptical about their solution, since the shoulder seam fit quite tightly, and if anything there was more excess fabric near the collar than the shoulder, but it totally worked! The shoulder seam just needed to be on more of an angle. I guess I’ve never run into this problem before since I don’t make high collar bodices very often.
In addition to that, I also took the collar in and sewed a strip of material across the front to control the gathers. In the future I would make a separate lining pattern that isn’t gathered, which would avoid this problem.
Here you can see the strip I sewed to the front. After this was done I tried the bodice on again, and it fit well enough that I felt comfortable with moving forward. So I sewed a few boning channels into the lining, then filled them with plastic bones.
It’s the wrong fabric and color, but it looks the way I wanted!
Now I cut the bodice out from silk. Here is the front panel before I gathered it down.
And here it is after being gathered!
And sewn onto the back panels – can we just take a moment to appreciate how the seams on this fabric are practically invisible? I was so worried about making a full dress from silk, since the last silk I used was a VERY finicky dupioni that puckered horribly any time a needle passed through it. But this fabric doesn’t have that issue, It sews beautifully and seams disappear after ironing.
Plus it has a gorgeous two tone look to it, and the weight is perfect – light enough that it is easy to manipulate, but heavy enough that I didn’t have to interface or flat line it. I want to own this fabric in every color and use it for everything, it’s wonderful.
I sewed up the shoulder seams and added the waistband. Notice how the front and back panels have the same sheen to them? That’s because I paid attention to grainlines this time around…
And a quick test on the dress form to make sure the gathered looked okay.
Now it was time to add the closures. I chose to make the dress close down the back, and decided to go for something that would be decorative and functional: buttons and loops. I don’t think this is historically accurate, but i’ve wanted to make a dress with this type of closure for years and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.
To make the loops I cut out one inch wide strips of silk on the fabrics bias. Then I sewed them into tubes with a quarter inch seam allowance.
When it came to turning the tubes the right way out, things got tricky. I tried to turn the first one by hand, with the help of pliers. Which worked, but damaged the fabric and took ages – like three hours to finish one thirty inch long tube. It was ridiculous. For the other two I used the safety pin method of pinning it to one end, then threading it through the tube and pulling it out the other side. This worked way better and took less than ten minutes, so I should have done that in the first place!
I ended up cutting the tubes into two inch lengths, then ironing them into the shape seen below. These were pinned onto ribbon, then sewn to the ribbon by machine.
The ribbon was then pinned onto the back of the bodice.
And sewn on by hand. Not my prettiest hand work, but I went over each loop several times to make sure they are really secure.
With the loops on, I went ahead and sewed in the lining.
Now it was starting to look like something!
But it was still missing all the buttons, which meant I had to make some. I bought a tool for covering 5/8″ buttons, along with fifty loop back sets. These were purchased on etsy for a grand total of nine bucks.
A few hours later I had an adequate number of buttons. Though I had to make more later for the sleeves and skirt.
Buttons were sewn onto the back, which unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of, and the front, which looks like this!
The gathered front of the bodice has a tendency to flop over and hide my beautiful buttons, so I’ll have to do something to fix that. But aside from that I really like it! I love how clean it looks, with the focus being on the color and buttons. It’s interesting working on something that is so bold (a lot bolder than my usual projects) yet really simple by comparison.
Speaking of that bold color, i’ve nicknamed this the pumpkin dress because of it! The color probably reminds me of cheetos more than pumpkins, but I think “pumpkin” is a slightly more glamorous name for it.
And that’s it for this post! Thanks for reading!