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

A Ticker Tape Timeline of Panic: An 1890s Costume for Candlelight at Dallas Heritage Village 2014

The Panicked Plaid Walking Dress, circa 1897

After Georgian Picnic, I got to start my new job! It’s a bit more complicated than anticipated, but otherwise it is working out well. The only tangle is that Saturday hours are required. Many Guild events are on Saturdays, so I was worried I would have to miss the December events, Lantern Light and Candlelight. Lantern Light was actually a last minute event. We were invited on the fly to attend for free if we all come dressed in 1890s garb. I love the 1890s! And free? Everybody loves free!

When the schedule rolled out at work the following week, however, I was scheduled to work that Saturday. It broke my heart, but Lantern Light was off the table. The Thursday before the event, the schedule suddenly changed and I got the day off, but by then other plans had been made, so I still missed it. I was, however, now free to attend Candlelight. I planned to wear my 1856 day dress since I thought it was “Christmas-y” enough to fit the mood. Plus, December events are frequently frigid, so yards of heavy quilting cotton would be a welcome haven from the chill.

But the seed of discontent had been sewn by my missed 1890s opportunity and the unruly Texas weather only helped that discontent grow…

Saturday, December 6th
(7 Days until Candlelight)

The forecast predicts that the weather, which has been unbelievably warm for December, will continue to prove the existence of global warming throughout the week. Highs are listed in the low 70s through the following Saturday. I wonder if six yards of quilting cotton is the wisest choice.  I have that summery cotton 1890s dress that’s much lighter. Maybe wear that? No. It’s too spring-like. I want to be festive! There’s a new Walmart down the road with an awesome fabric department…no! There’s no time! Plus, my 1850s dress is super cute.

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Maintain the course, Lizzie! You’re too deep in already, what with this new job. You don’t have time to make anything new. No more last minute sewing!

Becky is a busy bee at work and has no time to sew, so we troop over to the neighborhood Goodwill to put my Easy Edwardian thrifting tutorial into action. Hallelujah! The perfect lavender formal skirt appears! One flouncy silk shirt, pair of perfectly plum pumps, and a swanky sheer jacket later and we have the perfect basic Edwardian lady! We part discussing hats hats hats. I love hats…especially 1890s hats.

Sunday, December 7th
(6 Days until Candlelight)

O…M…G…This Walmart polysatin looks so fabulous! And look! A matching plaid! I need this plaid. It is sooooo 1890s!

The Delineator January, 1898

I’ll just stash them together since they’re practically made for each other. It’ll be a good project for later. Can I get some help in the fabric department please? Thank you. Is it okay if I start stacking bolts here? Fabulous!

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Ahem! What? Nope! Nothing to see here! Carry on!

Monday, December 8th
(5 Days until Candlelight)

Wow, is my head stuffy! I hope I’m not getting a cold…

Tuesday, December 9th
(4 Days until Candlelight)

Yup. Cold. Dammit.

Wednesday, December 10th
(3 Days until Candlelight)

Becky is going Edwardian. Chris is (was) going in his blue Edwardian coat. I wanna match eras! A stupid idea this close to the event, but–themes! Plus, I have this awesome, festive plaid that is just screaming holiday without being too kitschy. Yup! Totes making an 1890s dress! Simplicity 4156 has lots of pieces, but I’ve made it before and I’ve refined the pattern to the point where it fits pretty well. Sewing the skirt would take up a big chunk of time, though. Time for some thrifty cheating!

skirt

I have a red satin formal skirt I used for my Edwardian hack, and it matches pretty well. I’ll just use the bodice portion and forgo the skirt. But housework first. I’ll start tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11th
(2 Days until Candlelight)

2:34 pm: Wow, work was a bear! I’ll just lie down for a short nap to recover. Better take some medicine, too. I should probably lay out my pattern pieces fir–ZZZZZZZZ….

5:53 pm: Whoa, I did not mean to sleep that long. Time to meet Becky at Hobby Lobby for hat decorations. Feathers! Flowers! Fabrics! Trims take the most time to shop for, at least in my case, plus, you can never have too many ostrich plumes!

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Chopping up a cheap Christmas wreath yields the perfect touch of Christmas cheer for my hat, too.

Friday, December 12th
(1 Day until Candlelight)

10:00 am: Probably should not have slept this late…

1:30 pm: HOLY COW HOLY COW HOLY COW! I HAVE 24 HOURS TO GET THIS DONE.

<abject panic and flailing for about 2 hours>

Maybe I’ll just wear my 1856 dress after all. But that would be quitting. I ain’t no quitter!

3:40 pm: Hmmm…I don’t really want balloon sleeves this go-round. Mutton sleeves sound better. Internet tutorials to the rescue! There are lots of methods, but I need to stay simple. The easiest two are the vertical slash for a very full, tapered sleeve and the curved slash that concentrates that fullness at the top:

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The vertical slash method is on the bottom.

 

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The “Gill” method is on the left.

They produce very similarly shaped results, but I don’t like the amount of fullness the vertical slash method creates down the length of the arm when used for long sleeves (for short puffs it should work just fine). Both would be correct, but the more fitted forearm of the “gill” method is much more flattering. The sleeves take almost a full yard of fabric by themselves!

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I would have gone bigger, but there was no time to do another mock-up.

4:50 pm: All pattern pieces cut! I scrounge for lining and end up having to line the sleeves in cotton rather than net, so they won’t puff as much as I like. If you can, flatline mutton sleeves with net if your fabric is soft and drapes. Crisp fabrics usually don’t need it, depending on how you want the final result to look. Another option is to make 1980s-esque shoulder pads. I had time for neither, so my sleeves flop a bit. Oh well!

5:50 pm: Time to go to dinner with the family and go to Journey to Bethlehem at church.

9:40 pm: Chris drops me off at the house on his way to Magic the Gathering.

1:15 am: There’s so much to do! The lapels are giving me lots of trouble because I’ve worn out the needle and I have no more! Chris has the car way across town, so buying a fresh one is a no-go. I hand crank the needle through the thick lapel interfacing, which works great….until I realize I’ve just sewn one lapel backwards! Crap.

2:26 am: THE NEEDLE BREAKS.

2:27 am: Wailing and gnashing of teeth.

3:15 am: Chris picks me up after Magic the Gathering and we buy fresh needles from Wally World.

4:40 am: Bed.

Saturday, December 13th
(The Day of Candlelight)

9:00 am: Alarm goes off.

10:00 am: I decide I needed to make life even more complicated by adding a faux belt front to the bodice insert. I bought the buckle off eBay about a month ago for a few dollars. I didn’t really know why I bought it at the time, but it works perfectly. Must have been fate! Also the hand of fate: I have a red silk shirt from Goodwill to recycle into a belt that pretty closely matches the skirt color.

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11:30 am: Insert done. The collar came up an inch short, but there is no time! Hide it with a brooch…

12:05 pm: The peplum requires a ridiculously long piece of facing. I don’t have time to hand-tack it to the lining. Iron-on hem tape that sucker!

1:25 pm: Sleeves done.

1:30 pm: Wait, I was supposed to be curling my hair this whole time?! Noooooooooo! I forgot!

2:00 pm: Becky arrives and we get her all gussied up.

3:15 pm: Chris is hollering at me from downstairs that we need to go and I am still sewing feathers on my hat. Also, he has decided to go in his western vest rather than in his more formal vest and one button has fallen off. Sew it on while stuck in Dallas traffic.

4:55 pm: Arrive late, but look oh-so-fabulous! (Sorry for making you wait, Jen!)

1910s and 1890s

1910 on the left, 1897 on the right!

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Our cozy little group, complete with a pair of handsome gentlemen!
Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre (and the woman who so kindly took the photo for us!)

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre

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Becky made her hat from a sun hat that she covered with velvet and trimmed with silk hydrangeas and sequined ribbon. Her first Edwardian hat-making project ever! The sequins caught the light so well.

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Edwardian hats are large horizontally while 1890s hats are large vertically, so I went for big, tall feathers and flora. Like many 1890s hats, I put a big V shaped bow at the back to create the “setting hen” look that was popular at the time.

Festive 1890s Hat Cost Breakdown

Wool hat base – $18.95, Go-a-Hat
Fabric for band and bow – Scraps, so free!
Various greenery from dismembered wreath – $4.95, Hobby Lobby
Red feathers – $1.99, Hobby Lobby
Cream plume – $3.99 Hobby Lobby

Total: $29.88

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Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

Panicked Plaid 1890s Dress Cost Breakdown

3 yards navy polysatin – $6, Walmart
1 yard plaid cotton – $1, Walmart
Red silk shirt for belt- $2.15, Goodwill
Gilded brass belt buckle – $4.49, eBay
Red formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill
1/4 yard interfacing – A gift, so free!
White beaded purse – Technically it’s my sisters, so, um, free?

Total: $19.13

You might notice something missing from this list: fasteners! indeed, there isn’t a single fastener down the front of the bodice! It’s held together by the belt, brooch and two strategically placed straight pins, but thanks to the fit and front pleating, you can’t even tell. Not bad for being totally on the fly!

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Happy Holidays!