My Sister’s Long Overdue 1840s Camo Dress

So besides not keeping up with my blog, I have not been keeping up properly with my projects! Oops!

Even Brittany’s like “Really? You did it again? Dang, girl! Get it together!”

Many many moons ago (2015), I offered to make my sister a dress from Butterick 5832.

Butterick 5832 is based on dress style from about 1838-1841. It has the rounded waistline of the 1830s paired with the pleated-down sleeves of the early 1840s. It is based on a gown in the British Nation Trust Museum, which, unfortunately, doesn’t have a good large picture of the gown available anymore…only this small image of it:

Printed Dress, circa 1835-40 (National Trust Collections)

Here are some other examples of dresses from the same period:

Print Dress, circa 1840 (John Bright Collection)

Print Dress, circa 1840 (Les Arts Décoratifs, via Tumblr, unfortunately)

Print Dress, circa 1840 (National Gallery of Victoria)

Dresses were worn off the shoulder or nearly-off-the-shoulder with wide “portrait/boat” necklines decorated with fan pleats. The 1830s are famous for enormous balloon sleeves, but during the last half of the 1830s, sleeves began to deflate and by 1840, puffs had been replaced by fancy pleated and ruched sleeves like Butterick 5832’s.

Fashion plate, circa 1841 (Iowa State University Library via Tumblr)

This fashion plate shows the transition styles perfectly and is a good representation of how fashion doesn’t have “hard-stops” in style. A mix of old and new could be found together. For example, the lady on the left still has the puffy sleeves of the late 1830s, the lady in the middle has the extreme version pleated/ruffled/ruched sleeves that were currently in vogue, and the lady on the right has a more plain, modest version of the ruched sleeve.

My sister didn’t want busy, puffy, or ruffled sleeves at all because she felt her shoulders already looked plenty wide, so I used the sleeve lining pattern pieces to make plain sleeves. Instead, she decided to add pizzazz to her dress with exciting fabric. She picked this bright floral cotton from Walmart.

Bright cotton prints were super popular in the 1830s and 1840s. The fabric isn’t exactly HA, but still perfectly lovely, especially with the slight 18th century vibes which were super popular in the 1840s (many rococo era gowns were taken apart and refashioned during this period).

I made the bodice in 2015 while my sister was in grad school in Colorado and I was in Texas, so we almost never got to see each other. I was incredibly nervous about getting things fitted properly. I got to try the bodice on her once, and the nice, flattering fit surprised me since she has exceptional shoulders (19″ wide) and the bodice needed no alterations at all to fit there (so if you are making this pattern and you have smaller shoulders, you may have to adjust the pattern considerably to fit you. Most women have 15″ shoulders, which means that pattern is probably really loose there for many folks). In fact, the basic bodice pattern’s fit is very flattering and nice all around.

However, she went back to school and I went back to Texas, so the unfinished bodice and excess fabric got tossed in the UFO bin.

I finally picked it up again the day after Thanksgiving this year. My sister was visiting and I was curious if the dress would still work for her. The bodice was complete except for closures, so all I had to do was add a skirt to it. The skirt is gathered really tightly which added some bulk to the waistline, making me even more apprehensive about the fit. However, it looked pretty good on the dummy… 

My sister is almost 6 feet tall, though, so when I made the skirt, I had to lengthen it considerably. My dummy is set for my 5′ 6″ self, so the skirt is puddling on the floor in this picture.

Turns out that I freaked out over the fit for nothing. I made the bodice straight from the size 14 pattern pieces in 2015 and even with the bulky skirt gathering, it still fit my sister perfectly 3 years later! I am so jealous! Usually it takes 5 or 6 mockups just to get my fit right, but with my sister? It fit right out of the envelope! No fair!

Ta-da! Pardon the wild hair and bad phone photos. She stopped by my house to pick up the dress and we had just enough time to put it on her and snap a few pictures before she had to be on her way. She was such a good sport and wore it outside in public so I could get some pics of her in it! While snapping photos, we noticed how well the print blended in with the fall foliage– hence the “camo” dress title!

Feeling inspired by success, I even whipped up a 1-hour bonnet for her using one of those modern half-brimmed sun hats, some scrap fabric, and spare floral sprays I had around (oh, and 3 sticks of hot glue, lol!).

A matching bonnet makes every outfit feel more complete (plus it’s great for hiding modern hairdos!

FINALLY– after over 3 years!– she was able to take the completed dress home with her!

It was a great way to wrap up Thanksgiving and a great surprise success to a project that was long overdue. Plus, now she HAS to go to events with me since she no longer has the “I have nothing to wear!” excuse anymore! *wink! wink! nudge nudge!*

 

Find of the Month: Child’s Blue and Brown Plaid Silk 1860s Dress

January 2015

I began researching children’s clothes a while back because I had a few peole ask me about them. I don’t have children, so I don’t consider myself a good source of info for those kinds of questions. I did, however, start a Pinterest board for 19th Century (and some Edwardian) children’s clothes for those of you who are curious about how children’s clothes compared to those of adults.

Not long after I began my new branch of research, I went to the Azle Antique Mall with Becky to browse while Chris and Billy did repairs on the truck. The Azle Antique Mall has escaped the recent trend of antique shops being filled with boutiques of antique-looking-but-completely-new stuff instead of real antiques. In Azle, there are still bargains and treasures to be found crammed in every aisle!

I don’t shop for clothing at antique shops, but there is one booth that has great vintage accessories as well. I usually ignore the clothing racks, but there is a rack at eye-level filled with smaller pieces like camisoles and tons of baby christening gowns. Mixed into the sea of white linen, a dark little patch of brown caught my eye.

Lo and behold, it was an antique silk child’s dress!

dress 1860s

A quick snap when I got it home. It looks sort of strange on a hanger since this dress is made to be gathered by the belt and worn off-the-shoulder.

It was only $30, which is a good chunk of change for me, but incredibly inexpensive for an adorable antique silk dress, so I had to have it!
It’s in remarkably good condition for its age and is 100% intact! However, the silk is very fragile and splits easily. I’ve decided to pack it away in acid free tissue along with the rest of my antique clothing collection to help preserve it. Before I packed it away, though, I decided to get a few pictures of it.

1860s Child's Dress

Child’s Dress, circa 1855-65
The silk is mildly slubby and has some areas where the weft threads are poorly woven. It is also stained throughout, though whether by a clumsy child or storage I cannot say.

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Side, showing the faux pocket flaps.

The dress is only very lightly stuffed with polyfill and a bit of batting to give you an idea of the shape, so it paunches and poofs rather than hangs as it would on a child. It’s not a professional display by any means, but it does give a better impression of fit than a hanger. I had purchased a tiny vintage mannequin a while ago to display antique jewelry on and I was excited that it might work for this dress, but the form is about a 2T and this dress is much larger. It is meant to fit loosely and the fullness controlled with the belt, bringing the waist measure to about 24.” It would sit off the shoulder which, without a dress form, is hard to show, but here are two pictures of little girls in similar-fitting dress paired with pantalettes:

This dress isn’t necessarily for a little girl. Little boys also wore dresses until they were about 5 or 6 years old. They even wore their hair longer and curled, but there are some clues you can look for in old photographs to tell the gender of a young child. Girl’s hair is generally parted in the middle (as you can see in the photos above) and their dresses are worn with lace-edged pantelettes. Boy’s hair was often parted to the side and their shorter dresses are sometimes paired with loose trousers/breeches, like in this photo:

Young boy 1860s

Young Boy, 1860s

Another hallmark of boy’s clothing is a front button closure rather than a back button closure. Historically, children’s clothing closed in the back. In the 1850s and 1860s, boy’s short dresses often buttoned in front instead. My child’s dress has a very decorative button closure:

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Back of the dress (taken laying flat since the picture of it supported turned out too blurry)

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The glass buttons imitate the popular agate jewelry in fashion at the time. They are 19mm in diameter and have gilt brass settings. This is also a good detail shot of the tiny lace edging.

The glass and gilt buttons on this dress are so fancy I wonder if they actually belong in front, like in this photograph of a young lad:

Young boy, 1860s

The fancy buttons on my dress are purely for show. Underneath them, the functional closure is made of a strip of twill tape sewn with buttonholes, 3 calico buttons, and a brass hook paired with a thread bar:

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The calico buttons appear to be style “124” according to the NBS’s Calico Button chart.

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The dress’s belt is attached at the side seams, and therefore always closes on the side with the buttons. It has one button to close it, but two placed in the center on the opposite side, which leads me to believe that it functioned as a girl’s dress. It’s very possible this dress served double duty for two generations: one male and one female. The construction of the dress is fairly symmetrical front and back, so it could easily be worn either way.
The front and back are each one piece and are jointed at the side only. The skirt is gathered under the pocket flaps at the sides under the sleeves. The dress is flatlined with plain brown polished cotton and is handsewn throughout with backstitching while the velvet ribbon trim is tacked with typical long running stitches:

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Inside back

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The pocket flap seam inside

I’m still learning about this area of costuming, so I’m not an expert. There may be some details I missed, so if you have more information or would like me to add more photos of certain construction details, just let me know!

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Self Fabric Piping on Sleeve